Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review: The Shack by William Paul Young

God Reaches Out in Unique Ways
By Lauren Yarger
It’s a self publishing sensation, a best seller and one of the most controversial books of our time, as Christians either love or hate “The Shack” by William Paul Young (2007 Windblown Media in association with Hachette Book Group) and its unusual depiction of God. I have to admit that I resisted reading it for a long time, mostly because I’m not a big fan of most “Christian fiction,” and also, because people kept telling me it would change my view of God.

My view of God is pretty big already: he’s the creator of the universe, all knowing, all powerful and my savior. I am nothing without him. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. I suspected that the book’s following was a result of a “humans are smarter than God” message, à la The DaVinci Code (a terrific read, but hardly the canon for alternate faith many adopted from it), so I kept avoiding Young’s novel. Finally, I gave in and decided to read “The Shack” and find out what all the fuss was about.

I found it immediately compelling and well written. When I’d finished, which was almost immediately as it’s hard to put down, I thought Young had succeeded in depicting the true nature of God, his love for us and the hope we have in Jesus in the most clear, concise and inspired words I’d read in a long time. It didn’t change my knowledge of who God is, but it helped me understand him better.

The story involves a “great sadness” that engulfs Mack Phillips and his family following the kidnapping and apparent murder of his youngest daughter, Missy on a Labor Day camping trip with Mack and two of his other children, Katie and Josh. Missy is abducted while Mack is rescuing Katie from a canoeing accident. Police discover the calling card of a serial killer at the scene and Missy’s torn and bloody dress in a shack.

Mack’s wife, Nan, who has so close relationship with God she calls him “Papa” lets Mack know that she doesn’t blame him, but Mack, plagued by “what ifs” is taken over by the “great sadness” that causes a rift in his relationship with God.

One day, he receives a note: “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.”

Could the invitation really be from God or is it a trap set by the killer himself? Mack needs to find out and travels alone to the shack where the “great sadness” began. There, he finds God, revealed in a Father-Spirit-Son Trinity as three separate but equal persons: Papa, a large African-American woman, Sarayu, a small wind-like Asian woman and a Middle-Eastern looking Jesus.

The three share meals, day-to-day chores and conversation with Mack, who tries to come to grips with what is happening (like getting to walk on water with Jesus) and with discovering a God who is different from what he expected. The three God persons are able to help him walk through the sadness, find understanding and even embrace forgiveness.

The controversy surrounding the book comes from two main components: the depiction of God the father as a woman and from some references to non-Christians going to heaven. I think readers who are hung up on these issues may have missed some of the point.

None of Mack’s experience is depicted as gospel. In fact, there are several plot devices which make it possible for Mack‘s experience to have taken place while he was unconscious or even while he was dead. Does the bible say God is a black woman and Asian woman and Jesus? No. But do I believe God might reveal himself as a woman to a hurting child who had difficulty relating to an uncaring earthly father if doing so would allow Jesus to reach through the sadness and bring Mack to a place of healing. Without doubt.

The other comments are about how God finds followers from all different faiths, but again, the point isn’t that all faiths are equal, or that any faith provides the road to salvation, but rather that God is willing to receive anyone from any background who follows him.

Throughout Mack’s experience, Young eloquently offers terrific explanations to many question-inducing topics like the Fall of Man, free will, rules and the 10 commandments, the presence of evil and other theological perplexities, all answered with biblically sound and thoughtfully considered explanations. Actually, I suspect that most of the book, which reads like a biographical account, rather than a novel, comes from Young’s personal experiences learning from God over the years.

It’s truly a moving book and I would recommend it without hesitation to a non-Christian as a starting point for some answers and insight into who God is

. “…Religion is about having the right answers…, God says. “But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from the inside…”

If it doesn’t change you, “The Shack” will grow you. It’s a great choice for your summer reading list.

You can purchase "The Shack" here.

4 comments: said...

I have to say that "The Shack" by William P. Young was a very thought provoking read.

After reading the book, I was left pondering several things about it – which is a true testament to the book's worth. I had several questions on the validity of some of the descriptions of God but I had to humbly admit that there may be no answers this side of heaven for how God presents Himself to each individual.

I posted a more in-depth review of this book on my own blog


Joe said...

I have put off reading The Shack as well much like the reviewer. I just finished it. I have some serious concerns as far as how God is presented and I would especially have you notice the reviewers comment that should be clearly noted and be a grave concern. She states; "Does the bible say God is a black woman and Asian woman and Jesus? No. But do I believe God might reveal himself as a woman to a hurting child..."
Who really cares what you believe, if it doesn't line up with Scripture then it should not be counted worthy of acceptance. Our personal beliefs mean nothing compared to the truth of Scripture.

Author Sue Dent said...

I'm actually going to respond to your comment that you don't usually enjoy "Christian" fiction suggesting that you know the difference between books produced for that "targeted" market CBA serves and general market fiction written by Christian authors, like C. S. Lewis' fiction/fantasy.

Nice to see a review of a self-published general marketing Christian author. Sad to say there aren't more books like this reviewed here.

LaurenYarger said...

Sue-- You're right in making that distinction -- love C.S. Lewis.
As far as reviewing self-published books, we do, but there are so many. We review books for which we receive the most requests from our readers.

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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