The Shack

While on holiday I read The Shack by William Paul Young. I had heard various things about this book, both positive and negative. Personally, I found it to be a thoroughly good read and an excellent work of fiction.

As with any good novel it deals with what it means to be human in a thought-provoking way. Being unable to put the book down, I ploughed through it in two evenings. While it would be very unwise to look to a work of fiction for your theology, it does call attention to some important aspects of how we relate to God, such as coming to God in relationship with Him rather than trying to fulfil rule-based expectations.

I am also glad for the reminder that fulfilling our human potential lies in being and loving, not in doing and achieving. This message has come at me from several sources in the past year so is probably something for me to be considering more deeply and working on.

Overall, I think the strength of The Shack is in it’s perceptive look at the human condition, such things as how we justify telling a lie to ‘protect’ another person from hurt when in fact we are actually protecting ourself from emotional upheaval (see pp 189-190). This in not telling us anything much about God, rather it illustrates common human experiences.

From a Biblical and theological point of view The Shack has some significant weaknesses. It emphasizes the Trinity but in a fairly loose manner. There is also a major lack of consideration of what the cross of Christ means and an implication that there could be many roads to Christ, which I strongly disagree with. I have no problem with The Shack as a work of fiction, just be sure to read the Bible for your theology!

Other views:

A book a month

My ‘to read’ stack

I am currently 42. Based on Psalm 90:10 there is some justification to think I could live another 28 years. On average I can manage to read a book a month (not including my reading of the Bible, which never ends). So, 28 x 12 = 336; a reasonable estimate of how many books I could read before I go home.

That is actually not a lot when you consider all the books out there that might be worth reading (and there a plenty that are not!), so it would be sensible to choose wisely what to invest time into reading. Therefore I am creating this list to help me target my reading.

In choosing books to read, I am trying to aim for literature that will enrich my soul –  quality rather than quantity.

This list is likely to change and morph as I reassess whether certain books are ones I really want to read or not. (The numbers do not indicate priority, they’re just to keep track of how many items are on the list).

  1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (finished in 2012)
  2. The Evil of Evils by Jeremiah Burroughs
  3. Communion with God by John Owen
  4. Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges
  5. Church History by Eusebius
  6. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry Garrard
  7. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (finished in 2015)
  8. The Works of John Newton, Volume 1
  9. The Works of John Newton, Volume 2
  10. The Works of John Newton, Volume 3
  11. The Works of John Newton, Volume 4
  12. The Works of John Newton, Volume 5
  13. The Works of John Newton, Volume 6
  14. When I don’t desire God by John Piper
  15. With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray
  16. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
  17. The Poems by W.B. Yeats
  18. Prayer by John Bunyan
  19. Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sack
  20. Spiritual Depression by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
  21. Imagining the Course of Life by Nancy Eberhardt
  22. The Confessions by St. Augustine
  23. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  24. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  25. Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Bruegemann
  26. Praying the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann
  27. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  28. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  29. A journey to Victorious Praying by Bill Thrasher
  30. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  31. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  32. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  33. Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen (finished in 2013)
  34. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  35. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  36. Scripture by Heart by Joshua Choomin Kang
  37. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  38. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll
  39. 1 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
  40. 2 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
  41. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (finished in 2018)
  42. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  43. The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris
  44. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  45. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  46. The Epistle to the Romans by Douglas Moo
  47. Living on the Maniototo by Janet Frame
  48. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  49. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  50. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (finished in 2012)
  51. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  52. Collected Poems by T.S. Elliot
  53. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  54. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  55. Selected Poems by Robert Browning
  56. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  57. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  58. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  59. Letters of William Cowper by William Cowper
  60. A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot
  61. Joy Unspeakable by D. Martin Lloyd Jones
  62. Seasonable Counsels by John Bunyan
  63. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles by Tom Schreiner
  64. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (finished in 2012)
  65. Zorba the Greek
  66. Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon
  67. The Way of Life by Charles Hodge (edited by Mark Noll 1987)
  68. Practical Christianity by J.C. Ryle
  69. Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McClaren
  70. Future Grace by John Piper
  71. Because He Loves Me by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
  72. The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
  73. The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
  74. Journals by George Whitfield
  75. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  76. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  77. The Righteous Shall Live by Faith by R.C. Sproul
  78. Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
  79. Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller
  80. The Plague by Albert Camus
  81. The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity by Daniel P. Fuller
  82. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  83. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  84. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (finished in 2013)
  85. The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp by Bernice Koehler Johnson (finished in 2012)

Post updated with when I finished reading some of these books: 28 September 2018

Wrestling with an Angel

I want to thank God for an amazing little book I am currently reading. The book is Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disablity and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas, about insights gained as he raised a severely disabled son by the grace of God. It is very well written, humorous and heart-rending.

A commonly used phrase within Christian circles is ‘in the trenches’, meant to refer to people who are serving God in the midst of tough circumstances of daily life. Greg and Kim Lucas have certainly been doing that and what has been distilled from their years of difficulty and love into this 100-page book is like gold. True wisdom that is never easily gained.

I have spent days meditating on the depth of humility displayed in the chapter ‘Opposition|Humility’, and the excerpt below is from the very first chapter, challenging my perception of how big a load God could place upon me:


I hear religious-minded people say all the time with good intentions, “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. (p14)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Thank you Lord that You still write wisdom in books by Your servants (Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Greg Lucas blogs at Wrestling with an Angel

Gifts I have noticed this week:

549) Firewood delivered and stacked before the latest storm.
550) God kept the snow away so I could preach my sermon.
551) Kids enjoying collecting pine cones on a freezing cold afternoon.
552) Two-year-old son thinks my pathetic drawing of a tractor is wonderful.
553) The faith and perseverance of others lifting me up.
554) Ability.
555) Cooking dinner for a change, letting my wife rest.
556) Politicians I didn’t vote for.
557) A friend searching for ways to help.
558) Getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
559) Being pursued to deal with my weaknesses.
560) Those who love me making sure I am helped.

Image of book cover: Cruciform Press

Reasons for reading


My ‘to read’ stack

I love reading. I particularly love reading books. Blogs and websites and short documents are fine, but they cannot compare to the pleasure of reading a good book.
Aside from a general preference for books, there are many reasons why I read. Why I am reading not only influences what I choose to read but also how I read it. Some books are read slowly from cover to cover, others are skimmed, some are dipped into as the mood takes me, and then there are the reference tomes that are only read in small bits as required.

Here are some of the reasons I read:

  • To be reminded: some stuff is just too valuable to leave shut up on the shelf.
  • To escape into a good story for a while.
  • Learning: some books are a challenge for me to read but I know they are good for me.
  • To be jarred and jolted into a deeper view of of being human.
  • Out of curiosity: sometimes a book just makes me want to know what it is about.
  • Someone else recommends the book: I have to admit that this is not always a good reason for me – I’ve slogged through a lot of books that came well recommended but just weren’t of much interest to me.
  • I like the author’s other books: not always reliable, but certainly more useful to me than recommendations from others.

I’m sure there are good reasons I’ve left out, maybe I will add to this list over time. Or you can add your own reasons why you read in the comments for this post.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV)

External links related to this topic:

In Christ alone

To read In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson is like reading an exceptionally well written blog. Each chapter is discrete and self-contained, while all holding to the theme of living in Christ. This is not a narrative or treatise on Christ but rather, as the author describes in his preface, a tapestry in which descriptions and insights from life and Scripture reveal the person of Christ through lives lived in Him. Coming from many different angles, the articles build up an image of the life lived in biblical faith in Jesus Christ.

There is a progression in the book from the incarnation of Jesus, on to our apprehension of Him by faith, the work and person of the Holy Spirit, our transformation wrought by the Spirit of Christ, through to persevering in faith in Christ. However, it would be a mistake to read more than one chapter in a sitting, not because it wouldn’t fit together, but because the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to read a chapter is far too short to digest the meal it is for our souls. This is a book to pick up frequently for a short read before giving yourself time to ponder what you have learned, or been reminded of.

The humanity of Sinclair Ferguson is refreshingly revealed in this collection of articles, but as he writes himself, “Yes, our understanding is creaturely and limited; yet, even finite knowledge of the true God is still true knowledge.” What we get from In Christ Alone is a handrail to guide us in our creaturely and limited steps into the knowledge of Christ.

I thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians. I also recommend reading it several times, and slowly.


Daniel Wilson posted this today (31 May 2010) referring to the book In Christ Alone on the topic of seeking transformation.

Gold from Bunyan

Reading some authors makes me feel like Hartley & Reilly panning for gold in the Clutha river – it’s just sitting there waiting to be picked up! I have a little book by John Bunyan by the simple title of Prayer, on the first page of the body of the book he writes:

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.

That one sentence is so bulging with depth and significance that I haven’t gotten to the next page yet!

Faith and horror

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan says he is writing for those who would rather die before their convictions do (p21), a sentiment that greatly appeals to me – reminding me of Philippians 1:21. Chan challenges Christians to move beyond a lukewarm faith and start giving our best to God rather than offering the leftovers of our lives to our creator.

I read another book over Christmas, about a teenager with deep devotion to God. The book is Night by Elie Wiesel, who was 15 when he arrived at Auschwitz. He writes:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Reading ‘Night’ has rocked my perception of the world and causes me to have grave concerns about the nature of my faith – what would suffering truly do to my faith?

Reading ‘Crazy Love’ deepened my concerns – is my faith real? If it is real, why is there so little fruit?