This run-away best-selling book by William P. Young came out in May, 2007. It is overtly Christian but very controversial, especially in places where it presumes to explain the details of God’s thinking on questionable issues. Suffice to say, it is never safe to put words in God’s mouth, but that is the entire literary formula of The Shack.
Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is pure…Add not unto his words, lest he reprove you, and you be found a liar.
About the Author
William P. Young
William Young was born in 1955, in Canada, and raised by missionary parents in New Guinea (West Papua), among the stone-age Dani (a tribe of 40,000). He became the first white child who ever spoke their language. He says, “By the time I was flown away to boarding school at age six, I was in most respects a white Dani.” Little William once sat in on a discussion among the Dani people about whether they would kill his parents. Ongoing sexual abuse, a natural part of the Dani culture, began to involve William at the age of four. He didn’t feel able to confide in his parents about what was happening to him.
Though a missionary, his dad was once an angry young man, and had “issues,” so William felt he had to stay out of his Dad’s way. The family focus was always on mission more than on relationships. William was flown away to a “Christian” boarding school when he was six years old. The older boys at the school immediately came in and began to molest the first grader boys. After six months away, William’s mom visited him at the school. William called her Aunt Betty (that was the name of the dorm mother at boarding school, and he thought all nurturing white women were called Aunt Betty).
In all his childhood William learned to “perform” to survive—giving all his attention to externals and image. After Bible college he took a couple of associate pastor positions in large churches out west (overseeing 300-600 teens or college age). He was also frequently requested for special speaking engagements all around the country.
William met his wife, Kim, and asked her to marry him before they had ever gone on a date. Eleven days later they were married! He actually had suicidal thoughts during their first three weeks of marriage because the intimacy of marriage poked holes in his facade of perfection.
In 1993, at 38 years old, William’s world crashed. He had initiated a three-month affair with one of his wife’s best friends. In January, 1994, Kim went to this very friend to confide in her about the distance she was feeling in her marriage. The friend admitted the affair, and intended to keep her romance with William alive. Over the course of several days William told Kim the whole story—after each confession saying, “that’s all,” and then confessing more again later. Kim said she would never believe another word that came out of William’s mouth.
Externals, performances, and lies all ended at this time. William wrote letters to all who knew him in ministry. He went through eleven years “living with an underlying volume of shame so deep and loud that it constantly threatened any sense of sanity, of dreams not only destroyed but obliterated by personal failure, of hope so tenuous that only the trigger [of a gun] seemed to offer a solution.”
A friend told him that there was still a good “seed” in William’s life, and this gave him hope. After that conversation he underwent nine months of Christian counseling. The thinking process of Mack in The Shack is essentially the process William went through during his counseling.
4/26/08 interview with William P. Young on The Drew Marshall Show
Plotline of The Shack
Mack (Mackenzie Allen Phillips) grew up in an abusive Christian home—with a father who was an elder in his church but drank secretly and beat Mack mercilessly. When he could take it no more, Mack ran away from home (after first poisoning his father’s alcohol—the results of which were never explained in the book).
Fast-forward to Mack’s life as an adoring father. His wife, Nan, is a devoted Christian. Mack is disillusioned with God. He takes his three children, Missy, Kate and Josh camping (Nan couldn’t go because of work obligations). One morning while Mack is getting breakfast together at the campground, Josh and Kate tipped the canoe over in the icy lake. The strap on Josh’s life vest became caught in the overturned canoe and kept Josh from coming to the surface for air. Mack dove into the lake and saved his son—barely—but while he was saving the son, a serial killer abducted his youngest daughter, Missy. The kidnapper eventually molested and killed little Missy in a shack deep in the woods.
After this “the great sadness” settled into all their lives—especially Mack’s—and continued for 3½ years until Mack got a letter in the mailbox. It was not delivered by the mailman and had no return address. “Mackenzie, It’s been awhile. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. Papa.”
Mack does indeed go to the shack where he meets God the Father, Papa, in the form of a jolly black woman, God the Son in the form of a carpenter, and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a semi-transparent Asian woman. His experience with God in the shack heals his aching heart and helps him to understand that lavish grace has been extended to him. This inspires him to extend lavish grace to others—including his daughter’s murderer.
An Important Reminder in Critiquing The Shack
No person can tell how well William P. Young has done in his service to the Lord. Perhaps he has done amazingly well, considering his childhood trauma, his natural abilities, his access to truth, etc. Perhaps not. Either way, these are things no human critic can know. If we criticize one or another point in any author’s work, we must not judge the author himself to be a failure, or even his work, in general, to be a failure. Is The Shack poison, or does it just have poison in it? There is a profound difference between those two ideas. Sometimes the poison content in a book or movie is so high that it ought to be avoided entirely. I personally doubt that is the case for The Shack and, unfortunately, with Christ as the single exception, everything every human does is tainted by at least some poison. Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Insurmountable Problem #1 with The Shack: Making God Too Small
Job 40:1 Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said, 2 Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it 3 Then Job answered the LORD, and said,4 Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. 5 Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further. 42:5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. 6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Revelation 1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man…17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.
Daniel 10:8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision [of Messiah], and there remained no strength in me…9 Yet heard I the voice of his words… 10 And, behold, an hand [Gabriel’s] touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands.11 And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling.
“Well, Mackenzie, don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full,” said the big black woman as she turned and headed across the deck… “‘Come and talk to me while I get supper on.’”
“Then with a quick smile, she disappeared into the cabin, armed with Mack’s winter coat and still carrying [his] gun by two fingers, a full arm’s length away from her.”
“Isn’t she great!” exclaimed Jesus, grinning at Mack.
“’Am I going crazy? Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?’”
Jesus laughed. “She’s a riot! You can always count on her to throw you a curve or two.”
Papa…swayed to the music of whatever she was listening to….The song obviously came to an end, marked by a couple of last shoulder and hip shakes….Turning to face him, she took off the earphones.
“May I ask what you’re listening to?”
“West Coast Juice…More like Eurasian funk and blues with a message and a great beat….These kids ain’t saying anything I haven’t heard before [apparently profanity]….Lots of anger…just…spoutin’ off.”
It appeared that Jesus had dropped a large bowl of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere. All three were laughing so hard…Sarayu said something about humans being clumsy, and all three started roaring again…. “We were going to have this incredible Japanese sauce, but greasy fingers over there,” Papa nodded toward Jesus, “decided to see if it would bounce”….Everyone laughed.
“Whoa,” said Papa. “Take it easy on those greens. Those things can give you the trots if you ain’t careful.”
[Jesus noticing a trout swimming beneath them] “I’ve been trying to catch him for weeks, and here he comes just to bait me….I’ll probably never catch him.”
(God says to Mack:) “Men! Such idiots sometimes.”
“Did I hear God call me an idiot?” He called through the screen door.
“If the shoe fits, Honey. Yes sir, if the shoe fits.”
Insurmountable Problem #2 with The Shack: Making God a Good Christian But a Poor God
2 Thessalonians 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
Psalm 7:11 God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.12 If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
It might be said that the lead characters in The Shack make fantastic Christians, but they would make a very wicked God. The most important flaw in William Young’s theology is that he seems to create God after his own image—a very non-judgmental God. This is a very unsafe and misleading theology.
(Pages 158-169 excerpts)
[God says to MacKenzie] But you are not on trial here….You will be the judge.
What? Me? I’d rather not. I don’t have any ability to judge.
Oh, that is not true…You have already proven yourself very capable—even in our short time together. And besides you have judged many throughout your life…By all accounts you are quite well-practiced in the activity….Tell me, if I may ask, by what criteria do you base your judgments?
Nothing that seems to make much sense at the moment….when I made those judgments I felt quite justified…
Of course you did. Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge. Come on. I want you to sit here [in the throne of judgment]. Now.
So who is it that I’m supposed to judge?
God…and the human race.
You’ve got to be kidding!
Surely there are many people in the world you think deserve judgment—what about men who beat their wives, MacKenzie? What about fathers who beat their sons…? And what about the man who preys on innocent little girls? What about him, MacKenzie? Is that man guilty? Should he be judged?
What about his father, the man who twisted his son into a terror, what about him?
Yes, him too!
How far do we go back, MacKenzie…all the way back to Adam?…But why stop there? What about God? He started this whole thing. Is God to blame?…Surely a father like you can blame the Father!
Yes! God is to blame!
If you are able to judge God so easily, then you certainly can judge the world….You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God’s heaven, but only two, and you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell….I’m only asking you to do something that you believe God does….You suppose that God does this easily, but you cannot. Come now, MacKenzie, which three of your five children will you sentence to hell?
I can’t do this. I will not do this!
You have judged them worthy of love….Now you know Papa’s heart who loves all his children perfectly….Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.
Is that what it means to be a Christian?
Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian….Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, and many who don’t vote and are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. Some are bankers and bookees, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa…
Note: This was an amazing exercise in grammar. We shift from the past tense “were Buddhists” to the present tense “are bankers” at exactly the right place to prevent heresy, but how many readers will notice this nuance? Does Christ really have “no desire to make them Christians” in the genuine biblical sense of the term? (Acts 11:26 And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.)
Various Related Short Quotes
MacKenzie, the Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It’s a picture of Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us…14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
Are you saying that I don’t have to follow the rules?
Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.
1 Corinthians 9:21 To them that are without law, I became as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
Note: There are hundreds of rules even in the New Testament. We are told in the New Testament that we are not under “the” law (the law of Moses), but we are certainly under Christ’s law—the rules for which we must answer to Christ. And while all “things” are lawful (meat, wine, money, drums, swimsuits, gadgets, etc.) all behaviors are certainly not lawful. How many readers know this?
Honey, I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else….And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me.
What? You’ve never been disappointed in me?
Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
Son this is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness…
Romans 10:11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
2 Thessalonians 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
1 Corinthians 11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
James 5:9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
Note: Clearly, we have no business judging any person after any man-made standard, but William Young won’t even let God set rules, burn with anger, recoil in holiness, humiliate, condemn, or impose feelings and sentences of guilt. This sort of God would make a wonderful Christian, but an unholy God.
One Great Benefit from The Shack: Good Counsel on Emotional Wellness
In spite of some of the misleading ideas put forth by William Young in The Shack, some of his conclusions are very deep and very correct. He is obviously well acquainted with some of the deeper things in God’s Word, and these are worthy of every Christian’s careful attention.
On why God allows people to victimize us when He could have prevented it
[God] doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as [God] desires it to be, and as it will be someday. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those that he is especially fond of.
[Evil] touches everyone I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all….So whose choices should we countermand, Mackenzie? Perhaps I should have never created? Perhaps Adam should have been stopped before he chose independence? What about…your father’s choice to beat his son? You demand your independence, but then complain that I actually love you enough to give it to you.
I would have preferred that you did take control at times. It would have saved me and people I care about a lot of pain.
To force my will on you is exactly what love does not do….even when your choices are not helpful or healthy.
I came to give you life, real life, my life….But we will never force that union on you. If you want to do your own thing, have at it. Time is on our side.
Could I have prevented what happened to Missy? The answer is yes….First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or second, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration, and the latter was not an option for purposes you cannot possibly understand now. At this point all I have to offer you as an answer is my love and goodness, and my relationship with you.
Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
Romans 11:32-33 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
On the Holy Spirit’s good work in each believer even in the worst of times
Look at this mess. [Mack’s] gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them.
Mackenzie…this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart….To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive.
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
Philemon 4-6 I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,..6 That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.
On the debilitating effects of despair (disconnection with God)
The Great Sadness draped itself around Mack’s shoulders like some invisible but almost tangibly heavy quilt….Even his efforts to shake it off were exhausting….At times he could feel The Great Sadness slowly tightening around his chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor…waves of nausea and guilt and regret rolled over him like some surreal tidal flood.
Now, three and a half years later….Life would never be normal again, not that any time is ever really normal.
On any man’s inability to tell whether an event is good or bad for him
I guess I would say that something is good when I like it—when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security.
Then it is you that determines good and evil…There are billions of [people] each determining what is good and what is evil. So when your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s, fights and arguments ensue, and even war breaks out….You must give up your right to decide what is good or evil on your own terms….To do that you must know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness.
Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
Hebrews 11:35 others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
On marriage difficulties
[A woman], in general, will find it difficult to turn from a man and stop demanding that he meet her needs…and return to me. Men, in general, find it very hard to turn from…their own quests…and return to me.
Genesis 30:1-2 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
On how to walk with the Lord
But don’t you want us to set priorities? You know: God first, then whatever, followed by whatever?
If you put God at the top, what does that really mean, and how much is enough? How much time do you give me before you can go on with the rest of your day, the part that interests you so much more?…I don’t just want a piece of you and a piece of your life. Even if you were able, which you are not, to give me the biggest piece, that is not what I want. I want all of you, and all of every part of you and your day….I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be the center of everything….where everything in your life—your friends, family, occupation, thoughts, activities—is connected with me…in and out, back and forth, in an incredible dance of being.
Son, you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely….As incomprehensible as it sounds at this moment, you may well know this man in a different context one day.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Romans 12:12 [Be] continuing instant in prayer;
Ephesians 5:18-20 be filled with the Spirit…Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father
1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and…teacheth you of all things
On the importance of every Christian’s life
Let me ask you something. Is what I do back home important? Does it matter?
Mack, if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important…Every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness or service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.
1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Ephesians 5:1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.