"The Shack" Review

I recently read a best-selling book that has been given mixed reviews by people. Personally, I've had a handful of people encourage me to read it. I've also had a handful of people discourage me from reading it. Those who encouraged me to read it said that it would help me in my relationship with God. Those who discouraged me to read it described it as heresy and said it defamed God. Being a skeptic, and knowing only a few details about the book, I had resigned not to read it, thinking honestly that it was trash that was in direct opposition to my beliefs. However, after one final encouragement from a family member, I decided that I would in fact read The Shack and form my own opinion about the contents and its implications. I went in with as much of an open mind as I could (which isn't easy for such an opinionated person such as myself). So below is a short synopsis followed by my reaction. Before I start, if you've not yet read the book, let me encourage you to not read my review, but instead pick up a copy, open your mind and read it (it doesn't take long, only took me a week!).

The Shack is a story about a guy named Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips who takes his kids on a camping trip in the Oregon wilderness. While there, his youngest daughter Missy is kidnapped and suspected to have been killed by a known serial killer. The only evidence of the crime was found in an abandoned shack. Four years after the event, while still in the middle of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a letter in the mail, apparently from God, inviting him to come back to the scene of the crime, The Shack, for a weekend. Mack accepts the invitations, and experiences a weekend that changes his life. The major question the book seems to try to answer is "Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering?"

If you've heard anything about the book, it's probably something along the lines of "This book gives a great description of the Trinity" or "God is depicted as a big black woman". The Shack does in fact tell a fictional story while depicting God as a big black woman. In fact, each member of the trinity was described in detail.

Now it is at this point that I need to confess that I approach this book with two biases. First of all, as most of you who read this know, I just finished my seminary degree. Which means I spent a good bit of time discussing and learning theology. While I'll never claim to have it all figured out, or even be close to understanding everything about God (and further more that my theological degree is worth little more than the paper it is printed on), I will simply say that I have given a lot of thought to theological issues. Secondly, I will say that the Bible is the guide for all of my beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I believe the Bible is completely, 100% true and that it is the complete revelation of God to people (that is to say that all we need to know about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is contained in the Bible. Not that everything about God is recorded, as if one book could contain that, but that God has given us all we need know about him within the pages of the Bible). So any book I read is filtered through the lens of the Bible and through what I have come to believe about how we as people relate to him. This filter is magnified when the book deals with issues directly concerning God.

That being said, let me say that I did actually enjoy reading The Shack. The story was compelling. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and if the story would be resolved. It had a great little twist at the end that completely surprised me. The author, William P. Young wrote and interesting and entertaining book that I didn't want to put down. As with any good story, the book made me think "How would I react in that situation?" "How am I like Mack?" "What truth does the story convey?" "What do I disagree with?" "What do I agree with?" (Of course I don't readily ask those questions necessarily, but I do answer them in my reading, consciously or not). Even as I read, I thought about God, how I view him, and how I interact with him in my own life.

I also tried to keep in mind that the book is fiction and that even the depiction of God was not meant to be fact, but was meant to be used as a tool to tell the story. The only issue for me is that, fiction or not, anytime you choose to try to describe or convey anything about God, you are treading into dangerous territory. It might be just a fiction book, but the handful of people who recommended I read this book said something along the lines of "This book helped me understand the trinity better" or "it really changed the way I view God". If that is the case, then right or wrong, the book becomes something on which people begin to base their beliefs. Again, let me say that its a dangerous place to put yourself, a book, a piece of art, anything of that nature. And while I wanted to dismiss the theological side of things, I couldn't based on the very first page of the book where there was listed a series of "What Others Are Saying About the Shack". Almost everyone listed said something about the books theological implications, how it would encourage your relationship with God, change the way you think about God, and help you experience God in a new way. If this is the case, and is obviously a goal of the book, then I have to confront some of the theological issues. I'll do a list of the pros and a list of the cons for the sake of time.


- God, through the three persons of the trinity, is depicted as a loving God who cares deeply for people, whose plans are often misunderstood. He is shown as a God who desires for people to experience his love, forgiveness and healing.

- At one point Papa (who is God the Father) speaking of Jesus says "Everything is about Him you know." (p.191)

- At another point, Jesus says "My life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to be like Jesus, it means for your independence to be killed. I came to give you life, real life, my life (p. 149). This coincides with what Jesus says in Luke 9:23.

- In Chapter 11, entitled Here Come Da Judge, the book talks about how we judge God based on who we are as people, not based on who really God is.

- The concept of faith that requires you to do certain things is challenged. Faith is often seen as a to-do list that earns favor, especially in the "bible-belt". Instead, faith does lead to action, but not so that love or salvation is earned, but so that God is glorified and others can know the Gospel. The book says "In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful" (p. 203). This is also discussed in both Romans and Hebrews.

- The religious establishment is questioned. Just as it was in Jesus day, the "religious" people most often cause the most problems for the cause of Jesus.


- God is said to be better understood when experienced than when read from the Bible (p. 65-66). Again, the Bible is our source of revelation, not our experience (though we do have the privilege of interacting with God on a personal level, that interaction must line up with scripture, otherwise the whole "God told me he wants me to be rich" message that is common today would be considered valid.)

- It said that Jesus was fully human and that 'he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything." But instead he was a "dependent, limited human being" who "as a human being had no power within himself to heal anyone." It goes on to say that he was only able to preform miracles because of his relationship with God the Father (p. 99-100).

- God again says that he limits himself so as to see things as if for the first time through the eyes of his children (p.106).

- It is said that there is no since of authority or hierarchy between the three parts of the trinity, but rather that they operate in a "circle of relationship" (122). According to this description, there is no obedience involved (saying that Jesus was not being obedient to God the Father in dying on the cross, but was rather operating out of a mutual relationship.

- It also says that the problem of evil in the world comes strictly from people's desire for independence. God allows this independence as an act of love. To enforce His will on us would be the opposite of love. It even says that God submits himself to our (human) will (p. 145).

- As for the problem of evil, Satan, the Devil, demons, temptation or any other source is completely left out. Independence is the only reason for sin.

- Toward the end, Papa (God) says that Jesus work on the cross reconciled the whole world to Him. Mack responds "You mean those who believe in you right?" Papa responds "The Whole world, Mack. I am telling you that reconciliation is a 2-way street, and I have done my part..."(p. 192). This suggests that we as people have half (50%) of the responsibility for our salvation.

- While it does mention the church being the bride, the book could be construed to say that church involvement is not important, and rather personal faith is all that matters. While I agree that the church has issues, the bible still makes it clear that Christian fellowship and worship is essential. Christianity was designed to be done together (see Acts) It is my intention to try to influence change within the church so that we hopefully get back to the biblical picture of the church.

So before reading the book, and before deciding to read it, I was completely against all things The Shack, mostly because of the way people (mostly professing Christians) were reacting to it, as though it was another Bible. My initial reaction to that kind of stuff is to stay as far away as possible. However, the book wasn't as bad as I expected, and I suspect that those who have been the hardest on the book have probably not read it. The problem with the book is that many people do in fact see it as truth, as though it is a book that can help define and shape their faith in God. This can prove to be extremely dangerous, misleading not only their personal faith, but potentially damaging the way the view and respond to God. However, there is some valuable material, especially for those who have experience pain, loss, or addition. All-in-all, if read for a sheer work of fiction, then the book isn't a bad read. One must be careful to read with a biblical lens (as when viewing any form of art or entertainment) so as to not be mislead.

So in conclusion, as a work of fiction, The Shack is a good read. As a work of theology, it should be completely avoided at all costs. What about you? Have you read it? Why or why not? What are your thoughts about it?


I'm definitely more intrigued now. Thanks, Matt.

That's the scary thing about Christian fiction of this type. People forget to read critically. "Test all things. Hold fast what is good."

September 1, 2009 at 5:37 AM  

Newer Post Older Post Home

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds.