Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Shack: It's Just Fiction! Right?

By Rich Bordner

Recently, the book The Shack, by William Young, has become all the rage. I forget how many copies its sold, but its on its way to becoming a best seller.

Without getting into a detailed review/summary of the book, it seems to have some questionable ideas about God in it. Many are greatly concerned over the book and the influence it is apparently having. I haven't read the book, so what do I know, so I'm not going to attempt a review. What I can do is point you to a review by someone who has read the book, someone I trust.

However, in talking with some about the book, I keep encountering a certain attitude that I can comment on. Many folks, in reaction to the negative criticism of the book, say, "It's just fiction! Why get so worked up over it? The book has incredibly blessed me and taught me about God."
Say I wanted to communicate to the world about God's wrath and justice (these are two biblical character qualities of God, just like His love.), so I wrote a fiction book where I depicted God as the serial killer guy from Saw. You read the book, and (rightfully) express concern (outrage would be more appropriate): 'Rich, I don't think God is like the guy from Saw. Yeah, I know He's just and He exhibits wrath on the unrepentant at the judgment seat, but the way you depict Him...well...That's not quite biblical.'

I respond, 'Relax. It's only fiction! I'm not writing a theological treatise! If you read the book, you will learn about God's justice and be blessed.'

How would you respond? No doubt, you'd respond with incredulity: even though its fiction, I'm communicating something about God, something deeply flawed. The fact that I'm writing fiction doesn't get me off the hook.

It's the same with The Shack. If I'm not off the hook in my flawed attempt at communicating about God's justice, why is Young off the hook when he makes a flawed attempt at communicating about other parts of God's nature, like His love or Immanence?

You see, we usually only express that blasé attitude when the book in question presents God in a soft light. Why the inconsistency?

I understand that fiction is a slightly more fluid genre than, say, theological papers in a professional journal. But that doesn't mean we give fiction authors a free ticket to ride when it comes to speaking about God, truth, and reality.

Far from being the "trash heap" of the written word, fiction is an incredibly powerful and important genre. Brian McLaren and others encapsulate their theological ideals in fiction partly because they understand such ideals will be easier for the rank and file to accept if they are captured in a story. For the most part, this is all well and good, but it has a down side: we can easily let our guard down.

Therefore, we should treat fiction as it is: an important and honorable genre worthy of the utmost consideration.

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