Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Shack - Book Review & Controversy!

Hi friends! 

The video version of this post is available here:

The Shack is a Christian novel by Canadian author William Young. He wrote the book initially for his children and friends only, with no intention of ever publishing it.  But his friends really encouraged him to publish it.  He gave it the old college try, but The Shack ended up being rejected  by 26 publishing companies, so the author's friends set up a small company to publish the story themselves. The company sold nearly 1.1 million copies out of their friend's garage in just over a year. This self-published book went on to become a USA Today bestseller and was on The New York Times Best Seller list for trade paperbacks from June 2008 to early 2010.
So what is this book about?


“The Shack” is the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, "Mack" whose youngest daughter is abducted during a family vacation. The police find evidence that she was taken to a remote wooden shack in the Oregon wildreness and was brutally murdered. Mack is completely devastated and doesn't want to go on with life when he receives a letter from God inviting him to spend the weekend at the shack in the Oregon wilderness where evidence of his daughter’s murder was discovered. And the book is about Mack's encounter with the Christian God at the shack where his daughter was murdered. It's about Mack's struggle with forgiveness and struggle with faith in spite of his anger and in spite of injustice. 


This book is emotional, sometimes manipulatively so, but still cathartic. I think does a great job of pacing, it keeps moving the entire time. I was never bored. And the main character, Mack, I was invested in him. I was rooting for him. I wanted to see him work through his pain and anger. And you get a lot of insight and detail into his thoughts and emotions. And, I say this all the time, but I love a story where the main character goes through a significant change, an internal change, throughout the book. As a story, as a concept, I think The Shack holds together quite well. 
However, remember earlier when we discussed that the author was not a professional writer and the book had to be self-published? It shows. The craftsmanship of the writing is not fantastic quality, I don't think that's a matter of taste, the descriptions, the dialogue, really could have benefited from further editing and revision. I think it's such a shame that for so long no publisher was able to recognize the immense appeal of this book.

What's the Controversy?

So, when I first heard there was controvery surrounding this book, I actually thought it was agnostics or atheists or other relgions who were upset about the book. But no, it's infighting.  Much of the controversy comes from within Christian circles, I've also seen some Jewish commentary that was quite critical.  A lot of Christians have embraced the story as a creative depiction of how God's healing and forgiveness can work in a person's life, while others criticized the book as heretical and misrepresting the God of the Bible. 

Where a lot of the controversy surrounding The Shack comes from is related to issues with how the trinity, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are portrayed, both individually and relating to one another. God the Father is portrayed as an African American woman. Jesus, obviously, is a Middle Eastern carpenter.  The Holy Spirit is portrayed as an Asian woman. In the shack, Mack and the truine God have a lot of back and forth conversation, helping Mack work through his issues, which include the murder of his daughter and also the abusive father that Mack grew up with.
There was also some backlash at a few sentences that seemed like God was revealing himself to Mack as a universalist.  I must admit, there is one place where that was my understanding as well, that the God in The Shack is a universalist, which is not a mainstream Christian belief.  In an oversimplified nutshell, a universality believes everyone goes to heaven, everyone is reconciled with God regardless of what they believe or how they life their lives. Mainline Christianity says to be reconciled with God, a person must accept the gift God's love for them, and then ought to live in light of that. However, William Young has gone on record saying he is not a universalist. Interview link is here: 
So, what is my take on all of this?

There was some backlash that God the Father was portrayed as a woman.  The Bible uses male pronouns to refer to God the Father, but also describes God as beyond gender or nongendered. The author has explained in interviews that because the main character, Mack, had trauma issues related to his biological father, he was trying to show that God meets people where they are and Mack wouldn't have responded well to a father figure.

In my last tag post, the "get to know ya tag", I talked about why it's so hard to answer the question "what's your favorite book?".  Because people read for a wide variety of reasons.  For example, when I pick up "The Sound and the Fury" by Faulkner I'm looking to expand my mind and my understanding of humanity.  When I pick up Cinder by Marissa Meyer, I'm just looking for a good time.  I have an entirely different set of expectations for each book, and each book fulfills those expectations wonderfully.  And I think something kind of similar can be said for The Shack.  If I'm looking to be uplifted by a heartwarming Christian story, The Shack is a perfectly great reading choice. If I'm looking to do some serious thinking about what I want to believe about the Christian God and why,  The Shack is a terrible reading choice. I've read some great books that provide overviews of different world religions, or straightforward apologetics like The Reason for God by Timothy Keller would be a great choice, or Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, you could go straight to the source and read scripture.

For me, it all comes down to why you're reading the book, and for me, The Shack is a piece of a thought-provoking piece of entertainment, it's not a theological magnum opus, and it shouldn't be treated like one. That said, I think it's okay to read things you don't agree with. Maybe you're not Christian, or maybe you're Christian but disagree with some of The Shack's content. That's okay, I suspect you can still appreciate the story as long as your purpose isn't to agree with everything presented to you.
So that's my take on The Shack, by William Young, the film adaptation is out in theaters now. Have you seen the film or read the book?  I'd love to know what you thought, please share your comments down below.

1 comment:

  1. I read The Shack a while back, definitely a book that will cause much discussion. Not seen the film.