Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Shack: Pilgrim's Progress 21st-Century Style?

I just finished reading William Young's The Shack. If you haven't heard of this book, you're going to. A number of highly-regarded writers are endorsing it; Eugene Peterson, author of The Message Bible, compares it to Pilgrim's Progress: "It's that good," Peterson writes in his endorsement. When someone of Peterson's stature says that about a book, the book becomes worthy of attention. And The Shack (published by Windblown Media) is certainly worth your time.


(Cover image, copyrighted by Windblown Media)

Briefly, The Shack is the story of Mackenzie Allan Phillips, married father of 5 children whose youngest daughter is abducted and murdered by a serial killer. About 3 and a half years after her still-unsolved murder, Mack finds a letter from "Papa"--God--inviting Mack to meet God at a tumble-down wilderness shack where Missy's blood-stained dress was found. Out of both anger and cynical curiosity, Mack ends up waiting for God at the shack.

Let's get some things out of the way first. No, the book isn't perfect. It's always a risky thing to speak for God or to defend Him. Whatever you make Him to be is bound to be less than He is. That's the danger of a "graven image": mistaking the image or icon for the real thing.

On the other hand, the narrative gives good reason for things we take as. . . unorthodox. And, of course, icons (unlike idols) were not meant to be worshipped or taken as deptictions of the real thing. An icon was meant to be a seed for meditation. The Shack is just that.

A theologian would say that the book emphasizes the immanence of God over the transcendence of God. But, of course, that's the point: Is God near? How could He be near, or be good, or understand our pain as He claims to, and not do something about it--not stop it? Why doesn't He simply show up? Why didn't He show up then?

You may think you know where all this is going; Christian writers and philosophers have dealt with these questions for centuries. We've had lots of answers thrown at us, in books and sermons. The power of The Shack lies in the way it makes its points. The story goes deeper--much deeper--than the average sermon.

This book is littered with gems to pick up and tuck away. One look likely won't show them for their full worth. The Shack is worth pulling out and reading again, and handing out to friends. It has the power to change the way you view life and God, and to challenge you to something deeper than what we have made Christianity to be.

So: Is it The Pilgrim's Progress for this generation? In a way, yes; but it reminds me more of C.S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress. Like that book, this one peels back our layers of objections to God, our fear and distrust of Him. It's not so much about the full journey, first step to last, as about how and why we make the journey. Call it a mid-course correction. When you're off-track, that's just what you need.

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