The Shack, Scripture, Ancient Jews, & Modern Americans

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Yesterday, I posted an article with some details about the upcoming release of a film based upon the book, The Shack.

I’ve been watching interaction from a couple of different places on social media and, as expected, it is once again stirring up memories of the split-decision from 7-8 years ago when the book was released. Many see the value of the book; many see it as dangerous material.

Because of my recent work around the area of missiology (study of missions), I’m regularly thinking about contextualization. What does it mean to communicate the truth of God, the word of God in a particular context?

In one particular social media place, I offered some thoughts on contextualization of the word of God and so I thought I would post similar thoughts here. Continue reading

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Re-reading The Shack

Five years ago this month, William Paul Young self-published a book that would become a New York Times bestseller, selling a million copies in just over one year. Of course, that book is known as The Shack. I first read the book in the late summer of 2008, posting a more positive 3-article review – article 1, article 2, article 3. I gave a more detailed, in-depth review due to some of the negative hubbub created within the evangelical church, which as with Rob Bell’s Love Wins, it probably created more sales than it deterred.

Over the past months, I have been drawn to pick up the book again, read it afresh after all the craze (both positive and negative) has died down. Maybe I am being drawn back to the book as Mack was drawn back to the shack where his daughter was horribly slain. I have no such tragedy in my life that compares to that of the storied account ofThe Shack, but I do expect to learn as I re-engage with the book this time around, something about God and his good purposes in the midst of tragedy.

We shall see.

On a side note, it grieves me to read of the lawsuit that took place in 2010 over the royalties for the book. It seems Young and former partners of Windblown Media, Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. Nevertheless, I pick up the book with the anticipation of engaging with God as I turn the pages.

Thoughts on ‘The Shack’ (Part 3 of 3)

This is my third and final article in my series of assessing the ever-popular book, The Shack, and not only that, but considering the critique of others against the book (click here to read the first article; click here to read the second article). As I stated in my first article, numerous Christians have had major problems with the book and its theology, and thus, I have also decided to address the statements and negative reviews of others. And so, whereas I thought I would simply be addressing two issues in this article, I now recognize there are rather three major heresies that people allege are to be found throughout the pages of The Shack:

  • Modalism (or more specifically, patripassianism)
  • A faulty Trinitarian view (specifically the nature of the submission of the three persons to one another)
  • A faulty representation of the Father

Modalism and Patripassianiasm

So, here we go again with another big theological word – modalism. What is it? This was a heresy that was initiated a long, long time ago by a guy named Sabellius. Modalism basically rejects the historical, orthodox concept of the Trinity – God as eternally existing in three distinct persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and rather sees these three as different modes or forms of the one and same God. To break it down further, what it practically means is that God is only one person (not three) who appears to us in three different forms or modes. From the perspective of modalism, the Trinity is wrong and unbiblical. God is not three in one but rather one who can appear in three different forms. It sounds similar, but it’s really not. Whereas orthodox Christians believe God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit all at the same time, modalism teaches God is the Father at times, the Son at other times and the Spirit at even other times. All three cannot exist at the same time.

Three specific quotes that people are quick to point out as espousing modalism are as follows:

“When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood. (p99)

“But we were all in him [Jesus]. He reflected my heart exactly. I love you and invite you to love me.” (p186)

“Keep in mind, Mackenzie, that I am not a human being, not in my very nature, despite how we have chosen to be with you this weekend. I am truly human, in Jesus, but I am totally separate other in my nature.” (p201)

At first glance, one would easily think that these words present modalism. But let me remind us of this: At first glance, without considering the whole of Scripture together, I think people could possibly read modalism into Scripture. That’s probably what Sabellius did long ago. But, we have to consider the whole of the Biblical text, for that is good hermeneutics. And when we do so, we see God as three in one, rather than one God in three forms at different times.

And so, to read the words, ‘But we were all in him [Christ],’ the modalism bells go off in our heads. Or to hear Papa state, ‘I am truly human, in Jesus,’ might also sound the alarm. But, just as I would encourage us to consider the whole of Scripture, so I would suggest we do the same with The Shack. Listen to these words:

“Then,” Mack struggled to ask, “which one of you is God?”

“I am,” said all three in unison. Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them. (p87)

“But what difference does it make that there are three of you, and you are all one God. Did I say that right?”

“Right enough.” She grinned. “Mackenzie, it makes all the difference in the world!” She seemed to be enjoying this. “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely one.” (p101)

It could not be more plain and clear that these two quotes from p87 and p101 speak of the orthodox Christian belief of the Trinity – one God existing in three eternal persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This statement caps it off, ‘I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely one.’ It seems to me that The Shack is not trying to support modalism, but rather historic, orthodox and Biblical Trinitarianism.

Yet, people may ask, ‘Well then, what did Young mean in those three quotes above from p99, 186 and 201?’ Though I am not Young, I think I might have an idea of what he was getting at.

In The Shack, for the Father to say, ‘When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human’ (p99), or, ‘But we were all in him [Jesus]’ (p186), or even, ‘I [Papa] am truly human, in Jesus’ (p201), I think what Young is really trying to communicate is the intricate connectedness between the three persons of the Trinity. Young had already penned these words, ‘I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely one’ (p101). Thus, I believe he recognizes the difference and distinct personhood of the three. But, as I reminded us frequently in my second article of the series, if we keep in mind the purpose of the book – to present the relational nature of the Trinity, both with us and within themselves –Young’s statements will make more sense. And that is what I believe Young is underlining with these questioned statements. He is trying to get us to see the beautiful interconnectedness between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Though the Father was separate from the Son, there was a since in which He was there with the Son, in Christ’s human life, because of their unique relationship from all eternity. It’s quite like Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit…(1 Corinthians 5:3)

Paul was not with them in body, but he could convey to the church that he was actually with them in spirit, in heart.

Could Young have chosen better wording? Sure. But I do not think the author is trying to advocate modalism, for even consider that Mack always had a meal with all three at the same time. They were all three, along with Mack, around the table. Three persons, one God. I think Young holds to such a Trinitarian view. I do not think this is worth labeling Young as a heretic.

Yet, people will go on to point out a couple of more passages from The Shack in claiming that the book heralds patripassianism, which is a form of modalism. Patripassianism was the label that the church father, Tertullian, gave to modalism. This specific heresy taught that it was the Father who suffered on the cross in the form of the Son. Remember, from a modalistic standpoint, God cannot be all three persons at the same time. Thus, it was the one God, who had previously been in the form of the Father, who then became the Son and suffered on the cross. This is patripassianism, and this heresy has been rejected from the early centuries.

So, where do people claim to find such teaching in The Shack?

Papa didn’t answer, only looked down at their hands. His gaze followed hers and for the first time Mack noticed the scars in her wrists, like those he now assumed Jesus also had on his. She allowed him to tenderly touch the scars, outlines of a deep piercing, and he finally looked up again into her eyes. Tears were slowly making their way down her face, little pathways through the flour that dusted her cheeks.

“Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark,” she stated softly and gently. “We were there together.” (p95-96; another reference can be found at the bottom of p102)

Again, at first glance, from simply, and only, reading these words, I can possibly see hints of patripassianism. But, we’ve already considered how Young showed the distinct personhood of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, what I think Young is trying to get across to us is how it hurt the Father very deeply to see His Son suffer on the cross from His (the Father’s) own judgment and wrath that was poured out on Christ. I believe the nail prints in the wrists of Papa was a unique, literary tool to convey the message of the pain it caused the Father in having His Son suffer. They all knew it was necessary, but it still hurt the Father.

Now, does the Father have nail prints in His wrists? Well, of course not, since the Father is not, in His essence, a human being with wrists. He is spirit in His essence (John 4:24). But in this theophany, or God-appearance, of the Father, Young chose to have Papa’s wrists marked with the nail scars to make a point – that point being that the Father was affected in His own heart by what took place at the cross. The Father did not specifically suffer on the cross, but He was there, in a sense, and it broke His heart to see His Son suffer as He (the Father) poured out such wrath on sin.

Again, it’s quite like Paul’s words to the Corinthians about being with them in spirit, though absent in body. And he also said the same elsewhere (see Colossians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:17).

In the end, my conclusion is that The Shack is not presenting modalism or patripassianism. I believe Young holds to the orthodox view of the Trinity. Could he have changed a few words around to help alleviate any questions? Sure. But considering the challenging nature of the book, I think he was fine to leave it to ruffle some overly dogmatic feathers.

Faulty Trinitarian View

I have already dealt a good bit with the claims that The Shack teaches modalism, or a faulty view of the Trinity. So what I want to specifically look at in this next section is in regards to those who see the book as teaching an unhealthy view concerning the nature of submission between the three persons of the Trinity.

So, on to the book to see where such allegations originate:

“Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.” (p122)

“That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”

Mack was surprised. “How can that be? Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”

“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” (p145-146)

What has been the historical stance of the church is that the three persons of the Trinity are equal in essence or nature, since all three persons are part of the one Godhead, but that they are not equal in function. This, by many, has been termed functional hierarchy within the Trinity. Certain passages as follows are quoted to build the case:

When all things are subjected to him [Christ], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him [God the Father] who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Both of these passages speak of Christ, the Son, being ultimately submitted to the Father.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me [Christ], for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)

This speaks of the Spirit’s submission to the Son in that one of His major roles would be to glorify the Son.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my [Christ’s] name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

But when the Helper comes, whom I [Christ] will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)

Both of these Scriptures point out that it is the Spirit that would be sent from the Father and Son, thus, showing that the Spirit is willing to yield to them.

Again, this teaching is referred to as functional hierarchy. Remember, this does not negate their equality in nature, since they are all three part of the one Godhead. Rather, it speaks of the subjugation in the function, or roles, of the certain members to the others. It’s not something we can get our head around perfectly, but I would say this understanding seems to be in line with Scripture. Some relate the concept to that of a husband and wife. They are both equally human beings created in the image of God, each one imagining God in their own special way (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:27). Yet, in function and role, the Scripture calls for the woman to submit to the father’s headship in the family (Ephesians 5:22-23).

Thus, though all three – Father, Son and Spirit – are equal in essence as part of the Triune God, they have all three decided that the Father would take the main lead, the Son would willingly submit to the Father, and the Spirit would willingly submit to both the Father and Son. Hence, we speak of the Son as the second person of the Trinity and the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. And, I would highlight the word willingly in their submissive roles. They are not in competition, nor does the Father gloat over His ‘lead function’ within the Godhead. They love each other sacrificially and willingly, thus, there is a willingness in the submission of the Son and Spirit.

Therefore, you can see some people being disturbed with these words found in The Shack: ‘We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us,’ (p122) or, ‘Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her’ (p145-146).

In response to this, I again can only continually express the nature of the book and main thesis of the author – the relational nature of the Trinity amongst themselves and with us. You can see such an emphasis with statements like these from the above quotes: ‘What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power,’ (p122) and, ‘Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect’ (p145-146). Young is really challenging our stuffy boxes of religion concerning God and our own practice of our faith. Even as Christians, we love our systems, structures, edifices and organizations. As a leader within a local church, I confirm that there is nothing inherently wrong with such in the church. But sensing Young’s desire to challenge our understanding of the relationship within the Trinity and amongst ourselves, I am not too bothered with his words.

Sure, as I stated in the previous section, Young could have chosen better wording. Nonetheless, I don’t believe he is trying to lay out any specific heresy in regards to the functioning nature of the Trinity. And, as a side note, I don’t think we have to get to upset over this statement either: ‘Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way’ (p145-146). It is part and parcel of Young’s desire to show that the Almighty, though transcendent, loves relationship with the ones He has created. Thus, we go on to read these words on the same pages, ‘I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.’

God is not ‘submitted’ to His creation. Yet, Young is emphasizing that God is not one to force Himself upon humanity, but rather wants to relate to us just as He relates with Himself – in relationship! No doubt this is uncomfortable to the hyper-Calvinist, but then, that only proves that Young was able to accomplish what He sat out to do.

A Faulty Representation of the Father

No doubt that this has been the greatest problem The Shack has caused for Christians. To find God the Father revealed as an African-American woman named Papa has left many feeling quite uncomfortable, if not outright angry. There are many arguments against portraying the Father as such:

  • God has revealed Himself as Father, not a womanly, mother figure.
  • Making God in the image of any human is blasphemy in accordance with Exodus 20:4, where God states, ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’

In regards to the Father, Papa, being revealed as an African-American woman, I think Young, through the character of Papa, answers this specific accusation:

She [Papa] picked up the wooden spoon again, dripping with some sort of batter. “Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a women, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”

She leaned forward as if to share a secret. “To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”

Mack almost laughed out loud and wanted to say, “You think? I’m over here barely believing that I’m not stark raving mad! Instead, he focused on what she had just said and regained his composure. He believed, in his head at least, that God was a Spirit, neither male nor female, but in spite of that, he was embarrassed to admit to himself that all his visuals for God were very white and very male. (p93)

God, in His essence, is neither male nor female, right? God does not have a male nor female reproductive organ. Sorry, He just doesn’t. I wouldn’t say God is asexual, but rather that He embraces the qualities that He gave to both men and women. Where do you think man got his man-ness from? Where do you think woman received her woman-ness from? From their Creator, right? Of course! In the beginning, God was able to create them male and female with both genders being created in His image because He carried the characteristics of both (Genesis 1:27). But it is in His creative act that He decided to put some of them into one sex of humanity and the others in the opposite sex. We both image God. One doesn’t image God more than the other. We both equally image the one who crafted us out of the dust. It is quite beautiful if you really think about it. No doubt we have our different functions, as I discussed earlier. But we are still both equally created in His image. And God is not genderless, but rather I believe He holds both in His essence. And the artist in Him gave certain characteristics to woman and other features to man.

Now, there is no doubt that God has made ‘Father’ as one of the main ways He reveals Himself to us. And that is, itself, beautiful. I love pondering that our God is a Father. The word is quite distorted in our day, yet we are not privy to such, as I am sure each generation has had its lack of true and godly fatherhood. But the revelation of God as Father speaks of intimacy, love, tenderness, strength, leadership, provider, and so very much more.

Yet, at the same time, there is no doubt that God has revealed Himself with women characteristics. I almost don’t want to go down the line of quoting Scriptures that prove God has revealed Himself in the ways of the female, but for the religious who love the Scripture quotes, I do so. Jesus compared Himself to a mother hen longing to gather her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). The psalmist speaks of trusting God from his mother’s breast (Psalm 22:9). No doubt David is not saying God is a woman, but I can only imagine that he had pictured in his mind that, as a baby trusts in the mother’s goodness as he/she silently receives milk from her breast, so can we envision ourselves ‘gently sucking from the breast of God’ as He cares for and provides for His people. ‘Gently sucking from the breast of God’ – does that make us uncomfortable?

And, if you read the entire quote from p93, you again see the author’s intent. God, the Father, is trying to break down Mack’s boxes. Mack, as well as many a Christians, probably see God as an old, white, bearded Gandalf. What better way to shock this overly static and religious view of God out of us than by God showing up as a woman, and an African-American woman at that? No doubt it did its job – in Mack and us!

For those who have a problem with a female theophany (God-appearance) of the Father, let me ask this question: Would you have had a problem if the Father had been portrayed as a black, African man? If so, why? If not, why?

I am only reminded of first-century Palestine when the Messiah actually showed up. He sure looked nothing like they imagined! They knew exactly what the Messiah was supposed to look like when He put on flesh and lived among them. But when He actually did this, it did not fit into their systematically built boxes. And guess who got upset the most and pointed the finger of blasphemy at Christ – the religious leaders. Ouch!

Or consider how the Holy Spirit manifested as a dove (Matthew 3:16). If we didn’t have that one record early on in the Gospels at Jesus’ baptism, and then someone decided to use the picture of a dove to illustrate the heart of God, and more specifically, God the Holy Spirit, I am sure the same people who claim blasphemy for The Shack would also contend with such at the author’s use of the dove. Whew…I’m glad we have Matthew 3:16.

In all, I think the author does well to explain the intent with these words: ‘I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a women, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.’

I don’t think Young is trying to ask us to pray to God, our Mother. Rather, he is challenging our boxes we’ve set up in regards to God and how He might choose to reveal Himself. And you know what, God the Father is probably never going to incarnate. That was the Son’s, the second person of the Trinity’s, job. But, in The Shack, Young has the Father manifest in the form of a woman to ultimately reach Mack beyond what Mack’s own preconceptions would allow (Mack was just struggling to refer to God as Papa, as most of us as well). And, for me, this is most beautiful. I am sure God is very willing to go to certain measures, outside of our own formulated thoughts about God, to reach us. It might be through a donkey, it might be through a dove, it might be through a movie, or any other such possibilities. In The Shack, God was willing to become an African-American woman to win the heart of Mack. For me, that is quite refreshing.

Yet, there is no doubt that people will say, ‘It’s not so much that God the Father was an African-American woman in the book, but it’s rather that the first person of the Trinity was made into a human image. This is outrightly defying Exodus 20:4 – You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’

Many will go on to point out that Scripture clearly states that no one has ever seen the Father (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; John 5:37; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16). Thus, we should not try and form the Father into such an image. No doubt, no one has ever truly seen the Father. But I think the emphasis of Scripture is not that we have never seen Him in any way, but that we have never seen Him in all His glory, especially noting Exodus 33:20 and 1 Timothy 6:16.

Interestingly enough, Jesus did state that if anyone has seen Him, they have seen the Father (John 14:9). Again, this is not to embrace modalism and say that the Son is the next mode of God. But there is a reality that, if we have looked at, heard and read Jesus’ words, then we have received a taste of the Father. Jesus was the reality of God taking on flesh. I would argue Jesus was a veiled representation of God, for if they had seen God in all His glory as fallen creatures, there would have been a big problem (hence Exodus 33:20). Nevertheless, Christ was still a manifestation of our great God of glory.

No doubt that God is to not be falsely imaged, as Scripture tells us. But also consider the theophanies (God-appearances) of God in the Old Testament. I know it is easily explained away by saying that they were pre-incarnate manifestations of the Son. And I am ok with that. But the reality is that the Old Testament theophanies were actual manifestations of God. Whether we can actually build a case that they were manifestations of the first person or second person of the Trinity, I don’t think we can go down that path. Nonetheless, they were manifestations of our God who had come to us in a human form, a human image, if you will.

Ironically, I believe we let C.S. Lewis off the hook with a lot of literary license that does not fit perfectly into nice and neatly packaged theological boxes, but contend that Young is to be burned at the stake (As a side note, I like Lewis). Is Christ really a lion? No, but it is interesting to consider what Christ would be like if He manifested as a lion. No doubt the studied theologian will remind me that Christ is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah in Scripture (Revelation 5:5). Therefore, it’s ok. But I encourage you to go back and read the Chronicles of Narnia and see if Lewis’ portrayal of this lion fits nice and neatly into your understanding of Christ. I will go ahead and let you know in advance that Aslan will not find his way into your box, for ‘he is not a tame lion’.

In the end, I again share this: God the Father is probably never going to incarnate and manifest in human flesh. That seems to have been the role of the Son. But, all Young is asking us to do is consider what it would be like if the Father, the first person of the Trinity, did do such, and specifically in the form of an African-American woman. No doubt it’s a challenge, even to me, as I also found myself asking if this was ok in the beginning. But, I’m sure you can see I have resolve over it, hence my articles.

It’s interesting to ponder the One who holds within Himself the characteristics of both sexes He created. He is such a wonderful, eternal One. And, again, I think Papa did a good job helping us get over our own theological hurdles with these words: ‘I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a women, it’s because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.’

Thus, my long review ends on The Shack and, even more, assessing the claims of heresy that have come from other Christians upon such a literary work. Did it fit into my God-box? No. And, though I am a studied theologian, yet maybe not as studied as you, I am kind of glad it didn’t fit into my box. I can only imagine that, if it did, it would have helped develop some kind of ungodly pride in me.

My recommendation is that we not burn the book and ask other Christians to keep it off their shelves, as we did with The DaVinci Code and The God Delusion. This book actually can teach us something true about God – the relational heart and nature of the Triune God with Himself and with us. Does it teach us everything, and everything perfectly to my taste? Nope. But I did drink from a wonderful cup of relationship and grace, a cup that reminded me of the One that would go out His way to draw close to me and draw me close into His arms.

Thoughts on ‘The Shack’ (Part 2 of 3)

Continuing on from my first article assessing the highly popular novel, The Shack, and other people’s viewpoints in regards to the book, I will now consider the claims from some Christians that the book and its author, William Paul Young, demonstrate a lack of justice in God’s character, a lack of God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of open theism.

Lack of Justice in God’s Character

In looking to point out The Shack’s deficient view of God’s justice, most will point to the conversation below between Mack and Papa, found about mid-way through the book:

“But if you are God, aren’t you the one spilling out great bowls of wrath and throwing people into a burning lake of fire?” Mack could feel his deep anger emerging again, pushing out the questions in front of it, and he was a little chagrinned at his own lack of self-control. But he asked anyway, “Honestly, don’t you enjoy punishing those who disappoint you?” At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. “I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p119-120)

Specifically, I am sure the words, ‘I don’t need to punish people for sin,’ cause problems for many astute theologians. But again, I think these words must be considered in the whole of the context of the conversation, and also within the main purpose of Young’s writing of The Shack.

First of all, it seems, in the specific context of the words above, that Papa (or Young) is looking to eradicate the overtly grotesque image of God as the great sinner-stomper in the clouds. I don’t think Young was trying to intrinsically teach that God is not just. For me, that seems to read a lot into a couple paragraphs. Rather, it seems pretty evident that Young was trying to swing the pendulum away from the depiction of God that many gather from only reading certain portions of the Old Testament. Please believe me when I say I am not trying to negate the Old Testament as God’s revelation. It is definitely part of His revelation. But that’s just it – it is only part of the story, and a small portion of the whole of Scripture. For the one who simply undertakes a reading of something like Joshua or Judges, especially the non-Christian, it leaves a partial picture of God, and it usually is somewhat skewed as well. Thus, I believe Young is trying to contest the idea that God is a really peeved-off, old man in the clouds looking to destroy any and every person.

Not only that, but considering that it seems one of Young’s main purposes in writing The Shack is to present the relational nature of the Triune God, it would only make sense that he would continue to emphasize such throughout the whole of the book. And I do believe that is what William Young is looking to accomplish. Therefore, in keeping with that goal, Papa goes on to state, ‘Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.’

From reading these specific words, I can only imagine that Young is also trying to emphasize the restoring and saving nature of God, especially with the words, ‘it’s my joy to cure it [sin].’ Once again, it would be helpful to keep in mind the overall purpose and nature of the book – presenting God as a relational, personal and intimate One, quite contrary to even most Christian religious teaching. Thus, we see Papa underlining the nature of God to make things right.

Not only that, but the statement, ‘It’s not my purpose to punish it [sin],’ could possibly be in reference to temporal punishment for sin. If the author is trying to present the case that God does not presently judge sin prior to a final judgment, then I do believe he is mistaken. One can easily read the Scriptures (both OT and NT) and see that God does, at times, judge existing sin in this world (i.e. the conquest of Canaan, the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians, Ananias and Saphira, those in Corinth who brought their selfish motives to the table of the Lord, etc). Thankfully He is abundantly gracious to not judge all sin right now. Yet, I will continue to re-emphasize the main point of the book, that being to communicate that our God is relational at His core. I do not think this necessitates that we overlook truth or teach contrary to truth. Yet, knowing Young’s continued goal of revealing our excessively religious understanding of the divine, I am open to give him the benefit of the doubt, though some would be interested in stoning me for such.

In the end, to take those few words from p119-120 and build a case against Young as one who does not believe in a just God who will punish sin does seem a bit over the top to me. If we reasonably consider things, and especially what seems to be the main purpose of the book in developing a case for the relational nature of the Trinity, I think we can lay at rest the heretical finger pointing that Young holds a problematic and unbiblical view regarding the justice of God.

Lack of God’s Sovereignty

For those who think I am letting Young off the hook too easily, I will let you know in advance that, for me personally, this is probably the biggest problem I have with the book, for I am one who holds to a high view of the sovereignty of God. Yet, I still don’t think this would ever warrant any label as heretic, nor throwing the book out.

I have two specific statements to consider from the book:

“Have you noticed that even though you call me Lord and King, I have never really acted in that capacity with you? I’ve never taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything, even when what you were about to do was destructive or hurtful to yourself and others.” (p145)

“Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p185)

To just do a little theological summary, these words are dealing with what theologians refer to as theodicy. What is theodicy, you ask? It is basically our attempt to reconcile evil in the world with a belief that God is completely good. No doubt, we believe God is all good, or at least I do (see Psalm 16:2; 23:6; 25:8; 34:8; 68:10; 69:16; 145:3; and on and on and on). And I believe He is interested in working everything for the good of those called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-38). Yet, there is no doubt we struggle with understanding how such a wonderfully good and benevolent God could allow such evil to continue in the world. And might I add that, since every previous generation has been dealing with this same question, I only assume humanity will continue to grapple with such until Christ returns. I will return to these thoughts in just a moment.

In regards to the first quote from p145, many would follow with a great Amen after reading the words, ‘I’ve never taken control of your choices or forced you to do anything, even when what you were about to do was destructive or hurtful to yourself and others.’ For sure, many who lean towards a more reformed (or Calvinistic) view of God’s sovereignty, they have received their fair share of slack from those in the Arminian camp. Historically, many holding to the Calvinistic view have swung the pendulum so far as to almost embrace that human beings are robots in the hand of the Sovereign. Yet, some Arminians (or more semi or full Pelagianists) have swung so far the other side that we, as humans, are actually the only ones in control. Let me first say, that while I do believe God, as the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, can take control of our choices (yes, I lean towards a more reformed view), I don’t embrace fatalism. This is the teaching that emphasizes the subjugation of all events or actions to fate or inevitable predetermination. Fatalism seems to emphasize the robotic nature of humans. While, again, I embrace the sovereignty of God, I do not embrace the idea that we are robots. Rather, I try and hold to what I believe is a more healthy view – that Scripture teaches both. It is a mystery how God can be both sovereign and humans also be responsible for their choices, but I believe the Bible espouses both.

And so, with my more reformed view, I do believe God can ‘take control of our choices’. Yet, remember, I do not and will not embrace a robotic fatalism. Even in the midst of God’s sovereignty over all heaven and earth (and that means our personal choices), I still believe we make choices, hence I made a choice to write these articles on The Shack. I do not know how it all fits together, but I am willing to accept that God can ‘override’ our choices even in the midst of our choices, if that makes sense. For consider these two passages:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He [the LORD] turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.’ (Romans 9:14-23)

I don’t have time to go into great detail with these passages. But nonetheless, I am only relaying to you that I have a high view for God’s sovereignty amongst His creation. He is the potter, we are the clay, and that is the pure and simple truth. Or, to say it in the words of Paul: ‘But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?’ (Romans 9:20).

Now, picking back up on theodicy, our attempt to reconcile the evil of the world with the belief that God is completely good, I pick up some words from the quote from p185: ‘Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes.’

With such a statement, I do believe the author fails to consider certain Scriptures such as:

…that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:6-7)

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (Amos 3:6)

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

Also, consider whom it was that sent the angel of death into Egypt to have the firstborn sons put to death. It was the Almighty One – ‘At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock’ (Exodus 12:29). And those three passages above are interesting to consider. Many like to speak of God ‘allowing’ evil, calamity and disaster. But these Scriptures seem to speak of God being the cause. Ouuuch! Our God is not necessarily for the faint-hearted. And, the greatest pointer to God planning and outworking tragedy is in the death of His own Son.

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your [God’] hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28)

This is where theodicy hits us, and hits us hard. God, I thought you were good? What is all of this? And if you thought I (Scott) was going to explain this in my article, you have got to be kidding! Again, this is something humanity has dealt with since the Garden, and we will continue to mull it over in our hearts and minds until He returns. And, even then, I am not sure He promises an answer to it.

But the conclusion I have come to in my own heart is this – If God is willing to plan out and ordain the death of His own Son on our behalf, the brutal murder of the One that was with Him from the beginning, the excruciating death and pouring out of the Father’s wrath on the only One who ever lived a blameless life, then I can lay to rest any animosity towards our God who seems to not only allow calamity at time, but orchestrate it. I am sorry if this is not where you find yourself. But I thought it worth sharing my own heart. I wonder sometimes if what we label as ‘bad’ is actually out of our overly sensitive emotional and finite state, or from the eternal and divine perspective? I would guess it is the former.

In all, I do believe that God even orchestrates tragedy, and of course, He would do it for good. But I would encourage us that, since we don’t always have the eternal and divine perspective, that we not go labeling everything that doesn’t help maintain our comfortable, western agenda as evil and bad. Trust me, I do not understand it all, as that is every human’s testimony. But I am still willing to cry with the psalmist:

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalms 145:3)

Yet, once again, bear in mind Young’s purpose in writing the book. For him to make such statements as found on p145 and 185, I can only imagine his purpose was to challenge the overly reformed, Calvinistic box that has been set up that presents humanity as ‘robots in the hands of an angry God’. And, for this, I can actually applaud Young.

Open Theism

Because I spent so much time on the whole idea of God’s sovereignty as presented in The Shack, my hope is to only briefly touch on the theology of open theism, at least for the reader’s sake.

Open theism basically asserts the idea that God is open to influence through prayer and the actions/decisions of humans. God knows everything that has been determined as well as what has not yet been determined, but He is open because of humanities own free will and choice.

Some specific quotes to consider are as follows:

“We have limited ourselves out of respect for you. We are not bring to mind, as it were, our knowledge of your children. As we are listening to you, it is as if this is the first time we have known about them, and we take great delight in seeing them through your eyes.” (p106)

“Because that is what love does,” answered Papa. “Remember, Mackenzie, I don’t wonder what you will do or what choices you will make. I already know. Let’s say for example, I am trying to teach you how not to hide inside of lies, hypothetically of course,” she said with a wink. “And let’s say that I know it will take you forty-seven situation and events before you will actually hear me – that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don’t hear me the first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed, I’m thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go. And that first time will be a building block to construct a bridge of healing that one day – that today – you will walk across.” (p187)

You already know my thoughts on the sovereignty of God. I have a very high view. Open theism is somewhat of an Arminian, or even Pelagian, attempt at understanding God’s sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility for their choices. Remember, I embrace that God is both sovereign and we have been given the ability to make choices. Yet, I don’t always know how they fit perfectly together. But, I’m sure you do…

Now, it is my understanding that open theism can even lean as far as to say nothing is planned or determined by God because He is completely open to the choices of humanity. Well, I cannot personally embrace such considering the Scriptures quoted earlier, or the whole of the Bible. And I believe God not only knows all, but He has also planned it out. Yet, for me, what I find helpful is when I consider open theism as somewhat helping to explain what theologians might also refer to as anthropomorphisms in Scripture.

Sorry I keep throwing out the big ones, but they need to be discussed. In relation to God, an anthropomorphism is the attempt to attribute human characteristics to God. We actually see this all over Scripture. An example would be:

Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:23)

We know that God, in His essence, does not have a physical body, and therefore does not have a hand, face or back. Jesus said, in John 4:24, ‘God is spirit.’ But here in Exodus, God has revealed Himself to Moses in such a way that He might relate with Moses, and us.

Another example might be prior to the flood:

And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6)

Holding to a high view of God’s sovereignty, I don’t think humanity’s sin early on in Genesis had caught God off guard. He was well aware of what would take place. But, I believe God designed that His revelation of Himself would come to us in an anthropomorphic way, all that He might relate to us as finite creatures. If God had revealed Himself in all His glory, in all His infiniteness, I think our minds would explode. So, what does God do? He does what Calvin referred to as ‘baby talk’. He stoops to our level so we can have some understanding of Him. It is quite beautiful, for it proves His relational heart towards the crown of His creation, that is us, human beings.

I do believe that God is transcendent and completely other than us. But He has declared it from the mountaintops that He wants a relationship with us. And, so, while I don’t inherently embrace open theism, nor do I know if Young would claim such either, I am ok to see open theism as somewhat of another explanation of God’s revelation being anthropomorphic. They aren’t the same, but I see them as somewhat related. God inspired human beings to record His revelation, and that revelation is presented to us, at times, that God is somewhat like us as humans. But this was done so that He might be somewhat comprehensible and that we could have relationship with Him.

Thus, I do not believe it worthy of disregarding The Shack simply for its lack of a higher view of God’s sovereignty. And, as you tire of my reminders, do keep in mind Young’s main thesis – to convey the relational heart of God. The author has done that, maybe at the expense of having a low view of God’s sovereignty, yet I still don’t think it worth completely discarding the book. There are many things to learn from its pages.

My final article will come in the next couple of days in which I plan to look at the two big accusations against the book – modalsim (or a form of it known as patripassianism), a faulty Trinitarian view in regards to function, and a faulty view of the Father.

Thoughts on ‘The Shack’ (Part 1 of 3)

When a book gets so much attention as to warrant thousands of blog articles, discussions, and specific sermons in regards to its story and theology, it leaves one considering the implications of such a book. The Shack, no doubt, has left a ring both negative and positive, in the hearts and minds of many a people, at least for now. Will that ring continue? No one truly knows. But, if you don’t mind, I like to let it ring for a just a little longer, at least three articles of my own.

After reading the book, and then reading such articles, discussions and watching video footage about the book, it has left a desire to give not only my own assessment of the book, but an evaluation of other’s viewpoints as well. Thus, I ask your patience to humor me for the next few days as I compile my own thoughts on The Shack.

For the sake of ease, I want to briefly summarize the book. Thus, if you still haven’t read the book and don’t want to know what will happen, please do not read any further:

The Shack is about one man, Mackenzie Allen Phillips, or Mack for short. (I parenthetically point out that it is most likely that even though the author, William Paul Young, is a secondary character in the book, the main character, Mack, probably portrays many of the spiritual struggles that Young has dealt with in his own life.) The book is basically about Mack’s weekend experience with the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the not to distant past, Mack’s daughter, Missy, had fallen into the hands of one perpetrator who had abducted her and then murdered her (he’s known as the Little Ladykiller). Missy’s body was never found, only her blood-stained dress in a shack just outside a small town in Oregon. As one would expect, this caused grave pain for the whole family, and in particular, Mack’s pain is referred to as the Great Sadness.

One day, Mack finds a note in his mailbox inviting him to visit the shack, presumably the place where Missy had been murdered, and the note is signed, ‘Papa’. Interestingly, ‘Papa’ is the name that his wife, Nan, uses when referring to God. Though he first thinks he is out of his mind, as any normal human would, Mack heads to the shack not knowing if he is going to encounter the murderer, or possibly God. In the end, the shack is unexpectedly transformed into a beautiful place, almost holiday-esque, and this is where Mack encounters the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or otherwise known as Papa, Jesus and Sarayu. Through this weekend encounter, Mack’s life is quite revolutionized and he walks away a changed man forever.

There is no doubt Young has written the book for a purpose. The page directly before the Foreword states that the book is for his six children, which I probably guess it started out as such. But there is no doubt that William Young also has a purpose in getting the book, and it’s spiritual thoughts, into our hands. I see nothing wrong with that, but I only assume he wanted us to read it, hence you and I have a copy. He had experienced something that he felt others needed to hear about. Thus, you have The Shack on the shelves of almost every bookstore, and even other stores and shops.

There are obviously differing views concerning the book, and if you didn’t realize that, I would encourage you to consider looking and reading outside your own particular church community. No doubt some see this as a beautiful, yet fictional, masterpiece portraying God’s heart to humanity. Yet, others swing to the complete opposite side hailing the book as blasphemous and full of theological error.

For me, I want to try and give the book a fair review, trying to evaluate it as faithfully as I can. What I mean is that I will point out possible theological holes, yet, all the while, challenging those who claim the book as heretical and blasphemous.

After hearing much of the discussion concerning the book, there seems to be seven major problems that some people have with the book (obviously there might be more than these seven). And so, I want to address those seven problems, noting if they are worthy of being labeled as theological error, or at worst, heresy, or if we could possibly deal with them in a much more reasonable and level-headed way.

The seven major problems I hear people refer to are:

  • Universalism
  • The insufficiency of Scripture
  • Lack of justice in God’s character
  • Lack of God’s sovereignty
  • Open theism
  • Modalism/patripassianism
  • Faulty theology of the Trinity in the nature of their submission to one another
  • Faulty theology of the Father

I dare not try and address all of these issues in this one article, but rather I will first address universalism and the assertion that there is a lack of belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. In the next article I will consider the claims that The Shack shows a lack of justice in God’s character, a lack of God’s sovereignty and the teaching of open theism. Finally, in my third blog, I will address the three major problems many people seem to have with the book, that being modalism (including patripassianism), seeing a faulty understanding of the nature of submission within the Trinity, and believing there is a faulty view of the Father portrayed in The Shack. For the sake of all, I will look to directly quote from the book when assessing each of the seven particular claims. And, if you are wondering what some of these words/phrases mean, well patiently read on…

Universalism

While reading and hearing various people’s thoughts on The Shack, one of the first things to arise is that the book seems to teach universalism. What is universalism? It is basically the teaching that all will be saved and reconciled to God in the end. Thus, the logical conclusion is that no one will suffer punishment for sin.

Most Christians see this teaching as directly opposed to the teaching of Scripture, as do I. A few Scriptures that point out that some, if not many, will receive punishment for sin are Matthew 7:13-14; 7:21-23; 25:46; John 17:12 (Judas being the ‘son of destruction’); Romans 9:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:9. And those are just a small sampling.

But, the question is, does The Shack really teach universalism, or that all will be saved and reconciled to God?

A couple of times, Papa does refer to humanity as ‘all my children’. But, in response to this, we can recognize that, in the sense of creation, all people are God’s children, His offspring, because He created them all. We usually refrain from using the word ‘children’ to refer to all of humanity and rather see it more appropriately applied to Christians who are children of God in Christ. This is definitely true. But, interestingly enough, Paul was ok to quote these words from a pagan poet:

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:28)

In the sense of all of humanity being created by God, we are His children. But in the special sense for Christians, we are children only because we have faith in Christ.

Yet, some will be quick to point out this passage in The Shack to prove Young’s view of universalism. It starts with words from Papa:

“Honey, you asked me what Jesus accomplished on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.”

“The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” [Mack replied]

“The whole world, Mack. All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way.” (p192)

The claim is that, since Papa stated, ‘I am now fully reconciled to the world,’ this means Young is trying to teach all will be saved. Mack, himself, even has a problem with the phrase, ‘the whole world’. Maybe at first glance, for a heresy hunter, this is teaching universalism. But I think this is easily understood when we consider the whole of the quoted context. True, Papa did say the whole world is now fully reconciled to Him. But I don’t think Young was trying to hammer the point that everyone would be saved. For, consider that Papa goes on to explain that He has done His part, but that this is a two way street, presumably hinting humanity must respond by believing upon Christ.

Thus, I am not sure if Young is trying to teach universalism and that all would be saved regardless of their faith confession in Christ. It is quite possible that he is trying to get across that God has done His part in the cross and that, now, He awaits a response from humanity in regards to His Son’s death. If anything, the words seem to be possibly combating the reformed doctrines of limited atonement and unconditional election. Limited atonement teaches that Christ’s atonement was only for the elect. Unconditional election espouses that the Godhead chose those whom would be saved before the creation of the world, and this was not due to any foreknowledge of humanity’s choice, but rather solely upon His choosing grace alone. I believe Young is more challenging those two doctrines than declaring an outright universalist view.

Another quote people might find hard to swallow, and see it teaching universalism as well, is this later statement by Papa:

“In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” (p225)

I believe these words simply teach the viewpoint of unlimited atonement (that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for every human being) and that the cross has provided the opportunity for forgiveness for all of humanity, but human beings have to choose to relate to God based upon the cross event. One might not hold to a doctrine that says Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for every individual for all time (meaning you fall in the limited atonement camp), but no one has ever been counted a heretic for believing in unlimited atonement.

The final statement to consider from The Shack is:

[Jesus] – “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian…”

They arrived at the door of the workshop. Again Jesus stopped. “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (p182)

No doubt these words have caused problems for many, and I can understand such hesitancy with the above quote if taken at face value. Along with the words above, many people will also refer to one of William Young’s television interviews, which you can watch on YouTube. In the interview, Young states that the original manuscript did not say, ‘They were Buddhists or Mormons…,’ rather it read, ‘They are Buddhists or Mormons…’ You see the difference, and the problem for some?

Yet, I think Young did well to explain his intent and heart in the interview. His purpose was to show that Christ was willing to go down any path – Muslim, Buddhist, Baptist, Mormon, etc. – to bring a person to Himself. Christ is like the shepherd who would leave the ninety-nine sheep and ‘go in search of the one that went astray’ (Matthew 18:12). He is one willing to walk down any path to bring someone to Himself, for consider what Christ was willing to do on behalf of you. Or, in the words of Young, Jesus will walk into the ‘Muslim camp’ to woo a Muslim to Himself. That is beautiful!

Now, no doubt, after watching the interview, I would say Young’s semantics are somewhat different from my own. I see a small misnomer in his language use here: he speaks of a ‘Muslim’ or ‘Buddhist’ in more of a cultural and national sense, rather than from a religious or spiritual nature. Therefore, it seems Young might see Muslims as those who live in the middle-east or Buddhists as people who live in China. It’s quite like Muslims equating Americans as Christians, which we know that association is not true or helpful. Yet, if Young wants to use the word ‘Buddhist’ or ‘Muslim’ in a cultural sense, then, yes, we could say there are Christian Muslims, for he simply means there are Christians in the middle-east who used to have allegiance to Islam. Personally, I think it a misnomer to use these descriptive words in a cultural/national sense, but rather seeing them as referring to someone’s religion/faith. But, from his own explanation, I do understand Young’s point.

In regards to Jesus’ words, ‘I’m not a Christian,’ I think we can easily discard these as problematic. He is actually the Christ, and it is Christians that name themselves as such because they are followers of Him, the Christ. Jesus would not describe Himself by the same name by which His followers are called.

Yet, people will still point out the problem with Jesus’ statement, ‘I have no desire to make them Christian.’ Yet, I think we must bear in mind the overall intention of Young to combat against an overly religious, dogmatic and stuffy Christianity that has developed within those who see Christianity more as an institution rather than a living body and Bride. And we cannot forget that Young emphasizes that Jesus still wants to ‘join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.’ Therefore, these words from p182 do not bother me knowing The Shack has been written to challenge the more boxed and overly religious version of Christianity.

Thus, in all, I don’t think we have to read Young’s words as specifically espousing universalist doctrine. Rather, I believe he is combating the very minutely defined reformed doctrines of limited atonement and unconditional election. For him, he probably sees reformed Calvinism as somewhat fatalistic and dogmatically defined (I am not saying what I believe here, I am just hypothesizing what Young might have been trying to accomplish). It seems Young is trying to move the walls of the box back, just a bit, from a more defined reformed perspective, rather than completely knock the walls down and inherently embrace universalism.

The Insufficiency of Scripture

One might have not considered that some think Young has a low view of the sufficiency of Scripture, and I certainly didn’t at first. But I thought I would briefly address this claim since I recently read about it from another’s article on The Shack. Where is this seen in the book? Let’s read these words quoted below, which are an excerpt describing the main character, Mack:

“In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (p65-66)

I really don’t think I need to spend much time assessing this claim that Young does not view Scripture as sufficient for our faith. Considering the quote above, one can intelligently conclude that Young is not trying to negate the importance of Scripture, but rather the dogmatic approach that declares God no longer communicates with humanity, by His Spirit, due to the formation of the complete canon of Scripture. No doubt many a great men and women of God believe God still speaks today by His Spirit, yet such communication from God must be considered and weighed with the canon of Scripture, our measuring stick of the faith. And I believe this is where Young would lean.

A.W. Tozer stated this in The Pursuit of God:

‘The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.’

I love the Scriptures. They are worth reading, studying, meditating on, and so much more, for they are the revelation of God. I do this myself regularly, and would encourage all of God’s people to do the same. But I also believe that the same Spirit that indwelt Christ and the first apostles has also taken up residence in His people today. Thus, our God wants to develop a communicative relationship with us. And, therefore, I seriously doubt that Young is trying to show the Bible as insufficient. Rather, considering the whole nature of the book, he is most likely trying to swing the pendulum and emphasize the relational nature of God, even with a completed canon of Scripture by which we can measure such possible revelation and communication from God. Accordingly, my challenge, along with Young, would be that we look to cultivate that relationship by regularly communicating with, speaking to and listening to our personal and relational God.

Well, I think that is enough for now. Thanks for staying with me. In conclusion to this first installment on The Shack, I do not think William Paul Young is trying to proclaim universalism, nor that the Scripture is insufficient as a measuring stick for our faith. Young is, rather, trying to challenge a dogmatically articulated doctrine in regards to the nature of the atonement, and possibly election, as well as a defined doctrine that says God no longer speaks to humanity today.

My next article should come in the next day or so looking to assess the claims that Young holds to a lack of justice in the character of God, a lack of God’s sovereignty, and the doctrine of open theism.