Katharine's Reviews > The Shack

The Shack by William Paul Young
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
970517
's review
Nov 04, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: life, drama, christian
Read in November, 2008

The Shack was not particularly shocking to me on any level. I didn't find it life-changing, it didn't rock my perceptions of my faith, and it certainly isn't the best book about God I've ever read. On the other hand, neither did I think it was a cesspit of heresy and sacrilege.

In case you don't know, The Shack is about a man named Mack who has suffered great and terrible loss in his life. One weekend he receives a mysterious invitation to journey back to the shack, a place that represents the worst thing that has ever happened to him, the murder of his daughter. At the shack he meets God, literally. The rest of the book is about Mack's healing and eventually forgiving God for what has happened to him.

On a strictly literary level, the book is pretty mediocre. I gave it back to the person from whom I borrowed it, so you're lucky this time – I can't quote extensive passages. But generally, my friend Lise's phrase about prose being both purple and pedestrian applies to The Shack perfectly. The descriptions are garish and awkward, with lots of words like "cacophony" which do not mean what the author thinks they mean. The plot is also set up with a framing device I found very off-putting and strange. It would have been much easier to get into the story, much more immediate, if we'd jumped right in rather than sitting through a long-winded introduction by the author as supposedly the "friend" of the main character, Mack.

As theological metaphor, it does have a few good moments. I'd already heard of this as the book in which God appears as a black woman, so I wasn't particularly shocked by that. I'm not sure I think writing a book for shock value is usually a good idea, but I understand what the author was trying to accomplish by representing God in a way that challenges the usual Western concept of Him. So that doesn't really bother me. I liked the representation of the Trinity, and some of the conversations between God and Mack about suffering, choice, and God's will are very nicely done.

However, there are other books that have done the same thing and done it better. C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters was the one that came immediately to mind. I'm tempted to say that anyone who was swept away by The Shack needs to read a little more and probably explore the Christian heritage farther back than John Eldridge.

As I drew closer to the end of the book, I found some commentary that did bother me. The Shack, like so many other trendy Christian books, seems to think that it is too cool to call itself Christian. I do understand that like Mack in the book, there are people who have been let down by the church. I also get that bad things have been done in the name of religion. But that does NOT make "church" a dirty word, and it does not make "religion" irrelevant, and I'm tired of hearing it from books who are too snobbish to say what they are. There is nothing wrong with being "religious", OKAY? All that means is that you live out your faith, among other things by getting together to support others who believe the same things. This is established in the Bible – it's not some evil conspiracy.

Same thing with TEH EVIL of "ritual" – that is an age-old way to worship God and if you find it boring, go find a church that doesn't have any, but quit implying that makes you a better Christian. Remember, God is not only the Creator of waterfalls and earthquakes, he's also the God who invented music theory and mathematics. Maybe sometimes order and logic is okay with Him. THINK about it. *sigh* All right, I'm done ranting. This has been bothering me.

On the whole, I'm not going to get all twisted in knots about The Shack, either way. If you find it helpful and thought-provoking, yay for you. I'd suggest that you might want to check out C.S. Lewis as well, but whatever works.

Meanwhile, I'll just be over here getting all religious and enjoying my rituals at church, thanks.
23 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Shack.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

11/04/2008 page 10
3.97%
06/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11)




dateUp arrow    newest »

James LOL bomb


message 10: by Skylar (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:25AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Skylar Burris Well put.

Especially this--

"The Shack, like so many other trendy Christian books, seems to think that it is too cool to call itself Christian"





Barb Lawrence If the book HAD been labeled Christian, it never would have reached the wide audience it has reached. The fact that it's a New York Times Bestseller and has touched many lives is a testament to its power. But many people are put-off by labels, and would not have opened the cover of a book with a religious label.


Katharine Barbara wrote: "If the book HAD been labeled Christian, it never would have reached the wide audience it has reached."

Maybe, maybe not, Barbara. A lot of "Christian" books have been best-sellers too. But that's not what I meant. I don't care if people label their books "Christian" or not -- actually I think good books are just good books. My point was about all the commentary within the text itself -- the remarks that Jesus is not a Christian, church is unnecessary, etc, etc, etc. I don't have the book with me so I can't quote exactly. The snide comments about church people being hypocrites. That is just an oversimplification that plays to the people who think they don't really need a church community, and adds to the stereotype that all churches are uptight and out of touch with God. THAT is the attitude I object to. Not the labeling of the book itself as "Christian" or not "Christian."



message 7: by Karen L. (last edited Jan 19, 2009 09:42AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen L. Katharhino said:The snide comments about church people being hypocrites. That is just an oversimplification that plays to the people who think they don't really need a church community, and adds to the stereotype that all churches are uptight and out of touch with God. THAT is the attitude I object to. Not the labeling of the book itself as "Christian" or not "Christian."

WORD Katharino Word! or as my generation says, true.



Barb Lawrence Interesting. I have read, conversely, other reviews that said how much readers appreciated that viewpoint. So I guess, as with all things, people have varied reactions depending on experience. My experience is with those stereotypes, so I prefer thinking God appreciates my relationship with him even though I do not participate in a church community anymore.


message 5: by Karen L. (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:26AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen L. Concerning Church Community and not being in one: A friend of mine in a discipleship class had us go to www.biblegateway.com and type in "one another" in the search. So many scriptures popped up it was incredible. I also typed in "Love one another," and this also brought up a lot of scriptures. Jesus lived in a community of believers himself with his apostles. He also lives in community as a Trinity. Community is God's model. We are born into a community as one born into a family. You will never find a perfect church out there, because Christians who attend church know that they need their brothers and sisters in Christ. They are weak and in need and that is why fellowship is so good, it helps us to grow and change into the likeness of Christ. I consider myself a sinner who needed rescued, and like someone in A.A. or other support groups, do need encouragement. I also need to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. And that's it.

I do hope that for any who are touched by God through The Shack , that they seek out a Church Community to be a part of.


message 4: by Skylar (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:26AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Skylar Burris It's certainly possible to have a relationship with God apart from a church community, but it is difficult, and I did feel that the author belittled too much the role of church in enabling the individual to commune with and grow in God. (John Donne's sermon "No man is an island" comes to mind.)

These days it's hip to be "spiritual," but it's bad to be "religious," and for me, The Shack reflected, to some extent, that modern cliché. I am reminded of a joke someone told awhile back. He was speaking of a girl who said to him, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." He replied, "I'm not sincere, but you're interesting."

I am not belittling spirituality, but I am suggesting that fewer people are capable of being "spiritual" than think they are, and that "religion" is a good prop for those of us who, unlike the mystics and the saints, have not yet transcended human conventions and institutions and rituals to commune with God in a desert by ourselves. That is, I think you can be religious without being spiritual, but I think to be _truly_ spiritual, you must first be religious. These days, it is popular to try to skip the step ladder (religion, church, a community of accountability) and try to leap straight for the summit (spirituality), and the end result is often communion with a God of our own personal creation: a friendly God, who makes hot breakfasts like Aunt Jemima, who wears fully comfortable flannels, who never drives the moneychangers out of his temple with a whip, and who can fit conveniently on a Hallmark card.

I really shouldn't make comments after two glasses of wine, should I? No, I DO get what he was getting at much of the time, and I do see the value in many of his points. But I also think that there is comforting those who have been hurt by bad religion, and there is steering those who haven't away from the comforts of institutional religion, and this book seems, to me, to lie somewhere between those two poles, with potential for inspiring either spiritual healing or spiritual complacency. But my main objections to this book have never been theological. I just think it's badly written, with flat, undeveloped characters, ethnic stereotypes for the Trinity, and extreme didacticism.



message 3: by Skylar (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:26AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Skylar Burris "but I understand what the author was trying to accomplish by representing God in a way that challenges the usual Western concept of Him. So that doesn't really bother me."

That didn't really bother me, either, but it bothered me that he seemed to think he was hip and cutting-edge for doing so—as if it has occurred to hardly any Christians anywhere that God is not, literally, an Anglo-Saxon man with a long white beard. I'm not bothered by God being portrayed as black, or as a woman. I'm bothered by Him being betrayed as a figure that can be contained on the label of a syrup bottle. (Edit: I meant to type portrayed, not betrayed, but maybe it was a Freudian slip.)

I guess what it really comes down to is that I don't think it is possible to represent God convincingly in any human form apart from the Jesus of the Gospels. Christians have a human representation of God already. It is a representation that touches us in our humanity, without decreasing our awe of God. He who has seen the Jesus of the Gospels HAS seen the Father. He who has seen the Aunt Jemima of The Shack...well, I'm not sure what he's seen. A small piece of God. (And that's really it for tonight; I promise. I haven't stirred the waters of this Shack controversy in a long time.)



Jacque I agree, CS Lewis is a great author. Another British author to check out: J. I. Packer (Knowing God). The Helper is an enlightening book on the Holy Spirit by Catherine Marshall the author by "A Man Called Peter." Lots more wonderful books via IV Press. I also loved "The Rest of the Gospel."


message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth E. R. This is my second favorite review of The Shack. Well done! I'm also enjoying the discussion in the Comments, thanks to your review.


back to top