Review of The Shack, by William P. Young

I mentioned this book in Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday, and promised that I would be posting a somewhat thorough review of it this week. That post is now available at Below is my opening summary if you want the “sound-bite” version, but when you start hearing folks talking about this book, I guarantee you’ll want more information.

shack coverThe Shack is the story of one man’s struggle to know God and understand reality in the face of horrible tragedy. Mackenzie Phillips (“Mack”) grew up alone and far from home from age 13, having run away after fatally poisoning his abusive, drunkard father. He marries a fine Christian woman and settles into a somewhat normal life, until he is suddenly faced with the abduction and brutal murder of his youngest daughter.

After struggling through severe depression for a few years, he mysteriously receives a note of invitation from God to meet Him at the scene of his daughter’s horrible death-a shack in the wilderness of Oregon. There he engages all three members of the Trinity in conversation and discovery about his own heart and the tragedy itself, which transforms his concept of God and of reality.

Unfortunately the book “paints an image of God” that is erroneous at best and blasphemous at worst. The Bible says that some, professing to be wise, actually become fools because they have “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:22-23). While admittedly a work of “fiction,” the author clearly intends to communicate truth about God, and therefore cannot be exempt from this biblical warning. Yet, even in the face of such obvious admonition, Young diminishes the reality, majesty and glory of the Godhead by depicting God the Father as a burly African-American woman with a crass sense of humor, the Holy Spirit as a slight, more aged, and almost translucent Asian woman, and Jesus (predictably, I suppose) as a bearded, middle-aged Jewish man outfitted like a carpenter (although the jeans, flannel shirt and tool belt gives even Jesus a curious bent).

What are some of the problems, concerns and issues that need to be addressed about this book? Others have addressed the doctrinal issues fairly thorously (read here for an excellent review). In addition to relating a few obvious doctrinal issues, I would like to address some of the problems, concerns and issues that need to be addressed about this book from a pastoral standpoint.

I would first like to explain some of the reasons why I believe this book is so popular, which will highlight some problems in the evangelical church as a whole. Second, I want to list a few of the key errors promoted in the book, and point you to an excellent and thorough discussion of the issues. Third, I would like to briefly address the question of whether this book, despite its errors, could be used as an evangelistic tool with unbelievers. And fourth, I want to briefly address why the argument “fiction should not be analyzed like it is a systematic theology” does not hold water.


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