***Disclaimer*** There are people I know, love, and or respect who happen to like this book. To them, I want them to know that this review is in no way an attack of them or their tastes. This is just my opinion of this book, which I'm sure is plenty faulty as well.
“Have you read ‘The Shack’?” You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that over the last several weeks. Initially, I think anyhow, it was people who were genuinely interested in whether or not I had read it. As a matter of fact, I just finished reading a copy that belongs to the friends who first asked me that question. With that said, I should’ve known something was up over the last couple of weeks because of the friends who were asking. They are usually the ones, with a devilish grin no less, that will bring up those things that get me going. Yup, I should’ve known something was up. So, what did I think of “The Shack”…
Well, it only took me until the very bottom of page 10 to know I was in trouble. It was with the word “Papa” that I cringed. I knew to whom it referred as soon as I saw it and with that, I will reveal yet another thing that tends to make me cantankerous…I absolutely, positively cannot stand it when people refer to God as “Papa” or “Daddy”. My reaction was so strong, that I actually put the book down, not because I had to get away from it, but to really try and understand why that had elicited the response that it did. I had never really thought about it until then. I certainly have no issue with God being referred to as “Father”, “Father God”, or “Abba”.
It didn’t take long for me to realize it is the complete and utter lack of reverence in “Papa” or “Daddy”. Might as well call Him, “Huggy Bear”, “Schmoopy-Poo”, or….”SANTA!” I kid, but to me, this is a problem. Where is the reverential fear? The respect? The honor? You know, I look back at my relationship with my own dad. My dad is an incredibly loving, gentle, and generous man. He was a man for whom I was never ashamed to hug, kiss on the cheek, or to tell him that I loved him in front of others. We have a great relationship. I have a great deal of respect for my dad, he is an honorable and just man. But I would never dream of calling him “papa” or “daddy”. To me, it just wouldn’t show respect or reverence to him. And while there were times that I thought my dad had a big old “S” on his chest and had a cape hidden under his shirt, he was and is in fact mortal. How much more respect and reverence should we show God?
I hear “Papa” or “Daddy” and I picture someone running to throw themselves into the lap of a fatherly or grandfatherly type. And I think…When I meet God, am I going to exclaim, “DADDY!” and go running to His lap? No, I can assure you, with the very first hint of recognition of His presence, this sinner is going to be prone with his face buried in the floor. And should I be able to speak, should I be so blessed as to be able to address Him, it will be as “Father”. I hear “Papa” and “Daddy” and my picture is of one who expects no accountability, I picture my dad, the grandfather, in whose eyes his grandchildren can do no wrong. Think God views us like that? If so, I gotta think there’s an entire water-logged world and a couple of crispy cities that are going to have a huge bone to pick. (Yikes three paragraphs and I’m only to page 10)
So, why did I spend so much time describing my hang-ups with “Papa”? Because it is indicative of the rest of the book and the treatment of not only God, but Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. No respect, no reverence…just “Papa”. Unfortunately, it goes a whole lot deeper than that. I found this book to be little more than an advertisement for Emergent/Emerging Philosophy, interwoven with a story designed to yank and pull on your strings. A story designed to make you want and need comfort, a story that makes it a little too easy to ignore the itching on and within one’s ears.
The book abounds with relativism and universalism. You can find examples of all-inclusive doctrine (every belief system leads to God), there is no judgment, there is no Hell, no accountability, no absolute-truths, the inability for humans to distinguish between good and evil, and not so veiled attacks against churches and organized religion. If one wants to understand the allure and tactics of the Emergent Church, this book makes for a fantastic case study. As I read it, I kept feeling like I should be sitting in a trendy coffee shop, slurping on some fruity drink, with my Rob Bell glasses and haircut, with the I-Pod blaring in my ears, as I commune with God through the lyrics of Bono and this book.
In the spirit of fairness, as I read the book, I kept a running tally of examples that had good, solid theological ideas for which most Christians would agree with. Basic truths and basic tenets of our shared faith. And I also kept a running tally of those that were overtly outside the realm of even the loosest orthodoxy. My final tally? Good-8 Not so much-33. Many of those examples stretch across multiple pages….the story is only 251 pages!!! And Christians are just eating this book up!
But don’t take my word for it…check these ideas against the scripture yourself. Do they hold up? Of course if you believe like the Emergent camp, then the Bible is not the inerrant word of “Papa”, nor is it understandable or quantifiable to mere mortals, and you’ve got yourself a new means of “experiencing” “Papa” and living your faith. If on the other hand, you do believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, that it is understandable, that it does contain absolute truth, then the book doesn’t hold up all that well.
I can hear it now! But it’s fiction you big grump! Yes, but then why do I hear so many speak of its transforming power or how it opened their eyes to what their relationship with God should really be like. It’s a good story, it’s an emotional story. I’ll man up and admit that my eyes welled up on a few occasions. I’m a father, a husband, and generally loving person, so sue me. My eyes welled up a few times over the course of Harry Potter too. But the difference is that this book is presenting God and so much about the Word and faith in general in such a potentially harmful light, in pretty effective ways. The protagonist is a very likable fellow, easy to empathize and commiserate with, you feel his pain, his anger, his hurts. You want him to find peace, you want him to win, you want him to be made whole and he is by something called “Papa”, but it certainly doesn’t resemble the “Father” of the Bible. (and no, I'm not speaking to physical appearances either...Thank you very much Marty)
Ultimately, here’s the thing. I have absolutely no problem with fiction of all kinds. Matter of fact, my tastes are pretty wide ranging. I love books and I love reading. But if I’m looking for “Father”? I look no further than the Bible. Why would you ever need any other book to find God, to know God, to feel emotional about your relationship with God. God came down to earth in the form of man and was nailed to a cross for YOU. He suffered and died not just for everyone, but for YOU. It is personal, it is emotional, it is real. What more do you need or want?
On the other hand, if I’m looking for “Papa”? Well, I just turn the speakers up and leave my computer on this blog and watch the countdown, anxiously awaiting his arrival.