This brief entry in the Christianity Today blog, Out of Ur, documents some of the various reactions to the vastly popular novel, The Shack. I would like to add my voice to those who think this is not only an amateur piece of fiction, but also a really, really bad piece of theology.
You can find point-by-point remarks on the book’s various and multiple problems elsewhere, so I want to highlight two overarching problems I found with the book. First of all, as fiction it is able to lure the reader into a false sense of security. I believe the average reader takes in fiction through a different set of filters than they might a non-fiction work on something like the doctrine of the Trinity. As a result, readers are able to sugarcoat the toxic pills in the book by thinking to themselves, “after all, it’s only fiction.” Instead of thoughtfully engaging the concepts in the book (and there are plenty of clear, theological concepts in the book), a reader is more inclined to swallow the pills as part of the literary effect. No matter their form, bad doctrinal positions are bad doctrinal positions, and if a book can get someone to swallow bad doctrine without reflection, then…well, you can imagine what I think.
Secondly, and this is raised in Out of Ur, an author should never try to put too many words in God’s mouth or try and represent the Trinity too closely. The great pieces of Christian fiction over the centuries have approached God with great care and sparring explanation. The theology in those books is worked out in “real life” among humans who are struggling to understand and live out their faith or lack thereof. The more an author puts words in God’s mouth, the more they are in danger of saying things God would never say. Well over half of The Shack is dedicated to God speaking. Admittedly there are some touching moments—even really well-done moments—but there is too much wrong in the book for those moments to save it.
Life is too short to labor over something like this for the hope of enjoyment or edification. If your friends are reading it and you are worried, I suggest you read it. If you are a leader in your church and the other congregants are reading it, I suggest you do the same. If you want to write frustrated blog posts about the poor state of theological education and communication in our world, then definitely read it. Otherwise, pick up Pilgrim’s Progress, or Lilith, or The Man Who Was Thursday, or Out of the Silent Planet, or the Lord of the Rings, or…