After "Anonymous" posted me some some comments on my review of "The Shack" by William P. Young, I decided to do a little more in depth research on the book. I had done just a little before, listening to the criticisms of my friends and and some of the pastoral staff (also friends) at my church. I had read a few negative reviews and entertained a few thoughts of what some Calvinists have said, have been told what an Arminian book it is, and as with any book, weighed all the information in my mind.
So I went perusing the internet with my trusty tool and sponsor Google because of some of the info I had found on my web tracker. Some of the people who search for reviews of The Shack also are searching for words like Sarayu and Elousia. Since I had not yet looked up the meanings of these words as I often do, I decided to do just that and was interested at what I found. First I found the criticisms of the book which I will enumerate some of as I define the words. Second, I found out what the words really meant, and their usage throughout history, which I will also explain.
Elousia, if you do a quick search, you will find out is Greek for tenderness. It is also the title of a Catholic icon depicting the Madonna and the baby Jesus. Critics jump all over this saying that Mr. Young is trying to sneak in some Marianism, attempting to water down God by inserting Mary. I find this interesting because it would seem to me that a book attempting to plead the case of a merciful and good God might use a name that reveals just that. We must go back to the definition of the word, tenderness. This is a trait that the God of The Shack is soaked in.
In my experience it is good to look at overall messages of a book. One thing that I have tried to do is to never read a Bible verse as Greg Koukl puts it. That means never read just one verse, not never read any verses. The technique seeks to achieve understanding of the context of a work, and not to take anything out of context. For the most part, The Shack espouses the classical view of the Trinity if you can get past the temporal physical manifestations of the normally only spiritual components of the Trinity. That is to say that the Father and Spirit appear as women, and if you can get past that, you see the classical view of the Trinity. Now you must understand one thing: Cults and heretics never never usually never espouse the classical view of the Trinity. It is often the first thing to go, and yet it appears in this book, a controversial work of symbolic fiction.
The next subject has earned The Shack and accusation of being a subversive work of Hinduism. In the book, the Holy Spirit is depicted as an Asian woman named Sarayu. Sarayu is a Sanskrit word meaning "to flow" and also wind, air, or that which streams. It is a tributary of the Ganges in India. It played a role in some great Hindu stories and myths and is mentioned in the Rigveda. Anyway, some say this means that the book is a Hindu work or at best has a message of universalism. Again we must simply look at the word itself. It means wind, just as the book says. That's all there is to it. Spirit in Greek means breath. It's the same thing.
This whole thing brings two things to mind. First, I have not found any criticisms of the character of Sophia, wisdom personified. This may be because it is a Christian concept as well as being a pagan and gnostic one. But that's the kicker, if it wasn't a Christian concept, would Mr. Young then be accused of Neoplatonic Hellenism? Though wisdom personified as a woman is a central figure in Proverbs, the concept of Sophia is much older than Christianity, Plato taught about it as well as did others. Sophia in Greek is of course wisdom, that much should be obvious by now since we are discussing the meaning of words.
But that leads me to my final point about these kinds of criticisms. If you are to subject a work of fiction to this kind of rigorous test, why not the Bible? John makes copious use of the word "word" in John. Logos (in Greek) appears as much as five centuries before the time of Christ in Greek philosophy and religion, and John has the stones to actually ascribe these pagan attributes to Jesus Christ himself!!! See what I mean? It is ridiculous for a Christian to criticize a book for word choice when the Bible uses the very same cultural references. Christianity has always done this in an attempt to reach out to the intellectuals of its day. It always will.
The Spirit is fluid, a wind, a breath, and it will get into every crack and crevice of every culture and make itself known. And sometimes it will use words.