Book Review of “The Shack”

By Kenneth E. Buckle, Psy.D.  November 29, 2010

I received a copy of The Shack, which I understand is the tradition for dissemination of this book.  The author of the book suggests that after you read it you should give a copy to someone else.  I finished it in one day, reading a good chunk of it early in the morning during Thanksgiving break when I couldn’t sleep, some on the trip home, and the rest that same evening before bed.  I thought I’d write a review because I think that there is some good and some danger to it, but mostly good.  It was published in 2007 and I recall hearing something about it then.  I suppose that it just took a while to make its way around to me.  I decided to give this review, as well as the book, to my four adult children for Christmas.  They’ll probably be disappointed, instead hoping for a gift card, which seems to be the big thing now for Christmas.

The basic story is about our brokenness and reconciliation with God, cast in a fictional example that just comes alive in a really mesmerizing way to me.  I think has been the experience for many other people who have read and enjoyed the book.  We are all broken in some way or another because of original sin, from things that may have happened in our childhoods or events in our lives.  We all naturally wrestle with stubborn pride, the strong temptation to want to be independent from our God who loves us with great passion and mercy and who just wants us to be close to Him.  The book does a wonderful job of focusing on this theme for our consideration, and this topic is a worthy one, perhaps the most important theme for our lives.

Another good thing about this book was that it made me reflect on my understanding of God, particularly the humanity of Christ.  The illustration of the Trinity as characters in the book paints a picture that makes them easier to relate to, than say our experience when we read the Scriptures.  Some might view this as a danger, that this book would seek to replace the Bible, but I don’t think that this was the author’s intent at all and doesn’t have to be the end result.  If anything, The Shack could serve as an encouragement for me to dive back into the Scriptures with a new gusto.

Some people will probably pick apart this book and focus on small theological points.  I really didn’t find anything strikingly incorrect about the theology in the book.  I don’t believe that The Shack was written to promote a particular theology or change anything about our basic Christian faith.  I think that we need to focus on the big picture that the book presents:  that we are in need of healing and God is the great Healer.  The author states that he wrote this book with the intent of sharing it with his children and building up their relationships with God.  That’s a great reason to write a book.

I feel that the largest danger really is that we could walk away from this book feeling discouraged about the Church as an institution or even wanting to stop going to church.  Part of me had the reaction that the author was attacking organized religion.  This was the only aspect of the book to which I had a strong negative reaction.  At the end, I wished that he would have toned this down a bit, and I wondered if he had some ax to grind with an organized church for some reason.  This is an important point for consideration though.  There are many these days who attack organized religion, saying that they don’t need it in order to have a personal relationship with God.  I think that this is unfortunate, because worshiping in community glorifies God in a powerful way and helps members to strengthen their personal relationship with God.

I remember taking an undergraduate Psychology course back around 1980 from Walter “Buzz” O’Connell, an Adlerian psychologist who was really an interesting character.  It was refreshing and maybe a bit surprising that the University of St. Thomas would let him teach there, but it was probably a good arrangement that he taught night classes.  Dr. Buzz believed that institutions, all of them including organized religion, were naturally discouraging.  He felt that they took on power and a life of their own and then accidentally ended up harming individuals.  His experience of this began when working at a state mental hospital that was probably somewhat like the one in the film “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest.”  If The Shack is simply making the same observation, then I don’t really have too much of a problem with it.  However if the book is suggesting that we don’t need and can’t benefit from the strength and love of a community of believers who want to grow in love and service to God and others, then I think it is leading us down the wrong road.  I would like to think that the book is making the same commentary as Dr. Buzz.  We should all be very careful not to mindlessly give our power away to large institutions.

I’ve heard some say that there will be a movie version of this book, and some say that there will not.  If there is a movie to be made from this book, I’d definitely want to see it.  I have already imagined how I’d cast the characters.

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