Friday, February 15, 2008

Answers to Some Concerns About "The Shack"

After "Anonymous" posted me some some comments on my review of "The Shack" by William P. Young, I decided to do a little more in depth research on the book. I had done just a little before, listening to the criticisms of my friends and and some of the pastoral staff (also friends) at my church. I had read a few negative reviews and entertained a few thoughts of what some Calvinists have said, have been told what an Arminian book it is, and as with any book, weighed all the information in my mind.

So I went perusing the internet with my trusty tool and sponsor Google because of some of the info I had found on my web tracker. Some of the people who search for reviews of The Shack also are searching for words like Sarayu and Elousia. Since I had not yet looked up the meanings of these words as I often do, I decided to do just that and was interested at what I found. First I found the criticisms of the book which I will enumerate some of as I define the words. Second, I found out what the words really meant, and their usage throughout history, which I will also explain.

Let's go.

Elousia, if you do a quick search, you will find out is Greek for tenderness. It is also the title of a Catholic icon depicting the Madonna and the baby Jesus. Critics jump all over this saying that Mr. Young is trying to sneak in some Marianism, attempting to water down God by inserting Mary. I find this interesting because it would seem to me that a book attempting to plead the case of a merciful and good God might use a name that reveals just that. We must go back to the definition of the word, tenderness. This is a trait that the God of The Shack is soaked in.

In my experience it is good to look at overall messages of a book. One thing that I have tried to do is to never read a Bible verse as Greg Koukl puts it. That means never read just one verse, not never read any verses. The technique seeks to achieve understanding of the context of a work, and not to take anything out of context. For the most part, The Shack espouses the classical view of the Trinity if you can get past the temporal physical manifestations of the normally only spiritual components of the Trinity. That is to say that the Father and Spirit appear as women, and if you can get past that, you see the classical view of the Trinity. Now you must understand one thing: Cults and heretics never never usually never espouse the classical view of the Trinity. It is often the first thing to go, and yet it appears in this book, a controversial work of symbolic fiction.

The next subject has earned The Shack and accusation of being a subversive work of Hinduism. In the book, the Holy Spirit is depicted as an Asian woman named Sarayu. Sarayu is a Sanskrit word meaning "to flow" and also wind, air, or that which streams. It is a tributary of the Ganges in India. It played a role in some great Hindu stories and myths and is mentioned in the Rigveda. Anyway, some say this means that the book is a Hindu work or at best has a message of universalism. Again we must simply look at the word itself. It means wind, just as the book says. That's all there is to it. Spirit in Greek means breath. It's the same thing.

This whole thing brings two things to mind. First, I have not found any criticisms of the character of Sophia, wisdom personified. This may be because it is a Christian concept as well as being a pagan and gnostic one. But that's the kicker, if it wasn't a Christian concept, would Mr. Young then be accused of Neoplatonic Hellenism? Though wisdom personified as a woman is a central figure in Proverbs, the concept of Sophia is much older than Christianity, Plato taught about it as well as did others. Sophia in Greek is of course wisdom, that much should be obvious by now since we are discussing the meaning of words.

But that leads me to my final point about these kinds of criticisms. If you are to subject a work of fiction to this kind of rigorous test, why not the Bible? John makes copious use of the word "word" in John. Logos (in Greek) appears as much as five centuries before the time of Christ in Greek philosophy and religion, and John has the stones to actually ascribe these pagan attributes to Jesus Christ himself!!! See what I mean? It is ridiculous for a Christian to criticize a book for word choice when the Bible uses the very same cultural references. Christianity has always done this in an attempt to reach out to the intellectuals of its day. It always will.

The Spirit is fluid, a wind, a breath, and it will get into every crack and crevice of every culture and make itself known. And sometimes it will use words.
WiredForStereo

40 comments:

MDKS said...

Well said sir.

Anonymous said...

The Holy Spirit is a He, not an it.

WiredForStereo said...

Are you sure, does "it" have genitalia?

God has no gender, the Father chooses to be recognized as a He, and the Spirit is a little more ambiguous. I think I am well within my rights since the Bible uses similar language. However, I do agree with you, although, I really don't care, and it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

You missed the point; the statement wasn't about gender. It was meant to point out--in love-- that the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as a Person, not merely a force.

Proverbs 9:8

WiredForStereo said...

Then you should have said that. It's not nice to just make simple blunt comments with no accompanying information or context.

If you read more of my stuff, contextually, the personhood of the Holy Spirit is not a thing I need to be corrected on. I don't disagree with you at all that the Holy Spirit is a person, however I do disagree with you that He IS a he. As I mentioned before, God has no specific gender, only chooses to be revealed as masculine. I am not trying to lead anyone astray, just being clear. And sorry for saying "it" to begin with, it is really no issue for me.

So, am I wise or a scoffer?

Anonymous said...

the main points of concern- in an of themselves may seem insignificant, but taken together, there is definately something at work here. This might be just a "gateway" book- to tickle people's ears. They nibble a little bit at a time, thinking its just another take on the TRUTH, and before they know it, they've been conditioned to swallow up the whole lie; the transgendered goddess worship that is slowly creeping its way into the church. This goddess has come by many names over time, follow the thread throughout history and it will take you back to Semiramis and Nimrod. When there is the Truth, there is always a counterfeit. There is nothing new under the sun. Take nothing for granted, especially those things designed to form spiritual perspectives. You said that most pagan theology will not represent the Trinity, and this book does...Satan knows when people have smartened up to one tactic, so he will use another. USE DISCERNMENT PEOPLE and STAY IN GOD's WORD.

There is an insightful review on amazon.com by Michael Burton

WiredForStereo said...

This may come as a surprise to you, but Mr. Burton's was the first negative review I ever read of the Shack. No, I didn't just read it, I read it months ago. It was the first of many.

I say get off it. You people just won't give up until Paul dies and his book is burned. And now we have "transgendered goddess worship." Holy freaking crap, you are so into yourself.

I rarely get hacked off like this, but shut your pie hole and get off my blog until you can come up with something intelligent.

Concerned said...

Wow! That retort was aggressive; and TOTALLY discounts any credibility you might have had.

Mark Simpson said...

I heard Paul Young, himself, state that the name Sarayu came from talking with an Indian lady who gave him 12 different words for wind. When he asked her what this word meant (because he liked the sound of it) she stated that it was the kind of wind that caught you by surprise and refreshed you and changed everything. Not a nefarious plot but a surprise gift of a word that captured how he wanted to communicate the beauty of the Spirit.

WiredForStereo said...

I agree, just ask the guy what he meant and take him at his word.

Watching On The Wall said...

This trivial book is not worth any real Christian spending time on. It is touted as the next "Pilgrim's Progress." Puh-leez!! If you want to learn about Christianity, read something by C.S. Lewis. Otherwise, if you're into New Age, Oprah-style "any religion is a good religion" thought, this book is definitely for you. The references to Hindu mythology are too obvious to be missed, as is the cartoon Christianity that the book depicts. It's so politically correct that it makes you want to scream. Sorry, but this one is a definite miss, unless you have a herd mentality and simply don't care how you waste your time.

WiredForStereo said...

It amazes me how people will come on here and leave a comment without even reading the blog.

GGG357 said...

Thanks for such insightful & informative words. I have read many books over the years that have certainly touched my heart. This book, however, changed my heart. I'm disheartened by the negative comments I've read about it. Most of the criticism seems to be based on the religious accuracy of the characters & situations that occur within the story. Please let me say, just for the record that this story is not about religion, it is about relationship. You've done a great job proving that Sir.

jeanluctygre@aol.com said...

Please forgive my uninformed, uneducated mind, but I believe most Bible scholars will say that "Yahweh" used in Exodus 3 and translated as "I Am Who I Am" literally means "I am who I say I am, not who YOU say I am." With that particular bit of information, the whole "is God a male, a female, or an it" issue is a moot point. God is who He is. Not who WE make Him out to be.

jeanluctygre@aol.com said...

Having said that, I loved the book, enjoyed your blog, and wish people would find the ability within themselves to look beyond what CAN be interpretd through a particular work, but instead look to what GOD is trying to say through a particular work. I believe God is trying to reach people's hearts and restore relationships. Just.... read it for what is and what it was intended to do: reveal God's true and infinite love- regardless of who we are or what we've done.

Steve said...

I found myself startled by the physical appearance of "Papa." I had to ask, why would the author want to present God is such an unconventional manifestation? My answer... God does not often comply with the boxes we construct for him. I was equally surprised by his physical appearance and his astonishing tenderness to a very hurt, angry, demanding, man. My surprise at his tenderness was convicting. Certainly, God's tenderness dwells with his justice and holiness, but the book helped me see that my personal "box" for him emphasized his holiness to the extent that his tenderness in this book was consistently startling to me.

WiredForStereo said...

It is correctly translated as "I shall be that I shall be." It is a claim of existence to the ultimate degree.

Steve, I agree wholeheartedly. This point is one that people consistently cant get past. God is not like us.

Anonymous said...

I loved the story even though the description of the Trinity was a bit disconcerting for me throughtout, but when I looked past that, the relationship of God to Mack made me want such a relationship with God Himself, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The healing of a woundered, torchered heart spoke deeply and the development of a true relationship with God was what I saw in this book. Perhaps its what I needed and therefore I am not threatened by any "hidden" meanings. I trust my God to look out for me in my desire to know Him more.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading this book, and I have no doubt that my pastor would be completely AGAINST me reading this book. Fortunately for me I use my brain. Although countless sermons have been preached about the fact that God is not like us and we should try to define Him as such, people still do it. I like stories like this that "think outside the box."

Anonymous said...

You said "For the most part, The Shack espouses the classical view of the Trinity if you can get past the temporal physical manifestations of the normally only spiritual components of the Trinity. That is to say that the Father and Spirit appear as women, and if you can get past that, you see the classical view of the Trinity."
By your words, The Shack presents a view of the Trinity that is not classical (orthodox). You say it is orthodox "if you can get past the temporal physical manifestations of the normally only spiritual components of the Trinity." Declaring something orthodox, except for one detail, makes it unorthodox. Adulterating the truth with only a little bit of a lie, is a lie.
Your next statement was "Now you must understand one thing: Cults and heretics never never usually never espouse the classical view of the Trinity."
I agree with that statement.

WiredForStereo said...

You're missing the whole point.

If you wanted to see the absolute orthodox view of the Trinity, Mack would never have been able to speak to the Father or the Spirit, and we'd be missing great chunks of what would be a horrible novel.

But if you get a dictionary and look up the meanings of the words I used, you see that the Father and Spirit take the form of women, so as to be better conversed with.

But the point is, name anything that has such a close representation of the Trinity. None of the cults come close, JW's and Mormons give you polytheism, and the rest trash the divinity of Christ. The classical view of the Trinity in doctrine is there, but it's a work of fiction that gives non-corporeal spirits faces. That's all it does.

jdh said...

Thank you for this site! I am saddened by the folks who want to trash the book because of "poetic" liberties. Biblical images of God include a mother hen. By the way, the word for spirit in Hebrew and Greek are always feminine. It seems more than appropriate that the Spirit is portrayed as a woman character.

reticon said...

It does a lot for stretching perceptions and does it not?

I'm just now discovering how powerful a tool this work of fiction can be for contrasting people who live in relationship with the Living God to the people who practice dead religion. For some people use of any Hindi word would by default mean Hinduism. What a joke. For some, who are looking for any excuse, a sharp rebuke like "Holy freaking crap, you are so into yourself", or "you are whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones" disqualifies a person from all credibility. If it were only that simple I could ignore pretty much everyone I've ever met. ... Then the worst of all are the ones who wouldn't recognize that I just quoted Jesus two sentences back but would still claim to know their head from a hole in the ground concerning truth.

This book blasts hierarchy which will undoubtedly be unpopular for some in high places (aren't we supposed to tear down the high places?). I most appreciate the subtle suggestion that God wants us to join that circle and participate in the Trinity. That is when it starts to sound heretical. So how close to God does Jesus make it possible for us to get? How much a part of us does He become? How much of a part of Him are we? Sarayu makes a statement in the later chapters that Mac's relationship with her (and by association with the whole group) in real life is closer and more real than that moment that he is sitting in the boat with her. Orthodoxy seems to be determined to leave a large chasm between the Trinity and mankind. I think it is a throwback to what a local pastor here calls "worm theology". His statement still resonates with my spirit: "We're not worms, we're priests!" ... This book describes an almost unbelievable possibility. Perhaps, all along, God has wanted us to be that close.

You want heresy, try this on for size: Jesus is God's son, we are also God's children and Jesus' brothers and sisters, God gave everything to Jesus, so much so that the two are one, Jesus then gives it to us. He is the "firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29) ... He is our big brother, and we call Him God... Now read Psalm 82:6 ... I'm not picking and choosing here any more than Jesus did, he used this verse in this exact same context... now read Jesus' use of that verse in John 10:34. Look at some other evidence: James and John's request at the end of Mark 10. Will people really sit next to Jesus in the kingdom? He seems to say so... I'll let you decide where I am going with this. Jesus is the King of King and Lord of Lords and at His name every knee will bow and tongue confess. I just think our humanistic version of Kings and Lords has spoiled this truly amazing reality. As for the cult leaders who have devastated lives with similar teachings I can say, the most convincing lies are sometimes built on top of a very deep and important truth. Fearing God is good, being afraid of Him... well that's just sad.

ChattyKathy said...

Male, female, he, she, black, white...? Fact is that we are created in the image of God...God is a spirit and those that worship must worship in spirit and truth. I think the book was a great fiction. It created new mental visuals of the Godhead. Oh, I'm not catholic and believe in God the father, God the son and God the spirit. It made one rethink and redefine the relationship we are to have with God. So as a work of fiction...it rates right up there with the top five books I've ever read. A side effect of the book...I picked back up my Bible and started studying. Something I haven't done since my Father developed Alzheimers sever years ago. So...who is to say that the book doesn't have some wonderful side effects. God is who God is...and I'm sure the book in no way intimidates that all powerful Spirit.

hesed said...

It seems to me ( of course I am not a theologian) that this is a simple book about opening up to recieve the love of God.Even if you are mad at God you are still in a relationship with Her/Him.

Anonymous said...

Regarding what "watching on the wall" wrote: I find it interesting that in your critique of the Shack, you would point people to C.S. Lewis' writings (a man I deeply love and admire) when he himself was greatly criticized for his use of symbolism in "The Chronicles", specifically his use of a female (the White Witch) to depict a Satanesque character. There were many in the church that decried the allegorical license that Lewis took when writing "Chronicles". Now, it is a beloved book that has a home on virtually every Christian's bookshelf.

In my experience, those who have criticized the book have not read the whole thing.

Jaye said...

Thank you so much for taking time to provide the definitions to those names. They captured my imagination and now that I know their true meaning, it further increases my fondness for this wonderful parable of true relationship. I can only say that any Christian who "fears" this book is struggling with fundamentalism and legalism and they probably would never truly relate to the story anyway.

Lindajoy said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to review this book. I have just finished reading it, and just have to say how much it has changed me. The love shown by 'papa' to Mack is the love that God wants us all to experience for ourselves. It showed the wonderful relationship between the trinity, and showed me how we can have this same relationship if we just allow God to heal and change us, by allowing Him His way in our lives. To read it trying to find something wrong with it instead of just reading it as a wonderful story says to me that you are not secure in your faith and are not trusting God to convict you IF there was anything in it to lead you astray. I have read books where the Holy Spirit has convicted me that it was not right. I find it so sad that people, even some Christians, are always trying to find errors where there are none. God has given us all wisdom to discern what is right and wrong. Bottom line, this is truly a book that will want you to have a closer relationship with God. And that’s what God wants for every one of us. It certainly left me wanting this. Lindajoy

Michael said...

Thanks for your good comments. I was with you right till the last paragraph.

I have a simple answer to your rhetorical question, "If you are to subject a work of fiction to this kind of rigorous test, why not the Bible?"

Because it's the Bible.

A Christian with a foundation believes that the Bible is inspired of God in a authoritative and comprehensive way that William P. Young, for all his gifts, is not.

That the Bible uses a cultural metaphor doesn't allow me to pick one of my own at random. I do not have God's wisdom. I can use, but have to be careful with cultural metaphors.

If I come to believe that any author or novel or prophet or preacher can be inspired (or have the words of God) in the same way as the Bible then the Apostle's warning has become true, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."

I guess what I am saying is that the Bible should always remain the foundation of our faith. If Young's book leads us back to the Bible, wonderful. If not, umm, well that might be a problem.

Thanks for your insight, and your patience. I would also take issue with you about whether masculinity is essential to God or not, but I think I have spent my two cents.

Anonymous said...

The book has changed the way i have been taught to see God. If you read your bible everything that is written about in the book makes alot of sense and it is based on the bible. It is wonderfull to know that we have a pappa that is always there for us and he wants to be in a relationship with us and that he loves us. So stop trying to discredit it rather try to embrace it and see for yourselfs.

Mel said...

I loved the book. I do have some concerns, but I think it's good to have concerns, without them we might replace the "Word" with great fiction works like this one. These fiction works touch our hearts and help us grow in our relationship with God, but they are not words to live by.

I think Young's illustration of the Trinity was very powerful. What a great example of how we can be in a circular relationship with one another. It was also a new and creative explanation, I'm sure that St Patrick got it exactly right when he used the 3 leaf clover to illustrate the Trinity (like one being with 3 parts). Young's illustration is more complicated than the clover (like 3 beings, that are 1 part), it doesn't really make perfect sense but I'm not sure that as humans we're supposed to or even are able to undertand the ways of the Lord. The use of Women to portray the Father and the spirit was also a great tool for the character (Mack) to be more at ease and for the reader to understand the point that God is not stuck in our box and does not have to look like "a really big grandpa with a long white flowing beard, sort of like Gandalf in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings."

Great job with your blog.

Cai said...

Honestly, I don't think anyone has the right to say if God is male or female. God is neither, and simply chooses to be referred to and "Father" possibly because of the idea of what a father is. God could have very well told His followers to call HER Mother. Or, because the Jewish society of the Old Testament was patriarchal, they could have just tagged the creator of all that is as "He" because they believed in the supremacy of men over women. Only God knows the true story. God could manifest in any shape or form deemed pleasing -

- a burning bush is not even human... and that is the first known manifestation of God in tangible form.
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abedneg - the three refused to bow down to other gods and were thrown into the fiery furnace. A fourth appeared and even the king called him 'son of the gods' Found in Daniel 3:24.
- Leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land. God manifested Himself as a pillar of a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. Exodus 13:21
- Matthew 3: The Spirit of God descended like a dove. --Note: it says 'like a dove'. Wow I thought it was an actual dove. I just received a revelation that it was not a dove but it says 'like a dove'

LPM said...

I am halfway through "The Shack" (literally, on page 124) for my bookclub meeting tonight. I'm doing a bit of research as I go and one Google search I did brought me to you. I find this particular post very compelling and would love to read more of your blog, but my time is short today (gotta finish the book). I would, however like to use your wording about the Garden in your blog description, on my own blog and will be glad to give you credit for it. I would have emailed, but saw no other contact information.

WiredForStereo said...

You can email me at wiredforstereo at yahoo dot com. You can quote anything you like, just link it back to my blog.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important thing we all must remember when reading this book is that the author has no desire to replace Biblical theology with his own words. This is a work of fiction, and is one human being's attempt to make sense of God, the Trinity, and our relationship with God (the Father, Son, and Spirit), and how they work as three but one in our lives. This book added a new dimension to my Christian spirituality, and truly spoke to me. It seems to me that the point of the story is to allow oneself to ask questions and find spiritual enrichment and fulfillment in the answers. I'm sure that no-one's response to this book is exactly the same, because we each have life experiences that cause us to need different healing in our lives, and to ask different questions about God and faith. Questioning and searching are always healthy because they strengthen our beliefs. To those who debate the theological soundness of this book, I say, keep debating! Discussion is good, argument is good! Just remember, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matt. 7:1 -- I know that's out of context, but it does come to mind). Try to look beyond the terminology for deeper meaning.

I and grateful to Mr. Young for writing this book. We can all learn lessons in love and forgiveness, and we can all look for ways to have a deeper relationship with God. I appreciate the call to look beyond our cultural and religious biases and find fresh, new ways to examine faith. I have a difficult time seeing how this book can do anything but solidify faith and cause one to look at God, Jesus, and the Spirit with renewed tenderness, devotion, and above all, in the context of relationship.

JACKIE said...

My, my. You did stir up a hornet's nest.

I'm on my third read and my mom has been passing our copies around to anyone who wants to read it.

The book does shake up the comfort zones. I doubt if the author really believes that God is a black woman who happens to be a great cook.

On the other hand, God could choose to appear as plump black gal who just happens to make a mean batch of muffins and can hug the stuffing out of you. If you'll let yourself get close enough to get your stuffing hugged.

And I just realized that possibilty scares the bejeezus out of most of us. Just imagine how we'd treat each other if we really believed that the person next to us really was...........

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your coment on the book. I loved it and am drawn closer to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

To add to the information in your blog, which by the way is a great post. The word for spirit in Hebrew also means wind, breath and spirit. Hence in Genesis 1:2, we find a wind or the breath or the spirit of God sweeping over the face of the waters.

Anonymous said...

Friends--it is a STORY--read it as such-the principals of forgiveness and a Universal GOD is welcome!

Anonymous said...

I believe that many things are inspired by a nudge from God beyond the Bible -- works of art, literature, stories, gestures of charity, forgiveness. They all speak to us at perhaps times when we need it. I will take all of it with me.This book rang true with my soul. My sould recognized GOD in it. Love inspired, it was. Sometimes we need the Bible's messages in a contemporary setting. I didn't live 2,000 years ago. The language and culture is hard to understand.
Have a blessed week.