William Young has written a compelling story of a man (Mack) whose young daughter was kidnapped and murdered. But it is Mack’s later encounter with the Triune God at the “shack,” where his daughter was murdered, that is the setting for most of the book.
Two themes are developed with sufficient vividness to make reading the book interesting. The description of the relationship of the three persons of God to each other (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) opens our eyes to the personal and loving rapport that exists. Young gives insight into the intimacy of the relationship that builds not only our understanding of that relationship but a desire to be part of it. Secondly, Young explains forgiveness in a full and, I think, biblically accurate way. It is the kidnapping and murder that forces the reader to consider forgiveness not just abstractly but in a personal and emotional way.
There are however themes which are obnoxious at best and others that are downright heretical. It is obnoxious that Young, like others, found it necessary to take cheap shots at the church maybe thinking it will make them credible with the reading public. It certainly is in vogue to be pro-spiritual and anti-religion. But that distinction is almost as ridiculous as loving humanity and disliking people. It also seems juvenile to ridicule prayer before meals and closing ones eyes in prayer. I think it is also misleading that Young decided to portray God the Father as a woman which seems totally unnecessary and does in fact contradict how God chose to reveal himself in Scripture.
More substantially heretical are the blatant universalism, the weak view of the atonement, and the eventual homogenization of the human and the divine. In Young’s view there is no punishment awaiting anyone and all humanity is fully reconciled to God. This universal salvation is certainly contrary to Scripture. As attractive as universalism may be it undermines nearly every doctrine of Scripture.
Secondly, Young’s view of the atonement lacks any idea of penal substitution. He has Jesus dying more as an example of love than as the propitiation for our sins satisfying divine wrath. We must never forget 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” and Romans 3:25-26 “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement (propitiation), through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Thirdly, Young also denies a functional hierarchy in the Trinity and erroneously suggests that in the end no hierarchy will exist even between God and humanity. Echoes of Hindu (New Age) monism can be heard in this melding of the human and the divine.
The book seems to have captured the reading public (no doubt due to Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement) and may be worth reading just to enable us to engage those around us. But reading with discernment is always necessary. As you read, consider the Scriptures that support or contradict the ideas presented. And regardless of how emotionally compelling a book may be, it stands under the judgment of the Holy Scriptures. Sola Scriptura!