Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book note: Mere Christianity, The Shack, and more

David Skeel wants to know if anyone knows a book they feel measures up to C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Here's an op-ed he wrote on the subject (also linked above): Après Lewis (Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2008). Here's a follow-up blog post by his colleague William Stuntz: More on Lewis's Uniqueness (Less than the Least, August 16, 2008).

I'm also on the hunt for books along this line, to stock in our bookstore. The bestselling book at our store right now, hands down, is The Shack, by William P. Young. People are buying it in stacks off the shelf, and special ordering it in even larger stacks. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a novel in which a man thinks he might have encountered the triune God in highly unusual forms, as he struggles to deal with the murder of his young daughter. It's a controversial book, but having read it, and after comparing notes, the team decided that Mr. Young was extremely and properly careful in how he presented the unorthodox aspects of his book, and he almost invariably maneuvered from there to doses of orthodoxy. And, although we disagree with him on a few disputable points, it's a fantastic book for trimming away nearly all the most favorite arguments against belief in God and/or God's goodness.

I can't recommend it entirely without reservations, because I'm not comfortable with God being used fictionally, much less how He is used in The Shack, and there are a few places it promotes ideas I'm not too sure are true or helpful. On the other hand, I can't tell you how much really good discussion it has generated in this community, and amongst a remarkable variety of people at that, and how many Christians who had become lukewarm are re-energized by it. And it's generating a hunger for more Christian books, even among people who wouldn't have been caught dead with an overtly Christian book before this. And then there's that whole undercutting atheist arguments thing that I mentioned above. I'm a convert. Mr. Young seems to understand where I came from, and what mental and cultural thickets I had to hack through to get where I am.

So I'm applying the 'good fruit' rule to it, even though some of it bothers me. But, I'm trying to make sure that right along it are copies of books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, both by C.S. Lewis, and Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris (when we can get our hands on a copy of Do Hard Things, that is - it's also a bestseller around here, but our suppliers can't seem to keep up with orders, and so our orders get pared or back ordered). We also have Bibles in stock pretty much as a matter of course. What else would you suggest we stock, for us to recommend to readers of The Shack?

All on its own it's revved up demand for Pilgrim's Progress (which is mentioned in a cover blurb). I think this is wonderful, because The Shack and Pilgrim's Progress are radically different books, with Pilgrim's Progress providing the "narrow path" emphasis that The Shack lacks, and The Shack emphasizing a personal relationship with God, something that isn't altogether evident in the 'going to heaven' story in Pilgrim's Progress (as far as I remember).

What else? This book has opened the door wide for some good Christian apologetics. Name some. I prefer the mere Christianity types, that emphasize the body of Christ and the universal church, but I'm amiable to stocking denominational books from across the spectrum if they don't trash other believers or obsess over doctrinal distinctives.

P.S. Open note to whoever is in charge of the Blogger spell checker. Triune and distinctives are words. Really. I don't mind the second one being flagged, because it's not used much, so it's probably more likely that someone would mean distinctive, and therefore should be notified that a double-check was in order. But triune?

(Maybe they need to read The Shack? It's heavy on triune-ness. Which I doubt is a word, but you get the drift, I hope.)

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