Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Shack

Review of ‘The Shack’, by William P. Young, published by Windblown Media

Despite its best-selling status in the Evangelical Protestant world (or perhaps because of it), I had resolved to somehow avoid reading this novel. The many questions and citations from the book with which I had already been bombarded by a parishioner told me all that I needed to know and more than enough to confirm my jaundiced opinion of it. But when another parishioner held the book up to my face after Liturgy with the request that I please read it and give my opinion, I felt that being a good pastor meant that I would have to slog through it after all.

I found that it was not heavy slogging, but was actually well-written and quite readable. I also found it to be quite heretical. Polite people, I’m told, don’t use the h-word anymore, and I myself like to save it for just such occasions as this. That is, the book does not just contain doctrinal errors. The presence of some errors do not justify use of the h-word. I use the h-word because the Trinity it proclaims is not recognizable as the holy Tri-une God revealed in the Scriptures. As St. Irenaeus says regarding heresy, it is as if someone deconstructed a mosaic of the face of the King and rearranged the pieces to create a mosaic of a fox, saying that this was the face of the King. All the pieces (or Scripture verses) used by the heretics are the same, but they have been dramatically altered out of all recognition. Though The Shack is a compelling read and has many valuable insights regarding the human heart and the state of Evangelical religion, I can no longer recognize the face of the King.

The novel tells the story of a father tragically bereft of his young daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Her body is never found, only her blood-soaked dress, which was recovered in an isolated shack. It is this shack to which the father is invited, much later, by God (in an apparently hand-delivered letter, signed only ‘papa’), so that God can reveal Himself, teach him some lessons and reform his heart (Christmas Carol, anyone?) The father, “Mackenzie” by name, goes alone to the shack to meet this ‘papa’, not knowing what to expect. Then God reveals Himself in a weekend-long retreat, full of good southern cooking, good weather and heart-warming laughter. And here is where the book makes me reach for the h-word.

The Trinity is revealed as three persons: not three hypostases, three persons. The Father is an older African-American woman, complete with southern accent (‘sho nuff’) who answers to the name ‘papa’, though she is “rather fond” of the name “Elousia”. (‘El’—God, and ‘ousia’—essence, get it?) She reminds me suspiciously of the Oracle in the movie The Matrix. The Son is a young man, “appearing Middle Eastern” and dressed in a tool belt and gloves, jeans and a plaid shirt; the Holy Spirit is a “small distinctly Asian woman” whose name is Sarayu. (I asked myself, why an Asian woman? Perhaps because Asians are supposed to be exotic and mysterious? Whatever.) The three are always affirming one another, saying how much they love each other, laughing, kidding around with each other, and giggling. I’m not making this up: giggling. And apparently, the Father appeared to Mackenzie as a mother because he had trouble with his father. Later, He would appear as an older man, with “silver-white hair pulled back into a pony tail, a gray-splashed moustache and a goatee”. (He reminded me of Willie Nelson.) And, straining to be profound, the author offers a fourth member, the woman “Sophia”. Sergius Bulgakov’s reaction can be imagined.

So, what’s the problem? Where to begin? For one thing, the Scriptures teach that the invisible Father, “whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16) is made visible only in His Son, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Thus, the Father reveals Himself in His eternal Logos, so that all Old Testament theophanies of the Father were revelations of the Son, which is why St. John could write that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ when the prophet had his vision of the Lord of Hosts in the Temple (Is. 6:1f, Jn. 12:41). The Father and the Spirit, never having been made incarnate, have no visible image—they cannot be seen as two men, much less as two women.

But more alarmingly, the Trinity as pictured in The Shack is utterly devoid of any awe-inspiring numinus Moses may have been full of fear and trembling at the manifestation of the God of Sinai (Heb. 12:21), Isaiah may have declared himself undone at the sight of the Lord of Hosts in the Temple (Is. 6:5), Ezekiel may have fallen on the face before the Lord at the River Chebar (Ezek. 1:28) and even St. John fell at the feet of the glorified Christ as if he were dead (Rev. 1:17). But the sight of the Trinity in this volume excites no such reaction at all. All is warm and casual, comforting and cozy—a God who giggles, and calls you ‘honey’, a God who drops and breaks crockery, a God who never condemns or is disappointed in any of us. In short, the God who is your buddy, so characteristic of modern Evangelicalism and celebrated in their feel-good choruses. It is not the God invoked in our baptismal service, “whose glance dries up the deep, whose interdict makes the mountains melt away”, the God who “touches the mountains and they smoke, who clothes Himself with light as with a garment”. All of the other errors and mis-steps of the volume pale in comparison with this basic mis-presentation of the divine. The awesome God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has become the comfortable demi-god of the emergent church. The face of the King has been distorted to resemble the face of a fox.

A commendation on the book’s cover says that the book “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his”. For the sake of our Evangelical brethren, we can only hope not.

--Archpriest Lawrence R. Farley

Langley, B.C.

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