BY WILLIAM P. YOUNG
I just finished shacking up with William P. Young. I guess William's middle name is Paul -- and from reading his blog and others, and while following but not joining in the conversations about The Shack I found there -- I discovered that he goes by Paul. So that's what I'll call him from now on in this short email.
I found little in Paul's words to be fearful of and much about them ponder-able.
I think that building theology on the Bible and not on literature, sacred or secular is always a good idea. So I'll keep building my ragamuffin beliefs on God's Word and not, for instance, on Flannery O'Connor, Eugene Peterson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, or Paul Young for that matter. And I'd issue the same caution for building our theology on our experiences. Sandy ground to be sure. At least my experiences. Maybe yours are more sacredly sound than my own adolescent fumblings.
I found Paul's writing getting better from the front of the book to the back. This seems like something an editor could have helped him with. And yet, overall, if I was grading him on "improvement of thought, writing, structure and the portrayal of intent" I'd give him pretty high marks. But I can't say the same thing for his belief-system. It seemed rickety at best, and downright fragile at worst. But then I'm sure some might say the same thing about mine.
And the reason I see Paul's belief system as rickety and fragile is because it seems to have been primarily built on his experiences and disappointments with God, rather than with his interaction with God's written and living Word. At least 1/2 and 1/2 would have been an improvement.
I think that when we have a single-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ we can (and should) read books like this that have somehow caught the hearts, minds, and imaginations of God-seekers and Christ-followers from across a broad spectrum of denominational and transdenominational flavors.
But I also want to temper that belief with by following Paul's keen advice in ROMANS 16:19 that Christ-followers be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil -- because I believe that to do so will save us not only from doctrinal error, but from spiritual heartache and regret.
I see Paul simply trying to share his with-God experiences -- however "sketchy and/or freely expanded-upon" they seem to be. Is what he shares incomplete? Sure. And yet, let's not expect a book to be different than the intention it was birthed from. I don't see it was Paul's goal to write a volume of systematic theology. Like all things written down in words, Paul's describing the God he has experienced, and not the God he is experiencing. But is it heresy? No, I don't think so. Maybe it's kind of how I view the 7th Day Adventist Church? Is it a cult? No. Do I want to sign up to let them teach me about end times, angels, and dietary laws? No thanks. Likewise, I don't want Paul to teach me theology. But I do think I can learn some things from him ... more about that in a future post.
Maybe Paul will write a belief-stepped sequel and call it The Condo. If he does, I hope it includes some of the life-lessons and God-lessons he's no doubt learning and taking for a test-drive now that his book is such a big hit (# 9 last week on www.amazon.com out of millions of books).
Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I don't see Paul's words marketing "cheap grace". Rather, I see them revealing to us his incomplete understanding of grace. He's on a journey. And while I don't see myself walking side-by-side him right now, I have great hopes that he's authentically seeking the One True God.
Some web-postings about Paul and The Shack seem like they want to canonize the book and beatify the man. While others seem like they want to burn the book, and excommunicate the author. I see little need to give either extreme much attention.
But neither does Paul seem to me like a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's a man in process. Not everybody can embrace the neat-and-tidy-black-and-white theological categories of MacArthur and Piper. Nor can everyone feel at home in the bend-over-backwards-while-sticking-your-head-between-your-thighs flexible dogma of the emergent church movement's McLaren and Driscolll. Maybe Paul fancies himself living and believing somewhere in between. I know I do. But that doesn't make me a Youngite. It just makes me human.
I'm glad I read The Shack. But I'm also glad that my doubts and questions don't outweigh my beliefs and convictions 10 to 1 (it's probably more like a 80/20 split), that it's my goal to have my faith be both reasoned and experiential, and that I can know the intimacy of God as my "Abba" and Jesus as my "friend" while at the same time be in speechless awe that God is infinite, unknowable, and completely other to all I am and all I can know on my own. Godspeed.