Meeting God at the Shack I: Introduction

[My book on the Shack is now available on Kindle.]

William P. Young’s The Shack became a national bestseller in 2008. It touched the hearts of many and generated hostile theological disagreement from others.

I read the book last January.  Moved to tears several times, I was emotionally and intellectually engaged by Young’s storytelling.  This modern parable addresses some of the most perplexing topics of Christian theology as well as some of the most gut-wrenching experiences believers can have.  Writing about Trinity, atonement, providence, suffering, theodicy, death of children, parental abuse, forgiving murderers, forgiving self, incarnation, etc. is difficult prose to pursue, even more difficult to describe parabolically. Such an ambitious task is either foolhardy or courageous but neverthless at least interesting and intriguing. I found it rather compelling.

I have had several requests to review the book and comment on some of the theological controversy surrounding it.  I have hesitated for several reasons.

I read the book on the verge of my own crisis–I would confront some of my demons in the first weeks of February. I entered my period of rest from ministry and academia just after reading Young’s work. I wonder if the book even contributed to the timing of my own “shack.”  In any event, I did not want to rush into print about the story. I needed time to process my own stuff without focusing on Young’s “shack.”

Also, at the time, I was rather uninterested in the theological controversy swirling around the book.  I did not want to engage in any theological debates, nuances, or heresy trials. I did not want to spend time parsing the meaning and specifics of parabolic descriptions and dialogue. I thought the book had a much more important significance than some of those debates.

Further, the subjects Young discusses are close to my own story, heart, and study. Some of it was too painful to discuss at the time; some of it was too ambiguous (as it seemed at first reading) to pursue with any profit. I needed to work through my own “shack” before engaging Young’s parable.

The past few days have changed my mind, and the past several months have prepared me to invest in a review and discussion of Young’s work. I am still rather uninterested in the theological debates surrounding the book. Instead, I am interested in the spiritual therapy, recovery and healing available through the book as God’s Spirit uses it for such.

I turned my attention to the book once again after I received a request this past week. On Wednesday I was asked to substitute for Rubel Shelly who was scheduled to speak about the Shack at the next Nashville Zoe Conference, which is a week from today. I have not spoken anywhere since the first weekend of February–churches, seminars or schools. I did not intend to speak anywhere other than the Woodmont Hills Church (beginning this November) for the rest of 2008.  However, this invitation seemed to be God’s timing.

As my wife and I talked about the possibility, it became clear to us that perhaps this was a moment designed by God for my sake. We discerned that this is about what God wants to do in my “shack” and give me the motive and opportunity to reflect in a focused way on my own story in the light of Young’s parable and metaphors. In other words, I agreed to speak for my own sake more than for any other motive.

At this point I have some anxiety about speaking, particularly on the emotional subjects which the Shack raises. But my wife, my spiritual advisors, and I feel it is time and this is an opportunity practically (divinely?) tailored for me. I have felt called to speak again at this moment, at this time, on this subject. I have no intention of speaking again till I begin a short Bible class series at Woodmont Hills in November.

However, my review–at least in the first few posts–will not rehearse the controversial questions for which the book has been attacked.  Many are good questions–goddess worship? open theism? modalistic trinitarianism?–but they are marginal to my concerns as a griever and addict.  I am much more interested in how this parable offers an entrance into the substantial themes of divine love, forgiveness, healing, and hope. This will be my initial focus and perhaps after “first things first” I will address some of the theological questions in later posts.

So, I invite you to journey with me through the maze of grief, hurt, and pain as we face our own “shacks.”  (For those interested, you may download my oral presentations on The Shack at my Audio Page.

For those interested, the The Shack‘s official website is a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with the book, Young’s life, and some of the controversy as well as healing that has surrounded the book.

P.S.  I leave in a few moments for Dallas for the sake of ministering to needy Dallas Cowboy fans….I will be attending the Cowboy-Redskin game on Sunday.  I won’t come up for air till Monday afternoon upon my return to Nashville.  🙂

15 Responses to “Meeting God at the Shack I: Introduction”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    So, I invite you to journey with me through the maze of grief, hurt, and pain as we face our own “shacks.”

    OH BOY!!!!!??????
    WRONG responce to that,… John mark i tried.

    thank you, i am sure that the series will be enlighting as is every thing, 🙂
    HOW DOES THAT GO “are you ready for some football” 🙂

    ..does that mean that you bailed on the cubs!!!!!:-)

    blessings my friend and all

  2.   Keith Brenton Says:

    May the Lord bless your journeys – physical and spiritual.

  3.   Q Says:

    I want to read this book. I’ve been told it’s not a good time to read this book, but the bibliophile, the theologian, the rebel and the plain, ordinary human in me wants to read it anyhow. I want to hear what you say about it, but in holding off on reading it, I’ve already had key plot points disclosed to me by people who just wanted to talk about it who assumed since I read a lot, obviously I must have read it.

    Sometimes being crazy keeps you out of the proverbial loop.

  4.   Randall Says:

    The book review you provided under the link “theological disareement” was quite useful. Thanks for providing it. I think I’ll read the book in spite of the criticism, however appropriate it may be.

    I really appreciate the way you handle this blog. I find it to be consistently helpful and as fair minded as anything I have come across in a very long time. We are blessed by your efforts and sharing.

  5.   clyde s. Says:

    God bless you, go with God…and HOW ‘BOUT THEM COWBOYS!!!!!!!

  6.   Rob Says:

    I was challenged to read The Shack this summer. I was moved by it as well, and was prepared to recommend it … until the last few pages. For almost as long as I have been able to grasp the concept of universal atonement, I have prayed it might be so. But I am far too weak a Bible student and too tightly gripped by five fingers to dare say out loud that this level of grace might exist. Your introduction helps me see how I can begin to share this pearl with others. I thank you and thank God for you.

  7.   weswoodell Says:

    I’ve heard good things about this book. My wife read it and loved it – I have yet to read it myself but plan to.

  8.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I bought this book for my wife and she really liked it. I have not read it yet, as I am not much of a novel reader. But every now and then… Well, maybe I will pick this book up and read it.

    Grace and peace,


  9.   Rich constant Says:

    Rex I read a good book couple of years ago you might be interested in it’s called “God and the new physics” by Paul Davies, it’s a little old it was written in 92 or 94 he has a new one out I just haven’t yet.
    I think everyone would probably like the book.

    I had to read it three or four times but I’m sure you guys can breeze through it ..
    I know it’s off topic John Mark and I don’t read a lot of books any more other than the Bible or yours so far
    Blessings all rich

  10.   Terrell Lee Says:

    My wife and I read The Shack together, aloud. It was a rich experience for both of us. Yep, the theological challenges/weaknesses glare at anyone with even a little biblical understanding. Yet, it is so rich.

    Hey, if I read the Bible and come away with some texts that are theologically challenging/confusing/mysterious, yet continue to read and recommend it without worrying that someone might get lost in the confusion, surely I can do the same thing with The Shack, at least to some extent.

    Chapter 11, Here Come Da Judge, left both of us in tears. Sure, there were some problems in that chapter but the emotional connection we experienced as we contemplated God’s sacrifice of His Son made that chapter worth the price of the book.

    I will read your review with great interest. Maybe I’ll even re-read the book so I can interact a little better.

  11.   K. Rex Butts Says:


    What is the book about?


  12.   Joshua Whitson Says:

    I just completed this book, it only took me four days. I was moved and I look forward to hearing your take on it. God bless you!

  13.   Rich constant Says:

    He basically explains the 4/5 concepts and major theories in physics. My daughter gave me this book it took me about two years to read the thing.
    Then I got into it I could stay out of it.
    He puts forth a lot of thought into the why of intelligent design. The bottom line, of all the theories that men have come up with, they really don’t know and these are the reasons and conjectures of why he these theories fail to answer certain questions.

    One of the analogies that he makes if a man took a gun and shot it at a target across the universe on the other extreme end of the universe and hit a bull’s-eye that is the chances of this universe existing the way that it does today by random theory it’s just a mathematical impossibility
    there’s allkinds of neet need little tidbits in there although I read it two years ago and remember I’m old.

    Blessings rex

  14.   H Says:

    I just listened to your class on CD from Zoe. THANK YOU! It was a blessing to get the “tour” of your shack and the visit to your garden of healing. Your thoughts were beautiful and a blessing to me and many of the others who attended the sessions. I have so much pain to deal with that your words and thoughts are a real inspiration to me. Thank you

  15.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thank you, H. I appreciate your encouragement very much.


  1. The Shack, a Brief Review « Chaotic Ministry
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  3. One Year at Wordpress: The Most Viewed Posts/Series « John Mark Hicks Ministries
  4. Recreating and Reading « John Mark Hicks Ministries
  5. Meeting God at the Shack: An E-Book « John Mark Hicks Ministries
  6. The Shack | One In Jesus

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