Thursday, September 26, 2013

It All Started With The Shack

By George W. Sarris

When was the last time you read a book that literally changed your life? For me, it’s happened twice – at the end of my junior year of college and in my last semester in seminary. And I’ll never forget them.
Last week I got a phone call and three emails from a friend who was so excited to tell me about two books . . . both novels . . . both written by the same author . . . both books that changed his life! But he was also angry and frustrated.
A Publishing Phenomenon
The first was The Shack by William Paul Young, a completely unknown author who wrote a book for his children about a man – Mackenzie Allen Philips (Mack) – who lost his daughter under tragic circumstances that challenged his faith. Then, Mack met God . . . really met Him!
The novel was unorthodox, to say the least, in its portrayal of God. He’s called Papa, but appears to Mack as a “large beaming African-American woman” who “engulfed him in her arms,” exuding love! Mack also meets a “small, distinctly Asian woman” who “seemed almost to shimmer in the light” . . . and a man who “appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer” and whose “eyes and smile lit up his face.”  The love Mack experiences in Their presence helps heal him and changes his life forever.
A few of Young’s friends read the book and told him he should have it published. But religious publishers wouldn’t touch it because of its controversial message, and the rest weren't interested because no one had ever heard of William Paul Young.
After 26 rejection letters, he and a couple of friends published the book on their own. It became a #1 best seller almost entirely by word of mouth . . . and remained there nearly two years because enthusiastic people wanted to read his message and bought books by the case for family and friends. It’s sold over 18 million copies worldwide.
The Shack, published in 2007, changed my friend’s life . . . and potentially changed the lives of many who read it. And even more important, it laid the ground work and set the tone for many best-selling, life-changing books that followed. All of this because Young proved there was a market for books about a God who loves all His children!
More Best Sellers
That same year, 90 Minutes in Heaven – written by a Baptist minister about his near-death experience in a car crash – reached The New York Times Best Sellers List for the first time and remained there for over three years. And more people began thinking about the afterlife!
Heaven Is for Real followed in 2010 – another book by an unknown author about his little boy’s near-death experience and visit to Heaven. It shot up to #1 in nonfiction and has remained on the Times Best Sellers List ever since, closing in on three years now.
Well-known pastor/author/speaker Rob Bell released Love Wins in 2011 – posing bold questions about traditional views of Heaven and Hell. The book was attacked by many in the religious establishment, but people wanted to read it . . . and they did! It was an immediate #1 best seller.
Two physicians wrote books about their own near-death experiences in 2012. Mary C. Neal wrote To Heaven and Back, and neurosurgeon Eben Alexander wrote Proof of Heaven. Both describe the Heaven they visited as a bright place filled with peace and God’s love . . . and both were #1 best sellers. In fact, Proof of Heaven held that #1 spot for over 40 weeks.
So far in 2013, two more books have joined the best sellers about Heaven – one fiction and one nonfiction.
Life After Life is a fictional tale about being reborn several times after death . . . and was Amazon’s Best Book of the Month and a Barnes & Noble Staff Pick its very first week.
Waking Up in Heaven is another near-death account, written by a school teacher few people outside family and friends had ever heard of. Yet, it was featured in PARADE Magazine’s April 21st issue along with Heaven Is for Real and Proof of Heaven – calling attention to the phenomenal popularity of books about Heaven. In fact, during the month of May, all three of these books by unknown authors dominated The New York Times Top 10 Best Sellers List.
It seems it’s not so much “who wrote the book” but “what it says” that readers care about. And they want to know more about the afterlife. I had the opportunity to review another book over the summer that will be coming out next week. What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven? by Randal Rauser addresses 20 intriguing and thought-provoking questions about what happens after we die.
Another Must Read
So why is my friend so angry and frustrated?
"I’m angry because there are so many people who still don’t know that William Paul Young wrote another great book last year," he says.."And I’m frustrated because that book – Cross Roads – changed my life, and it could change theirs too! 
Sure, it was a best seller . . . but it didn't come close to reaching all the people who read The Shack.  I know because I've mentioned it to dozens of people who were excited to read it once they knew he had written another book!" 

Cross Roads is about a man who let material things get in the way of the really important things in life and has a chance to turn his life around before it’s too late – a much broader concept than The Shack’s . . . and one that even more than 18 million people should be able to relate to.
"It’s a lot like The Shack – only better!" my friend told me. "I stayed up till midnight to finish it. It’s that good! I laughed hysterically through the middle of the book and cried till the end."
He told me he had already bought three copies of Cross Roads for gifts, and now that it’s in paperback, he’ll probably buy more. And it occurred to me. Word of mouth helped The Shack reach millions of people who needed to read its message . . . why shouldn't word of mouth – especially with the help of social media – work even better for Cross Roads?
So, please help my friend and me spread the word.
Cross Roads by William Paul Young is a beautifully written book and an important one! Like The Shack, it can reach an incredible number of people who need to hear about a God who is good . . . approachable . . . and doesn't give up on anyone.
If you've read it and like it, tell your friends. If you haven’t, read it . . . and tell everyone who’s important to you. And remember your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Books make great gifts! I know. My friend bought Cross Roads for me as a gift about a year ago . . . and I have to say – in a way – it’s changing my life, too.
And together with all the best sellers about Heaven that millions of people have been reading since The Shack sneaked up on us six years ago . . . maybe they’ll help change the world!
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Anonymous said...

The concept is fascinating, but the language in these books is waaayyyy too casual for a Holy God....and He judges false prophets. Luke 13:24-28, Matt 7:21-23.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was very uncomfortable with the way The Trinity was falsely portrayed in "The Shack". I could not finish the book as it did not present the true Gospel.

God does love us all totally unconditionally and yes, he he is compassionate. But God also wants us to repent. The Bible says we will perish in the end if we don't. God wants us to turn from our wicked ways and truly follow Him. This fundamental of salvation is sorely lacking in many of today's feel-good stories about God.

2 Timothy 4:3 speaks about how people will not endure sound doctrine but will follow their own desires and seek teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. We are living in those times.

God doesn't actually need authors like William Paul Young to help spread the Gospel in an alternative way that is more palatable to the masses than The Bible.

It is all part of the watered-down Oprah-isation of the Gospel. Sadly I believe William Paul Young has sat on that bandwagon and the people with itching ears have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The enemy must be rubbing his hands in glee.

Anonymous said...

I'll say Amen to the comments!! Plus, the books that describe heaven have NO Biblical basis -- and the Deceiver is being underestimated big time -- but the SOUND true (Eve's mistake, anyone?) We are living in the end times....