(Editor’s note: Eric Barger is now widely recognized as an expert in the area of Christian Apologetics and Discernment. He is the author of numerous books, and he has produced dozens of videos detailing various aspects of the Cults, the Occult and World Religions. Eric serves as the co-host of the Understanding The Times radio program with Jan Markell, heard currently on over 800 stations throughout the United States. His ministry, located in Washington State, is called “Take a Stand!” His website is ericbarger.com.)
On Friday, March 3, 2017, the decade-long controversy heated up in earnest: How should Christians respond to The Shack? With over 20 million copies in print, the debut of the long-awaited motion picture quickly moved the discussion to the front burner as Facebook and Twitter lit up with both pro and con comments concerning William Paul Young’s book and movie. But should there really be any controversy at all?
Only in a time when the Bible has been reduced to something claimed but not followed by many professing Christians could a book and movie displaying The Shack‘s storyline and theology be considered this controversial. But the sides loving or loathing The Shack are both very vocal, and little neutral ground exists in this debate.
When The Shack was setting records dominating multiple New York Times Best Seller Lists some nine years ago, I was challenged to read the book. It is back atop multiple NYTBS lists again and my question remains the same. How is it that frightening numbers of Christians have lost their ability to discern truth from error? Though many try to justify The Shack by the claim that it’s only a novel or fantasy, I’d like to know where that allowance is made in Scripture? It simply does not exist.
We are to test and judge such works the same as any issue in the real world. Early on I understood The Shack as an “angel of light” book (i.e., 2 Corinthians 11:14) sent to bring confusion and to further denigrate the Word of God and the very person of God Himself as revealed in the Bible. I haven’t wavered from that view, and since 2008 I have written, spoken and been interviewed on this topic dozens of times. But perhaps the most telling facts were learned from research I’ve conducted recently and from a confrontation with Paul Young back in that same year.
Hidden Agendas Revealed
In October 2008 I traveled to Portland, Oregon, and heard Paul Young speak three times in two days at his alma mater, Warner Pacific College. Campus officials had arranged several events to honor Young and they, like so many across the breadth of Christianity, were apparently thrilled with Young’s work and falling over themselves to give kudos and offer accolades to the former student.
In hopes of meeting him personally, I arrived early before Young’s second appearance at Warner Pacific and was able to approach and speak with him for approximately 15-20 minutes. I later wrote that I believed Young to be a nice enough fellow. I actually said he was likely the nicest heretic I had encountered in some time. But nice does not mean that error is to be excused, particularly if it pertains to issues central to the Faith — such as the nature of God, the Trinity, salvation, judgment and eternity.
In those few moments I had with Paul Young I was able to ask several questions.
I asked if he was aware of Polynesian and Hawaiian native groups who worship a goddess very much like his “Papa” character in The Shack. He replied that, no, he wasn’t aware of any such group or mythical figure. I told him that if I were considering the insertion of such an unorthodox god character into a manuscript I would have at least done a simple Internet search to see if such a character already existed.
I then explained that I had done just such a search and found that throughout the native groups in the South Pacific from Hawaii westward a goddess figure — a large, dark skinned woman named “Papa” — was esteemed as the creator goddess watching out over those who followed her. I pointed out that he could read about this false deity on many pages that easily came up in my search findings.
Young wasn’t ready to walk away from me yet, but he became increasingly less congenial and more agitated as I continued. Though I was unaware of it at that particular moment, Young was raised on the mission field in New Guinea (the Cannibal Valley region, to be exact). Yet he didn’t know about the native goddess “Papa”?
My next question was concerning the making of an image (in this case a human being) and proclaiming it/he/she to be “God.” Besides the Second Commandment, I cited Romans 1, to which Young stated that was only (the Apostle) Paul’s admonition against idolatry and it didn’t apply in the case of The Shack‘s deity. Really? I answered that Romans 1 certainly wasn’t the only passage warning about what he had written in The Shack. Ask Moses.
The cast of The Shack movie: The Asian woman is the Holy Spirit, the Black woman is God, and the Middle Eastern man is Jesus. The Caucasian man is the central character wrestling with grief over the murder of his daughter. I then hit Young’s raw nerve when I asked if he was a Universalist, as Dr. James DeYoung, a professor at Western Seminary in Portland, had been insisting. He answered “Absolutely not,” and fired back about Dr. DeYoung, “That man is persecuting me!”
End of Conversation
A month after my questioning of Paul Young I spent an evening with Dr. James DeYoung. It was eye-opening. Dr. DeYoung and Paul Young had cofounded a Christian discussion group or “think tank” in the late 1990s. The group of 8 to 12 Christian thinkers met to discuss issues monthly.
In 2004, Paul Young made a two-hour presentation to the group and handed out a 103-page, single-spaced paper declaring that he was abandoning his “evangelical paradigm” and was embracing “universal reconciliation.” DeYoung told me in 2008 and again during an interview on Understanding The Times Radio with Jan Markell and myself in March 2017 that the forum members were shocked in 2004 as Paul Young spoke to them. How could a universalist been quietly operating in their midst?
Dr. DeYoung prepared a response to Paul Young’s lengthy position paper and a month later he presented his rebuttal to Young’s ideas at the forum. Young, however, was not in attendance. In fact, he never came back to the group’s meetings again. He was soon busy writing The Shack.
During my evening at Dr. DeYoung’s kitchen table I realized that in Paul Young’s mind I hadn’t phrased the final question to him in such a way that he felt obliged to actually give me an honest answer during our discussion at the college a month prior. Looking back, I should have said, “Are you now or have you ever been a universal reconciliationist?” Such a more specific question might have forced him into the challenging position of telling me the truth instead of parsing his words to obfuscate around a position he was desperately trying to conceal.
The Primary Failure of The Shack
Besides other theological issues, The Shack clearly abolishes the need for faith and personal salvation (John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Acts 4:12, John 3:36, 1 John 5:12, etc.). In fact, Paul Young follows the mold of other so called “Christian” universalists before him and literally treats Jesus’ finished work of redemption as if it was the act of salvation, without any need for a person to respond to it.#TheShack clearly abolishes the need for #faith and personal #salvation. #apostasy Click To Tweet
Thus, as we now understand from Young’s recently released book, Lies We Believe About God, that he is, and has been for some time, a proponent of universal reconciliation. He doesn’t teach that other religions lead to God. Instead, Young believes that all men will eventually be saved because of Jesus’ work on the cross whether they have faith or not. Young’s other novels, Crossroads, and the New York Times best seller, Eve, substantiate this same view.
In Lies We Believe About God, Paul Young speaks in the first person instead of through his fictional characters and states that one of the lies Christians believe is that there is a need to “get saved.” In addressing salvation here, Young finally admits what his editors knew as it took them a year to remove universalism from The Shack‘s original manuscript. He believes in “universal salvation” and that a free-will response to the Gospel is an unneeded act since all men will eventually be “saved.”
Many people have defended The Shack, saying that they don’t care if Paul Young or his work is a “little” off base biblically. Advocates claim that the book has helped heal them from the real-life abuse of a spouse or parent and also from the terrible pain of losing a loved one, especially a child.
In closing, I want to express my concern for the spiritual blindness exhibited by many of The Shack‘s defenders, where it comes from, and where this blindness leads. When one defends false beliefs instead of God’s Word, that person is exhibiting a personal death of discernment. Disregard for God’s Word and acceptance or defense of false teaching slowly but surely blurs the truth and destroys one’s ability to be discerning. It eventually makes those who choose to accept something they like or want — regardless of biblical truth — incapable of recognizing the depravity of their situation.
The fact is that Paul Young is no different than Joseph Smith, Jr., Charles Taze Russell, Mary Baker Eddy, or a host of other cult leaders throughout history. He makes claims not founded on or supported by the Bible and then, without actually saying so, infers the mass of Evangelicals before him have missed the mark and believe incorrectly.
This is mainstream Emergent practice. It’s also what cult leaders do as they add to or subtract from God’s word and then start believing their own false ideas as authentic “revelations.” That is what those given over to a reprobate mind do and this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we have with Paul Young.
Let me make this clear. Would you serve your family a meal if you knew strychnine had been sprinkled around the edges? Then why would you accept the words of a person who has consistently proven that he is untrustworthy and his teaching defies the Bible — just because someone claims there is a nugget of good in it?
When you give yourself over to a teacher and his teachings, or an author and his books through your investment of time, money, and emotions without allowing God’s Word to always be the judge — and then defend the message even though it is rotten, then, my friend, you have allowed Satan a foothold. Unless there is repentance, he doesn’t stop there.
Soon it becomes a stronghold, and before long you become incapable of deciding what is right from what is wrong. In short: you catch Paul Young’s disease and chance standing before the Great White Throne Judgment that Young declares a loving God could not carry out followed by a one-way trip to the Pit that Young claims does not burn.
Church, stop defending the indefensible teachings of Paul Young and come to your senses before it is too late!#Church, stop defending the indefensible teachings of #PaulYoung! #TheShack #apostasy Click To Tweet