May 30, 2008
"The Shack" Built on Shifting Sands?
William Young's surprise bestseller sparks heated response and prompts important questions
Cathy Lynn Grossman's recent USA Today article on William Young's surprise bestseller The Shack is her second in a month, this one shifting attention to the long-developing and growing backlash against the book coming from a number of influential voices concerned about the book's implicit theological claims.
Several conservative Protestant heavyweights--Al Mohler, Chuck Colson, Mark Driscoll, and influential blogger Tim Challies--have sounded off on the dangers of The Shack's vision of God, salvation, and the Church, creating a quartet of caution for the casual Christian reader. These strong cautions are all the more notable in light of the over-the-top endorsement from one of evangelicalism's most respected spiritual sages, Eugene Peterson, which is featured on the book's back cover.
Among other things, this growing backlash broaches important questions about the proper relationship between art, theology, and the Church for evangelicals and their close kin. What does it mean for artists to be faithful to the confessional Christian traditions and communities of which they are a part, especially that largest of communions--the communion of the saints across time, space, and tradition? If we regard the Nicene Creed as a shared expression of that broad communion, what does it mean for an artist, perhaps a writer such as William Young, to be faithful to that confession?
Switching directions, we must also ask what it means for Christian traditions and communities to be faithful to artists and their craft. This, too, is a theological question: How does the Church show good faith toward those sub-creators in God's human economy whose very creative inclinations are evidence that they bear the image of a God who delights in creating? Making a place for art and the artist is a way of affirming the human and creational pattern that the Christian God calls "very good."
My hunch is that we probably see a failure to keep faith on both sides here, and that it would be a good thing for all of God's Church to discuss the when's, where's, why's, and how's of our mutual infidelities.
Along the way we might also want to pause to think about what the phenomenal grassroots popularity of an iconoclastic novel such as The Shack--1.1 million copies in print, 500,000 more to be printed in June, UK rights just purchased--tells us about the attitudes and pastoral realities churches must reckon with on the ground.