I don't read fiction. I just feel that there are enough true narratives out there to keep me busy, that I have little use for fiction. Plus, if I want a fake story, I can pop in a DVD and be finished in a couple of hours. This is just one reason among many that will keep me from reading the new book The Shack by William Young. But because it's becoming somewhat of a Christian phenomenon, I've tried to familiarize myself with it. So anything I state here should be taken with the understanding that I haven't actually read the book [well, the first chapter is on the web, so I did read that], but I'm not convinced that my ignorance should prohibit me from commenting about it.
Here's the quick synopsis from the publisher:
Mackenzie Allen Philipsâ€™ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep int he Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, ostensibly from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.
So when Mack goes to the Shack [seriously] he gets to spend a weekend with the Trinity. Of course, the author has to anthropomorphize the Godhead, so The Father becomes an older African American woman, Jesus is a Middle-Eastern looking guy, and the Holy Spirit is Asian lady. Apparently, the weekend is spent in deep conversation where Mack finally forgives God and the murderer. Basically, it's a theological, fictional narrative that's supposed to teach people about the Trinity.
Like I said, I've not read the book, but based upon various reviews I've examined, I have a few observations.
1. The most important thing to understand is that theological fiction is a ridiculous genre. I know that many of you love to read that kind of informational fiction, but when you try to make truth digestable in the form of metaphor, you end up with useless mush. Remember the way The DaVinci Code claimed it was based on a true story? In the months that followed, scholars ripped its claims to shreds. But there are probably thousands of people walking the face of the earth who read Dan Brown's book and think it's actually true.
It was the same thing with Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series. Christians ate those books up, and many people think that his view of the end of the world is how it will really happen. If people could read these books and just be content to have enjoyed it is recreational fiction, I'd be fine with it. Unfortunately, people can't [or won't] distinguish between truth and fiction and I end up having to de-program people and explain what the Scriptures actually say about an issue.
2. One of the reasons people like these books is that it makes the reader think that he's more knowledgable without having to wade through any heavy research. One reviewer on Amazon wrote,
This book quickly became one of my most favorite books of all time. I have wanted to share this with everyone I know with the statement: "THIS is who God is and what He's REALLY like!!"
So one piece of fiction nails who God really is? Look, I've spent the past few weeks studying through deep theological writings and it's kicked my tail. I would much rather prefer to read a 200 page story to glean this information but if I want something worthwhile it's just not possible. For thousands of years theologians and philosophers have been contemplating the nature of God and William Young nailed it? The blessing to the theological fiction writer is that he never has to leave research footnotes. So the interpretation offered by the author is not necessarily orthodox Christianity but whatever he thinks Christianity should be.
Allow me to explain it like this: some people tend to hate science and math and prefer arts and stories. Likewise, some believers who disdain intellectual, systematic theology gravitate towards The Shack approach where it's all boiled down to a pretty story. But interestingly enough, when it comes to your house or car or the airplane you're flying in, you're hoping that people who assembled it used blueprints and/or schematics as a guide, rather than a watercolor painting. Even though you might not like those things that are difficult to understand, there is definitely a place for it. Why won't people tolerate that when it comes to God?
3. Some people love these books because it seems like a new expression of the Christian faith. Removed is any sense of staleness the accompanies "traditional Christianity" and people become enamored with a fresh way to live the Christian life. Therefore people will cling to it, and claim this is the God that they want to hear about. And then they get pissed off at their church because it isn't enough like The Shack. Many will claim that the book pushed them forward in their relationship with God, but I would speculate that it actually transported them into an understanding of God that isn't necessarily true. But since it's enjoyable, it's gotta be right, eh?
Wrapping things up, I'm not saying that everything is terrible about this book. In fact, I hear that it makes some powerful points. But if you're thinking of restructuring your entire Christian faith to conform it to the philosophy of The Shack, then we probably need to talk. These kinds of books are fads [remember Jabez?]. It'll be something new next year. So don't get caught up in the hype and go read the Chronciles of Narnia instead.
By the way, if someone wants to lend me a used copy of the book, I'll do a thorough examination. For a more detailed review [by someone who actually read the book], check out Tim Challies reflections here.
UPDATE: Of course, my college buddy Greg not only knows the guys behind the book but also designed the book's website. He vouches for the guys and has been following closely the controversy closely. You can read his brief thoughts here and here. Additionally, one of the guys behind the book wrote a defense article of the book here.
Looking back at what I wrote earlier, I think my criticism doesn't lie as much with the work itself as much as how people have reacted to the bookâ€” in some instances treating it as salvific. I would suppose this is no fault of the author, but in our hyperactive culture, we need to talk about balance constantly. All this insures that I'll definitely have to get my copy of the book and see what I think.