The Shack’s Wayne Jacobsen Resonates with Contemplative and Emerging Writers

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William Paul Young is the official author of The Shack, but Wayne Jacobsen is one of its editors. According to a New York Times article, Jacobsen spent 16 months helping to rewrite the first draft. This would leave the logical conclusion that Jacobsen had some significant influence on the final outcome of the book. And with that in mind, readers need to be aware that Jacobsen is a proponent of emerging and contemplative books and authors. It’s an important thing to know because Christian figures are heralding the book, helping it to remain on the New York Times Best Seller list. Those that understand this book–its obvious and its not so obvious messages–know that it’s important to issue a warning. And the fact that popular Christian authors like Eugene Peterson (The Message) and Gayle Erwin (Calvary Chapel speaker and author of The Jesus Style) endorse the book means that unsuspecting, well-intentioned Christians will buy the book, and if they follow the advice at the end of the book, will buy other copies of the book and give them away to friends.

On Wayne Jacobsen’s website, LifeStream, he carries a list of books he calls “Must Reads,” which he says have “most shaped” his spiritual “journey.”1 Of the books listed, there is a hodge podge of contemplative and emerging church authors. These include Brennan Manning, Philip Yancey, Larry Crabb, Dallas Willard, Mike Yaconelli, and Jim Palmer. On a second reading list, he includes Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and Anne Lamott.

Many of our readers may not be familiar with Jim Palmer and Anne Lamott. Palmer is the author of Divine Nobodies and is listed with Peterson and Erwin on The Shack website as an endorser. Publisher’s Weekly says Palmer is an “emerging church leader” … that “touched a nerve with readers who gravitate toward cutting-edge evangelical writers like Brian McLaren and Donald Miller.”2 On Palmer’s blog, under his links section, he has a link to contemplative activist Richard Rohr. Rohr’s spirituality would be in the same camp as someone like Matthew Fox (author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ) who believes in pantheism and panentheism. Rohr wrote the foreword to a 2007 book called How Big is Your God? by Jesuit priest (from India) Paul Coutinho. In Coutinho’s book, he describes an interspiritual community where people of all religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity) worship the same God. For Wayne Jacobsen to say that Jim Palmer is one of the authors who “most shaped” his spiritual “journey” is very telling.

Anne Lamott is best known for her book, Traveling Mercies, and she resonates with Oprah’s New Age meditation author, Elizabeth Gilbert (3 Lamott’s endorsement of the book sits on the back cover of Eat, Pray, Love.

Jacobsen’s open affinity with these contemplative and emerging authors may well have influenced the final draft of The Shack. The book refers to God as “the ground of all being” that “dwells in, around, and through all things–ultimately emerging as the real” (p. 112)–this is the ripe fruit of contemplative spirituality. One can find this language and definition of God in the writings of John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg, and the concept overflows within the contemplative/emerging camp. This description of God does not mean that God upholds everything; it means that God is the essence of all that exists (in other words, He dwells in all humans and all creation). New Age sympathizer, Sue Monk Kidd, would agree with The Shack’s definition of God–in her book, First Light, she says God is the graffiti on the building (p. 98), and so would John of the Cross who said God is the mountain, forest, rivers, etc. 4

The Shack‘s William Young also resonates with Anne Lamott. In the back of the book in the Acknowledgements, Young says he is “grateful” for Lamott.

Lighthouse Trails’ concern is that the theology of The Shack is the Christianity of the future, a Christianity that has been defined and proclaimed by those such as Brian McLaren, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and many many writers who would share these spiritual propensities. For instance, Nouwen stated that:

Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one, … It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is. (ATOD, chapter 3, endnote #41)

This is just another way of saying what Young says in The Shack that God is “the ground of all being” that “dwells in, around, and through all things.”

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