the road ahead

The Shack?
February 5, 2009, 4:31 am
Filed under: business, ministry, spirituality


Not long ago I was talking with a friend who described the impact that reading The Shack had had on his life. I have been thinking about this and the amazing response the public has had to this fiction book. How is it that this self-published work could have such a profound impact on the Christian book market?

Here is a review of The Shack you might want to take a look at. Also Christianity Today has a very good article on the book.

The Shack is controversial. People are divided in their opinion about it. Some scratch their heads and wonder why anyone would take the time to read such a book. Others have bought multiple copies to give to their friends and family! So help me with this: What makes this book so unique? Why are so many captivated by it? What does this tell us about Christian fiction and its future in the publishing world?

I have more questions on this topic than I seem to have answers. Help!


25 Comments so far
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I’ve read this book twice and have purchased multiple copies of it for friends. It’s not a well written book, I readily admit that. But here’s why I like it. To me, it portrays a very relational God who really loves His kids and who cares deeply about what concerns them and wants to bring healing and resolution to places of unrest. It stirs up longings in us for a relationship with a loving God like that, who speaks to us, cares for us, feels with us, and who makes us different and better just by spending time with Him.

Some critics get hung up about The Shack because the they say the Trinity is not described with theological accuracy. But then who among us can expertly describe the Trinity? I’d suggest that teaching theology was not the author’s goal (and usually isn’t for authors of fiction): getting readers to love the Trinity and receive the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for them is.

What does The Shack teach us about the future of Christian fiction in the publishing world? Readers are hungry for relationship with God. They want to know and communicate with a God who loves them and interacts with them in deeply personal ways.

Comment by cbezek

This is a marvelous book. It portrays the trinity allegorically in a fresh light. It is a work I think C.S. Lewis would be proud of. Question though, what is the controversy about this book? It is a fictional theological masterpiece.



Comment by David Brownlee

Have you read the book yourself? If so, did you read it before reading all the reviews or did you read the reviews first and then go through the book looking for those reviews to be confirmed?

I ask because it seems like the questions you have are a bit off, as if you’re trying to take the experience people have had with The Shack and figure out how to apply it to the world of publishing/business.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s THE biggest problem in Christian publishing today. Why can’t we let books be what they will be to people w/out trying to categorize, define and ultimately control their impact?

We run around chasing the dollars and the “next big thing” when I think that’s the last thing God asks of us.

Love The Shack or hate The Shack. It doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is how quick people have been to try and contain, control and define it.

Worse, has been how fixated people have become on trying to uncover the “secret” to The Shack’s success. Have we really left the working of God’s hand so far behind the work we do in His name????

Comment by Leanne

I have read The Shack, and I was puzzled. Why this success for a book that is not well written–especially when there is plenty of great fiction out there that no one is reading. It makes me very concerned about the literacy of America, and it is frustrating for publishers. That’s why we try to analyze it. But I think I know why so many people are reading and loving it. Because it gives a relatable, visual answer to the ancient question: “Where is God when I’m suffering?” The pat theological answers and scriptures that don’t seem to apply just won’t cut it with this kind of suffering. And people so desperately want some kind of answer to make them feel better. They really don’t care that it may not be theologically accurate or well written. And when I hear people debate the theology of The Shack, I’ve wanted to scream, “It’s fiction, people! Take it for what it is.”

I’ve read nonfiction, theological books about suffering and found better answers to my questions. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges is a great one.

Comment by Darla

Hey Mike,
Timely. Paul Young is coming to stay with Mary and me this weekend. I’m hosting him at our first Nudge the World event in Minneapolis this Saturday night. Can’t wait. It’s going to be a great evening. If you want to see more about it, go to my website and look under Events.
Terry Esau-Nav Press author

Comment by Terry Esau

I read The Shack and was not too impressed with the writing, but completely blown away by the impact it had on so many of my friends. I think the secret to its success is that it speaks to cosmic mystery – something that doctrine or Christian values or even church services often fall short of – at least in how it is conveyed to people.

I think perhaps the other part of this story that has intrigued so many is the terrifying questions that suffering brings – questions that are not often permitted to ask. The rage with God is honest – and that may be the biggest draw of all.

I work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Rage with God is an enormous issue – one that is often superficially addressed or ignored. Sometimes the question is silenced by shaming (“you need more faith”) or by bizarre admonitions that are just given with bad timing – such as “trust God” – well, if you’ve been abused as a child and you tried to trust God – you were failed miserably – at least that’s how I felt when I was sexually abused by my minister grandfather!

The gut-wrenching question asked in this book, and asked by those I work with is – Where was God? It’s a good question, one worthy of creative, patient, and passionate communication. Whether The Shack provided that seems to vary from reader to reader.

Comment by Sallie Culbreth

i loved the shack! i loved it because it illustrated such a beautiful picture of God. it reminded me how even though i’m very immersed in the world and the ways of the world, God is with me every step of the way, if only I’d look for Him more. His paradise is just a breath and a whisper away from me, always waiting. i inherently know God loves me, Jesus died for me and the Holy Spirit is with me. but sadly, like the seeds in “the sower” i let the ways of the world often choke me. the extremely personal visage of the Trinity was a relief, a reminder and a relaxant to me. as i read the shack i was less stressed, less worried about my daily tasks and more submersed in living the moments of each day for God. well written, or not, i can always use this kind of reminder of God’s glorious, gracious love.

Comment by Laura

Read it. Enjoyed it. Sent copies to a niece (a follower of Jesus) and a nephew (a seeker) as graduation gifts. The writing, especially the early parts, is better than some want to acknowledge. Imagine if a publisher had picked it up and put a good editor on it. Then again, maybe not. This is a book that speaks to our need to know that God loves us and is approachable in our most painful times. It doesn’t present a complete picture of God (maybe a follow up called “The Outhouse” can address the whole “hell” thing). But there’s no such thing as a “complete” picture of God, and this book provides insights into some important pieces. I suspect it wasn’t picked up by a publisher because the author didn’t put together a home-run marketing plan in which the author pays for everything and agrees to speak everywhere. But, then, I can be a cynic on such matters.

Comment by Stephen Caldwell

To me, the one thing unique about this story is that the main charachter is talking with the Holy Spirit! I have seen the success of movies or books where the charachters speak with God, or Jesus; But all three! The story takes place today and not two thousand years ago which adds more complexity to answering problems that one faces today.

Comment by Marc Winslow

The Shack was recommended to me by a close friend. I loved the book and have read it no less then six times. Every time I read it, I see something new that I missed.

What I love most of about this story (and I agree with many of the comments already posted about God in suffering) is that it takes God out of the remote and distant box we tend to put Him in and brings Him close and personal. He meets us where we are in ways we may don’t expect. Since His interaction in our lives is often not what we are asking, me miss Him. And that is truly sad.

I love The Shack, have given it to many people and recommended it to many more. For me, the power of the story is the transformation in the way I view the Trinity working ceaselessly in my life.

Comment by Cindy Kraft

Shalom, I read “The Shack”. It’s surely a mixed bag of goods. Not my cup of tea and yet, I can see how some folks are held captive by it’s message. I would caution folks in reading it. But if one does read it, may they read it prayerfully asking for much discernment.

Comment by James Bauers


I’ll just tell you up front, I believe this book is blatant heresy. I know it was never meant to teach doctrine, but many are taking away “new” thinking about God after reading this book. I’ve heard it compared to the writings of CS Lewis … even in the comments on this post. The only thing it has in common with CS Lewis is that it is fiction with God as its subject. In the very first pages of the book the writer implies all three persons of the trinity are incarnational. Then it goes down hill from there! The link you provide in your post is a good one. However, it does not take much of a discerning mind to clearly see where this book is dangerous at best. My question would be, would you give a copy of this book to a new believer? No way!

Unfortunately I have had many in my own church that have read this book and think it is amazing. As far as why this book is so popular, I have one Scripture passage:
3 For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will accumulate teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. 4 They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.
2 Tim 4:3-4 (HCSB)

Bottom line: If I want to read a good story that teaches me about the character and the attributes of God, I will read God writing about God (the Bible) over a piece of fiction written by a man with no regard for theology, but only for what will make himself and his readers “feel” good.

Comment by Mark Marshall

I too bought multiple copies of the Shack and gave them to my sisters and also shared with two of our friends. All but one was very positive! I loved the book. Not because it was theologically sound but because it protrayed the human side of God and that He truly does love me and wants the best for me and that He does work in mysterious ways. I thought that it was a very good read and I highly recommend it.

Comment by Jane

I read the book, and before getting too far into it, I almost gave up. Around chapter 6 or so it can feel a little irreverant. However…. I would urge anyone who is skeptical to finish it all the way through. It does open a person mind to the personalness of God and how he really does care about the details of our lives, and how he by orchestrate events for his purpose.

I think it is probably especially appealing to the reader who may feel like God is too BIG and far away, and help them see that God is truly personal and desires a personal relationship.

Comment by Tammy

I am in agreement with the general sentiments of the comments. The book is not a perfect systematic theology, but it is edifying to many. I suspect that, by the comments of Mr. Marshall, he is the pastor of a church. Frankly, I’m sick of pastors telling me what to read and not to read. It is not blatant heresy!Mr.Marshall obviously has not read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. That, to me, is much more problematic theologically than The Shack. But they are both fiction! We laypersons can discern good and bad fiction for ourselves without papal Protestant pastors.

Comment by Franklin Montgomery

I loved it.
I admit I had trouble when god first appeared as a woman. But I reminded myself it was FICTION! The God of The Shack is so loving and relatable, irresistible in fact. It made me feel like a child again who is deeply loved by my “Papa”.
Comment by Cynthia February 13,2009

Comment by cynthia burgess

I have enjoyed reading the posts on this blog. It is interesting seeing the different takes on the book. Regarding the writing, it is good, had no problems with it (when Paul (or a scribe of Paul’s) wrote many of the epistles, the writing was not sound, nor close to our Western English standards of APA, Chicago or MLA. Paul’s style was lengthy, fragmented, and his thought patterns changed frequently. Do not understand what the hang-up is about writing and grammar style. It is the heart of the book or writing that matters, why publishers are beside themselves is because of just that, if it does not fit into their standards or expectations, it is is ruled to have poor technique, we need to look beyond writing standards as publishers. The fictional (and theological) implications, no problem with it, Lewis portayed Jesus as a Lion in Narnia (the prophets of the OT also did), these are allegories. David wrote in many of his Psalms of taking cover and refuge under the wings of God his Lord, this does not mean that God is an eagle, hawk or falcon. Thank you to Franklin for bringing up the Great Divorce, excellent point.

Thanks again Mike for allowing discussion, and sharing our viewpoints about – The Shack. Cynthia, you are correct, God the Father, our, “Papa,” loves us dearly (1 John 3:1).

Comment by David Brownlee

When I read The Shack, it helped me with the question about why a Good God could allow Bad Things. Told as a parable, the dilemma of how God can be in control yet allow evil, was made very clear. In one place(and I paraphrase badly because I have loaned out my book)”God” says that there is no love if there is not freedom of choice.

There were several moments and phrases like this in the book that were very deep–statements I needed to ponder, which is why I loved the book. Here are some other pondering points from the book:
–that the little girl was with God immediately, never left his sight, didn’t feel pain, and was happy in Heaven.
–the part where the Holy Spirit was uprooting the weeds in the heart of the main character…
–the PEACE he felt when he was with Jesus at the lake.

I know it’s not scripture.

Comment by thejellies

I recommend this book for any one who is in recovery and needs to deal with questions about who God is, control, and forgiveness.

Comment by fan of the The Shack

…tonight we have some friends who have a daughter dying

…though incredibly painful beyond belief, this book has helped them, and so many of their friends to have a picture, an image of what this precious girl’s life with the Triune will be like

…at 6,100,000 copies sold todate (17 Feb ‘9)it is amazing how supposedly “poorly written fiction” can have such an impact

…reminds me of Jesus implying the world will see more of him in how we serve the widow, the orphan and the poor, the distitute than in well crafted tomes, carefully organized institutions, etc.

…I’m all for good writing and life-giving scholarship, but I also wonder what kind of rewrites we would have required of Paul dictating his words in prison, or of the writers of the Gospels who also included a lot of disjointed dialogue

…and if you’ve had the privilege of listening to Paul Young, or of having conversation with him, you would know that, via the venue of fiction, this is his story of his return to God.

…I honor that…give God praise for that…and am eager to read the next book he is currently writing.

Comment by Wes Roberts

As a life-long committed believer in Jesus Christ, I read The Shack with a kind of curious distate. I think it describes the blinding, crushing crash when personal tragedy collides with one’s fondest ideas of a good God. Somehow we have to humanize God and this is one man’s idea of that. No, it is not biblically accurate, but it is blatantly revealing of how one persistently tries to solve the mystery of who God is. The story is excruciatingly human and suspenseful and powerfully contemporary.

Comment by Jeanne Hendricks

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Wes, I like your comments, especially on Paul’s writings. We would have numerous rewrites. I tried to emphasize that in an earlier comment I made.

I to am all for writing well, but God looks at the heart.

Also there have been comments about, “humanizing God.” God humanized Himself by sending His Son, who was touched/tempted in every way we were – Hebrews 4:14-16.

This is great dialogue, iron sharpening iron.
Can’t wait to read and interact with this next blog that Mike just sent out!

Comment by David Brownlee

Just a quick note….lots of comments here about grammar, etc. and how the apostle Paul would need rewrites and such after dictating his words, or the writers of the gospels.

Shouldn’t we remember that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and not man’s words? I don’t think God ever needs a “rewrite”.

Most comments here seem to be an acknowledgment of this book being fiction followed by points about how it altered their view of God. I thought is was fiction?!?

Ultimately, I have no real problem with the book, especially if it is indeed self-reflection on the part of the author. I just worry about so many people reading it as if it were more than just a fictional story. Sometimes it is harder than we realize to think critically while reading a good story.

Comment by Mike

Michael, I’m curious, did NavPress turn down the opportunity to publish the Shack before it was self published by Wayne, Brad and Paul?

Comment by Chad

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