An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
First a word of caution, I am terribly under the weather at the moment, so please excuse any ABNORMALLY poor grammar, spelling, or unclear thinking. All the regularly scheduled poor grammar, spelling, or unclear thinking you are likely used to by now.
As I noted, I would be reviewing this book by William Young and I must begin by saying that I was both impressed and distressed by it. It is a beautiful story and wonderfully weaves together a story about the restoration and healing of a heart and soul irreparably scarred by what is perhaps the worse event a parent could imagine. Truly, the work struck me in the heart and gave me much to ponder. Some of the scenes the author paints are staggeringly painful, beautiful, and redemptive. I will endeavor not to offer any plot spoilers as much as possible, and while I may emphaisze my criticisms of the book in the following posts I will continue to stress that I am still recommending the book.
Now, "The Shack" is held in particular high regard (it would seem) by many in the post-modern or emergent church crowd for both good reasons and bad - in my humble opinion. In many ways I think the book represents what I perceive to be good and bad aspects of the movements themselves. Some of the good is found in stepping out of many of the protestant molds that we Orthodox deem to be erroneous as well, such as the over-emphasis on the nature of sin within the context of substitutionary atonement. However, the author lets all the emergent church light shine brightly not from a hill top, but from the mouth of God Himself...or Herself...or whatever. Imagine how a non-Orthodox Christian would feel if I were to write a book of fiction in which God himself proclaimed that the Orthodox Church is "the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"? Do you suppose they'd keep reading? Make no mistake, "The Shack's" conception of God definitely plays some disharmonious chords to Orthodox Christians and I'll talk more about them later.
Anyway, old idols (aka religious preconceptions) must be broken. It's a prominant mantra for those who have grown sick of "church." They are largely correct, I think, conceptions of God is a very dangerous business. But if this simple statement is "true" then we are perpetually going to find ourselves having problems. For instance, God the Father in "The Shack" appears not as "Gandalf" with a stern look about Him as one might be inclined to expect, but rather as a jovial elderly black woman referred to as "papa." Of course the problem here is that conceiving of God as an old man with a long white beard is really no different than conceiving of Him as "the oracle" from "The Matrix."
Now, admittedly the author certainly gives a nod to the idea that God appears in this particular case to change our conceptions and Mack (the character to whom God appears) certainly needed to have his preconceptions smashed, but none-the-less the Trinity Himself plays a central role in the book and the author paints a very elaborate conception of God which extends far beyond simple appearances - It is feasible that collectively the Trinity offers us more words in this book than Christ does in the Gospels and this cannot help but give us a detailed conception of God. A task for which I would advise a great great deal of caution and I believe the author demonstrates why this is the case.
I was abit unnerved at the attempt to demonstrate - simply - the intimacy and mystery of the Holy Trinity. I know very little about Young's beliefs, but he is indeed a brave soul to reveal the Holy Trinity as an old black woman, a middle eastern handyman, and a semi-invisible Asian woman named "sarayu." Their presence and casual interactions with one another was just too much for me. I'm not sure I can find an analogy to describe the invasion this seemed to be to me...can words and descriptions ever do justice to the mystery and sacredness of the community of the Holy Trinity? profound and sacred Mystery replaced with casual familiarity perhaps? Either way, the danger, I think is not in failing to do justice to the notion but in actually distorting it.
An allegorical story is one thing, but in story such as this one is left with little room to "end the allegory" if you get my meaning. We are reading about the Holy Trinity literally hanging out with a guy in a shack. And in so doing Young may be escaping many "traditional" preconceptions of God, but he is simply replacing them with new ones.
I am certain I have blogged about apophatic theology before. It is a system (dangerous term to pomo folk) by which the east (predominantly) has affirmed that it is easier to speak of God in negative terms rather than positive. In other words: "God is not this....God is not that..." As opposed to boxing God into positively phrased conceptions. Now, this isn't to say that the Church has not done this, in fact she has via her Scriptures, her creeds, her prayers, and her liturgies. And these positive statements arise directly from revelation and are often only articulated in response to someone coming out and saying something about God that stood against the tradition (paradosis) as handed down to the Church. And so we are extremely cautious when we start blabbing about God. I say this as the chief blabber amongst blabbers and I admit that there have been times when I have gone too far in my conceptions of God...but the Church always calls me home. Our conceptions of God is something we are encouraged to repent of and confess.
When we run away from one conception we are typically running toward another. In time we'll find need to seek shelter under a different conception of God. It is extremely difficult to escape our conceptions...to do so really requires an appeal for help to something outside of ourselves. Young rightly notes at one point that God is fundamentally "other" than us, and indeed some of his portraits of the Trinity in community are beautiful, but I really had to struggle my way past the idea that he was ultimately giving me his conception of God which may not have any firmer foundation than the conception his character Mack was needing to escape. Mack, we are told, needs to break free from his "institutionalized religious indoctrination", but is the new realm painted by the emergent church any surer a foundation? How do we know?
In the next post I will discuss a few things that God says or seemingly represents in "The Shack" that I think need to be "called home."
James, did you read the forward? I am very onboard with your review so far, and a lot of what you are saying is exactly what I am thinking, but you say it so much better than I ever Could. I read Father's review, and I am siding with you on this one. But, that being said... did you read the forward. Young DID NOT write this book. This is NOT a story that he made up and is telling to the world. Mackenzie said this ACTUALLY, in real life, happened to him. Exactly as you read it, he lived it (so he say, I am still having issues with that, but that is still what he is saying). Not Young. Mackenzie. So Young isn't the one who's beliefs you need to question. He even states in the forward he still has some issues believing that this happened to his friend. It's just that his name is on the cover because as Mackenzie told Young the story of what happened to him, Young wrote it down. Just like how you and I pretty much think the same thing about the book, you can write it down so much better than I ever could.
Amy, I did read the forward. Unfortunately it is part of the story, which is fiction. Mr. Young wrote the story for his children and friends as an analogy of his own journey into healing from his very broken past. He made this statement in an interview with Guideposts magazine. You can read it at http://www.guideposts.com/story/paul-young-shack-healing?