Next month, the author of The Shack will be joining a public online chatroom to discuss his No. 1 New York Times best-selling book, which has received strong praise from some Christian circles and strong criticism from others.
Both fans and critics of William P. Young's surprise best-seller will get the opportunity to submit questions to the author as part of Abunga.com's bi-weekly "Authors at Abunga" chat, which connects avid book readers with their favorite authors.
And with all the buzz that has surrounded The Shack since its rise to success, the questions will likely be pouring in ahead of the high-anticipated Oct. 22 chat.
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!"
"Everybody that I know has bought at least 10 copies," Caleb Nowak of Yakima, Wash., told the New York Times earlier this summer. "There's definitely something about the book that makes people want to share it."
The Shack 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 formed to print and distribute this book.
"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.
According to Jacobson, the reason why The Shack has touched so many people is "because it deals with God in the midst of pain in an honest, straightforward way and because for many this is the first time they have seen the power of theology worked out inside a relationship with God himself."
"Some will disagree with … the solutions this book offers," he continued, in addition to the book's take on "how many of our religious institutions and practices have blinded people to the simple Gospel and replaced it with a religion of rules and rituals that have long ceased to reflect the Lord of Glory."
"But those who confuse the issues by making up their own back-story for the book, or ascribing motives to its publication without ever finding out the truth, only prove our point," he said, acknowledging the numerous criticisms against the book that have come out since its rise to fame.
Among the book's critics are several 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; Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle; 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 extensive review. "He affirms the absolute nature of what is good and teaches that evil exists only in relation to what is good; he challenges the reader to understand that God is inherently good and that we can only truly trust God if we believe Him to be good; he acknowledges the human tendency to create our image of God by looking at human qualities and assuming that God is simply the same but more so; he attempts to portray the loving relationships within the Trinity; and so on. For these areas I am grateful as they provided helpful correctives to many false understandings of God."
"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.
In Chuck Colson's assessment of the book, the prominent evangelical leader also admitted that the book is not without merit.
"The centrality of Christ and God's breathtaking, costly love come through loud and clear," he said in a commentary.
However, like Challies, Colson expressed his concern on the author's view of the Bible.
"The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship," Colson noted. "Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting."
Next month, whether they are fans or critics of the book, readers will get the opportunity themselves to submit questions to Young regarding his book through the chat Web page at Abunga.com. While questions will also be accepted during chats, all will be screened prior to being presented to the author.
Transcripts of each chat session are posted the following day on the "Authors at Abunga" chat page. Anyone who registers to be an Abunga.com community member can sign up to receive e-mail notification of transcript postings.
Since July, Abunga.com has been hosting its special chats every other Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, allowing readers "to join with writers of family-friendly book genres without leaving their home," as Abunga.com Chairman Lee Martin reported in an announcement.
Beginning September, the chats were shifted to weekly chats due to the overwhelming response of author interest in the bi-weekly online chats.