There’s a Wolf in THE SHACK

 

The Heretical Theology of William P. Young in The Shack

Remember the folk tale of Little Red Riding Hood?  In most versions of the story, a young girl is walking to her sickly grandmother’s cottage with a basket of goodies.  Along the way, she meets a big, bad wolf who wants to eat her.  The wolf tricks her into telling where she is going.  The wolf gets to grandmother’s cottage first, and eats the grandmother.  He then puts on her clothing as a disguise and gets into her bed.  When Red Riding hood arrives, she is fooled by the wolf, and would have been eaten if she had not been rescued by a brave woodsman.

In the book The Shack by author William P. Young (and in the 2017 movie based on the book), the protagonist, Mackenzie Phillips, called “Mack,” meets God, who is portrayed as a grandmotherly woman called Papa living in a cottage.  And like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, the grandmotherly woman in The Shack is a wolf in disguise.

William P. Young

The Bible often refers to false teachers as wolves.  For example, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  Ezekiel describes Israel’s false teachers by writing, “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken” (Ezekiel 22:27-28).  And the Apostle Paul warned the church leaders at Ephesus, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

In my previous blog, I discussed the bad theology I believe ruined an otherwise wonderful movie about forgiveness.  After reading my review, one of my readers pointed me to a new 2017 book by William P. Young called Lies We Believe About God.  According to the book’s description on Amazon.com,

Wm. Paul Young has been called a heretic for the ways he vividly portrays God’s love through his novels. Here he shares twenty-eight commonly uttered and sometimes seemingly innocuous things we say about God. Paul exposes these as lies that keep us from having a full, loving relationship with our Creator.

Many of the beliefs Young calls “lies” are in fact lies, according to the Bible.  For example, Young includes chapters on “God blesses my politics,” “God is a magician,” “God is a divine Santa Claus,” and “God loves me for my potential.”  None of these ideas are biblical.  The problem is that other chapters deny essential truths of the Bible.  Three of the most egregious truths that Young calls lies are as follows/

“You need to get saved.”

Young believes the saying, “You need to get saved,” is a lie.  Young writes in Lies We Believe About God:

So what is the Good News? What is the Gospel?

The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.

He continues:

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!

Young uses several verses from the Bible to justify his assertion of universal salvation:

  • John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
  • John 1:3 “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The problem is that Young cherry-picks verses out of context to support his view, while completely ignoring others that contradict it.  Young is correct that God’s gift of salvation is offered universally to all people, but misses the fact that not all people will receive this precious gift.  Consider these verses:

  • John 1:10-13 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  • Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
  • Revelation 21:27 (speaking of Heaven) “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”

Scripture is clear that not all people will receive God’s amazing gift of salvation.  Only those who repent and believe are saved.  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  “..if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” Romans 10:9-10).

“Sin separates us from God.”

Young believes that sin does NOT separate us from God.  He writes in Lies We Believe About God:

  • The irony is that the healing for their sadness is always within their reach, because their actions never had the power to separate them from God in the first place.
  • There is a truth about who you are: God’s proclamation about a “very good creation” is the truest about you. That very good creation is the form or origin of you, the truth of who you are in your being. Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is.
  • If separation is a lie, does it mean that no one has ever been separated from God? That is exactly what it means. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). Jesus did not come to build a bridge back to God or to offer the possibility of getting unseparated.
  • Do we think we can be so wretched and sinful that we become abhorrent to God… No! There is no separation.

What does the Bible have to say about separation from God?

  • Isaiah 59:1-2 “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
  • John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

What about Romans 8:38–39?  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In context, Paul is talking about those who have been saved, not all of humanity. The context:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His… For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:1, 9, 13-14).

For those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  However, for those who do not repent and trust in Jesus, they will forever be separated from God.  As it states in Revelation 20:12-15:

 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

“God is good. I am not.”

Young believes in the inherent goodness of humanity.  He writes:

The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us. But those of us who are desperately broken and wounded may believe that if there is nothing good in us, there is no hope for real transformation.

Does anything that is “not good” originate in God? No! Are we still image bearers, made in the image of God? Yes, we are!

I am fundamentally good because I am created “in Christ” as an expression of God, an image bearer, imago dei (see Ephesians 2:10). This identity and goodness is truer about us than any of the damage that was done to us or by us.

Young’s argument is that because we are created in the image of God, we must be good, because God is good, and cannot create anything that is not good.  What Young fails to understand is that although humanity was created “very good,” our sin has marred the image of God in us.  Originally created “good,” we are now sinners.

  • Genesis 6:5 “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
  • Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
  • Romans 3:10-12 “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
  • Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Young also fails to grasp that God loves us despite our depravity, not because of our goodness.  This is the very essence of the Gospel.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God saves us, not because we are inherently good, but because of His great mercy and grace.  Mercy can be defined as not getting what we deserve, while grace can be defined as getting what we don’t deserve.  They’re opposite sides of the same coin.  Because of sin, we all deserve Hell.  God, in His mercy, gives us the opportunity to avoid Hell by repenting of sin and making Jesus Christ our Lord.  Because of sin, we do not deserve a relationship with God.  God, in His grace, offers us a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  God cannot offer mercy, grace, or forgiveness to “good” people, but only to those who don’t deserve it because of sin.  If we were “good,” we wouldn’t need mercy or grace.

Young does make an important point, however.  He states, “The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us.”  This is absolutely true.  Young relates his personal story of growing up in an abusive home.  He writes:

“Growing up with my father was too often terrifying. Being around him was like walking through a minefield, with the explosive devices changing positions every night while I slept… He was the righteous man who was never wrong, and he was a strict disciplinarian.”

Many people view God as a hateful, vengeful disciplinarian who punishes us because we disappoint Him.  Many get this idea because they grew up with abusive fathers.  This is not the God of the Bible.  God loves and values us more than we can ever imagine.  God’s love is perfect, unlike human love.  The separation between humanity and God is not from God; it is because of our sin and our rejection of Him.  John 3:16-20 explains it like this:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Conclusions

While Young makes several valid points in Lies We Believe About God, he promotes heresy and completely undermines the Gospel in other places.  Young grew up believing a mixed bag of truths and untruths.  In rejecting the untruths, he threw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.  Young correctly rejects the angry, vengeful god in favor of the God of love.  However, in the process, he also rejects the holiness, justice, and sovereignty of God.    He rejects one false gospel by adopting a different false gospel.  He preaches a form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, not biblical Christianity.  The god of The Shack cannot save anyone.  Paul warned us in Colossians 1:6-9 about false teaching such as this:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The truth is that we are sinners who need to be saved by God’s mercy and grace.  The Good News is that God loves us despite our rebellion against Him, and offers each of us salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, who died in our place, and rose again.  If we repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we can have an eternal love relationship with God.  The flip side is that if we do not receive Christ, we do indeed spend eternity separated from God in Hell.  This is not because God hates us, but because we reject God.

The god of The Shack is indeed a ravenous wolf disguised as a benevolent grandmother.  While the book and movie contain wonderful messages of forgiving those who hurt us, forgiving ourselves, and seeking forgiveness from others, it completely misses the truth of receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ.  It offers a false hope in a false gospel, and anyone who embraces this falsehood is accursed to spending eternity without the true forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Movie Review: The Shack (2017)

After being criticized on Facebook for disparaging the movie The Shack based on reviews without having seen it myself, I went and saw the movie this morning.  Most of my criticisms stand, although I did see a positive side as well.

The Positives

First, the positives.  The movie is definitely a “feel good” story.  It does a very good job of walking through the process of forgiveness.  The main character, Mack, learns to forgive the perpetrator of a horrific crime.  He learns to forgive himself for allowing the incident to happen.  And he learns to ask forgiveness from others.  The movie could be beneficial for a person who struggles with forgiveness of others, or with being forgiven by others.

For the most part, the movie portrayed Jesus Christ fairly well.  The Jesus character is portrayed as a middle-eastern man, which is much better than how Jesus is often portrayed in films as a blonde-haired, blue eyed Caucasian.  Jesus is shown as both fully human and as Creator of the Universe.  Jesus is also correctly portrayed as the Son of God, although this aspect is not well explained or emphasized.

The movie also does a good job of expressing the absolute love of God.  All three Persons of the Trinity are portrayed as omnibenevolent.   It shows how the love of God is unconditional and extended to everyone.  For a person who struggles with whether God truly loves them, this film might help them to begin to grasp God’s unfathomable love for each of us.

The Negatives

The positive aspects of the film are unfortunately greatly diminished by some extremely bad theology.

God the human woman

God the Father is portrayed as a black woman by the name of Papa, and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a young Asian woman by the name of Sarayu.  Papa is the name Mack’s wife uses to refer to God.  The name Sarayu comes from the Sanskrit language, and means “air, wind, that which is streaming.”  In the Bible, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit take on human form; and neither are of them referred to a female.  Describing God as female is taken from any number of false religions, including the Canaanite goddess Asherah, the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, numerous Hindu goddesses, and modern Paganism.  Describing God as a human woman is to make Him into a false god, which is blasphemy.

God submits to human choices and wishes

Papa explains to Mack that the reason He appears to him as a woman is because Mack wasn’t ready for Him to appear as a man.  Later in the film, Papa changes to an older man, because Mack needed a father at this point in his journey.  The notion that God changes to meet our needs is unbiblical.  God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6).  The perfect, sovereign, holy God does not alter Himself to meet our needs.  He does not submit to us; rather, we are called to submit to Him.

God doesn’t judge sin

In The Shack, God never judges sin.  At one point, Papa tells Mack, “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.”  This contradicts one of the central themes of the Bible.  God judged Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  He judged Cain in Genesis 4, and the entire world in Genesis 7.  Throughout the history of Israel, God judged many individuals and many nations, including Israel.  In Revelation, God judges all who do not have their names written in the Book of Life, and casts them into Hell with Satan and the demons.  Most importantly, God judged sin and placed it on Jesus Christ.  It is through the blood of Jesus that we are forgiven for sin.  To claim that God never judges sin is to deny the very foundation of the Gospel.

Universalism

Another major problem with The Shack is universal salvation.  Everyone gets saved.  Papa states that all people are her children.  This is unbiblical.  John 1:12 states that people become the children of God when they receive Him; 1 John 3:10 calls some people “children of the devil;” and Romans 9:8 declares that not all are children of God.  Because Papa doesn’t judge, she also doesn’t require repentance.  The biblical God does require repentance (Ezekiel 14:6, Matthew 9:13, Luke 13:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  In the world of The Shack, everyone goes to Heaven.  There is no Hell.  Again, this is unbiblical and undermines the Gospel.

Love vs. justice

The Shack portrays Jesus, Papa, and Sarayu as being completely loving and accepting, to the exclusion of other attributes such as being holy, sovereign, and just.   God is limited by His love, and therefore cannot administer justice.  This is a false dichotomy.  It’s not a matter of either God is loving, or He is just.  He is perfectly both.  The Bible describes God as being unlimited by His love (Psalm 103:11), and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4).  God’s love does not limit His justice.

Good vs. evil

One of the major themes of the film is the question of why God allows evil, suffering, and death.  Despite the centrality of this theme, the question remains largely unanswered.  Papa skirts the issue by explaining that evil is the result of human free will.  What is missing is the biblical explanation, that sin, pain, suffering, and death can be traced back to Adam’s sin in the Garden.  God created a perfect world, but sin brought the curse of evil.  Also missing is the role of Satan and the demons.  Because The Shack rejects God judging sin, it also rejects the role of original sin as the cause of evil and death.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  This is completely missing in the film’s treatment of the issue of evil, leaving the question mostly unanswered.

 Other issues

  • In the movie, Papa has nail scars on her wrists, indicating that she was also crucified. This is not in the Bible.
  • Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” In the Bible, Jesus is the ONLY way to God (John 14:6), not just the BEST way.
  • The film uses the image of a garden with a tree in the center – an obvious allusion to Eden. But, instead of being perfection, the garden is in seeming disarray, representing Mack’s life.  And the tree symbolizes redemption, not the Fall.
  • At one point, the biblical God is equated with the Native American Great Spirit. Biblically, these are two entirely different entities, with the Great Spirit being a false god.

 Conclusions

My reaction to the film is influenced by my own personal faith journey.  I grew up believing in a god very much like Papa in The Shack.  The god I followed was completely loving, to the exclusion of justice.  My god would never send anyone to Hell, because my god loved everyone, and made us the way we are.  I believed that while Jesus Christ was probably the best way to god, all religions pointed to god.

What I didn’t understand was that my god wasn’t real.  I had created god in my own image.  My god was mostly there to make me happy.

When I met Jesus Christ as a college freshman, my life changed eternally.  I began to understand that God’s love and God’s justice are simply two sides of the same coin – that God’s holiness, sovereignty, and perfect love demand God’s perfect justice.  God’s love and justice can be summed up in one verse:  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Both God’s perfect love and His perfect justice were satisfied on the cross at Calvary.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

While I thought The Shack taught good lessons on human forgiveness, because of the theological train wreck that permeates the film, I cannot recommend it.  It points to a false god as our hope for peace and forgiveness.  For someone who struggles with forgiveness and whether God truly loves them, the film might give them some insight, but with a dangerous risk.  Embracing the false god of The Shack is a false hope.  Only the true God can offer eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A god like Papa can make a person feel good about themselves and others, but cannot save us from our sins.   And that is damnable heresy.

 

 

Review: “The Loudest Sound Ever Heard” by The Choir

The Choir - 10/15/2011
Greenwood, Indiana

I’ve been following The Choir since I first heard them in about 1986, when they were the warm-up band at a Steve Taylor concert at SMU’s McFarlin Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas.  They’ve been one of my favorite bands ever since.

For those readers who have never heard of them, The Choir is a Christian alternative-rock band that has been together since 1984.  The band is composed of Derri Daugherty on guitar and vocals, Steve Hindalong on drums, along with Tim Chandler on bass guitar, Dan Michaels on saxophone and lyricon and Marc Byrd on guitar.

The Choir is not a typical contemporary Christian band.  The lyrics, primarily written by Steve Hindalong, are not the cookie-cutter praise and worship or evangelistic lyrics common to the vast majority of CCM artists; rather, they are known for their poetry, vulnerability, and honesty, particularly about the challenges typical in relationships and the simple joys of life – lyrics that ask questions and make a person think, rather than just giving the answers.  The instrumentals range from alternative rock to mournful to ambient;  Derri’s guitar work is effect-laden and ranges from hard-driving rock to soulful ambience.

I had been disappointed by The Choir’s last release, “Burning Like the Midnight Sun.”  A few of the songs, especially “The Word Inside the Word” and “It Should Have Been Obvious,” contained some lyrics that promoted theopolitical positions that I found Biblically indefensible.  So, it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I popped the CD into my player and began to listen, while perusing the lyrics on the album sleeve.

I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

The album’s title, “The Loudest Sound Ever Heard,” is a reference to the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, an event referenced in the song “I’m Learning to Fly.”.

The first song, “Strange Girl,” could be an anthem to my fifteen-year-old daughter Stacey:

She’s such a strange girl

In such good ways

A strange girl

She’s so strange

In such good ways.

Stacey particularly likes the line: “She doesn’t care about sparkling jewels / Got a sparkle in her eye.”  She also loves Dan Michaels’ saxophone work on the song.

“I’m Learning to Fly” deals with the problem of pain and suffering in the world:

I’m learning to love in a dying world

I’m learning to fly

The song recognizes the difficulty of reconciling the pain we all experience with the mercy of a loving God, but rather than trying to give an answer to this paradox, the song focuses on rising above and loving, despite the suffering.

“Cross that River” is about overcoming fear.  As Christians, God calls us to step out in faith and take chances, knowing that He is there when we stumble:

But you’re not gonna make it if you don’t take a chance

And there’s somebody on the shore holding out a branch.

Probably my favorite song on the album is “The Forest.”  The song is about the cycles in our lives; we all go through good times and bad, mountaintop experiences and valleys.  We must learn to trust God in all circumstances:

I believe the sun will shine on you and me, my friend

I have learned to trust the turning of the seasons

Even now the sun is breaking through the clouds again

But I still don’t know the causes or the reasons

And I still can’t see the forest for the trees

When we go through difficult times, the key is to remain focused on Jesus Christ.  Even though we can’t understand why things happen as they do, He does understand.

The Choir 4/25/2012
Kettering, Ohio

Another highlight of the album is the song “After All,” which features Leigh Nash on vocals.  When I first heard the song, I recognized the same music as on Derri’s ambient instrumental solo piece, “My Imaginary Friend.”  This version, however has fantastic vocal harmonies between Derri and Leigh.

Another pleasant surprise was the song “A World Away.”  It has an almost oriental sound, mixed with Derri’s ambience and Steve’s poetic lyrics.  The song acknowledges humanity’s inability to completely understand the mysteries of God.

Overall, this album is another strong work by Steve, Derri, and the rest of the band.  I love Dan Michaels’ sax / lyricon work throughout, and Derri’s somber guitar work.  One thing missing is the usual off-the-wall song about something random, like falling off a stage, a misspelled name on a boarding pass, or a rifle-toting television icon.  But, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Loudest Sound Ever Heard.”  If you’re looking for the typical CCM or gospel lyrics focusing explicitly on Jesus Christ, or typical praise-and-worship music, you probably won’t appreciate this album.  But, if you like music that’s honest about life’s struggles and asks more questions than it answers, give “The Loudest Sound Ever Heard” a listen.

Rich, Derri, Stacey, and Steve 10/15/2011

You can purchase “The Loudest Sound Ever Heard” at The Choir’s website:  http://www.thechoir.net/