Determining What Readers Want

I was between books. Nothing in my to-be-read pile seemed quite right, even the half dozen books I’d started. I found my way to the library and checked out a novel by an author I’d met. It wasn’t in my normal genre, but I was OK with that because I find it to be a nice change of pace now and then to read something different.

The next day, however, a book arrived that I’d been waiting for. I ripped open the package and read the first two chapters during lunch.

So now I had two books going. Two books I wanted to read.

And which one did I choose? The one with the character I liked better. Never mind that it used considerable jargon I didn’t understand or that it didn’t read as smoothly as the other one.

Please note, I didn’t sit down and analyze the characters to decide which book to read. I simply went with the one I felt like reading. At first I chose the one I thought more appropriate for putting me to sleep since I was reading right before bedtime. But the next time I chose, I reached for the same book. Finally it dawned on me, that’s the book I really wanted to read the most.

Why was that?

I looked at the various fiction elements in both books and knew. One character I liked and the other irritated me.

The one I liked wasn’t perfect, mind you. He was doing some dumb things and suffering the consequences. But he didn’t appear to be arrogant; he didn’t treat others as if they didn’t matter or were an inconvenience to him.

I suspect I tolerated and even felt empathy for him in the midst of his mess because I liked him. I’ve tried to pinpoint the likable qualities.

One thing that stands out is how other characters treated him. A good number were patient with him, were willing to help him and counsel him—even some family he pushed away. There was also a selfish character who pushed him away, which made me feel for him and like him all the more.

In fact that loss and another one of note, made him seem vulnerable.

At the same time, he had a number of admirable qualities. He was responsible and brave and selfless. And when he blew it, he was remorseful.

He wasn’t cocky or arrogant, yet he had a problem with pride. He wanted to be in charge, to rule what he couldn’t rule. But he wasn’t a bully or a snob. His problems put other people in jeopardy, but he suffered too.

Often times, I think I like a book for the story. I say with some frequency that story trumps all. But what I’m learning is that a good character makes the story. If I can’t connect with the character, then I have little interest in seeing him try to save the day or woo the girl or become a man.

Ho-hum, I think, a book with a protagonist I don’t connect with might still be good for one thing. It might put me to sleep. 😉

Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fiction Not on the BBC List

I just published a note over at Facebook showing which of a (reportedly) BBC-selected 100 books I’ve read. Well, I thought, why did they choose book A by author such and such and not book B? And why did they list “Narnia” then add an individual title? Same with Shakespeare’s works.

Still, it’s just fun, and then I thought, I should make my own list. So here goes. In no special order:

An X indicates I’ve read the book (and since this is my list …. 😉 )

1. Til We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis X
2. The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck X
3. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis X
4. Perelandra – C.S. Lewis X
5. That Hideous Strength – C.S. Lewis X
6. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy X
7. Christy – Catherine Marshall X
8. The Black Stallion – Walter Farley X
9. Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev X
10. Treasure Island – Robert Lewis Stevenson X

Total: 10

11. Lord Foul’s Bane – Stephen R. Donaldson X
12. The Illearth War – Stephen R. Donaldson X
13. The Power that Preserves – Stephen R. Donaldson X
14. The Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb X
15. The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander X
16. The Black Cauldron – Lloyd Alexander X
17. The Castle of Llyr – Lloyd Alexander X
18. Taran Wanderer – Lloyd Alexander X
19. The High King – Lloyd Alexander X
20. Magicin: Apprentice – Raymond E. Feist

Total: 9

21. Chocolate Beach – Julie Carobini X
22. Truffles by the Sea – Julie Carobini X
23. The Secret Life of Becky Miller – Sharon Hinck X
24. Renovating Becky Miller – Sharon Hinck X
25. A Promise to Remember – Kathryn Cushman X
26. Waiting for Daybreak – Kathryn Cushman X
27. The Feast of St. Bertie – Kathleen Popa X
28. To Dance in the Desert – Kathleen Popa X
29. Every Good and Perfect Gift – Sharon Sousa X
30. When the Shofar Blew – Francine Rivers X

Total: 10

31. Raising Dragons – Bryan Davis X
32. Isle of Swords – Wayne Thomas Batson X
33. The Year the Swallows Came Early – Kathryn Fitzmaurice X
34. Something Wicked – Alan Gratz X
35. Savvy – Ingrid Law X
36. The Bark of the Bog Owl – Jonathan Rogers X
37. The Book of Names – D. Barkley Briggs X
38. Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle – R. K. Mortenson X
39. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – Andrew Peterson X
40. DragonFire – Donita Paul X

Total: 10

41. Winter Haven – Athol Dickson X
42. Heaven’s Wager – Ted Dekker X
43. The Hidden – Kathryn Mackel X
44. Scarlet – Stephen Lawhead X
45. Tuck – Stephen Lawhead X
46. Autumn Dreams – Gayle Roper X
47. Tiger Lily – Lisa Samson X
48. My Name is Russell Fink – Michael Snyder X
49. Forgiving Solomon Long – Chris Well X
50. Demon: A Memoir – Tosca Lee X

Total: 10

51. Gideon’s Dawn – Michale Warden X
52. The Restorer – Sharon Hinck X
53. Arena – Karen Hancock X
54. The Light of Eidon – Karen Hancock X
55. The Legend of the Firefish – George Bryan Polivka X
56. Blaggard’s Moon – George Bryan Polivka X
57. Auralia’s Colors – Jeffrey Overstreet X
58. Beyond Summerland – L. B. Graham X
59. Guardian of the Veil – Gregory Spencer X
60. Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow – Christoper and Allan Miller X

Total: 10

61. The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot X
62. The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy X
63. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan X
64. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls X
65. The Yearling – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings X
66. The Diamond of Darkhold – Jeanne DuPrau X
67. Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott X
68. Canterbury Tales – Chaucer X
69. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain X
70. Sir Gibbie – George MacDonald X

Total: 10

71. …And the Ladies of the Club – Helen Hooven Santmeyer X
72. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell X
73. Hawaii – James Michener X
74. Exodus – Leon Uris X
75. The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper X
76. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne X
77. The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne X
78. The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane X
79. The Octopus – Frank Norris X
80. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald X

Total: 10

I could go on, but I need to get something else done today besides making lists of books, as fun as this is. My total here is 79 of 80 (I had to throw in at least one from my to be read pile). You are welcome to play along. Leave a note and let me know how many of these you’ve read. 😀

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Discernment – The Realities


First, Lyn Perry at ResAliens Blog has started a 2 Questions feature—mini interviews—and I’m his guinea pig. 🙄 Seriously, I feel honored to lead off for Lyn.

Next, have you noticed the new rating option WordPress now includes? You can’t see it yet from the home page (they’re working to change this), but if you click on a particular article title and go to that post, you’ll see the stars (after a moment) at the bottom.

I mention this for two reasons. Some of you may wish to give feedback but simply do not have the time. This system gives you a quick way of registering your opinion.

Secondly, the more feedback I get, the more I know what topics visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction would like to discuss. So please feel free to use the rating system, though I hope you will also continue to give your thought-provoking comments.

Finally, for those of you looking for the July CSFF Top Blogger Award Run-off poll, you’ll find it here.

– – –

So back to the topic of discernment. I want to address some realities, based on my observations … so you may rightly question whether or not they are “realities.” I think they are. 😉

First, discernment requires awareness. Part of the problem is that readers or TV viewers or movie goers or gamers look at entertainment as a time to put aside the serious and just have fun. Escape. Play.

Nothing wrong with a little fun, escape, or play, but there is something very dangerous about letting our spiritual guards down. Think about it for a moment. Any potential temptations for a guy going to the beach these days? Would a wise youth counselor tell the guys in his Bible study to take the day off from fighting lust and just have a fun day at the beach? 😮 Please, tell me No.

But as dangerous as lust is to a hormone-driven teen, so is false teaching to the Christian. More so, because false teaching is really about Mankind and God and eternity and salvation and revelation—stuff that will not pass away.

I’m reminded of Nehemiah and the people rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem who “took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon” (Neh. 4:17b). That’s what you do when you’re alert to a threat.

A second reality is that discernment is work. It requires us to think about what we are seeing and reading and hearing. We need to do some evaluation, and who wants to do that when we are in relax mode?

Now I think about the parable of the five wise and five foolish maidens waiting for the bridegroom to come. The foolish ran out of oil for their lamps. The wise were prepared. Note, neither the wise nor the foolish stayed awake all night. So I’m not saying discernment means we can never relax. But we are prepared, as the five wise were, when the need arises.

Which leads to the final reality for today. Preparation comes by knowing God’s word. Without knowledge of the Truth, we have nothing to compare stories with.

The analogy of law enforcement officers assigned to catch counterfeiters is apropos. These professionals prepare by studying genuine bills to the point that the fake ones will be easily recognized.

So, for us, the real work comes in listening to the preaching of the Word of God, reading it, studying it, meditating upon it, memorizing it … until ideas that clash with it jump out at us, even when we aren’t intentionally trying to make a comparison.

Published in: on August 3, 2009 at 12:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Discernment 101

I talk often about the need for discernment in our reading, but sometimes I think that term may mean one thing to one person and something far different to someone else.

I think most people agree as far as the actual definition. To discern means to perceive or to distinguish between. Of course, discernment implies a standard or some way of making a distinction.

This cover is bluer than that one. Or, That book is full of lies.

In the first, two objects are being compared to each other. In the second, the lies exist in contradiction to an understood standard of Truth.

So what does it mean for a Christian to apply discernment to what he reads?

When I advocate discernment, I have in mind the latter kind. I believe Christians should use the Bible as the gauge by which we measure truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong. A book that twists or deviates from what the Bible lays out before us is in error because the Bible is Truth.

So far, I think most people who have thought about discernment at all would agree, but here’s where I think some of us might part company. If we identify a book as containing that which is not true, what do we do?

I tend to think a lot of people would say, Stay away from that book and any such like it. For some people that may be the right move, but I don’t think that should be the blanket answer. It certainly isn’t what I’m advocating when I say we should read with discernment.

Instead, I think we should read (or watch or listen to) what is in our culture, and then point the finger at that which departs for God’s revealed truth and say, That is not true.

Understand, there are limitations to this use of discernment. Sometimes a determination needs to be made as a matter of self-protection or family-protection. When I was in college, I saw a bunch of raunchy movies that led me to the decision to put some limits on what I viewed. My choice, for me, requiring discernment.

But there are lots of other movies I’ve seen that I would go to see again, but I will cry loud and long to whoever will listen that the work of fiction contains untruth.

As I see it, lies are immediately disarmed once they are identified as lies. Lies can only hurt if they slip by and people believe them. Consequently, to stay away from all fiction or from fiction that is clearly from a secular point of view, means I can’t stand up and say, Do you see the lies here?

If Christians don’t do that, then who will?

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (7)  
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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.

– – –

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.

– – –

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 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 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.

Help, I Can’t Read—A Review

Help I Can't Read cover Warning: this post is part promotion, advertisement, and endorsement as well as a review. Sure, I talk about books all the time here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, but this one is special. You see, this is one of the books I edited—which in and of itself doesn’t make it special.

What sets this one apart is the content. The author, Carol Fitzpatrick not only has her masters in education, with a specialty in reading, but she’s been a classroom teacher and later a reading specialist, and a speaker on the subject. When it comes to teaching struggling readers how to read, she knows what works, and now she’s written a practical and instructional book designed to help those assigned that same task.

OK, I said what sets this book apart is content, then I proceeded to tell you about the author. But here’s the thing. Carol knows what she’s talking about.

I was in the classroom for thirty years. I saw struggling readers, and most of the time I didn’t know how to help them. You learn some things by trial and error, and I discovered in Carol’s book that some of the things I stumbled upon were the right kinds of things. But she also unveiled ways of working with struggling readers that I would love to have known. So Help, I Can’t Read is helpful.

It is also thorough. When Carol says “reading” she isn’t referring simply to improving a student’s word-attack skills. She means their work-attack skills, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and as corollaries, their spelling and their writing.

The book is not only helpful and thorough, it is practical. Carol has included a number of blackline masters which teachers may copy. She’s included games teachers can use to reinforce their instruction. She’s added in helpful forms and demonstrated her record keeping and assessment plan. She’s given a timetable so teachers know when to start, how often to test, and where they should be half way through the year.

The book is helpful, thorough, practical, and the approach allows for flexibility. Carol has designed the material to apply to all ages. Some teachers may want to adopt all of Carol’s ideas. Others may wish to pick and choose. Ideally an entire school would take the challenge to address the needs of struggling readers, but if that’s not the case, a single teacher can still make great strides by implementing Carol’s approach.

Helpful, thorough, practical, flexible. One more. This book is encouraging. Carol has included with each chapter success stories, lives she has seen changed because struggling readers broke from the mold and became simply readers.

Yeah, I’m enthusiastic about this one. I recommend it to any educator (and yes, homeschooling parents are educators) and I recommend any parent tell the educators at their child’s school about Help, I Can’t Read. This is a book that can help teachers accomplish what they deeply desire and can free bright students from the shame of feeling like failures.

Help, I Can’t Read is a MUST for anyone involved with teaching struggling readers.

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 6:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Knee Deep in Books

I got four books in the mail this past week. Four. Well, some came via Fed Ex, so “mail” isn’t quite appropriate. And of course, I bought two yesterday on my Writer’s Field Trip. 😀 Add to this the fact that I still have out a book from my church library.

The thing is, I’m not a fast reader. Now if I set aside my other work and started in on all these books, maybe just maybe I could get through them in a timely fashion. Fortunately I have several weeks for most. The hardest for me are the books I have no deadline to read. I mean, they keep getting moved off the top of the To Be Read pile.

What’s a slow reader to do?

Honestly, this is a new experience for me. Before I became a writer, I usually devoured books, but then I only read fiction during the summer when I wasn’t teaching and I could stay up late at night without suffering serious repercussions.

Someone once described readers as nibblers or gulpers. I always described myself as a gulper because once I got caught in a fictive world, I didn’t want to leave it. But now I find myself caught less and less frequently, and of all the strange things, I find myself content to be a nibbler.

Except nibbling may not get all my books read on time!

The thing is, I still long to be caught in that rich, real world created by imagination—mine working with the author’s. Once in a while I still am caught, not wrestled-to-the-ground-in-an-inescapable-grip caught, but snagged a bit, and I turn into a gulper. I just come up for air a lot sooner than I used to.

I can’t help but wonder if becoming a writer hasn’t given me a choosier palate, so I’m not as ready to gulp as I once was.

Somehow, in the next couple weeks I have to at least find the bottom of the short stack—before more books start to arrive again.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 5:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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