Despite what critics have said about his highly popular and hotly debated best-seller, The Shack, author William Paul Young remains convinced that his book “is a God thing.”
“I absolutely am convinced that this is a God-thing that God is the One stirring this all up, challenging us to rethink and entertain growing deeper in a relationship with Him rather than pursuing our independence,” Young said during a live chat with book lovers last week.
Though Young had not originally intended the novel to be for public consumption, since its debut on the market last year, The Shack has reaped in a surprising amount of success, generating a large amount of buzz – both positive and negative – within Christian circles.
“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his,” stated Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus Of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, in a published endorsement for the book. “It’s that good!”
Young’s No. 1 New York Times best-selling book tells the fictional redemptive story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, whose daughter is tragically abducted and murdered during a family vacation.
Four years after the tragedy, Phillips 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.
“This is a story of one believer’s brokenness and how God reached into that pain and pulled him out and as such is a compelling story of God’s redemption,” explained author and former pastor Wayne Jacobson, who was part of a team that worked with Young on the manuscript for over a year and also is part of Windblown Media, the company he and Young formed to print and distribute The Shack.
“The pain and healing come straight from a life that was broken by guilt and shame at an incredibly deep level,” Jacobson wrote in his personal blog, “and he (Young) compresses into a weekend the lessons that helped him walk out of that pain and find life in Jesus again.”
Young says he had suffered sexual abuse in New Guinea as the child of Canadian missionaries and spent a decade in therapy trying to earn back his wife’s and family’s trust after an extramarital affair 15 years ago.
In 2005, Young started writing what would eventually be The Shack to show how he had healed by forging a new relationship with God.
“It wasn’t an intended thing,” Young said during an interview earlier this year on The Drew Marshall Show. “It wasn’t saying ‘Well, this is the new formula for touching the hearts of the people,’ but people are – they’re just starving for authenticity. They’re just starving for someone to stand up and say, ‘You know what? God loves the worst of us – the losers, the screw ups.”
“I’m an example of what grace looks like,” he added.
Young says he receives up to a couple hundreds of e-mail each day in which people communicate to him the “transformational” impact of the story.
“I know of three 'avowed atheists' who have embarked on a relationship with God because of this story,” Young said during last Wednesday’s weekly “Authors at Abunga” chat at Abunga.com. “This is a God thing and I am just thankful to be a part of this.”
Despite the positive impact, which Young said he believes is “for good and God,” critics of the book say there is too much “bad” that cannot be ignored.
“Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God),” wrote influential blogger Tim Challies in a downloadable 17-page review/guide on The Shack that compares the novel’s assertions to Scripture.
“But the book also raised several concerns,” he continued before addressing the issues of the Trinity, submission, free will, forgiveness, scripture and revelation, and salvation.
In his conclusion, Challies said it was clear to him that The Shack is a mix of good and bad.
“Sadly, though, there is much bad mixed in with the good,” he added.
Young, however, argues that support from the theological community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Al [Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.] tried to get the book banned but was unsuccessful because the theologians of his denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) ‘could find nothing unorthodox in The Shack that would warrant it being removed or banned,’" Young claimed last Wednesday. SBTS, however, told The Christian Post that Mohler had not at any point asked an organization to restrict the sale of the title in any way, including LifeWay Christian Stores, which pulled the book from shelves for a brief two-week review of its theology.
“These men do not know me at all,” Young said of critics, which also includes Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, who Young said had not even read the book before criticizing it.
“[B]ut in the process,” he continued, “what they have written have actually told us much more about them than about the book.”
Therefore, despite whatever controversies there are surrounding the book, Young said there is nothing in the book that he would wish to have changed.
“Nope...would not change anything,” he said. “It is not a perfect book – I know because I wrote it – but it is the gift I wanted to give my children.
“I don't feel that I stirred up the controversy any more than I feel like I am the reason for the success of the book. I believe that both are activity of an affectionate God who has an incredible sense of humor,” Young said.
Over one million copies of The Shack have been sold since it was published in May 2007. It has maintained its status as the No. 1 Paperback trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list since June 2008.
According to Young, the title of the book "is a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered."
Correction: Wednesday, October 29, 2008:
An article on Monday, Oct. 27, 2008, about a live public chat between book lovers and William Paul Young, author of The Shack, included a statement by Young claiming that Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., had tried to get the book banned. According to Matt Hall, director of communications to Dr. Mohler, the seminary president at no point asked any other organization to restrict the sale of the title in any way.