I finally got tired of people telling me I ought to read The Shack, so when the 98th person told me I would like it and he'd like to hear my take on it, I asked to borrow it. Why do people ask me to do this? Has it ever gone well?
If you're living in a cave, which fundangelicals define as that part of culture which exists outside of church, religious radio, and Christian books (or approximately 96.5% of all culture in the U.S.), you may not have heard of The Shack. It's a New York Times bestseller, number one at one point, I believe. It's been endorsed by Christians who really matter, and one I greatly respect, Eugene Peterson. Although, I think Peterson comparing it to a contemporary Pilgrim's Progress is a tad hyperbolic. They do have one thing in common though; both books are excruciating reads. It is my hope that is what Peterson meant. Anyway, nearly every evangelical or fundamentalist I come across these days is reading, has read, or is planning to read this book. Since I love to read and I naturally enjoy conversations about books, people assume that I am open to suggestions. And I am. But I appreciate when the book recommended is a good one, which is to say I appreciate most recommendations from Kristen McCarty and the Cheeks. I should have vetted the recommendation process on this one, and to do that I only had to ask two questions: did you like Blue Like Jazz and do you like C.S. Lewis? If they answer yes to the first, question two is superfluous.
Here's the short version. Atypical Christian male marries woman with super duper special relationship (aargh) with God. So super duper that she calls God Papa. You already know what I'm going to say about this book, don't you? Atypical male and spiritual woman suffer the loss of their youngest child, a girl, at the hands of a serial killer. Some time later, atypical male receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to the shack where baby girl's blood and clothes were found. It's signed Papa. Time to heal the wound. Time to restore the relationship. Cue the music. Something melancholy but big. Maybe a Chopinesque nocturne.
Atypical male goes to shack. Finds a large black woman (please Oprah, pick my book!), a small Asian woman, and a "Hebrew" man. They are, of course, in order, God the Father, Spirit, and Son. What?! God is not a black woman! At least God the Father isn't. How daring! How edgy! Then begins the rehash of every C.S. Lewis theological musing I ever read. At one point Papa tells Mack—that's edgy guy's name—that pain can make God hard to see. Hmm...seems like Lewis said something about that. But see, this is different, because Lewis said it made God hard to hear, not see. This is totally, fully updated for a modern...err...postmodern audience. Toss in a little "ground of being" talk, some trite explanation of kenosis, play with Chalcedonian theology, and voila, you have an edgy, groundbreaking, powerful... You have the same evangelical shit served lukewarm with really bad writing.
I'm starting chapter eight, so I'll come back to this topic. Trust me. I thought I would take notes to dissect it, but it's not really worth my time, but I promised a full response, so I will give the full response. Here are some early observations.
1. The story is not a story. Much like McLaren's trilogy, the fiction serves as a prop to get to the theologizing. This always, always leads to bad writing and bad story. Always. Can't be more emphatic.
2. Why is it that fundangelicals can't see that they're being served the same trite theology over and over? Blue Like Jazz and this book both pretended to be something they are decidedly not: innovative, edgy, and smart. Is it possible that they enjoy the same trite theology over and over? Is it possible that they really do want to believe the old, old story, but they want new ways to hear it? Tweak a metaphor, introduce something scandalous (black, female God the Father) that amounts to nothing dangerous to core theological principles, ask a few difficult questions, and then give the same fucking answers in the Emperor's brand new clothes.
3. I haven't read the meat of the theodic conversation yet, so I can't comment on where it's headed, but I do have my suspicions. My next post about this will probably be about the theodicy. Can't wait.
4. The devotion sequence between Jesus and Father is creeeepy. Those weren't good chills I was havin'.
5. Can't a white guy get some love? Why can't one member of the Trinity be a cracker?
Fans of The Shack, please don't bitch at me if you read this or the next installment. The title says all you need to know: fair warning. I hate this book and I'm only about halfway through. Odds are, I'll hate it twice as much when I'm finished so you won't like what I'm going to say. You're better off to go to one of those Christian message boards and read the adulatory comments.