I’ve just finished reading The Shack. It’s a book that has caused a huge stir among certain Christian groups in the US, not least because of its depiction of God. So it has been hugely hyped at both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum (and many in-between) and that’s been the main reason I’ve avoided reading it. But I had to spend a few pounds to make up the value of a book order to get free shipping and thought I’d add it in.
I’m very glad I did. I found it to be quite a compelling read. Just to be clear – it’s a novel and it’s ‘fiction’. By that I mean that the story is made up. Like many novels it’s a composite of the author’s experience, circle of friends, family and so on. In that respect, the outline story isn’t even all that great. It’s contrived and compressed and wouldn’t generally merit a second glance in a discount book shop. It’s also a bit ‘American’. But, if you ignore that aspect of it and treat it simply as a vehicle for the ‘main story’ then you’ll find a very thought-provoking piece of writing.
On one level it’s an apologetic, on another it’s very evangelistic but I enjoyed it for its theology. It can be read ‘lightly’ and without any real engagement but then it would be a pretty poor novel. But it deserves to be read ‘engagingly’. It does a great job, in my opinion, of trying to find words to describe the Trinity and the consequences of its presentation of the Trinity (I don’t want to give away too much – it is genuinely worth reading). It stirs up issues of ecclesiology and what it means to be ‘church’. It challenges Christian behaviour and our response to others. It tackles the big questions of evil and why do bad things happen. It touches on eschatology and heaven and rebirth. Above all it’s a story about redemption and what it really means.
In many respects it resonates with my own developing theology. It comes up against the usual language barriers when a word or phrase is used that you twitch a little at. But the the book’s trying to speak of God and language is never sufficient to do that. So in that respect, the book isn’t ‘perfect’. But then I’ve yet to come across a theology book that is. It would be a great book to run a discussion group on. I suspect it would challenge many of the popular conceptions of God and the Christian life.
I do see why it created such a stir when it appeared. Conservative evangelicals especially were up in arms (here’s a little spoiler – God the Father is mostly portrayed as a comfortably built Afro-American woman – but there’s a very good reason for that). It definitely challenges much ‘cosy’ Christianity. It certainly challenges Sunday Christians. It gives Bibliolatry a real savaging. What it does emphasise though, over and over again, is that being a Christian is about being in a relationship with God. Where the book may well challenge you is what the nature of that relationship is.