One of the very best, if not the absolute best, theological, social and political blog spots on the Internet is that of Ben Witherington, III. Witherington is a highly-esteemed New Testament professor at Asbury Seminary (Wilmore, Kentucky) and the author of numerous academic and popular books that are always of superb quality. I only read a few blogs regularly, mostly because of my personal time constraints. This is one blog that I try to get to as often as possible. After I wrote my simple critique of The Shack last week I was linked to Witherington’s blog (go to the archives and then go to July 22 and there you will find the review), by a friend. He asked me to comment on Dr. Witherington’s review of The Shack. I told him that Witherington’s review is a thorough and extremely helpful critique. For all the hyper-conservative rant about this book, this particular blog offered a serious reflection with some helpful theological insights that I hope Young will pay attention to if he ever edits his best-selling book.
The basic purpose and story of The Shack remain extremely useful, so far as I am concerned. While some fine-tuning is truly needed, the huge over-reaction to this book is another expression of "left brain" thought dominating "right brain" creativity. The other superb review that I have read of The Shack appeared in Christianity Today. If you go to the site you can type in The Shack and several reviews and blogs will appear. They are all quite helpful.
The review that appeared in World Magazine, however, left a great deal to be desired. I found it predictably unhelpful. World sometimes hits a home run, but more often than not they hit foul balls and just do not advance runners in genuinely creative and fruitful ways. Their ideology rarely allows them to interact with divergent ideas. Instead it seems to obligate them to politicize issues within evangelicalism that will appeal to very strong conservatives, who also appear to be their target audience. I read an issue of World last week and several articles were brilliant; e.g. Marvin Olasky reviewing the gritty and dark HBO series, The Wire, a superb review, to cite one very positive example. World’s reviews are very uneven so you are never quite sure what you will get.
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I read The Shack in April; I hadn’t heard of it but a friend who had the opportunity to meet the author kindly gave me a copy.
When something has as much impact as this book, to me that indicates it’s providing something that has been missing.
What this book does, imo, is, powerful convey the love of God on an emotional level. God in the book pursues Mack as an individual – God is sensitive enough to notice that Mack has issues with men and so appears differently until Mack’s trust is gained. The Bible affirms the sensitivity of God ([Jesus] would not crush a bruised reed – Isaiah and Matthew), yet this is an attribute I can’t ever remember being emphasized in sermons or in other contemporary Christian writing. I was very pleased to find it in The Shack. A lot of people are sensitive, so it seems to me, and it’s very powerful to discover that God might be sensitive enough to who they are and their history to be careful how God appears to them.
To me many of the people criticizing The Shack seem to be missing the point – that it’s able to do something they will never do with their approach to Christianity. It speaks to people on an emotional level whereas they are criticizing it intellectually. It’s like complaining about the color or the shape of an orange when the reality is, people find oranges tasty and refreshing and your fruit seems dry and tasteless to them even though you think yours is a better color or shape.
Maybe I shouldn’t use the fruit analogy since it’s so associated with wrong desire.
The God in The Shack is fun to be around, the sort of person who lifts your spirits when you need that, who can keep things in perspective. This also often seems missing from the church. Much of the critical responses to the book have been very serious, underlining the very problem that Christians often don’t seem to know how to lighten up.
What surprises me is the lack of Christian critics asking “What can we learn from this? What does it tell us we’re missing in our efforts to help people connect with God?” To me that would be a very constructive response and might lead to filling in some of the gaps missing in how the church communicates about God with people. And in how Christians come across. How often do Christians come across as sensitive, fun and passionately pursuing people in a way that takes into account the beautiful uniqueness of each individual and the ways in which they have been hurt?
If the answer was ‘very often’ I don’t think this book would be topping the NY Times bestseller list. Because it would have nothing to say which Christians aren’t already saying, all the time.
But that’s just my opinion 🙂