Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Typological Realism in Contemporary Evangelical Fiction: Tragedy, Eternity, and the Shack

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Typological Realism in Contemporary Evangelical Fiction: Tragedy, Eternity, and the Shack

Article excerpt

The modern author who writes a novel based typologically on themes from the Bible ... is literally incapacitated by history and his own consciousness from writing out of the faith that was accessible even to the most sophisticated medieval authors. (Conversely, ... any modern work that used typology seriously and naively would remain, almost by definition, sub-literary, like most Sunday-school readers.)

Theodor Ziolkowsky

Every human society requires a "theodicy," an interpretation of the suffering and injustice endemic to the human condition. It is the absence of secular society to provide such, after the retreat of Enlightenment thought, the facile substitutions of consumerist hedonism, and the machinery of the secular therapeutic, that opens the door for a return to the evangelical theodicies.

Peter Berger

William Paul Young's homiletic novel The Shack is an originally self-published text that, as of September 2010, had over ten million copies in print and had been at number one on the New York Times bestseller list for seventy weeks. (1) The Shack's story of self-help and healing through an experiential encounter with Christian doctrine instantiates a mode of representation (typological realism) that is prominent in evangelical homiletic narrative and fiction and that plays a key role in articulating a contemporary countersecular evangelical perspective or "worldview."

Mack, The Shack's protagonist, is a regular guy from the Pacific Northwest who goes on a camping trip with his kids during which his five-year-old-daughter Missy is kidnapped, abused, and eventually murdered by a serial killer at an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Three years later, the profoundly disillusioned Mack receives an enigmatic note in his mailbox signed by "Papa" (his wife's name for God), inviting Mack to "get together" with him at the shack. Confused, and suspecting the killer's involvement, Mack travels to the shack but finds there only bleak reminders of his daughter's brutal murder. Turning to leave while fighting suicidal despair, Mack sees the shack and its environs transform into a paradisal landscape. Inside the now-idyllic cottage, Mack finds God the Father in the form of a motherly African-American woman calling herself "Papa" or "Elousia"; the Holy Spirit as a beautiful, ethereal East Asian woman named "Sarayu"; and, of course, a wise, friendly Jewish carpenter named Jesus. Over the next three days, Mack eats, drinks, works, plays, laughs, cries, and converses with the Three-who-are-One, while also sharing experiences of a more divine nature: watching his dead daughter playing in the heavenly garden that is her true home, walking on water with Jesus, and seeing the spiritual essences of the world laid out before him in blazes of psychedelic colour in a moment when he is given the ability to see some of what God sees. Mack's experiences at the shack--culminating in Papa's taking him into the surrounding mountains to recover Missy's missing remains--help him overcome the trauma of losing his child as well as helping him forgive and be forgiven by his abusive dead father (who God allows him to meet). While returning home after waking up in the once-again disenchanted shack, Mack is badly injured in a car accident. On his recovery, however, he is able to retrace his hike with Papa and finds Missy's remains exactly where he had found them on his enchanted weekend. Finally at peace, Mack asks his friend Willie to write down his story. It is Willie who arranges the novel, and it is his commentary, in the preface and epilogue, that frames Mack's narrative.

The Shack is an homiletic novel. Its primary job is to inspire in its reader a transformation toward a more Christian way of life. (2) The forms of representation it employs serve that end. As its author explains in "The Story Behind The Shack," the book emerged from a desire to pass on the theological insights gleaned from years of personal struggle in order to give a true understanding of God's love "to a world that longs, in the deepest places of their [sic] hearts, for such a God. …

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