Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

imageBy Young, William P.
Newbury Park, CA,
Windblown Media, 2007
251 pages

The church seems irrelevant and empty when it comes to answering questions about real pain and the gap between the knowledge of an all knowing all loving God and the existence of incredibly horrible evil in the world He made. “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”

God isn’t what you think. He doesn’t orchestrate evil; He brings good out of the bad that we’ve done or has been done to us when we allow Him to. He doesn’t cause bad things; He redeems them.

“Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes…”

Young discusses anger at God and man, forgiveness, judging, sadness, thoughts of suicide, despair, the unfathomable love of God, and the incomprehensible future He has for His followers.

In the story, Young argues compellingly. God provides a retreat weekend for main character Mackenzie. Mackenzie learns about Himself, God, and how God is using a couple of days at the Shack to make sense of a lifetime – past, present and future – of bad baggage and horrible circumstances.

While Young argues compellingly, his argument was not compelling. He tells a great story, but the whole narrative made me uneasy; I had this squishy-fishy feeling. Young’s attempt to destroy my preconceived notions of God lacked real substance. Yes, the book is a tear-jerker. No, he didn’t leave any loose ends. But God never seemed like God to me. Young made the Father a strong black neo and the oracle woman who likes to bake cookies and took no guff – kind of like the Oracle in The Matrix. When our main character needed the Father to be a man, then He was a man. Jesus was a carpenter with middle-eastern features rather than whitesome and delightsome. The Holy Spirit was an Asian woman that appeared to be part human/part disco-ball.

I have to be honest; I want to be scared of God. I want to love God, be like Jesus, walk in step with the Holy Spirit, but I also want to have a healthy fear – an awe – of God. I wasn’t in awe of the God characters in this story.

As you may have guessed, I got a little hung up on the characters, but I tried not to miss the point: God is higher than I am as are His thoughts. I get it. I’m not a stick in the mud; I loved Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia where Jesus takes on the form of a lion. But that symbolism consistent with scripture; it is borrowed from the Old Testament. Young’s characterization works in the story, but it doesn’t connect well with biblical description (except for Jesus, of course, who was a Middle Eastern carpenter).

That said, the themes and principles in the book are worth studying and discussing. They bring healing. The book, in fact, has helped and, no doubt, will help, many people look at suffering and how God uses it to make things right.

Young organized the story around the conversations people have about God. Volumes could be written about the topics handles in one line sentences.

  • “…judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.”
  • “If the universe contained only one human being, timing would rather simple.”
  • “What I see are people and their lives, a living breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs.”
  • “It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life.”
  • “I came to give you life to the fullest.”
  • “That’s because my love is a lot bigger than your stupidity.”

I have to admit I’m a little out of touch with what it popular in church culture. I never even opened a Left Behind book. Most books I review I whole-heartedly recommend. I’ve never assigned stars to my books recommendations. This one, I’d only give a couple of stars. The author’s story about the story was more interesting to me than the actual story. I guess it comes down to taste. This book was not my cup of tea. But people I have great respect for loved it.

So there you go.


Anonymous said...

I think you give a fair review, Bryon. My main issue with the Shack, was the theology behind suffering, but that's a whole other discussion entirely.

Bryonm said...

Thanks, April. Suffering is a tough topic to cover in fiction. I have to give Young kudos for trying. But the story of suffering and the Lord bringing people through it is more interesting and heart wrenching and incomprehensible than a fictional treatment.

This story reminds me of a christianized version of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol...

Unknown said...

I've read many critiques of the Shack but yours has to be one of the clearest and most balanced.

Anonymous said...

Well done. I agree. Can't understand all the hate and anger over the book but also wasn't moved to tears by it like so many. I do believe our great God has used this book to minister His healing love to many broken hearts through this book so I am thrilled about that. Just didn't ring my chimes.
I loved Steve Brown's book "What was I thinking."
The same brother recommended both!
God meets us right where we are.

Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I love the connection you made between the oracle and the black woman in the book. How did I miss that? Young even mentions the matrix in the book. Thanks.

Trish Pickard said...

I was set not to like the book, The Shack but after reading it, I thought it was really good and thought provoking. All the time I read it, I kept thinking it needs a study to go along with it. I finally decided God was urging me to write a study which I did. If anyone would like it, email me at I would be glad to send you the study. You are welcome to use it and copy it for others.
Trish Pickard

Steve Pennell said...

Bryon, a good, fair review. But I have to say, this is exactly my cup of tea. Of course, God is not a large Black woman -but on the other hand, he is not exactly a man either. I was more in tune with the character of God as depicted here, and I think Young nailed the nature, character and integrity of God. Plus, it was a pretty good story. Thanks for the review.