God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 5

Business first. Our May CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award poll ended without identifying a consensus winner, so we’re holding a run-off between the following:

The Run-off Poll will be open through next Tuesday.

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On to The Shack. Without a doubt, my biggest concern about this book by William P. Young is its portrayal of God.

In actual fact, God has revealed Himself in His work of Creation and His Word—prophetic, written, and Incarnate. The latter is often referred to as “special revelation,” I assume because God did something that wouldn’t be considered the norm. Consequently, when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, bushes didn’t become sacred, nor did lighting them on fire become a way to communicate with God. 😉

The thing that is most notable is how people reacted to special revelation. Here are a few examples (emphasis in each of the verses is mine):

  • Abram (later named Abraham by God) when God came to establish His covenant with him – “Abram fell on his face” (Gen. 17:3a).
  • Jacob, when God appeared to him in a dream – “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven'” (Gen. 28:17).
  • Moses at the aforementioned burning bush – “Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6b).
  • Samson’s parents when the angel prophesied his birth – “So Manoah said to his wife, ‘We will surely die, for we have seen God'” (Judges 13:22).
  • The people of Israel at Mount Sinai – “The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain … All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled … Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin'” (Ex. 19:20-20:20).
  • Isaiah in response to a vision of the Lord – “Woe is me, for I am ruined!/Because I am a man of unclean lips,/And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:5).
  • Ezekiel in response to his vision of God – “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” (Ez. 1:28b).
  • Daniel in response to his vision, of an angel or of the pre-incarnate Christ – “Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:7-8).
  • John, Jesus’s beloved disciple, when he saw the vision of the resurrected and glorified Christ – “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One'” (Rev. 1:17-18a).

I’m belaboring this point for a reason. Consistently, throughout Scripture, when people had an encounter with the Living God, they responded with fear and trembling. That’s because God shows Himself to be Almighty, Glorious, Majestic, Holy. He is transcendent, unsurpassable, unique, beyond all we can imagine. His presence left people speechless. All they could do was fall on their faces.

Does the god of The Shack remotely resemble God?

She “messes with Mack” (p. 219); says she submits to him (rather than the other way around – p. 145); is unpredictable on purpose (p. 128), apparently because there’s more fun in mystery (“Who wants to worship a God who can be fully comprehended, eh? Not much mystery in that.” p. 100); refers to being perpetually satisfied as a “perk” for being God (p. 99); tells crude jokes; shows love without showing justice (pp. 161-163)—in other words, appears as anything but He Who is high and lifted up.

My impression, from Mr. Young’s imaginings, is that God the Father is more like a comfortably kind nanny; Jesus, like one of the good ol’ boys; and the Holy Spirit, like an ethereal sister.

Where is worship? The closest comes when Mack stumbles around to say thanks for his meal.

I understand that Mr. Young wants to stress God’s love and the relationship we can have with Him. But I believe this Shack view of God damages the true understanding of our relationship with God. Because He is the ruler of the universe, Creator and sustainer of all that has being, AND He loves me … how can I do other than fall to my knees in amazement and submission.

Seeing God in His glory, recognizing how unworthy I am to be in His presence, let alone be held in His hand, then realizing He sent His Son to bleed and die so I could know Him, astounds me.

Does The Shack help me see a kinder, gentler God who I’d want to hang with? Not at all. While God is infinitely kind and gentle, He is also just and holy. To ignore some of His traits is not to know Him as He has revealed Himself, putting into question the very existence of any true relationship.

Can I imagine chumming with God, as Mack apparently does for several days? Sort of. Like a child does with his dad. But If a child no longer sees his dad as a rightful authority in his life, then he’s no longer relating child to father. The Shack basically ignores God’s authority, His position as King and as Lord. Whatever relationship it is advocating, it is not the one God offers us.

Series continued in Part 6.

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm  Comments (7)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 4

    For those of you who may be looking for the May CSFF Top Blogger Award poll, today is the last day to vote.

– – –
Though it is a novel, The Shack by William P. Young has some very specific things to say, particularly about God and our relationship to Him. Perhaps a few lines from the “After Words” can summarize the theme:

[Mack’s] hoping for a new revolution, one of love and kindness—a revolution that revolves around Jesus and what he did for us all and what he continues to do in anyone who has a hunger for reconciliation and a place to call home.
– p. 248

Clearly, Mr. Young stresses God’s love and relationship—within the God-head, between God and Man, and ultimately between Man and Man.

Who can criticize such a worthy endeavor? some might say. I don’t think the endeavor is in question, but the product must be scrutinized, if we are to be discerning.

I applaud Mr. Young’s effort to show God as loving. Clearly, this is the message that resonates with so many readers. But there is a problem.

If I were to tell you that I am the richest person in the world and that I have decided to give my blog readers whatever they ask of me because I’m so happy with them for their support and loyalty, how would you react? With joy? Humility? Gratitude? Or … would you be skeptical about my claims to be the richest person in the world? (Hint: you’re wise if you choose the latter! 😉

You see, I think some of The Shack fans are reacting to what they perceive to be great news without examining the claims. But here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, it’s examination time.

The Other Side of the Ledger. The point that most needs examining in The Shack, from my perspective, is what Mr. Young says about God. Numerous bloggers, including such men as Chuck Colson and Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, have examined the view of God portrayed in The Shack, so you might wonder why I think it’s necessary to add my voice on the subject.

From the reading I’ve done these past few days, it seems as if most critics have focused on the obvious—Mr. Young’s use of women to portray members of the God-head, the denial of a hierarchy in Mr. Young’s description of the trinity, and his portrayal of the Father and the Spirit in bodily forms.

Those are valid criticisms, and serious ones, but since much has been written already, I won’t spend a lot of time on them other than to say, these are serious matters.

God revealed Himself as Father. His masculine persona is not a construct of religion.

Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, clearly showing there is a hierarchy in the God-head without there being a devaluation of any of the persons.

And the Father revealed Himself in the Old Testament as a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a storm, and a still, small voice, yet Scripture also says no one has seen the Father. The Shack protagonist’s revamped view of God as a kindly woman, then as an older hiker is no more accurate than his previous conception of God as a Gandalf figure. More troubling is the idea that God will change his appearance to accommodate humans:

Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female … If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.
– p. 93

Later when the God figure appears as a man, this exchange:

Mack shook his head. “You’re still messing with me, aren’t you?’
“Always,” he said with a warm smile …”This morning you’re going to need a father.”
– p. 219

While those points are troubling and have serious ramifications, I want to concentrate on a point that seems to be less often challenged. Mr. Young asserts that Jesus, while fully God and fully human, chose to set aside his divine nature while on earth:

Although [Jesus] is also fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being. He is just the first to do it to the uttermost—the first to absolutely trust my life within him, the first to believe in my love and my goodness …
– pp. 99-100

This assertion simply is not so! Jesus Himself told John’s disciples who asked Him if He was the Expected One to report what they saw: the blind received sight, lepers were cleansed, the dead raised. These acts, Jesus inferred, testified that, yes, He was the One.

Later, as He moved through a crowded street, He stopped because someone touched Him and He felt power go out of Him. I don’t pretend to understand this, but the point for this discussion is clear—Jesus did in fact have power.

In an opposite case that proves the same thing, when Jesus was in Nazareth, Scripture records that He could do few miracles because the people didn’t believe. Presumably, if Jesus was merely tapping into God’s power, healing would have been available to Him no matter what. The people didn’t believe that this son of their neighbors could really be doing miracles. According to Mr. Young, He wasn’t. Scripture implies, He was.

There’s more. Jesus forgave sins. On the spot. In front of others. In fact it was a source of contention between Him and the Pharisees.

Jesus underwent a transfiguration—a glorification of His body that brought Him into communion with Moses and Elijah. Again, I don’t pretend to understand this, but I recognize that this event was unique to Jesus, an expression of His divinity.

Jesus often demonstrated omniscience. He knew what the Pharisees were thinking from time to time. He knew Peter would find a gold coin in the mouth of a fish; that He would deny Christ three times; that the disciples would find a certain colt tied up in a nearby village; that they would see a man carrying water and follow him to an upper room; that the woman at the well had been married five times before and was currently living with a man who was not her husband; that the widow at the temple had offered her last two coins.

He even demonstrated omnipresence when He saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Phillip called him.

He exercised authority over demons, over nature, over the temple. He claimed authority to interpret the law and explain the prophets.

Ultimately, a man he healed said it best:

Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened he eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.
– John 9:32-33

So here’s the point. How reliable is Mr. Young’s message as it stands, if he doesn’t even begin with a true and accurate picture of who Jesus is?

Series continued in Part 5.

Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm  Comments (13)  
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God and Fiction—A Look at The Shack, Part 3

For those of you who may be looking for the May CSFF Top Blogger Award poll, you’ll find it here.

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Pop Theology continued. Yes, this should look familiar. As I was thinking about this post, I recognized what I believe to be another reason The Shack by William P. Young can be considered pop theology, so I’m delaying my “look at the other side of the ledger.”

In identifying The Shack as pop theology, I already mentioned the lack of depth and the hodge-podge of ideas, some stemming from the Bible and some from eastern mysticism. A third indicator of its pop theology status is the existence of contradictory ideas side by side. Readers of various stripes can easily look at the same passage, see opposite statements, and come away praising the book for its truth, though they each believe something entirely different.

So while some Christians claim The Shack has strengthened their faith, theists can claim the same thing. Here’s one example:

I’ve always believed in a higher power. I wouldn’t say I believe in God, necessarily, at least not in the way He’s written into the bible, but I do believe. The way God is written into this book [The Shack] is a perfect description of what I imagine when I think of God. It’s given me a sense of validation.

Troubled by Uncritical Reactions. Some time ago, Decompose author Mike Duran posted his thoughts about the inordinate praise heaped upon Mr. Young and The Shack. One of Mike’s points especially resonates with me now that I’ve nearly finished reading the book: “One [of his two-fold concerns] was the exuberant, almost rabid, seemingly uncritical response to The Shack” (emphasis mine).

Note the following comment to a post commending Mr. Young and The Shack:

Lastly … what about the critics who have read the book and still thinks it’s heretical?? Check out this website http://blog.harvestbiblefellowship.org/?p=679. It blows my mind how people have been dissecting it apart, overanalyzing it to death, and searching for a hidden agenda on Paul’s part!! So incredibly misguided. Here’s one comment to the book review…”Thank you so much for standing against this book. So many pastors/churches have fallen under its spell. May God bless you!” And so it goes….

“Misguided” that people are thinking about what they read? Are we instead to give a pass because the reading experience for some people was moving? Or because they found Mr. Young to be an engaging speaker or a compassionate man?

Perhaps this is nothing more than the bandwagon effect that is endemic in our culture, and equally so, it would seem, in our churches. It is a search for rock stars, for Christian Idols, for The Next Big Thing, and that search takes precedence over a close examination of what the work or the person is actually saying.

Perhaps, as Gerald Hiestand said back in October, “Young’s book has struck a chord with the culture at large, and the evangelical culture not least.” But does this fact then give the book a pass when it comes to scrutinizing its message?

Whether the feel-good message, the desire for heroes, or the discovery of an area of need (or some combination of all three) creates the flood of fans, Christians still must apply discernment. We should do so always, no matter what the topic, but how much more so when the book deals directly with our understanding of God and His work in the world!

With that said, expect in the next few days some effort at analysis on my part covering the points of theological disagreement I have with The Shack. I’ll do my best not to overdo, but analysis is analysis. 😉

Series continued in Part 4.

God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 2

For those of you who may be looking for the May CSFF Top Blogger Award poll, you’ll find it here.

– – –

Pop Theology continued. Yesterday I said the themes in The Shack might best be called pop theology, in part because so many topics are touched upon without any depth. But there’s a more troubling reason I think “pop theology” is a fitting description.

As near as I can determine it, some of the views author William Young expresses are ones that do not come from the Bible. In fact, they clearly clash with Scripture. Nevertheless, these ideas seem to be accepted by a good number of people claiming the name of Christ.

In reality, it’s easy to trace the origins of these views to threads in the culture at large—the culture strongly influenced by Eastern mysticism. In short, The Shack seems like a hodge-podge of thought, some taken from the Bible and some taken from the wisdom of the age. Which, I guess, explains why I found some ground of agreement but some I must dispute.

Areas of Agreement. So what points in particular did I feel Mr. Young made that gave us common ground? One has to do with the idea of yielding to God, of not acting independently. I think this is a significant point, one we Christians need to face, one clearly taught in Scripture. James 4:7 uses the word “submit” (Submit, therefore, to God …”) I Peter 5:6 uses the word “humble” (Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God …”) The idea seems to be to let God be God and in so doing, stop playing God in my own life and circumstances. Certainly the views in The Shack are consistent with this point:

“I feel like a failure with [his wife]. I can’t seem to be [the source of her identity and security and understanding of good and evil] for her.”

“You weren’t made to be. And in trying you’ll only be playing God.”

… “is there any way out of this?”

“It is so simple, but never easy for you. By re-turning. By turning back to me. By giving up your ways of power and manipulation and just come back to me.”
– p. 147

Then two pages later:

“Mack, just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own. Apart from my life inside of you, you can’t submit to [your wife], or your children, or anyone else in your life, including [God].”

– p. 149

Another issue with which I agree but which caught me by surprise was Mr. Young’s emphasis on the church as the people, not the building or the institution. Of course! and that’s the point. I don’t know how anyone could actually be a Christian and not agree. I mean the Church is the bride of Christ. Certainly Christ’s bride is not an institution. He is the Vine, we are the branches. Certainly the branches aren’t often-empty buildings. Just recently my church had a service weekend called The Church Has Left the Building. The point was clear in the name, and I thought this was a given.

I’ll name a few other points I agree with that Mr. Young made:

Change comes from the inside, not from following rules.

The Bible is a picture of Jesus.

God should be at the center of a person’s life, not merely a top priority. (I liked the contrast between seeing God as the pinnacle of a pyramid versus the anchor of a mobile).

Would that I could stop here. If that were the case, I’d add my voice to the many who found The Shack truthful. (See for example this blog post and read this explanation of it’s popularity:

That books at both ends of the spectrum are best-sellers shows that readers want to know how to relate to God in a troubled world. The gap-filler is a book that respects the intelligence of people who are hurting in this war-zone of a world, but still affirms the control of our loving and all-powerful Lord. The Shack has scratched this itch. In fact, it is attempting to stop the hemorrhage and bandage the wound. People hunger for a book like The Shack because they have not been satisfied with what their churches have served up on the topic of suffering. I applaud Young for recognizing a need.

Unfortunately, there’s the other side of the ledger, and I’ll look at those next time.

Series continued in Part 3.

God and Fiction – A Look at The Shack, Part 1

The Shack by William P. Young might be the perfect book to discuss at A Christian Worldview of Fiction because it is a novel, and it’s all about God. I still have three chapters to read, but already I have lots to say—so much that I feel it’s safe to call this post Part 1.

Overall Reaction. I have to admit, I had some preconceived ideas about The Shack going in. I’d read and heard what others had to say, and I’d even entered into some discussions on the topic. I was prepared to hate the book, quite frankly. I’d heard it was poorly written and that the theology was borderline heresy.

First, I was pleasantly surprised that the writing, while far from high quality, did not make the book painful to read. In addition, I discovered some common theological ground with the author. I guess I had expected there would be none.

This common-ground fact actually strengthens my resolve to preach the need for discernment in reading. Books that are total lies are easy to spot and easy to refute. Books that dip into murk while purporting to shine the light of God’s love into the lives of suffering, disillusioned people … well, those are harder to handle.

General Observations. More than a week ago, in God and Fiction, Part 3 I quoted Doroteos2 who said The Shack was a spiritual Twinkie—spiritual fluff lacking in any nutritional value.

I don’t think I will go that far because hundreds of thousands of people will testify that the book fed their souls. Are they all liars? I don’t think so. However, what I’ve seen in The Shack I believe is pop theology. Like “pop culture” pop theology is based more on popular taste than it is on study. Could this be why The Shack became a best-seller?

One evidence of “pop” anything seems to be a lack of depth. Catch phrases summarize all that a presidential candidate believes or that a beverage or fast food restaurant stands for. The Shack goes beyond catch phrases, but not by much.

I began cataloguing the different subjects the protagonist Mack discusses with one of the God-head personas. The list includes the trinity, good vs. evil, ecology, man/woman relationships, Jesus’s humanity/divinity, guilt, free will, emotions, legalism, God’s goodness, judgmentalism, the road to salvation, heaven, church, the Bible … and I haven’t finished reading it.

The point is, this novel is a slim 248 pages, and that list of topics contains some humdingers. Books, volumes of books, have been written exploring just one of those serious subjects. Yet Mr. Young manages to deal with all of them in 18 chapters of fiction. Not a lot of depth in the treatment of each, I’d say. But there’s a more serious reason to call this pop theology, I think, one I’ll take up in another post.

Continued in Part 2.

Tuck Wrap

Fifty blogs. Seventy-eight posts. Wow! That means we had quite a bit of discussion about Stephen Lawhead‘s final King Raven Trilogy installment, Tuck.

Of course we once again have a group of three-day posters vying to be named May CSFF Top Tour Blogger. If you haven’t already stopped by to read these excellent posts, I encourage you to do so. Then come back here to vote. Remember to take into consideration thought-provoking content and creativity.

The poll will be open until midnight next Thursday. If we don’t have a consensus winner, we’ll have a run-off as we did last month. Thanks in advance for your help in determining our May winner.

Those bloggers in the finals are

Published in: on May 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm  Comments (3)  

God and Fiction – A Second Look at Tuck

Yes, the CSFF Blog Tour featuring Tuck by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson) is over. But in visiting other participating blogs, I saw others address the issue of the spiritual in this story.

In my first look at Tuck, with God in mind, I commented that I felt as if Mr. Lawhead allowed God to be a part of the story as the characters experienced Him. In the end, though, when I did my review, I felt as if the spirituality was thin. And now I think I understand why.

But first, let me mention that other bloggers disagree. For instance, Rachel Starr Thomson felt the story was particularly strong in showing the power of prayer. Robert Treskillard, on the other hand, felt the story did a great job calling attention to sin and the coming judgment, thus serving as a seed-planting story (as opposed to one that also shows the growth and harvest 😉 ). John Otte was just happy that a variety of faith traditions cropped up in the story. One other blogger, I don’t recall who just now, thought the story did a good job showing the pursuit of peace winning out.

Why, with God clearly showing up and with the presence of these spiritual themes, did I feel as if the story was thin and not deep? It has to do with the struggle, the internal conflict of the characters. Since this third volume of the King Raven Trilogy was told primarily from Friar Tuck’s point of view, his untarnished faith came through.

Bran, on the other hand, who endured the burden of leadership with dwindling followers and the disappointment of broken promises and unmet expectations, apparently did struggle. But because the story was about him and not his, readers can only look on and see the outworkings of whatever spiritual issues Bran dealt with. Some bloggers found him arrogant, others found him dark and brooding, but no one said he was sympathetic.

I thought he was. I mean, if I underwent the betrayal he experienced, if I’d invested as much time and put myself at such risk as he did for his northern cousins, then had to walk away empty handed, well, I think I would be a bit brooding too. Yet he came around. When Tuck wanted to pursue peace, Bran came to the point of choosing to do what was right.

But what struggle did he go through to arrive at that place?

From the reader’s vantage point, it was nothing but Angharad’s counsel that put him onto the right path. It seemed easy and quick. Not something I think most of us can identify with. Wouldn’t it be great if we came to the truth and made right decisions with just a word of reminder?

But for most of us, a crisis in our world generates something of a crisis in our souls as well, and with Tuck telling the story, we just didn’t see that struggle in Bran, that crisis in his story. Thus, I came away feeling the theme was thin.

Tuck and Terrorism

What, you might be wondering, does Stephen R. Lawhead’s latest novel Tuck have to do with terrorism? For whatever reason, as I read this CSFF Blog Tour feature, I was struck by the similarities between this reconstituted Robin Hood legend and any number of other conflicts involving an undermanned group going against a more disciplined, seasoned fighting force, usually representing the reigning ruler.

One such instance would be the American Revolution. After the initial confrontations in Lexington and Concord, Minutemen—ill-equipped farmers—hassled and harried the disciplined English infantry from behind rocks and trees and whatever cover they could find.

It’s the same tactic used by the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 70s during the Vietnam war. It’s a mixture of fighting and hiding that has also played out in Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I’ve heard the statement, One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And at first blush, the line seems to be true. In the Robin Hood legend, as told in Tuck by Mr. Lawhead, the French viewed Rhi Bran y Hud as an outlaw and a rebel while Bran viewed the Ffreinc as unjust and cruel usurpers, oppressors to be dispatched by peaceful means if possible, but by resistance if that’s what it required.

So were the Grellon who followed Bran terrorists?

The very idea is discordant with the traditional concept of Robin Hood as a hero. He was noble and good, giving to the poor, bringing justice to the land, fighting for the downtrodden when they couldn’t fight for themselves. Robin and his merry men, terrorists?

Well then, were they instead, freedom fighters? Or is it only perspective that creates the label?

I think it is more than perspective. As I see it, Bran was a type of freedom fighter. At least as Mr. Lawhead painted the scene in the King Raven Trilogy, the Normans, in authority because they conquered the land, did not have the interests of the Welsh people at heart. Their leadership was corrupt and self-serving, pompous and oppressive.

Interestingly, in the latter part of Tuck, Bran’s men raid the Ffreinc’s supplies. In answer, the Ffreinc raid the barns of local farmers. In other words, Bran targeted soldiers, and the Ffreinc targeted non-combatants.

And isn’t that kind of ignoble act one of the things that marks a terrorist? Instead of helping the helpless, terrorists target them or use them. A terrorist is still self-serving and may even be pompous and oppressive, but from a position of weakness rather than from one of strength. Sure, the goals may seem similar to the heroic goals of Robin Hood, at least on the outside, but the terrorist is willing to climb over the untold number of bodies of those who have no part in the war in order to get what he wants.

There’s a reason a Robin Hood is admired, and it has less to do with distributing wealth than with self-sacrifice. In Mr. Lawhead’s version told in the King Raven Trilogy, and culminating in Tuck, Bran wanted justice. He was a good king and ruled his people with equity. He was honest, a man of his word, fair-minded, willing to make peace, but he was also committed and firm and unwavering. As a consequence, and because of the odds against him, he lived in poverty, put his life at risk over and over, and lost some of the people closest to him.

As I see it, that’s a hero, not a terrorist.

I’d recommend a couple other stops along the Lawhead Tuck Tour. Rachel Starr Thomson has a beautiful review; in her post, Ryan Heart included a book trailer I didn’t even know about; Steve Rice brings up the issue of syncretism in his “Weak Points” post (brought to my mind the criticism C. S. Lewis received for including Greek gods in his Narnia tales); in his review, John Ottinger found the characters weak (and especially Bran who he “disliked intensely”); John Otte takes a comparative look at various renditions of the Robin Hood legend. There’s more—lots more—but that’s enough to get you on your way. Enjoy! 😀

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 10:54 am  Comments (4)  
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Tuck – A Review

I want to mention a few of the CSFF Blog Tour posts about Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson). There are some interesting opinions and observations you won’t want to miss. Start with Fred Warren‘s excellent story summary. Then read Phyllis Wheeler‘s comprehensive review.

For those new to the King Raven Trilogy, Jason Joyner posted his reviews of the first two books, Hood and Scarlet.

For an inside look into one reviewer’s process, visit Terri Main, then follower her on Twitter.

That should get you started. 😉 For the entire list of participants, with check marks that link to their posts, see God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck. On to my review.

The Story. Since I gave a summary of the King Raven Trilogy yesterday, I won’t repeat that information. Tuck doesn’t either. It picks up the story right where Scarlet left off. Bran and his people are on the run with little hope of survival or, of equal importance to them, of justice. After half his followers give up and leave, Bran seeks help from his mother’s family. A good portion of the book, and much of the fun and intrigue, comes in Bran’s efforts to win their support. Meanwhile Mérian has her own ideas about acquiring help, and in Bran’s absence, she pursues them. And how does it end? You didn’t seriously think I would tell you, did your? 😀

Strengths. Mr. Lawhead is a skilled writer. Very quickly I was absorbed in the world he created and engaged with the characters of his imaging. In the end, I thought how plausible his suggestion was, that the Robin Hood legend was based upon the history of a minor Welsh king and eventually became larger than life as an adaptation for an English audience. This kind of believability is a result of excellent research and masterful use of language. Throughout the story I had the sense that I’d been transported to another time and place.

I also loved the action. I thought the pace was perfect. I wanted to know what would happen next, but I didn’t feel like the action overshadowed the characters. I found Bran’s responses to his circumstances believable and in places even admirable. I had one moment of true grief because of one plot point.

Weaknesses. In spite of my post yesterday about how God is portrayed in Tuck, I’d have to say, I think the theme is the biggest weakness in the book. Not because it is false but because it is … weak. As I thought about the story, which I enjoyed immensely, I had to consider long and hard to arrive at any lasting meaning. Was it a story about people fighting for what they believed in, despite great odds? Or was it about giving to others in return for what they gave? Or was it about pursuing peace even when war seems inevitable?

Any of those, maybe all. But there’s the problem. In saying several things weakly, the story left me unaffected. I finished the book, left the March with sadness, but felt unchanged by the characters and their struggles. I guess I’d just like more.

Recommendation. In a heartbeat I’d encourage anyone to read this book. It is a tale skillfully told. It’s unique, yet familiar. The characters seem true to life and each has an identifiable voice that helps them come alive. Those who enjoy historical novels along with those who love mythic, legend-like stories will like this best. For those two categories of readers, this is a MUST. For all others, I highly recommend Tuck.

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 11:46 am  Comments (4)  
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God and Fiction – A Look at Tuck

tuck coverThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Tuck, the third book in the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson).

While I do intend to review the book, and have another issue I’d like to discuss connected with the story, I thought it might be informative, as part of the series I began last week, to examine how a skilled author like Stephen Lawhead incorporates God in his fiction.

First an introduction to Tuck. The King Raven Trilogy is a reframed telling of the Robin Hood myth. “Reframed” because Mr. Lawhead gave his trilogy a new setting and different players from the well-known bandit-in-Sherwood-Forest-Nottinghamshire rendition. (Most fascinating to me is the clever way in which Mr. Lawhead ties his story to the more famous legend in Tuck‘s epilogue). In this new version, the “real” Robin Hood is a Welshman, Rhi Bran ap Brychan y Hud, in conflict with the invading Normans. A king in his own right, Bran is nevertheless forced to flee his home to preserve his life. Under the cruel and unjust reign of the Ffreinc, the homeless and disenfranchised gathered to him. And thus develops the story of the undermanned outlaw fighting against the corrupt and oppressive forces in power.

And where does God fit in all this? Most interestingly, He appears as the characters in the story see Him. Some trust Him with their lives and rely on His guidance. Some only know Him by reputation and by what the Church has to say about Him.

Tuck opens with a prologue in which King William of Normandie is begrudgingly paying a sum of money to an abbey so its monks will pray his father out of purgatory, or perhaps, out of hell. Throughout the story, this idea of money spent to forestall the consequences of the king’s own wrongdoing and that of his father serves as a believable motive.

In contrast, Friar Tuck seems to carry on a running dialogue with God. Here are some examples from the first chapter:

“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?” (p. 11)

God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger. (p. 12)

“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you.” (p. 13)

    “What do you want me to do?” Tick shouted.

    “Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”

    Bran moved off … Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? (p. 17)

The point is, God shows up in the story in just the ways the characters know Him. If they have a false idea about Him, that’s not “corrected.” No one comes to King William, even at the end of the story, to tell him that he doesn’t have to pay money to secure forgiveness for sin because Jesus paid it all, as true as that is.

Instead, the false and the true lie side by side within the story, without authorial tampering. Never is there any heavy-handedness in dealing with spiritual matters. That which is endemic to the characters comes out naturally. And the reader, then, is left to think through the divergent views.

Yet, the false rings false and the true rings true. One way Mr. Lawhead accomplishes this is by giving the protagonists the views most closely aligned with Scripture. At the same time, corrupt churchmen are unmasked, casting their untoward practices into the proper light.

This ordering of Truth with noble heroes, however, is not done in a stereotypical manner. Instead, because the characters are fleshed out in believable ways, their spirituality seems like one more part of who they are. It is a powerful way to tell the truth about God.

I invite you to join the CSFF Lawhead Tuck tour this week. Visit a few of the blogs participating (there’s quite a list—click on the check marks to go to specific posts), and tell them I sent you. 😉

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