My wife is re-reading a bestselling Christian book, The Shack. She loves it and wants to lend our copy to just about every person she can think of. ('Hi, how are you? I'm fine, would you like to borrow this book?')
I read it, too, a while back. It's moving (made the back of my eyes prickle); it's not badly written (not quite poetic, but better than formulaic). But...
...But (sorry) - I'm just not convinced. It's not just that God the Father was portrayed as motherly female for much of the novel (though I do sigh - enough people think church is just for women and children as it is - oh and by the way, the Holy Spirit was feminine, too, and Jesus was a very nice boy). No, it's not that - and I understood that they were all about removing stereotypes, even if I wish it'd been done some other way). It's not even that I was left disconcerted by a feeling that, despite the book's fairly obvious aim to the contrary, it ended up giving suspiciously pat answers to difficult questions about suffering and the nature of evil.
No, the main thing was that the book was - well, just too popular. Plaudit after plaudit adorn the back cover and fly. Everyone loves it. It makes everyone feel so wonderful, so reassured, so... like the American Dream has come true at last, and God's the main character.
I don't want to sound scornful or misanthropic. I realise I'm veering in that direction. I don't doubt that The Shack is an uplifting read and genuinely encouraged some hurting souls.
Yet, I suppose what I missed was anything of prophetic challenge. God's basic message to the protagonist who finds himself alone with the almighty for a long weekend, seemed to be - 'See! I am nice, after all!'
But wouldn't God have something to say about justice, about the plight of the poor, about his revolutionary kingdom - in fact, about some of the things he expresses again and again and again through the prophets and ultimately through Christ. Go through the Bible and highlight references to 'justice and righteousness' and your pen will have run out before you reach the end of the Old Testament.
To put it another way - God just wasn't angry enough. And, strange though it may seem, I worry about a God who isn't angry. Strikes me that a God who isn't angry isn't very good. (Nice, maybe, but that's quite a different thing.)
Okay, so maybe that wasn't what the book was about. And it's not like the main character isn't challenged by his meeting with God in the shack. He is - particularly over the issue of forgiveness (which is, I suppose, close to the heart of the book). But I was waiting for some of that heart-stopping controversy and demand that Jesus dished out continually. I was waiting for 'What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight' and 'Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple'?
The Shack may be the kind of book that would take someone a good few steps along the road to faith, or overcome some of the emotional objections some feel. It's has evangelistic potential and for that I would commend it. But as a real exploration of God's heart and what he may be saying to our world today... sorry. It left me too happy and reassured to be of much use.