Shack Attack!

It's a New York Times bestseller. It currently has 1.1 million copies in print. It's spent over 22 weeks on USA Today's Top 150 bestsellers list. And it's self-published. By a Canadian former pastor. Who was turned down by several Christian publishing houses. It's religious fiction of a different stripe. It's William P. Young's The Shack, taking churches and our broader culture by storm, it seems. It's irritating irascible theological conservatives. It's grating on the literary nerves of elitist bookish types. And it's helping people understand more of God's love in ways that are hard to describe.

I just finished the book, reading it on the recommendation of several church members. I found myself caught off guard and captivated: not because it's terribly well-written (it isn't), nor because it's theologically airtight (it's not; nor is it meant to be). I was and am still captivated by it because its dialog has helped me hear God in a fresh way, to more easily experience his love for me and all of us. When a book causes me to pray more freely, worship more joyfully, and feel more loved, well, I pay attention.

Here's the basic plot without any spoilers, I hope: Mackenzie Allen Phillips is a father of three children, the youngest of whom is kidnapped and brutally murdered during a camping trip. Devastated by the loss and on the edge of despair (as well as leaving the faith), "Mack" is summoned by a mysterious letter, signed by "Papa" (his wife's name for God) to the Shack, the scene of his daughter's murder. What transpires in the Shack is riveting: a conversation and time spent with the triune God, revealed in quite unusual ways. The tender dialog, the pointed questions on suffering, tragedy, faith, love, and hope are biblically resonant, without being preachy or pedantic. The recasting of biblical truth in non-linear and winsome ways has the potential to take well-known (and well-worn) truths about God and move them beyond our minds and into our hearts. That's what seems to be happening for readers of The Shack.

For me, it has felt like a spiritual chiropractic adjustment: prolonged sitting in the chair of the religious professional has given me a bit of a crick in my system, a certain stenosis of the spirit. The Shack has seemed to crack or adjust things for me. I feel curiously realigned: more limber in my prayer life, my worship more genuine, less forced. I do believe my belovedness by God seems more and more plausible, to my heart and spirit--and not just to my mind.

So now I'm returning to The Shack. I am taking its conversation between God and Mack and digesting it slowly, savoring it and journaling about it, particularly seeking to pay attention to what it evokes--or even provokes--in me.

If you can shuck the mantle of any literary snobbery, if you can humble yourself to this latest form of popular Christianity, if you can read with the eyes of a contemplative and not a systematic theologian, you might just be blessed by The Shack. I was and am.

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Mike said...

Hi Carl,

I continue to gavitate to your blog every now and then from Idaho. I really appreciate your insightful reviews and reader recommendations. Now I have several on my list worth buying...

Blessings bro,

Carl Hofmann said...

Thanks for visiting again, Mike. It was good to see you for lunch when you were visiting. Happy reading!

brad said...

There have been several criticisms of The Shack by some prominent pastors (Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill for one). Do you see any theological points that are incorrect? That would lead us astray?

I personally loved the book as it helped me with the problem of pain in this life, and how it portrays our relationship with God.


Brad Whitney

Carl Hofmann said...

After one read of the book and now into my second reading, I'd say I am not aware of any theological points that are dangerously incorrect, that would lead us astray. As for specific objections, I'd have to hear more to be able to comment (and I might do that with reluctance). Sometimes I wonder if Jesus' parables could stand up to such theological scrutiny (!)...let's remember: The Shack is a story, after all, and not Holy Scripture.

Ideally (and for me personally), The Shack reframes some biblical truths from a fresh vantage point--primarily for meditation and prayer. It's not meant to teach theology, I don't think. But fruitful discussion that moves into theology can certainly result.

What do you others think?