Friday, February 06, 2009

Book Review- The Shack

Just finished The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. I was not overly excited to read this book but have had several family and friends read it and ask my opinion about it. So, I thought I better give it a go.

I don't want to be too overtly critical of the book as I am sure the Lord can and will use this book to encourage many people in Christ. The author does cover some important themes in dealing with God and relational issues that will cause some folks to move forward in their walk with Christ.

However, I do think that the reason this book strikes such a chord in our current Christian culture is because of the huge vacuum at the center of our Christian world. That vacuum is Father hunger. Young is trying to address that very issue. I just don't think he does it all that well.

As I read the book, I found that it did little or nothing to address any lack in my own life. And that is not because my life has been peaches and cream. It hasn't. I had a great degree of father hunger in my own life. The book does reveal a failure on the part of the Church to heal that father hunger. In my opinion, the broad sales of this book also reveal the Church's failure. Young even goes out of his way to say that God is not interested in institutions or rituals. He thinks that those sorts of things are hollow solutions to man's ills.

The problem is that the God of the Bible has indeed created institutions and established rituals in those institutions. Of course, these should not be empty institutions and empty rituals. The Church needs to mean something. Baptism and the Lord's Supper must do something.

My own life has been dramatically healed by God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It has been healed in the Church among God's people and through ritual, baptism and the Lord's Supper, weekly formal worship, and a rather 'ritualistic' family life. All of that ritual is of primary importance in holding together all of the relationships. But relationships without God-inspired ritual produces some of the emotional drivel that Young spouts. Okay, okay, I said I would not be too critical and now here I go. My concern is that the Church is so weak and feeble that a book like The Shack seems so powerful. Wouldn't it be much more lovely if our folks read the book and said, "Wow, I am so thankful that God has already done those good things in me." That is, in fact, my experience and I hope and pray that it would be the norm.

That said, the Church is weak and feeble in many places. There are many Christians on the edge of the Church and in Churches that do not teach well. For them, this book is going forward and I pray that God will use it to draw them closer to Him, to His Church, and even to meaningful ritual.

In the early part of the book, I was actually pleased that Young was teaching doctrine about the person of God. He begins to explain the Trinity and does an okay job of it. But much of the rest of the book is a philosophical and theological jumble. Instead of simply asserting God's exhaustive sovereignty and man's total responsibility, he plays that old card, (over and over and over) that God would never step on man's free choices. Given the nature of his book and the good that he is trying to do in it, I found this very distracting and trite. I would have much preferred him to give us an Ecclesiastes look at trouble in the world than an Armenian apologetic.

One other complaint and then I will try to be positive, I promise. I don't think he understands the actaul process of forgiveness properly and this point can actually do some damage to the Saints of God. He makes the Father out as someone who loves all his children (all men, the good the bad and ugly) equally. This simply is not the Biblical revelation. God does not love everybody the same and he manifestly does not love unrepentant evil doers. How does this do damage to the saints? Well, it appears in the book that Papa loves the murderer just as much as she loves Mack. And only Mack's forgiveness will free the murderer to be redeemed by Papa. And while I agree that every Christian must be willing to forgive anyone that God forgives, having Mack forgive the murderer in the abstract, when the murderer is not seeking forgiveness, is to go beyond the requirements of Scripture.

Perhaps that is niggling but I would not require my congregants to forgive in the abstract. I would ask them to pray for the man that God would bring about justice in judgment or mercy through grace. It is not sinful for us to ask God to judge His and our enemies. The Psalms are full of this sort of thing. After all, are not such men serving the powers of darkness? And God came to destroy the works of the evil one. He does that in two ways, not just one. One is presented in this book. He draws them to light, forgives their sin and heals their brokenness. But there is another way. Jesus also puts all His enemies beneath His feet. He squashes them. You may not like that but it's in the Bible, too.

One thing the book gets right. We have to leave this 'sorting out' to the Lord, trusting Him, and not let ourselves be eaten up with bitterness.

You protest, "But what about us? We were evil doers." Yes, that is true and God, in His grace and love, brought you to repentance and forgiveness. But God has very harsh words and actions for those who will not repent and believe. It is not for us to figure out how this all works. I beleive we are then dealing with the hidden things of God. But to deny it because it does not fit in our pre-conceived doctrines is the very thing Young is arguing against in this book.

Oh darn, I just finished this book and really wanted to say more positive things but the more I sit here and think about it, the more flummoxed I get in trying to do it a good turn. Jesus is a buddy in this book. That always bugs me. Friend, yes. Elder brother, yes. Pal? Come on. Think about his dealings with the Apostles, the closest chance men had of having a buddy in Jesus. He wasn't their buddy.

I suppose my issue (it is growing as I write) is that the character of God in the book is not as Biblical as it should be. He tries to explain some hard doctrinal issues of sovereignty and freedom but does not get the character of God right. It is like a miscast movie. Good story and all but would have been better had the actors fit the character better.

Okay, what is good about the book. Oh no. I'm thinking. Fractal. I liked that.

God does make good in the mess. The book tugs on the heart in the area of dealing with past hurts and helps one to see that those pains are ultimately aimed at God, especially if we have a sense that God is in control. That makes us deal with God as much as with those who have hurt us. I think that is good.

Would I recommend this book? No. But having said that, I think more people will benefit from this book than could be hurt by it. I think it would tend to draw them closer to God and people. And when that happens, they will necessarily be drawn into His Church and the Communion of the Saints.

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