It’s been quite awhile since I have written a blog, why is that? At any rate, I have recently finished reading the ever controversial book The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. Many of you (implying that there are many of you reading this blog post which in truth is highly unlikely) are probably thinking, “Where has she been? This book was written years ago.” Actually, I believe the book was written the year my first child was born, so where I was, was in a sleep deprived state with no business reading anything but Baby’s First Year books.
To be honest, I read this book for the same reason I read the Twilight series books. There was a lot of hype around it and I wanted to see what it was all about for myself. I had several people “warn” me about it before I began reading it, so I delved into the book very cautiously.
It was a difficult book to get through. The Great Sadness was agonizing. In my opinion, Young paints a worthy picture of the emotions felt by a parent who loses a child in such a despicable manner. You come out the other end of The Great Sadness an emotional basket case. And I must ask myself if this is intentional for what lies ahead. It is what happens after this portion of the book that has so many Christ-followers up in arms. Since reading the novel I have listened to some sermons and read many blogs and book reviews pertaining to the story. I have also asked trusted friends their opinions.
From what I can come up with, this book has served as a great healing tool for those who have experienced a Great Sadness of their own. Through his novel, Young has helped parents who have suffered the loss of a child cope with anger, grief, and other emotions that are difficult to sort through. This is a sadness I hope and pray to never know, and I am glad that this book can be used to help the healing of a parent’s broken heart. This is definitely on the positive swing of the pendulum.
However, there are some doctrinal issues with Young’s writing. I am not a theologian by any means, but several times throughout the novel I found myself thinking, “I don’t think that’s right,” or, “I don’t think the Bible actually says that,” or, “I think the Bible actually says the opposite of that!” Here is a great blog written by Tim Challies that sums up many of the Biblical issues of the novel that I encountered along the literary journey. It’s a long read, but he says it much more eloquently than I ever could.
As a literary analysis, the ending is predictable. I was anticipating the interaction with the Trinity to either have come in a vision or dream and that is essentially what happened. Can God speak to us in visions and dreams? I believe yes. Would He or could He in this particular manner? Hmmm…
In addition to all of the above, my main beef with The Shack lies more with the author, than the novel itself. First and foremost, the forward in the book is fictitious. There is no Mackenzie Allen Phillips. Young eludes the reader into thinking that this story is based off of actual events. It is not. Maybe this is not such a big deal, Dan Brown does this all the time in his novels and I’m blogging about him. Maybe I am being too critical. But, why does Young include the ambiguous foward to his book? Would it have the same affect without the confusing forward? Is he trying to make the reader believe that what he is writing is Truth? I don’t know, but it makes me very suspicious. Another thing that makes me suspicious is that upon further investigation, Young reveals (via his blog and the back of his novel) that although he has not experienced the loss of a child he has experienced a Great Sadness in his life, but he shouldn’t have to reveal to you what that specifically is or it’s impact on who he is or how it has shaped him, it should be enough for you to read his book and accept that he too has suffered. I find this patronizing on so many levels. Please do not go out of your way to relate to those that are suffering only to say that you are unwilling to share your personal story. What is the motivation behind this stance? Again, I will say it makes me suspicious of intent, motivation, and integrity on Young’s part. Another item I find patronizing? The last page of the book includes an ad for something called “The Missy Project.” This again eludes the reader in to thinking that there is some sort of foundation or organization set up in honor of this lost child, but in reality it is some sort of “project” based on a fictitious character. I don’t get it. If this thing is legit, there are so many other names it could have been called. Naming it after a fake girl, in my opinion, is in very poor taste and unsympathetic to those who have actually lost their precious children.
One last critical remark: I do believe Young has a political/religious agenda that is revealed in many parts of the book. He downplays the significance of the Bible, the importance of the church, and up-plays (is that even a word?) many aspects of universalism.
I would like to think that I am an avid reader. I read a lot of books where authors set up their own agendas – be it political, religious, cultural, etc., and although I might disagree with them I can still appreciate the story they are telling. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate this story as a story of healing; as one man’s struggle to overcome grief and anger, and come to terms with God and the evils of the world. I may even be liberal enough to think that possibly one could have a dream similar to Mack’s and wake up feeling as though God had spoken to him. The story does have snippets of wisdom. I think what makes many Jesus-followers concerned is that people will take this fictitious account of how the God of the Universe interacts with humanity, and take it as Truth. It’s fiction. And what I am left wondering is did the author intend for you to take it as such? Or did he have a larger agenda in mind?