My Trip to “The Shack”

William P. Young has sold more than a million copies of his novel “The Shack”. It is about a tragedy that strikes a family in Oregon and how the father—a man named Mack—copes with his great loss.

If you want to read the book, do not read this blog.

But then again—I have read many books a second and third and fourth time: children especially like to hear the same stories over and over again. The pleasure of good literature is not diminished simply because we already know the plot.

The Shack is not good literature and it is not good theology and it is not good psychology. Few people will read it more than once and many people—like me—will struggle to read it the first time. I put aside The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian in order to read this book, but I am eager to get back to a good book.

Mack takes his children on a camping trip and while there his daughter is abducted and murdered. It all happens near an old shack up in the woods by a lake. Mack is a Christian, in a manner of speaking, and he has trouble dealing with this tragedy.

Mack returns to the shack and meets God, who is a black woman. Jesus is there also and the Spirit, who has the name Sarayu. I am sure the narrative explained the meaning of this name but I must have missed that part. It is easy to miss an explanation because most of the text is nothing but God, or Jesus, or Sarayu explaining to Mack the meaning of, well, just about everything. The plot is thin, the characters shallow; it is chapter after chapter of either Jesus, God, or Spirit explaining to Mack what he does not know.

Oddly enough, it is pages and pages of theological “explanation” before Mack ever wonders about his daughter and where she is and how she is. Seems that would be the first thing on my mind.

God, however, is concerned about Mack’s human tendency toward independence. This is the root of all earthly problems, including loneliness, selfishness, hostility, and greed. Surrendering it for a relationship of love and trust is the cure for all human ills.

At the very end, Mack finds the body of his slain daughter, returns to civilization, leads authorities to that site, which leads (we learn in the final two sentences) to the arrest of the criminal and the discovery of many other bodies. And all live happily every after, it seems.

You can read more about it at their web site:

2 comments so far

  1. Chuck Queen on

    Dwight, I think your criticism here is too harsh. Yes, it’s not very good literature. And I could invest a great deal of discussion about some of the theology: his conception of an ontological Trinity in conversation with each other (this was really hard for me; I do not conceive of the Trinity as seperate divine beings);his view of the literalness of the fall and his attribution of evil to the eating of the forbidden fruit; his ideas of the self-limiting of God; his explanation of evil in the world, etc. Some of his discussion is simplistic. But what I liked about it, was his emphasis on forgiveness, grace, and relationship. This is not a heaven and hell gospel and the church desperately needs this. The whole idea of “hell” is killing us. He understands judgment as restorative and redemptive, not retributive–that message alone is worth wading through the trivial conversations between the members of the Trinity. And people are reading it (over a million and still counting) and many evangelicals have been introduced to a different way of imagining God–as a loving, caring Parent who never gives up on his or her children. In spite of its shortcoming, if it contributes to a healthier image of a more compassionate God then it can’t be a bad thing. I had folks in my church that wanted to discuss the book; I had 20 people or so come out for it. They didn’t find the book boring; they loved it.

  2. Jinny Vicroy on

    Dwight, i found it very entertaining. As an explanation of how he dealt wtih his distress. He struggled with his faith and came back home so to speak. I agree with the above writer, it gave one a personal glimpse of hope and grace, “not as the world gives”. Of course it isn’t realistic, it’s fantasy. I would not put it in the category of CS Lewis or Ted Dekkar or even Randy Alcorn but I would not dismiss it either.

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