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.

5 Comments

  1. You know Becky, this post makes me rethink my initial response to the book. I took it totally from the fiction point of view simply because of the author’s testimony of publication at the rear of the novel. The man wasn’t out pursuing a huge publication coup…simply writing a story for his children.

    The guy has been raked over the coals every which way because of his story, but just before I read it, I listened to a woman’s testimony of a time when she was in isolation with her daughter for cancer treatment. During that very long, lonely year the Lord sent her a nurse who shared a Bible. She didn’t have any fantastical dreams about the trinity or anything, but she emerged from that isolation a changed person (she went in as an addict and abuse victim) because she’s met God in that hospital room.

    So my response to the book was positive, but it was based largely upon the mirrored emotional experience I had right before I read the story. I couldn’t help but view it through that window as it were.

    I know the guy’s theology is off though, and I probably should have shown more discernment in that regard. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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  2. well, God speed, Becky. I tried to address on my blog some of the theological problems with the book and found myself overwhelmed. I look forward to your normal, careful analysis.

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  3. Kim, I think you’ve identified why fiction is so powerful. It touches us on an emotional level even as it delivers a message, one we sometimes neglect to question simply because we liked the story or found the character engaging. And in this day and age, with authors interacting with their readers more and more, how we perceive the writer can affect what we think of what he says in his story.

    So discernment seems to me to be the greatest need we have, one we need especially to be teaching to the generations coming after.

    Becky

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  4. Sally, I didn’t understand why you found this task daunting until I started in. Because Mr. Young says so much about so many subjects, it feels like I need to write a book in response! 😉 Especially if I want to do something with depth rather than flinging unsubstantiated opinion at my readers as he did at his. Yikes! This is harder than I expected.

    Becky

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  5. […] already identified other possible reasons this story resonates with some Christians in Part 3 of this series, but that still doesn’t explain why so many are missing the parts of the book […]

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