Un-SHACK-led / A Review of THE SHACK


A Review of the popular new book

The Shack


William P. Young

My first temptation in reflecting upon my reading of The Shack is just to trash it. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Un-biblical notions abound in it. Indeed anti-biblical notions ooze from nearly every page. And, casting stones is a relatively low-skill-set activity. Its easy. Pick’em up and throw. Doesn’t make much thought or depth of analysis.

But I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to just indulge in literary vivisection because the very presence of the book and its theme are still important. And because as you read it, the auto-biographical nature of it screams to be addressed. All three of these account (I believe) for the book’s overwhelming popularity among Christians. All that being said – “Theological fiction” – as The Shack’s genre is called, is tricky business. Tricky and dangerous. How dangerous, we’ll unpack below.

The Shack’s author, William P. Young “was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was New Guinea. He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the ‘wastefulness of grace’ with his family in the Pacific Northwest.”[1]

I quote the info blurb because it is central to why the book was written. What becomes apparent is that Willie (what The Shack’s website calls Young, and coincidentally the name of the book’s narrator) has suffered greatly. Precisely how, we never learn. Through his alter ego and The Shack’s protagonist – Mackenzie (Mack) Phillips – we learn that to Willie the depth of his suffering is couched in the metaphor of a Christian family man having his six-year old daughter abducted and murdered by a serial killer, while the Phillips are on vacation. For most of us, painful beyond imagining. It is this metaphor which leads to Mack/Willie’s “Great Sadness.” That haunting, abiding shadow, filled with darkness, doubt, unanswered questions, rage, and grief. Packed into the 4 year span of this book in Mack/Willie’s journey to resolve the Great Sadness with God – is the much longer real life journey of William/Willie.

Such pain is real. Many of us experience it in one way or another, and in differing degrees. Few will ever be touched directly by the kind of tragedy depicted here. But no one is a total stranger to pain. Or the unanswered questions that make it reside perpetually and untouchably in our bones.

It is within this context William Young writes. Out of the genuineness of his pain. And, I believe, out of a deep and genuine desire to vindicate God in the process. That is after all what this book represents – it is an apologetic for God. An attempt to free God from the accusations we heap on Him by virtue of the suspicions that have inhabited our collective souls since we first believed the lie in the Garden.

In our pain we can make God the cosmic whipping boy. He is God after all. He is “supposed” to love us. And if He is really all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present AND loving, how do we rationally explain and deal with things like ethnic-cleansing genocide, female circumcision, serial killers, brutal rapes – tales like the recently exposed Josef Fritzl monstrosity in Austria. Fritzl you will recall, imprisoned his own daughter in a windowless basement for nearly 24 years, repeatedly raping and fathering 7 children by her. The children also kept locked up in that same basement.

Where is God in all of this? This is the question The Shack is attempting to address. With it, if I perceive him rightly, he is also trying to dispel some of the religious notions of others who fail to meet the need. Those who in fact add to our distress by their pat and/or distorted answers and portraits of God.

Sound theology, Biblical theology can really do that. I think Young would agree. However, Young’s approach is to radically redefine God Himself, reject a healthy portion orthodox doctrine and then to promulgate his own theological framework. Make no mistake, this is not mere fiction. Fiction is only Young’s instrument of communication, like Camus’ short stories. The Shack is Young’s offering up of his systematic theology of relationship. It is effective.

It is at this point that I bring up the difficulty with Theological fiction as a genre. When the theological assumptions which underlie the story are un-biblical the resulting story – however engaging – teaches an un-biblical theology. A theology which makes its way into the fabric of Christianity even though it is not – in the classical sense – actually preached or “taught.” One thinks of Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness.” As a pastor, I never fail to be amazed at how many people have co-opted their views of angels more from these works of fiction, than from the Bible itself.

Writers of Christian fiction need to be aware that because the book itself is fiction, does not give them license to play fast and loose with the truth. You only need to compare these kinds of works with something like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or The Holy War to see the difference. The latter two are rich with analogy, imagery AND the expression of sound Biblical theology. It can be done. It wasn’t in The Shack. Biblical truth was sacrificed for sake of the form.

In addition, the genre can provide the convenient escape hatch of appealing to its being “just” fiction when it is challenged as bad theology. Defenders can say “its not meant to be a theology, it is just a ‘story’.” The Shack’s “Who Shot J. R.?” ending notwithstanding (was it all a coma induced dream?), a careful and deliberate view of God very different than the God of the Bible is put forward. Underlying it, is the assertion that God’s revelations of Himself thus far are just not capable of meeting us in our need. We get to experience Him the way we’re most comfortable with, not how He has chosen to do it. Not with confronting Him as He is.

Let me give you the prevailing thematic example of what I’m driving at. If William P. Young were to step into a pulpit, and boldly preach that God has failed to reveal Himself sufficiently in creation, the Word, and ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ to meet our needs – and thus needs to take on the appearance of a “big black woman with a questionable sense of humor” named “Papa”[2],[3], people would recoil in a second! Rightly so.

As a result of this manifestation of Himself, throughout the vast bulk of the book God the Father, is repeatedly referred to as “she.” She, that is, until in chapter 16, God the Father takes on the form of a “dignified, older, and wiry and taller than Mack” man with “silver-white hair pulled back into a ponytail, matched by a gray-splashed mustache and goatee.”[4] But when this kind of blasphemous imagery is proposed to us in a “story”, people seem more than ready to join the enterprise of re-creating God in the image of our personal comfortability. Can you spell – idolatry?

In answer to Mack’s query over why Papa was now a man, Papa responds: “This morning you’re going to need a father.”[5] The message is not so subtle. Whatever you need, that’s what, or who God is. He has no identity of His own – as revealed in the Scripture. You do not need to be brought past the darkness and the speculation of your fallen soul. God will conform to you.

You can see how contrary this is to Biblical revelations of God as in the burning bush at Sinai or later with Israel’s encounter with God on Sinai after the Exodus. Who can possibly relate to a burning bush? Or consider Deuteronomy 4:12-19 (ESV)

12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.

15 Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

God’s being relational is not the driving concept in these accounts – His revelation is. That we might know God as He is. That we might live in the truth.

The Shack’s story line is simple, and engaging. And in its telling, false doctrine abounds.

Four years after the disappearance of his daughter Missy at the hands of a suspected serial murderer, Mack receives a note:

“Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.”[6]

The Shack, is just that, an old abandoned shack. It is the very place where they found Missy’s blood soaked dress after the frantic search for her. It was in the mountains, about 3 hours or so from where she had disappeared from Wallowa Lake State Park in Oregon. This is where God wants Mack to come back to for the meeting.

Mack’s wife and other children away, he has driven back up there alone. He is armed with a gun. Not knowing what to expect. Was this really God? Was this the killer torturing him in some perverse scheme? Was it just a cruel joke? No, God is summoning Mack to the shack. Its time to end The Great Sadness.

Arriving at the shack early Friday afternoon, Mack will spend the weekend. With Mack’s conflicting emotions and piercing soul-pains artfully recounted for us, he enters the ramshackle structure.

Collapsing near the still visible bloodstain of his daughter, Mack endures the paroxysms of grief as keenly and violently as one would imagine. Briefly contemplating suicide, he finally drifts off into an emotionally spent sleep.

Awaking, Mack rises to leave. As he heads back to his Jeep, suddenly everything changes. The landscape is transformed into its lush peak, and the Shack, is now “a sturdy and beautifully constructed log cabin.”[7]

Re-entering the Shack, Mack will first encounter a “large beaming African-American woman”[8]. This, is Papa. She, is God the Father.

It hurts just to read those words doesn’t it? It should.

In fact, dipping into the pool of the ancient heresy of Patripassionism (a Latin term meaning “the Father suffers” – a form of modalism) Papa has nail scars on “her” wrists too. And if that weren’t enough, “she” has a new revealed name: “Elousia”[9]. I AM THAT I AM will no longer do. God gets a make-over.

Papa is soon joined by “a small, distinctively Asian woman” named “Sarayu” – the Holy Spirit. Then – you guessed it, someone who “appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves…wearing jeans covered in wood and dust”[10] – Jesus.

The rest of the weekend is spent in various conversations and experiences between Mack and these three personages.

The attack on the mystery of the Trinity doesn’t end there. Never mind the fact that the Father and the Spirit are never corporeal in Scripture, a fourth personage – also female will be introduced down the road. She is “tall, beautiful, olive-skinned woman with chiseled Hispanic features.”[11] Her name is “Sophia”. Interestingly, it is after Mack’s encounter with Sophia that The Great Sadness lifts[12], not as a direct result of his interaction with God proper. Rather, it is through a vision of Missy happy and playing Heaven. Then again, we are never quite sure how this 4th personage fits into the entire scheme. What we do know however, is God is not enough. Trusting Him – which is an oft repeated concept – is not really trusting Him, as much as it is Mack’s new notions of God and His visioned sense of Missy’s state.

The weekend done, Mack returns to share his new found understanding of God and the universe to others in relationship.

Later, Mack wakes up in the hospital. He’s been in an auto accident. The narrator says that “I am sure there will be some who wonder whether everything really happened as Mack recalls it, or if the accident and the morphine made him just a little bit loopy.” Mack swears it all did. But in the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter. “All the changes in his life, he tells me, are enough evidence for him. The Great Sadness is gone and he experiences most days with a profound sense of joy.”[13]

Lets’ reconnoiter what we’ve seen in this brief overview. In the main we’ve learned that we can imagine God any way we wish; that the revelation of God in the masculine (whatever that may entirely imply Biblically) can be safely shifted by us as female too – its OK to think of God the Father “she”; both God the Father and the Holy Spirit can be thought of in terms of corporeal existence; and that when it is all said and done, as long as we have a profound sense of joy most days, and The Great Sadness is gone – it doesn’t matter whether or not we’ve arrived there by means of the truth, and God’s actual working or not. It worked for us – that settles it.

Now if these alone were set before us, it would be reason enough not only not to recommend this book, but to actively discourage others from reading it. Ultimately, it teaches a distinct theological perspective that seriously obscures the Biblical revelation of God to us. It gives us quite a different God. A false god.

But the errors in this book, serious enough to be considered heresy or blasphemous (and I do not use those words either lightly or as unnecessarily incendiary – merely as descriptive) just continue page after page.

From here, mostly for the sake of brevity, I am going to depart from the more typical structure of a review, and switch to simply citing selections which are particularly problematic. In those sections, I will also point the reader to how these ideas are in direct conflict with Biblical truth.

All said, this book will not lead others to Christ. In particles, I will admit it could help in gaining certain useful concepts of God. But if imbibed as the general truth about God and salvation, it will lead them to Hell. In no uncertain terms, it will completely destroy the need for the cross of Christ. Watch.

1 – Papa: “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. Its not my purpose to punish it; it is my joy to cure it.”[14]

In two sentences, the penal substitutionary death of Christ at Calvary is wiped out. If it is not that: 4 Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV) then we have no Gospel to preach.

If sin is not a punishable thing, rooted in rebellion against God, then Jesus died for nothing. If God does not need to punish sin, then God is not righteous. If sin only needs to be cured, and not forgiven, and we not justified, the entire Bible is to be thrown out. A medical and therapeutic model of salvation is substituted for the Biblical one of the need for justification and cleansing from our sins.

2 – Sarayu: “Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.”

Mack: “Isn’t it helpful in keeping people from fighting endlessly or getting hurt?”

Sarayu: “Sometimes. But in a selfish world it is also used to inflict great harm.”

Mack: “But don’t you use it to restrain evil?”

Sarayu: “We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them.”[15]

In this amazing exchange, the entire concept of the rebellion of man in the Fall is deftly swept aside. Starting in the Garden, Young has sought to re-write the whole scheme of the Scriptures. This form of reasoning makes the word “disobedience” to have no meaning whatsoever. And this is not a human “system” – this was God’s system from the beginning. Christians are those who are “slaves” to Christ. Love-slaves to be certain, but directly under His authority beyond all question. Young’s paradigm has no room for the language of passages like the following:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

Luke 6:46-49 (ESV) 46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Matthew 28:18 (ESV) 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Mark 1:27 (ESV) 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Sin is defined as “lawlessness” in 1 John 34:4 – the defiance of God’s authority. Try disciplining your own children without authority. The notion is not only ridiculous, it is dangerous and un-biblical. The very authority of God claims for Himself is utterly undermined in these pages by Young.

3 – Mack: “So was there really an actual garden? I mean, Eden and all that?

Sarayu: “Of course, I told you I have a thing for gardens.”

Mack: “That’s going to bother some people. There are lots of people who think it was only a myth.”

Sarayu: “Well, their mistake isn’t fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales.”[16]

There is a vast difference between flashes of truth in myths, and rejecting God’s Word. May one be uncertain about some truths in Scripture? Undoubtedly. But what happens in this conversation is that the issue of the authority and veracity of the Word of God, and man’s obligation to believe it is summarily dismissed. Doubt is left unchallenged. The Eden account is left open to question as to whether or not it is true. Beloved, if it is not, then the entire rest of the Bible, laboring under the assumptions of its truth is all called into question. If there is no sin in the Garden for man to be saved from out of, the entire Gospel is nonsense. Young does not seem either to realize or care that the Fall is rooted in whether or not “has God said”. Such mistakes, like not believing God – cannot be brushed aside lightly. Some mistakes are indeed fatal. Some eternally.

4 – Sarayu: “Evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of light or death to describe the absence of Life.”[17]

Sin as mere negation is an age old error. Again, 1 John 3:4 defines sin as “lawlessness.” In the Garden of Eden, it was not the absence of good that was central to man’s fall, it was Adam’s positive rejection of God’s command, and deliberate disobedience. Young’s attempt to rid sin of its moral dimension and including genuine guilt for rebellion will be re-visited again.

5 – Jesus: “To force my will on you”, Jesus replied, “is exactly what love does not do. Genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are not helpful or healthy…Papa is as submitted to me as I to Him. In fact we are submitted to you in the same way.”[18]

This is so wrong in so many categories that it is difficult to know where to start. That there is a divine order in the Godhead is absolutely established in a number of Biblical passages. In fact, order in the home is specifically taught as an extension of such order in the Godhead. Nowhere in any Scripture is God the Father described as “submitted” to the Son. It is expressly taught that the opposite is true. You see lack of submission to God IS the carnal or fleshly mindset:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Romans 8:7 (ESV)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (ESV)

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:23-24 (ESV)

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (ESV)

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Hebrews 5:7 (ESV)

Think about this for just a moment. Any parent who would not restrain their child from ingesting poison for fear of not being submitted to their children or forcing their will upon them – is not fit to be a parent. Young does not describe love, he creates a mythological arrangement were man still gets to be on the same level as God. My heart literally breaks to think of people trying to put such nonsense into real life use.

Let’s examine this under an extreme case: If you do not believe God should violate anyone’s will, then you ought never to pray for the salvation of the lost. They are kept in that very state by their wicked wills. Heaven forbid you should not submit to them, and delight to leave them to their wills. Absurd? Yes. But the logical extension of Young’s position.

6 – Jesus: “Women…turned from us to another relationship, while men turned to themselves and the ground. The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled. There would have been far fewer children sacrificed to the gods of greed and power.”[19]

I have but one word to ask you to consider in weighing the validity of the statement above: Abortion. Where millions of children in this culture at least, are sacrificed by women on the altars of fear, convenience and self. Not all, we know. But how very many? Young’s polemic is naive, and couched as though women were not disobedient in the Fall themselves somehow. I am at a complete loss for where his reasoning on this point comes from. This is simply so strange to the Biblical patterns of thought. And all asserted as though spoken by God, yet never articulated in His Word?

7 – Sophia: “He [Jesus] chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.”[20]

Here is a fundamental flaw so very basic as to make one gasp. In it, justice and mercy in God are pitted against each other. As though justice is bad, and needs triumphed over. However, the Biblical presentation is so far different. The glory of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, is that God remains just AND the justifier of those who have faith in Christ. (Rom. 3:26) At this place in The Shack the very heart of the Gospel is cut out. Can Young really not know that God’s justice was completely upheld while in fact mercy was also poured out? That no one’s sin was just set aside, but that the blood of the Lamb of God was required to atone for sin? In Christ, righteousness and peace kiss each other (Ps. 85:10) neither one is set aside.

Time and space preclude me from citing a host of the lesser but still obvious and serious errors. Sadly, they are legion. And I say sadly because once again, Willie Young is most probably a lovely man, who having been hurt very deeply, earnestly desires to help others – by means of a new way he believes he has come to understand God and His interaction with mankind. But in this case, the cure is much more deadly than the disease. For God Himself is so mutilated in comparison to the Bible’s representations – and the Gospel is so distorted, as to make the chewing of the meat to spit out the bones virtually impossible. These are bones that can stick in the throat, and cause one to die.

Three last citations.

8 – Jesus: “Mack, I love them. And you wrongly judge many of them. For those who are both in it and of it [the world], we must find ways to love and serve them, don’t you think? asked Jesus. Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.”

Mack: “Is that what it means to be a Christian?”

Jesus: “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.”

Mack: “No, I suppose you aren’t”.

Jesus: “Those who love me come from every system that exists…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 brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”[21]

At this point, rather than taking the reader to some Biblical understanding of what a Christian is he actually wants to steer men and women away from it altogether. This is so dangerously subverisve to the Christ given mandate of making “disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) The term Christian IS used in Acts 11:26, where it originated as a slur against Christ’s followers. And in Acts 26:28 – King Agrippa completely understood the Apostle Paul’s aim was in fact to make him a Christian! Young does every reader of his the greatest disservice in rejecting the very words of Scripture to ply his own vision. One which – if not overtly denying someone would have to abandon their Budhism, Mormonism or Islam to be Christ’s – at the very least implying it could be so. This is positively horrific.

Please note, we cannot be “brothers and sisters” in Christ, apart from partaking of His Spirit, which is the promise given to those who believe and obey the Gospel. Young’s construct is a child of “Papa” without the Spirit of Papa. It is a contradiction in terms, and creates a new class of man – one unknown to the pages of holy writ. It is a lie. One cannot be Christ’s with out owning both Christ, and His people.

9 – Mack asks Jesus how he becomes part of the church, and Jesus responds: “It’s simple Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now – just doing this – and being open and available to others around us.”[22]

See this again reader, it is a tacit denial of the Gospel.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body —Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (ESV)

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:9 (ESV)

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Galatians 3:2 (ESV)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 (ESV)

It is imposslbe to ignore the chain here. To be in the “body”, the Church of Christ, we must be baptized into it by His Spirit. And any who do not have His Spirit, are not His. How is that Spirit received? By the hearing of faith. And this, is rooted in one thing – the word of Christ, the Gospel.

This is basic Christianity. This, Young fails to ever articulate, if indeed he does not actually deny and undermine it.

10 – Papa: “I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation.”

Dear Reader – The very heart of our salvation is rooted in the realization that we already stand guilty before the judgment bar of God, and need to be made righteous. This pronouncement of righteousness comes but one way – through faith in Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:4-11 (ESV) 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

We ARE guilty already. Before God. Christ was crucified for our sins, and raised again for our justification – our being pronounced – RIGHTEOUS. God does guilt. We produce it, and He makes a way for our deliverance from its bondage in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

And God does “do” condemnation. God alone is the One who can and does judge us guilty and condmen us for our sin. The very same God who puts Jesus Christ out before us a propitiation, a satisfaction for our sins – to be received by faith. (Rom. 3:25)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. John 3:16-20 (ESV)

To deny God’s judgment on sin, and His just condemnation of it, once more is to deny the need for the cross, and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice there. It is to gut the Bible of its very focus and theme. To rob Christ of His glory. To make God a liar. To lead men to follow after the lies of men.

We’ve received the warnings:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)

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. Galatians 1:8-9 (ESV)

Join me in praying that Mr. Young’s contrary Gospel is one he has preached unwittingly. Pray that he will be recovered from such dark and dangerous errors. Pray that those who already have and who will yet read this book will reject its soul-damning falsehoods. Pray that the Gospel might ring out in truth, clarity and power.

With nearly 500,000 copies sold, and glowing endorsements from the likes of Eugene Peterson (Professor Emeritus Of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.), Gayle E. Erwin of Calvary Chapel notoriety, and musician Michael W. Smith – the popular appeal is great.

I realize this review has been unusually candid and perhaps confrontive. It is not my delight to say the things I’ve aid above. To be honest, I hate it. I say them with no rancour toward the auther himself. I know it will be received by some as cautsic, hateful and deliberately negative. I am so sorry for that. But sorrier still should any buy into its teaching. I hold no rancour toward its author. Though I hope to stimulate him enough to reconsider some of these very serious errors.

By God’s grace, I am well aware many will simply not “get” the more grievous errors because they are already Christians and read it against the backdrop of their own Gospel presuppositions. Praise be to God! But there are so very many who are either not acquainted with the true Gospel yet, or whose faith is still so young and ill-informed, it could be the cause of such a poor theological base as to be destructive to the truth for years to come. And then there are those who will believe they don’t need to be Christians, and God isn’t interested in them being so. These especially need our prayers, and our loving and gentle intervention.

What about the good parts? Someone might well ask. It is a right question. There are some sections I truly loved and thought long and hard about whther or not I should dea lwith them in this review. I opted not to.

I can only say that if a wonderful, healthful, gourmet meal were offered to me, but it was sitting in a chamber filled with toxic gas – it would be wiser to skip the meal than risk the fumes. What there is here, can be had elsewhere, more safely, and in concert with the Scriptures. It simply isn’t worth it.

Mr. Young, I love you. I love what you are trying to do in helping those who hurt. But I beg you in God’s name to carefully and prayerfully reconsider the system of truth you’ve exented to the world in the name of Christ. It is ultimately – another Gospel.

[1] From the back cover of the paperback edition by Windblown Media – Los Angels, CA. © 2007 All quotes from the book that follow will be from this edition.

[2] Young, William. The Shack. 3rd printing. Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007

[3] Ibid. p. 88 “Her” first words to Mack are: “Well, Mackenzie, don’t just stand there gawkin’ with your mouth open like your pants are full.”

[4] Ibid. p. 218

[5] Ibid. p. 219

[6] Ibid. p. 16

[7] Ibid. p. 81

[8] Ibid. P. 82

[9] Ibid. p. 86 While elousia may be a reference to a Greek word for tenderness, given Young’s portrayal of God’s being “the ground of all being”, “in, around and through all things” (p. 112) it may in fact be a homage to apostate theologian Paul Tillich’s view of God as “the ground of being.” Not truly a personal God, but simply Being-itself. Technically this is known as Panentheism. http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/07/shack-elousia-mythical-mystical-black.html

[10] Ibid. P. 84

[11] Ibid. p. 152

[12] Ibid. p. 170

[13] Ibid. p. 247

[14] Ibid. p. 120

[15] Ibid. p. 123

[16] Ibid. p. 134

[17] Ibid. p. 136

[18] Ibid. p. 145

[19] Ibid. p. 149-150

[20] Ibid. p. 164

[21] Ibid. p. 181-182

[22] Ibid. p. 178

20 thoughts on “Un-SHACK-led / A Review of THE SHACK

  1. Reid, I haven’t read the book and I don’t know that I’ll be able to comment on it like you anyway. (I’ve only skimmed your comments becuase I’m too tired). But I have noticed reading other comments etc, and comparing with the theologies of some who are not againist the book – such as Steve McVey – that there may well be resonate issues that inform where the author et al are coming from. SOme of the stuff we’ve been talking about recently. I notice that Greg Albrecht, Jim Fowler, and one of the publishers Wayne Jacobsen do some work together at “Plain Truth Ministeries”.

    I wrote this recently which I was intending to post on Tim Challies’ May blog on this book – but found it was closed so I had to email it him.

    This is a bit of late post so I don’t know who’s likely to read it!
    I loved reading Allen’s comments above, being one myself who desires above all else to know and live in the full reality of the new covenant.

    I haven’t read the book in question, yet. And I’m not sure of my capacity to critique it, by point. I did read your earlier review, Tim, and I’ve read Wayne Jacobson’s and Steve McVey’s short comments.

    Regarding Steve’s, I wonder that his understanding of the new covenant may shed some light on the issue. I’m not suggesting that Paul Young et al share his views to the letter, but in view of some of the points that I’ve seen people bring up, here and elsewhere; and in view of some similarities that are perhaps discernable (and that are, after all, likely correctly discerned when Steve is not against the book), maybe I could comment a bit on some things that may have some import, having read a couple of Steve’s books, and (hopefully without putting words into both their mouths) add a bit drawn from Jim Fowler.

    What is the full reality of the gospel is really the whole issue. Christ’s death on the cross was the end of a “performance-based” righteousness. A law-grace marriage for sanctification (as that term is often used) or “living the life”, is no more congruent than a law-grace marriage for justification. As Allen said, the veil was torn down by Christ’s death…so that man could be restored to function as God intended-relationally, spiritually, intimately in union with Christ. As the (full) message of Galatians reveals, there is no gaining of God’s love, favour or blessing by what a person does. The system of law demands of me on the terms of my own reference point of “self“, and gives me no power to “do”. Grace demands nothing, but fulfils the righteousness of God in a new and living context, with God as my reference point. The new birth guarantees 100% grace is no licence, but is rather the strength of holiness (Rom6v14). The justification which accompanies regeneration is neither solely forensic – an alien righteousness counted mine, yet not – and neither is it an infused righteousness a la Roman Catholicism, mine “by God”. It is the (full, free and unconditional)forgiveness of past, present and future sins, credited to me along with the (abundant) life of Christ himself, inherent only in himself, in the joining of his spirit to mine at the new birth. To understand this, contra Augustinian tradition, we must consider human anthropology as “trichotomous”, for want of another word. Humankind was not constituted to pro-duce righteousness, given the correct mental response to certain (even good) doctrines, and a derivative ethic. That misunderstands man’s fundamental function and relationship to his Creator. He is spiritually derivative, and can only ex-press the character of the one who indwells him, by faith. What God is (essential righteousness) only God is, essentially. Man only radiates out God’s own righteous character by having God indwell him – a partaker of the divine nature – joined to his perfect, new regenerate spirit – and then through the choiced faith-expression of the same. Righteousness is not a commodity to be transferred to the creature but an essentiality to be expressed. New birth brings an entirely new spirit, and the indwelling Christ joined in one with that spirit. The level of the spirit (rather than the mind, emotions, will, of the soul) is the level at which a person’s identity before God is determined. That is what determines their nature – are they “sinners“, or “saints“; “sinful” or “righteous” – and thus to be declared as one or the other. The Christian is relationally and spiritually joined to the One indwelling Who is righteousness. Thus he is “righteous” – and thus (despite indwelling sin/flesh) – he has one nature – not two – which is why it can be said that he is a new creation where all things are new (2Cor5v17). The “old nature” (with an unregenerate spirit) was crucified with Christ on the cross, and raised to life with the resurrected Christ was the “new creation” with a “new nature”. This sets the tone for authentic new covenant life, for when a believer sins, while he is fully responsible for it – he is now sinning against his nature, not according to it. So he is motivated to put off sin. He is to relate to God according to grace, not law – with no veil (spiritually speaking) between him and his God. He loves by the love of God shed abroad in his heart. He only lives in righteousness as a new creation insofar as his faith (informed by these things) allows him to actively live out the expression of Christ’s own life in him in his (two-ness) union. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit OF the Spirit. The believer is not the producer, but the expresser. He [old man] has been crucified with Christ, and he [old man] now no longer lives, but Christ [himself] now lives in him [Christ is his life], and he [new man, constituted as a new creation in relational, spiritual union with Christ] lives the [qualitative] expression of Christ’s own [inherently righteous] resurrection life, by faith….To live by law [righteousness described in external demand] is to multiply sin, thus we don’t “try to keep God’s commands” in THIS sense. We “keep them” or “fill up” the righteousness described in those which are an applicable description in the new covenant, by the by the “obedience of faith”, by grace. Such concepts obviously have ramifications for our understanding of “authority” and “submission” etc, within the context of this new covenant.

    With respect to the Trinity, perhaps an “Augustinian-derived” concept of “submission“, “authority” etc is somewhat informed by these other fundamental paradigmatic differences. I was looking at a chart of Jim Fowler’s at christinyou.net, where he mentioned both the ontological and operational aspects of the Trinity in the relations of the three Persons in this way: Ontologically-speaking, there is a co-equality between the Persons, and they are co-essential and co-eternal. However, operationally-speaking, while there is a paternity, filiation and procession that defines “roles”(for want of a better word) of “first“, “second” and “third” Persons – and may imply a hierarchy as with human authoritarian structures – such a view [hierarchy in this sense] is inaccurate, in that it impinges on the co-equality of the Persons, by failing to take into account perichoresis – the intimate loving relations between the Persons in the Trinity – which actually is what constitutes them “persons” of Father, Son, and Spirit (those distinct by relation) over “individuals”, and defines the nature of their relational functionality. The Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and the Spirit communicates the “heart” of the Father to the Son and the “heart” of the Son to the Father. God is love (not just “lovely” or “possessing” love – but it is (the?) fundamental of what God essentially is, and has thus always been expressed between the members of the Trinity. By redemption, believer’s partake in the sharing of this intra-Trinitarian love which has been extended to them, in God’s loving purposes toward his human creatures. The Spirit indwells them [believers], and reveals “Christ in them, the hope of glory” which as he revealed to Paul is “the mystery of the gospel”, the Spirit who proceeds from Father and Son, and through whom their new hearts echo this love…a love [his love] they also share with the other members of the Body.

    Re: any flavour of universalism; if my memory serves me right, Wayne makes it clear that while Young had some idea of an ultimate, realized reconciliation for all men in earlier days, that is no more. Many sotereological Calvinists (not all) see “God has reconciled himself to all men” and don’t seem to be able to think of anything other than “universalism”. They fail to see, as per those who hold to a “universal atonement-particular application” view, that the objective ground of the atonement -God to man – has been laid concerning all men – but the subjective – man to God – means that that reconciliation is not realized (even though God is now propitious towards them and thus desirous to manifest his salvific love to them) in their own persons, till they receive his love. But salvation is free for all and there is nothing to be added to the finished work on the part of the sinner to partake of it. In this sense, God is already “fully reconciled to all men”. These same Calvinists often less-than adequately grasp a compatabilism between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility – and coupled with a dichotomous view of man (which because of the Fall, must leave “human nature” INHERENTLY sinful, as opposed to derivatively sinful) tend to disallow man the natural (as opposed to “moral”) capacity to operate his God-given (good) faculties, and thus also find themselves (with “law for sanctification“) at cross-purposes with God’s intent of man operating as intended – within the parameters of his restored humanity. The tendency is to try to put off one’s humanity.

    Re: God doesn’t punish sin, or some comment of that ilk; it sounds like the point being made is, is God vindictive? For sure God will ultimately punish “the wicked” in hell, but he does not delight in the same. And for sure, there are tokens of that, and some manifestation of his wrath against sin now, for unbelievers, in the form of sin’s natural consequences, a la Rom1. But the form that punishment takes seems to be “giving over” or “permitting to suffer” the death-consequences of sin itself – not a direct thing. It is the counterpart of refusing God’s love and grace in Christ. With the believer, he is not “punished” even now, for Christ was punished in his stead and that death is counted his – God may permit him to feel some of the consequences of his sin in the present, to correct him out of love as he sees fit – but this is true because even the present consequences of his sin have been “redeemed” to work for his good.

    Re: seminaries; it seems like, bearing in mind the above, that the point is a difference (as I think Allen said) between what Newton called “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge”- I mean by that a intimate sense of knowing Christ over a mere understanding and appreciation “about Christ” – not that genuine experience and truth are ever separate – but that functioning from a bare epistemology and ethic, “going it at” (while praying for God’s help), is living out of the resources of the flesh. I wonder whether “faith” often effectively means to many of us (especially the reformed) “living by descriptions of what we don’t have any personal evidence of” rather than “living according to spiritual realities that are very much real but do not yet appear to the physical eye”…Similarly the comment about many professing believers’ approach to the bible – not that the bible isn’t the inerrant Written Word of God – but in being so, it describes living reality and living truth – Who is ultimately God revealed in Christ in us. When Steve McVey says (as he does in one of his “101 lies” videos) that we “don’t live by the bible” – he doesn’t mean that we live contrary to the truth as it is most fully revealed in the New Testament – but that the truth revealed in the New Testament is Christ in us as our very life. Christ in us lived out as our very lives will always live according to the truth of the written word, (properly understood, of course)…incidentally, I remember reading John Berridge not at all being keen on Lady Huntingdon setting up preaching colleges (or whatever was the term) because he said we were not to make disciples [man can learn some information – but he needs something other than knowledge and behaviour modification], but to send them.

    Re: churches. Allen spoke about this one, I think. Ever since Constantine (?) churches have tended to be institutionalized. Some better, some worse, some awful. But I don’t think (generally) they’ve ever got back to a pure new covenant, and so (to greater or lesser degree) the elements of that naturally become crystallized in their gathered, physical expression. It’s sad that gathered local churches are often the place were the masks are evident, because of peformance-religion, which itself is a substitute for genuine abundant life. Many professing Christians (I‘m thinking “conservatives”) look and sound just like a Christianized circumcision party. There is no wonder when they marry law and grace. But they (perhaps unwittingly) use their “dual nature” view as a sticking plaster to allow them to feel that they are saved (and healthy) because they are engaged in the processes of self-ism to validate their profession in their own (and their fellows’ eyes). What is often the “fruit of the flesh” they attribute to the Spirit; what purports to be humility is often sanctimony and self-abasement. If God is always “up there” and we “down here“(a latent deism in the Latin West?), and Christianity is a “living for God” to become “little Christs”, rather than a living out of Christ’s resurrection life as new creations who express the life of the Only One who can life Christ’s life, then the character of New Covenant Christianity (contra what it appears to be in the New Testament) is brokenness, confessionism, suppressionism, “self‘s dying to self” (!) duty and “delight” in duty (rather than genuine delight), praying for a forgiveness we already have, separation from our Father and our Husband, bondage, misery, turning the promises of the gospel into mere consolation, rounds of pointless religious activity, schemes, plans and programs, a myriad of how-to, self-help books in God’s name, the idolizing of personalities living and dead, big book-shelves and small hearts, fleshliness and not real godliness – a distinct lack of genuine, naturally-flowing love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, meekness, faith, spiritual control of self.

    Just some thoughts. As I say, I’m conveying my thoughts, some themes I’ve read in McVey in his books “grace walk” and grace rules”, as well as one or two of his “101 lies” videos (via Youtube, etc in my case) as well as Dan Stone and David Gregory in “the rest of the gospel”; and some of Jim Fowler’s (more theological) writing. I don’t want to say that they all would agree with each other(they probably do essentially), or that they all would like all of the “The Shack” – or those involved with The Shack would agree with all of what they say or I’ve said here – but there are things to consider that (in my limited estimation) perhaps resonate with some of the issues raised re the book, and are certainly worth considering – both as to properly understanding where the authors are coming from, and as to examining the validity of our own presuppositions concerning the Truth.
    Sorry the long post.
    – Phil

    Also, Reid, I just write this here; comment #53 http://www.challies.com/archives/general-news/email-from-a-concerned-reader.php#comments

    There are some videos of Paul Young talking about the book on You-Tube etc.

    This is not a “for” or “againist” comment, and especially in view of the length, feel free to delete it.

  2. Hey Reid,

    I liked the review. I have read other reviews on this book, but it seems to be a favorite among the emergent types. I have been on Mr. Young’s blog and he seems like a genuine guy who is trying to help people, but some of the underlying assumptions are that historic Christianity just hasn’t fit the bill, and we need to re-evalutate and redefine what we believe, which we know is a lie and untrue (at least in respect to how post-modernists want us to). I do have a request of you though. I would love to see you review the book Pagan Christianity written by Frank Viola and George Barna. I would love to hear you commentary on what they say in the book! I know you are busy, but I have appreciated your other reviews, especially on “Created to be his help-meet” which was a book pushed on my wife when we lived in Texas. Thank you dear brother! God Bless you and keeping thinking and writing to the glory of God!


  3. Let me respond to two of yo here:

    Phil – Good comments, but I probably will redact it some for the blog proper and answer in email.

    Mike – I haven’t read Pagan Christianity – but it is on my list. I’ll have to get after it here sometime in the near future. Thanks for the nudge.

  4. Just an addendum to my above comment. Though I have the book,I don’t feel like reading it,at least at the mo. I have heard some things on another blog where someone was arguing against Jesus being actually ‘forsaken’ by the Father on the cross as satisfaction of justice in recommendation of a book by Wayne Jacobsen that apparently objects to the satisfaction view of the atonement…that book ‘Pagan Christianity’is on my amazon wishlist. I think I remember reading a favourable comment by Jon Zens.

  5. You know, the Shack is on the level of The Davinci Code – if you read it as pure fiction, and can completely suspend taking any true notions of God from it – you can toss it back as a piece of philosophical speculation to help with certain pain – though not healingly.

    On the other you mentioned, I wonder why the notion that God did not “foresake” Christ at Calvary (we would need to define that) would somehow militate against true satisfaction in the atonement?

  6. The view that was being attributed to the book by WJ was that the sin imputed to Christ made it such that he experienced the torment of SEEMINGLY being separated from his Father,wrt fellowship-though the Father never ACTUALLY turned his back on the Son. I think that-while regarding his deity,Christ could never be ‘forsaken’-wrt his humanity,he had to experience the Father turning his back on him for justice to be satisfied. Hmm. The book is called ‘he loves me’.

  7. Definitions need to rule the day on this one. It is clear that the Father did not need to stop loving the Son any (either in His humanity or divinity) and that Jesus commended His Spirit to the Father when He died – signaling I would think a clear continuing link. The Father treated Him as THOUGH guilty, but He was never guilty – He remained sinless. Thus it “pleased” the Father to afflict Him on our behalf. He experience the Father’s wrath, but what we might mean by “turned His back on Him” needs to be clarified before one can say too much.

  8. Thank you. That was helpful. I’m not as clear as I should be on these things. I tend to think that Jesus,functioning perfectly by the life of his Father through the Spirit by faith,as fully man,was pressed to the point of that ending in his humanity-yet without becoming essentially guilty. But I do think the Father’s wrath against sin was manifested in the Sinless One as a man, by the Father removing the Spirit,with Christ’s consent, to give up that love-connection of a perfect man with his deity veiled.

  9. …by ‘love-connection’ I mean the fruit of any abiding fellowship and experience of that love. Christ commended his human spirit to the Father,knowing that He,in his love,would reestablish the fellowship in his humanity. Does this seem biblically balanced to you,and involve a necessary satisfaction?It seems to have it by way of the consequence of sin being ultimate separation.

  10. I guess I’m uncomfortable with the idea of separation being thought of in spatial terms. He suffered the wrath of the Father. Even though man was banished from God’s manifest presence in the Garden, God did not abandon him completely but still dealt with him – still loved Him. So I would just want to be careful not to require that the Father had to lose His love for the Son when we talk about separation. Nothing requires God to stop loving fully those whom He punishes for their sin. And in Christ’s case – whatever that meant experientially, He was being TREATED as guilty, though without guilt. It is not a violation of God’s integrity to still love the creature while He punishes the creature to the full extent the creature’s sin and God’s holiness demands.

  11. I just want to better understand what that separation entailed and how it satisfactorily achieved what it did. I can see that you are right re the Father’s unchanging love for the Son-including his humanity-but the actual bestowal(or not)of that is somewhat different. The ultimate death-consequence of sin being the irreversible separation of hell,man there is no longer an object of God’s love. Christ suffered satisfactorily concerning those people,so there must be some qualitative equivalence somehow.

  12. In my meager understanding, God makes His presence known in a number of ways. In the OT, one was a representation of His presence, through external means like the pillar of cloud/fire which attended the Israelites. The blessing the Priests were to give the people is “the Lord make His face to shine upon you” – to have some sensible experience of God’s delight in them and favor being near them. I would think this is what Christ experienced the loss of – pictured too in the departing glory of the Lord in Ezekiel’s visions. While Samson for instance had grown so insensible in his sin, he did not even notice when the presence of the Lord had left Him. Christ, apart from any sin, would have experienced that presence as greatly as a human could – in the “likeness” of our fallen condition. Not that there is any change in God’s actual love (I do not believe the Scripture requires that we assume those in Hell aren’t loved at all) – but there is the loss of being able to enjoy, experience, drink in that love and presence. After all, the doctrine of God’s omnipresence alone militates against God’s not actually being there – but the subjective knowledge and experience of it is what changes. Now, this is speculative on my part (though I think constructed from Biblical data) but I wouldn’t want to build any doctrine on it. So, I do not think the Son was any less loved for an instant. Nevertheless, He would have subjectively experienced what the penalty for sin in terms of separation from God is like.

  13. That was helpful,somewhat new to me,concerning those in hell still loved but unable to experience that. You make much sense here…on a totally different note,talking sense,I just watched Usain Bolt break Michael Johnson’s 200m wr…outstanding.

  14. One question though-do we then understand God’s hate(in its ultimate sense as respects the finality of the lost state of individuals in hell)as a withholding of the sensible expression of his love?

  15. To your last question, I will answer a cautious yes. We do not need to make God’s love and hatred in every way antithetical. When we read “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” – we have to remember that God greatly blessed Esau. He was not permitted to have the inheritance of the firstborn, but he was not utterly cast off either. The same with Isaac and Ishmael. When Abraham pleads that God would make Ishmael the heir, God says no, but then reveals he is still going to make great nations come from him. We make God’s hatred like our fallen hatred – to be virulent and separate from love. All of god’s attributes must be expressed in harmony. This does not indicate any lessening of His judgments, but as He states in Lamentations – He does not afflict willingly.

  16. I agree with what you’ve said here,but picking up on Rom9,i once read John MacArthur saying that that was a retrospective statement concerning Esau as one who had become finally identified by his sin before God-yes God loved him,but not in the special electing sense that imputed righteousness to him. He was getting at the eternal finality of the situation,rather than here on earth.That’s the part I was considering-I wasn’t saying God doesn’t love everyone here. I hadn’t considered his love continuing,

  17. Reid,from some comments connected with those I was referring to in comment 4 above,I think the related view of the atonement (which perhaps would be the one in the shack?)is known as ‘Christus Victor’.

  18. Reid, what do you know about the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement? I gather from one source that it was the dominant view up until Anselm in about the 11th century. -Phil

  19. Not meaning to pile up a backlash of comments here, Reid…but having listened to some interviews/read some people’s favourable comments etc, there are some things that bother me concerning the truth wrt their theology. I haven’t read the book, as I say…but these things come to mind. It probably overlaps with what you’ve said already.

    1) The genre of theological fiction. I don’t like the idea of putting words in God’s mouth/presenting images that he hasn’t given us. Jesus spoke the truth authoritatively (being qualified to do so) with a veiling in parables etc according to his redemptive-historical purposes. But post-Pentecost, we don’t see the truth set forth other than plainly to the sight of all men. It’s not a subjective “discovery journey”, even though it needs to be subjectively ingested. At the least, such mixes in human conjecture with the plain truth. It muddies the waters.

    2) Too many people are far too subjective and will eat what they’re fed if it hits the spot on the moment. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of God. This genre of writing just feeds that.

    3) Theologically speaking, it would seem that the gospel is not primarily “how does a holy God receive sinners?” but more a therapeutic gospel. “How do we learn to live loved?”. God’s grace is discussed in a way that blurs the black and white distinctions between saved and unsaved, saint and sinner, justified and unjustified. This objectivity, that must be the basis for “living loved”, seems to be lost. Christ did come to give us life in abundance, but it is always set within the context of a present (and clear) “completeness in Christ”. Here, I get the feel that justification is overlaid by sanctification, and when you do that, you will also lose clarity on the fundamental realities of the new birth. We need the knowledge of all those things to genuinely live by faith. And that knowledge must start with a cognitive, mental grasp, which will then grow in the ul;timately defining aspect of “faith” – the trust aspect. Thus we increasingly live out the indwelling Christ’s life.

    4) I mentioned above the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement. I’m not saying the author et al necessarily subscribe entirely – but from what I’ve seen and understand, while there are perhaps some good emphases (assuming the “ransom theory” is not saying that God made a payment to Satan) it seems to lose man’s complicity in the affair of the fall – in the sense that it says God’s justice is purely about righting the wrong of humanity under slavery to Satan, not relationally functioning as it was intended…and not also issuing in judgement against man. That is, a penal satisfaction of sorts, is not fundamental to man’s reconciliation. Necessarily, then, it is likely in this scheme that justification becomes more subjective, and God’s holiness and wrath must be played off against his love and grace. Not that there isn’t a sense in which mercy rejoices against judgment. (This verse in James, for one, seems to make clear that God’s justice on account of his holiness coming into contact with sin is not wholly inclined – apart from the cross – “for man”.) But that it requires a satisfaction FROM man, so that God is positively just in justifying whoever believes – a satisifaction that God received from Christ on man’s behalf. Again, a satisfaction that is not ours in personal possession until we receive it as sinners in need of it.

    5) This means that we don’t fall into the trap of setting God’s holiness and love as intrinsically against each other, as if he were divided. For our healing (which itself is particularly regarded as of the moment of new birth/justification in the NT, rather than continual), we need to know that his holiness and justice are FOR US in Christ. I need to embrace those to rightly discern and appreciate his love, mercy and grace ACTUALLY poured out on me…the Old Covenant interaction between God and Israel evidences that the problem of sin is more than just us wrongly relating to God on law terms when he is a God of grace…it is that we can’t relate to him on the free grace terms he desires and always intended UNTIL his holiness (and thus his justice) is satisified in our favour. A favour we partake of when we enter into Christ’s rest/Lordship.

    Well, just some (perhaps repetitive) thoughts. Paul Young himself sounds like a really genuine person, and I don’t want to misrepresent him, but I wanted to mention these things.

  20. Thanks Phil – I agree with most of what you said. There really is this underlying thread of failure to see man as truly sinful and rebellious, and needing true deliverance from sin, guilt and opposition to God. We are not Buddhists just needing to awake to our goddness. We are cosmic criminals, needing to own our sin and at the same time see the incomparable mercy and grace of God in Christ. That God loves us is essential – but by itself it does not save. Apart from faith and repentance, we remain lost.

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