The Shack, a 2007 Novel by William P. Young

By Billy Wolfe

Like many readers of this current best-selling novel, I was given a copy of The Shack by a colleague at work. She said her husband was teaching it in their Sunday School class. While I had not even heard of this book, I’ve since discovered that it is being given high profile displays in our local bookstores, both secular and Christian, and that it may be made into a feature film.

At first, I thought the author was just using literary license and creativity to help the story’s protagonist come to grips with the age-old question, Why does a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? But the more I read, the more frequently I began to sense that the author was intentionally distorting scriptural truths. And when I did a Google search of “The Shack and Critics,” I discovered numerous online blogs, critiques and reports by people who had interviewed the author, who were confirming my suspicion that we might be dealing with a false teacher.

In the Q & A section of “The Shack Forum” at, the question was asked, Is the story of The Shack fiction or true? The extended answer includes these telling replies:

What The Shack falls under is a genre called “Realistic Fiction.”

However, with all this said, the book is very much true in many regards. The experience of the author that it was based upon is “true” and many of the themes and discussions between characters include elements of Biblical Truth, Theology and Philosophy and to the extent that those issues exist outside of the story line (in the context of the discussions) – those can be said to be “true” at least in terms of the presenting the views of the author.

So here is the thing … this book IS TRUE. But it is fictionalized in its account of the author’s life. Did the conversations with God really happen? We think so, in Paul Young’s life … but this wasn’t over a weekend but many years of healing. Did a tragic thing happen to a young child? YES! But not in Missy, but in a young Paul Young who went through a horrible childhood. Did a tragic thing happen to an older man who had to experience healing from God? YES! But not in Mack, but in an older Paul Young who went through various burnout and failure in life and came to see God in it.

So if you ask us, “Is this book true?!” we would say, “It certainly IS true! Just not in the way you think.”

Within this same website, the author provides a thumbnail autobiography entitled “Willie’s Personal Journey.” There we learn that the author, William P. “Paul” Young, graduated summa cum laude from Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon, met and married his wife and for a time worked on staff at a large suburban church while attending seminary. The Shack was originally written, while he commuted to and from work on a train in Oregon, as a story to give to his six children (ages 15 to 27) for Christmas with no thought or intention of publication. In fact, his wife had requested that he write the big picture of how he thinks about God and life. He says that The Shack will tell us much more about him than a few facts ever could. In some ways, he says, his life is partly revealed in both characters – Willie and Mack.

Elsewhere ((Susan Olasky. MacLean’s Magazine (August 2008) article, cited in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and on June 28, 2008 in, “Commuter-driven bestseller” (Vol. 23, No. 13) )) Susan Olasky reports that the author’s Canadian parents were missionaries in Dutch New Guinea and that Paul grew up his first six years in a tribal setting. He experienced sexual abuse at their hands and again in a Christian boarding school back home in Canada. We are also told that the author at age 38 was sexually unfaithful with his wife’s best friend for a period of three months and is no longer a member of a church. In June 2008, she also reported the book had sold nearly 1 million copies in the first year.

In a New York Times article ((Motoko Rich, “Christian Novel is Surprise best Seller,” (June 24, 2008) at we learn further that the shack is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain.” After an extramarital affair 15 years previously, he spent a decade in therapy, trying to earn back his wife’s and family’s trust. In 2005, then 53, he started writing the book to show how he had healed by forging a new relationship with God.

Below is a thumbnail sketch of the storyline and highlights of the controversial reaction to this book that several sources report is number one among sales of Christian books and among the top ten best selling paperbacks at provides the following product description:

“‘Mack’ Philips took his three children on a family camping trip while his wife visited her sister. Just as they were about to leave the campsite, the two older kids decided to take a last canoe ride before heading home. As their canoe overturned, and Mack went to help them, his back was turned and the unspeakable happened. Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy, was abducted by a known child predator. After a massive search, evidence of Missy showed up at an abandoned cabin. Although they never found her body, everyone knew the worst had happened. For the next four years “a great sadness” fell over Mack and his family, until a note from God showed up in his mailbox. What happens next will move you to a greater understanding of God’s unfailing love for us all.”

And Tim Challies (( highlights the controversial reaction to The Shack among Christians:

“Despite the book’s popularity among Christians, believers are divided on whether this book is biblically sound. Where Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver says it “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress did for his,” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says, “This book includes undiluted heresy.” While singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith says “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God,” Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle says, “Regarding the Trinity, it’s actually heretical.”

In this novel, God invites Mack to meet him at the shack, the place where his six year old daughter had been taken and killed by a serial killer of children. To Mack’s amazement, and the reader’s as well, he is met there by the Trinity, not the Trinity of Scripture, but a bring-them-down-to-earth-size version of the Trinity. The Father is a large beaming, African-American female called Papa (the term Mack’s wife used for God) who introduces herself as the housekeeper and cook. The Holy Spirit is a small, distinctively Asian female called Surayu, the gardener, whose presence is ephemeral. And Jesus is a large-nosed Middle Easterner, dressed as a modern laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves, who says he responds to the name Joshua or even Jesse.

The bulk of the 248-page book consists of conversations between Mack and this trinity of characters, singly and together.

Some False Teaching Quotes from William P. Young’s 2007 novel, The Shack

1. p. 119 “But,” Mack paused. “What about your wrath? …Weren’t you always running around killing people in the Bible?…spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into burning lake of fire? … At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. “I am not (p. 120) who you think I am, Mackenzie, I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it: it’s my joy to cure it.”

2. p. 121 [Mack] “Well I know that you are one and all, and that there are three of you. But you respond with such graciousness to each other. Isn’t one of you more the boss than the other two? … I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly. He… I mean, she…always seemed kind of a …uh…” “A free spirit?” offered Papa. “Exactly – a free spirit, but still under the direction of the Father. Does that make sense? … (p. 122) “I am talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?” … [Sarayu = female Holy Spirit] “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it.” …(p. 123) “Authority, as you think of it, [Sarayu continued] is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.” … (p. 145) “We are indeed submitted to one another [said Jesus]… Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to him [sic], or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her.”

3. p. 182 They arrived at the door of the workshop. Again Jesus stopped. “Those who love me come from every system that exists. There 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 Christians, 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.”

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