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If you have questions about The Shack
, and if your questions are theological, and if some have suggested that this book is full of heresy and you are wondering about the book, then you need to read Roger Olson, Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption.
The reason this book is the one you need is because Roger Olson is a very good theologian (some critics aren’t) and Roger Olson has read the book (some critics haven’t) and Roger Olson is not on some defense of the book or “out to attack” the book. Others see it in either/or categories. He simply calls it as as he sees it. This is a third way approach to reading a novel that has taken many by surprise. It is one of the only discussions of the novel that is both theologically alert and fair minded.
What does he see? He sees a “true” story because it is faithful to Olson’s experience in the world — including an abusive father — and, apart from a few criticisms, represents a faithful presentation of the compassion of God in the Bible.
Does he disagree with Young’s book? “Here and there I quibble with some details that don’t seem to fit the book’s character. Other elements, though, be correction. I question some things Young puts in God’s mouth, believing that they might lead to heresy if taken to an extreme. I don’t think these completely undermine the book, but they need a question mark placed over them. If we bracket them and set them aside, we can benefit from the story as a whole” (17).
Here are my questions for our conversation: What did you think of the book? What were your biggest problems? What did you like the most? What are you hearing? Has anyone read this book in a group — and how did that go?
I don’t want to spoil this book for you, so I will mention some of the contents: where is God in a world where there is senseless, innocent suffering? Is God really a family of three? Is God in charge but not in control? What’s wrong with the world? Does God forgive everyone unconditionally? What does God want with us? Will child abusers be in heaven? Isn’t Jesus a Christian? Where is the church in experiencing God? Is trusting God all sweetness and light? How should we respond to The Shack?
Some things to look for as you read this book: a God who is passionate (and not a God who has no emotions). Olson, who has written a book on the Trinity, thinks the book is essentially biblical and orthodox (30). Take the book seriously but not literally. God’s love shapes the Trinity and not hierarchy. Olson takes issue with Young’s “patripassionism” (that the Father suffered on the cross) and he thinks Young leans too close to deism or process theology at times. So Olson thinks Young’s depiction of God is incomplete. The book is very strong on free will.
Olson does not think the book denies orthodoxy, but it does counter the beliefs of many denominational doctrinal statements.
One thing this book lacks: Why not interview Young about his life story and connect his life story with the themes that are so emphatic in this book? In my view, this novel is an attempt by a nonprofessional to depict a view of God that he didn’t get as a child and that he wants to be seen in full view for his own children. Is it an exaggeration? Of course. Does it make us think about God more carefully? Indeed.