For 33 straight weeks, popular novel The Shack has been holding the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-sellers list for Paperback Trade Fiction and reported a significant growth in sales last month while overall book sales dropped.
"During the five week period from November 2nd through December 7th, Neilson Bookscan reported a 43% growth in sales of The Shack," reported Brad Cummings, publisher of Windblown Media, which was formed expressly to publish The Shack in May of last year.
"Publishers Weekly reported a 6.6% drop in sales the week ending December 7th while Bookscan reported a 22.5% increase in sales of The Shack for the same time period," he added in an announcement last week.
Though author William Paul Young had not originally intended the novel to be for public consumption, since its debut on the market, The Shack has shot surprisingly to the top of best-sellers lists and generated large amounts of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
"We live in a world of uncertainty, in which religion has not been able to produce the authenticity, forgiveness and love that resonates deep in the human heart," says Young.
"Unexpected and unanticipated, this little story is touching places of the human soul in transformational ways and can only be properly characterized as 'a God-thing,'" the former janitor adds. "I am humbled and grateful to be invited on this beautiful though sometimes painful adventure."
Young's best-selling book tells the fictional redemptive story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, who receives a note, supposedly from "God," inviting him back to the abandoned shack where evidence of his daughter's murder had been found. When Phillips accepts the offer and returns to the shack, he enters into a kind of spiritual therapy session with "God," who appears in the form of a jolly African-American woman and calls herself "Papa;" Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.
The book has been openly criticized by conservative Protestant heavyweights including R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries; and influential blogger Tim Challies, who wrote a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel's assertions to Scripture.
"Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God)," wrote Challies in his review/guide on The Shack.
"Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good," he concluded.
Despite warnings, or perhaps as a result of them, many have been drawn to the book, titled as a "metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered," according to Young.
It has also prompted a number of individuals to produce books and materials to counter the surprise best seller, which they describe as "nothing less than rank heresy disguised as Christian literature."
"Indeed, because it is being promoted as Christian fiction, it is much more dangerous than books like The Da Vinci Code, which never claimed to be Christian," argued ministry leader Tim McGhee of Powell, Tenn., in a review of the book.
Also coming out are books and materials defending the book, including Finding God in The Shack by author Randal Rauser.
"The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to," argues Rauser. "But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation."
Despite the success of The Shack, Young said he isn't contemplating a sequel though the book may possibly be turned into a screenplay.
According to reports, Young is not a member of a church and is somewhat reticent about being labeled a Christian.