Word of the Week

The Shack Anyone?

the-shackOn Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to meet with the women's group as I do from time to time. I was invited to lead the discussion of their recent book club selection, The Shack bringing out theological themes for conversation.

I agreed to this task with some anxiety, though because of my fear of popular books. It seems that once a book has hit the NY Times Bestseller list as The Shack has, it seems to take on a life of its own. In my opinion, this "life" a book takes on often comes in unhelpful ways.  Because it seems, the more a book seeks to speak for Christianity, the more damage it can do in oversimplifying faith.  (As if 40 days of The Purpose Driven Life is all you need or following Osteen's Live Your Best Life Now will make you happy). So, I stayed away from this "fad" book as I have done many time before with similar texts.

But, now as a pastor of an entire congregation I feel more responsiblity to care about things and come to understand things that are meaningful to my people.  When several persons described to me life-changing moments with this book and then the women's group wanted to study it, I broken down and purchased my own copy.

My experience with the book was surprising.

I was inspired as I learned more about the difficulties the author went through just to get the book published. Understanding that this text was rejected for print by several mainstream Christian publishers, I was more interested to read.

And, though William P.Young is not the most eloquent of an author and will not win any literary rewards for his writing style and the story line was "cheesy" at many points, I did celebrate how accessable he made the doctrine of the trinity. With Trinity Sunday every year being one of the most confusing observances for us to understand, after reading The Shack, I think we'll think differently about it next year.

 The Genesis 1 passage, "Let us make man in our own image" that I've often preached on Trinity Sunday showing "community" within the life of God now might make more sense to those with an experience with The Shack. Young does a great time showing God as  relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is beautiful, pure and perfectly intertwined as one God.

One member of our discussion on Tuesday night was bothered by how "human" God was made to be in this book. I totally understand her concern and applaud her desire to keep God as God and not just like us (as God is not). But, ultimately I think Young did the best he could to "humanize God" so that we could understand better and to remind readers at the same time that the personification of God to Mack (the main character) in The Shack was only for a period of time.

One of my favorite parts of the book (which I know evangelical Christians have the hardest time with) was this passage where Jesus is speaking to Mack in conversation:

Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhist or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institution. I have followers who were murders and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, 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, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved. 

I was not bothered by the "anti- institution" language in the book (though I still want to call myself a Christian) because I think it speaks to a great longing in our culture right now to be spiritual but not religious.

To be spiritual, is not anti-church. One of the best ways that a person can develop their own spiritual life comes in the setting of a loving faith community. People have been hurt deeply by religion (especially extreme religious expression) but yet have often held on a desire to connect with God and be a spiritually centered person. I see why Young was placing the emphasis on relationship rather than religious committment-- this is what so many miss from an experience from a traditional church. 

The openness of Young's book to spiritual exploration and connection with God is something I celebrate! Just I would add to those on the search, I hope they can find a place of spiritual home to help them on their path.

I can't say it enough, as I mentioned it again at the women's group this week, how happy I am to be a part of a community of faith I am so proud of in Washington Plaza, not your traditional church.  A community that takes seriously the theological wrestling found within a book like The Shack and takes them up in weekly Bible Study classes and spiritual formation groups-- where God can be experienced in tangible ways every week.

In the end of our discussion, I think this is one of the strongest points that we came back to. No, we aren't disciples of a popular book. But, we are people living in community together, hoping to experience a little more of our Triune God as we commit to the Christian path together.