UPDATE:Tim Challies and I couldn’t disagree more on this review. He really disliked the book, and I – and my family so far- have been deeply moved and helped by it. That’s the way it goes.
The emerging church, whatever that is, is producing a body of literature of its own that reflects its particular approach to spirituality and theology. The Shack, an unusual novel by William P. Young, may be a significant contribution to that particular theological literature. Or you may just want to read it for a more ordinary reason: William P. Young wants to introduce you to what it means to be loved by the Trinitarian God, and he’s created a compelling story to do so in a way few sermons could ever begin to do.
Though written as a novel, The Shack is mostly a series of theological conversations and experiences between the main character and God, framed between a short plot, and covering a full menu of experiential and spiritual topics. Eugene Peterson’s recommendation compares The Shack to Pilgrim’s Progress, and while I doubt that comparison is particularly appropriate, The Shack is a book that can generate much conversation among anyone with thoughts of God and sure controversy among the rigidly certain. Through the author’s choice to present difficult theological concepts in a creative, even fantastic way, readers who would not approach theology will find themselves drawn into deep waters. Young has taken a dive into deep waters, and it’s an adventurous swim back to shore.
Young is not a master of elegant prose (though his descriptions of the indescribable are well done), but he is wonderfully passionate about the love of God. This is a book that will leave certain aspects of the Gospel indelible impressed on the reader: the nature of the Trinity, God’s personal love for us, the meaning of trust and forgiveness, and the constant creative presence of the Holy Spirit. Young takes many chances, and while not all of them pay off equally, those that do are pretty magnificent. ( I can’t remember setting in a classroom and being moved to tears by a novel before, certainly not one in the “Christian” market.)
Those inclined to look for emerging church error or general heresy won’t be disappointed, and I am sure Young enjoys some of this theological and traditional mischief. I’d recommend putting up the doctrine gun for the duration of this book, and letting the story entertain and explore. This isn’t a confession or a catechism, but it is something a lot of people will read and absorb. It is difficult to not be drawn into the central character’s “Great Sadness,” and the transforming experience that sends him back into the world a changed man is one all readers will find themselves envying. If you can read this book as what it was meant to be, and not as a chapter of someone’s Systematics, it will work on the level we most need such a story: our own sense of intimacy with God.
(I’m not minimizing Young’s theology, and I don’t agree with all of it by any means. But this is a book to leave you talking, thinking, praying and worshipping. At least Young swung for the fences instead of playing it safe. It’s provided wonderful impetus for my prayers since reading it.)
Theological novels are a difficult genre, and I won’t say that The Shack achieves all what we might hope for in such a book. Still, despite a few less than stellar aspects, I must say I found the book personally moving. I will be re-reading it, and I will be purchasing several copies for others. This is a book with enormous pastoral potential for those who need a fresh look at the Trinitarian God revealed in scripture. Young has succeeded in making God a compelling character and the message of the life of faith beautiful, even in the midst of great loss, grief and the brokenness of the ordinary person
We all have secrets, and we all have reasons trusting God is difficult. An afternoon in The Shack may be used by the Spirit to change you and to refresh your entire experience of God.
A good book. I look forward to reading a future great book from Young.
The Shack can be purchased here.