Baxter and the Shackster: a book review

The Shack was a literary phenomenon inspiring a whole slew of theological reflections on blogs, in articles and in full length monographs. Books like Finding God in the Shack by Roger Olson, or Finding God in the Shack (what can I say, catchy title!) by Randal Rauser read Young’s novel with a sympathetic eye affirming much of its content. Others are more scathing in their critiques (see for example James DeYoung’s Burning Down the Shack).

The Shack Revisited: There is More Going on Here than You ever Dared to Dream by C. Baxter Kruger

What sets C. Baxter Kruger’s The Shack Revisited apart is his glowing endorsement of The Shack’s overall theological vision (the other authors  above each register points of critique). As a friend of William Paul Young and an early endorser of the novel, he describes the emotions he felt when first reading it in  a deer stand while  hunting. Kruger was overcome by Young’s depiction of the Triune God and the way He (She? They?) dealt with the brokenness of Mackenzie (Young’s protagonist).  Young himself writes the forward and commends it to all who read and valued The Shack“If you want to understand better  the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you (ix).” This makes C. Baxter Kruger the author-approved theological interpreter for his book.

Kruger is no theological-light-weight. He has a Ph.D in philosophy  from Kings College, Aberdeen where he studied theology under James Torrance. He has also written  influential books of his own on Trinitarian theology. However, he has chosen to use his gifts in service to the church rather than academy. He is the director of Perichoresis Ministries an international ministry which proclaims the gospel of the Triune God.  In many ways Kruger’s emphasis in theology dovetails well with The Shack making this a good vehicle to proclaim his Trinitarian theology.

The Shack Revisited divides into three parts. In part one, Kruger explores the image of Papa in The Shack. He gives a good apology for Young’s depiction of the Father as an African-American woman. God defies the images we construct of him and pastorally, this sort of revelation of God was exactly what Mackenzie needed. In part two Kruger widens his theological circle to reflect on the nature of the Son and the Spirit and their relationship with the Father.  Like Young, Kruger eschews any hint that Jesus died to appease the wrath of the Angry God; Rather, the Trinity acted in Christ to restore those of us who were lost and broken. He quotes extensively from the novel and praises Young for the way he depicts the Spirit and the way the Godhead relates to one another.  In part three Kruger expounds on ‘Papa’s Dream’–namely, our full inclusion and participation in the life of the Trinity.

Those who are critical of The Shack will likely also be critical of this book. Kruger adds some theological meat to Young’s story but he does not allay every concern. I am a sympathetic reader of The Shack but I don’t agree with every emphasis I read in Young’s prose. My biggest problem with The Shack is Young’s anti-institutional/anti-church bent (he can’t help it, he’s a Boomer).  This is somewhat softened in Young’s follow up novel, Cross Roads ,
but it remains a concern for me. Kruger doesn’t make much mention of this aspect of the novel.  Other’s will be bothered by Kruger’s and Young’s inclusivism. For both these authors, every person no matter how twisted and broken, somehow participates in the divine life of the Trinity and are ultimate recipients of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. With all the hoopla these days about universalism, this will remain a sticking point for many readers.

For my part, I enjoyed this book but found it slow reading. Kruger uses the story of the Shack as a springboard for theological reflection. That means he swings between describing pieces of the story and the characters, quotations and his own theological musings. This book made me want to read another book by Kruger and perhaps The Shack again, although it may be a while be for I revisit these pages. I give it 3 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Cross Road to Freedom: a book review

Cross Roads  by Wm. Paul Young

William Paul Young‘s first novel, The Shack, was a publishing phenomenon. Young wrote the novel for his children to explain his thoughts on God and his theological convictions.  More than 18 million copies later, Young had an international bestseller which touched the lives of people all over the globe. Itt has got people thinking about what kind of God, God is,what the Trinity really is and how the persons of God relate to one another.

Cross Roads is Young’s second novel and while sophomore efforts seldom live up to the hype generated by a best selling debut, for my money this is the better novel.  While there is a certain similarity between the two novels (i.e. both are about profoundly broken men who are bitter at God after experiencing the loss of a loved one, both books bring the protagonist into a transforming  and healing encounter with the triune God) the Shack was less crafted and preachier. Cross Roads is as interesting (and as varied) as it is profound.

If I were to describe the experience of reading this novel, it is a bit like if you cross The Shack with A Christmas Carol, The Great Divorce and Being John Malcovich.  The Story begins when Anothony Spencer, a businessman who is highly successful but who has alienated everyone in his life, has a cerebral hemorrhage and slips into a coma.  He awakens to find himself in a deserted wasteland where he follows tangled paths up a hillside. There he meets a mysterious stranger named Jack who tells him the place where he is, is not exactly hell but it is not exactly home. Jack gets Tony to think hard about the nature of truth and reality. Soon Jack leaves and Jesus and a mysterious Lakota woman show up (the Holy Spirit in disguise and instructs Tony to call her Grandmother).  After that things get really interesting and they send Tony on a journey which will result in his ultimate healing, though not in the way he initially envisions.

The twists and turns in this book make it a fun read (I have tried not to give too much away).  This is great storytelling and well worth it.  In The Shack  Young gave us a picture of his theology by encapsulating it in story. This book is no less theological but it doesn’t try to say everything about God. The theology that is explored here is integral to the plot.

What I really appreciated about this book (and The Shack) is that Young is great at imagining a pursuing God who does not give up on those who, because of the damage and hurt they have suffered, have become embittered souls. The God in these novels is actively seeking, pursuing, calling, but never forcing. The triune God doesn’t demand, but invites. Anytime someone ‘images’ God they get something wrong, but I think these aspects of the book are profoundly right.  So go on, read it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.