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250 of 280 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FIction - not systematic Theolgy, 3 Dec. 2008
This review is from: The Shack (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Jan 2009 21:29:34 GMT
Thanks for taking the time to record both your concerns and your joys. In addition to your comment about the judgment scene (which I agree with) I found the whole bit challenging. I judge far too easily!

Posted on 15 Jul 2009 13:27:56 BDT
Hello M. Erwin, thank you for your review. I have ordered the book and find it helpful to have the opinions of others in advance. Just a note on universalism. I stumbled across that topic 3 years ago and initially rejected it in disgust but something brought me back to it. Three years later I am more certain than I ever was that there is more than something to it. I don't know what your starting point is and you don't know mine but I found sites very useful. I think most people's first reaction to the idea is that universalism nulifies the blood of Christ when in fact it does exactly the opposite. If God sent Christ to be saviour of all, then is it so terrible than in the end He is? That shows a love beyond most people's conception of a God who created billions knowing that most of them would burn. As it happens, I do believe in 'hell' so to speak but in a redemptive sense 'as one escaping through the flames.' I hope I have not offended you, I do share this out of brotherly love and if you never look at the site or any others please know I meant this in love.

God bless

Douglas Cartwright

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Sep 2009 19:24:44 BDT
S. Andrews says:
Praise God for Mr Erwin, Mr Lumsden and Mr Cartwright!
I may even buy the book!
And we'll meet in the new creation...!
Mrs Andrews!!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Oct 2009 11:17:47 GMT
Dear Douglas,

Universalism that you defend is clearly at odds with scripture. e.g. Matt 22:14:
For many are called, but few are chosen.
You can't impose your views on God.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 May 2010 23:02:55 BDT
I am sorry but I find the quote of scripture, very narrow here. Jesus dies for all of us... because he loves us. 'few are chosen' refers to those not accepted into the wedding feast, they do not have the wedding garment... namely that of the slavation provided by Christ.
It pays to remember that ignorance is an excuse, bibically at least. I believe that there has to be a hell, and I believe that some people even faced with to face with Jesus on judgement day will still deny he exists and face hell. However Jesus dies for all of us and I fail to see that a God who loves us enough to die for us will bear our eternal suffering. Jesus dies for us all, is that not what scripture says? 'few are chosen' or more rightly 'few accept'. The love and sacrifice was though for all of us, every single one. Jesus used parables to convey his message and it is important that we don't become complacent and give up... it is important that we realise that we need to chose Christ, but I have yet to discover a last date on when we can give our lives to christ. Remember ignorance? you could argue that anyone who isn't now walking with Christ is ignorant. Maybe, just a thought,

Posted on 13 May 2010 23:05:11 BDT
I want to add thanks for the time in creating this post... I loved this book it has totally changed and deepened my personal walk with God and your honesty and judgement here is superb.

Thank you

In reply to an earlier post on 23 May 2010 10:40:22 BDT
"you could argue that anyone who isn't now walking with Christ is ignorant. Maybe, just a thought"

And not a terribly good one.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Oct 2011 02:04:07 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 22 Oct 2011 02:04:35 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jul 2012 22:58:58 BDT
Stanbrum says:
I dont believe in hell as such but I am sure that a place where one cannot carry on with the sinful ways of our past would surely be hell for many.
After all we are all still God's children. Could He really destroy the sinner? There would not be many left !

Posted on 30 Nov 2012 12:02:35 GMT
JK says:
I just wanted to say that your review is remarkable, one of the best I've read on Amazon. Your insight into The Shack is both intelligent and warm and I enjoyed your humour. I can't comment on the accuracy of your quotes, I don't know much about Scripture, but your review is enough to encourage me to read the book. Well done.
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Review Details



M. Erwin

Location: Hereford, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 141,099