The Shack by William P Young (no plot spoiler included!)
Like many others, I read this book out of a sense of intrigue. For an overtly Christian book to have over 1 million copies in circulation and to rank as the Number One New York Times Bestseller list is in itself enough to prompt my interest. If you add to this the large number of blog postings and general Christian chatter about this book, it is a book that deserved to be added to my holiday reading.
Having promised not to spoil to the plot, my comments below are more general! There are some things which Young does very well:-
Masterful Story Telling. Young has written a page turner with a clever combination of plot and good characterisation. He engages with some deep stuff, but in a very good narrative manner, with most of the themes explored in a conversational style, using characters with whom the readers feels association and empathy. This all comes across as an easy read, which decries the labour which produces such a readable book. This is not at all to suggest that the deep themes are covered superficially, but rather to say that they are done so with an engaging and empathetic manner.
Theologically Explorative. Very few authors have the ability to talk about issues of Christian suffering without immediately coming across as simplistic. Similarly, to touch on themes of intra-Trinitarian relationships, the nature of the Son of God, time and transcendence etc. is no small task in a 250 page paper back. Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, and the theologically precise may get frustrated that not every ideological ‘I’ or theological ‘T’ is crossed. But Young has succeeded in opening up some of these deep themes at a popular level and may have persuaded those with little theological education to begin thinking about such doctrinal issues for the first time.
Use of Fantasy Fiction to Unpack Christian Themes. Recent popular works of fantasy fiction such as Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s books have included some general religious themes (such as love, sacrifice etc,) but often with no overt Christian values, and in Pullman’s case, a specific agenda to write against the Christian Gospel. However, the genre in which John Bunyan, C.S Lewis, and J.R. Tolkien wrote (fantasy fiction) has been powerfully used to communicate Christian themes. It would be a mistake to try to draw out syllogistic reasoning or systematic theology from these writings. What this writing genre is able to do, in the heritage of apocalyptic and parabolic writing style, is to paint pictures with words, which incite exploration, wonder and faith.
My admiration for The Shack has as much to do with the way in which it successfully explores theological themes in a book of fiction. To succeed in this task outside of Church circles must surely have a useful apologetic affect and open up all sorts of avenues of exploration for those who read and discuss the book. I would love to be able to write like this.