Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Visiting "The Shack"

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been reading a book entitled The Shack by William P. Young. I started reading it with mixed feelings and expectations. On the one hand, the book came highly recommended by a theologian, pastor and author I have great respect for - Eugene Peterson, who wrote on the book jacket:
When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of "The Shack." This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" did for his. It's that good! --Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.
On the other hand I had read several reviews that warned of "heresy," or at least misleading concepts of the Doctrines of the Trinity, salvation, and the sovereignty of God.

I tried to set aside these preconceptions and read the book with an open mind. I was, to my surprise, emotionally and spiritually overwhelmed as I read it. So much so, that I was unable at first to objectively analyze the theology of the book. It is a very good read - knocked my socks of, as they say. And I felt very close to God when I finished it.

Tim Challies did a good review of The Shack back in January (see here). It's long, but if you have read or are interested in the book it is well worth the reading time. Here's how Challies summarized the plot:
The Shack revolves around Mack (Mackenzie) Philips. Four years before this story begins, Mack’s young daughter, Missy, was abducted during a family vacation. Though her body was never found, the police did find evidence in an abandoned shack to prove that she had been brutally murdered by a notorious serial killer who preyed on young girls. As the story begins, Mack, who has been living in the shadow of his Great Sadness, receives a strange note that is apparently from God. God invites Mack to return to this shack for a get together. Though uncertain, Mack visits the scene of the crime and there has a weekend-long encounter with God, or, more properly, with the godhead.
Near the end of his review, Challies wrote:
Eugene Peterson says this book is as good and as important as The Pilgrim’s Progress. Well, it really is not. It is neither as good nor as original a story and it lacks the theological precision of Bunyan’s work. But really, this is a bit of a facile comparison. The Pilgrim’s Progress, after all, is allegory—a story that has a second distinct meaning that is partially hidden behind its literal meaning. The Shack is not meant to be allegory. Nor can The Shack quite be equated with a story like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where C.S. Lewis simply asked (and answered) this kind of question: “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” The Shack is in a different category than these more notable Christian works. It seeks to represent the members of the Trinity as they are (or as they could be) and to suggest through them what they might teach were they to appear to us in a similar situation. There is a sense of attempted or perceived reality in this story that is missing in the others. This story is meant to teach theology that Young really believes to be true. The story is a wrapper for the theology. In theory this is well and good; in practice the book is only as good as its theology. And in this case, the theology just is not good enough.
I think I can agree with most, if not all, of what Challies wrote in his review. After a week of reflection since completing the book, I can say that I would recommend the book for knowledgeable Christians who could use a closer emotional relationship with God, and an awakening of their imaginations. However, it is a only a novel, and no one should get their theology from The Shack. I agree that Peterson overstated his praise.