The Shack

The Shack, by William-P-Young. Its an Amazon best seller and someone in your church has probably already read it.

Shackbook SmallI hardly ever read books that are hugely popular, especially when they are hugely popular among the Christian population. But The Shack caught my interest. A few months ago in California I saw my friend Elbert glued to “The Shack” and figured the book was probably a good read. When the controversies started on the blogosphere, I decided to buy it. Before I could order it, I found it on my bookshelf along with the other books sent to me for my blog review.I guess I am a little behind on that pile of books to be reviewed.

Anyway, I started reading it and got halfway. Its a good book. It reminded me of the frenzy around Frank Perretti’s “This Present Darkness” 20 years ago. We were living in Portland, Oregon at the time. I was a Bible College student and Debbie was a nurse and were among the people absolutely hooked on Perretti’s book. Since The Shack is based in Oregon, my old stomping ground for 5 years, it struck a chord and got my attention.

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The Shack reads a little like a Frank Perretti classic but its not as complex or gripping and neither does it produce paranoia in the weak minded. However, it goes deeper into the psyche than Perreti ever did. Its more a psychological journey than a conspiracy thriller,

Its also a bit like one of George MacDonalds fairy tales, especially where God is portrayed as a female (The Wise Woman, At The Back of the North Wind) but it lacks the mystery and subtlety of MacDonald. The Shack is far more obvious and forward.

Unfortunately, The Shack is also cheapened by well-used Christian cliches and drags horribly in the middle where the story gets stuck in a theological conversation about the Trinity – which i did not struggle with theologically, despite the accusations of modalism from the fundie bloggers. My problem was more with the narrative – why is the character, obviously broken and stricken with heartbreaking loss, so determined to chase down intellectual theories on the Trinity? It just doesn’t play. Seems more like a good excuse for the writer to roadtest some interesting thoughts.

But if you want to read what everyone is reading, and if you are a pastor with half the ladies in your church reading this book (yes, its big with the ladies) then you should probably read it. I showed it to a friend and she downed the book in less than 24 hours. Some people really LOVE this book. I am not one of those people but I can see why it appeals.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

23 Comments

  • So, Andrew…did you just stop where it “bogged down” in the middle, or did you finish the book?
    I guess I didn’t get bogged down in that spot because I am in the middle of processing a paper on perichoresis, and so was fascinated by those ideas on trinitarian interaction in the story. And once I got to chapter four, I couldn’t put it down until I was finished….
    Thanks for weighing in (at least half way) … and for being kinder than many in the way you talk about his writing style — being as this is his first book and he was basically writing for his children. I have found it most helpful in the way one comes away with a clear sense of God’s love for all his Eikons — no matter how big their cracks may be.

  • I read this last month and wrote about it on my blog
    (I didn’t discuss the plot)
    I can see why some people love it too. In my opinion there’s a shortage of depictions of God as this friendly and accessible and kind and fun. People appreciate anything which gives them hope God could possibly be like that.
    I agree about the cliches.

  • Thanks for this review. I read it because others were reading it, and while I did finish it, I wasn’t as charged up about it as so many others. Like you I wasn’t particularly bothered by the theology, in fact I thought he was doing some interesting and insightful stuff with the theology.
    As I was trying to figure it out, I thought more of John Eldridge than Peretti. Eldridge too has really made the rounds and some people I really respect like his work. Only his books don’t do anything for me at all.
    It hit me that such books are really powerful for people who are coming with the same spiritual questions or theological approach. For people who are really dealing with a distorted image of God, Young’s book is immensely refreshing. I have different issues and different questions I suppose.
    I really did like his approach, however, and hope that we see more theology in narrative form. I commend him a lot for getting his message into hands of people who might not ever pick up a regular theology book.

  • If Driscoll had only said “it’s big with the ladies”, those would have been kind words indeed. According to a youtube video he did on the subject, it appears to be on his list of books to burn…immediately. But anyhow…
    I, being a lady, and (as Patrick accurately states above), dealing with a distorted image of God, did find the book wonderfully refreshing.
    I also found the backstory to this book and the group that published it when no one else would, Windblown Media, interesting.

  • the shack, Grace, appears to be more popular among the female members [not being the least inferior in any way and ecclesiologically included since christ has broken the barrier between male and female, etc] of the population, more than the males, according to at least one report.
    or in other words, its really big with the ladies.
    it would be nice to ask why it appeals to them more . . . or are we not allowed to ask those questions anymore without sounding offensive?
    Hey . . this isnt Grace Driscoll bugging me about her husband again? . . . oh its you, Grace from Kingdom Grace . . . sorry.

  • Sorry Andrew. Your post caught me at a grumpy moment, and I broke my personal policy of not leaving grumpy comments.
    I believe it was “not complex, obvious, and cliche” combined with “big with the ladies” that apparently set me off, cuz I guess us little ladies just like that sort of stuff.
    My experience has been that people either like it or don’t, and there isn’t much benefit in “selling” it to those who don’t care for the book. I’m not sure if the appeal is specific to gender, perhaps it might be personality type.

  • Mark – i read your blog last week and saw that you really liked that book.
    i didnt realize he only spent $300 to market it (BIG BROWNIE POINTS!) or that he wrote it for his children (thanks to those of you for saying that)
    if i had known that i would not have thrown his book in with the heavy weights for comparison.
    it really is quite remarkable then – this viral word of mouth thing inside the Christian community. Even from a social trends perspective, the book is worth knowing about.

  • I’m kind of surprised that you were underwhelmed by The Shack, Andrew–I’d think its message would be right up your alley. After all, even self-confessed cranky Calvinists have enjoyed it!
    You might be interested in a little backstory to how the book came into being. Windblown Media was formed by Brad Cummings and Wayne Jacobsen… (dividing this into two posts ’cause Typepad always bans me to spam-link oblivion when I include more than two URLs in a post…)

  • Finally, Wayne did this great free audio download series called Tranistions that explores the practical implications of emerging theology/spirituality without all the nomenclature–including a talk titled “The Cross: Cure not Punishment.”
    Also, this just in regarding Windblown’s paradigm-shifting, precedent-setting deal with Hachette.

  • hey . . i didnt know all this stuff but i will treat the book differently from now on.
    throw me a bone . . need the info . . .

  • Hey, I know a little more, because I’ve been at these sights soaking them up like a sponge. Anyhow. the Shack book got its start among the listeners of a weekly podcast at thegodjourney.com where Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings talk to each other and others who are involved in relational church (generally outside of “instutional churches”). Their audience appears to be largely in their 40’s/50’s and 60’s who have spent decades in the IC and no longer see it as a thriving option for themselves. They don’t seem to be quite sure what “emerging church” is (though other folks regularly accuse them of being “emergent”). There are probably numerous parallels. Hey, a parallel universe you didn’t know about. Guess you learn something new every day :).

  • Very interesting, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book, I have heard about it from a lot of friends and they said they liked it and the different perspective that it showed.

  • While reading The Shack, I kept thinking it would be great if there was a study/discussion guide to go with it. I finally decided that God was urging me to write one. I would be glad to send you a copy that you are welcome to copy and share with others. Email me at prayerdigm.bookstudy@yahoo.com
    Trish Pickard

  • I read the book twice already. To me it’s a refreshing attempt at describing what Christrianity is all about, analyzing the nature of the relationship between the pesons in the trinity, and an attempt at explaining why there are so much unjust sufferings in the world loved by God. It’s an unconventional way of doing theology and that is exactly why it is refreshing. And there is lots of theological truths in the book.

  • “My problem was more with the narrative – why is the character, obviously broken and stricken with heartbreaking loss, so determined to chase down intellectual theories on the Trinity?”
    alright, can you tell i’m looking over some stuff i missed- sorry for the late comment…… but i had to respond to your quote here…… Because it’s an attempt to KNOW God, nice lil package, mental gymnastics producing endorphins that numb the pain of the hurt. Intellectualism is always contending with intimacy. It also goes along the lines of if we get our theology right, then we know everything, and therefor can control it by putting it into more nice lil packages- oh, yeah then preach on “said theology” ….. oops i’m digressing………. you know how far i can go down this rabbit trail….. religion keeping us out of relationship, head vs heat 18 inches of separation – the longest distance in eternity. xok8

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