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.
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.
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.
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.
Filed under: Reviews - Books, Movies, and Music, Theology / Apologetics | Tagged: Bible, God, Gospel, heresy, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Lies We Believe About God, salvation, The Shack, William P. Young, Wm. Paul Young | Leave a comment »