Review of The Shack

The Shack The Shack
Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
Author: Wm. Paul Young
Soft Cover, 256 pages
Publisher: Windblown Media
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9780964729230

I am not a heavy reader of fiction, and when I do read fiction, I am more inclined to read works like War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment. But, having heard a lot of rumblings, I felt inclined to borrow this book from my local library and give it a read. It was a quick read, taking me only two evenings to complete. I was not impressed by the book, to be honest.

Overall, the author does a wonderful job of creating characters that can be identified with, of building a palpable relationship between the main human characters and the reader. You are meant to feel the pain and grief – to come to grips with it personally. But in order to do so, you must wade through tediously wordy text. I found myself able on many occasions to see exactly where the sentence  or paragraph was going, finding myself finishing the sentence, “Blah, blah, blah…” It simply was not worth wading through to the end of some sentences.

Since the book is largely conversations between the main character and God (one or more of the three people making up the Godhead), good flowing conversations that have willing suspension of disbelief (if not outright credibility) would have been in order. Sadly, often I found the conversation to be contrived, or forced. It did not seem natural. Not that communicating with God across the breakfast table is necessarily the norm. But there is a certain expectation of flow that the book just fails at, in my opinion.

Though this is a work of fiction, the conversation and tone are clear – this is fiction intent on making a statement about the author’s view of God and our relationship with him. Not particularly fond of this brand of fiction – though maybe if I had more agreement with the author that would be different. Writers like J.R.R Tolkien bring together characters and cataclysmic events in such a way that though you know the events aren’t real, they speak to who you are as a person, of right and wrong and the quest for significance and value. And this without the writer overtly trying to make a statement about morality and purpose. It is simply part of the fabric of story development, of reality behind the text. Tolstoy writes with a clarity that allows us to see the human condition even in characters out of our time and way of life – even when we find the characters repulsive. Can’t fault Young for being so overt, it’s the kind of book he wanted to right. Just not my style.

I don’t square up nicely with many of the views being promoted in this book. Those with a postmodern/emergent church bent would probably find some comfortable themes: God is love before all things: non-condemning, non-punishing, non-threatening. The most important thing in life is relationships – rules and responsibilities are not compatible with love or faith. Authority, structure and institutions (and especially religion, economics and politics) are all bad and perversions of relationship. I myself see no reason to hold authority as necessarily at odds with relationship, nor for responsibility and obligation to be contrary to love. The author’s assertions to that effect are unconvincing.

The author makes much of God being unable and unwilling to interfere in our choices – as if God was unable to “meddle” based on some supernatural principle – sort of like the Genie’s inability to raise the dead in the Disney movie Aladdin. I understand the urge to rid God of seeming to be responsible for pain and suffering. However, I see plenty of biblical support for God directly interfering in our choices to accomplish his purposes. I see nothing in scripture to indicate that God’s hands are in any way tied. I would agree that as a general rule God allows us to experience the consequences of our own sin, others’ sin and the current state of the world. He is not responsible for sin. But love does not imply that God can’t do exactly what he wants, even if that means forcing our hand. I sometimes “force” my kids to obey me. I love them dearly, and want what is best for them. I arrange circumstances, punishments and rewards in order to help them develop skills and make wise choices in the future. Cannot God do the same?

I have heard some complaints about his depiction of God the father(and the Holy Spirit) as a woman. I didn’t find that that startling – the whole point was to shock the reader from the normal modes of thinking. But I also didn’t find it very helpful in furthering the plot. I see little reason to believe that God being a mother-figure until the main character was able to handle a father-son relationship is valid. And repeatedly calling her “Papa” for effect was just odd – and likely based on a misapplied reading of “Abba” as a familiar form of address, “Daddy”.

But the author does share a number of well-thought-out ideas relating to freedom and how it is constrained by our background and experiences. Independence is described as the primary mechanism by which we produce evil – but ironically, I find the author’s contentions to smack of selfishness. God is there for our benefit. We are the center of everything. The end of chapter 12 is especially troubling, as the author presents a view of relationship with God that denigrates the gospel message of salvation in Christ alone, replacing it with a “God loves people from all walks of life” speech. I think a good reading of Deuteronomy (which stresses a God-sanctioned government meant to highlight holiness through safeguards and protections and national distinctiveness), Job (which is a much more worthwhile read when considering suffering and the human condition), and the book of Romans (also dealing with the church, our relationship to government, and God’s view of sin, its ramifications, and the outcome for those who continue to walk in sin) is a proper antidote to the more problematic views presented in this book.

I would give this book ★★☆☆☆. The bad marks are not for theological disagreement – at least not completely. Rather, the writing style and the tedious sentences were barely rescued by a well-developed character who you really desired would find hope and faith in their relationship with God.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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