Questioning the god of ‘The Shack’

Lisa Byrnes
August 20th, 2010
Burning Down ‘The Shack’
James B. De Young
2010
WND Books
For more information on this book and the author click here

Burning down ‘The Shack’ by James B. De Young

There are probably few Sydney Christians who haven’t heard of The Shack, the story of a man who finds healing and hope during a weekend encounter with the Trinity. The book has sold in excess of 12 million copies worldwide and countless articles (including my own) and several books have been written discussing the theology it contains. To that group we can now add Burning Down ‘The Shack’ by James B. De Young.

De Young, a Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature, is able to bring a unique insight to the ongoing debate over The Shack, as he knew Young personally in the years leading up to its writing. Their children attended the same school and they founded a Christian discussion group they attended together for several years. It was in this forum that Young announced his acceptance of universal reconciliation in 2004.

Following these events Young dropped out of the discussion group and writing began on the manuscript that was to become The Shack. The manuscript was sent to Brad Cummings and Wayne Jacobsen who were impressed with its potential. They were opposed to the overt universalism however, and spent a year revising and rewriting to remove its traces. But as De Young contends, “The Shack was birthed in universal reconciliation” (page xix) and its errors remain embedded.

It is important at this point to define universalism. There is pagan or general universalism which contends that there are many ways to God and that Jesus is just one of these. Then there is universal or Christian reconciliation, which states that all will come to God through Jesus Christ either before or after death. Hell exists only to purge away unbelief and even Satan will eventually be reconciled to God, at which point Hell will cease to exist.

In Burning Down ‘The Shack’ De Young works through The Shack chapter by chapter discussing the story and the theology presented. He points out what Young has done well and pinpoints areas of concern or error. It is fascinating to see time and time again the concerns that have been raised by other reviewers being laid at the door of universal reconciliation. The emphasis on God’s love over his holiness; the assertion that there is no eternal punishment for sin; the lack of emphasis on sin, evil and Satan; the assertion that reconciliation is effective without faith; the rejection of the church and the sidelining of the Bible. All these De Young points out are tenets of universal reconciliation. Whereas some reviewers have noted these and have given Young the benefit of the doubt, saying that “he surely doesn’t mean …,” De Young with his intimate knowledge of Young’s universalism is able to say “he surely does mean ….”

De Young consistently points to the Bible as he critiques Young’s book. He writes graciously, precisely and at length. I don’t agree with everything in this book, but I enjoyed it very much and consider it a book that deserves to be widely read. Perhaps Burning Down ‘The Shack’ is even the definitive book on The Shack. Indeed De Young, with his acquaintance with Young and his theological knowledge is the only person who could have written it.

Burning Down ‘The Shack’ concludes with the warning that The Shack “has the potential to damage Christian theology for several generations.” (page 205). With Young and his former colleagues Jacobsen and Cummings now mired in lawsuits over royalties and authorship, the long-term legacy of The Shack is uncertain. We can only hope and pray that those who have found the god of The Shack appealing will return to the complex and ultimately more satisfying God revealed in his Word.

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