God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 8

Regarding theology in The Shack by William P. Young, Lizard Eater, a blogger who describes herself as one who had been “on the journey to ministerial life (to be a Unitarian Universalist minister)” says the following:

I was expecting a fictional depiction of standard Protestant dogma — think Godspell, not Jesus Christ Superstar — and instead … huh, he’s talking about universal salvation. Huh, that’s pretty panentheist. Hmmm.

So my question is, How is it that a universalist has no problem identifying Mr. Young’s theology but so many evangelical Christians seem blind to it?

I already identified other possible reasons this story resonates with some Christians in Part 3 of this series, but that still doesn’t explain why so many are missing the parts of the book that contradict Scripture.

In part I think the answer lies in the fact that readers read expecting to find what they are looking for. A few months back, for instance, I mentioned in my review of Blaggard’s Moon that I thought a certain character in a certain part of the book served as a type of Christ. Great … except when the author, George Bryan Polivka, commented, saying he never intended that character to serve as a type of Christ. Why did I see it? Because I was looking for it. In the reverse, I think we can miss things we are not looking for.

However, I think the other part of the answer lies with what and how Mr. Young wrote. One technique he used is Character Shock. I described this earlier in one of my comments. It works like this. At statementss that seem plainly in conflict with truth, the main character of the story, Mack, reacts as the reader might be reacting, but he reasons that his thinking is a result of his religious conditioning. Essentially he’s talked himself—and at the same time, the reader—into keeping an open mind.

Here’s the example I used in the comment:

“Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.”

That came as a shock to Mack’s religious system.

Another technique is to embed truth with error and vice versa. Here’s an example of this:

[Jesus is talking] “I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” (p. 110)

If Jesus is the best way, by implication there are other ways, though not as good.

Compare that to the Bible:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)

The implied lie in The Shack is of itself harder to recognize than a boldface lie (e.g. There are more ways to God than through Jesus). But when the line is couched in a paragraph that contains apparent explanation or clarification, then it becomes even harder to recognize. Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

“I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu. To see me is to see them. The love you sense from me is no different from how they love you. And believe me, Papa and Sarayu are just as real as I am, though as you’ve seen in far different ways.”

While the first line contradicts Scripture, clearly the rest of the paragraph does not.

So how do we know we’re to understand Mr. Young as saying there are other ways to God when he says Jesus is the best way as opposed to the only way? Mr. Young makes the same point using different words in other places in the book. Here’s the part that our universalist friend quoted that gave her an understanding of his theology.

[Jesus talking] “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 or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers 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.” (p. 182, emphasis mine)

Once again this speech contradicts what Jesus says in John about no one seeing or knowing the Father apart from the Son—there is no transformation into sons and daughters of God apart from Christ.

Another technique Mr. Young uses to blur the lines between truth and error is to introduce a contradictory thought, then change the subject. Here’s one example:

[Jesus is talking] “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”

“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”

“And that’s how you want us to love each other, I suppose? I mean between husbands and wives, parents and children. I guess in any relationship? (pp. 145-146)”

And the conversation continues about human relationships before moving on to the nature of good and evil, with no other discussion about God submitting to man.

Well, what about that line? Does God submit to man? What does Scripture have to say?

That’s the question we have to continually ask if we are to be discerning readers. If we are to sort through the hodge-podge of ideas Mr. Young presents as true and dodge the techniques that obfuscate more than illuminate. Which statements are true, and which aren’t? Only the discerning reader knows for sure! 😉

Series continued in Part 9.

Published in: on June 4, 2009 at 12:59 pm  Comments (8)  
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