Friday, August 29, 2008

Let's Talk 'Shack'

A friend of mine recently encouraged me to read 'The Shack' by William P. Young. Since then I've heard mixed reviews, a kind of a polarization. There are those who seem to want to create a Christian movement behind the book, and those (maybe) diametrically opposed to it because of certain theological implications.

Do we need another Christian bandwagon? Does it have to be all or nothing?

Is this book the next "Pilgrim's Progress" as Eugene Peterson purports?

So here I go with my take on the book, not that anyone cares or will read what I have to say, let alone agree with me.

There are three areas I want to comment on: the literary elements, the theological elements, and finally the thematic elements.

Writing. From a literary standpoint I am well-pleased with Young's writing style (though this particular genre of literature is not my preference). He does a fine job incorporating various poetic devices together to aid the reader's imagination to visualize his story. And his fictitious ghostwriting is not too dissimilar from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. While reading the book, I was concerned that different parts would not be brought to closure, but at the end I was pleasantly satisfied that all the loose ends were tied up.

Theology. It is difficult in a work of fiction to portray accurately what God is like. One symbol meant to highlight one attribute, may fall short in describing other attributes. Thus we may want to reserve full judgment regarding symbols employed. And even though he uses some symbols I would not use (you'll have to read the book yourself to find out what I mean), I understand partially why he uses them, and don't disagree completely with his rationale.

However, there are some statements made unequivocally by "God" in the story that seem to force the issue of Young's theology. I can agree with some of his views. He makes statements regarding man's free will, and God's risk in divine-human relationships. Although he paints a beautiful portrait of the relationship within the trinity, and the relationship that God wants with people, he makes certain comments regarding authority (which I disagree on) and God's foreknowledge (which I find quite lacking). But then again, we wouldn't all agree on these issues anyway.

One final area that many Christians might struggle with is that Young's God is pretty much down on religion. (Can I hear a "hurrah"?)

Theme. Although one of the themes of the book addresses the God-man relationship, the primary current is "going on in life in the face of horrendous suffering". Thematically, he handles related issues of forgiveness, healing and loss. Apparently, Young has gone through deep suffering probably similar to that of his main character, though he hasn't disclosed those events of his life (at least in any material I've come across). One would need such experiences to have a valid voice for those who have suffered so much. His answers to suffering are solid and scripturally founded.

My Conclusion
Should you read this book? Sure, if you enjoy reading. Please don't read it because it is the current Christian craze. If you are dealing with some heartache in your life, this book may be helpful. If you are looking for a theological treatise, you might be disappointed.

Is it the next "Pilgrim's Progress"? I highly doubt it.


Phil said...

There are too many misconceptions of God theologically in order to justify anything this book tries to address. The plot was interesting but... And if you have to add "but" then you've just negated everything you just said. It leaves the casual Christian with a false impression of who God is on many levels. Check into "The Way That I Take" for more soon... Love ya Dave.

David said...

This should make for some interesting dialogue!

Mary said...

Forgive me for posting a comment while only half way through the book, goes!
Call me simple and unintellectual, but let me give it to you straight. I much prefer straight forward, biographical, non-fiction writing. I am only half way through this book and have not found it to be one that "I can't put down." I am slogging(?) my way through it. Though I admit to being captivated by the horrendous tragedy the book started out with, I began to lose interest when "Papa" was portrayed as a female figure ( though I GET why ) and Jesus, His/her too casual sidekick. Is it my formal Catholic upbringing or my lack of imagination that has so far, found what I have read almost bordering on silly and irreverent? I must be missing something....Simply put, I'm not finding it enjoyable, or worth my time, but continue to read it in hopes of some delightful surprise or unexpected revelation when I "finish what I started". I will say that no matter what the current "Christian craze" might be ( and I really didn't realize that this book was , I just stumbled upon it) I think I'll stick with my preferred genre....even if it exposes me as simple and unintellectual.

PS: Excuse me David for the "self indulgence" of over 15 "I"s and "ME"s...(-;

She who is by birth... said...

What's interesting is that a friend of mine gave this book to me just a couple months ago and I've not yet taken the time to read it.
I really appreciate getting to read your review of it first. Thank you!

David said...

You are welcome!!!

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