Thursday, September 04, 2008

PresbyBloggers Book Club: The Shack

The Shack is a publishing phenomenon--rejected by more than a dozen publishers but now a best-seller with more than 2 million copies sold. It even has its own website where the book can be purchased and readers can make comments about it.

I learned of the book from my brother who enthusiastically recommended it to me. Eugene Peterson, the well-known author and creator of The Message, endorsed it heartily, saying: "When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what Paul Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" did for his. It's that good!" So I read the book and wrote a review of it for my own blog.

The Shack has drawn criticism as well as praise. While some dispute its theology or literary quality, others think it is a powerful spiritual allegory.

Now it's your turn to add your thoughts about The Shack in the comments!

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

1. What do you think about the author's personification of the three persons of the Trinity?

2. The book is critical of the organized church. Is the criticism fair or not?

3. In what ways does the theology of the book depart from traditional Reformed theology? Did that bother you?

4. Mack Phillips, the protagonist of the story, is seeking the answer to the question of why God permits the innocent to suffer unspeakable evil. Did the author answer that question?

5. Would you recommend this book to others?


Presbyterian Gal said...

1. Re the Trinity - I actually liked the personification here because it pushes a limited human perception of God to broader reaches, you should pardon the pun.

2. I do believe the criticism of the church is fair. Mainline churches and their practices, in most cases, no longer serve either people or Jesus' teachings of what we need to do to have a happy life in him. (or her....) IMO

3. I found the writing became plodding when it repeated ideas and also had trouble with the take on the 10 Commandments. That was my biggest problem with the theology. I do believe there's no argument that they are indeed called "Commandments" and not "10 things you will never live up to which is why I had to come down and save you from eternal damnation". Although the second might be better in a Gospel Rap.

I did appreciate the interpretation of the dynamics of forgiveness. That was a home run for me. Though I believe (perhaps mistakenly) that it departs from the Reformed tradition.

4. That evil business is such a hard thing to wrap my head around. Young gave it as good a shot as anyone else. Though he never answered, and I don't believe anyone can, how it seems that God will intervene with one situation and not another.

5. I would recommend this book to other Christians, but not to non-believers. I think this book needs a good deal of discernment.

Quotidian Grace said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

I liked the personification of the Trinity, too, because it really pushed my understanding in both good and not-so-good ways.

One of the more Reformed aspects of the author's theology, IMO, is the emphasis on the soverignty of God. But I agree with you that it doesn't totally answer the question about unspeakable evil and when or if God intervenes. As you say, maybe that is just beyond human understanding.

Teri said...

I read this book last weekend and have decided to put it on the recommended reading for my 101 class (8 weeks of "101"s--theology, spirituality, ethics, etc) for adult ed this fall.
While I don't think the book toes the Reformed line, so to speak, I did find that the theology resonated with me quite strongly. I like the dynamic nature of God and God's action (including forgiveness, salvation, and after-life life). I loved the personifications of the Trinity and how it stretched both Mack and the reader. I LOVED LOVED LOVED the point (made over and over) that the lie of independence is the root of sin, and that learning to trust in and rest in God's love is the only way to experience true (and "eternal" in the biblical sense) life here and now.

I thought the theology was accessible, though as a novel it wouldn't make my top ten. I have and do recommend it to my church members, though, with a box of kleenex in hand.

Rev. Mike said...

I will need to come back perhaps at a later time to post final observations because I am only halfway through the book and unable to speak to how Young addresses the theodicy angle. However, I went to an annual Labor Day get-together of some old friends from the church I attended before seminary, and the book sparked some discussion there, which, if this is what it does across the spectrum, is without a doubt a good thing.

My initial reaction to what I've read thus far is that it feels like Moltmann's The Crucified God for lay people, written in narrative form. That's not a bad thing; it's just not a new thing either.

I hope to come back to this post and comment further once I've finished the book, but for now, those are my initial impressions.

Stushie said...

Jody, I think your link on the PB site is not working or my computer is going crazy. Please re-check the url.

I'm reading the book right now - it's whimsical, but I would never have compared it with Pilgrim's Progress...I'm not so sure that Eugene has read Bunyan.

Sarahlynn said...

Wow, what a great response to the first book club! I didn't find/make time for this one this month (I'm in 3 other monthly book clubs, so I sometimes have to pick-and-choose) but after reading these comments, I'm thinking I'll need to fit it into my reading schedule soon.

(My church has a monthly book group called INAM . . . I just recently learned that stands for It's Not About Me. I'll have to check with them to see if they've read this one.)

Stushie said...

I've just finished the book. The chapter with Sarayu revealing the lights of children and people gave me goose bumps.

It was a good book to read, but a little too "and they all lived happily forever" at the end.

The theology is a little too loose and edging on universalist for my comfort.

Teri said...

I loved the lights of the children part too! And the intertwining lights of people--so great.

I actually like the edging up to universalist bit--I think it nicely captures the "good hope for all" part of our Reformed faith. I recognize that God doesn't work the way I want, but this is the kind of idea that allows me to hope--that God's love is so overpowering.

I also read the book through a veil of tears, though, so it probably bears another read, farther from various anniversaries surrounding the death of my mother....maybe sometime next spring.

Teri said...

PS: Pilgrim's Progress? When I read that review, then the book, I too though "Have you read Pilgrim's Progress????" This may be more accessible to our contemporaries than Bunyan, but really?

Anonymous said...

1. I found the author's depiction of the Trinity to be a bit more fanciful than creative. I found his depiction of Wisdom compelling..

2. I have SO many neighbors and 'un-churched' friends, who grew up in the church and now, for whatever reason, no longer attend. Many readers who really like 'The Shack' are in that group. This story really resonates w/them at some deep level. I should like to host a neighborhood book study on 'The Shack' and invite them.

3. The author came close to bumping up against universalism, modalism and heterodoxy...yet didn't cross that line, IMHO. I do like very much the emphasis on God's deep love for his broken creation and His deep heart's desire to redeem it back to Himself.

4. I don't think 'The Shack'
contributes much more to a better understanding of theodicy.

5. I'd say "Go ahead and read 'The Shack', but you may also want to read it along with 'Dinner With A Perfect Stranger' by David Gregory or 'A Grace Disguised' by Jerry Sittser."


Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks. I fixed the bad link. It works now.

Sorry about that!

Stushie said...

I've set up an online chapter by chapter study of the book. You can find it at