I wrote this review of the The Shack just over three years ago to share on Facebook. It was causing quite a stir in Christian circles back then. Opinion was divided between those who saw the book as modern day Pilgrim's Progress and those who saw it as voice of the Devil himself. I've not heard so much about it recently so perhaps its influence was fleeting. Whatever the case I've decided to publish my review here.
The Shack largely passed me by until about four weeks ago, but once I had heard of the hype surrounding it I decided to give it a go. Unusually for a contemporary Christian fiction book I (or rather my wife Michelle) found the book in Waterstones on the 'three for two' table. This was enough to convince me that this book was not just for the Christian market. Online reviews are divided –this book is either the greatest work of Christian fiction since Pilgrim's Progress or it has been penned by the hand of Satan himself to deceive God's people. Christians I know personally are divided, many taking the view that they shouldn't read it at all. So having made the decision to read it, what do I think?
Firstly, its literary merits. The storyline is fairly compelling, it has a good plot, and its perfectly readable. However, it is not a great book and certainly not a Pilgrim's Progress for our generation. It does not come close in the depth of allegory of Bunyan, nor that of C S Lewis. I cringed somewhat at some of the prose. I found that the depiction of God the Father as an African-American woman as much a literary problem as a theological one. Of course that's the point though-- the depiction of God in this way is supposed to challenge our preconceptions. I suppose that if this is a starting point that this is no bad thing. However, if we change our view of God from an old white man like Gandalf to a black woman who likes cooking, then we merely exchange one misconception of God for another.
This leads me onto the book's theological merits. Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church unpacks the unbiblical view of the Trinity depicted in The Shack. Driscoll is more qualified than I am to explain these points, so I'll leave my readers to consider his views for themselves. Many reviewers on Amazon claim that The Shack helped them to understand the doctrine of the Trinity [better], though I'm surprised that a work of literature can succeed where pastors and theologians have not. I suppose that my point here is that I, personally, don't seek to learn theology from a work of literature, not even Langland, Bunyan, Tolstoy or CS Lewis. I discover deep truths (and errors) in them of course, but them again, I should never assume that other people think in the same way as me.
So where does this leave us? Like Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life this book is both over-hyped and over-demonised. From both the literary and the theological point of view there are a million worse things to read than The Shack, many of them for sale in Christian bookshops. However, there are also many greater works of Christian fiction-- the Chronicles of Narnia and the Pilgrim's Progress for starters. When I next set foot in an North American Christian bookshop, I fear that I will see Shack notebooks, Shack pens, Shack mugs and Airfix model shacks in the 'holy hardware' section. Anyway these are my thoughts. I know many will disagree. I say if you needed to read The Da Vinci Code to see what all the fuss was about, then you'll need to read this too.