They wrote it off.
Many called it heresy.
Some even recommended it be banned (hello?! This is America!!).
And above all, it certainly should not be read — by anyone, Christian or otherwise.
But now, with 10 million copies in print, 52 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List (It’s still on the list for its 138th consecutive week) and translation into 34 languages worldwide, The Shack has proven to be much more than the latest thing trending on Twitter.
Like it or hate it, William Paul Young’s novel has impacted millions of lives and changed countless people’s perspective on that elusive character we call God. Out of the mess of books, especially Christian books that get published each year, when a book gets so much attention as to have entire sermon series taught on it, you know it’s something special.
About a year ago, my friend Jim Henderson wondered why nobody had begun cataloging or sharing the hundreds of thousands of stories from people who had written the author describing how The Shack changed their lives. So, in typical Jim fashion, he decided to do something about it. Stories From the Shack is an interactive dramatic production that opened in Seattle on Mother’s Day, and he’s taking the show across the country. In honor of the effort, I thought I’d share a tidbit from my experiences surrounding the book.
The funny thing is that I have heard a ton of criticism of the book, especially commentators’ fearful exhortations to stay away from it lest one be ensnared by the forces of darkness, but have yet to come across a single average person who fell into such a dubious trap. In fact, every average person (sorry, not counting Christian celebrities or professional theologians as average people) I have talked to that has read the book either loved it, or at least liked it and pointed out their disagreements with some of its spiritual assertions.
Shocking! Average people capable of coming to their own conclusions about complex theological topics without the oversight and strict guidance of their pastor or favorite Christian apologist? Inconceivable!!
That’s right. I don’t know of a single person who began questioning their faith or who decided the Holy Trinity was actually composed of a big black woman, a woodcutter, and an Asian mystic because of The Shack. Not even I, in my wayward, liberal feminism have decided that there is no hell simply because of inferences in a novel.
I do, however, know of several people who opened up to the idea of a loving God and a saving grace because of The Shack.
My brother-in-law, who has been a spiritual sojourner for most of his life, came over to our house two Christmases ago with a little rectangular present. He waited while we opened it, and surprise! It was a copy of The Shack. Now why, I wondered to myself, would a man who painstakingly avoids conversations about religion and God during family gatherings give us a copy of this book, of all things? Not only that, but he had given a copy to my sister-in-law and her family, his parents, and just about everyone else he knows. Eric, who lives alone on 80-acres outside a barely-there town on the western slope, had no idea this little book had caused such an uproar in what he calls “the big city.”
He said The Shack changed his entire view on faith and he had been praying and even going to church because the book had had such an impact. He said we just had to read it.
Well, first of all, those of you who know me know I don’t read books. And, I had heard some scary things about this book, particularly by one of my favorite pastor/commentators at the time. Check it:
Admiring the author’s opinion due to his scriptural knowledgeability, and knowing that I am an impressionable person, I had decided not to read The Shack for fear it would confuse me or “lead me astray.” But seeing my brother-in-law’s transformation impressed me more than my respect for some religious dude I’d never met. (Heard of the power of testimony anyone?) So I read it. I practically gobbled it up.
Paul Young’s raw, poignant honesty changed my entire view of how much the great father and loving being who created me desires to love and nurture me. I realized through Mack’s story just how much I was living in darkness and guilt and shame that was keeping me from that love! I wept bitterly for my own selfishness and prayed for my Lord to draw me close.
If I would not have read the book, out of some misplaced fear of being misled (Scripture tells us to fear not! And to use the wisdom he has given us through his Holy Spirit), I would not have discovered the intense, intimate love that God has for me.
The fact is that this book does not mislead spiritual seekers like my brother-in-law. It has proven to have quite the opposite effect on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. The religious fundamentalists, who are so focused on theological correctness that they’ve lost the point of grace, just can’t stand that someone might discover Christ through such a radical story outside their own stifling spiritual prison cells.
Now some of you might argue, “But Meagan, I know someone who has been spiritually misled by The Shack. So how can you say it’s not a dangerous book?” Well, for starters, if a person truly has been duped into false beliefs entirely by a single fiction novel (and wasn’t already started down a weird path in the first place), they’ve got other issues besides their theological acumen. And second, it’s a good thing they have you as a friend who can set them straight. So why are you wasting time picking holes in my blog and not out there getting this lost soul on the path to spiritual rightness?
In the end, my friends, there’s no point in arguing about the methods or media that bring people within reach of a Savior. I’m not vetting any theologies or stumping for a new spiritual movement. In fact, I don’t even agree with all of the qualities the book’s author projects onto God (gasp!!). I’m just thrilled at the reassurance the author provides, through the most compelling narrative, that there is no fear, no book, no holy man, no power, no belief that can keep an almighty, loving father from his children.