William Paul Young, author of “The Shack,” joins Kurt Wallace in a series of interviews to discuss aspects of the book that has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.
In part 1 of this interview “Dogma of Religion,” Paul discusses how his religious upbringing impeded his relationship with God. He shares how he came to write this bestselling book which he never intended to publish. He talks about what a healing God means to him personally.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Fictional novel The Shack written by William Paul Young. He is our guest today on Rare, and Paul it’s great to have you with us today. Thanks for joining us.
William Paul Young: Kurt, I am honored to be a part of your conversation.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: It’s great to have you, as well. And I want to go ahead and start out telling you a little bit about my story. I met a very special woman – she’s in my life – and in getting to know her, she asked me about my relationship with God. Now, I don’t talk about God. I don’t talk about God with anyone. I have a relationship with God, but I realized at some point that what that did with me is it would separate me, and I didn’t want to be separated from her. I felt so connected to her that I didn’t want to lose that. So, I didn’t want to answer that question, and I told her that. So she decided instead to describe her relationship with God, and I was blown away. She was describing what I know to be true. And then she told me about your book, The Shack, and that it had changed her life. And what it had done for her. So, I decided I was going to read the book. As I was reading the first chapter, I texted her — and the main character in your book, Mackenzie, I texted her — “I am Mac,” because that was me. And your book had reaffirmed many things that I know to be true. And it was noninvasive, regarding sort of the religious preconcepts of God. And she didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I was Mac. So, I said I’m reading the book. And she says, “Oh my God, you’re reading the book.” That’s how I came to find out…
William Paul Young: That is so cool. Thank goodness there are women in our lives — that’s all I can say. We get saved by the women in our lives.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: No kidding. No kidding. And that’s part of your story — your wife, Kim.
The dogma of religion, the dogma has been challenged by The Shack. And the idea of religion and the interpretations of it – you challenge things in the book about this – how forgiveness works – even the Ten Commandments. You’ve been attacked as a heretic. But this is…
William Paul Young: I’ve been in good company, because Jesus was always challenging the dogma of religion. So, you know, it’s not like I’m out there by myself.
Kurt Wallace for Rare: Well, tell us a little bit more about this as far as your writing the book and what that means to you and why this is such an issue.
William Paul Young: Ah, I’m a missionary kid and a preacher’s kid — evangelical, fundamental Protestant. And firstborn – there ya go. You know, that’s about as distance from relationship with God as far as you can get. And it’s always been you know, religion, that’s been the primary impediment to actual relationship with God, because it creates a mythology about performance — that you can perform your way into the appeasement of the deity. And you know, when you’re born inside the cultural framework that I was, and you’re born inside the religious traditions that I was, that becomes your understanding of spirituality: That it’s about trying to please God. So, it’s not really about God at all; it’s about our ability to perform according to whatever the expectations are.
And everybody’s got a set of those. You can be Islamic and you have your Five Pillars, with a niche pillar — there’s a whole series of things you have to do, whether it’s eight steps or twelve steps, or well that’s AA, but it’s also a twelve step program, if you want it. And evangelicals have like millions of rules. And it’s just, uh, we have sort of an accepted, rationalism within which we frame religion. And we think that belief, intellectually, is of the same as relationship. And in our Western family conversation, that’s become an incredible impediment toward actual wholeness, where the heart and the head are aligned and relationship — not just with God but with each other.
And when you learn, over the course of your life, that it’s not about pleasing God, it’s about learning how to trust God. That’s a huge watershed, because trust is a whole different ballgame than appeasement or pleasing. So when I wrote The Shack, you know, I had no intentions of becoming a published author. I just was trying to write a story for our six children, the youngest of whom is now 20, but I’m trying to write a story and just say, look, let me wrap inside Mackenzie’s story mind in which I want to tell you about the God that actually showed up and healed my heart. Not that God I grew up, because the God I grew up was fundamentally, and I use the word advisedly, fundamentally untrustworthy – schizophrenic, narcissistic, unreachable, unknowable, and my concept within which I grew up was that Jesus — He likes me — but He came to save me from God the Father — who was the one who was angry and distant, and unreachable, unknowable. All of that had to come crashing down — and like many of us, it’s in the context of our real life, where relationships come apart and where, you know, you’ve been hiding your addictions in secrets. And when all that façade and performance stuff comes crashing down, you have an opportunity to actually become an authentic human being. And that’s part of my story.
Um, I made 15 copies at Office Depot. It did everything I ever wanted it to do – in those 15 copies. All of the rest of this is, I think, is part of God’s great sense of humor. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. And I’m thrilled to hear your story. That just tickles me no end. And how cool is that — that I got to participate in creating some space so that your relationship with the woman in your life would expand and grow? What an honor to be on that holy ground, so thank you for that.