Sep 11, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

It seems every few years a new fad or experience sweeps through Christianity. First there was The Da Vinci Code. Now there is The Shack. Both books have generated a fair amount of controversy. I remember back when the DVC was in full swing, people would loudly condemn the book without ever having read it; they had just heard some things about it and were parroting a view. When I finally got around to reading DVC, I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. The book just wasn't that good! And it was fantastical enough that any smart reader could figure out it was fiction. People basically got up in arms about nothing.

The current bestseller seems to be The Shack. Brief synopsis - a father loses track of his daughter on a camping trip, she is kidnapped and murdered, and three years later the father receives a suspicious note in the mail from someone claiming to be Papa (his wife's pet name for God) inviting him to come back to the Shack where his daughter was murdered and have a conversation.

The book is obviously fictional, since as far as I know God does not hang out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. And as fiction goes, the premise is a very good one, albeit a simple vehicle for essentially a layman's treatise on some deep theological issues. I must make one comment on the book itself, meaning the structure, mechanics, and writing of the book: it's decent but also relatively poor. The author, William P. Young, does things that you simply don't do in fiction, things that any good copy editor or publisher should have caught and corrected, but I guess the mistakes lend more credibility to the author's amazing publication story (he self-published until it's popularity exploded). Any long time reader will read The Shack and mentally cringe at times, or at least begin to wonder why things seem just a little "off."

Ignore these problems, please, and read the book. It is actually really good!

One of the best ways I can think of to describe this book is that it is liberally dripping with theological concepts simplified and reduced to their basic elements...meaning you will meet The Trinity and observe and understand them without actually going over all the various aspects and views of the Trinity. The entire book reads like some great theological master "dumbing" his views down into a form that a child could understand. It's actually very refreshing and provides a new look at long held beliefs.

Every page, nearly every other paragraph has something that teaches you. People like to read Art Katz or My Utmost and feel smarter and more knowledgeable, and yet Young manages to do that in 4th grade English and is just as deep. This book is extremely profound, if that makes any sense. He has a way of explaining things that helps you understand things without "going deep."

Nearly every argument men level against God...God is unjust, God created evil, God could remove suffering, God hates us, addressed in this book through the eyes of a grieving, bitter father. One of the things I most appreciated about this book is that at the end of it, it doesn't instruct you to read your Bible more in order to know God; it just tells you to have a living relationship with Jesus. "Nothing is a ritual," as Papa puts it. This book does not point you to the Bible, although it will reawaken a sense of wonder and awe in the Bible; it instead points you to Jesus, which is the true point of Christianity all along.

The main controversy surround this book seems to be two different things. The first, as Bruce pointed out in church, is that this book is "outside the box." duh. It's fiction, and within fiction anything is possible. The author is free to make God appear as a black woman if he wants to (I pictured Tyler Perry the whole time I read this, but with the Oracle's voice from the first two Matrix movies); he even addresses this point within the text. Is it heretical to write a book where the basic premise is that Jesus got cold feet and didn't die on the cross? Not at all; obviously there is a group of people who will immediately say it's irrelevant to think about because Jesus obviously didn't, and "fiction isn't edifying anyway", but that's just so much bestial feces. Jesus spoke in parables; we do the same.

The second major controversy seems to be where Jesus supposedly mentions that there are many ways to the Father. But Jesus never actually said that anywhere in the book. Jesus speaking says that HE will go down any road to find one of His children. Meaning that from any walk of life, any people group, any tongue, any nation...Jesus will draw out His own. No where does Jesus say that anyone can get saved through means other than Him; quite the opposite, actually.

Overall, The Shack is a very good book, one that's more than a flash in a pan than DVC. The comparison to Pilgrim's Progress on the front cover is well earned. Who even reads PP anymore? No one can relate to it, and it's an extremely difficult book to get through. The Shack addresses many issues that people of our generation have with God. There is much needed understanding and healing through the Holy Spirit that can be found within this book.

People say the canon of Scripture is closed. I fully agree...but that doesn't mean the Holy Spirit can't anoint people to write books that will lead people to Christ. This is one of those books; I'd also argue The Screwtape Letters has the same anointing, just as The Chronicles of Narnia do, Pilgrim's Progress, My Utmost for His Highest, and other great works of Christian writing, both fiction and nonfiction.