Marketing The Shack

I posted a short review of The Shack here, earlier. I would love to hear from my readers about another, related topic: the book’s marketing. In my opinion, the way in which The Shack has been marketed raises some disturbing questions, of a kind I don’t normally associate with “mainstream” “Christian” books.

First, there is the Missy Project, which is explained in a two-page blurb at the end of the physical copies of the book, as well as on the book’s official site. (Missy, for those who have not read the book, is the name of a little girl who is abducted and murdered in the book.) This blurb encourages people to blog about it, write reviews (especially positive ones, of course), display it, seek positive reviews from others, buy multiple copies to give away, and so on. My favorite:

Talk about the book on email lists you’re on, forums you frequent and other places you engage other people on the Internet. Don’t make it an advertisement, but share how this book impacted your life and offer people the link to The Shack website.

To me, this sounds like straight-up viral marketing. The proceeds of the book, so far as I can tell, are not being donated to any charitable cause, but are going to the publisher and the author. So, either the author and others are really very convinced that the book is life-changing and are committed to bringing their message to a wide audience (which, conveniently, sells more books), or this is a shameless plug.

Then, there is the author’s site, the home page of which opens with this:

If you are so inclined and would like to write a review for Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, especially a 5 star review, we would greatly appreciate it.

If that’s not a shameless plug for a book, I don’t know what is. In fact, the entire site feels like one big marketing device. Look at it for yourself.

Loyal readers: what are your thoughts?

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.