A child is brutally murdered. Her father receives an invitation from “Papa” (God) to meet him at the very shack where this horrific event took place. Upon arrival, he is swept up in the embrace of Papa—a large, motherly, African-American woman. This most unlikely of stories, as told in William Young’s The Shack, has become a runaway bestseller, and it is easy to see why. The book brings us on a redemptive journey through the shacks of deepest pain and suffering in our lives, guided by the triune God of Christian faith. But even as lives have been transformed through this book, other readers have sternly denounced it as a hodgepodge of serious theological error, even heresy. With one pastor urging his congregation to read it and another forbidding his congregation to do so, many Christians have simply been left confused.
In his new book, Finding God in The Shack, theologian and author Randal Rauser takes readers on a fascinating journey through the pages of the story that has ignited the church’s interest in the Trinity, a doctrine that has long been locked away in seminary classrooms. “As a theologian, it is wonderful—if a bit humbling—to witness the Trinity now emerging as a topic of lively conversations at the local coffee shop, and all because of a novel,” Rauser says. “But while those conversations have not typically lacked for enthusiasm and conviction, many of them would benefit from some deeper background as to the theological issues at stake.”
As Rauser explores the intricacies of the plot, he addresses many of the book’s complex and controversial issues. In the process, he explains why God the Father is revealed as an African-American woman, defends the book’s theology of the Trinity against charges of heresy, and considers its provocative denial of a Trinitarian hierarchy. At its heart The Shack is a response to evil, and Rauser offers an honest and illuminating discussion of the book’s explanation for why God allows evil, how the atoning work of Christ offers new hope to a suffering world, and ultimately how this hope extends to all of creation.
“It is true that The Shack asks some hard questions and occasionally takes positions with which we might well disagree. But surely the answer is not found in shielding people from the conversation, but rather in leading them through it,” Rauser states. “After all, it is through wrestling with new ideas that one learns to deal with the nuance and complexity that characterize an intellectually mature faith. The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to. But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.”
Finding God in The Shack by Randal Rauser
Authentic – February 2009
ISBN 978-1-606570-32-6/160 pages/$ 14.99