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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Shack by William P. Young

Let's put it this way. No less than 1,811 people have written reviews of William P. Young's The Shack: A Novel (Windblown, 1997) for, as of November 13, 2008. It has been a New York Times best-seller, and probably still is. In a sentence, the book is about a hurting man's dialogue with God. The book has its own web site. There is, of course, a Wikipedia article about the book. So, in spite of the topic, or because of it, it's obviously pretty popular. Why? Is the popularity deserved?

The Amazon review page does something helpful, namely it shows the most critical, and the most laudatory reviews at the top, so you can read them, if you wish.

My own take is this: Even though the book is highly theological, for a novel, if you go to a novel for definitive guidance on theology, you will get what you deserve. It's a story! A fictional story. I believe that this particular story contains quite a bit of truth, useful truth, but it is fiction. For guidance in theology, go to the Bible, and the historic teachings of the church.

The theological topic that I found most often in the book is the doctrine of the Trinity. God is one being, but also three beings. I don't understand this. I doubt if William P. Young understands it completely. I doubt if humans can understand this doctrine more than superficially. I believe it, because the Bible teaches it, and because it is certainly one of the most fundamental and historic Christian doctrines. See here for my post on "What Christians Believe," which includes the text of the Nicene Creed. That Creed sets forth a belief in the Trinity, without exactly clarifying it.

Even if Young doesn't set forth a clear, explicit theology of the Trinity, I did find the book helpful. How? The Shack portrays the three persons of the Godhead as individual, yet in unselfish love with each other, and in agreement with each other. In other words, they have a relationship. They love each other, they communicate, they share. The book implies that this relationship between the persons of the Godhead is meant to show us what relationships should be like, and give us guidance about what our relationship with God should be:
"The Bible doesn't teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn't think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?
. . . "It is true that relationships are a lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you."
. . . "Mackenzie, religion is about having the right answers, and some of the answers are right. But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer and once you get to him, he will change you from inside." (197-8)

There is more in the book, and, of course, there are things that aren't in it. My wife asked me (She is in the process of reading it) if it mentions the Bible at all. No, it doesn't.

I don't intend to give away the plot, other than to say (which is obvious pretty early on) that most of it is a dream, or a vision. But I will say that another matter which may give some readers pause is that two of the three persons of the Trinity (not Christ) are presented as females. Well, why not? God has, indeed, historically and Biblically been presented as male. That means something, for sure. But I don't see any problem with presenting God as female in fiction. I would guess (many others have also done so) that God is not exactly sexual. He transcends sexuality in ways we cannot understand. The question of God's appearance as female, in part, is discussed in the book.

There are other topics, such as a discussion of God's creation, and science as the way of learning about that, and a discussion of free will, which I found interesting. I may post a bit on those topics later. There is a lot implied about faith and trust in God.

Much of the book is conversation. If that turns you off, you'd better not read this one.

I found the book to be well-written, and well worth reading, and thank the individual who asked me my opinion of it, which led to that reading.

Thank you for reading this.

P. S. As of March 6, 2017, I have not seen the movie which is based on this book, and do not plan to. The rest of this post has not been changed from November 15, 2008.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

My wife has now read the book, and she liked it, but she pointed out, correctly, that there is some mention of the Bible in it.