Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review: The Shack

I had so many people tell me about Wm Paul Young's book The Shack that I just had to go and get it and read it. Sometimes a book comes along that has a strong impact on readers and The Shack is clearly one of those books.

Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase, has suggested that The Shack may '... do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his.' I agree. The Shack is fiction but conveys profound truths about a God that is loving and worth loving.

Mackenzie "Mack" Allen Phillips is a broken man. Seven or so years ago, Mack went on a river camping trip with his children. During the trip, his daughter Missy is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer. They find her blood-stained dress in a shack confirming their fears. Since that time, a "great sadness" has plagued Mack leading him to give up on God. Why should he have a relationship with a god that is supposed to be loving but couldn't save his daughter and prevent other similar evils.

One day, Mack discovers a note in his letterbox. It invites him to the shack for a weekend. But it seems to be from God?! It is totally unbelievable. Why would God do such a thing? Surely someone is playing a cruel joke. But Mack's decides to go to the shack. What is there to lose?

When he arrives, he spends the weekend having conversations with God. But the God he meets and what he learns blows away all of the preconceived ideas he held about God.

The Shack is compelling and moving reading. If you think you know God, then you need to travel to The Shack with Mack and listen in on the conversations. This book will challenge what you think. With profound pastoral sensitivity, Wm Paul Young lays before us a view of God that seeks to deal with the most difficult and pressing questions people have. Why does God allow such evil and suffering to continue if God is a loving God? Is God really loving? Or is he impotent in the face of evil?

The Shack not only explores issues of suffering and evil; the "conversations" range over spirituality, gender, faith and belief, the Christian life, the nature of love.

Listing topics like the above may suggest that The Shack is a discussion of abstract concepts and ideas. Far from it! The Shack is a story — a story that deeply resonates with our own stories. Young is able to convey ideas in a way which makes them accessible to anyone. We so often forget that God has communicated in Scripture primarily through story. And the power of story to make us think is used by Young in The Shack.

According to the biographical summary on the back of the book,

Wm Paul Young was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the "wastefulness of grace" with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

Young's life story has produced a unique and powerful narrative that is grounded in the struggles that many of us face and the doubts that plague us. The Shack is surely inspired. It cannot be read without bringing a change in the way we understand and relate to God.

The Shack may be one of the most significant and relevant books for this generation. Even if you don't agree with everything in the book, you will not be left unaffected. Its simplicity is deep and profound. Get it. Read it. And come to a greater and more relevant understanding of God. Allow the story to challenge your preconceptions and provoke wonder at a God who is willing to be intimate with her creation.

More to read ...

  • Thinking About God by Gregory E Ganssle A light-hearted, witty introduction to the philosophy of religion with clear explanations of difficult concepts.
  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World John Hick, Clark H Pinnock, Alister McGrath, R Douglas Geivett, and W Gary Phillips engage in a debate on different views of salvation. The four views covered are normative pluralism, inclusivism, salvation in Christ (agnosticism about those who haven't heard), and salvation in Christ alone (those outside of Christ are lost). Follows the format of others in the series.
  • Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey A collection of Philip Yancey's writing drawn from various sources with the common theme of recognising God's presence in the unexpected.
  • Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views Dave Hunt and James White engage in a fiery debate over Calvinism. Entertaining but ultimately disappointing because of the selection of Dave Hunt to critique Calvinism. It would have been good to have a scholar who was an expert in the field.


  1. By the wiki bio, it's a good antidote to the 'relationship theology' that's eating away at our congregations.

  2. Hi Teki

    I'd appreciate a bit of elaboration on what you mean by 'relationship theology'.


  3. What some of us "so called" Christians are doing to the writer of "The Shack" book is very similar to what the Jews did to Christ himself. Call it what you want, like it or not. The Shack was a brilliantly created story depicting the Holy Trinity as fictional characters. It was written with the best of intentions and with creative juices flowing straight from the divine. We must remember God is neither male or female but spirit, He is not of flesh only His son was of flesh. "The Shack" embraced truth, love, compassion and forgiveness, all concepts from the way, the life and the truth that Jesus so graciously tried to give us. What THE SHACK book gave us in fictional writing, the new book causing such a stir THE TRUTH "The Illumination of Conscience" by author Jeff Simoneaux is doing in the non-fiction genre. It also tells an amazing story only the story is not fictional at all but lined with immediately understood truths and enormously meaningful degrees of certainty. I highly recommend the book as it changed my life already. I was given the task of proof reading and copy editing it and was proud to be amongst the very first to get my hands on a unedited version.