Saturday, March 25, 2017


We wrote this eight years ago, when THE SHACK was a mere book, titled:  THE SHACK:  WHERE TRAGEDY CONFRONTS ETERNITY, not a full-grown movie.  The comeback story of its creation remains of interest.  Thought it might be a propos to repost:

This review is from: 
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Paperback)
This is one of those extraordinary comebacks we keep our eye out for. A struggling Wm Paul Young juggles three jobs to make ends meet after going bankrupt, all the while fighting a squadron of demons of rage from sexual abuse as a missionary child, guilt from an extramarital affair as an adult and despair at losing three close family members. He takes solace by writing a short novel that he intends mostly for his children. Finishing it, he makes 15 copies at Office Depot and gives it to them for a Christmas gift. The few extra he passed out to friends. One very fateful copy went to Christian author and pastor Wayne Jacobsen, who, in turn, sends a copy to his co-host on a talk show, Brad Cummings. Seeing publishing potential, the trio reworked the basic story, experienced the rejection of 26! turndowns from established publishers, and then each kicked in $5,000 to publish the fiction themselves (one used 12 credit cards to keep things liquid, wow, take that Suze Orman). But big risks sometimes have big paybacks. THE SHACK goes viral. Giveaways at a trade show result in entire churches ordering enmasse. The June Forbes magazine says that Young is now $4 million richer than when he was sweating over the copier at Office Depot. So as a success story, as a comeback story, this is a dream come true. Hats off to these three who truly 'kept the dream alive.'

What about the book itself? The pain fairly drips off the page; if you've been roughed up or bounced around by life, you're going to connect with this one right away -- that's what accounts for the massive sales, imho. Writing-wise, this is not Cheever, or Hemingway, no, no, but it's more like Basquiat in the visual world, raw, powerful, in your face, fascinating in its oddness. You can't look away, even if you want to. Like Tony Soprano's sidekick Silvio Dante, who in turn was quoting Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in", so, too, does THE SHACK pull you back in whenever you think you're out. Still, having said that, there are parts that rankle (we said this book was odd), that feel like a bone out of joint, notably the gender ambiguity (God is black female at the outset, changes gender later), and the consequent line of dialogue that seems at times, well, odd, and dare we say it, sometimes kind of metrosexual, kind of effeminate. Not in all passages, just occasionally. (Maybe we've spent too much time in the Old Testament and Revelation and have too much of such hyper-masculinity imagery in the brain, who knows?)

Theology-wise, Mr. Young wanders far, far off the reservation into a very strange land, as many have pointed out. Speaking of strange, strange that evangelical churches have bought the book by the semi-truckload for their members, this is not evangelical Christianity, it is universal salvation, open entry for people of all faiths, Islam, Hindu, whatever. Evangelicals have put their own playbook aside, so to speak, in favor of emotion, sentimentality, and story. And so it is that THE SHACK has become a battleground between the emergent church (Rick Warren, Willow Creek, and their ilk who love it), and the discernment movement (beaucoup websites and eager essayists, who are shocked and agitated by it). Who is winning? We think that's pretty clear by the sales figures. It is No. 1 in religious fiction.

So Amazon prospective buyer, what should you do here? The operative word may just be "fiction," after all.

My Rx: Read this book for the experience, to relate to the author's humanity and pain, and how he excises the pain, to stretch you out like a spiritual Pilates workout, but don't read THE SHACK for doctrine. For the strong drink of real truth, go back to the urtext, i.e. the Bible itself. As compelling as Mr. Young's fiction is, the Bible is still itself more powerful and efficacious for problem-solving, and for predicting how the Grand Game of Life actually plays itself out, and how God will actually make himself known to everyone. But that's another story.....

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