I have several stacks of books in my life. There are books that I am currently reading. There are the volumes that I want to read. There are ones that I think I should read. There are a few on my wish list that I hope to someday read. And then there are the books that people give me that they think I should read. On occasion, like this evening, I will read from that last category.
A couple of weeks ago, someone gave me a copy of The Shack, which they raved about and felt I should read as well. Initially I resisted the impulse, but was drawn to it out of curiosity. After doing some research, I discovered it is a highly popular Christian novel. I also discovered that the reviewers either love it or loath it. After finishing the book, I fall into the latter group.
On the one hand, I found it to be an interesting story about forgiveness. It is a very fast read, and the author pulls you into the narrative and doesn’t let go until the end. On the other hand, I was dismayed how subtly he weaves in poor theology and presents a distorted view of God, revelation, and authority. I tend to agree with the summary made by one reviewer, “The Shack is a theological novel that teaches far too much unbiblical theology.” For more details, read the reviews in Discerning Reader and Tim Challies. Even USA Today has an article describing the weaknesses of the book, as well as giving some insight as to where the author got his perspective. The book was published by Windblown Media, which was started by a man who has given up on the local church and encourages people to discover God on their own or in a house church. All of this to say that the book must be read with a great deal of discernment.
Of greater concern to me than this book is the danger of Christian fiction in general. People would never presume to make political policy decisions based on a Tom Clancy thriller. No one would assume they know everything about criminal justice from reading Patricia Cornwell or medicine by reading Robin Cook. Very few would claim they understand the legal system just because they have read every book written by John Grisham. We don’t judge church history on the basis of what appears in Dan Brown’s books.
So why is it that Christians think they understand spiritual warfare simply because they read Frank Perretti? Why do we think we are experts on the end times because we read the Left Behind series? The danger of reading The Shack is that people will now think they understand the Trinity and how God reveals himself to people, when in reality it presents a distorted view of God.
As entertaining as a novel may be, it should never become a substitute for the Word of God. Novels may inspire and encourage, but Scripture promises to transform our lives.