Jan 24, 2009

"Mon": I like The Shack

The trouble I have writing about this is that there’s a good chance you –the reader- haven’t read this book. So it’s tough to tell you what I thought was cool about it without either A-influencing you’re future opinion, or B-telling you too much and ruining the experience for you. A isn’t really a huge concern because let’s be honest I don’t have that kind of influence over you…..yet. So that leaves me to discuss my “like” for this book and future books, movies, music, etc leaving out the best parts so that you can enjoy them also if you so choose. So keep that in mind while I describe why I liked this book

First let me give you a brief overview of the plot of the book. Mack is a family man that had something terrible happen to one of his family members. He sorta kinda blames God for that. He gets a note from God to meet him at the scene of the terrible thing- the Shack. The rest of the book is Mack talking to God about their misunderstanding.

Mack as a character is supremely relatable. Even though I haven’t ever had anything terrible happen to me, there are always the day to day “disasters” of car trouble, bad grades or even sad world events that allow me to glimpse the frustrations he has with understanding God’s will in this world. He’s also a typical guy (like myself) who has trouble getting things out there on the table and avoids serious conversation and questions with jokes or deflecting answers. That unity the reader is allowed to create with Mack just makes this book all the better.

The Author W.M. Paul Young --who was apparently raised in a stone age tribe by his missionary parents— has a couple of pretty cool goals with the book; as near as I could tell anyways. He wants to shake your mental picture of the Trinity to open your mind to re-considering the box you’ve put them in. He also wants to reveal the unfairness and ridiculousness of us sometimes judging God and his decisions.

The most effective way to get people thinking outside of their normal presuppositions is to shock them. Young does that by portraying the God the Father, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit as a large black woman, a giggly middle-eastern man, and a mysterious asian woman respectively. At first this will make you super uncomfortable. Well it made me uncomfortable anyway. But hopefully you’ll soon realize that he’s not defining the trinity this way, Young is just trying to shake you out of that Grey-haired older man God, Handsome White man Jesus, and magical foofoo dust Holy Spirit stereotype that you’ve created. Personally I realized that I really don’t consider The Holy Spirit as a sentient being so much as a force such as gravity or magnetism. Something I’ll definitely explore more in my quiet times.

The conversations between Mack and God’s different iterations are definitely the highlight of this book. It took a ton of guts for an author to write lines for the character of God, and although it may seem borderline blasphemous, in reality Young is just doing his best to apply what God has said before in the Bible to a real life situation. Mack will bring a problem to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit (which Young emphasizes are all one being) and they then proceeds to try and work through the problem. The results are amazing, ideas or questions I’ve had and probably you’ve had such as “why does God allow evil?” or “How could a great God care about me?” are laid out and talked through. Sometimes they come to an answer, and sometimes appropriately enough God has to tell Mack that “Mack doesn’t have the capability to fully understand his complex works”. A lot like the end of the book of Job.

I did have one major gripe with the book. The cover of the book really does a lot of disservice to the book, primarily because it sets such a high bar. The cover is inundated with quotes from critics and celebrities proclaiming The Shack as the Pilgrim’s Progress for our generation. I mean the book was good, but Pilgrim’s Progress is incredible. It’s akin to crowning up and coming basketball players as “The Next Jordan”, or new movies as “This Year’s Citizen Kane”. The fact that there is a comparison already disproves the idea. Nobody said Jordan was the next Wilt Chamberlain or Pilgrim’s Progress was the next Confessions, because to be that good means there is no comparison. So it’s obviously no Pilgrim’s Progress, but the book is still good.

One final disclaimer. This book is a work of christian fiction, and as such should not be read to learn theology. As proof there is never any direct quotes from scripture to back up any of the responses or explanations from the God characters. Fictional books have a wonderful role, but education is not it.

So this was not one of those here’s a problem and here’s a bunch of anecdotes and scripture to fix it books. It’s not going to fix anything. What it does do however is potentially get you really excited about the personality and attributes of our amazing God. Then you can get back to your Bible and hopefully strive after God even harder than before. So even though it’s no Pigrim’s Progress, I have to say that I enjoyed and appreciated the message behind The Shack.


  1. Great blog Gabe your Dad recommended it to me at Bible Study. I too enjoyed The Shack but agree with you that it is no Pilgrim's Progress. Although to play "Devil's Advocate" (I too like to argue!) Bunyan had detractors during his day who didn't think he should write more "serious" things (man were they ever off the mark). So who really knows what history will say about the influence of Young and "The Shack"

  2. Ken, it's good to hear from you. Good catch about Bunyan. I think the main issue I had was that they pigeon-hole "The Shack" by placing it in the shadow of "Pilgrim's Progress". But as you said, time could radically change that idea.