Thoughts on The Shack

This isn’t a book review (even though I’m posting it in that category). I haven’t read The Shack yet; I will. This is a reflection on the controversy the book has generated, which is why I’m weighing in without having read the book. For background, you can see the publisher’s page for The Shack, Tim Challies’ reviews of the book (a short one and a long one), a response from the publisher to the book’s critics, and the book’s Amazon page, where there are a lot of reviews and comments.

People who like The Shack like its presentation of God and the love he has for people. It seems that for many, the book is a breath of fresh air, presenting God as Someone to be known and interacted with, rather than something to be studied. People who don’t like The Shack believe it presents a defective view of Scripture, the Trinity, the atonement, and even that it hints at universalism. You can imagine the controversy.

Personally, I’ve been concerned at some of the excerpts I’ve read, but I’m even more frustrated with some of the responses to the book’s critics. Frequently you’ll see fans of the book say “It’s a story, it’s not a theological treatise.” Implication: the book shouldn’t be judged or scrutinized the way a theology book would be. Well, fair enough– we shouldn’t read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe like we would Grudem’s Systematic Theology. But The Shack happens to be a story in which the persons of the Trinity speak to a person, telling him things about God, himself, and the Christian life. When you’re depicting God speaking to a person, communicating things about himself, it seems to me you want those things to line up with Scripture. Some reviewers think The Shack fails on that front– they say it denies God’s wrath toward sin, muddles the doctrine of the Trinity, and implies or outwardly states other errors.

(Imagine if I were to write a story about Jesus that presented him as a pedophile. Christians would be outraged. Can you imagine me objecting, “Hey, I’m not saying Jesus actually was a  pedophile; it’s just a story!” It wouldn’t fly. When we speak of God, we need to be very concerned that we speak the truth.)

Second, it’s clear from the publicity surrounding the book both that it’s being presented as more than a story and that it’s being read as more than a story. The publisher says The Shack “offers one of the most poignant views of God and how he relates to humanity that has been written in our time. It will not only encourage those who already know him but also engage those who have not yet recognized his work in their lives.” Some quotes from the endorsements:

  • “If God is all powerful and full of love, why doesn’t He do something about the pain and evil in our world?   This book answers that age old question with startling creativity and staggering clarity.”
  • “The Shack is a one of a kind invitation to journey to the very heart of God.”
  • “When I read it, I felt like I was fellowshipping with God.”

It’s really not fair to tout something as being this life-changing and then object when people want to examine the accuracy of the contents. The Shack, although a story, is trying to teach people something about God. Christians, then, have not only the right but the duty to judge what it teaches by Scripture. And if what it teaches is unscriptural or anti-scriptural, Christians have the right and the duty to reject it, no matter how good the story is.

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Comments

  1. Charlotte C. says:

    Hey Jake – interesting comments about “The Shack”. I finished it several weeks ago and thought it was an enjoyable read – but then again, I read it from a purely literary standpoint. I think it could raise some interesting questions about one’s faith – maybe challenge them to define their faith as their own and ask those hard questions. Personally, I found it fascinating – but looked at it through the same lens I used to read “The DiVinci Code” and “Dinner with a Perfect Stranger”.

    Granted “Dinner” was not nearly as well publicized as this book seems to have been – but I find it interesting that no one seemed to mind that Christ was portrayed as an average person who wanted to have dinner with someone. However, when someone else chooses a different character, there is a much different reaction. The book explains why those particular characters are chosen and it made me wonder how God would appear to me if I were able to have the same encounter.

    I would encourage you to read it…even if just to be able to refute everything it says…could make for interesting dinner conversation with Mel…

  2. What amazes me is that so many turn to fiction to learn about God.
    What’s wrong with Scripture? While I don’t mean to sound like a fundamentalist bibliophile, I do mean to say that most in our churches today have little bible knowledge. They are quickly intrigued by fantasy but find reality in God’s Word too hard to understand. Sad…truly sad. Moreover, while many things are difficult to understand in Scripture, prayer is a great resource for seeing truth unfold if we would just pray (Jm 1:5).

  3. Hey man, I put up a first part review at the Dojo, but haven’t finished writing the second part.

    I see the truth in what the critics are saying (though some of them are critiquing it from a purely Reformed foundation…in other words, they’d probably critique any portrayal of God that didn’t line up with Westminster). But the criticisms regarding sin and universalism are understandable.

    But after finishing the book, I ultimately don’t agree with those criticisms fully. I understand wanting to have any portrayal of the Christian faith be bolstered by Scripture citations. But I also understand an author not wanting to turn a novel into a systematic text. Think how the Narnia Chronicles or Perelandra would have been lessened had Lewis included Scripture for each point where the story made a theological claim. They would’ve lost the literary power they have (particularly Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet).

    But therein lies the difficulty with The Shack. Simply put, Young is no Lewis. The Shack isn’t fictional enough to get away with not being judged theologically. If the identities of the Trinune Godhead were not so matter-of-fact (i.e. if Jesus were a Lion named Aslan or a Wizard named Gandalf) then the book could afford to be a little theologically loose. After all, The Shack is not NEARLY as much bent toward universalism as The Last Battle–but Lewis allegorized or metaphorized his depiction of the Tash-worshipping soldier coming to realize he had been worshipping Aslan all along.

    So while I see the merit in some of the critic’s objections, I think the issues that the book seeks to address do not warrant such a full treatment as many critics want to see. The God portrayed in The Shack is a bit saccharine, true. But not to the point of heresy. The setting is a bit Kincadeian, but that’s more a matter of personal taste. Overall, when theological issues–particularly the way theodicy is handled–come up in the book, I find myself in agreement with the underlying theology to a large extent, as would many outside of Reformed circles.

    My 2 denarii,
    JMS

  4. Hey man,

    I came across this blog review of The Shack that a church member sent a link to:

    http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/06/shack-its-new-age-leaven.html

    This is an example of why, as we talked about some on Mike’s Facebook Note, so many Christians are wary of those claiming to excercise “discernment”, when in fact what they are doing is closer to “Christian McArthyism”.

    I’m not saying your review or thoughts are like this (they are usually very fair and substantial), but I thought I’d at least mention why I often bristle at people’s outspoken attempts at “discernment” particularly in areas of theology or doctrine.

    Holla,
    JMS

  5. Are you people kidding me? It’s a friggin book already! It’s a good book and yes, so is the Bible (which is THEE greatest book out there!). God uses others (Christian writers) to get his word out, even through books like the shack. I don’t believe there is a Christian here in this forum as if one really had read the shack and thought about its contents and read the words and thought about them, they would know and understand that God reaches his people through different avenues (even if there isn’t scripture touted in its contents). If God thought it would have been easy to reach people just through his word alone, he wouldn’t have given each of us gifts to share with others. Some people don’t want to hear someone tout the Bible or speak about it but those same people may be able to read a book and have a light bulb come on in their heads which may lead them to pick up the Good Book for further reflection into the truth about God! Gifts were given to all of us so that we can reach those who do not have the Lord in their hearts. I think you are all too judgemental…something the book, The Shack, speaks about clearly and deliberatly toward the middle of its story. The shack also speaks of paths that lead to him…well…perhaps this book, The Shack, is yet another path that leads to people who don’t have a personal relationship with the father. How blind most of you are…if you are one of the many people here who say you’ve read it but have decided that you’re too stubborn to understand its contents and who the book was written for…then you’ve not really read the book, because if you had, you’d understand it isn’t about the “details” it’s about arriving and if it means through unorthodox ways, then so be it. God wants a personal relationship with us, he isn’t interested in your theology or your dogmatic ideaology. Geez.

  6. 1) Read the book FIRST before commenting on it.
    2) We can only change who we as individuals are, through God’s Holy Spirit. If we each were solely concerned with our relationship with the Trinity, then our world would be a much better place… pretty much sums up the book.

  7. Becca:
    1) Did you read the following, very early in this post? “This isn’t a book review… This is a reflection on the controversy the book has generated.” I’m critical here of some of the inconsistent things said by the book’s defenders. I did read the book, as I said I would, and wrote a five-part response.

    2) I don’t think that’s a very good summary of the book. I think a better summary would be “God wants relationships with people, he hates organized Christianity, and the bad things that have happened to you weren’t in his plan.” On the basis of Scripture, I agree wholeheartedly with the first of those statements and abominate the other two.

  8. Trish Pickard says:

    I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I read it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at prayerdigm.bookstudy@yahoo.com. I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
    Trish Pickard

Trackbacks

  1. […] and puts words in their mouth that purport to present theological truth. Also, as I’ve pointed out before, the book is being marketed and reviewed as one that teaches things about God, so it’s […]

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