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.