Published in 2007, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity still resonates with many Christians, but the story behind the story is almost as fascinating.
The Shack was self-published by William P. Young, who at the time, was a hotel night clerk. He wrote the book to be a Christmas gift for his children, not intending to have it published. However, that all changed due to the urging of family and friends to have the book published.
The book was overlooked by many the first year it was in print, but soon this little paperback became a USA Today bestseller and was the No. 1 trade fiction seller on the New York Times best sellers list from June 2008 to early 2010. Since then, the book has been released in hard cover and translated into over 30 languages including Spanish, German, and Croatian. Over 18 million copies of the book has been published.
The Shack is not your typical Christian fiction story. It is part adventure, fantasy and allegory. Set in the Northwest, Mack Philips takes his family out for a camping trip where two of his sons almost drown and his young daughter is kidnapped and murdered (not a very pleasant way to start a story). Years later, Mack receives a note in his mailbox sent by “Papa” asking to meet Mack at “the shack.” Since he has no relationship with his earthly father, he assumes that “Papa” just might be God.
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. —Proverbs 8:17, KJV
Mack travels to the little empty building and finds nothing there at first glance. But just before he leaves and looks back, he sees that the place has been transformed. When he re-enters the shack, Mack meets three people who represent the Trinity. Elousia, an African American woman, takes the form of God the Father. A Middle-Eastern carpenter play Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit is played by Sarayu, an Asian woman. It is through this adventure-filled weekend that Mack finds peace for his tragic past.
While a favorite of many, The Shack has its share of critics as well. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church criticized the book for presenting a non-biblical view of the Trinity. Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, warned Christians to “stay out of the Shack” due to the author’s apparent “love view of scripture,” and Norman Geisler, an apologist, created a list of 14 theological “problems” with it.
In response to the negativity, Theologian Randal Rauser went so far as to write his own follow up to the book called Finding God in the Shack in 2009, and responds to many of the first book’s critics. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message said, “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!”
Mike Morrel, of Zoecarnate.com was quoted on the book as saying, “This story reads like a prayer – like the best kind of prayer, filled with sweat and wonder and transparency and surprise. If you read one work of fiction this year, let this be it.” And David Gregory, author of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger was quoted calling the book, “an exceptional piece of writing that ushers you directly into the heart and nature of God in the midst of agonizing human suffering.