The Shack by William P. Young, 256 pages, Windblown Media
It’s rare that I read fiction anymore. Not because I don’t like it. But with all of the leadership, church- and ministry-related, doctrinal, and school-mandated books, articles, blogs, magazines, etc. that I read, it’s hard to make time to read something that’s not true – that’s not even intended to be true.
But there are times when it needs to be done. Sometimes it’s because it’s handles doctrine in a fiction format (like the Left Behind series). Sometimes it’s because of the controversial buzz (Harry Potter anyone?).
The Shack does both. And I actually wanted to read it. So when David Vanderveen, Executive Director at Hope Ministries, gave me a copy and asked me to review it (especially from a theological standpoint), I was glad to.
Let me say, first, that you need to walk into this understanding that you will be affected on at least one level, and probably several.
From a story perspective, it’s well-written; I hated putting it down each time. I couldn’t finish it fast enough.
From an emotional perspective, it’s a roller coaster. Many people have written that they cried like babies during several heart-wrenching sections. (I didn’t bawl or sob, but there were a couple of pages that made my eyes water, and I laughed out loud several times when something caught me off guard.)
But it’s the theological perspective that will rock Christians the most. I’m not going to give away spoilers here (you would miss identifying with Mack, the main character, which is really important), but this is going to be huge with many believers, and it’s this that I want to address here.
While this is not meant to be a book on theology, per se, I love the fact that it touches on or explores the depths of almost every major doctrinal category. It mentions the Bible, angels, the church, and the last things. But it delves into God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, and salvation.
And delve it does, BIG TIME, in ways that many Christians have possibly never considered before. I highly doubt that you can walk away after reading this book and not want to know and love God better. And that is the goal of the book, according to the author: “I wanted my kids to enjoy a story and through the story to understand there [sic] own father better and the God that their father is so in love with.”
I should say that the theology is very sound from my standpoint. I don’t recall anything that made me think, “Whoa! That’s not right!” In fact, I would challenge someone to show me where the doctrine in here is wrong, even if (and maybe especially if) you aren’t comfortable with the way it is presented (which is one area you can identify with Mack).
In fact, it’s not so much just a piece of fiction as it is an allegory. It’s possible, and even probable, that you find yourself in here, thinking like Mack, asking questions that he does, wishing to have a weekend like he has, and hopefully walking away with the conclusion that he does.
It’s this reason that Eugene Peterson (of The Message fame) has endorsed The Shack by writing,
When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!
I highly recommend this book. In fact, I think every person on the planet should read it – believer and unbeliever alike.
Here is the official book summary to whet your appetite:
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.