There are a few things that I will say, simply because I've been asked to say something. Shack-writer William P. Young attempts to appear anti-dogmatic and reader-friendly to all those out there (probably millions, he must think) who won't be Christian because God hurt their feelings. Apparently (and "apparency" seems to be the dominant ontological theory), "hurt feelings" (not lack of faith) is the apologetical object: ergo, God must apologize for being mean.
Young writes a "theological fiction" story -- and for some reason, he chose not to write in an allegorical idiom, in which there might have been some salvation. Instead, he chose to write in the postmodern "narrative" idiom, which is more akin to Oprah and the Celestine Prophecies.
This idiom, just in case you haven't had the pleasure of imbibing such stories, goes something like this: protagonist (neurotic like Willy Loman, not heroic like Everyman) gets hurt personally by a tragedy. The personal hurt takes narrative precedence over the reality of the tragedy itself. In the personal hurt, the subjectivist (you can go ahead and read "dejected," as this particular passion is usually empowering a subjectivist descent into cynical despair) mindset turns toward the theme (and cliche) of theodicy. God is blamed and life goes dark. Protagonist then goes on a hero quest (a la Joe Campbell) that the author intends as romance (but his postmodern episteme can't help but tend toward irony). Protagonist meets God somehow, and the author tries ever so sincerely (like Linus in the Pumpkin Patch) at improving on God's Whirlwind Speech to the Righteous Job.
This idiom attempts to put out a Living Bible paraphrase of good doctrine (at times) and bad (more times than not). Some have fallen for this siren call: one breathless commenter on Amazon said that reading the Shack was so much better than his seminary education. And to be sure, many have gushed over Young's wildly popular book. On the back cover alone are Michael W. Smith and Wynonna Judd. On the "What Others are Saying about The Shack" page are, among others, Kathie Lee Gifford (I would expect this) and Eugene Peterson (I really, really did not expect this).
There are a few good things in this book that I may list in my critique. But there are bad things. And these bad things are enough to put The Shack on the "You don't have to read this" list, especially if you've got better things to read like Gregory the Theologian, Basil, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Theophan, Pomazansky, Lossky, Hart, Staniloae, Vlachos.
Speaking of St. Gregory: the Shack is really bad especially at the point where Young tries to be so good. He wants to discuss the Trinity in response to tragedy, which I think is a good pastoral endeavor. However, his Trinitarian doctrine becomes a hypermodernist icon of egalitarianism and deconstruction. "Submission" is redefined as mutual self-denial (which is true), but a denial that is limited and made meaningless by a renunciation of obedience and hierarchy (which is not true).
There is also no repentance. There is a lot of therapeutic cartharsis. There is that weepy crisis, that "psycho-denouement" where "all is revealed" through -- and only through -- self-understanding. It is like depth psychology becoming ontology and eschatology (scary thought, that). Like John Bradshaw turning out to be right in the end.
There is no Prodigal "coming to one's senses." No renunciation of passion in ascesis. No old-fashioned fear of God. There is, as might be expected nowadays, no perdition. Salvation is only warm fuzzy relationship in The Shack: Mack is told, by Papa, that "God submits to you."
Instead of repentance, there is the absolutely crazy notion of needing to forgive God. This is akin to that great psychobabbular "Christian counseling" endorsement of "it's okay to be angry at God."
No, it is not. Ever.
Moreover, there is an insane, reader-friendly personification of the Trinity that goes like this: God the Father is played out as an African woman who goes by "Papa." God the Son is a middle-aged large-nosed plain-looking man who goes by "Jesus." And God the Spirit is an Asiatic woman named "Sarayu." To be sure, Young means (I hope) for these figures to be anthropomorphizations, which are adopted by God as "means of communication."
I hope you are whiffing the naffy, six-day old carrion scent of some old, hackneyed ideas here -- ideas which have occasioned some withering comments from the Ecumenical Councils.
This Trinitarian Dogma, along with the usual counsel about forgiving one's enemies nested in a screenplay, ends up being the very worst kind of dogmatization -- the kind that hides its imperious authority under the cloak of Barney's purple dinosaur suit, or Fred Roger's cardigan sweater and tennies. How can you argue with heresy, when it is couched in catharsis? When someone is busy having a self-revelation moment, in which he is coming to terms with his personal tragedy, who am I -- a cranky doctrinaire male clergy intolerant and exclusivistic hide-bound thoroughly uncool anachronism -- to tell him that his theological fictional self-realization is a fantasy?
That would be like telling Phil Donahue, who is busy gushing and burbling, that he is not evolved, and that, tears or no, tolerance or no, devolution is a much more likely state.
So let us forget, for now, a full-blown critique of Young and his good intentions.
What bothers me is how the Shack got so popular in the first place. How did Evangelical culture permit this Shackness to ever happen?
A book flies up to number one on the New York Times list, #7 on Amazon, and in the Top 50 on the USA Today list only because it services a pre-existing mindset. This is much like the problem of King Ahab's four hundred state-supported prophets who kept telling him self-serving messages, and only giving him news that he wanted to hear (as opposed to that pesky Micaiah: "I hate him," Ahab said, "for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil").
Best-sellers (and large groups) are produced because opinions and fantasies are confirmed, and endorphins are released into the cultural bloodstream.
Thus, there is now a new Shack industry in the Evangelical world, just like there was a Prayer of Jabez industry, a Promise Keepers industry, the CCM and Branson industry, an ugly plastic wristband industry, and the ever-popular Rapture industry.
There are industries of self-confirmation, but there is no repentance offered to the Holy Trinity, Who is above all Names.
Mr. Young's protagonist Mack should not have gone to the Shack.
In Orthodoxy, one only goes to the Cross, the place where one does not dare bring up theodicy, because it is in such very bad taste