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Book Review: The Shack

January 9, 2010

This past week I finished my last book for 2009:  The Shack by William Paul Young.  I have been told that you either hate this book or love it, that there is no middle ground.  I propose a third option:  I respect it and what the author was trying to communicate and I took away what I could learn from it.  I think the simple misconception about the book that has caused such a polarization amongst readers stems from their failure to grasp that Young’s novel doesn’t pretend to be anything that it is not, despite the simple frame story function that he employs.  It is a fictional book in the vein of Pilgrim’s Progress, not meant to be taken as a literal theological statement but as a singular human perspective on God seeking to comprehend His Scriptural attributes and spur the reader on to deep thought.  I believe that problems arrise from those who take it at face value with little testing of the book and either lift it up in too high of esteem, viewing it as a complement to the Bible in their understanding of God, or bury it in shouts of heresy and venomous barbs of criticism, mistaking it as an attempt to hijack the nature of God from His Word.  Neither extreme is wise (as is typically the case with jumping to an extreme position) or displays a healthy degree of individual intellectual & spiritual testing of the Young’s work.

But enough about the controversy surrounding this book.  Although I don’t want to delve too much into the actual plot of this book, I do want to address some of the personal lessons I carried away from it.  I think the key message contained in the book is the need to approach God with a sense of wonder.  I can personally attest that far too often I take the splendor of God and His majesty for granted as I remain focused on the mundane that is everyday routine existence.

That message is coupled with the emphasis on knowing who God actually is based on His revelation to us in His Word and not allowing our preconceptions, our learned traditions, or our broken relationships to negatively influence our understanding of who He is.  We all carry a suitcase full of past experiences that shape our worldview, and more importantly, our God-view.  Overcoming those past hurts and pains is a tedious but necessary task if we are to truly experience the relationship God has in store for us.  I struggle continuously to shape my thoughts and reactions according to my knowledge of the Lord’s perfect love for me and His desires for my life.  Judgmental attitudes crop up when I am faced with any views outside of what I hold to be true, as is the case with every other person in this world.  I am fighting hard to overcome those natural impulses as I seek to love like Christ.  I have found that there is a monumental difference between judging others and what they believe and reacting out of self-righteous indignation, and spiritually testing every person’s views, statements, beliefs, etc., through the trying fires of God’s Word, understanding when they don’t line up, loving that person anyway but still desiring for them reconciliation with the Lord and the experience of the redemption He offers and calling them to change.  Wow, that’s a mouthful.  No wonder many just lazily engage in judgment by generalization.  Generalizations are easy and convenient and lead to judgment.  It takes a genuine, God-honoring effort to continuously examine everything around us and engage in this process.  And in our relativistic age, many Christians tend to leave off that last part of calling people to change.

The third lesson I carried away from Young’s work was the nature of forgiveness and its necessity if we are to truly experience the relationship God desires to have with us.  This is nothing I didn’t already know as a follower of Christ and a student of His Word, but is a lesson that is good to have hammered in repeatedly, and the visual picture of it being practically applied in the novel may be fictional but none the less poignant.  Forgiveness is a must!  It is not the same as forgetting, and it is not accomplished in an instant.  It is a daily process that must be engaged in.  I think far too often we don’t meditate on forgiveness in our relationships on a daily basis, waiting for some big wrong to occur against us first and then wondering why it is so hard to forgive.  We haven’t learned it and ingrained it into our nature through daily practice.  There are some wonderful thoughts on forgiveness found in The Shack.

Honestly, my only minor complaint would be that the writing is a little unpolished and simplistic for my taste in regards to literary style, but it wasn’t enough to prevent me from enjoying the book.  This probably stems from the fact that Young wrote it for his kids originally before being spurred on to publish it.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is spiritually mature enough to read it in comparison with Biblical principles and recognize where it lines up and where it does not, and then take the good from it and apply it.  When The Shack was originally recommended to me, I was told to avoid learning anything about the book and just read it as a blank slate.  I even abstained from reading the back cover until I was finished.  I’d recommend the same to anyone interested in checking this book out, although its surge in popularity may make that difficult.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2010 9:20 pm

    great thoughts man. i totally agree – the controversy about the book has downplayed the enormous value that i think you touched on. my favorite line from it was “autonomy is lunacy”. honestly i was skeptical at first, but did really enjoy it – and i have the same gripe you do, the writing wasnt as good as it could have been.
    hope you guys are well!

  2. Franco permalink
    January 9, 2010 10:00 pm

    “No wonder many just lazily engage in judgment by generalization. Generalizations are easy and convenient and lead to judgment. It takes a genuine, God-honoring effort to continuously examine everything around us and engage in this process.”

    Great commentary Jordan! Love the work, please keep it up.

  3. Chris permalink
    January 20, 2010 2:04 am

    Jordan, hard to not comment on this one. Should we ever read anything written by fallen humans (or preached for that matter) as a blank slate? The call in Scripture is to be spiritually discerning and test all things. I gave The Shack an honest reading and it moved me emotionally at times (I have a daughter of my own), but I did not set aside my discernment and a biblical worldview. Consequently, the further I read the more difficult it became to to accept Young’s agenda. Fiction is a powerful medium for communicating one’s theological beliefs Pilgrims’ Progress, Narnia). And Young is seeking to influence his children and his readers with his own view of God, one that does not line up with the God who reveals himself in the Bible.
    When one compares what Young has written with what he proclaims on his website, it becomes clear that part of his agenda is anti-local church and anti-theological training. Such views are popular in the general public but should always be rejected by God’s people.

    Here is a great link to a balanced and IMO accurate critique of Young’s theology as presented through his work of fiction:

    BTW I am an equal opportunity discerner of fictional theology…as much as I love C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, I have to disagree with the book where he advances his view that those who have never heard of Christ will still be in heaven. Good fiction, bad theology!

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