The Shack— centered on dialogues between a miserable main character, Mack, and three unorthodox characterizations of the Holy Trinity — telescopes Young's transformation to a man spiritually reborn and aware every moment of God's love. It slams "legalistic" religions, denominations and doctrines. It barely even mentions the Bible.
Instead, Mack's secrets, lies, pain and fears are swept away in a 48-hour encounter in the woods with a sassy black woman who embodies God the creator. Jesus is portrayed as a big-nosed carpenter in a plaid shirt; the Holy Spirit is an Asian sylph called Sarayu.
So why are critics calling it heresy?
They say Young's surprise hit, which has been in the Top 50 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list for 10 weeks (it's now No. 17), promotes a wrong-headed view of universal salvation, as free to all as an open bar at a party.
They read Young's message as saying you can just discover Jesus' love inside yourself, turn your life over to him, and you're on your way to heaven. No need to put in time in the pews or know theology.
Albert Mohler, a leading theologian of the Southern Baptist Convention, which takes the Bible literally, trashes The Shack in his weekly radio show, calling it "deeply subversive," "scripturally incorrect" and downright "dangerous."
Says Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle: "If you haven't read The Shack, don't!"
Driscoll, whose multi-campus non-denominational church is packed with 6,000 people each weekend in the least-churched corner of the nation, says he is "horrified" by Young's book. He says "it misrepresents God. Young misses the big E on the eye chart."
To Driscoll, doctrine is essential, like a fence the Almighty erects to safeguard the saved from error...Mohler, Driscoll and other evangelicals pick The Shack apart plank by plank.
No, God can't be a presented as a woman. No, the three parts of the Trinity did not all become fully human. Yes, there is a hierarchy in the Holy Trinity with God the Father in command. Yes, God will punish sin.
God can't be portrayed as a woman? Haven't these people ever heard of Wisdom? And what is with the doctrinal fence? Is it electric, or a dog fence, or a prison fence? I tend to think of doctrine more like that proverbial millstone around the neck.
Young just shakes off the criticism:
"I don't want to enter the Ultimate Fighting ring and duke it out in a cage-match with dogmatists. I have no need to knock churches down or pull people out," he says.
"I have a lot of freedom by knowing that you really experience God in relationships, wherever you are. It's fluid and dynamic, not cemented into an institution with a concrete foundation."
"But it's not about me. I have everything that matters, a free and open life full of love and empty of all secrets."