The Shack

Monday, June 22, 2009 11:18 AM By crosswaysnet , In

by William P. Young

Why did I read this? After all, I'd been dissuaded a number of times by mixed reviews and my own reticence. I'm a parent, now. What dad wants to read about the abduction of a child?

Of those who previewed the book for me, they came from two camps: 1) Those who thought it was too 'New Agey'; and 2) those who thought it was the best theological writing in a century. Camp "1" almost prevailed before I even started. Camp "2" types always make my eyes roll. It's a piece of modern fiction, not the second coming of C.S. Lewis! Come on! God as Aunt Jemimah?

And now I'm done. Verdict? Both camps are wrong... and so was I.

"The Shack" is allegory in the tradition of John Bunyan and Hannah Hurnard. (And there's not a small measure of "Wizard of Oz" - you can see the shift from Color, to Black'N'White, to Color and back, right there in the narrative.) It barely attempts to tackle serious debates on the nature and personal consequences of sin like "Pilgrim's Progress," though the metaphor of a 'burden of the guilt of sin' is very much present. Compared to "Hinds Feet in High Places," "The Shack" is a complex mash-up of personalities, situations, flashbacks and reality shifting. Hurnard took a much simpler, linear path to maturity for little "Much Afraid." Most troubling to some is how "The Shack" glosses past the reality of Hell, hinting at universal redemption. But what it DOES do - and very well - is challenge almost every preconception the modern American mind has about the attributes and character of the Godhead.

William P. Young does it through compelling personalities, even if they're not particularly "novel." The Triune come out to play, and play with each other. The protagonist gets to watch over their shoulders and re-discovers... what exactly? Truth? She shows up, but she's not a central character. Faith? No - what's revealed openly is no longer faith but satiety. It all boils down to the last word of 1 Corinthians 13. And more importantly, the kind of love that's only found in FAMILY.

I understand Camp 1's argument - almost everything we've been taught to believe about the Trinity is truly warped by the lens of this book. Maybe it's better to say that the Trinity is put into different focus. And after spending some time in this "foreign" land, I can say it's a very good thing. The arguments are so reasonable and full of joy, and it's very hard to find an instance of bad doctrine. I'll leave that to professional apologists. (Steve Camp, your ears must be itchin'!) And those most gender-ly squeamish can rest assured that God the Father makes an appearance in the masculine - but only when the object of love is ready to accept it on God's terms.

To be fair to the literary critics, the book reads like a screenplay, which is exactly what it is at the core. And the meddling of many pens can be heard from time to time as mushy group speak, covering way too many sweeping concepts in too few scenes.

Where "The Shack" triumphs is in the affirmation of a biblical, theologically sound triune God in the first person, capable of being comprehended, and capable of wooing those who allow it. "I'm especially fond of THAT one" is the recurrent God-mantra. And it does this without the loathsome "GUBA" language that is total Greek to the unbaptized masses. This book brings God - the real one - to the street. It deserves a read by ANYone who grew up "born again," and those who have no idea what "GUBA" means!

For those crusty religious types, this advice: Check your preconceptions and petty preferences at the door and say, "OK, challenge what I know about God!" For those of you who are convinced God is a myth I'd say "You're probably right - but this book is not about THAT God."

Read it - You'll be glad you did. And the book is sure to be better than the movie.


John said...

I love that last sentence in the next to last paragraph, Bram! Well-said. I loved this book, not for what it did/didn't say about the Trinity, but for what it said about God's relationship to us. Some people really found the whole Trinity thing distracting, while I really felt it more of a creative license to deliver a story about God's love for us. That's what I took most from it, at least. I've heard Paul Young speak, and he had never written anything before this book. He intended it as a gift for his kids and a few close friends. Before he knew it, it had exploded into what it is now. I can't recall for sure, but I don't think it ever saw an editor's pen, save for maybe a spouse or a close friend. He's got quite a life story of his own. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it!

(P.S. Can you add FaceBook as an account to comment under?)

May 19, 2011 at 9:54 AM

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