The Shack

John ArmstrongBooks

I think I have been asked one question more than any other, at least in terms of popular culture, in 2008: "Have you read The Shack yet?" The Shack, for those of you who are not paying attention, is the number one best-selling novel in America right now and it is written by a Christian author with an overtly Christian storyline. This in itself is amazing. Perhaps more amazingly, the theme of The Shack is not prophecy, or some strange speculation about the modern world, but rather it is story, a "parable" as the author describes it, about the nature of God as Trinity. Regardless of what you think about the book and whether you have read it or not, tell me, when was the last time a book dealing with the nature of God, that sought to reveal biblical truth in the process, became a number one bestseller?

Even more astounding is that The Shack is not published by a mainstream publisher. Its publishing history is a part of the story here. The story, written by William P. Young (pictured to the right), Willie
was released in 2007 by Windblown Media (Los Angeles). In its final pages, the author encourages readers to promote the book to friends by a word of mouth effort and with Internet discussion. It has apparently worked since the book is now being discussed all over the nation, by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Twice I had it in my hands in public places last week and both times people asked me, "Do you like that book? I see it everywhere and wonder if I should read it." I receive emails asking me about it almost every week.

There have been two marked responses to the book by Christians. Some love it, others hate it. I chalk up this vast divergence of responses to several factors. One is that some Christians have no imagination at all, and frankly do not even care to develop one. They do not understand allegory nor do they like it. Eugene Peterson is wired very differently and thus concludes on the cover of the book, "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!" Now that is a little over the top, in my humble judgment, but then we are talking about a modern novel for modern readers. Bunyan’s classic is actually studied as English literature in universities. I doubt anyone will study The Shack that way now or later, especially a hundred years from now.

Having stated my reservation about some "over the top" comments praising The Shack I must say that the negative evangelical reactions against The Shack are almost all over the top as well. The reasons for these negative reactions obviously vary. Some see theological error in the book and react based on what they think is heresy. Others read "too much" into the book and thus get too much out of it. It is not a theology book. It is a novel for heaven’s sake.

I like what my friend Steve Brown said to me last week. "If I were attacking this book I would be very careful. It just might be that God is really using it. You could regret your attacks." Brown interviewed the author on his radio program. I plan to listen to it when I get time. Steve was impressed with the author and the book.

The question The Shack addresses is really this: "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain and tragedy?" This means the book deals with the ancient question of theodicy; i.e. good and evil. It does so in a way that will not please those who look for theological flags to fly here and there. I found myself in basic agreement with the author’s overall approach, though his way of explaining divine sovereignty is not entirely filled out in an adequate way.

What I liked much more about The Shack was the way Young developed the nature of the relational Trinity and explained how all three persons are vital to our lives. I simply cannot recall reading a book on the Trinity that moved me the way this novel did. It is a simple, fast and powerful reading experience. I liked it and recommend that you read it. I would love to know what you think if you have actually read the book.