Regarding Reactions and Opportunites Surrounding “The Shack”

I recently was invited to read, The Shack, by William Young. When I saw Eugene Peterson’s review of the book I was even more intrigued. I read The Shack (by the way, I read the entire book). I thought The Shack to be quite interesting. I thought it brought up many points for discussion. And, I read it knowing that it was a novel…but not really knowing until well into it that it was a theological novel.

But, more than the book itself I need to reflect upon the reaction to the novel given by evangelical church leaders. Recently, I read on a list serve that some found the book to be so offensive that they wouldn’t even finish it. A church leader said it should not be used in discussion groups because of the heresies contained (then the person admitted that they had read only the first half of the book). This led me to reading some online reviews of the book and getting a better picture as to what people found so objectionable.

I haven’t read every review, but, I have read enough reviews to help me understand, once again, why our outreach to young adults and others who are confused in undertanding of faith is so ineffective. The Shack has been a #1 New York Times Bestseller and claims over 1,000,000 copies in print. The Amazon site has over 2000 customer reviews (1000 with a five star rating) and Barnes and Noble have close to 500 reviews. What does this tell us…….The Shack has struck a chord with the public and it is touching at their spiritual needs and questions.

Young adults find the church to be negative and unthinking. That is one of the reasons they give for not even wanting to talk with people who identify themselves as Christian. The responses I have read by church leaders regarding The Shack reinforces the young adult view of the Church as negative, unthinking and closed minded.

With the popularity of The Shack, we have wonderful opportunity to bring young adults and others together to discuss spiritual issues that seem to be of interest to them. Whether we agree with Young or not, he raises questions that touch at the heartstrings of the reader:

What is the nature of God?
Is God male or female and does it make any difference?
What is the source of evil?
What is the source of suffering?
Can I forgive but not forget?
What is forgiveness and what does it look like?
What does it mean to have a close personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ?

The questions could go on an on. My own personal practice is to bring people together for the discussion stating up front that all opinions will be respected and heard. We then lay out the questions, quotes from the book, Scripture and we compare them all. If there is a Buddhist in the group then we hear and respect the Buddhist view. It is a matter of having a respectful discussion about the issues at hand and then letting the Holy Spirit do the Holy Spirit’s thing. We just don’t have to be so afraid of thoughts and ideas. God can defend God’s self and God will reveal the truth.

In his foreward to Howard Friend’s, “Gifts of an Uncommon Life” (Alban Institute), Richard Rohr writes:

Christianity worldwide has come to have an often negative public image. The Christian religion no longer naturally connotes people who serve the world, people who care about others, other nations or religions, poverty and injustice, or even people who are very happy. In fact, our common image is often exactly the opposite.

How did we get to this impossible place, after placing ourselves in the following of Jesus who described himself as “gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) and whom the Samaritan woman saw as the “Savior of the world” (John 4:42)? Now we often appear tribal, territorial, and timid–a strange combination of defensive and offensive–in the name of the one who was none of these.”

So, I would strongly suggest that we calm down and engage in discussion. Let us bring graciousness and hospitality to the forefront and live in the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. Let us welcome those who doubt or question and allow a conversation that seeks truth. Those who are seeking the truth will be found by the Truth; Jesus Christ.

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