Tuesday, February 3, 2009

#63 The Shack

Photobucket



Every few years, a novel surfaces in Christian culture that soon becomes required reading. These books almost always contain either spiritual allegory or a straight-up portrayal of what the rapture could be like.


Photobucket



The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory that may be one of the best-known works of Christian fiction. It's definitely one of the oldest. The Chronicles of Narnia, an allegorical series, were popular in the 1950s and have now become standard childhood reading and are practically revered as Biblical text. A Thief in the Night, a nightmarish prediction of the rapture's happenings, was the big Christian novel in the 1970s. This Present Darkness, an imagined account of "spiritual warfare" (a term exclusive to evangelical Christian culture), was the most popular Christian novel in the 1980s. (Michael W. Smith even wrote an instrumental song about it! Squeal!) In the 1990s the Left Behind series was another fictional-yet-based-on-scripture rapture account. According to Amazon, The Shack is the most popular work of Christian fiction right now.


Photobucket



In this Kindlings podcast, the panel notes that The Shack would have been laughed out of the church twenty years ago. This is probably true. "You mean twenty years from now our church will sponsor study groups based on a book in which God is portrayed as a black woman named Papa? Really?" A Seattle pastor with questionable beliefs even calls The Shack "pro-goddess worship."

Photobucket



The fictional books that are popular in Christian culture are praised and criticized for the liberties taken in portraying the unseen. The unseen is where it gets messy. These books could be heretical, they could be bad art, they could be a way of exploring what we still don't know and yet want to give shape to. They could be based on wanting to name and make tangible that which God doesn't answer. When God remains silent, people get antsy. We want facts, we want black-and-white. When God is silent, is it possible that we create idols in place of the messy and difficult act of having faith?

37 comments:

Jeff Whitfield said...

On the flip-side, Christians have a bad habit of being entirely hypocritical and will complain whenever a book and/or movie that references God, Jesus, or the Bible doesn't treat their religion so well.

Take a book like The Da Vinci Code". Gee, you'd almost think that Dan Brown went to every Christian's home and beat them over the head with it the way they complained about it.

Now we have a new Angels & Demons movie and, once again, Christians are up in arms about it. The Vatican even banned both the movie and the book from their churches.

Look, it's fiction. Just because the subject matter has to do with religion doesn't automatically make it bad. The movie Stigmata was a highly entertaining thriller of a movie regardless of it being highly controversial in religious context. It's fiction though. As such, it's not reality. Get over it.

Peter T Chattaway said...

Was there a book based on A Thief in the Night? As far as I know, that film -- and its three sequels -- were movies only.

stephy said...

Yeah, I read "A Thief in the Night" when I was 12 and it scared the holy bejeepers out of me.

Christina said...

"Thief in the Night" scared me too! (Well, the movies, anyways. I didn't read the book)

The worst part? When Patty walks into her mom's house only to see her mom's phone dangling off the hook and to hear it beeping really, really loudly. Oh, that horrible beeping!

shelly said...

I didn't know A Thief in the Night was a book. I've seen the movie, though. I'd love to have that time back now. Horrible!

the nibbling marmot said...

I, too, was traumatized by "A Thief in the Night."

Simone said...

I am traumatized by the poster for "A Thief In The Night".

gala said...

i'm ridiculously over-critical of books like this, but i also include books like "the celestine prophecy," "conversations with god," anything by paolo coelho, "zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance," etc. any book with a didactic spiritual agenda taken through a slant of thin fiction is just too "man behind the curtain" for my literary taste buds.

Magnus said...

I was traumatized by "This Present Darkness" - it might rank as the worst book I have ever read.

Luke said...

I must move in more cynical Christian circles, it's hard to find a Christian who likes The Shack.

(However I did enjoy some of the Frank Peretti stuff, sort like soft Christian horror. I also, being a mild dispensationalist, I liked the idea of the 'Left Behind' series just not the way it was written.)

Katie said...

Maybe it was that I read the Shack right after I read War and Peace. Or maybe the writing just sucks. But the writing sucks. The God figure, in all forms, seemed unable to say very much without winking. Does God really have to wink so much?

Archie Mck said...

Just bad art.
And "This Present Darkness" kept me awake for several nights, yuck!

Benny said...

I thought Zen and the Art...etc was pretty well written, all things considered. But yes, Paolo Coelho makes me want to stab things.

Lee Ryan said...

Have to agree with Katie; The Shack was very poorly written. You can do much less than turn to War and Peace to find a better example of the novel.

Kim said...

Ok, so ,um I read Frank Peretti's first three books (then I "fell away" from the church so I don't know if he wrote any other books). I haven't read the others, though I'd be sorta interested in reading a Christian pro-Goddess worship book. (and it's funny, being now back in a church, after 8 years away, to see so much of what you're writing to be very true.)

The Chaplain said...

I had a Christian friend send me a copy of The Shack in a bald-faced attempt to re-convert me. Rude lady. Anyway, I wrote a response and posted it on my blog: The Shack

Luke said...

@ Chaplian

I would've sent you a copy of Mere Christianity.

Suzanne said...

I'm finally getting around to reading "The Shack" after all this time. I'm not sure I'll be able to judge its theology because I am having great difficulty getting past how poorly it's written. My daughter wrote better than this in middle school! I'm unemployed right now. Maybe I should just forget the job search and write a crappy novel; they obviously get published....

Holly said...

I was so traumatized by those thief in the Night movies that I spent most of my childhood fearing the rapture taking my family and being left all alone. When I got home from school, and no one else was there, I was convinced I had been left behind. For YEARS. Trauma. Seriously. I should sue.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap I remember "A Thief in the Night" from when I was just a boy. I had nightmares about being left alone because of the little corner of my soul that wasn't up to snuff with god. Now that I think about it that film made a big impact on my tender young mind. I think I've been afraid/angry about a cosmic bully ever since without really knowing why.

Vanilla Chunk said...

I have been going through this blog for an hour now, and it just gets better and better. Funny without being angry or snarky (very funny!) and so thoughtful and open.

I'd like to mention 'Kings', the series on NBC last year. It had Biblical foundations and some of the best dialogue I've ever heard. Why didn't Christian culture support this show? It was a great show. My girlfriend and I were pointing out Bible stories to each other- that doesn't happen very often, y'know?
Yeah, it had some racy business- a gay kiss, some saucy stolen photos of the princess- but when your kid spells most of the words right on the spelling test, ya don't kick his report card down the stairs.

ElktoothChain said...

Interesting. In the conservative envagelical circles that I am (loosely) associated with (in Grand Rapids, MI, the world headquarters of the RCA, etc. [and home of Rob Bell's church, too, but that's really more an interesting side-bar and has nothing to do with my point {also, I go to Mars Hill}]) have all decried The Shack as blasphemy, bad theology, a sign of the crazy, liberal, overly-tolerant, irreverent culture in which we live, etc., etc. So I am surprised to see a post implying that The Shack is cool in Christian culture as opposed to seeing one about how The Shack is decried as the Devil's work, along with the Qur'an, and anything written by Rob Bell.

However, I think both views are prevalent. It really depends on what subset of conservative evangelicalism you are looking at. So I guess this post is valid; I've just had more experience with the opposite view.

torcik said...

I had a dream that I woke up and I was LEFT BEHIND. When I realized that there were no more Christians on Earth. I jumped up and shouted THANK YOU JESUS

Rollo Tomassi said...

Whenever I see any Left Behind series book in a new "church friend's" bookshelf or strategically placed on a coffee table I know EXACTLY who I'm dealing with.

Sometimes I wonder if the Rapture hasn't already happened, Jesus returned, no one noticed, and no one on earth was worth levitating into heaven.

Naomi said...

As with most of the "stuff Christian Culture likes," I couldn't get into the shack. I've tried three times, and I can't get past the first few pages. Perhaps the inner rebel in me can't stand to hop on the Christian band wagon?

On an almost OT-note (that's off topic, not Old Testament for those of you that have also suffered through old testament theology in Bible college and cannot disassociate the internet term from such a horrible experience), I LOVE this blog, and I've been reading it for several months now. As a fellow pk, I find your take on things hilarious. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and hawked it on craigslist. BUT I was pleasantly surprised to find that you linked to the Kindlings podcast in which my dad (the Scottish guy) participated.

New. Favorite. Blog.

stephy said...

Hi Naomi,
Your dad was so charming and thoughtful in that podcast. Could he adopt me?
xo stephy

Anonymous said...

Was at my local Catholic Church (not my church) recently, St Mary of the Annunciation, and there was an emphasis on spiritual warfare (something on the bulletin board and a prayer to St Michael the Archangel). Up till now, I really did think this was an evangelical only term (although, conceptually, not strange to Catholics).

Luc said...

I read This Present Darkness, the first Left Behind book, and A Thief in the Night. I like science fiction and fantasy. The problem I found with all of them is bad character development. All of the people in these books don't act like real people would act in these situations; they act as a mouthpiece for the authors' religious POV. OTOH, Stephen King is very good at portraying religious and secular people in supernatural circumstances that immediately comes across as authentic.

On another note, the Vatican is against The Da Vinci Code because they feel it would mislead Xians into thinking that Dan Brown is correct about the origins of Jesus and the Church. In other words, they are afraid that Xians are vulnerable to reading an obviously fictional book and thinking that it is real. My response: is that REALLY the argument you want to be making? :)

Q. How does the Vatican spell irony? A. B-I-B-L-E

Peter T Chattaway said...

Actually, a lot of people are very stupid and do believe that the claims made by this "obviously fictional book" are real. A few years ago, polls indicated that as many as 1 in 6 Canadians -- and 1 in 8 Americans -- believed the book's basic tenets.

Beth said...

I fail to understand why the Christian community will read this type of fiction and suddenly, it's the gospel. Although I have read several of the books you mentioned, I have yet to view them as reality or what really is. Although I think that some of these books do have real value, I have yet to view them as something other than an author's artistic representation.

Timothy O'Fallon said...

You may wish to re-characterize "The Chronicles of Narnia". I always considered them - or at least 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' allegorical, and was puzzled when I read that Lewis was adamant that they were not. Having looked into the matter, I see the author's point. In the Narnia stories Lewis imagines what Christ "would" do in a place like Narnia if it existed and imagines what form He would take. This is different than allegory.

Lewis did write a purely allegorical work, however, called "The Pilgrim's Regress".

stephy said...

I read that he said that too.

stephy said...

Hi Timothy,
there has actually been some spirited discussion in the past few days about Lewis and allegory, and what of his was allegorical and what was not, at this post and this post, you might think they're interesting.

Timothy O'Fallon said...

Thank you for that...those comments were an interesting read!

And, though this comment would be better suited in the pipe-smoking section, I agree with you about Letters to Children.

~T

stephy said...

Haha, yes all these Lewis comments get peppered around all the entries, it seems. I also love Letters to an American Lady.

Timothy O'Fallon said...

Hm...I still have not read that one. I have to fix that.

Speaking of an American lady, have you ever read Joy Davidman Gresham's book "Smoke on the Mountain"? It is her take on the 10 commandments, and at the risk of being presumptuous, from what I can tell here you and she are something of kindred spirits. I loved the book.

sean marcel said...

yo that last paragraph is DEEP!