Book Club:: The Shack (or…Mack and Cheese)

I really wanted to like this book. I did, I promise. I’d heard about it a year ago and it’s been on my ‘to read’ list ever since. The reviews I had read ranged from calling it ‘heresy’ all the way to a ‘life changing’ book. I tend to ignore reviews and form my own opinions of books (like Velvet Elvis, for example, which I loved even in all it’s controversy). The Shack, by William (Willie) P. Young, was not anything that I hoped it was going to be.

First, my thoughts on the story as a fictional account. The writing style felt contrived and inauthentic, and although the subject matter was heavy, I felt it was dealt with in a surface level manner. The answers that Mack asked and had answered by ‘Papa’ were just too simple for such a dark issue. For me, it felt like these were normal interactions, “Mack was hanging out with Jesus. ‘Jesus, why is there pain and suffering in the world?’ Mack asked. Jesus said, ‘Well Mack, you guys screwed it all up in the garden of Eden.” {Dramatic oversimplification, I know.} I felt like I was being fed ‘churchy’ answers to the big questions, like in Sunday school where every answer is ‘Jesus’. I think this feeling was furthered because of the quality of the books I have read recently. . . If I had read this book before reading some of the others, I may have enjoyed it more. (Edit: The way I feel about ‘Christian’ books is the same way I feel about ‘Christian’ music. It should be held to the same caliber and quality as non-Christian items – if even called ‘Christian’ at all. After all ‘Christian’ makes a great noun but an awful adjective.)

Now, on to Biblical ideas. There were several issues that I had about what this book claims about God. I don’t claim to be a theologist, but I think Ben Witherington did a good job summing up what I think about this book spiritually on his blog. It’s a long read but it hits on the key points that did not sit well with me, including the non-hierarchical trinity (which could be argued either way), ‘Papa’ having the same scars on his/her wrists as Jesus (only the Son took on flesh), a somewhat un-Biblical characterization of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and anti-authority (law, order, rule) speech. All that being said, I don’t believe that we have the capacity to understand everything about God, He is a mystery, so what I think is a limited human viewpoint.

Lastly, I’m not one to make light of others religious experiences, but it is hard for me to digest that this account is truth. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. . . I choose to think that it isn’t.

I appreciated what Ben said at the end of his blog post: I enjoyed “[the book’s] strong stress on the relational and deeply personal nature of our God. I am equally thankful for the message that God is much greater than we could ever think or imagine. I like as well the emphasis on love and freedom, rightly understood, as well as its admission that not all roads lead to God, for Jesus is the way.”

I agree with that.

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9 Comments

  1. elliek
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I talked with Phil a little about this book this morning. I probably won’t read it until near the end of the month. If anything, I think it’s good to have read the books people are talking about. I think it’s interesting, though, so many Christians shunned books like The DaVinci Code, but are really into this book, which is also fictional and has some shaky claims to it as well….I just think it’s good to read books that others are reading so we can talk intelligently on the topic and have good answers for non-believers…it will be an interesting read…it will probably be really interesting conversation at book club too, too bad I won’t be there 😦

  2. Elizabeth
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 1:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I agree Ellie – it will spark great discussion. I don’t think it’s should be shunned by any means, I think that people should read everything with an open mind. I also agree that it’s good to be reading books that are popular right now because then we can speak intelligently about them.

    Good comments!

  3. Posted September 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I actually liked that the explanations of deep subjects were simply worded – that speaks more to me than complex explanations that need explanations themselves. I read it with the thought in mind that not every bit of it would be completely accurate, because it’s not the Bible. That’s probably pretty true about any book about God, fiction or non-fiction.
    One thing I really enjoyed about it was seeing a picture of the fellowship that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God really wants us to come into that fellowship (John 17). You can’t really put an image to God the Father or the Holy Spirit, and I think it went without saying that the way the author pictured them wasn’t intended to be an actual representation. That’s why I liked the fact that the personification of the Father changed.
    And the explanation of sin and evil met me right where I was. It may be simple that it originated in the garden, but the truth of it helped me believer more fully that there is no evil or meanness in God, and that brought healing to my heart. I don’t think it was intended to be a literary classic, so it’s not really comparable to that genre. I enjoyed it and am recommending it to others. 🙂

  4. Elizabeth
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Dar for your input!

    I think everyone that reads this book is going to read it through whatever their current life circumstances are, therefore will get varying degrees of meaning out of it. Where I am right now, it just didn’t resonate with me. There were elements of it that I enjoyed and agreed with for sure. I don’t want to discredit the entire book by any means.

    As far as it being a literary classic, I don’t think it was trying to do that either. I just felt it wasn’t written to as high of a quality as I would have liked. I don’t feel like that because a novel is ‘Christian’ allows it to skimp on quality.

  5. Posted September 3, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is one I’ve been hearing about and have tossed around reading it, I’ve kinda avoided the whole ‘Christian fiction’ genre in general though. To paraphrase Dave Edwards, do we really want there to be a Christian fiction category…everyone already thinks we’re just making it up…

  6. Elizabeth
    Posted September 3, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Chris. I agree. I don’t really like that there are Christian categories of anything (food, t-shirts, music, books, videos, schools). I think it shows the world that we want to circle in on ourselves, create our own world and have our own ‘Christian’ stuff. We’re told to be in the world but not of it – that doesn’t mean create our own world and let all of the Christian junk be a part of it. Personally I think we miss out on loving well, living well and blessing others if we have a ‘circle up and ignore the world’ mentality.

  7. Posted September 3, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Wow, don’t think I will be reading this one! A book has to be superb quality before I will devote any time to it! Even at tha, it still takes me 3 months to read one at this point 🙂 haha!

  8. Posted September 4, 2008 at 12:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I don’t think this book has ever been marketed as “Christian fiction” — just because the author is a Christian and Jesus happens to appear in the book doesn’t make it that either. Also…the author never claimed to be a writer, he just wrote a story for his kids to give them a picture of the healing process he walked through from some issues in childhood. That being said…I thought it was a pretty good book.

  9. Elizabeth
    Posted September 4, 2008 at 7:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It’s true that it’s not technically labeled as ‘Christian Fiction’ in bookstores, but I feel when churches begin promoting the book to their members (which I’ve seen a lot of frequently) it begins to approach that label. In the preface, the author does say that Mack asked him to write the book because Mack knew he was not a writer. Willie does not claim to be a practiced writer but does say that he enjoys it. Maybe I should have cut him slack for not being a professional writer. . .

    I really don’t want to denounce the book completely, it has some good qualities. It was over hyped in my mind and I just didn’t enjoy it the way I expected to. This book will spur many great discussions and that is a fantastic result for this book to have.

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