Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Shack

I recently finished reading The Shack, a rather popular recent work of Christian fiction. I am not a fan of Christian fiction particularly. In fact, I believe this is only the second work of Christian fiction I've ever read. My reasons for that is that I find Christian fiction, as with most forms of contemporary Christian art - including music, drama, etc - to be shallow and boring. This is because the focus is almost exclusively on putting a Christian message up front and center with the result that the artistic side becomes an afterthought. Fiction simply becomes a vehicle for preaching rather than a way of telling a good story. This is, of course, only my own personal opinion and I am aware that many find Christian fiction to be very meaningful to them.

As a whole, I was not terribly enamored of The Shack. I found the writing style to be predictable and not very polished, the theology at times to be lacking in depth and accuracy, and the story to be too forced. There were too many instances where the desire to engage a certain Christian issue at a certain time became more important than allowing the story to flow naturally.

Having said all that, however, there is one thing that I really like about the book. One of the things that makes much Christian fiction come across a bit shallow is a tendency to ignore the darkness in life. Christian fiction, like many Christians themselves, often tries to present a face to the world that says, "Being a Christian is easy and wonderful and if you would only make that choice, then your life will become easy and wonderful as well." We want people to believe that we possess all the answers to life and so we avoid anything difficult, challenging, and dark. The Bible doesn't do that. It is a book full of violence and humans doing horrible things to other humans. It doesn't shy away from such darkness but instead meets it head on. And to its credit, The Shack does the same thing.

This is not a book that pretends Christianity has all the answers to the messiness and seeming senselessness of life and it is a book that is not afraid to probe the darkness. It is a story about a young girl brutally murdered by a sexual predator and her father who meets God in the aftermath. In fact, he encounters God in the very shack where his daughter was killed. Even though I believe the author never achieved the potential that is inherent in that setup, I applaud the fact that he was willing to tell a Christian story that unapologetically met the darkness head on and didn't flinch. All of us, and even Christians in particular, I think, need such stories. The Shack was a self-published book because every Christian publisher that the author approached rejected it. According to the author, the reason given was that the book was "too edgy." Of course, it is now a nationwide bestseller. What Christian publishers failed to recognize was not just a secular justification that edgy sells,  but that edgy stories are capable of speaking to Christians and non-Christians in meaningful ways.


At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello, i'm doing a speech in class about why you should read christian fiction, more so frank peretti. I can see your point that some may put christian preaching throughtout the "story". but before u judge all christian fiction from only reading two, try reading one of frank peretti's books'. maybe "oath" or even "house" that another author wrote with him. i think you will find godly ethics in it but not preachy and it has a great story to it.

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts on Christian fiction. I am never very enthusiastic when friends hand me the latest "Christian" novel. I have not found an author I really like and I agree that the story lines are too preachy. I also think the writing is just not that good. The last novel I tried to read had the line, "She ran down the beige carpeted stairs." Someone was paying too much attention in the 'descriptive writing class'! :-)
Jill S.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger ecclesiastes97 said...

I happened to be listening to a local interview of Hank Hanegraff, who blasted The Shack as dangerous, doctrinally incorrect, and 'feelgood spirituality' . . .

He has an article in the latest copy of the Christian research journal but I have not yet found an online copy. (Not sure I am interested in actually paying for it; I just want more detail on his specific theological issues with the book.)

The only comment I can offer at this time is that WP Young's book should be approached as one would read a parable. It is a story with a point, and no more; drawing conclusions from specific elements in the story leads one astray. For example, Jesus' point in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) was that we should persevere in prayer and seek justice from God even when it seems nothing is forthcoming. He did not intend for us to see God as an unjust judge who is annoyed with us.

Young's modern-day parable is quite a bit longer and steps on a lot of theological toes. Jesus kept things short (and not always sweet), but stepped on theological toes just the same. (And in that day the theologians did not have steel-toed boots.)


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