on 25 August 2014
What an incredible book.
Mack after suffering an unbearable tragedy fears that God has abandoned him and his family and worse yet may be punishing his family for his sins.
A mysterious note from Papa (the name he and his family use for God) inviting him back to the scene of the tragedy intrigues him and he feels that he must go back.
Is the note really from God?
Why would God want to meet with him?
Can he find the enlightenment and explanation that he feels he needs?
This book was recommended to me by a remarkable young lady whilst standing at a bus stop. She spoke with such eloquence and passion about how this book changed her life and could change my life forever that I simply had to buy it and Wow! I'm so pleased that I trusted her judgement and bought the book. How right she was and I offer her my unreserved thanks.
This truly is an incredible tale that takes you on an amazing journey to see the true nature of God - The Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone...
on 3 December 2008
It is a controversial book in a lot of ways, particularly in its depiction of God the Father appearing to Mack (the central character) as a black African-American woman.
"The Shack" is endorsed by leading evangelicals, including Eugene Peterson (The Message) and Michael W. Smith from the USA and the evangelist J. John in the UK. Equally, it has been derided as Heresy by others, including Mark Driscoll (Mars HILL Church, Seattle) who I count amongst my Christian heroes.
What did I think of it? Well, at the risk of offending somebody - here goes....
Without giving the whole story away, the plot follows Mack, whose daugther Missy is abducted and murdered. For the following few years Mack is enveloped by "The Great Sadness." One cold winters morning he receives a letter from God inviting him back to the shack where his daughter is believed to have been murdered, though her body was never found. At the shack, Mack meets God - Father Son and Holy Spirit, and over the course of a weekend, his encounter with them transforms his life.
First - lets get the difficult and dodgy stuff out of the way. I found the depiction of the Father (Papa) as a black woman more than difficult to deal with. The first person of the Trinity is depicted throughout Scripture as a Father. In "The Shack", God explains that He is Spirit, and that any depiction of Him in human terms is purely for our benefit. In Scripture, there are ocassions where God shows clear 'feminine' characteristics, such as Jesus using the image of a mother Hen protecting her chicks, and defining his heart for Jerusalem in that picture. In the Old Testament, God is depicted as a mother desiring to breast feed and nourish her children. In Creation we read that God created Male and Female in His image. There is no doubt that it is the 2 together - Male and Female, that give completion to the image. God is neither Male nor Female, but Spirit. However, we have no Biblical mandate to present Him as a woman, and I found the image in the book deeply troubling.
Mark Driscoll's comments are interesting, and can be found on You Tube. However, having rewatched his comments after reading the book, I dont believe that he had read the book when he critiqued it. For example, he accuses the author of the heresy of 'modalism' (look it up - come on - do some of the work yourself!) He uses 1 quote to support this claim. The charge is not verified by a reading of the book.
The 1 other area that did trouble me though, was the possible suggestion of Universalism (that all will be saved whatever.) This is by no means explicit, but could be implied in a number of places. Particularly in one section where Jesus tells Mack that his followers come from all walks, races, political parties and religions - Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, etc. I re-read the section, and it seems to be deliberately ambiguous. Certainly people will follow Jesus from every tribe, people, tongue and nation, but they will have to come to Him as the only Saviour. The section in question has Mack mention about people being Christians, and Jesus responds "I never mentioned becoming a Christian!" It is deliberately ambiguous. However, the rest of the book seems to clearly suggest that if people want to know God, they must enter into a relationship with Him through Christ.
However (and you cant ignore the dodgy stuff - that's why I mention it), I was deeply moved by the book. I have no doubt that at times I had fresh insights into my relationship with God.
A couple of examples. Young's potrayal of "The Great Sadness" is just brilliant. Anyone who has had a deep sad, life changing (Life-numbing) experience will identify with it. His depiction of this cloak of despair is true to life, and many will see themselves in it.
The way in which Young deals with "The Great Sadness" is also brilliant. In a "Judgement" scene, God invites Mack to be Judge and Jury on his own children. He is told to choose 2 to go to Heaven and the others to destine to hell. He pleads with God "Let me take their place - let me go instead of them!"
"Now you sound like Jesus - you have Judged well" comes the reply!
In the book, there is also a wonderful depiction of Jesus at the centre of all things, with Creation and the redeemed gathering to worship Him. The scene that follows moved me to tears as Young writes... "Everything that had breath sang out a song of love and unending thankfulness. Tonight the universe was as it was intended!"
The last thing that I will mention is that the book deals as well as any (fictional book) with the issues of forgiveness and anger and bitterness. There is much Biblical wisdom in the way Mack is led to address the brokeness and pain in his own heart and family.
"The Shack" was a good read, moving, inspiring, and ultimately I would recommend it with the proviso that you read it as a piece of fiction, and not a systematic theology.
How on earth do you articulate what it is like to know God? I'm not just referring to knowledge about God - but knowledge of God. And I mean, really articulate it? Preachers are quick to remind us it's all about relationship not religion, and rightly so. But what does that actually mean? We all know what we think it means, but what about in practice, in reality, in everyday life?
One problem is that God is God. That sounds dumb, but it's one of the great Godness things about God that he is beyond us, beyond the finite. But because we are not, everything we say about him is going to be limited to some degree by our human limitations - we are finite creatures whose very language is confined by our existence, not his. We simply do not have the words to encompass an infinite God, let alone describe the experience of knowing him. But that does not mean our words are pointless or empty. They can still paint pictures and evoke reality.
Of course, our predicament is transformed when God himself gives us the vocabulary. He alone can bridge the chasm between the infinite and finite. And that is what the Bible essentially is. He speaks in words that are both intelligible to us and that articulate divine reality; and the glory of the Incarnation is that God does this to perfection. By accommodating himself to our level, Christ made the invisible visible, the remote tangible and the infinite finite. So when we relate to human friends, we have intimations of our relationship with our divine friend.
And that I think is partly what's going on in William Young's THE SHACK. This book brings this divine relationship into breathtakingly vivid reality by bringing God the Trinity right down to earth in human relationships. That's a pretty daring thing to do; some would say it's even dangerous. For while that is precisely what the Incarnation of the 2nd person does, it's quite another thing to do this for the Trinity as a whole. So it's fair to say that I've never read anything quite like this book. And despite some personal quibbles and John Crace's cynical and bolshie precis in The Guardian, I still think it's hugely helpful and lendable.
Eating with God?
Without giving too much away, Mack (beset still by his `Great Sadness') encounters the Trinitarian God in a disused shack in the Oregon wilderness. 4 years before in that very shack, Mack's 5-year old daughter Missy had been abducted and probably killed. As the result of a weird letter, Mack returns and spends an extraordinary weekend with God. There they are, all 4 of them, chatting, laughing and eating round the kitchen table! Mack + Father, Son & Holy Spirit. It is utterly captivating. Mack, the flawed, agonized and uncomprehending man, is drawn into the wonderful dynamic of divine love. And where better to do this than over a meal.
This has clear biblical precedent. Some of the disciples' most life-changing encounters with Jesus happened over food (eg Jesus' anointing by the 'sinful woman', Zacchaeus, the Last Supper, the post-Resurrection beach BBQ). And heaven is frequently alluded to as a (wedding) feast (Isaiah 55, Matt 22, Rev 19).
But of course this is extremely risky ground. Words are placed into the mouth of each member of the Trinity, and each person is given some sort of form. Nothing in the narrative fits exactly with what one would expect. Which is where its power lies. For every chapter makes you THINK - about what you really believe and why, about what is actually biblical as opposed to what is culturally assumed.
Heresy hunters will assume this book offers them a field-day (and the fact that it reached the New York Times bestseller list will only confirm their worst fears). And there are certainly questions about the book (to which i'll return) and it doesn't always avoid elements of American schmaltz. But this is fictional narrative, don't forget, and i did feel it was right more often than it was wrong. It confronts, without trite or easy answers, the biggest theological problem for the contemporary mind: divine goodness and human suffering.
Mack's suffering is every parent's nightmare, particularly close to the bone after the media-frenzied horror of Madeleine McCann's disappearance. But as Mack is drawn back to God by the most sparkling intimacy and joy, so are we. This book is truly a tonic for a tired, cynical and faithless believer (which describes me more often than I'd like). In the course of its affecting narrative, biblical realities come across strongly:
* The Persons of the Trinity are in constant, dynamic relationship, which is one of profound mutual love and commitment. It is a love that draws in and never excludes. And as Mack is drawn in, so are we.
* But most importantly, God's Sovereignty is fundamental throughout the book - even in the face of terrible circumstances. And strikingly, the love of God is what underpins this sovereignty. This is a truth that seems in short supply in too many believers' theology matrix.
* Mack's reaction to his daughter's disappearance is not so much to reject God's sovereignty but his goodness. He finds it impossible to trust him. This is a book about having that trust renewed - and it is fascinating how the book shows Jesus being the one that Mack most easily relates to initially, because of his shared humanity. But because of that, he is drawn to the others. It is all about knowing him - not about being religious.
* At times, the book might appear universalist (not least because of how the Holy Spirit is initially described) and hardly seems to mention the atonement - but these fears are eventually allayed. While not spelled out, the wonder of what Jesus is and has done underpins everything.
But there are still some Eyebrow-raisers
* The Father is initially encountered as an African American woman - John Crace's precis bitingly assumes that this is because it is written by an American liberal (but at least's she's American, he states). At first all one's theological hackles are raised by this theological outrage (!)- but as the book goes on, it seems to me to be fully justified and explained, if one would just give it the initial benefit of the doubt. If she reminded me of anyone, it was the Oracle in the Matrix movies.
* A bit more worrying are the marks of the cross (stigmata) on the Father's body. Is this verging uncomfortably close to the old heresy of Patripassionism which states that the Father himself suffers on the cross. If the point is simply that the Father is fully committed to the Son's mission to make atonement on the cross (in defence against the charge of cosmic child abuse) then fair enough, I suppose.
* Where does the church fit? Religion and institutions are in the book's firing line, and rightly so, because in themselves, they always fail to help a person in the face of pain. But the book could have done more to show how God's intention is to build a community through which he can work and dwell on earth.
* But my biggest concern in all this is the almost total omission of the doctrine of God's holiness. It seems to fall into the classic error of assuming that divine love/forgiveness and divine holiness are mutually exclusive - and of course, we all know which one we'd prefer. This is to miss the fundamental coherence between the two brought about by the cross. And from an apologetic point of view in a suffering world, divine holiness is essential.
The bottom line, though, is that this book makes us want to know God better and deeper - or to be more precise, to know the Trinitarian God revealed through Christ, and as a result, to trust him in the face of whatever life flings at us. How many other best-selling novels do that? And I think that this is probably what lies behind Eugene Peterson's rather over-blown endorsement. Well, it's nothing like the biblical, allegorical genius of Bunyan - but it IS a book to deepen faith that is getting a much wider airing than most Christian books. I guess, as fiction, it is more like an extended sermon illustration, with all the benefits and limitations that implies. No illustration is perfect - but they do reveal truth - as does the Shack. So read it and make your own mind up.
on 20 November 2012
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I knew it was fiction, but is so well written, it feels like this really happened. It has given me a whole new perspective on God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Really good. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking the Fathers face.
on 2 June 2008
I would normally stay far away from 'Christian fiction' genre. A friend lent me this book so I read it. It is incredible.
The story is simple Mack's young daughter is abducted and killed on a family camping trip. Obviously this changes his life and makes him very bitter to God. The book is about a weekend Mack spends with God at the invitation of God at the place where his daughter was killed. It seems a really risky subject matter particularly as fiction. The conversations between God in his three persons and Mack which form the main part of the book are hugely thought provoking and unsurprisingly rather moving.
I found a sense of understanding about some issues that have been doubts in my faith. The overwhelming message is about how incredibly God loves every one of his children - people of faith and no faith. It certainly blows away a lot of the way 'religion' is seen and I found that hugely refreshing.
As soon as I finished reading it I started reading certain sections all over again.
For the reviewer who suspects a conspiracy because the other reviewers who gave a 5* hadn't reviewed anything else - I have, if that somehow makes any difference to my opinion.
I don't know how a reader of other faiths or no faiths would find the book - I suspect fairly irritating, although I feel still a lot could be taken away from it.
on 10 April 2009
I was recommend this book by a friend who is a regular church attender and I not been so was a bit dubious about how I would find it.I really enjoyed the book and found it changed my view on what the aspect of God is and how there are preconceived ideas of who he is.
I would recommend anyone to read this wheather they are religous or not.
on 25 July 2011
This is one of the toughest reviews I have had to write yet, especially as it covers a topic that is so fundamental yet broad, where does one start? I wouldn't term myself religious in any sense and actually gave up on religion a few years ago totally, veering more towards the scientific explanation of why we are here and essentially that the only person we can rely on is ourselves - it's every human for themselves!
However my parents do believe in a higher power, not necessarily a tangible God but some sort of energy and recommended this book to me to stoke my interest in the topic. We all ask ourselves if there really was a God why would he allow so much devastation to occur? Rapes, murders, famine, natural disasters the list is endless. It was exactly these questions that made my belief in God completely waver some time ago. However, the ideas presented in this book by William Young are very interesting, perfectly plausible and move away from depicting God as a tangible person and more as a way for us to lead our life. There is so much overlap between the ideas presented here and spirituality, I am surprised at the criticism of this book especially as any positive ideas that would bring fulfilment and peace to our lives is surely worth exploring further.
It is profound in parts, to the point where I had to read it over a few times to understand the message. I agree it is not the most entertaining story, which is what I expected when I initiated my reading of this book, but it was a pleasant surprise to be presented with some very believable ideas on how we can bring positive changes to our lives by changing our perception and ways of interaction with other human beings. It does present some interesting ideas regarding who God really is and questions the very existence of the authoritative ideas presented in modern day religion. My guess is this is what has made this book a small phenomenon.
Well worth a read as part of a larger spiritual journey/education. Enjoy!
on 25 February 2009
Anyone who has not read the book and is considering buying it is probably going to be confused by the vast variation in the reviews (although as there are so many, it shows it generates strong opinion one way or the other).
There are I think two very different types of people who are not going to be able to relate to the book at all. Firstly those who are so atheistic that they find any references to God existing totally abhorrent will hate it (not a book for the fans of Richard Dawkins!). Secondly those whose form of christianity is rigidly fixed in a dogmatic religious framework of white skinned blue eyed Jesus and vengeful angry God will probably equally hate it.
If you are not either of those but someone who is open minded enough to read a book about God even if you do not believe in Him or alternatively a Christian who is prepared to be open minded rather than dogmatic in your view of the Trinity, then you will probably enjoy the book.
Despite what some reviewers have said, the book succeeds well enough as a novel. Whilst you may guess some of what is coming, much is not at all obvious until you read it. (I recommend by the way that you read the Foreward ar the end and not at the beginning - start at page 15 instead.)
It is in the theological areas of pain, suffering, evil and forgiveness that the book has most to offer. Although I consider myself a mature Christian with a good insight into such matters, I still found the book thoughtful and useful for reflection on these issues. If you have never really got to grips with these difficult areas, this book will be even more useful.
The book is now really cheap so if you are in any doubt, buy it anyway and read it. You cannot lose much and it may well prove to do much more for you than you thought!
on 12 September 2011
Having seen many excited reviews about this book, I was keen to read it. The opening section I read cautiously: it provided necessary background to the story (one of the things that makes this book unlike most theological works is that it is a narrative)but the style and approach set my teeth somewhat on edge: too American for me, too banal. (Should say here that a friend who regards me as highly academic said it suited her perfectly). But then it really got going and I read it with ever-increasing approval. Nobody could read this without deepening their understanding of what it means to say that God is Love - and I mean emotional understanding,not just intellectual, which often fails to get through to the parts of us where we really live. A number of problems (suffering, forgiveness, etc) are dealt with along the way. The use of the myth of Adam's fall worked satisfactorily within the story, though as there was not a historical Adam nor a historical Fall I didn't feel the questions it related to were sufficiently dealt with, once one considered it outside the confines of the novel. Recently I read the book again and this time the style did not bother me. I shall be lending it to a friend who is tentatively exploring religion; in fact I bought 2 copies as I shall probably give or lend it to several people.
on 23 August 2010
I was the unwilling recipient of this book from a friend who also happens to be a Christian. The two of us do not always see eye to eye on theological issues and he made it clear when he leant me this book that it meant a lot to him.
I did a bit of digging regarding the background of this book, although it is a self published work of fiction many people seem to consider it some kind of theological or religious authority (indeed, the author has been described as a 'theologian') almost a new way of looking at things. Personally I do not share this view. The truth is the author is one messed up bunny. Abused as a child, not accepted by mainstream religious establishments and guilty of being unfaithful to his wife with her best friend. Forgive me if I don't treat this man as some kind of 21st century saint or any kind of authority on God.
The basic plot is straightforward enough; Mack goes on a trip with his children and some friends, during the trip one of his children has a canoe accident and nearly drowns. As Mack is playing the hero another of his children, named Missy, goes missing. It quickly becomes apparent that Missy has been kidnapped by a child-murdering serial killer called 'The Little Ladykiller' (possibly the stupidest name for a serial killer I have ever come across) Of course Mack falls into a deep depression which he imaginatively (but pointlessly) names 'The Great Sadness" He then receives a note, which he decides is from God, asking him to return to the site of where his daughter was kidnapped and presumably murdered. He returns and meets God in the three forms of the trinity. God then lectures him about life the universe and everything then shows him where Missy's body has been hidden.
The entire plot of the story is ridiculously implausible in almost every sense. A poorly constructed excuse for the author to bombard the reader with a torrent of his own beliefs. The book reads like a sermon which, after hardly any time at all, I found intensely annoying. The author does not explain himself clearly and most of what he was trying to say can be easily confused.
The author's depiction of the Holy Trinity is cheesy at best, offensive at worst. The Father is depicted as an overweight African-American woman with a poor grasp of the English language who asks to be called 'Papa' (stay with me here) Jesus is a middle eastern looking carpenter who grins a lot and speaks like an American and the Holy Spirit is a small Asian woman who collects tears. Of course these are somewhat controversial depictions of God although they didn't offend me, just added further weight to my opinion that this book is inherently silly.
The book is full of hopelessly sentimental slush, vomit worthy dialogue, plenty of hugs and tears and lots and lots of lecturing. The behaviour of the characters is unreasonable and not at all plausible. The non-stop lectures are not only irritating but patronising and (like everything else in the book) heavily Americanised which, as an Englishman, I did not appreciate.
Fans are called upon by the publishing team behind the book to take part in something they have labelled 'The Missy Project' which basically involves shamelessly promoting this book whenever the opportunity presents itself. Fans are urged to give the book to friends, work colleagues and even strangers in an effort to make the author money, sorry, I mean spread the good word! The publishers even try to emotionally blackmail people by essentially saying 'they want to make this book into a movie but can only do so if we sell a certain amount of books' reading between the lines this means 'if this book doesn't make it into a movie, you've failed this wonderful, life changing book' this is the kind of insidious nonsense which is wrong with the world today. If people truly valued this book then requests like this would not be necessary.