Some Thoughts on the Shack Book

Staying on the cutting edge, as always, I just finished the wildly popular Christian book, The Shack.  People have been asking me for a while to read it and “give my thoughts.”  I am not a huge reader, though I go through spurts of reading, and of course, like most of us I wish I read more.  (At least I wish I wanted to read more)

So I finally did get around to read it, and to be honest I am kind of scared to write a full review of the book.  Why?  I am not sure there has been a more polarizing book in a long time.  There are two, very distinct, categories of people that want my thoughts on this book.  First are those that think this is the greatest book ever and is now the definitive Christian book on answering the question of how a Christian should deal with pain and suffering.  The second group are ready to reinstate heresy panels whereby the author may be tried, convicted and excommunicated.

Let me just say that my feelings on the book are, well, shall we say, somewhere in between the two.  I am afraid that whatever I say, I won’t love it enough or hate it enough to satisfy anyone.  “Come on, you spineless weasel! Take a stand.”

I think what he has to say about the “problem of pain” is actually pretty sound and comforting.  He pictures God as not the cause of pain, but one who will use the pain in our lives to bring some good.  All pain, in one form or another, is derived from the world’s separation from God and independence.  Again, God does not cause this pain, but it is a natural consequence from the collective rebellion of people.  Why then does God not choose to intervene and prevent pain?  The author gives a solid two part answer.  God desires to give us freedom and choice, and who knows how much pain and suffering he is preventing.  We will never know, because he prevented it.  Does that leave you unsatisfied?  Probably, and rightly so.  There are some questions that cannot be answered simply, and I don’t believe that even 48 hours in the physical presence of God can give satisfactory, complete answers to some of these questions.

Does the author go too far some times?  Yes.  I would say that he is not a theological scholar when it comes to the Trinity.  Is that going to bend me out of shape?  No.  Was I shocked by his portrayal of God as a black woman?  No.  Was he trying to be shocking?  Yes.  Again, does some of what he does go too far?  Well, what do we even mean by that?  He reduces God to human form as three separate people.  Even the author recognizes this will be incomplete.  Should he have therefore not done it? Of course not.  Anytime we describe or try to explain who God is, we will use limited analogies and words.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.  We just need to recognize the limits, which I believe the author does.

All that to say, I am not a big fan of trying to be shocking for shock value sake.  “God’s a black! woman!  Ooooooohh.”  I found the book to drag in parts.  It still was a pretty quick read.  It is worth your time to read, especially if you have a personal interest in the question of how can their be pain and a loving God.  If you are a theological, doctrinal watchdog, as I can be sometime, you will have to turn some of that off at times and say, “it’s a fiction book.  It’s a fiction book.”

Well, despite my original intent, I did comment some on this.  Did you read it?  What did you think?  Any specific questions that you wish I had answered? Topic I should have covered?  Let me know.


9 Responses to “Some Thoughts on the Shack Book”
  1. Greg says:

    Charlie, you did a great job handling a sensitive subject. If it matters, I see the book and its issues about like you did . . . but my biggest concerns have been created by the number people I heard recommending it that actually thought it was a true story.


    I can guarantee you’ll leave “The Shack” with bad theology if you don’t realize it’s a work of fiction, but such is life in the internet age, I believe. We’ve lost the ability to exercise discretion, reason, and common sense.

  2. Judy Best says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book, feeling stretched to an even more real faith in God than I could ever have imagined. I know it wasn’t theologically right throughout, but I don’t believe the author’s intent was to steer us wrong, but instead draw us closer to God. I too don’t recommend this book to everyone, but I find myself suggesting it to others quite often.

  3. brad says:

    I was totally duped! I thought i was picking up a great buzz-worthy fiction novel, one full of plot and interesting characters (which the first 50 pages were). But then i start noticing, “He’s got an agenda!!! Dangit!!”

    So that’s I left it– pretty disappointed that the little story it had was meant to serve the author’s valid thinking regarding a very, very deep and difficult topic that we won’t understand fully this side of heaven. For where I was at, I wanted less sermons better disguised behind a better story.

  4. Niki B says:

    Have you read his book “he loves me”? I am really struggeling with it. I know God loves me but he portrays it as the only thing that really matters. He doesn’t put any stock in using projects or groups from churches. But I guess that I am all about works for the church because that is how Christ works through youto reach others. However I just feel he discounts too much. I know we love and respect God but is it ok to have a small amount of fear of Him? Maybe I’m wrong and I still have more to read but right now I don’t feel that I am 100% in belief with what this author isportraying…

  5. cloften says:

    Niki B, I have not read that book, so I can’t speak to that book specifically. A couple of things though: first, just because a book is “Christian” doesn’t mean what it teaches honors God or represents Him well. I tend to discount all books, teachings, etc. that tell me about the “one thing.” Second, there is no law that says you have to finish a book. If you want, I can check into it. You could bring your copy to me and I could look it over.

  6. Melissa Simpson says:

    Charlie, has Heidi read it? I just wonder her take on it since we English majors are pretty “un-shockable” as far as content goes and near impossible to offend if something is used for a sound literary purpose.

    I have not read the book, but it’s on my list. My concern is the same one I have with Da Vinci Code: people do not seem to realize that fiction means just that: fiction, not true, made up.

  7. Jules Rusinowski says:

    I liked The Shack. Yeah, it was weird sometimes and not theoligically sound, but what I got out of it was how God loves us right where we are at.
    God revealed Himself as a black woman, because the main character wouldn’t accept God as a father figure, because of his bad experiences with the father/son relationship.
    It reminded me how God persues a realationship with us. He loves us and wants to lead us into a loving relationship with Him. I can see in my life, way before I acknowledged God, that He was working in my life situations to lead me little by little until I realized and was able to accept Christ as my loving Savior and Lord.

  8. cloften says:

    Melissa, Heidi has read it, and she definitely read it through her English major grid. Shoot her an e-mail and I’m sure she would give you her thoughts.

    Jules, thanks for the great word.

  9. Heidi M says:

    I LOVE that he described God as a black woman! Of course, that is not the point. But, still…

    The Shack helped me put new words to my understanding of pain and God’s involvement. It challenged my theology in a way that was at moments uncomfortable but that’s something I enjoy. I have nothing unique to add to your post. If I were as smart as you, I would have written the same review. Seriously. I agreed with every single statement.

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