Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Shack

If you haven’t come across it yet, The Shack is a novel by William P Young, which has been top of the NY Times bestseller list for about 6 months and is well within the Amazon top 100.

It’s a story about Mack, a father of four, set about 3 years after his fifth child, Missy, was brutally murdered and her body left in a shack in the wilderness.
Mack receives a note from ‘Papa’ (his wife’s favourite name for God), inviting him back to the shack for a meeting. Although not particularly religious, Mack decides to return to the centre of his Great Sadness. There he meets God, in all three of his/her forms. Most of the book is about Mack’s conversations with Papa, Jesus and Sarayu (the Spirit) and his process of healing and forgiveness.

The book covers a huge range of theological topics but probably centres on the problem of suffering – Mack finds that he cannot trust a God who allowed his 4-year-old daughter to be killed.

The reaction this book has received reminds me of that received by Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus a few years ago. Some people have been revolutionised by it, and Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, says it’s as good and important as The Pilgrim’s Progress. Other people slate it completely and hold Young as a heretic.

My reaction?

Well, I think it’s quite good. It certainly says a lot of good stuff in very clever ways, and it made me view certain aspects of God’s character and my faith in new ways. If you haven’t come across some of its teaching before, it could probably change you completely. I had come across a lot of it before, but there was still new stuff there which interested and challenged me. I would definitely recommend it because it will almost certainly broaden your thinking about God, teach you new things about him and feed your relationship with him.

Having said that, of course he is a heretic. Yes, the book is good, but yes, there’s also heresy in there. But so what? I doubt there’s ever been a book written (Bible excepted) that doesn’t contain some heresy. People, chill out a bit! Books are written by humans, they’re going to have errors in them! But that doesn’t mean all books are worthless! This book (and Chalke’s) are really good and well worth reading. Neither book is perfect, so you have to read them carefully, take the good stuff, and dismiss the misleading bits.

The problem is, it’s harder to do this with a novel than with a normal theology book, because a novel such as this can be very subtly misleading. But I guess that’s part of the fun.

Seriously – The Shack is a good book, and I’d definitely recommend it. Not everything in it is spot on, but most of it is safe. Enjoy!

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