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The Shack by William P. Young

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The Advocate

The Shack by William P. Young

Reviewed by John Perrodin

"Some see this book as comforting. Maybe that’s the author’s point, to get people talking about spiritual issues. I don’t think it’s worth the price."

“Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.” So says William Paul Young in Chapter 10 of the bestseller, The Shack. Is the statement true? Perhaps. Perhaps not. As with most of the book, the reader has the sense of being propagandized and preached to rather than enlightened.

This is not the first self-published book I’ve read, but it’s certainly one of the most cogently written. That said it is no literary masterpiece. To call it an equal to Pilgrim’s Progress (as the cover quote from Eugene Petersen does) is to cheapen one of the greatest books ever created.

Young’s affliction with “first novel syndrome” forces us to wade through a plodding, predictable storyline, plastered with purple prose. The literary flaws of The Shack weaken its message and, unfortunately, the hype puts any critic in the category of being ungenerous at best, stupid at worst. If everyone’s reading it, well – wow – it just must be wonderful. It’s not.

In The Shack, after Mackenzie’s daughter Missy is murdered the family is, not surprisingly, devastated. After several meandering chapters, Young gets the story moving via the now-familiar device of a personal invitation to chat with God. This flings us into a very personal vision of a man’s grief and pain. Yes, the book moves us emotionally. We weep along with Mackenzie and wish that this wicked world could be otherwise. Young promises us that someday it will be. Good news for post-modern man.

But he also goes to great lengths to challenge basic biblical truths. As in Chapter 10 when God in the “elemental” form of a female judge browbeats the poor, beleaguered dad into coming to terms with what judgment means. As part of the cruel lesson, Mac must choose which three of his five children to relegate to hell. Says the judge, “You believe he (God) will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?”

“I suppose I do. I’ve just never thought about it like that.” The obvious implication is that if an earthly father can’t manage to subject his children to hell, neither will the heavenly one. Personal responsibility and accountability are ignored in this bizarre theological exercise. Hopefully, no one actually believes he has the power to sentence his loved ones to hell. And yet Mac is given this “gift” by God to prove a point.

That’s what bothers me most about The Shack. We’re manipulated emotionally, and then told exactly what our itching ears want to hear about grace and forgiveness, and other spiritual questions.

Some see this book as comforting. Maybe that’s the author’s point, to get people talking about spiritual issues. I don’t think it’s worth the price. When the answers are as unclear as those presented in The Shack, darkness smothers any spark of understanding.

John PerrodinJohn Perrodin is the Senior Editor for the Christian Writers Guild. He co-authored the Renegade Spirit Trilogy with Jerry B. Jenkins. The latest release in that series is Seclusion Point (Thomas Nelson). His book, Simple Little Words: What You Say Can Change a Life, written with Michelle Cox, releases in April 2008 from David C. Cook. Please visit www.simplelittlewords.com to find out more about the book, and visit John's website www.johnperrodin.com to find out more about his writing.