Dr. James DeYoung Revisiting The Shack & Universal Reconciliation

Revisiting The Shack and Universal Reconciliation
James B. De Young
First published October, 2008 on gospeldriven blog.

Seldom does one have the opportunity to review a work of fiction written by a friend that has risen to the top of best seller lists. Recently The Shack has been approaching sales of three million or more. There is talk about making a movie of the book.

What is so unusual about this success is not only that the novel is ostensibly a Christian work of fiction but that it also espouses a view of God that is creative but biblically challenged. It is novel both as literature and as theology. But does Christian fiction have to be doctrinally correct?

A brief look at the book uncovers an unremarkable plot. Willie retells the story of his friend, Mackenzie Phillips, who as a child was abused by his father which left him bitter toward God, the Bible, and the ministry. When his youngest daughter is kidnapped and brutally killed in a mountain shack, Mack’s anger freezes his total outlook in sadness and despair. Years later God invites him to return to the same shack. He encounters the Trinity in the form of a large African woman (“Papa” =the Father), a Jewish carpenter (=Jesus Christ), and a small Asian woman by the name Sarayu (=the Holy Spirit). These three lead Mack to discover a fresh meaning of God’s love for him and forgiveness.

Who is the author? For more than a dozen years I have known William P. Young. We have discussed much theology in a “think tank.” Over four years ago Paul embraced universal reconciliation and defended it on several occasions. He claimed that universalism changed his life and his theology.

The core belief of universal reconciliation asserts that love is the supreme attribute of God that trumps all others. His love reaches beyond the grave to save all those who refuse Christ before they die. God’s love will even conquer fallen angels and the Devil himself who will join the saints in heaven. This view of future destinies claims many texts that seem to teach that the reconciliation that Jesus accomplished on the cross extends to all creatures (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:16-20; Col. 1:19-20), that all will lovingly confess him as Lord (Phil. 2:6-11), and that God’s will that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) will be accomplished without fail.

After the The Shack was written, the editors worked over a year to eliminate its universalism (as they assert on their web site). Paul now disavows universalism. Yet like all universalists he affirms that he “hopes” that none will experience eternal suffering. But the critical question is this: Does universalism remain in the book? By comparing the creeds of universalism with The Shack one discovers that many tenets of universalism and other errors are implicit in the book.

1. Universalism subjugates God’s justice to his love. The creed of 1878 asserts that God’s attribute of justice is “born of love and limited by love.” The novel asserts that God “cannot act apart from love” (p. 102, 191), that God “chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love,” and that God did not choose “justice for everyone” (164-165).

2. The creed of 1899 asserts that God “will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness”; there is no future judgment. Similarly Paul denies that Papa (God) “pours out wrath and throws people” into hell. God does not punish sin; it’s his “joy to cure it” (120). Papa “redeems” final judgment (127). God will not “condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from his presence and apart from his love” (162). To judge is to act contrary to love (145).

3. Universalists deny a personal devil. He goes unmentioned in the book (134-137).

4. Paul reveals that the entire Trinity became incarnate, and that the whole Trinity was crucified (99). Both Jesus and Papa (God) bear the marks of crucifixion in their hands (contra. Isa. 53:4-10). These ideas suggest the heresy of patripassianism and modalism, that God is singular who assumes the different modes of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

5. Reconciliation is effective for all without exercising faith. Papa asserts that he is reconciled to the whole world, not only to those who believe (192). The creeds of universalism never mention the need to believe in Christ. Rejecting the idea that God willed humans to have a will that allows them to reject him is deterministic and coercive.

6. All are equally children of God and loved equally by him (155-156). In a future revolution of “love and kindness” everyone will confess in the power of the Spirit that Jesus is Lord (248).

7. The institution of the church is rejected as diabolical. Jesus claims that he “never has, never will” create institutions (178). This counters Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 and 18.

8 ) The Bible is only a revelation of God. In the novel it comes as an afterthought to other revelation (198).

Universalism began with Origen in the third century. In the sixth century it was condemned as heresy. In modern times universalism undermined evangelical faith in Europe and America. It opposed the Great Awakening in the 1730’s-40’s. By 1961 universalism joined with Unitarianism to form the Unitarian-Universalist Association, with its denial of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.