Monday, June 26, 2017
Like no other Christian fiction book I've ever read (although I haven't read many), it's interesting, but not the amazing work so many Christians rave about. I've had friends say it's the first book they'd recommend to non-Christian friends wanting to find out more about Jesus, particularly if their objections to Christianity centre on the issue of why God allows suffering. Personally, there are many other books on Christianity and suffering I'd recommend before this one.
The Shack tells the story of a man called Mack whose youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted and brutally murdered. Mack has had some experience with church etc., but was largely doing his own thing, while being consumed with his grief, when he receives a note, supposedly from God. The note told him to go to the shack in the middle of the wilderness where some of Missy's belongings had been found stained with blood and God would meet him there.
One of the things that I felt most uncomfortable about was how God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were portrayed. God is represented as a jovial African-American woman called Papa, Jesus is a carpenter (which is the truest to Scripture out of the three), and the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman called Sarayu. The issue I have with these representations of the Trinity is that not once in the Bible are they described in this way. Why is God depicted as a woman? Is it to make a particular point? To be controversial? It's easy to say that it's just fiction and it doesn't matter, and that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe portrays God as Aslan the lion, so what's the difference? But the difference is that Scripture does describe God as like a lion (and many other things).
I think the book does a reasonable job of portraying the close relationship between the three beings of the Trinity. The three in one concept is not easy for any human mind to grasp, but it does display the distinctiveness, yet the unity of Father, Son and Spirit quite well.
While the book is sad, given the deep pain Mack is dealing with, I didn't find myself feeling overly emotional while reading it. Some people have told me they were moved to tears. Maybe I am just an unfeeling sort of person, or maybe it was because I was focused on analysing it for its biblical faithfulness and theology.
I think the main flaw of the book is that it focuses on Jesus coming to end our pain, rather than Him coming to save us from our sin. We are not innocent victims of sin, we ALL are sinners in need of a Saviour. Our suffering may not be the direct result of our own sin or someone else's, but the state of the world is a result of all of us having turned away from God to rule our own lives. The book does address Mack's own need for a Saviour towards the end and his need to forgive the man who murdered his daughter, but it should have been a more central theme as that is the gospel - a God, who came to earth Himself to die and rise again to reconcile us to Himself.
It's not enough to just say that The Shack is fiction and it is not intended to replace or sit alongside Scripture. That may be true, but the writers of Christian fiction have a responsibility to ensure their theology is grounded in Scripture. The Shack is enormously popular and now there is a movie version. As I intend to write Christian fiction, I would hope that people would be wise and discerning in reading my stuff, not just swallow it blindly because it's what their itching ears want to hear. I think The Shack shows the intimacy of the relationship with God we all crave and it is by no means evil. It's not my book of choice.