Christian Fiction and The Shack


I haven’t even started reading The Shack and once again I find myself discussing it. Mike Duran at Decompose posted on the subject yesterday because the author Paul Young, spoke at his church.

I not only read Mike’s post but followed some of the associated links, which led me to more troubling information than I expected, things Mr. Young said in interviews and at other speaking engagements.

In this day and age, it seems a work of fiction—at least one that becomes widely read—no longer stands on its own. Instead, the author by his promotion of it, provides a means to interpret it. An interesting, 21st century happening, I think.

Be that as it may, what I want to consider is this statement Mike made towards the end of his post:

At some point, it is inappropriate to attach the label “Christian” to a work of fiction. I’m not exactly sure where that line should be drawn.

On one level I find this interesting because Mike has often called for the eradication of the term “Christian fiction,” so for him to say a work ought not be called “Christian fiction” seems a little odd.

The thing is, he’s got me wondering if we shouldn’t do away with the term “Christian fiction.” How strange is that?

But here’s the thing. The term “Christian fiction” once seemed defined. In the story, someone would have an encounter with God, repent of their sin, and come to faith in Christ. That was the defining trope.

As authors and editors clamored for artistic Christian fiction or bigger stories, a new approach surfaced. Writers would tell the story from a Christian worldview. Which was fine until along came a number of stories devoid of spiritual merit but still sporting the moniker “Christian fiction,” presumably because the writing was “clean” and the characters were somewhat moral.

Interestingly, no Christian fiction since the Left Behind books has caught on big … until The Shack.

Unlike the Christian worldview fiction that emphasizes art and good storytelling, this book apparently isn’t well written, doesn’t tell much of a story, and makes God present, center stage. No worldview-ishness about this book! Let’s talk God.

Sounds shockingly anti-current trend. Except … the god who takes such a prominent place apparently bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. Or so I’ve read in reviews and heard from a number of people I respect. I’ll get back with you on that one after I’ve read it.

But Mike’s point remains. At some point we have to stop calling fiction “Christian” when the tag doesn’t fit. I’d suggest the Bible needs to be the measuring stick. Isn’t Christian fiction that which is consistent with the way the Bible reveals God and His creation?

So a piece of fiction that throws the Bible in the face of the reader, that says the problem with the church today is the Bible, seems antithetical to Christian fiction. In case you question the idea that The Shack disparages the Bible, read the following quote upon which I’m primarily basing my opinion:

from The Shack

In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box. Just in a book. Especially an expensive one, bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

So what’s the answer: do away with the term “Christian fiction”? Keep it defined narrowly as books that present Christ as Savior in an overt way? Include “Christian worldview” stories? Include “Christian worldview” stories in the broadest sense and let the readers figure out on their own if the content contains truth?

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Comments (6)  
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