REVIEW: "The Shack" by William P. Young

by sbh on Monday - 11 August 2008

in Reviews

I have never picked up a piece of “Christian Fiction” before (unless you count C.S. Lewis). But, I decided to read The Shack because there is so much controversy surrounding it, and because my church has decided to have a one night discussion about it. Always needing to be informed and up-to-date, I dove in and have now emerged with mixed feelings.

The Shack is the tale of Mackenzie Allen Phillips (a.k.a. “Mack”), a somewhat normal guy, who is asked by God to return to a shack in the forest where one of his daughters was brutally murdered. While there, God in all His/Her glory and personages converses with Mack, showing him the many things that he has misunderstood.

In this blog, I like to think about writing. When I think about The Shack and writing, my thoughts aren’t good.

First of all, the chapter titles are too cutesy and only tangentially related to what’s in the chapter. A scene that occurs around breakfast is called “Breakfast of Champions”, but not much of this scene has to do with “champions.” This is just one minor example, but it is something that started to get on my nerves as the pages wore on.

Second, the first 80 pages are entirely too long and unnecessary. As I read it, I had several thoughts, allow me to share a few with you:

  • The author must be trying to get this novel up to a minimum length. This stuff is unnecessary and long-winded.
  • The author is not confident in his writing skills.
  • The author does not know what’s important.

Honestly, it was painful. I got the sense that Mr. Young was just trying to stretch this thing out so that it would be of a normal novel length. In so doing, there was some crazy word choice. At one point, Mack sits down to watch television. Nowhere do you see the words “TV” or “television.” Instead, Mr. Young has chosen “media tube.” Totally unnatural. In the end, as a reader, I just didn’t feel like I was in good hands.

The book does lurch past these difficult opening scenes. Once Mack makes it out to the shack (about 1/3 of the way through the novel), things pick up and become more interesting. Still, there are some inconsistencies. For example, one of the persons of God is represented by a black woman. Throughout her extended conversations with Mack, her speech fades in and out of colloquialism making me wonder: “Why can’t God stay in character?”

Beyond that, though, The Shack does present an interesting take on the Trinity and interesting ideas about how humans live with each other and with God. For this, and in spite of its poor start and tendency towards emotional cheese, it is probably worth reading.

However, the whole thing is cheapened by the final page of my copy which talks about “The Missy Project.” The Missy Project is a promotional tool that encourages you to write reviews of, promote, and hand out copies of The Shack. If I picked up some novel by Michael Chabon or Umberto Eco, and I saw this, I’d be disgusted. You would be too. Look, Mr. Young, if your book is good enough then people will tell others about it. If it’s not, then they won’t. Just because it is “christian” in nature doesn’t mean it’s okay to shamelessly self-promote. Whatever your intentions, it wreaks of money-grubbing.

Finally, a note on “heresy.” Mr. Young has caused a lot of controversy with the publication of this novel. A lot of people are up in arms about the theology that is presented therein. Ultimately, as I read it, I kept thinking: I’m glad there is a bunch of hoopla over some of this stuff…American Christians need to be confronted with their stereotypes. Do I agree fully with Mr. Young’s take on things? No. But, I think we’d agree on the biggies (e.g., God saved us, breaking our bondage to sin and death through Jesus’s salvific work on the Cross). Let’s agree on the biggies and not sweat the small stuff. I’ll get off my soapbox now…

UPDATE: For a well-reasoned, balanced, humble look at many of the issues involved with The Shack, see the following posts by Regent College’s Professor John Stackhouse:

  1. In Defense of Ideological Fiction
  2. Some Theological Concerns (Part 1)
  3. Some Theological Concerns (Part 2)
  4. Some Celebrations

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