on October 4, 2008
I read The Shack as a book discussion group assignment (said group consisting of theologically conservative pastors), and I can understand why the book is upsetting to many--whether because of the subject matter (the murder of a child) or because of some of the book's theological implications.
However, I think many are missing the point that the book is a parable, not a doctrinal treatise. I found reading the book to be an incredibly moving experience, and have (cautiously) recommended it to those in my circle of acquaintance whom I think would be able to digest its message.
I do find it interesting that so many evangelical Christians have had such a negative visceral reaction to this novel. This is especially remarkable in light of the fact that, by and large, evangelical Christianity has embraced C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia--this despite the fact that Lewis wove animism, Greek philosophy, and Roman mythology into his parabolic communication of Christian truth. Not to put too fine a point on it, but is it any more offensive to present God in the form of an African-American woman who cooks scones, than it is to present God's Son as an animal which imparts blessing to children by licking them in the face? (Incidentally, I thoroughly enjoyed the Narnian Chronicles as well.)
My recommendation: If you want theology, read the works of theologians. (Watch out for Sproul and other 5-pointers, though.) If you want an emotionally moving parable which hammers home the importance of a personal relationship with God, then buy and read--and be touched by--The Shack.
on January 27, 2008
This is probably the most profound and best book I have ever read in my entire life. It has brought me totally back to God. I have never felt better. I totally identified with Mack and the Great Sadness which has been in my life also.
I am a Viet Nam combat vet. In Viet Nam I had forsaken God. I could not believe that God would permit such things to happen on Earth. But as I learned more about WWII and Korea and other World events my lack of disbelieve just strengthened. Until about six and one half years ago I felt a need to come back and test the waters. My oldest son was in 9-11 as a paramedic (he went in on his day off) and I was so proud of him, but I felt a need to find my faith, because he had found it. He was a block away from the second tower when it collapsed. He went on to fulfill his lifelong ambition to become a New York Fire Fighter and actually entered into the prestigious Squad One. But oh, what a price for him and his family to pay. So much death to witness, and all of those funerals to attend. I wished I could have protected him from that, but I could not. I failed. I hold myself accountable for this lack of ability to successfully fulfill my mission in life as a father, just like I do the men I sent to their deaths in Viet Nam and the hundreds of people I have killed. I have lived with Viet Nam inside me for over 35 years until recently. These are only some of the crosses I bear. This book has brought me full circle. It has helped me to restore my faith. I have helped several people to purchase this book and I will continue. But I now know what is important and what is not so important.
My Step-daughter Lisa recommended I read this book after she read a Christmas message I sent to all of my children, step-children and special friends over and over again. I had sent a picture of Arlington at Christmas that had touched me very close to my heart. So I wanted each of them to see this and understand this was the price of liberty and that there were men and women who were willing to give their lives on foreign soil to guarantee their rights under the constitution of the United States. I penned a personal message to each of the couples or person along with the general message.
To John and Lisa, who are House Pastors for a local church, I was sorry I was not stronger for them when Kelsey their newborn went to heaven. Kelsey was born with a small aorta and Dr. Starr in Portland, OR was going to fix that. He was the best. I felt we were fine, but I had no faith, just my gut instincts that had gotten me out of every other jam before except a couple that resulted in loss of life. I went to the hospital every noon to see Lisa and Kelsey and got to hold Kelsey and she was so innocent.. So the day came, Dr. Starr entered the waiting room with the bad news. Kelsey had not survived. John went to pieces and Lisa was helping him because she seemed stronger at the time. My wife was asking me if I was going to go to John and help him. She said this several times. I was standing up, but I was not there. I was near a river west of Danang trying to get two of my men out of a jam that I had ordered to stay back and lay down fire so we could extract some wounded. The smells, the visual, the noises were all real. My men were dead and so was Kelsey. I never told anyone about that until I wrote that letter. So Lisa read that over and over and recommended I read "The Shack". I am so glad she did too!!
I never loan books, so I gave it to a close friend. I purchased the hardbound edition for keeping and rereading.
Since reading "The Shack" I have never felt so whole in my entire life. I have redevoted my life to Jesus and I have laughed with him in his presence. Thank you for the Great Book. Thank you Paul for introducing me to Mack. He made me realize I was not alone. Be careful when they make this into a movie. I am not sure how they can do it justice.
One more thing. Take your time reading this book. Take time to smell the roses. If you cannot, then read it again.
Remember who is writing this review!! As Paul Young told me, live one day at a time and live in the moment. It is the only thing that is real. Enjoy your life!!
on January 27, 2008
In the book world, it's hard to explain "the buzz." What causes word of mouth to start spreading? What turns an unknown author and novel into a surprise bestseller? Even more inexplicable for the book snobs is when a story fails to meet their literary standards and yet touches the masses in an undeniable way.
"The Shack" is the buzz book of the past few months. I hadn't even heard of it in November, but by the end of December I'd had relatives, friends, and online pals from across the country telling me I "had" to read this one. I've been burned by such recommendations in the past, particularly in relation to spiritually oriented titles. (Can anyone say "The Prayer of Jabez" and "Left Behind"?), but I was willing to give it a shot.
William P. Young's book has an intriguing premise. Years ago, a father name MacKenzie Phillips took his children camping and lost one of them to a man who has kidnapped and killed others. Mack has grieved since then. His marriage has struggled. Understandably, his relationship with God has suffered. Then, one wintry day, he receives a note in his mailbox inviting him back to the woods, to the shack in which his daughter's dress and bloodstains were found. The note, it would seem, is from God.
From this simple yet effective premise, Young leads Mack Phillips back to his point of despair and anger. The encounters he then has with God there in "The Shack" serve as thought-provoking moments for both Mack and the reader. This is not the God of stodgy Sunday school classes. This is not a flannel-graph Jesus. This is not limited to a fluttering dove of the Holy Spirit. The descriptions here are startling, while remaining true to the nature of God's love and grace as portrayed through Scripture. Not only are they startling, they're wise and moving and beautiful.
Some might argue that "The Shack" has little theology or accuracy to it, but the very argument is what Young is trying to melt away. I earned a Bachelor's from a Bible college, and the majority of Mack's godly encounters could be wrapped up in biblical theology: redemption, grace, forgiveness, propitiation, etc. Do I agree with every line of the book? Not necessarily. Yet, while never sounding like trite religion (because they're not and never should be!), the words spoken by God in this book are full of vibrancy and life.
Is it the best crafted novel ever? No. In many ways, it could be encapsulated in a non-fiction treatise. However, in sharing this remarkable tale in a fictional form, Young has breathed wonder and wisdom into a story that will continue to buzz around for years to come.
on June 3, 2014
What is the most difficult, heart wrenching event a parent can experience? How many years would it take to get over the grief? Would that even happen?
Mack is a man who has been through all that, and more. After his young daughter was abducted and murdered while on a family outing, he hits bottom. The effect on his family was almost as devastating. In the depth of his grief he can’t even see that his wife and kids are suffering too.
Everything he thought he knew about God, family, faith, friends… you name it, has been turned sideways. Mack is about to self destruct.
So he is ripe and ready when a letter arrives from ‘Papa’ telling him to come out to ‘The Shack’ aka the scene of the crime.
Should he go or not. After a lot of soul searching, and against the best advice of his best friend he decides to make the journey. With ‘protection’.
Making the trip to the wilderness of the northeast Oregon mountains in winter is sketchy in the first place, but doing so when emotionally disadvantaged it is another thing altogether.
His encounter with God blows him away. Who would have thought that ‘Papa’ is not what he always assumed. Or His Son either for that matter. Or the Third Person. What we always assumed we knew about God is about to take an interesting twist.
Can Mack find understanding, forgiveness, healing, consolation…? Or will he let his emotions control and destroy him.
Even more to the point, is this a true story or not? It draws you in, you live his journey. You want it all to be real. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But regardless, it could be.
June 3, 2014
Wow am I really going to feel like a wet blanket. I hate to say it after all of these awesome reviews of this book, but I really didn't like it. Not just on a theological level either. I just didn't get to the destination that others have. I really don't want to be negative, especially when others have been so impacted by it. But here is what I think about The Shack.
First of all, being a former literature teacher, I actually am shocked by the comparison with Pilgrim's Progress. You are talking about the most popular book in human history second only to the Bible. Pilgrim's Progress is known for its emotional impact more than its literary accomplishment, so they are similar in that. But I think that is where the similarities end. The Shack is not well written at all and focuses on only one primary issue. PP covers the entire Christian walk and does so in a most unique way. It is not only the pinnacle of Christian literature, it is the best of an entire genre (allegory). PP relies upon the everyday Christian's ability to relate to the character Christian and his entire adventure. The Shack relies almost completely on the effect of trauma done to the characters.
Secondly, the theological problems are difficult to overlook. I don't understand the mentality that says, God is pictured as a lot of things in the Bible, so why can't I picture Him/Her as whatever I feel comfortable with? Well, because one of the most devastating forms of heresy is to give God identifiable form, hence the graven images commandment. That's why Jesus was described as one that we would not find outstanding by Isaiah. I have discussed this topic earlier in the year on my podcast, Christian with a Brain. We are not supposed to put God in a box, whether that box be an old, bearded, caucasian male, or an overweight African-American female, it doesn't matter. The truth is that when even an angel enters the scene, people fall on their faces in awe. Making God a poker buddy isn't going to improve my relationship with Him.
This is also part of what I believe to be the humanization of God. We are trying to fashion God in our image, and this book simply reinforces that idea. We have gone from one extreme (God is an impersonal force that wants to punish me) to the other (God blows smoke rings, listens to punk rock and is my buddy). This is exactly like the enemy. He beats us up with one wrong image of God, then he shoves us all the way off the other end of the shelf by presenting a completely different, wrong image of God.
God is my Father, my Abba, my Friend, my King, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my Fortress, my Strong Tower, my Mother Hen, my Alpha and Omega, my Bread and my Savior and the Word tells me that this is indeed so.
Finally, the philosophy in this book is very weak. In fact, I still don't know the conclusion. If you were to try to communicate the lesson of this book in a syllogism, what would it be? I have an 8 year-old daughter and I hate to sound harsh, but this book terrified me and then never really gave me any satisfying resolution. I believe the problem of evil to be the best arguement in the atheist's arsenal, but this book did nothing to dull its sting. I believe there are powerful and effective answers to address the problem of evil, but in my opinion, this book didn't give them to me.
Wow. I really sound like I hated this book. I hope I haven't offended anyone. But I also have a commitment to communicate what I believe to be true. If you were one of those who really didn't understand the powerful love of God simply by reading the Gospels, then this book was probably a blessing. But other than that, I think it fell way short and may even be destructive for many.
Purportedly, this book will help the reader answer the question "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?". Unfortunately, the book's storyline has "god," in the form of a large African-American woman, residing in a mountain shack with the gardner Jesus and an ethereal, tear-collecting female being representing the Holy Spirit. The lack of theological or Biblical basis for this odd scenerio has one asking why churches have not risen up in the same wrath as was directed at "The DaVinci Code."
Mack, the story's main character, is a man who is haunted by his own personal past, as well as by the disappearance and probable death of his child at the hands' of a serial killer. Spending a weekend at the shack with the unlikely trio, Mack is able to come to terms with his emotional turmoil and to solve his daughter's case. However, he only does this after a near fatal automobile accident which occurs just after he leaves the weekend retreat.
A dear friend recommended this book and gave me her lending copy. She said the book had a profound effect on her. Further, it had helped her to deal with a very unsettling personal situation. I was told to be prepared to weep while reading and to keep a box of Kleenex handy. Understanding that each individual might be affected differently, I was not expecting a spotlight from heaven to shine down while I was reading. Nevertheless, I did expect some thoughtful and thought provoking writing.
Instead, I found the writing in this book to be less than satisfactory. Simplistic and, somewhat trite, it did not inspire me nor did it have any transformational impact. The first third of the book consisted of the basic story and only rated an average review. The second third of the story was implausible and, to Christian believers, probably heretical. Had I based my review on these two parts of the book, it would not have rated above two stars. The third portion of the book had some interesting inspirational thoughts and for that reason caused me to rate this book three stars. The best part of this book was the quote from different historical figures that headed each chapter.
This book is not one to give to individual seeking an answer to their faith questions or to individuals seeking to find a faith. Better choices would be books by John Ortberg, Max Lucado, or Michael Newman; all these authors bring a deep faith and a way of expressing it so that the layperson can reach an understanding of the subject matter.
"The Shack" is not a book that should have been promoted by the press as anything other than a mediocre story with New Age spiritual overtones.
on January 30, 2008
You'll find over a hundred superlatively glowing reviews of this book on Amazon.com, and I think it's because in two of its primary aims -- to challenge your notions of God's "personality" and to assert that He, in all three Persons, loves you deeply and wants an actual relationship with you -- it succeeds vividly. Its colorful language and poignant approach, not to mention its straightforward, "why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" theodicy, are apparently helping to change multitudes of people's minds about what God is like, thankfully liberating them from soul-constricting religion along the way.
Its vividness and popularity are unsettling to me, however, for the book is but one man's fictional and very incomplete depiction of God: God is love, yes, without doubt -- hallelujah! -- but what of the God who kills Ananias and Sapphira for lying (Acts 5:1ff)? Or He who has His angel strike down King Herod because he doesn't properly ascribe praise (Acts 12:19ff)? Let alone the God who "deals out retribution to those who do not know [Him]" in the form of "eternal destruction" (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) and the Jesus who, robe dipped in blood, mouth filled with a sharp sword, eyes like a flame, "judges and wages war," "strike[s] down the nations," "rules...with a rod of iron," and "treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God" (Revelation 19:11ff).
Without even a passing reference to God as ineffable King or worthy Judge, The Shack, despite its merits, is a simplistic, untrustworthy portrait of God. I think part of the reason for the growing hoopla surrounding the book is that in its pictorial writing style, The Shack is all too easily consumed and adopted by people who want their ears -- or eyes, to fit the mode of the prose more accurately -- tickled with images of a doting (if powerful), permanently good-humored god who makes them pancakes on the weekends. Certainly, it's easier to follow a God like this, but it's also delusional, if you take the Bible as truth.
Don't get me wrong: William Young's appreciation for and ability to communicate God's lovingkindness is wonderful, and necessary to a Christian world choked with Law. Nevertheless, if my criticism of The Shack is overly forceful -- and it is; I do like this book -- it's because I see the book being embraced with nothing but naive, uncritical, and untempered enthusiasm.
on December 14, 2008
I really wanted to love this book. Halfway through, I really wanted to LIKE it. In college, we used to call Astronomy 101 "Physics for Poets". This is "Poetry for Physicists". Way too bland and painfully adolescent in it's prose. Then Young tries to explain the Godhead as if speaking to six year-olds. I'm 100% okay with using a comforting, readable storyline with a unique, metaphorical look at the trinity. In other words, I am not offended, just bored. Thing is, this book (A) uses a very heart-wrenching subject matter (the abduction of a child), (B) mostly ignores that important storyline in favor of a almost comical twist, and (C) wants to tie it all up in a neat little bow. The writing is too simplistic for me. I don't need to be dazzled in a "literary" way, but geeze, this should have fallen into the category of pre-teen fiction, not adult fare. In the end, it made me sad that books like this make the bestseller list and create so much buzz.
on March 19, 2009
I finally got around to reading The Shack on my plane ride to Philadelphia. I've heard a lot about it (both good and bad). Unlike many of the critics (which is always the case with critics) I wanted to read it before I made an opinion about it.
The book is hard to get through. The story is hard, it is gut wrenching and it is easy to relate to the story, especially as a dad.
The book is well written, the concepts are interesting, it speaks to you in a powerful way. It challenged me, made me uncomfortable, pushed me, made me think, I had to stop and put the book down and think several times.
One of the problems in much of the Christian world is that we don't want to read books by anybody that we disagree with. Ironically, many Christians disagree with much of the Bible by the way they live. I think that if we are to grow, we need to interact with leaders, authors and people who disagree with us.
One of the things that book pushes on is how we view God. Last night, Jason and I were talking with a bartender about her view of God and she described God as an old man with a beard, much like Gandalf. Is that God? Does The Shack describe correctly? I don't think so, but then, outside the Bible we have a hard time describing God and wrapping our hands around who He is. This is supposed to be the case. Conversations like this book are good to push our conversation about how we view God.
I cannot say that I endorse every theological idea that the book affirms, but then, I can't say that I endorse every theological idea of my favorite pastors or leaders.
My recommendation, read it as a work of fiction. Take what you believe the Bible says and let The Shack push you, stretch you and teach you. Discuss it with someone you respect who can give you some pushback on the book.
I need to be clear though, I liked this book as a work of fiction and not necessarily a theological dissertation of the things I hold to be true in regards to Scripture.
on March 12, 2010
...this book was so poorly written as to be painful. I actually purchased this book because I, myself, have lost a child to extreme violence and suffered with my own great sadness, and the glowing reviews that I came across for it whispered to me of a measure of comfort. I couldn't wait to get a copy and dive in. I needed to feel that kinship with God, even if it was through fiction, that had been lacking since He let my child be brutally murdered and taken me for reasons that I can not fathom. Needed to know that I wasn't alone in my pain. I did find great comfort in C.S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed," for example, so I knew that it was possible for me to seek and find a measure of solace in other people's shared sorrow. I understand that reading a story (that's what it is, a work of fiction) about one man's relationship with God can bring comfort to many who are broken, but dear Lord, this book was a crap salad. The author's lack of writing skill, the syrupy tripe, the ridiculous foreword - Our Hero left home at 13 and 'ended up' overseas somehow for the next part of his life? Coming from farm folk that probably never thought to get him a passport? Oh, please - how stupid does the author think his audience is? The trite "tin box full of worldly possessions" - how overdone a device does the author need to inject into the first few pages? At least I can say that I was forewarned, yet I trundled on, blindly - mea culpa, mea massima culpa. And it only gets worse from there. The author's need to dress almost every phrase with overused similes or metaphors made reading this book distasteful. I actually said to my husband, 'the people that urged this person to pursue a career in writing should be forced to read literature as penance."
Let me just say before I sum up: Please don't take offence if you read this book and you loved it. I'm not attacking you. I'm opining, which is what this space is for. If it changed your life for the better, good for you. I truly am happy that it did. The world needs more people who look at the bigger picture and do their damnedest to love one another. There's too much hate and anger simmering in the general populous. Just don't attack me because I didn't like it.
So here's my review in a nutshell: this book is poorly written drivel that will appeal to the under-read and under-educated who don't know to seek meaning in books of superior structure, quality, and constitution.