Taken Behind the Woodshed and Beat (part 1)- A Personal Review of “The Shack”

March 29, 2009

Every once in a while something comes along which every Christian has an opinion on, even if it is not really based on any first-hand knowledge.  So it is with The Shack.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but regardless of if you have read it or not, you probably have an opinion about it.  Because I was among one of those who had not read it and yet had already formed my own opinion, and because the author is preparing to do two speaking engagements in my city, I decided it was probably time that I actually went through the book myself.  The following is my personal reaction after doing just that.

First, for those of you who don’t know, The Shack is a recent work of Christian fiction which follows a mourning father through an encounter with the Trinity in a shack in the Oregon woods over the course of a wintry weekend.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all three represented by unique persons who spend time both together and alone with the main character, Mackenzie “Mack” Philips, revealing to him the “true nature of God.”  Eugene Peterson says about it that, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good.”  (More on that comment later.)

So what did I think?  Well, just to get it out of the way now, I think as a piece of literature this book was horrible.  The author lacks all understanding of subtlety, choosing instead to beat you over the head with certain images he deems important and completely missing the concept of foreshadowing.  Things like God’s dislike of Mack’s gun (cf. p.90) or the scars on God the Father’s wrists (cf. p.97) are repeated shamelessly and with the same words, making it perfectly obvious that the author wanted to make a point through them.  And even if you were interested in what was going to happen next, there never was much anticipation because the author continually short-circuited himself by giving way too much information or using “suspenseful” sentences eerily reminiscent of the ones my 8-year old daughter uses in her 2nd grade stories about evil elves.  

Of course, the coup-de-gras of insanity was the author’s diatribe (through the Holy Spirit) about how God’s “very essence is a verb” (p.206), with the example being that God is not about ‘expectation’ but ‘expectancy.’  Unfortunately for the author, who apparently was not an English major, even if it does sound cooler, ‘expectancy’ is also a noun.  That really should have been picked up somewhere, by the author or an editor or someone, and the fact that it wasn’t only serves to exemplify that this is not a book concerned with accuracy or understanding but only with causing problems.  I say all this not to berate the author, but to point out that those Christians who try and avoid the theological implications of what Young writes by claiming its just a good book don’t really have much of a leg to stand on.

Enough about literary theory however, what about the content?  Well, I think to begin with that it is awfully telling of the authors cowardice that he wastes no time in trying to distance himself from the claims of the book in case they are not taken too kindly by the evangelical community (pp.14-15).  He also did this at the end, just for good measure (p.249).  I do not have any patience for this.  If you are going to go out there and put something on the market which purports to be “Christian,” don’t do it just to cause dissension and controversy.  Either write in a theologically responsible way (which his disclaimers clearly indicate he was not) or label it as a secular novel.  Don’t put stuff out there that will easily confuse and mislead weaker believers, which is at the least what this book does.  There was never a time that I know of in CS Lewis’ writings that he tried to use the cloak of fiction to distance himself from the theological claims he made, yet today with people like Young and Brian McLaren, this has become the vogue way to be a heretic and not have to wear that moniker.

Come back tomorrow for the second half of this review where we will discuss what Young says about the Trinity and God’s purposes in his novel, The Shack.  Plus, on Tuesday or Wednesday I will be posting a review of William Paul Young the speaker and what he has to say about his novel when put on the spot.  This should also include an audio file of the event, so make sure to check in for further information about The Shack and William Paul Young in the days to come.