I will admit that this rather lengthy post is written specifically to the Christian who is further along in their faith. New Christians or non-Christians might view this as petty and/or confusing, so those people might want to avoid this post altogether.
Considering I wrote Part One of this review almost two months ago, you might need to glance back to see my original criticism of the best-selling book The Shack written by William Young. There you can also find a brief synopsis of the story. Since I'm not going to repeat it here, you might be a little lost without referencing Part One first.
Among my dislikes of The Shack listed there were a) it's poorly written fiction, b) it attempts to speak authoritatively under the guise of fiction and c) it hides behind an emotional narrative to present its theology. As more and more people are starting to read this book, I thought I'd finally get around to citing specific texts with which I had problems. I will admit that even though I took these notes while reading the book, I already passed it on to someone else, so I apologize if I don't fully recall the exact context of these quotes. And I typed a couple of pages of notes, so following is merely a handful of my concerns.
Upon receiving a written note from God, we read an inner-thought process of Mack reflecting on THE Written Word of God. We read,
"The thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligencia. Nobody wanted God in a book, just in a box. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges." [Page 64]
There is an edge to this quote. While made somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's really the premise for what will follow throughout the rest of the book. It is a slighting of God's Written Word that will set the stage for "real, personal interaction with God." At its best, this statement is anti-intellectual; at its worst, it's a revolt against the submission to the Scriptures. Listen, I get it: some people worship the Bible more than God Himself, but you're not doing anyone a favor by disparaging the process here. Although this quote is subtle, I think it's deliberate. It's intended to presumptively backhand anyone who dares to criticize the experiential revelation that is to come. Young does a huge disservice to the concept of Biblical inspiration/interpretation by this needless one paragraph jab.
DID GOD FORSAKE JESUS?
On page 96, there's dialogue between Papa (God the Father) and Mack about the crucifixion of Jesus. Here's how it plays out:
PAPA: "We were there together" MACK: "At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him — you know— 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'" PAPA: "You misunderstood the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him."
I would argue that Young misunderstood the mystery there. Despite many interpretations/references claiming otherwise, Jesus was indeed forsaken by God on the cross; not out of spite, mind you, rather as the fulfillment of his life as substitutionary atonement. Examine the scene at Calvary— an event without parallel— with the sun being darkened, and earthquake, the temple curtain torn, and dead people walking the streets. Our sin needed to be accounted for and the Holy God, in his judicial role, had to enact justice. That doesn't speak ill of God. It actually reflects poorly on us who forced God to have to take such a position.
Again, you might counter that this is no big deal, that substitutionary atonement isn't the point of this book. But it's the point of Christianity, so it needs to be noted.
ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
The thrust of Young's book is the emphasis on relationship with God above everything else, stating on page 101 that the Trinity can be summarized as love and relationship. At the conclusion of the weekend, Mack said to the Spirit, "This weekend, sharing life with you has been far more illuminating than any of those [Seminary] answers." The Spirit responds, "And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don't look for rules and principles; look for relationship— a way of coming to be with us" (page 198).
While many Christians would swallow this whole, we need to realize the term "personal relationship with God" is merely a contextualization of the gospel message— a way of explaining the interaction between God and humanity. Notice that I said, "A way of explaining" and not, "THE way of explaining." The emergence of "the personal relationship" language can be dated after the Second World War, originating in American society then spreading globally, to reach a society that started to value the individual more than the communal.
This might be shocking, but "personal relationship with God" is not found in the Bible. In the NIV translation (produced in the early 1970's), the word "relationship" is only used three times in the entire book. Even the paraphrased Message Bible only uses "relationship" once in this kind of context. Throughout the Scriptures the predominant view of our interaction with God is explained in legal or covenantal terms. Unfortunately, this terminology turns most of us off because we'd rather not wrestle with that view of interaction with God— he as Judge/King and we as violator/servant.
Sure, we prefer a "personal relationship with God" because we'd rather view God in a human-to-human relationship; the thought of a judgmental God can be frightening and it reeks of old-school Christianity. So instead of viewing Jesus as the atonement of our sin, we think of him as our buddy. But regardless of how much disdain we carry for this "legal" interaction with God, it is consistently found in the Scriptures. And perhaps this is why The Shack is so popular: it embraces an interaction with God that we find comforting rather than frightening.
I could talk much more about all the qualms I had with this book, but I feel like I've said my peace. Hopefully you understand my opinion here: this is a flawed piece of fiction. Again, allow me to reiterate: I'm not saying that people shouldn't read this book, but we ought to realize that this is just one person's perspective on faith and it does not present a consistent explanation of the gospel message. If you're interested for a more compelling piece of literature, I suggest the Bible. It's good stuff.
If The Shack has made your relationship with God "more real," that's great. But I would challenge you to ask yourself why.