Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Shack by William Young

This book has been both popular and controversial for maybe about two years now. I have read the synopsis and some of book reviews from a Christian perspective and I would say that most of them do not recommend this book for its theology. I'd have to read it myself to be able to do a review but I was able to contact some writers who did a review and they allowed me to post it on this blog. Here's one by Tim Challies as featured on his website http://www.challies.com/. Due to the length of this review, I will present some which I think are crucial points. Though I do not agree with one of Challies's point regarding forgiveness, I think it is worth your while to read it. You may read the entire book review at http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young.php

"Young covers a wide variety of theological topics in this book, each of which is relevant to the theme of Mack’s suffering and his inability to trust in a God who could let his daughter be treated in such a horrifying way. The author is unafraid to tackle subjects of deep theological import—a courageous thing to do in so difficult a genre as fiction. The reader will find himself diving into deep waters as he reads this book.
Much of what Young writes is good and even helpful (again, assuming that the reader can see past the human personifications of God). 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. Young covers many topics and time would fail me to discuss each of them. Instead, I will look at concerns with some of the book’s broader themes and will do so under several theological headings.
The Trinity
Young teaches that the Trinity exists entirely without hierarchy and that any kind of hierarchy is the result of sin. The Trinity, he says, “are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’… Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” Now it’s possible that he is referring to a kind of dominance or grade or command structure that may well be foreign to the godhead. But a reading of the Bible will prove that hierarchy does, indeed, exist even where there is no sin. After all, the angels exist in a hierarchy and have done so since before the Fall. Also, in heaven there will be degrees of reward and there will be some who are appointed to special positions (such as the Apostles). And the Bible makes it clear that there is some kind of hierarchy even within the Trinity. The Spirit and the Son have submitted themselves to the Father. The task of the Spirit is to lead people to the Son who in turn brings glory to the Father. Never do we find the Father submitting to the Spirit or to the Son. Their hierarchy is perfect—without anger or malice or envy, but it is a hierarchy nonetheless.
There are other teachings about the Trinity that concerned me. For example, Papa says “I am truly human, in Jesus.” This simply cannot be true. God [the Father—a term that the author avoids] is not fully human in Jesus. This melds the two persons of God in a way that is simply unbiblical. Some of what Young teaches is novel and even possible, but without Scriptural support. For example, he teaches that the triune nature of God was an absolute necessity since without it God would be incapable of love. His reasoning is not perfectly clear but seems to be that if God did not have such a relationship “within himself” he would be unable to love. But this is not taught in the Bible.
Overall, I had to conclude that Young has an inadequate and often-unbiblical understanding of the Trinity. While granting that the Trinity is a very difficult topic to understand and one that we cannot know fully, there are several indications that he often blurs the distinct persons of the Trinity along with their roles and their unique attributes. Combined with his novel but unsupported conjectures, this is a serious concern.

Free Will
Young’s understanding of free will seems to follow from submission. “I don’t want slaves to do my will,” says Jesus. “I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” Speaking in veiled terms about conversion or something like it, Jesus says, “We will come and live our life inside of you, so that you begin to see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and touch with our hands, and think like we do. But, we will never force that union with you. If you want to do your thing, have at it. Time is on our side.” God, it seems, has already forgiven all humans for their sin and has willingly submitted himself to them, though only some people will choose relationship. He is fully reconciled to all human beings and simply waits for them to do their part. Never does Young clearly discuss the consequences that will face those who refuse to accept this offer of union.
Overall, Young presents a God who is unable or unwilling to break into history in any consequential way. He is sovereign at times, but certainly not so in conversion (a topic that receives only scant attention) and is limited by the free will choices of human beings. Scant attention is paid to God’s fore-ordination, the understanding that nothing happens without it somehow being part of His decree (even while God cannot be accused of being the author of evil). Papa explains to Mack, “There was no way to create freedom without a cost.” But nowhere in the Bible do we find that God is somehow made captive by human free will and that He has to allow things to proceed in order to maintain His own integrity as Creator. Always God is sovereign, even over the free will choices of men. Our inability to understand how this can be does not preclude us from the responsibility of believing it. "

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