Blog author: eschansberg
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
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A friend persisted in asking me to read The Shack. Although it has been a “#1 New York Times Bestseller”, it came on the radar when I was in a busy season, so I’m not sure I would have read it or even noticed it– without his encouragement.

I’m really glad I read it. Beyond enhancing my “cultural relevancy” (LOL!), The Shack was thought-provoking. Although I’m not sure I agree with everything in it– especially where one must speculate a good bit to draw inferences– I’m a wheat & chaff guy. And for whatever chaff Young delivers, he brings a lot of wheat to the table as well.

Young’s book is well-crafted and an easy read. On occasion, the conversations come off as stilted, but that’s difficult to avoid in a book so dominated by dialogue. And the book might not be easy to handle emotionally or theologically for some people– an important point to which I’ll return shortly.

In a nutshell, comparing it to some other relatively famous books, I’d say it’s:

1.) 50% The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis;
2.) 30% The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee or The Saving Life of Christ by Ian Thomas; and
3.) 20% Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.

1.) The Shack is a cousin of Lewis’ book on Heaven and Hell in that it speculates on biblical topics that are vital but not clearly delineated in the Scriptures…

And like Lewis, Young works (effectively) to give himself wiggle room within his artistic portrayal. (Young uses basic literary devices at the beginning and the end of the book.) This is absolutely key because it indicates the speculative nature of his work– and it signals that Young does not take himself or the details of his picture too seriously.

2.) The Shack points to the importance of the “Spirit-filled life” within “sanctification”. I benefited tremendously from more traditional, straight-forward works like Nee and Thomas. But Young is trying to communicate some of the same principles through narrative/fiction.

This is both vital and vastly under-sold within the Church. Too often, people try to “live out the Chistian life” in their own power– “the flesh”. The result is sub-optimal in terms of outcomes, motives, perseverance, energy, and so on. But it isn’t meant to be that way. Christ himself said that it was for our own good that He would leave the Earth– so that the Spirit would come to empower believers to live that life through us (Jn 14:26, 16:7)….

3.) Young’s work is like Osteen’s in that it can be misread by some– and is, at the same time, especially relevant for certain audiences. I’ve already argued this in my review of Osteen’s book. I would recommend both books to most people who have been “wounded” by circumstances, a church, or the Church– especially if they can read it alongside a mature believer.

That said, the book could easily be misunderstood and misapplied by those who tend to read things (too) literally. Despite the ample praise the book has received, I think that’s the reason for the bulk of the criticism launched at it….

Derek Keefe provides a nice overview of the debate on the Christianity Today blog….

Among other things, this growing backlash broaches important questions about the proper relationship between art, theology, and the Church for evangelicals and their close kin….Switching directions, we must also ask what it means for Christian traditions and communities to be faithful to artists and their craft. This, too, is a theological question: How does the Church show good faith toward those sub-creators in God’s human economy whose very creative inclinations are evidence that they bear the image of a God who delights in creating?…My hunch is that we probably see a failure to keep faith on both sides here, and that it would be a good thing for all of God’s Church to discuss the when’s, where’s, why’s, and how’s of our mutual infidelities.

In a word, I’d recommend The Shack to those who are mature in their faith, those who have seen Christianity as duty and religion, those who are not prone to take things to literally/seriously, those who have endured profound pain and disappointment, and those who have been “burned by the church”.

In any case, may God use The Shack as a blessing to those who read it.

For the full review, click here.