Pro-'Shack' Books Hit Stores, Face Critics

It was déjà vu for some when two books stemming from the New York Times Bestseller The Shack emerged from the presses and on to the book shelves this past week.

Two days after Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption hit stores, Finding God in the Shack: Conversations of an Unforgettable Weekend made its debut on Feb. 3.

"Both books look to the overwhelming success of William Young's The Shack, evaluate it, and seek to answer its critics," noted popular blogger Tim Challies, who wrote a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel's assertions to Scripture.

"As one of those critics, and as one whose review has been read hundreds of thousands of times, I have some interest in the subject matter," he added. "This is especially so when both books claim to lay to rest some of the criticisms lodged against it."

Since its debut on the market last year, The Shack has generated quite some buzz – both positive and negative – within a number of Christian circles and has maintained its No. 1 spot in the Paperback Trade Fiction category of the New York Times Best Sellers list for more than 8 months.

The book also recently reported a significant growth in sales in December while overall book sales dropped.

"This most unlikely of stories, as told in William Young's The Shack, has become a runaway bestseller and it is easy to see why," states the product description for Randal Rauser's Finding God in the Shack, which hit bookstores on Feb. 3.

The Shack 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 brings us on a redemptive journey through the shacks of deepest pain and suffering in our lives, guided by the triune God of Christian faith," notes the promotional statement for Rauser's Shack follow-up.

"But even as lives have been transformed through this book, other readers have sternly denounced it as a hodgepodge of serious theological error, even heresy," it adds.

Amid its rise to stardom, The Shack has been publicly 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 Challies, whose blog was ranked last month as the most popular Christian blog by ChurchRelevance.com.

"Sadly ... there is much bad mixed in with the good," Challies argues.

Rauser and Roger E. Olson, author of Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption, however, say they largely find truth in The Shack, and through their respective books hope to provide new opportunities for readers to find God in The Shack.

"In the same way that science, properly understood, promises to enrich our appreciation for the beauty of a flower, so I believe theology can enrich our understanding and experience of God," writes Rauser. "And that includes the experience that many have cherished while reading The Shack.

"The fact is that beneath the surface of this compelling story is an inner structure of equally compelling and beautiful theological themes," he adds.

Challies, however, maintains his belief that there is too much bad mixed in with the good.

"In the book's closing pages Olson declares that, when it comes to what it teaches, The Shack is 90 percent right on. And this may be right if we are discussing mere quantity. But when we weigh the ninety percent that Young gets right with the ten percent that he gets wrong, we see that this leaves him wrong on a great deal of very important theology," Challies argued this past Thursday in his blog. "These are no minor details."

According to the influential blogger, Young is wrong on the atonement, the Trinity, and God's sovereignty over what He has created, among other concepts.

And what some, including Olson, regard as minor errors in theology are actually at the heart of the Christian faith.

"The Shack is just plain wrong in some very fundamental areas," Challies argues.

In response to the publication of the new pro-Shack books, Challies plans to write two articles – one for each book – in his blog, starting with his critique of Olson's book, which he posted Thursday. Challies hopes to publish the second critique some time this week.