I just got done reading The Shack by William Paul Young. As a heads up, I am probably going to spoil the plot for you in this review. But that it pretty well done by reading the back cover of the book, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
Any time a book is sweeping the nation and addresses spiritual issues, I feel compelled to read it, to stay on top of what the culture is producing. Frankly, that’s the only reason I even made it all the way through this book. It’s just not good, from a literary and artistic standpoint. It attempts to create a strange sort of new genre somewhere at the intersection of realistic fiction, fantasy, theological non-fiction, and philosophy. In so doing, it is completely confusing.
In trying to meet in-between genres, you lose believability and credibility in all of them.
As a work of realistic fiction, it’s laughable for it’s predictability, aggressive foreshadowing, and melodrama. The lines are forced and heavy early on in the book, trying to set the stage for the Missy’s murder. I felt brow-beaten by the onslaught of cliched sappy-ness juxtaposed with the impending doom.
As a work of fantasy, it’s unbearably cheesy (a guy goes for a walk with Jesus off the end of a dock and across a lake? Really? That’s not supposed to make me laugh?). Personifying God as an African-American woman is not a punishable offense, on the surface. Making her live up to multiple negative stereotypes of African American culture, from the “barefoot in the kitchen with flour on her face” to having her start every other sentence with “honey,” could very well be a crime, if you are looking to write a respectable novel.
As a work of theological non-fiction, it’s far too loose with the analogies, metaphors, and anthropomorphisms to be considered anything other than heretical by serious Christian theologians. In fact, the book even conjures the goddess Sophia, a key player in many pseudo-christian religious movements such as Gnosticism and various other forms of cultic mysticism. When “Papa” (the female “Father” figure of the book—which I am not going to comment on for the sake of brevity—and to avoid the hate-mail) declares her preferred name to be “Elousia,” and the “Holy Spirit” figure in the book goes by “Sarayu” both of those names have roots in Hindu scriptures. I could spend a long time nailing down all of the things I see theologically wrong with the book, but others have done that quite well. Click here for a thorough, fair, and sensitive approach by another blogger to the theological issues at hand. Some of the comments after the post become heated, but the blogger himself does a great job.
As a work of philosophy it comes the closest to believable, as it does a fair job through the characters of relating philosophical truths and concepts. But it gets too bogged down in plot and character development to really shine as a work of philosophy.
In short, please don’t read The Shack. It’s just not good. It sincerely frightens me when people say things like “The Shack will change the way you think about God forever,” as Kathie Lee Gifford says just inside the front cover. Paul’s letter to the Romans or possibly Desiring God by John Piper can change the way you think about God forever. The Shack should not do so. It’s bad “Christian Art” at best, and dangerous heresy at worst. And shame on Michael W. Smith for endorsing it on the back cover.