chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young

Posted by Jason on January 5, 2009


by William P. Young

by William P. Young


So I finally read it. It came highly recommended by several people, mostly wifey’s family. This book has certainly made waves, from what I hear. Several people I’ve talked to said it was one of the best books they’ve ever read. I’ve read that several churches have forbid their parishioners to read it, calling this book heresy and the devils work. Other churches have lifted it up as a must-read for any Christian who wants some answers the  difficult questions of our faith.

I know that there is doubt as to whether or not this is a true story or not. Sure, the author says all this really happened to his friend and tells the story his friend tells, but who knows? My feeling is that it’s somewhere between fiction and truth, as much literature is. If this story is in fact a completely invented work of fiction, then Young did an incredible job making quite a few people believe in its veracity. I suppose many would say the same about the Bible or the Torah or the Qur’an. 

True or not, this book did provoke quite a bit of thought within me, unlike other “Christian” books such as Jabez or Purpose Driven Life, etc., which just made me sick. I like Young’s interpretation of punishment being sin itself. Sin is not an act, but rather a separation from God. This separation and all the awful things it entails is a punishment that we inflict upon ourselves. Because we are forgiven through Christ, there is no need for God to wield great thunderbolts of divine justice and smite us when we screw up. 

I’m also in agreement when God tells Mack that He (God) is not religion and does not care for religion in the least. According to Young, institutions are means for power structures and subjugation, and the God of love and community is not about that.

Young provides quite a smattering of ideas about the nature of God and the relationships we have with that God. Most of these views, while not directly antagonistic to those of conservative American Christianity, fit into a fairly liberal schematic of the Christian faith. I can definitely see why many Christians around the country and even around the world would find this book revolutionary or perhaps heretical. To me, it was neither, and this is not because I’m some theological genius or anything. Most of what I read worked just fine with my Methodist/Weslyan world view.

I wasn’t really shocked or appalled at any of Young’s ideas, but he did open up quite a bit of thought in me. I thought a lot about relationships in reading this book, and it has been a great avenue for self-examination of my not so many years living on this wonderful Earth. The presentation of the Trinity was a little gimmicky for me, but the ideas behind that presentation were fine. 

Overall I thought this was an interesting book. Not life-changing, but a great way to get some think-juices flowing in my whacky head. I think it’s one of those books that, read at several different points in a person’s life, will provide many different perspectives and little gems throughout the years.


7 Responses to “Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young”

  1. Interesting thoughts. To Jesus Christ be the glory forever!


  2. layrenewal said

    As he met and “experienced” the Trinity, it kind of reminded me of that Robin Williams movie “What Dreams May Come.” I’m not sure why…

    Overall though, I felt a bit manipulated. I had to read a book in high school (title escapes me) about a murder. Author presented it in such a way that you felt for the killer – not the family. If you have even the smallest conscience, The Shack draws you in via horrific tragedy. I felt like he used that medium a bit harshly – even if it worked!

    As far as theology goes – It made me a bit queasy to read Young’s presentation of Jesus saying He was the “best way.” That part doesn’t work with reading Scripture. A few other things were iffy in my opinion, but that was the worst.

    It did make me think which is something I always appreciate from a book.

  3. Jason said

    Lay, I agree the tragedy was a bit manipulative. I can see where the “best way” part would not sit well with Scripture. It’s mostly the highly stylized book of John that has the bits about nobody going to the Father except through Christ, right? I actually liked that section about God’s transcendence of manmade religion, but that’s always going to be a difference of opinion between us, right? 😉 Thanks for your comments, it’s good to have the input of someone who knows more about theology than I.

  4. Brooke said

    Someone I work with recently told me I just have to read this book. So it was interesting to see your thoughts on it. Think I will pick it up soon.

  5. layrenewal said

    Hey – no fair calling names! I’m not a theologian – just a struggling believer trying to learn. :o)

    That part did have some great points that I really did like. I think we try to put God in a box WAY too much. But for me, I have to go back to Genesis and work my way through everything. It’s the system of covenants that blows my mind.

    Man sins. God loves and forgives. Man sins again. God loves and forgives again. Cycles keep going. God sets up a sacrificial system giving man a chance to obey “the law” and be perfect. Guess what? We fail again.

    Jesus comes as man, lives the perfect life, offers the unblemished sacrifice and opens the curtains that keep God hidden (Hebrews 10:19-25). We still sin, but Jesus covers all and curtain remains open.

    Yes, the verse is from John, but the theme, concept, whatever you want to call it (unblemished lamb) is woven throughout the books of the Bible.

    Cool stuff to read and discuss! Thanks!!

  6. Jason said


    I like your ideas on the cyclical nature of our relationship with God. Separation, redemption, and all over again.

    As for putting God in a box, couldn’t we see our very religions and different metaphysical/theological concepts as very limited boxes into which God is stuffed? While I wholeheartedly subscribe to the Christian faith and my views and knowledge of God are through Christ, I could just as well have been a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or Jew if I were born under different circumstances. While I believe that there is one God, could He not have different faces by which humans come to know Him? A different face could mean a different name of Allah or Buddha, yet the God is the same.

    I feel all religions are attempts to understand the divine in addition to being power structures and socio-political machines. If Abdul comes to know God by praying on a rug 5 times a day, who am I to say my understanding is better than his? (Curiously enough, many Christian monastic traditions have similar, set prayer times known as the Offices of Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer…) Anywho, through Jesus Christ, I have found a bit of God. I hope that all the world can know God as well, by any means or names…

  7. layrenewal said


    Well yes, we could see all religions that way and life would be a lot easier. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is true… 😦

    First and foremost though – I think you have a great point. We are all looking for a bit of the Divine. In this amazing world, we want to know we are not alone, we want to know there is “something else,” we want to experience that “something.”

    This may be scandalous to some of my friends, but I actually think there is a bit of Truth in almost every religion. Some have very little truth, others have a lot. But, that doesn’t mean every religion is right.

    (As a strange example, if every student in your classes gave a different answer to a question on a test, would you give them all a perfect grade?)

    That’s why I think Christ told us to “go” and share the Good News with the world. The Truth needs to be restored. We just have to do it the way He said – not the way man thinks.

    Anyway – we’ll all know the answers someday. Until then, we just have to keep searching, keep strugging and keep talking.

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