Book Review: The Shack

I recently read The Shack, which is a novel that came out last spring. In The Shack, a man whose daughter was murdered returns to the scene of the crime, where he meets with three people who claim to be the three persons of the Trinity (Papa, an African-American woman, as the Father; Jesus as Himself; Sarayu, a petite Asian woman who seems to fade in and out of existence as the Holy Spirit). I want to offer a very brief review here.

Plenty of reviewers have summarized the plot on various websites. I want to comment only briefly on the theological questions raised in the book (for a much more complete review, read this excellent one by Tim Challies). The Shack puts words directly into the mouth of God, about topics like sin and salvation. It does so in a way that indicates God may or may not care about faith, may or may not care about sin, and may or may not think the Bible is useful for anything. It also suggests that institutions (including marriage and traditional Christian churches), governments, and economic systems are all inherently things God dislikes; in the book, Jesus even blames all the world’s ills on institutions, economics, and politics.

The Shack is definitely a moving, interesting read. Unfortunately, many readers will see it as “only a novel” (some are claiming it is allegorical, which it is not) and conclude that questioning the theology is unnecessary. Worse, I worry that some will conclude that, because the book is a novel, it doesn’t even contain theology. When God speaks in a novel, however, especially about the fundamental doctrines of a belief system, the novel is theological.

This review is very brief, but I hope it will encourage others to look at The Shack critically, examining it for more than the impact it can have on people’s lives. Ultimately, I think it is a dangerous book, because it presents theological conversations with God, but most readers overlook the fact that the book has theological implications, while simultaneously embracing what it has taught them about God (for examples of this, see most Amazon reviews). The book deserves to be questioned.

For those who need answers to questions about suffering and the evil things people do, I would recommend either the biblical book of Job or The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis.

15 Replies to “Book Review: The Shack”

  1. For you shall know them by there fruits.
    The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
    The book The Shack, fictional as it may
    be, is a love story. Just as the bible is
    the love story of Christ. Religious people
    will not accept this book, for they are still eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Those who eat from the tree of life will see the fruits. The author has simply expressed himself and his love for god. And just as Jesus was persecuted for doing so, So will be the author of The Shack. Aside from the bible itself, This is the best book I’ve ever read.

  2. Well said, Bryce!

    This book is not the Bible. The Bible is open to interpretation by all who read it. If this were not so, why would we have so many denominations of christian religions who can’t agree on most of the Bible? I see absolutely nothing it this book that disputes the teachings in the Bible.

    Perhaps with the christian religious folks it all comes down to power and control over people by focusing on sin and repentance and this book threatens that control. The christian religious church would not have power and control to maintain their congregations if the power of God’s love were taught more than the power of God’s wrath.

    As a result of reading The Shack, may the followers of Christ rise up in hope, encouragement, and build stronger relationships with The Father, The Son, The Spirit, and the humans with whom they have contact. Perhaps this book will encourage enough followers of Christ to act as such and Christians will then become known for their love and respect for all mankind rather than for their arrogance, intolerance, and their need to be “right”.

  3. Have read a lot of “God” books, ministers, personal experiences, never felt they answered my journey toward faith, belief and trust in God. Have studied the Bible trying to understand why I never understood God being with us all the time? Whether “The Shack” is fiction and doesn’t quote scriptures, I loved the revealing of what real trust we as humans often miss. The message came through to me, was “trying” isn’t what God wants. I felt a weight lifted from over thinking and realized, for me, as simple as it seems, true belief and trust is possible. Thank you.

  4. I found the book very enjoying and it drew me to a deeper relationship with G-d. The revelation knowledge that I experienced was spirit quickening, as well as, enlightening. If you are grounded and rooted in the word, then you should have no problem with this book, because it is just fiction. If you know the truth, then the truth shall keep you free of all deception. Also, if you truly know G-d, this book should not distort your view of Him. The author never said that this was a replacement to the Bible. It is a Fiction novel, not non-fiction. Additionally, the author never stated that this book was the core of Christianity or any other religion. I found compassion, brokeness, forgiveness, love, grace, and mercy to abound in this novel. I believe that we all need something or someone to challenge us, during our spiritual walk, and draw us closer to Him. The Shack will prompt you to experience an encounter with the “true” living G-d and cry out to Papa. Shalom!

    If you are looking for theology in a fiction novel, this book is not for you. READ YOUR BIBLE!

  5. While reading The Shack, I kept thinking it would be great if there was a study/discussion guide to go with it. I finally decided that God was urging me to write one. I would be glad to send you a copy that you are welcome to copy and share with others. Email me at prayerdigm.bookstudy@yahoo.com
    Trish Pickard

  6. Hi Trish. I appreciate the offer and admire the intent behind your efforts. I think, though, that the best way to read any Christian book – fiction or non-fiction – is by comparing it to the contents of Scripture. I hope both the readers of The Shack and those who read your study guide will ultimately look to the Bible as they attempt to make sense of the book. God bless!

  7. I agree with Cindy Crosby, reviewer at “Christianity Today”, who said, “Rather than slicing and dicing the novel, looking for proof of theological missteps, a better approach might be to look at significant passages as springboards for deeper discussion. The Shack is a novel, after all, not a systematic theology. Keep that in mind when reading The Shack. Despite its weaknesses, this is a story with the potential to wake readers up, to rekindle or reinvigorate their faith. In an era when so much Christian fiction is about pat answers, conventional themes, and the regurgitation of what we already know and believe, such stories are good news for thoughtful readers.”

  8. The rumors about the writer are bothering me. Anyone know the truth? It is said he does not attend church, believes in universal reconciliation and has maybe had earlier printings of the book that say Jesus is not the only way….Additionally, the 2 fellows he had ghost write the book with him had to remove many things, which may have been off track…it sounds like they are the real writers of the book… I know their names but nothing about them.
    I would like to hear someone get specific on the theological issues that they say makes this book undesirable; using a 2009 printed copy, listing page number and item reference. Have heard a lot of condemnation but no solid anaysis.

  9. I loved The Shack and took it for what it is…a creative and imaginative work of fiction. It is not Scripture, it is not the word of God. It was for me a unique way of imagining the Holy Trinity and bottom line, it’s a positive message that God loves all His children. I’d also like to recommend another fictional story with a wonderful Christian message. It’s called Forgiving Ararat by Gita Nazareth. It’s about a woman who unlocks the mystery of her own murder from her place in the afterlife. It’s a historical and religious exploration in a suspenseful murder mystery. I’m a publicist and fan of the book and would love to read your comments on this site should you choose to read it. Ed, please review this book…if you’d like a review copy, feel free to email me.

  10. Sharon, thank you for your comment. As I say in my review, however, the fact that the book is fictional does not mean we should not ask what message is presented and whether or not that message is good. I believe, given that so very many readers claim to be learning about God, about relating to God, or about biblical truth through The Shack, treating it as mere fiction is a mistake. It would also be a mistake to consider only the book’s allegedly positive message without considering the basis for that message and whether or not, ultimately, it is misleading people.

    As for your offer of a review copy of Forgiving Ararat, while I appreciate the offer, I do not have time to review very many books and will have to decline. Thank you, nonetheless.

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