Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Shack-The Review

***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.


Anonymous said...

Well, shucks - now I'm going to have to read the stupid thing.

This is an age of heresy. But what age wasn't?

- Gordon

The Cantankerous Christian said...

You know Gordon, your comment on heresy is funny. Marty and I have been having a conversation over just that sentiment. My leanings at the moments are that it's really no different now than it ever has been. I really first thought of it in Precept, with your lovely wife I might add. I was getting a little cantankerous at the idea that the world/church that people like Isaiah and Paul prophesied/wrote about are fulfilled today. To me, that is to imply at some point between now and back then, mankind, Christianity, and the church got it "right" and we've since fallen to what they describe. When haven't we been like that? The epistles describe churches of Paul's day, 100 years later, 500 years, and of course 2000 (give or take). I think what we need to focus on is the fact that we've had the blueprint and a laundry list of our problems since then and we still haven't gotten around to fixing the problems.

I think you and I need to get together for a good grump session...(giggles)

Anonymous said...

I spend a lot of time studying heresies - and every heresy we have today was invented in the first four centuries - most of them in the first. It's a lot of fun to look at what people are trying to do to the Faith and identify the historic heresy. There really isn't anything new under the sun.

Love to get together sometime - we could sit on the patio and complain about madness in the modern church. Or just drink coffee and chat.

- Gordon

The Queen said...

Perhaps it is my womanly nature, but I feel certain I am able to call my earthy father "daddy" and still hold him in reverance and awe. My daughters do with their dad.

Again, perhaps it is my womanly nature, but in my darkest moments, even before reading The Shack (which you can now give back to me), as I reached out to God, he was not some distant ALL-POWERFUL-OZ figure, but a father to whom I could reach my hand or crawl to on my hands and knees who would take me in his arms and, yes, comfort me. His comfort was what drew me to Him in the first place.

So there to your "Papa"-phobia.

It's been quite some time since I read the book. I liked it a lot and I thought it had some cool things to say. I thought it was a bit vague about evil and I was disappointed with that because I think it's a cop out.

You are quite cantankerous . . .and I thought I had that market cornered. But I believe we worship a big God. One who is many things to many people. I have heard from many people that The Shack is not quite scripturally sound, so I have to defer to greater minds than mine. I just try to glean something and go back to Scripture.

I thought Jesus was a bit folksy and the Holy Spirit character a bit new agey. But I loved the Papa character. Sorry, but I believe I can discipline my children as their parent and still be available with open arms. . . and that's how I see God. No, that's not entirely how "Papa" is portrayed in the book but your problem with terms for God doesn't seem to stem solely from the book. . .

I don't disagree about the book. It's an engaging story and I was engrossed. But I've heard from people whose scholarship I trust make comments similar to yours. But I do disagree about what we call God. The Bible uses MANY names for God because God is God. What we call Him doesn't make us irreverant...just like what we eat doesn't make us unclean.

Chew on that.

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Well Queen it is my opinion of the book and in my opinion it doesn't hold up to scripture. I am sorry that I seem to have offended you.

I will though call you out on comment "but your problem with terms for God doesn't seem to stem solely from the book". Is that not the very cop-out the book uses? "You can't call me/ think of me as "Papa" because you have daddy issues?"

I do want you and anyone else who reads this to know, I do most certainly view God as a loving Father and if there are two things that Christians should take from that book it is these 1) God loves us more than we could comprehend 2) We absolutely, positively must learn to forgive one another. (if you'd been in class the other night you'd have heard lots more on the importance of this :P)

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you..your comments here are right on the mark..

We have been conditioned as a society to accept other books to give us a feel good faith..when the Bible is the one we should turn to ..

That's not to say there aren't some great spiritually encouraging books out there..but..our one true source for inspiration should first and always be the revered Word of God found in Scriptures...

I, too, loathe the term 'daddy' and 'papa' when referring to the Creator of all things...

I think we've lost our reverence and awe of Him in many ways..and I applaud the points you made on this....great job...


The Cantankerous Christian said...

Thank you so much Tamara :) And I agree there are spiritually uplifting books out there, but we tend to get so sidetracked with the latest fad/feel good story that presents God, faith, the church, or life in a different life. I challenge fellow believers, especially with books that claim to espouse Christian values and ideals, to check it against Scripture. Not only will you be able to "test the spirits", but you'll also garner a fuller, richer understanding of the Word.

Marty said...

Well said, I'm just not sure why you "thanked me" so poetically. :p

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Cuz you were convinced I wouldn't like God portrayed as a woman and I wanted to make clear that that wasn't the case :P (right back at you Twinkle!)

pottermom said...

I read the book, enjoyed the fiction of the book but didn't think it was exceptionally well written, just easy to read. It DOES make you think a bit about relationships, those between God and man and the Trinity but a Christian book? Far from it. From a "many ways to God" theology to the Eastern religion emphasis on the part of the Holy Spirit (as well as giving credence to the Sophia movement) it is Biblically unsound. The good thing is.... like the Left Behind series (which is some of the most poorly written work out there) it may get some people talking about God.

Gordon said...

That's the problem with so much contemporary "Christian" fiction - it is poorly written. Most of it qualifies as "juvenile fiction" IMO.

Anne said...

I read The Shack and loved it. The book is for everyone, not just for Christians. I know my "God" or "Papa" or whatever anyone wants to refer to the bigger part of what we all are, doesnt't mind particular terms used nor demands respect and reverence. Honestly, my understanding is that God just wants us to love each other as God loves us, plain and simple. We all get so caught up in the mumbl-jumble of, the bible says this and the bible says that, that we all forget Jusus's messages to love, forgive and take care of one another regardless of whether they are a criminal, an upstanding citizen or whatever else one can possibly bein life! Jesus loved, forgave and cared for EVERYONE! This is what The Shack is all about, the author actually writes about Jusus's main message and the only thing we really need to do! So yes, I loved The Shack and I think it should be required reading for everyone, regardless of religion.
Anne Bauer

Edwinahere said...

When I hear anyone refer to God the Father ans papa or daddy, it just makes me feel sick. I did not know the words how to describe how I felt until I read you review on The Shack. Thank you for penning exactly how I fell. I totaly agree there is a lack of reverence and many christians are falling into new age, and universalism without a clue. They are being blindly lead astray from the word of God. Thank you