In the previous post I explained that the reason to read The Shack is because it helps us to imagine how God meets us in our place of “Great Sadness,” so that we can begin to understand that He is truly good and so that we can begin to trust Him in the midst of our pain and brokenness. If you do not feel this need, there’s no need to read The Shack.
I also explained that if one does feel this need, then one should read The Shack with mythopoetic imagination just as one would read the works of George MacDonald, because the narrative events anchor the meaning of the didactic portions instead of vice-versa.
Yet even as C.S. Lewis compiled an anthology of quotations from MacDonald’s works, so in the same way, readers of The Shack will look back and ponder the didactic statements of theology that they encountered. An anthology of the highlights in my own copy of The Shack would not make a best-seller, but these underlined passages are very meaningful to me! Yet unfortunately, largely as a result of The Shack’s mythopoetic literary form, these statements are as incomplete and imprecise from the standpoint of theology as they are tantalizing, and so it’s appropriate to seek outside help to piece together a coherent understanding of Young’s theological perspective.
So if you have benefited from reading The Shack and have come to the place where you want to reflect on its theology, then in this post I’ve assembled some resources that I’ve found helpful for reflecting on the theological perspective of The Shack, to try to put together what it all means.
- The obvious point is to start by reading The Shack. Thankfully, it’s available in inexpensive paperback versions from WalMart and Amazon. Hard-cover, large-print, and audio versions are offered on the Windblown Media website, along with translations into Spanish and other languages. The Shack is also available for the Kindle and from the iBooks Store for your iPhone or iPad.
- Gary and Cathy Deddo, God, the Bible and the Shack (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010). To help you put together the main themes of The Shack, start here. The Deddos explore what The Shack has to say about how we can know if God is completely good; what it means to believe in the Trinity; and how to trust in the goodness of God amidst the evil of this broken world. This is the best introduction I have found to The Shack, and if you’re sitting on the fence about whether to read it or what to think of it, then this little booklet is for you.
- Gary Deddo, Questions and Answers about The Shack: A Supplement to the IVP Booklet (2010; pdf available for free download from the booklet web page). In my opinion, Deddo has provided in this succinct and readable pdf the most illuminating and helpful analysis of the theological perspective of The Shack. Read this essay if you want to better understand Paul Young’s theology or if you’re concerned about criticism The Shack has received.
- I highly recommend letting Paul Young speak for himself by listening to audio talks or watching video conversations where he explains how he came to write The Shack, what it is all about, and how it reflects his personal journey through a “Great Sadness”:
- Mariner Church (choice of video or audio for six different events in July, 2008, including one highly recommended talk that is autobiographical).
- You’re Included, a podcast of Grace Communion International (“GCI”; choice of video or audio for three sequential half-hour conversations with Paul Young; You’re Included is also available at iTunes).
- Fuller Seminary, Heard on Campus podcast; search the iTunes Store for “William Paul Young” to find this and other talks by Young.
- Tradition of Trinitarian Theology: It’s difficult to avoid critics of The Shack. Yet many of them have either not read The Shack, or have only browsed through it in a superficial manner. Some have gone so far as to accuse it of heresy. It would be better if they would just explain that their theological tradition differs from the theology of The Shack, and that they believe it is in error on a number of specific points. But The Shack does derive its theological perspective from “Trinitarian theology,” a robust tradition of Christian theology that is both Protestant and evangelical. Young did not make this stuff up all by himself! If you wish to understand with sympathetic insight the theological perspective of The Shack, before you turn to the critics, then start with the following resources that throw light on the theological background of Young’s writing:
- Read the free pdf by Gary Deddo mentioned above.
- Windblown Media: Browse the websites affiliated with Windblown Media such as Paul Young’s blog, Windrumors, and The God Journey podcast by Wayne Jacobsen, a collaborator with Young on The Shack. Jacobsen responds to charges that The Shack is heretical in Is The Shack heresy? Jacobsen’s book, He Loves Me, is an excellent theological companion to The Shack. Listen to Jacobsen’s audio lectures at Lifestream.org (don’t miss the pdf handout).
- Grace Communion International: Watch the GCI You’re Included podcast, particularly the conversations with Paul Young, Gary Deddo, Baxter Kruger (perichoresis.org) and Alan Torrance (St. Andrews, Scotland), and GCI’s video discussion of the central emphases of Trinitarian theology. The simplest way to become acquainted with the tradition of Trinitarian theology reflected in The Shack might be to watch the entire series of You’re Included podcasts, and to explore the authors and publications mentioned in these conversations. These videos offer an excellent resource for pursuing a personal study of Trinitarian theology or for holding a regular discussion group.
- For more in-depth study, read anything you can find by the Torrance brothers — Thomas, James, or David, starting perhaps with four works by Thomas Torrance: The Mediation of Christ, The Incarnation, The Atonement, and The Trinitarian Faith.
- Theological studies of The Shack: Baxter Kruger’s discussions of The Shack are extremely well-informed about the tradition of Trinitarian theology underlying Young’s perspective – and Baxter’s third interview (January 9, 2010) on You’re Included indicates that we’ll soon be treated to his theological reflections on The Shack in book form. (More Kruger) UPDATE: Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited, is out!
I hope that these resources will help readers of The Shack to more fully reflect on the experience of sharing in Young’s spiritual journey, and to move more deeply into personal reflections on the practical meanings of Christian theology.