“It’s just fiction, so what can be wrong that book?” the young believer asks. Fair question!
“It depends.” The ‘older’ believer answers, but what does ‘it depends’ mean?
It means that it depends on how you read the book. If you do either of those things without comparing spiritual themes presented with scripture (if there are any spiritual themes), fictional books can indeed be ‘spiritually’ very dangerous to read. the following uses The Shack as an example, but makes no specific judgments of the book’s content.
The Shack, by William P. Young, just might be one of the current ‘spiritually’ dangerous books to read, if you don’t read it and compare the spiritual themes with the gold standard of scripture. I don’t know how many Christians I have met who at first see no ‘issues’ with The Shack, but after comparing the spiritual themes presented in the book with Scripture, have significant issues.
A key to potential problem areas can be found in the author’s stated purpose and intent for a book, any book. The Shack includes at the end of the book, the author’s intent:
In the final section of the book titled “The Story behind THE SHACK,” he reveals that the motivation for this story comes from his own struggle to answer many of the difficult questions of life. He claims that his seminary training just did not provide answers to many of his pressing questions. Then one day in 2005, he felt God whisper in his ear that this year was going to be his year of Jubilee and restoration. Out of that experience he felt lead to write The Shack. According to Young, much of the book was formed around personal conversations he had with God, family, and friends (258-259). He tells the readers that the main character “Mack” is not a real person, but a fictional character used to communicate the message in the book. However, he admits that his children would “recognize that Mack is mostly me, that Nan is a lot like Kim, that Missy and Kate and the other characters often resemble our family members and friends” (259). (Emphasis mine)
From the author’s own lips we are told that The Shack has a genuine message, and a spiritual one at that! If that doesn’t give you cause for concern, consider that Eugene Peterson, author of The Message predicted that The Shack “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” For those of you who are not familiar with Pilgrim’s Progress, next to the Bible it is a work of fiction and possibly the largest selling book in History, next to the Bible itself, because of its spiritual themes.
What is it the discerning reader should be looking for in ‘Christian’ fiction? While we do not advocate reading and ‘looking for demons behind every bush’, as the practice of some of the heresy hunters among us, we do suggest paying serious attention to three things in particular that should be compared with Scripture:
- The nature and character of God
- The nature and character of Christ
- The gospel, or salvation message
If the fiction book being read contains a different God or Jesus Christ than those presented in Scripture, there is cause for concern. Of equal concern is the gospel message, the ‘good news’ presented by the book in question. If it is not the exclusive message of the Bible that teaches us that there is but one way of salvation, through the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross for our sins, there is cause for concern.
These principals apply to both ‘Christian’ fiction and other fiction books that contain the spiritual values of the author. The Shack was mentioned here because it is currently very popular, even among many professing Christians. It is not a personal attack against the book or its author. Please note that did not provide details of possible problem areas contained in The Shack, or any other book. I leave that up to the reader.
People cannot set themselves up as authorities able to equal or supplement scripture. That is not a viable purpose for Christian fiction. Neither should it try to proselytise or give a moral. Good literature never does either. And Christian authors writing fiction for Christian readers: what is the purpose exactly? A book is Christian if the author is a serious and committed follower of Christ, but in that case, the readership must go beyond other believers. Christian fiction as usually understood is a box created by marketing. We should be very wary of it.
Great input! When I heard The Shack compared to Pilgrim’s Progress I almost choked!