Gospel-Driven Blog is privileged to have Dr. James B. DeYoung, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary (Portland Campus), revisit The Shack with us.
Dr. DeYoung provides much needed, helpful insight into this widely popular but misleading book that continues to exert a great deal of influence within Christian as well as non-Christian circles.
I have posted below an abbreviated version of a longer review (9 pages) by Dr. DeYoung. For those who would like to read the longer review, click here: Revisiting The Shack and Universal Reconciliation.
While all the reviews that I have previously cited (Paul Grimmond and Tim Challies) are very helpful, Dr. DeYoung brings a unique perspective in his reviews due to the fact that he is personally acquainted with William Paul Young. Furthermore, Dr. DeYoung has done a great service for the church and for the cause of the gospel by exposing the foundational problem with The Shack and its author.
For those who are unaware, it is critical to realize that William Paul Young espouses the heretical teaching known as Universal Reconciliation (condemned by the church since 533). This accounts for his heterodox views (e.g., faulty views of the Trinity, Biblical revelation, Christology, eternal punishment, etc…).
The gospel must be paramount!
Paul, in Galatians 1:8-9, writes, “8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Regardless of how genuine, sincere, credible, popular, well-received or authoritative a Bible teacher or author may seem, ultimately, it is not the messenger but the message that matters.
The issue at stake among the Galatian churches was not Paul but the gospel. The gospel must be paramount!
Therefore, Paul says if anyone, including himself or his missionary associates who were fully authorized representatives (v. 2; Barnabas, Silas or Timothy), or even an angel from heaven should proclaim a false gospel they themselves will incur the judgment of God.
The alarming words of Paul should cause every reader of The Shack to consider carefully the gospel that Young is seeking to promote.
Distorting the purity of the gospel is no small matter. Paul says that the eternal destiny of man is at stake. A false gospel nullifies grace, renders useless the death of Christ (Gal. 2:21) and severs a person from Christ (Gal. 5:4). Such consequences are hardly trivial, light matters.
If we do not feel as deeply about the distortion of the gospel as Paul did, perhaps the problem is that we have not understood the gospel as clearly as Paul?
Revisiting The Shack and Universal Reconciliation
James B. De Young
Seldom does one have the opportunity to review a work of fiction written by a friend that has risen to the top of best seller lists. Recently The Shack has been approaching sales of three million or more. There is talk about making a movie of the book.
What is so unusual about this success is not only that the novel is ostensibly a Christian work of fiction but that it also espouses a view of God that is creative but biblically challenged. It is novel both as literature and as theology. But does Christian fiction have to be doctrinally correct?
A brief look at the book uncovers an unremarkable plot. Willie retells the story of his friend, Mackenzie Phillips, who as a child was abused by his father which left him bitter toward God, the Bible, and the ministry. When his youngest daughter is kidnapped and brutally killed in a mountain shack, Mack’s anger freezes his total outlook in sadness and despair. Years later God invites him to return to the same shack. He encounters the Trinity in the form of a large African woman (“Papa” =the Father), a Jewish carpenter (=Jesus Christ), and a small Asian woman by the name Sarayu (=the Holy Spirit). These three lead Mack to discover a fresh meaning of God’s love for him and forgiveness.
Who is the author? For more than a dozen years I have known William P. Young. We have discussed much theology in a “think tank.” Over four years ago Paul embraced universal reconciliation and defended it on several occasions. He claimed that universalism changed his life and his theology.
The core belief of universal reconciliation asserts that love is the supreme attribute of God that trumps all others. His love reaches beyond the grave to save all those who refuse Christ before they die. God’s love will even conquer fallen angels and the Devil himself who will join the saints in heaven. This view of future destinies claims many texts that seem to teach that the reconciliation that Jesus accomplished on the cross extends to all creatures (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:16-20; Col. 1:19-20), that all will lovingly confess him as Lord (Phil. 2:6-11), and that God’s will that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) will be accomplished without fail.
After the The Shack was written, the editors worked over a year to eliminate its universalism (as they assert on their web site). Paul now disavows universalism. Yet like all universalists he affirms that he “hopes” that none will experience eternal suffering. But the critical question is this: Does universalism remain in the book? By comparing the creeds of universalism with The Shack one discovers that many tenets of universalism and other errors are implicit in the book.
1. Universalism subjugates God’s justice to his love. The creed of 1878 asserts that God’s attribute of justice is “born of love and limited by love.” The novel asserts that God “cannot act apart from love” (p. 102, 191), that God “chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love,” and that God did not choose “justice for everyone” (164-165).
2. The creed of 1899 asserts that God “will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness”; there is no future judgment. Similarly Paul denies that Papa (God) “pours out wrath and throws people” into hell. God does not punish sin; it’s his “joy to cure it” (120). Papa “redeems” final judgment (127). God will not “condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from his presence and apart from his love” (162). To judge is to act contrary to love (145).
3. Universalists deny a personal devil. He goes unmentioned in the book (134-137).
4. Paul reveals that the entire Trinity became incarnate, and that the whole Trinity was crucified (99). Both Jesus and Papa (God) bear the marks of crucifixion in their hands (contra. Isa. 53:4-10). These ideas suggest the heresy of patripassianism and modalism, that God is singular who assumes the different modes of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
5. Reconciliation is effective for all without exercising faith. Papa asserts that he is reconciled to the whole world, not only to those who believe (192). The creeds of universalism never mention the need to believe in Christ. Rejecting the idea that God willed humans to have a will that allows them to reject him is deterministic and coercive.
6. All are equally children of God and loved equally by him (155-156). In a future revolution of “love and kindness” everyone will confess in the power of the Spirit that Jesus is Lord (248).
7. The institution of the church is rejected as diabolical. Jesus claims that he “never has, never will” create institutions (178). This counters Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 and 18.
8 ) The Bible is only a revelation of God. In the novel it comes as an afterthought to other revelation (198).
Universalism began with Origen in the third century. In the sixth century it was condemned as heresy. In modern times universalism undermined evangelical faith in Europe and America. It opposed the Great Awakening in the 1730’s-40’s. By 1961 universalism joined with Unitarianism to form the Unitarian-Universalist Association, with its denial of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.
How does one answer the errors of universalism? From the Bible which I’ve cited at The Shack Review.com.
Near the beginning I asked: Does Christian fiction have to be doctrinally correct? In this case the answer is “yes,” for Paul’s intention is to teach theology throughout The Shack. If it is only fiction, why was universalism removed? Although a story may be quite helpful, if an author uses doctrinal impurity to teach how to be restored to a redefined God is one restored to the God of the Bible? Jesus warned that a house built on the wrong foundation will collapse (Matt. 7:24-28). So will a shack.