I once heard someone call a Beatles song “evil.” It wasn’t even Lucy in the Sky playing but Love Me Do. Lyrics that affirm life in general were too lukewarm for him. “Be hot or cold,” he warned.
Approaching everything as pro vs. con may seem faithful, but it’s often a form of Dualism. In a biblical worldview, the imagination is regarded as one of God’s good gifts, but Dualists lack that freedom. In the words of H.L. Mencken, they have “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”*
Some negative reactions to The Shack reflect this kind of dualism. Instead of protecting Judeo-Christian values, they marginalize them.
I think The Shack is worth reading or seeing for these three reasons….
The Shack is an allegory
Allegory is a story or word picture representing a deeper, hidden meaning. Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message and evangelical scholar, compares the book to the classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and says, “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack.”
Allegory helps us see our blind spots
In the story, God the Father is named Papa (who’s actually an African American woman). Jesus is a man from the Middle East, true to form, and the Holy Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman. Some people have concerns about the author’s use of allegory to represent the Trinity. But he is not playing fast and loose with theology or suggesting alternate language. He’s using a literary devise to crash through emotional barriers between people and God.
Young is not tampering with orthodoxy but making it accessible to people who have gotten hurt and stuck. He is trying to help people make peace with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When disappointments get directed at God and ideals that represent Him, art can build an emotional bridge.
Good art honors God
People who make art make culture. Christians should be known for making culture, not subculture. The passionate pursuit of excellence, beauty, and truth bring noble things into the mainstream and help make the Kingdom come. Grace frees the imagination to create and connect–to be relevant without compromise.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4).
David Adcock says
Tim, I agree with you on Young’s intent concerning allegory. However, one doesn’t need to look very far to see that what he is saying is not within the bounds of orthodoxy. I enjoyed reading The Shack when our youngest son was also reading it for a class when he was in high school (a Christian school), and appreciated that it pushed me towards the edges of orthodox Christianity (or was that the edges of my preconceived ideas and pet prejudices). But, since then, Mr. Young has written another book that lifts the veil from his theology, and we now can see that he has rejected anything of the historic orthodox faith. Sad. He is an incredibly creative person and is an exceptional communicator. I can still enjoy and appreciate his work, but do so with my eyes wide open to his very flawed theology.
Tim Filston says
I think it’s okay to take each work on its own merit rather than to read intent back from a later to an earlier work. But I sympathize. The compromises you describe are becoming pretty common these days. Reminds me of my favorite Mae West quote: “I used to be Snow White but I drifted.” I can’t help but think people are drifting because of cultural pressures. Too many talented authors abandon clear commitments for ones that are intentionally ambiguous.
A term made famous by Bryan McLaren called Generous Orthodoxy describes a posture of keeping unity on essentials and liberty on non-essentials. But too many essentials seem to be on the chopping block these days. So, I appreciate your concern.
Mike McCleery says
AMEN by brother …. well stated. We were fortunate to have a conversation with the author after we viewed the movie … based upon his “live” words … HE LOVES JESUS and … his hearts desire is to serve the Lord through helping broken people “heal”.
Maybe some of our “negative reactions” to The Shack will be highlighted in his new book “Lies we Believe about God”.
Thanks for your continued love of Christ and your desire to help us live like Him in a broken society.
Love you my brother …. Mike