Defending “The Shack”

I’ve been reading this amazing book, The Shack, by William P. Young.  I was originally going to write just a little blurb endorsing it and giving a 5-star review.  But, upon researching the net, I’ve found that there are many Christians NOT  so excited about this book.  So, I’m going to do some explaining.

The Shack is based on the author’s true story of tragedy that he experienced in his life.  I do not know what that tragedy was, but in the book, it is portrayed as a man’s six year old daughter being kidnapped and murdered.  The father cries out to God, not understanding why such pain and tragedy exists.  He (the father) then receives a letter from God (affectionately called Papa in the story).  God invites Mack (the father) to meet Him in the very shack his daughter was believed murdered in. 

Mack does.  He actually meets the entire Trinity, which is what the book is basically about.  The Trinity.  This is one man–William Young’s–explanation and belief on how the trinity works. 

Now, after reading this book, will you understand the Trinity?  NO.  I don’t believe that’s possible.  The beauty of the Trinity is not being able to comprehend it. 

Does that mean we can’t attempt to grasp it?  NO.  There is no reason–that I know of–that William Young cannot, out of the depths of personal heartbreak and agony, come out of his personal pit with a new understanding and relationship with God.  And there is no reason he cannot write about it. As a writer, who always uses my pen to vent and heal and mourn, I totally empathize and understand!  What gives Dr. Dobson or Joyce Meyers or Max Lucado or Bill Hybels or  Joel Osteen authority to write books or give sermons on subjects that THEY interpet to be correct?

The difference?  Many claim this book isn’t Scriptural, whereas the above mentioned authors are. (something I HIGHLY disagree with, but that’s another post . . . )  Here is what I believe the biggest issue is for most “thumbs down” reviewers:  God is portrayed as a woman.

Okay, let me say that I ALWAYS refer to God as a man.  Why?  Because that is the way He chose to be looked upon.  God the FATHER, not God the MOTHER.  I even asked a friend once, after he referred to God as female, if he was turning femenist on me.  He had a valid point–God is spirit, not male or female–but, again, God chose to be recognized as male. 

HOWEVER, in regard to The Shack and God-as-a-woman, I have a totally different view.   As soon as God is introduced as an African American woman in the book, the story immediately addresses this issue. 

Mack says “Whoa, aren’t you supposed to be a guy?”

God’s response is that, again, He is SPIRIT.  He can appear however He chooses.  In the book, the whole point of this meeting-with-God is that Mack blames God for his daughter’s murder.  God meets him to show Mack just who He is.  The meeting is, essentially, to brake all Mack’s misconceptions about God.   Mack (like myself and, I daresay, most Christians) acknowledged that God was Spirit, and not human . . . but didn’t act like it or treat God like it.  When God tacked on the male pronoun, we shamefully tacked on the male characteristics.  So, God meets Mack (and only Mack, he admits that were He meeting someone else, He may appear in another form, maybe male) as a woman, ONLY to make the point that He is not man.  And the author still gives God the male pronoun, because God (as a woman) is called Papa.  This whole situation was meant by the author to be symbolism, not something offensive.  It’s not putting God into a graven image,  it’s not adding to the BIble, it’s METAPHOR.  Just like Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia.  Nothing more, nothing less.

And, honestly, that is the whole problem.  The only people who are having issue with this book are those who don’t understand what an allegory is and what context to place it in. 

The author never even meant for this book to be published.  He wrote this story as a gift for his children.  His children.  You know, the ones who had gone through some great tragedy. . . so he penned his belief on why God allows bad things to happen and how He is still Love.  But, by word of mouth ALONE, this book shot up off the charts. 

So don’t criticize a man who was never even intending to spread his personal beliefs in the media.  Don’t criticize a man for having a belief of a LOVING, relationship with Christ, verses your rule-by-rule religion.  Don’t. 

This book has changed my life and opened my eyes and my heart to my own lack of understanding.  I don’t agree with everything in the book.  You don’t have to, either.  It’s not the BIBLE, it’s just a FICTION allegory. 

You know, sad as it is to say, I think the fact that my generation is losing touch of how to read classic literature and allegorical literature actually breaks my heart more than the religiosity (is that a word? lol) of people.


15 Responses

  1. What is so interesting about the book and possibly one reason it is receiving so much attention is it dares to cross conventional thinking in the way we have understood God in the past. Our stereotypical concepts for how we see God has stopped us from seeing Him in some instances as a loving, caring person who wants to connect with His kids.

    Grant it you will be challenged and enlightened as you read through the storyline. One interesting and somewhat controversial comment Paul Young makes in his book is sure to make a lot of people think differently about a cliche we have been throwing around in the church for years. It is found on page 149, Paul writes in Jesus’ words “My Life Was Not Met To Be An Example That You Can Copy”. For years, we the Christian community have held onto the idea that Jesus’ life or “behavior” was to be followed. We have all heard and even used the cliche “What would Jesus do?” or WWJD for short.

    We have seen it on bracelets and tee shirts for years. Problem is that when you look at it from a new covenant aspect it you would never hear Jesus tell us to mimic his behavior. Instead Jesus would tell us that we are to mimic or copy the relationship he experienced with the Father through the Holy Spirit. It is out of this relationship that behavioral issues, difficulties and temptation finds answers, not through some pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality. Bottom line is that this book will challenge old belief systems that probably need to be challenged. Only then can you truly experience Christ as life, which beats religion any day!

    Scott Johnson
    Get a FREE website at:

    Order other great books such as “Breaking The Cycle of Defeat” which is said to provide a biblical basis to many of the principles you will read about in The Shack.

  2. @ Scott Johnson: YES. That statement about not copying Jesus’ example truly threw me. I’ve been thinking about ever since I read it. I mean, if Jesus was perfect, SHOULDN’T we copy His example. It’s mind-boggling. I think I’ll end up writing a whole nother post just on that topic! Thanks for the comment! I’ll check out that other book you recommended, as well.

  3. I just finished this book yesterday and I found it absolutely incredible. It ministered to the deepest parts of my heart and left me yearning to be closer to the Lord and to experience Him in a more real and life changing way.

    I loved how the author dealt with God being a woman called Papa even in Mack’s struggle, how he dealt with forgiveness and the righteous anger those of us who have been severely damaged feel, and the questions we have about the evil permitted to touch our lives. I am very theology minded, but this book was a step of healing for me, indeed.

  4. “Not every one who says to me, ‘Master, Master,’ will enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, but only those who are obedient to my Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

    “. . unless you repent, you will all perish . .” (Luke 13:3)

    Jesus answered him, “I most solemnly say to you, no one can ever see the kingdom of God, unless he is born from above.” (John 3:3)

    Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

    “If anyone leads into sin one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung round his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because it tempts people to sin! Temptations to sin must come, but woe to that man who tempts others to sin!” (Matthew eighteen:6-7)

    Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not practice obedience to his commands is a liar, and there is no truth in his heart; but whoever practices obedience to His message really has a perfect love of God in his heart. (1 John 2:4-5)

  5. @Beckie–thanks for your comment! Wasn’t it good? Okay, i”ll admit…I’m not QUITE done yet…almost. But I agree with every point you made. The book is definitely an eye-opener.

    @twoclayfeet–thanks for commenting, great verses . . . not sure I understand their relevance, tho. Are you insinuating this book is a stumbling block? Or that it belittles the importance of repenting? As I stated already, I haven’t finished the book, but as far as I’ve understood it, the point of the book is to tear down our false presumptions of God and why He allows suffering. Repentance wasn’t brought up in the story b/c it was irrelevent to it; the author wasn’t preaching a salvation message. Then again, maybe that’s not what you were getting at. I’m not really sure. Would you please clarify? Thanks!

  6. mle –
    Three sections of the book come to mind that deal with the concept of repentance:

    Mack’s Dad – he went to church but he wasn’t a Christian, was later in the book shown to be among those who would be in heaven. On page 8 it says he was a vicious mean . . . then ask God for forgiveness drunk. He asked to be forgiven, but he didn’t repent. Considering how he met his end, it’s very unlikely that he would have become a Christian in his last moments.

    Page 184, where God tells Mack he doesn’t want his sorrow for his sins (arrogance, and judging God.) Part of the definition of “repent” is to feel pain, sorrow, or regret for what we’ve done or left undone. So, for God to tell Mack that he doesn’t want his sorrow for his sin, is for him to say that he doesn’t want him to repent.
    Jesus taught us in Luke 13:3 that we must repent, or we will perish, and that we must be born again (John 3:3)

    Page 225 – God tells Mack that in Jesus, he has forgiven everyone for their sins against him, but only some choose to have a relationship with him.
    The author is teaching that we can have a relationship with the Lord without repenting and being saved from our sins, which is not possible.

    God being portrayed as a woman for most of the book was not a concern to me. As you have said, God is Spirit, and of course He is God and He can be anything and anyone that it would please Him to be. It made sense in the context of the story. However, that added to all of the un-Scriptural teaching in the book, folks who did have a problem with it have a point.

    You’re right, the author isn’t preaching a salvation mesage.

  7. @twoclayfeet–thank you for clarifying!! It sounds like you’ve really studied this (which I think is great). I do have some questions for you, because you’ve piqued my curiosity and sound like you’re knowledged in these areas.

    I have been taught that “repent” means, basically, to make a 180 degree turn, go the opposite direction. Where do we get that definition? (I’m sure, at least I HOPE it’s from the Bible. . . but WHERE?) And where, as you said, does the part of feeling pain, sorrow, and regret come in? Where is that part of the definition? Every time I read the Bible I find that it says we need to be “born again” and that we need to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and that we are “saved through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast.” I’m not disagreeing with you . . . I’d just like to know where the church came up with it. And if it means feeling pain and sorrow . . . does that mean that I, who have been raised in a Christian home and always strived to follow Christ . . . did my “repentance” prayer as a child not count?? B/c I knew I had sinned and that it was wrong, but I certainly wasn’t weeping or depressed or losing sleep over it.

    But back to “The Shack”, since Mack was already saved, God was discussing the relationship He wanted with Mack NOW, post-repentance. I personally got the drift that we were to assume Mack had already repented. I don’t remember the author giving the specific situation. . . I don’t think it was needed. I remember Mack ran away from home, lived a harsh life, straightened up his life, wound up at seminary for awhile. I realize I’m going on assumptions here, but we’re discussing a fiction story, not a living person.

    Refresh my memory (I’ve been reading the book very sporadically, sorry!) . How did Mack’s dad die? Was it alcohol?

    Thanks for your comments! I appreciate it! If anyone else would like to jump into this conversation, feel free!


  8. Emily — mle : )

    We get the pain, sorrow and regret part of “repent” from the definition of the Greek word Metanoeo (repent – Luke 13:3), from the Greek text – #3340 in Strong’s Greek Dictionary: to think differently or afterwards, reconsider (morally to feel compunction.)
    In the 1828 Webster’s dictionary, part of the definition for compunction is the pain of sorrow or regret for having offended God.

    Sorrow for sin that leads to amendment of life, or being sorry enough that we have offended God to repent and being born again, (and then to obey Him,) is my understanding of what is meant.

    If you have the Living Bible (the old paraphrased one) look up Psalms 32:6. It basically says “Christians should confess their sins to God when they become aware of them.”
    That’s what Mack did on page 184. The character of God says that it’s in the past now, where it belongs, that he doesn’t want his sorrow for it. That is a totally inappropriate response. He confesed his sin that he had just recently been made aware of, as he should have, and as we all should. The real God doesn’t tell us it’s in the past, until after He accepts our confession and apology. And He certainly doesn’t tell us that He doesn’t want our sorrow for it. It was Jesus who taught us that we must repent or perish.

    I agree with you that we are to assume that Mack is a Christian. I don’t remember if there was any mention of him becoming one or not. On page 8 it talks about him being at a youth revival, but all it says is that he confessed to a church leader that he hadn’t helped his Mom.

    Yes, it was alcohol, plus.

  9. twoclay feet says…
    Page 225 – God tells Mack that in Jesus, he has forgiven everyone for their sins against him, but only some choose to have a relationship with him.
    The author is teaching that we can have a relationship with the Lord without repenting and being saved from our sins, which is not possible.

    I listened to an interview with the author of the Shack, Paul Young. He is asked point blank if he believes that everyone has been forgiven of their sins, that is without repenting, and he refuses to answer the question.

    He is asked point blank about many of the “divisive ” issues, and becomes a weasel. He is evasive and he is unwilling to state publicly his beliefs.

    You can hear the entire interview at
    The Shack Book Interview

  10. I thought the book had a great message for someone trying to renew their relationship with God after tragedy. HOWEVER, I did have a hard time grasping the way the TRINITY is portrayed. You said it was allegory, so I guess that’s something to consider. I guess I’m just used to thinking about God in the way he’s portrayed in the Bible. It’s hard to think outside of the Bible box for me.

  11. Cecelia~ Thanks for your comment and for visiting my humble blog! I appreciate it. And thanks for your honesty. I read your article on this book, as well, and totally understand where you are coming from. Everyone reacts to literature differently. If this is not the kind of book that you can really “get into”, that’s okay. As long as you “get into” the Bible, which you claim to do, than you are solidly firm in your faith. I appreciate how you were able to discuss the points you didn’t like in The Shack without sounding condemning. Your article was, instead, honest. Thanks for considering my two cents on this book, as well.

    Watcher~ I’m so sorry I left you hanging. I haven’t looked at this post in ages!! I DID listen to the interview you recommended. Thank you for sharing it with me. I was disappointed in Young for not sharing the salvation message when given the opportunity. But like all debates, I am continually angry at both sides for fighting and putting each other on the defensive when they could be peacefully discussing. The whole point of the interview was just to put Young on-air and attack and condemn his work, which I found to be very mean-spirited and difficult to stomach.

    I have enjoyed discussing this with you. Please continue to stop by!


  12. I am really bad at starting book and not finishing them! hahahaha! I have started this book, started crying really early and put it down. Because of this, I am not going to pick it back up again. Thank you for this blog 🙂

  13. Thank you for writing this! I am so tired of seeing all of the negative about this. As a pastor, it wears me out to hear debate about a fictional story. Only in Christendom could we find a reason to fight over the truth of a fictional book. How silly that must make us look to the world.

    I remember when the last book came along that was fictional (DaVinci Code) I was ask if I would be addressing it in church as so many pastors were. So I did one Sunday… my entire commentary on it was simply this… “It is a work of fiction!” then I stated that the following week we would be dealing with Alice in Wonderland! That is how silly I think it all is.

    Now, having said that. I have read and studied The Shack carefully… and I don’t find anything doctrinal incorrect. I think it is just challenging to people who don’t have an intimate relationship with God and they just want a set of rules to live by. And please, he never says Papa was a big ole black lady… that was just the way Mack perceived HIM. Plus, come on folks… study the meaning of El Shaddai! Anyway… if you hang on till the end… he sees God in a different light. Plus…. did it all really happen in the book? You are left to wonder. I mean… was it all a dream he had while unconscious? Well, I guess it doesn’t matter cause it is FICTION! And very good fiction at that!

    I don’t propose that we never test doctrine. But I do think you have to be careful when testing the doctrine of a book written as entertainment and not as a doctrinal statement. Plus, shouldn’t all of our doctrine be based on the Bible alone?

    Lastly, in the essentials, there should be agreement. In the non-essentials, there must be grace. I know a lot of my “we must play by the rules and laws” brother will not agree with me, but that’s ok, I love you anyway. : )

  14. I am a bit late to comment on this, but have just finished reading The Shack and I have to say and agree wholeheartedly with the last person’s comment, Chad’s I believe.

    Have those in church leadership got nothing better to do, people to minister to, than to go up in arms about a book that is FICTION? Who is that really helping, the hungry and the needy, the broken-hearted, or the reputation of those who build up a name round controversies of this kind?

    If in doubt, read the Bible and seek God for the Truth. He will always give you an answer ,although it may not come when or how you expected it!

    Blessings to you Emily. I really enjoy reading your stuff.

    ransom 33

  15. Ransom33~You’re never too late to comment! I appreciate comments whenever they are given! I agree with you, let’s minister instead of build controversy! Thanks for stopping by!


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