Chuckling in the Shack
Andrew Walker, who has lectured on the theology of The Shack at King’s College, London, writes here about his personal view of the book.
I've tried very hard to like The Shack, especially having read some of the nonsense that its traducers have written about it. The claims by some evangelicals, for example, that the book is riddled with heresies are simply wrong. William Young, the author, may be unorthodox, but he is not on the whole heterodox. In my view, the book is more personal catharsis and therapy than Christian doctrine, despite Young's claim that he wrote it as a testament of his religious beliefs for his children and grandchildren.
It must seem churlish of me to criticise a book which hundreds if not thousands of people claim has changed their lives. At the very least, you'd think I could have the decency to acknowledge that The Shack has brought Christian ideas out of the ghetto and into the heart of the secular marketplace. And yet, despite these caveats, I cannot quite shake off my irritation with the book. I'll begin with a small issue that has snowballed in my mind to become a river I cannot cross. The word "cross" brings me to Jesus, and after a snippet of theology and a snatch of scripture, I'll show why I had trouble at The Shack.
We learn about God's love for the world and are able to love him in return by grasping the fact that the incarnation of His Son had serious consequences for Jesus as well as for us. He assumed our flesh so we could be restored to our own good selves, but in taking into his divine person our human nature and sharing it with his own, he became a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief". For us, restoration entailed reconciliation with God; but for Jesus it entailed death on a Roman gibbet.
This Son of God become Son of Man is at his most poignant and vulnerable in the Garden of Gethsemane when, afraid of dying and in great distress, he calls on his heavenly Father to rescue him from his anticipated torture. His prayer is in a language that touches our hearts; he addresses his Father as "Abba", an Aramaic term of intimacy close to the English word "daddy", but closer still to the French tu. But we also have a foretaste of the vulnerable and frail humanity of Jesus from the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept". While a holy God demands our obedience and earns our respect, a weeping Jesus commands our love and wins our loyalty.
By contrast, in The Shack, Jesus seems to be done with weeping. We learn in the shortest trope of the novel that "Jesus chuckled". This chuckling Jesus chortles and giggles his way through the book, but it is hard to believe that like the first disciples we would give up our lives and follow him, let alone love him.
The trouble for me with the tittering Trinity is best demonstrated by the Jesus character in The Shack. He does not resonate with the Jesus who wept in the Gospel. With St Thomas, I am prepared to call Jesus "Lord and God", but the Jesus of The Shack is another matter. When he is out fishing with Mack, he rebuts his suggestion that he could use his power to catch fish with a surprising reply. "'What would be the fun in that then, eh?' He looked up and grinned." At this point, I am compelled irreverently to call Young's Jesus a "chucklehead" – not a divine title, admittedly, not even a surrogate for a "holy fool", but according to most dictionaries, "a stupid person or a dolt".
Read the whole articlehere.
HT: 92nd & State