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Not too Bad, Not Life Changing
on February 11, 2009
The Shack is clearly an influential book, and judging by its prodigious sales a lot of people are reading it. As well I noticed that it has (especially in Canada) received a lot of controversial reviews. There are those who love it, and those who hate it passionately. It seems that a lot of this depends on the reader's theology. I would like to critique this view not based on its theology, but on its inspirational value as a work of fiction
First I would like to start by arguing that this is a work of fiction and that fiction is not the same as nonfiction theology (which some reviews seem to claim). The purpose of a nonfiction theological work is to teach through instruction and argument. Fiction, such as The Shack, however is meant to inspire the imagination through the use of vivid and attention-grabbing tales; fiction strives to rouse our emotions and this allows us to consider issues in a different way. For this reason- and I hope this is already clear- The Shack is not a conclusive theological thesis, but a pointer towards a new way of thinking which can then be either validated or invalidated by looking more into the thoughts and feelings we derive from reading it. It is like listening to Silent Night on Christmas Eve as opposed to listening to a university theology lecture. It is what it is. What is important about this book is how it makes us feel and think.
It is within this context that I would like review The Shack. I do not really care whether it mirrors my theology or not, I care about how the book was written and whether it evokes emotion and personal reflection. Now, I have set up very subjective criteria for whether or not I consider this book a success, but I think this is necessary to give the book justice and not simply argue against it based on my theological preference.
I have to admit, for me, this book was not that compelling. Perhaps it was the hype that came with it (read some of the 5 star reviews!), but when I resolved to read this book, I was anticipating the most revolutionary book I had ever read. It was given to me because my best friend had just died in a car accident. I was in desperate need of comfort as I tried to make some sort of sense of the circumstances. Perhaps it was due to these lofty expectations that this book did not come through. I thought that the prose seemed cliché and the writing felt superficial. I did not feel compelled by many sequences of dialogue. In all honesty I had some difficulty sympathizing with Mac, and given his circumstances, this should not have been the case. There were certain touchtones within the book (I liked his image of God as an African American woman, since this is as likely as the traditional conceptualization of God as the wise old white man) and I loved how he conceptualized Mac's pain, calling it the "deep sadness". For me, however, this book did not sufficiently answer the problem of pain (which I think is a rational as well as emotional problem we all must deal with), and it did not especially help me with my pain that much. In fact, as I struggled with my loss, it was through a plethora of other books by authors such as CS Lewis, Harold Kushner, and Paul Tillich that I found peace.
I liked the idea of the story, and the book had some touchtones within, but as a life changing work of fiction, this book did not do it for me. For this reason I give it 3 stars.