on July 22, 2010
I heard that his book was amazing and I am sorry to say I completely disagree. From the beginning I found "Mack" to be extremely annoying and irritating and found it difficult to connect or sympathize with the character, or any characters for that matter. I thought that the writing style was just awful, boring, seemed fake, I don't know how else to describe it. Seemed very amateur to me, cliche. Regardless of anyone's belief system, I don't really see how anyone could enjoy this book, it was painful to read. One word to sum it up, CHEESY. I actually lost my copy, and admit I haven't looked very hard to locate it.
on November 1, 2014
Given that I have just awarded this book one star, it might be hard to believe me when I say that The Shack was a book I wanted to like. It is well-written, and I have never in my life been so moved by a novel as by the unfolding tragedy in the early chapters. I sensed what was coming and yet was completely drawn into the sadness and horror as the tragedy actually occurred. I did not pick up this book with the intention of doing a hatchet job. And I hope this review is not perceived as such. Please bear with me and if you disagree with me at the end, I would invite comments.
First of all, this book is not all bad. There are good points, including, as I have said, that it is written in a captivating style. There are, however, some serious problems with the ideas communicated. Now for the sake of space I can only focus on a few of them.
A common thread to the problems is a subversive undercurrent which is carried throughout but is never stated explicitly. Its manifestations have in common the communication that traditional Christianity is entirely lacking and that one must therefore turn to the new, the private, and the experiential, for answers. For example, the note that Mack finds in his mailbox does not direct him to go to a particular church where God promises to minister to him over the next number of weeks through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, in the context of meeting with the body of Christ in corporate worship. No, Mack is directed to go somewhere where he will have private encounters with God that bypass the means of grace mandated by Scripture.
Scripture is muzzled; it is never referred to except in a negative way ("God's voice had been reduced to paper" - p.65). And so what the Bible teaches about itself, that it is to be the standard by which we judge our experiences, is turned on its head and experience becomes the final arbiter of truth.
The cost of doing this is high. We no longer hear the hard truths of Scripture but the wisdom of our own inner voices. Of course this begs the question: if our experiences are sufficient to lead us to God, then why did God bother to give us the Bible? When we usurp the authority of Scripture and try to place ourselves in judgement over it, two things happen: first, we forget who God is, and second, we forget who we are. This is evident in the book. Yes, God is a God of love, but the Bible does not describe God primarily that way. The Bible stresses that God is holy, that He is righteous, and that He cannot and will not tolerate the presence of sin. His love, then, is a holy love. His wrath is a holy wrath. His judgement is a holy judgement. The author, however, elevates God's love and divorces it from His holiness and wrath. He does not even mention God's holiness, and His wrath is belittled as something unbecoming of a God whose primary (and exclusive) characteristic is love.
What comes through is an insignificant view of sin. When sin is not taken seriously, this becomes a massive problem. People don't realize that according to the Bible, even the smallest sin makes one guilty of cosmic treason; it is an affront against an eternal, holy God and it is an assertion of their will over His. They are attacking God's authority to rule over them, and as such it is an infinitely heinous offense. The more we understand who God is, according to Scripture, the more our sin will become apparent to us. But we, as the apostle Paul says, judge ourselves among ourselves and judge ourselves by ourselves, and we are not wise. We grade ourselves on a curve and we judge righteousness simply by comparing one another here on earth, whereas in reality the standard of righteousness is the character of God.
This whole way of thinking creates a climate, seen clearly in The Shack, where the fundamental truths of the Bible are brazenly denied and we are presented with a completely different gospel. Papa, the "God the Father" figure in the book, tells Mack "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it" (p. 120). Here sin is downplayed and redefined, and we see a denial of the wrath of God and his justice which requires that sin be punished. Why then did Jesus have to die upon the cross? The Bible teaches that Jesus' death was a substitutionary atonement, taking upon himself the punishment which rightly belongs to sinners, which is all people. He doesn't take the punishment of all people, however, but that of those who cry out to him for salvation and cling to him in faith. This is the heart of the Biblical gospel.
What does The Shack say? It disagrees completely since it claims there is no sin to be punished nor righteous wrath to be satisfied. Instead, we are told that by Jesus death and resurrection, God has been fully reconciled to the world (p. 192) but just how, we are not told. Elsewhere Papa says "In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship" (p. 182). And Jesus tells Mack that "those who love me come from every system that exists...Buddhists, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims...I have no desire to make them Christian" (p.182). Finally, Jesus is referred to as the "best" way to God (p. 110), the obvious contrast being to the Biblical claim that Jesus in the only way to God.
What are we to make of these claims? It sure sounds like some form of universalism to me, but even if it is "only" inclusivism, the belief that "good" people who have never heard of Jesus may nevertheless be saved, it is manifestly obvious that what is proclaimed here is a different gospel than that taught in the Bible.
The author claims that the words he has put in the mouths of his God-personages are based on actual conversations he himself has had with God. Now to me that is a chilling thought. Since the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, does not contradict himself, and the message of The Shack contradicts that of the Scriptures, then whatever spirit he was conversing with it was not the Holy Spirit.
I am not kidding. This is serious. I am just trying to take seriously what is being said. What other conclusion could I come to? And if one is tempted to say that I am taking this way out of proportion because after all, the book has helped so many people, I can only point to the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8 - "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned."
I am not saying that there is nothing good in The Shack. However, I cannot possibly recommend a book which has truth mixed in with such profound error. Given the enormous popularity of the book, there is value in reading it in order to gain insight into the currents of contemporary spirituality. But it really needs to be read with the Bible open next to it. And it absolutely does not belong in a church library.
The message of The Shack is subversive towards historic, Biblical Christianity. It steers people away from the Bible and towards personal experience. It redefines sin from being cosmic treason to being at most a crime against the self. It denigrates the character of God by ignoring His holiness, justice, and by denying His righteous wrath against sin. It proclaims peace where there is no peace. It presents another gospel and declares people to be reconciled to God whom the Bible says are still in their sins.
The gospel is not the gospel unless its presentation takes into account not only God's love but His holy character, His justice satisfied at the cross, and the fact that redemption comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.
on April 14, 2013
I was so disappointed with this book! I read it in four days (quick for me as I'm a slow reader) because I just wanted to get it over with and move on to another/better book!
At one point, some of the characters go camping and Young describes exactly where they went... as though the reader needed directions (this highway, then this highway, past this, up here, turn here,...). It was so distracting and totally pulled me out of the book. Then while camping, there was the main character, his kids, two couples he met, and their kids. Way too many characters, more than necessary. It was confusing with so many new names (who's the couple? Who are the kids? Who is this person... kid or wife????) and again not necessary. These may be small things but it felt a bit sloppy.
The characters were flat (especially the "Three" and Nan) - I've never read a book with such flat characters. I liked the idea of it but it was pretty much just dialogue, not always biblical and super cheesy.
At the end of the book, there is a page dedicated to the Missy Project. I thought it was a charity thing but no, the reader is encouraged to promote the book. There is a list of ways the *reader* can get the book into more hands, to help circulation. Seriously? I was so turned off by that.
I'm just glad I bought it at a used book store and only paid $4 for it.
on February 17, 2010
I titled my review with my favorite sentence from "The Shack". "Period!" As if it wasn't enough to re-punctuate a sentence with another sentence, Young can't even decide which punctuation mark he used. Perhaps "Exclamation mark!" would have been more to the point. This is just one example of how The Shack is written at roughly the junior high school level. It's like something you'd expect a 13 year old girl to hand in for her language arts class at a Catholic grade school.
From a theological standpoint, The Shack is irrelevant. Young begins with the assumption that effectively every word of mainstream Christian theology is absolutley correct, and he proceeds to drag you through it. God is there, as is Jesus, and sure enough the Holy Spirit wanders in at some point too. Don't look for Mohammed, Buddha, Ganesha, or Mazda - this is a Christians-only club.
In short, this book sucks. If you're a hard-core Christian and you want to read something designed to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about your faith, you'll probably get a kick out of this drivel. If you have more than two brain cells to rub together you'll likely hate it.