It appears that much of the controversy develops out of an unorthodox description of God and more specifically the Trinity. While Young’s characterization is unusual, it is nothing more than an illustration. I’m not too concerned with the “illustration” as it is a finite attempt to depict an infinite God. Remember that most illustrations break down at some point; carry this illustration too far, it’ll break down, too. The Trinity remains a mystery and The Shack’s depiction doesn’t jeopardize that. Young’s portrayal implies intimacy, oneness, and unity. Twice he uses the term “circle” to describe the relationship of the Trinity. This reminded me of John of Damascus’ (seventh century) description of the persons of God (Trinity) as perichoresis or literally stated “circle dance.” Through the ages, people have struggled to adequately explain the mystery of the Trinity.
My only real concern in the story came about in a discussion between Jesus and Mack. On page 182, the dialogue could seemingly promote a concept of universalism. While Christians understand salvation comes only through faith in Christ, the idea of “all roads” lead to the same God could be assumed from the dialogue. While I understand the point being made between Jesus and Mack, a cursory read could call to question our widely held orthodox belief of Christ alone. I don’t believe that Young is attempting to do this. While there might be some other themes to ponder a little more, I think they’re secondary to the story line and the greater message.
There appears to be some insightful treatment of themes like fear, failure, disappointment, guilt, freedom, forgiveness, and love. Grief has many stages and many pitfalls. Through Young’s story, he created a character that comes face to face with real, tangible, and challenging situations. This is not a theological text nor should it be treated as such. One shouldn’t build a theological framework or doctrine of God based upon the experiences of a fictional character; you build theology from Scripture. It is however a good read which addresses one man’s attempt to overcome grief. For that purpose alone, it’s worth the read. There might even be a sermon or two about some of the various themes. Who knows?