The Shack, you may recall, was quite the phenomenon in Christian literature in around 2008-9, and as a result, it has joined Left Behind and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a fixed point on the horizon of Christian fiction, a standard against which future books will be measured. And like Left Behind, if not the Chronicles of Narnia, it has its fair share of detractors alongside its millions of fans. The fact that among its early detractors was the now… rather less popular than he once was, shall we say, Mark Driscoll, is a fact which I will leave there for you to draw your own conclusions from.
Personally, I happen rather to like The Shack. There you go, it’s out there, feel free to make what you like of that information too.
It’s somewhat harder to say exactly what I like about it; the plot is minimal, the introductory chapters seem over-written and largely superfluous, and the author tries to cram so many issues into the conversations between Mack and the various aspects of God that he cannot hope to cover any in great depth.
But in this case, I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Dissect it and examine it closely, and you can certainly pick holes in it depending on your theological preferences and degree of determination. But that, to me, misses the point somewhat. The Shack is a story – quite a short one at that – not a theological treatise, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d put much faith in a God who could be thoroughly and accurately described in 250 pages of fiction.
The best a Christian writer can hope to do is shine some light on certain aspects of God. None of us know it all; I went into great depth studying the source material for Countless as the Stars, and while I think I reflected the God of Abraham accurately, I had to use a little artistic licence here and there, and no doubt somebody, somewhere, could take offence at it. (Incidentally, if anyone wants to start that hate campaign, do let me know – after all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity). Arguably, I suppose, fantasy and science-fiction do have an advantage in being set in a different world, where the rules of religion may be slightly different to our own; but take that too far and, of course, you’re no longer writing Christian fiction.
What havok Hollywood will wreak with it, of course, is an entirely different matter… Almost certainly those who thought the book was heretical are unlikely to find the film any less so. Whether the good that others saw in it will be diluted beyond recognition remains to be seen.
Taken as a complete story and not a series of too-short theological discussions, I think The Shack succeeds in highlighting parts of God’s nature. At the very least, it’s a story which, despite its flaws, got people thinking about God, and how they relate to Him (or, indeed, Her).
And that, in this writer’s humble opinion, is what Christian fiction should do; it’s probably what we should pray the film achieves as well.