Book Review: The Shack

, posted by Kevin Jackson

(Warning: this review contains spoilers)

What would you do if you were invited to spend a weekend with God? What questions would you ask him? Maybe, why does evil exist? Why is there pain? That is the background for the book “The Shack” (Author: William P. Young).

“The Shack” has become a phenomenon. As of today (9-24-09) it is ranked #11 in sales on Amazon.com, and has over 3700 reviews.

There is a dual reaction to the book in Christian circles: people either love it or despise it. I fall into the former category, with a reservation. I enjoyed the story. It brought me to tears a number of times. As a father of two girls, I empathized with the main character, “Mack”.

The Shack is about the problem of evil. Why does God allow terrible things to happen? Mack’s youngest daughter Missy is brutally raped and murdered and this causes a rift in his relationship with God. Mack cannot trust a God who would allow such a terrible act. In the story, God invites Mack to come to meet him at the site of the murder. Mack goes to meet God, and so the story continues.

The Trinity is represented by three persons: Papa (who is a black woman), Jesus (as himself), and Sarayu (an Asian woman). Some people have been bothered that the Father and the Spirit were represented by women. However, in the storyline it is made clear that they are not really female; they are simply an anthropomorphism of God – much like “Aslan” represents God in the Narnia books.

What I liked about the book was how well the author illustrated the loving nature of God. This aspect of God’s character shined through. God deeply loves Mack. He desires to heal Mack, to be in relationship with him, and to set him free. God loves all of us that way, the author makes that clear. A phrase that is repeated is that God is especially fond of you (each of us).

In the story God does not desire evil; it is not ordained by him. Yet God is able to accomplish his purposes through the way he responds to evil – with his unconditional love.

One concern I have about the book is that it seems to imply universalism – the idea that everyone will be saved in the end. This concept is not explicitly stated, but I can see readers arriving at such a conclusion.

The outright hostile reviews of the book are unwarranted. They seem to primarily come from Calvinists who have an axe to grind with the theology of the author. This is unfortunate.

In conclusion, I recommend this book. However, it should not be taken as “gospel”. It should not be read in place of Scripture. In the end it is simply a story – but a very moving one at that.

Some other reviews:
Greg Boyd (positive)
Tim Challies (negative)