Monday, August 23, 2010

My Summary of 'The Shack'

Herewith a summary of "The Shack." I finally got around to it, and I surely enjoyed it a lot, lot more than I did "The Fountainhead," which I punished myself with this summer. (I'm now further punishing myself with "Atlas Shrugged," and a I also recently forced myself to read a very sad, confused memoir -- "At Home at the Heart of Appalachia" -- by a man who left urban intellectual life and returned to live in Appalachian West Virginia in his middle age. It's been a serious summer.)

So here's my snapshot of "The Shack." I hope there are no spoilers:

General evaluation? Mixed feelings. Hard for me to evaluate. Will have to give it another read.

What's it about? A man's healing encounter with the Holy and Most Blessed Trinity, One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, after a life-shattering event.

Would I recommend it? Yes. It's nothing to be afraid of. It's not polytheistic. It's nor overly modalistic. It's not unitarian. It falls easily into the realm of Christian fantasy. It's not too stilted. It's not namby-pamby, treacly or too carefully Pollyannish.

Good for kids, teens, youths, young adults? I don't think so. It deals with graphic subjects (serial killing, kidnapping and sexual molestation), the emotional responses are at times visceral, it has tragic loss and it demands a reader with a certain number of years and a certain amount of experience of loss to best relate to it.

Good parts: Didn't have to force myself to read. It moved very quickly and it was not long. It treated a very complex subject with humor and with dignity and reverence. It was plainly fictional; whatever heresy was in there had to be in there for the sake of propelling the story; this was not systematic theology.

Bad parts: Conventional plot device to end the story without too much suspension of belief. Didn't like the story-within-a-story; wasn't sure why the author didn't have the courage or didn't exercise the imagination to go first person or at least try some other POV.

Surprise: How Papa became a "man" figure at a pivotal point because that's what the protagonist needed for the difficult journey he was about to take.

Credibility issues: Dishonest complicity with a deputy to make up a cover story on how he found his daughter. (Also, how they covered it up was not explained to the reader, or else I don't recall.)

Possible sequel: I'd like to know more about the reconciliation between the father and the murderer. Did it happen? Where was Trinitarian love in that?

Best theological moment: Author did a good job of illustrating the intimacy within the Trinity of the three persons.

Theological disappointments: Author did a good job of showing the distinction of persons but didn't do too well in illustrating their oneness and their "likeness"/"sameness"/"equality." Didn't handle theodicy very well; I didn't find Jesus' or Papa's explanation of the lessening of the little girl's fear very satisfying; however, theodicy isn't something I've had a big problem with so far in my own life, so maybe all those "Why does God let these things happen or else he must be an ogre" arguments just bore me; I'm fairly comfortable with the fact that I'm a sinner (of a redeemed sort), that the world and the creation are broken by the fall, and some things are just beyond our power to understand.

Personal disappointment: I would have liked getting to know Suraya (the "Holy Spirit") better.

Refreshing things: Not too preachy. De-emphasized decision theology and emphasized God's sovereignty and grace, but without going hyper-Reformed. It fell well within my Lutheran comfort zone.

These are my gut reactions. It ain't a classic. It's no "Pilgrim's Progress." But at least it's in American English and I'm not slogging through C.S. Lewis.

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