As some of you know, I am a back-cover endorser on the runaway-bestseller The Shack. I said
Finally! A guy-meets-God novel that has literary integrity and spiritual daring. The Shack cuts through the clichés of both religion and bad writing to reveal something compelling and beautiful about life’s integral dance with the Divine. This story reads like a prayer–like the best kind of prayer, filled with sweat and wonder and transparency and surprise. When I read it, I felt like I was fellowshipping with God. If you read one work of fiction this year, let this be it.
I stand whole-heartedly behind my endorsement. And yet even I have been surprised by the wide range of impassioned responses the book has received, ranging from people receiving it as a literally-true story straight from the mouth of God on the one hand, or a witch’s brew of New Age heresy on the other. The Internet is filled with armchair speculation on the literary and spiritual merits of The Shack – much of it rather un-inspiring.
So imagine my delight when I found out that Authentic Media was publishing Finding God in The Shack, an interrogative-yet-playful tome by theologian and author Randal Rauser. Rauser takes readers on a fascinating journey through the pages of the story that has ignited the church’s interest in theodicy (”the problem of evil”) and the Trinity, a doctrine that has long been locked away in seminary classrooms. “As a theologian, it is wonderful-if a bit humbling-to witness the Trinity now emerging as a topic of lively conversations at the local coffee shop, and all because of a novel,” Rauser says. “But while those conversations have not typically lacked for enthusiasm and conviction, many of them would benefit from some deeper background as to the theological issues at stake.”
As Rauser explores the intricacies of the plot, he addresses many of the book’s complex and controversial issues. In the process, he takes a stab at why God the Father is revealed as an African-American woman, defends the book’s theology of the Trinity against charges of heresy, and considers its provocative denial of a Trinitarian hierarchy (with a nod toward the eastern Cappadocian Mothers & Fathers). At its heart The Shack is a response to evil, and Rauser offers an honest and illuminating discussion of the book’s explanation for why God allows evil, how the atoning work of Christ offers new hope to a suffering world, and ultimately how this hope extends to all of creation.
If you’ve been inspired, challenged, or even threatened by Young’s novel, you owe it to yourself to read Finding God in The Shack. You’ll find that it’s like inviting an insightful, even-handed conversation partner across your table. As Rauser puts it:
“It is true that The Shack asks some hard questions and occasionally takes positions with which we might well disagree. But surely the answer is not found in shielding people from the conversation, but rather in leading them through it,” Rauser states. “After all, it is through wrestling with new ideas that one learns to deal with the nuance and complexity that characterize an intellectually mature faith. The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to. But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.”