2/28/2009

The Shack in Review

Stephen Shields, in another of his very helpful reviews and compendiums of what other people are saying on the internet, offers Some Thoughts on The Shack:


As of today, The Shack has been #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for 36 straight weeks. At the time of this writing, The Shack was the #6 best-selling book of all categories on Amazon.com.

I cannot remember when I've finished a book and then promptly began it a second time the very next day, but that's exactly what I did with The Shack a couple of weeks ago. I finished my second reading of the book a few days ago.

I found the book to be quite powerful. Realizing that the book is controversial, I nevertheless am giving the book a qualified recommendation and am encouraging my friends to read it discerningly.

Some of the critiques that one reads of Young's work are theological. I do not believe it's invalid to criticize the theology behind a creative piece of fiction, but I do think it's unrealistic to expect comprehensive systematic theology from such a work. Some things are simply not addressed in a work of fiction that we would expect to be addressed in systematics. And so I'm hesitant to agree with those critiques that have foundation in a charge of incompleteness. Nevertheless, I did find theological shortcomings in the book and also appreciated other aspects of the work.

I did not agree with all of the comments in the book regarding authority and hierarchy. I got the impression from reading The Shack that all hierarchy is an unmitigated wrong. I, on the other hand, believe loving authority is not only legitimate on earth but that we also see it in the Godhead (in distinction from what Sarayu claims on p. 122).

I also was not sure what Young was getting at when he had Jesus say that He did not wish for folks to become Christians (p. 182). I have no problem with anyone saying that organized Christianity does not always equal true Christianity, but Jesus comments here seemed to be overstatement.

One critique of The Shack is that it promotes Ultimate Reconciliation (UR). When I read the book, I wondered about this myself. My feeling is that the book had the flavor of Ultimate Reconciliation. Moreoever, Young's story collaborator Wayne Jacobsen in his article Is THE SHACK Heresy? asserts earlier drafts of the the book did reflect William P. Young's leanings toward Ultimate Reconciliation at that time.

However, Jacobsen writes, "While some of that was in earlier versions because of the author’s partiality at the time to some aspects of what people call UR, I made it clear at the outset that I didn’t embrace UR as sound teaching and didn’t want to be involved in a project that promoted it." However, Jacobsen also implies in his article that the collaborative process itself had an affect on Young's theological views including, it would seem, any predispositions Young had toward UR. And I believe Young when I heard him say emphatically in interviews that he believes in Hell.

Regarding the critique that the book does not accurately convey the Trinity, for myself I was not looking for it to definitively portray the Trinity. It's a work of creative fiction and clearly the author took some liberties. When I have taught theology I have told my students that the day that I explain the Trinity to them in such a way that they go, "Ok, now I get it! That makes perfect sense" that is the day that they can be assured that I have no idea what I'm talking about. We should not be shocked that our finite minds cannot completely comprehend the One Who is infinite. And I felt that there was a definite tension in Young's portrayal of the Trinity that was consistent with the mystery of "God in three persons." But do I think Young got it right? No, of course not. But I do feel that he gave an interesting portrait of God.

One aspect of the book I appreciated was the honest treatment of the most difficult theological question encapsulated in Mackenzie's terrible tragedy: Why would a loving, all-powerful being allow six-year-old Missy to be brutally murdered? I was satisfied that Young did not attempt to provide a definitive theodicy but that in the book the author gave some hints toward an answer that had to do with humanity's freedom to choose. I personally believe that a completely satisfying theodicy is not possible this side of the Jordan. I appreciated that Young did not wrap this theological problem up in a artificially contrived bow.

But perhaps the aspect of the book I appreciated the most was the portrayal of God's personal involvement with Mack. I do believe that God's omnipotence implies his ability to deal with each of his creatures with loving individuality. It was moving to see Young's portrayal of this.

And so I found the book helpfully provocative but I am sensitive to, and in some cases sympathetic with, those who might critique its theology in places. I am also open to being shown that I have missed theological deficiencies in the book that should be highlighted.

But all these concerns expressed, I cautiously recommend The Shack as one way to helpfully challenge our paradigm of God in a way that might lead to a fuller understanding of Him.

Other Information Available Online About The Shack:

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Thanks, Stephen, for this helpful post!
-Bob
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7 comments:

Great Googly Moogly said...

Thanks for posting this sympathetic review. We are actually going through this book in our bi-weekly study group at church. This study is led by our pastor and it has been tremendous. At first I wasn't looking forward to this study at all. In fact, when it was proposed I went online to see what all the fuss was about this book (I had never heard of The Shack before) and discovered mostly negative reviews or naive positive reviews. My mind was made up rather quickly that this was a book of blasphemy. I even renamed the book "The Swill" complete with re-working the cover and binder to say "The Swill". (I did this in honor of James White who called it this on his site)

However, upon actually reading this book for myself (I know..."novel" thought!), I discovered that it is not as heretical as the critics have maintained and that with the proper perspective it is a valuable resource. I do think that it should be read in a group setting with a "moderator" who can help guide the discussion towards what the author is trying to convey. This is a book that can easily be taken the wrong way (as shown in all the vehemently negative reviews) without proper oversight, but with such oversight in place or with a cautious and deliberate reading, I can recommend this book without reservation.

I also don't agree completely with some of Young's theological conclusions (at least as they can be fleshed within the context of the "fiction" story), but if we allow him to express the ideas that he wants us to understand then I think we can all benefit greatly from this work. The idea of "relationship" is primary in this story and the way he allows the "relationship" within the Godhead to direct how we understand our relationship with one another and with God Himself is of great value, in my opinion. Of course, too many people get caught up with how Young portrays (and names) the Persons of the Trinity without actually allowing him to tell his story. There is good reason for why he portrays and names the Godhead as he does and it is not sacrilegious or blasphemous (regardless of Mark Driscoll's objections to the contrary...I get the impression that he only "skimmed" the book if he read it through at all!)

Anyway, while I don't think it deserves to be a "best seller" (the writing is rather pedestrian and, of course, it is not a "theological treatise" or a literary masterpiece a la "Pilgrims Progress"), this is a provocative book that I think has great value (properly understood) for the church in our progressing maturity in the faith.

GGM

p.s. I wrote James White three times asking him what he despised so much about the book and he never wrote me back.

Bob Robinson said...

GGM-
Where can I find that review by James White?

Great Googly Moogly! said...

That's the problem--I can't find his review. The only thing I found on his site was a blurb about it where he called it "The Swill" and how it is not comparable to "Pilgrims Progress"--that's it!

I had written him nicely three times asking him to direct me to his personal review of the book or to simply explain to me what he found so offensive about it. I've given up hope of hearing back from him.

Sorry...

GGM

p.s. we still have fun calling it The Swill, since my book is permanently labeled as such. :-)

girlforgod said...

I too liked the shack and had a few concerns, but just didn't worry too much about it all since it was primarily a fictional novel.

Bob Robinson said...

One thing I find ironic--
I've met people who dismiss The Shack because they've heard that it takes too much license in its fictional depiction, and yet many of them read and praised the Left Behind novels, which clearly does just that!

tracysbooknook.com said...

I have to say that "The Shack" by William P. Young was a very thought provoking read.

After reading the book, I was left pondering several things about it – which is a true testament to the book's worth. I had several questions on the validity of some of the descriptions of God but I had to humbly admit that there may be no answers this side of heaven for how God presents Himself to each individual.

I posted a more in-depth review of this book on my own blog www.tracysbooknook.com.

-Tracy

Italia said...

I was skeptical to read this book at first, I am so glad I continued to read the Shack WOW!!!!! I have read a lot of good books however this book is got to be the best book I have ever read. I am in Awe of God more than I have ever been. This book allows you to see how much God loves us,even thru tough times and answers alot of questions. I thank the Lord for using the author to pour out a new life saving vison of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Even if you don't know the Lord you will love this book.