The Shack “Too Edgy” for Christian Publishing

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Long have I bemoaned (in an apparent vaccuum) the sad state of Christian publishing. As an editor at one of the larger Christian publishing houses makes me something like a pastor complaining about the state of the church. But I've slowed down on the frequency of my whining for several reasons, primarily because I started to see it as futile. Those who want to hear it already agree, and those who don't aren't going to be convinced by me. How many publishers are appropriating the world's values and being motivated by things other than God's glory? I don't know. And I certainly don't want to be the one to say whose standard of measurement we should be using. I'm no spiritual or literary standard bearer. I believe in high standards, but those are mine alone.

And what I found was that my moaning about the kinks in the system, the low quality, and the low moral standards, only served to encourage and perpetuate those spreading ill will and their own vindictive agendas against the Christian establishment. They carry grudges about the church that did damage to them which gives them license to judge the judgers and turn the cause for high standards into a finger-pointing, self-seeking vendetta.

How do I know? Look at my past. I share the justifications.

So I stopped whining. I found value in the all-too-human failings of the industry cogs. I started to see with more compassion. We're all  in the same big happy family here, folks. When I claim Christ and don't act in love, I'm a hypocrite. When I forget the industry is actually sincere souls slaving to make a difference, I become a clanging gong. 

There are problems in here. We can't ignore them and allow them to define us. Some of them stem from a love of the world's system, the celebrity effect, greed, selfishness, and power plays that have no place in the true kingdom. That hasn't changed. But The Shack is a change. I wanted to title this post "The Shack Shake-Up" because the book is shaking things up. At his website, the publisher of The Shack, Wayne Jacobsen says it well: "The Shack offers as engaging a look at the reality of God in the midst of human tragedy as any we’ve ever read and can stimulate hours of discussion about spiritual life." I agree. It tested my literary sensibilities, but it excited me at the same time.

It was too edgy for Christian publishers. Reputations would be at stake. Relationships would be threatened. And there were good reasons for that. It's "theologically questionable," bordering on universalism, or at least universal reconciliation. And as my wife pointed out, there's something a little strange about the way Jesus and Papa interact that's "ooky." 

But no one in Christian publishing can deny the power of over 4 million in print and still continuing to grow. In the words of another recent bestselling spiritual book, it is A New World.

I'm going to explore that a little over the next few posts, so I hope you're ready to come on back for a good, old-fashioned water cooler discussion as we look at the impact and significance of this book and the Christian book industry that has yet to figure out how to respond.

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13 thoughts on “The Shack “Too Edgy” for Christian Publishing”

  1. As a writer, though, I have a responsibility (a grave one) before God to create words that honor God.
    Maybe I’m the only one out there, but although I found parts of the Shack compelling and thought-provoking, I couldn’t reconcile in my mind Young’s buddy-buddying the Godhead.
    Maybe the book is wildly popular precisely because of this–making God more user-friendly and approachable. But doesn’t this diminish His holiness and power and sovereignty?
    I understand that Young is trying to balance a view of God that is inaccurate (that policeman in the sky), but sometimes in his arguments to the contrary, he swings too far.
    I don’t mind having my paradigm messed with. I love thinking new ways about our multi-faceted God, but I can’t honestly recommend the book. Why?
    Because I have suffered immensely in my life. And yet, it’s that Holy God, the Unknowable One, the Almighty God that stooped near and rescued me. I didn’t have to view Him as a mother or a chum to walk through healing. Healing came through His character.

  2. I haven’t read the Shack yet (and I’m not sure I will), but a number of my friends use the same phrase Mary used—the view of God diminishes Him.
    Mick, you said: But no one in Christian publishing can deny the power of over 4 million in print and still continuing to grow. In the words of another recent bestselling spiritual book, it is A New World.
    Here’s what I want to know: by “power” are you referring to sheer numbers? As in, the more copies sold, the more power the book has? I suppose there is some logic to that, but I wondered if you might also mean the power to circumvent standard publishing avenues to find an audience.
    Which leads into the next question. Mick, what do you see as the new world for books … or was that a new world regarding the spiritual?
    Becky

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
    I think the success of this title demonstrates the hunger we all have to connect with God in a “real” way.
    Many Christians crave a deeper relationship with God, yet lack the ability to be completely open and vulnerable with Him. Intimacy suffers. They want God’s wisdom and direction for their lives but don’t want to surrender their daily activity to Him.
    For me, Young’s efforts to portray God as approachable fell a little short for the same reasons stated in Mary DeMuth’s comment.
    We can have intimacy with God while maintaining a deep reverence for Him.

  4. I’m with Mary and Elizabeth on this one. I have not read “The Shack” because when it was introduced to me through an excerpt that was read at church to our Sunday school class I was deeply struck by the overly-chummy way that God as the person of the Holy Spirit was portrayed.
    It is true that He is approachable and an entity that is with us always, but there is still an urgent need for us to reverence the Lord in all aspects of both approaching Him and also in our portrayal of Him. The Comforter comes along beside us to guide us and to help us, but He is no way our ‘equal’ for His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He speaks to us as He brings to our remembrance His Holy Word. It’s nice that the author is so comfortable with his relationship with the Lord to be able to be so informal, but for me, I just see it as too casual an approach to Deity.
    I loved what you said Mick about not whining. I was chiding myself for my own poor posture on my last post. Pulled myself up by my bootstraps and will keep on keeping on! And we all do so very desperately need to walk in love! That is a lesson that we could stand to learn daily! We will never go wrong if we keep speaking the truth in Love!

  5. Hi Mick,
    Thank your for letting us discuss “The Shack.” I had your opinion of the work: It wasn’t the greatest literary work I’ve ever read. The story grabbed me at the beginning and then carried me gently along. I am grateful that it caused me to consider how I put God in a box.
    At the same time, I don’t feel it caused me to lose any of my reverence for God.
    An understanding of the author’s abusive father was reason enough for me to understand why Young would need to find other ways of viewing God besides as a father figure.
    God uses a multitude of metaphors for his followers and himself in the Bible (e.g. babies at a mother’s breast, a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks, the great I AM). I sense that this was Young’s attempt to break down barriers which keep people FROM God. For that I applaud him, although I do understand that his approach would be scary for many people.
    The book, just like everything else, will appeal to some, and not to others.

  6. I would throw out one word, and the word would be “balance”. Who is to say that God cannot be both? Abraham was a friend of God, but Moses was only able to see just the last part of him as he passed by because of his “awesomeness”.
    According to his names, there are many aspects of God. God is a father, and fathers do more than discipline. Jesus is the bridegroom, preparing a place for his bride, and that relationship is all about intimacy, and the Holy Spirit reveals the father’s secrets to those he loves, all the while maintaining the position of creator of the universe. It’s more than our minds can comprehend, so he just requires our hearts to accept it by faith.

  7. I actually had mixed feelings about the book, but for different reasons than any of you have stated.
    I have to agree with Dawn though – God is both, and he comes to us in different ways depending on our need at the time, just like a father (or mother) does.
    If your child openly defies a boundary, you have to establish your position as authority, but if a father display nothing but authority when that same child falls down and skins his knee, the child experiences an imbalance.
    I think what the author(s) of The Shack were trying to show is that in His sovereignty, God comes to us in the way that we need most, but not necessarily what we want most or what is most comfortable according to our theological perspective.
    A husband is the head of the house and the head of his wife, but that doesn’t mean they don’t share pillow talk and other intimate encounters. Just because they’ve been intimate, it doesn’t diminish the husband’s God-given authority.
    The natural speaks of the invisible. Why is it so hard to see God as both father and judge? As bridegroom and King? Even a king wants to be known and loved for who he is…

  8. While I think The Shack did what it set out to do: show God’s presence in the midst of pain, and I think it had good allegorical images of the Judge in the cave (which reflected Job) and the Holy Spirit working in the garden, I wouldn’t have gotten to those places if I hadn’t promised a friend I’d read it.
    The beginning especially was so poorly written, I find myself groaning at this example of Christian fiction. It didn’t engage me at all, to be honest.
    Also, while I’m willing to give an author lots of room when writing allegories (after all, there’s not a metaphor in the world that can accurately portray the Trinity), his Christology was off. He talks about Jesus as merely a man who depended on God fully rather than possessing divinity. He also speaks monotheistically about the Trinity–God the Father has the same wounds as God the Son (which is not true). You mentioned his inclusivism. While I don’t agree with his stance, I don’t have a problem with that being published as he seems to be on par with C.S. Lewis’ theology.
    But really, it’s the writing that got me the most. If he’d taken the time to polish, to engage, to show rather than tell in the beginning, to do something other than gloss over the fact that Mack killed his father, I think this could have been even more powerful.

  9. People I know who loved The Shack wanted me to love it. I didn’t. People I know who hated it wanted me hate it. I didn’t hate it either. Those that loved it were moved by the power of metaphor to reveal something hidden from them about God until just now. Those that hated it were affronted by such cavalier handling of the doctrine of God – as if He could be explained in 200-some best-selling pages. The book simply failed to impress me at just about every level. I liked the chapter on Nouns and Verbs, very much actually. But this was not a book about nouns and verbs. It was essentially about the ages-old problem of evil. And the writing simply wasn’t good enough nor the theology deep enough to mesmerize me. I am more amazed by the reaction of the crowd than the words of the book. It is the crowd’s fascination with it that truly has me spellbound.

  10. The author calls himself “an accidental author” because he wrote the “book” for his children as a way of explaining the healing process for his abusive past. While some of his God concepts are easy to contradict, a few of them were well perceived. However, keep in mind, authors, many of you incorporate your doctrines into fictional material either unintentionally or intentionally, and I’ve disagreed with enough of those, but if your story is good, who cares? We’re talking novels here.
    The writing is amateurish, but most readers don’t notice what writers pick out, dissect, and criticize. I didn’t particularly care for the book as a whole and up until the last couple chapters I had to force myself to finish it, but neither could I understand what all the buzz and controversy were about, some Christians attacking it as heresy. Again, it is a novel.
    It didn’t change my life, but some life-long Christians claimed it changed theirs. More power to whatever God will decide to use to amplify Himself. We were intended to be unity and act in love, yet Jesus reminded/admonished us: “If any two of you can agree on one thing . . . ” In other words how hard is that gonna be for ya? Apparently very hard. How many denominations are there? Not His idea . . .

  11. I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I reaad it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at prayerdigm.bookstudy@yahoo.com. I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
    Trish Pickard

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