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.