The Shack: success as ‘God thing’

William Paul Young, author of the best-selling book The Shack, told Baptist college students Oct. 31 that his novel’s remarkable success was a “God thing.”

Speaking during homecoming festivities at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., Young told an audience of around 1,000 about the book’s journey from its humble beginnings to its worldwide sales topping 10 million copies.

Over the years, Young said, he had written stories as gifts to his children. So in 2005, when his wife, Kim, asked him to think outside the proverbial box and write a deeper and more involved story for the kids, The Shack was born. At first, he intended to hand out about 15 copies of the story – he had gotten a local Office Depot to do the printing – to family and friends. Little did he know that his story would touch the lives of that small group of people so much that they would start sharing it with others.

“I’m not an author. It’s by accident,” said Young.

Soon, The Shack made its way into the hands of two movie producers who thought it should be published. However, 26 publishing companies turned it down. Then, two of Young’s closest friends decided to put their resources together and start their own publishing company, Windblown Media, in order to make the story available.

“In the beginning, the book was only available on the Internet, and then copies started selling so quickly we couldn’t keep enough copies printed,” said Young.

The rest is history – a history that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. As an example of the book’s appeal around the world, Young jokingly told the audience, “I don’t even know what this means, but it’s the ‘book of the decade’ in Croatia.”

But his discussion of the book’s content wasn’t all about laughs. He talked about several deep theological issues into which The Shack delves: having a personal relationship with Jesus versus religious performance; what it means to please God; and questions about whether God is good all the time and what God’s character and nature are.

Young called The Shack a metaphor. “It’s like a house on our insides that is decaying and its walls need to be rebuilt. It’s secrets that we hold on to because we’re ashamed. It’s your soul, our hearts, who you are that matters,” said Young.

He also said he didn’t anticipate much of the reaction to the book – and how it has spoken to people. “People read a particular section of the book and replace the role of a character with themselves, from their point of view,” he said. He noted that dealing with his own personal “shack” meant no more running away from God or from long-standing issues in his own life.

Young also discussed the importance of a relationship with a father figure – both a human father here on Earth and God the Father. He referred to a friend who has served as a judge. “He told me that in 26 years of sentencing men to prison he always asked them, ‘How was your relationship with your father?’ Not a one of them ever shared a good story,” said Young. In other words, he said, sometimes God is the only father figure a person has. And for the rest of us, God should be the ultimate father figure. “My relationship is with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Young, who lives in Oregon City, Ore., didn’t act like an author with a worldwide following on his visit to Gardner-Webb. He took time to hug all those who introduced themselves to him.

What’s next for William Paul Young? He told the audience that he’s currently working on a screenplay. In a one-on-one interview, he said that he’s taking things one day at a time. “I’m listening to God,” he said. “I don’t have expectations. I’m not sure what will happen next.”

Paul Foster is assistant director of university and media relations at Gardner-Webb.

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