Q&A with Randal Rauser, Author of Finding God in The Shack
William Young’s The Shack, has become a runaway bestseller, and its story brings readers 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. Whether readers have been inspired, challenged, or even threatened by Young’s novel, Finding God in The Shack is an essential tool for readers who want to better understand the Scriptural truths contained in the book’s message and to apply those truths to their own lives. Each chapter concludes with a set of provocative discussion questions, making Finding God in The Shack an ideal vehicle for small group discussion.
Q: What motivated you to write Finding God in The Shack, a book that examines the theology of The Shack, William Young’s best-selling novel?
A: In the short time since its publication, The Shack has ignited the church’s interest in the Trinity more than the dozens of theology books that have been published by academic theologians over the last forty years. It is wonderful (if a bit humbling) for the theologian to witness a doctrine that has long been locked in the seminary classroom now emerging as a topic of lively conversations at the local coffee shop, and all because of a novel! 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. I wrote Finding God in The Shack to provide that background and, hopefully, to inspire even more theological discussions among readers.
Q: What aspects of Young’s book have inspired the most conversation and criticism?
A: One of my main purposes in writing Finding God in The Shack was to shed some light on—and bring some reason to—the debate surrounding some of the controversial details of Young’s work. Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of The Shack is the manifestation of God the Father as “Papa,” a large African-American woman, and of the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named Sarayu. This portrayal has yielded some startling, even fantastic charges (including the frenzied charge that the book promotes Goddess worship!). But even if those charges are overblown, one might still wonder whether the depiction is appropriate and what it implies about our knowledge of God.
On the point of how the three persons of the Trinity constitute the one God, critics have argued The Shack’s depiction of God is seriously flawed, for it fails to distinguish the three persons. Finding God in The Shack addresses this and several other charges of heresy, using both excerpts from the book and Scripture passages to counter those accusations.
The problem of evil is central to the plot of The Shack. Readers must grapple with how a God who is all-loving and all-powerful would allow the horrific murder of young Missy, a child of whom He says He is especially fond. Finding God in The Shack delves further into the issue of theodicy (the problem of evil) and the atoning work of Christ, examining Young’s choice to ignore (or bypass) the language of God’s wrath against sin, instead describing the Father as suffering with the Son.
Q: How do you feel about the controversies and criticisms surrounding The Shack?
A: Most people who have read or heard about The Shack are aware of the controversies that swirl around the book. Although I appreciate the passion of the critics, I have been saddened by a frequent lack of clarity that has been shown to the book’s author and its fans. And I have been especially disheartened by the advice of some influential leaders not to read the book. 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. 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. Certainly, Young’s book will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to. But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation. I would encourage those who have avoided the novel because of these controversies to read Finding God in The Shack and discover the truth about the book’s theology.
Q: What does Finding God in The Shack have to say about Young’s choice to present a two-thirds female and ethnically diverse vision of God?
A: Young’s vision of God brings us into the midst of some important and fascinating questions about the way that the transcendent God of all creation comes into our small world. When Mack arrives at the cabin he receives the jarring reminder that God is much more than any image: “two women and a man and none of them white? Then again, why had he naturally assumed God would be white?” When God shows up in this “unorthodox” form, Mack begins to realize how narrow his understanding of God has been: “all his visuals for God were very white and very male.”
The Shack presents us with a rich picture of God’s accommodation. Successful accommodators recognize that “one size does not fit all.” The unfortunate reality is that many people have not had a loving human father, and Mack (the story’s main character) was one of them. Because of the horrifying abuse he suffered during his childhood at the hands of his own father, an attempt to think of God as Father blasts Mack with feelings of pain, rage, and fear. Aware of Mack’s struggles and pain, “Papa” adopts the form of a loving mother to meet Mack in his dark prison. As she gently informs him: “If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.” Finding God in The Shack guides readers through several Scriptures that demonstrate Young’s picture of God’s accommodation is not heresy—it comes straight from God’s word.
I thought this was an excellent book. I really appreciated Rauser's down-to-earth approach to theology. The tone of the book was not condescending at all and easy to understand whether you have studied any theology or not. Personally I really enjoyed The Shack and I think Finding God in the Shack is an excellent companion text for it- both for those who loved The Shack and those who were disturbed by it. If you are looking for further clarification on the "issues" surrounding The Shack then this is the book for you! I found Finding God in the Shack easy to read and would definitely recommend it to anyone.