Over the last year or so I have often heard William Paul Young’s novel The Shack compared to a cake with a teaspoon of arsenic in the batter. Given the book’s title, we might recast the warning in terms of a shack loaded with the theological equivalent of asbestos. Either way the lesson is the same: the book contains a number of heresies that could be theologically fatal, and so we had better stay away from it altogether.
As a professional theologian who has written a book on The Shack, I take this advice seriously. Nonetheless, I find it deeply misguided for three reasons.
To begin with, I find that this response has a troubling impact on the Christian mind. Whether the chosen analogy is an asbestos shack or an arsenic cake, the claim is the same: there is no way to read The Shack without being infected by the gross errors contained therein. But clearly this warning is spurious. When I eat an orange, I throw away the peel . Likewise, if I “consume” a book, I need not digest all of it. Even if The Shack contained some heresy, surely I could leave that behind and still benefit from that which is nourishing.
What is especially disturbing about the arsenic and asbestos analogies is that they discourage nuanced, critical thinking among Christians. Rather than helping us to test everything and hold on to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21), they encourage simplistic all-or-nothing judgments. Either the book has all its theological ducks in a row or you shouldn’t read it at all. But very rarely is anything completely right or completely wrong. Children may see everything in terms of black and white, but becoming an adult means learning to navigate the grey.
Second, this advice misses the way The Shack has reoriented priorities. Every day I encounter Christians more interested in what they will do for the weekend than in the grand topics of Christian doctrine. How sad it is that we allow all sorts of trivialities to crowd out really important conversations. Now enter The Shack for whether you like it or not, it has undoubtedly led people to ask important questions about a range of pivotal issues ranging from the nature of God to the problem of evil. And that is a marvelous gift.
Finally, I find the charge of heresy in The Shack to be simply false. Since I make that point at length in my book Finding God in The Shack (Paternoster, 2009), I won’t rehearse the arguments here. But suffice it to say, charges that the book promotes “goddess worship” or “modalism” are so far off base that for the sake of charity I must assume those who make the charges did not really read the book.
To sum up, the Latins had a great phrase: “Sapere Aude” or “Dare to know”. Although this slogan can be abused, it remains a great piece of advice. Don’t let other people tell you what to think, whether that person is William Paul Young or his most fiery critics. Read for yourself, pray, reflect, and hold on to that which is true.
(Via The Christian Post)
Are there other thoughts on this book? If you’ve read the book, do you agree or disagree with Rauser?