Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Shack

I recently finished William P. Young’s The Shack and after contemplating it for a few days, I am ready to write about.

I get nervous when too many people recommend the same book especially if it is a book that is about God, religion or spirituality. I get nervous because just because a book is popular, doesn’t mean it is good. Often large numbers of people are drawn to things that they want to hear. Just like fad diets that offer change without the discipline or sacrifice, fad spirituality often offers a shallow alternative to real spirituality.

What I find most interesting about The Shack is that it has been criticized by some as being that sort of fad spirituality. Reviewers have claimed it represents bad theology, false doctrine and even heresy. I just have to say that I don’t find that to be true. Some defenders of the book have responded by saying that it is only meant as a work of fiction, but to me it is something more. The Shack is an allegory. An allegory is an extended metaphor where the characters or objects reflect a deeper meaning outside of the narrative itself. In fact, noted author Eugene Peterson reflects this sense of allegory in his quote that is on the cover of paperback edition by comparing this book to another allegorical work when he writes, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” (I also wonder if it is any coincidence that the author happens to mention, seemingly in passing, another allegorical work on page 19 of the paperback edition when he writes, “Glancing at himself in the mirror, he thought he looked a little like some rough sailor out of Moby Dick.” The point of the book is not to present a doctrinal or theological view of who God is and how God acts but to paint a picture that points beyond itself that may allow us to better understand and comprehend our God who is never fully understandable or comprehendible.

All that said, The Shack is an astonishingly good book. I was hooked from the outset by the author’s ability to paint pictures of truth as he described the joy that can come from storms that interrupt our routine and allow all affected to take a collective sigh at the forced reprieve from the pressures of life.

I don’t want to comment too much on the storyline since I want to leave it be experienced. And I do recommend experiencing it. Depending on your theological worldview, there are parts that may make you nervous and there are parts that may be true epiphanies. The book may help you consider your own image of God and your own theology of grace, redemption and suffering. Whether you agree with the picture the author paints or not, it is a good thing if it helps you to look beyond the story to increase the depth of your own understanding and relationship with God.

The Shack and other titles read and recommended by our clergy team are available at The Word Store on the south campus of The U.
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