Those of you who work in churches know the drill. At least every two or three months a church member will come up and suggest a book you MUST read or a piece of music you MUST hear. About 95% of the time either (a) you’ve read/heard it 20 years ago, or (b) the suggestion will be mentally dismissed 10 seconds later on the grounds that the Christian Bestseller’s list is to great spiritual truth what the “Left Behind” series is to Shakespearean literature.
In other words, I approached this book with little hope of liking it. I’ve never been more pleased to be proven wrong. I found it easy to read, and finished it in less than a day. It got off to slow start, but once the story got rolling, it held my interest to the end.
I’ll be writing about some of the points the book raises over the next week or two, but for now I’d like to clear up what are sure to be some misunderstandings among readers and critics of The Shack.
What The Shack Isn’t
The Shack doesn’t pretend to be great literature (Eugene Peterson’s comparison to Pilgrim’s Progress notwithstanding). It is not meant to be a theological treatise, although there’s some good solid theology here. It is not primarily meant to be an evangelistic tool, though it could be used as such.
It isn’t something that will satisfy those who insist on seeing chapter-and-verse quotations. And in spite of what many “discernment ministry” people say, it is most certainly not rooted in New Age, Emergent, or heretical teachings. It does, however, pose some much-needed challenges to Fundamentalist and Reformed theologies.
What The Shack Is
The Shack is a a fictional story loosely based on the author’s life experiences and spiritual journey. It could probably be best described as a fictionalized autobiography.
It is a book that deals with pain. Why does God allow tragedy? Why doesn’t He stop evil happening? Does God care how we feel? How can painful experiences be overcome? These are the kinds of questions the book addresses, and I think it answers them very well.
It is also a book for people who are tired of religion, who sense that church should be a place of shelter from the storms of life and have found it to be anything but. It’s for people who have been hurt by the world and need to experience Christ’s compassion. The book takes aim at legalism and “church-ianity” — two of my favorite targets — and scores a number of points.
On the whole I think this book will mean the most to people who believe in God but who are on the fringes of (or outside of) organized religion — people healthy churches will want to reach out to and welcome. It would be an easy book around which to plan church group discussions and/or community outreach ministries. (note to self…)