Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Shack, Revisited

Posted by Christine Pack

A reader of our blog recently wrote to us and let us know of a conflict they were having with a fellow Christian over the issue of publicly naming William P. Young, author of The Shack, as a false teacher.  Because the issue of whether or not to "name names" has been a recurring theme in discernment, we requested permission to post the letter they received, and our reader granted it.  Identifying names and locations have been changed, but the following are excerpts from the letter with certain portions bolded.

Our reader was  rebuked for (1) allegedly slandering William Young and (2) publicly naming William Young as a false teacher, allegedly in violation of the principles in Matthew 7:1 and Matthew 18:15-17.

I would ask you, the reader of this blog, to bear three issues in mind as you read these excerpts:

(1) Are the principles of Matthew 7:1 and Matthew 18:15-17 in play in a situation involving public false teaching?

(2) Is it slanderous/unloving to correct a confessing Christian who is publicly teaching false doctrine?  Does anyone who confesses Christ have to be accepted as Christian under any and all circumstances?  If not, what is the standard by which their teaching may be judged?

(3) Does God use false teaching to save unbelievers?

The excerpted letter is as follows:
"Christianity has gotten some pretty black eyes in the past. Christian men and women who have bickered and fought publicly over theology, Christians being put into jail for preaching or writing down beliefs contrary to the popular beliefs of the day. And it seems that you have continued the tradition of Christians attacking Christians........ You have not only attacked a good friend of our family, Paul Young, but in the article you posted about (local college), you attacked and labeled a whole host of men and women......I can tell you that Paul Young is a soft-spoken, loving follower of Jesus Christ. He wrote a fictional book about the redemptive love of God to a hurting man. He had no intention or idea that the book would go beyond his own gift to his family. It was not written for public consumption, but rather to help his children understand something of the journey he had walked. Hundreds of thousands of people who had turned their back on “Christianity” have found their way back to God because they read his book, “The Shack.” It does have some very startling images and ideas, some which shook me and were not in keeping with my ideas of God. For example I had an especially hard time with God the Father being depicted as a black woman. However, in this fictional account, for the character of the book, who had been sexually abused by his earthly father, God the Father was depicted as a woman so that the character could accept the love God wanted him to accept. There are other depictions of the Godhead that are there for the fictional plot. To take the ideas out of context and to read the book as a theological treatise of God is completely wrong.

There is no indication that the authors of the articles you have posted went to Paul personally before publishing their slanderous accusations of his “deception.” In Matthew 18:15 Christ tells us that if a brother sins, we are to go directly to him and confront him. That is the crux of my message to you. You continue to perpetrate the slander of a fellow follower of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you continue to publicly gossip and spread lies about this man and others. I Cor. 6:9 & 10 puts slanderers in pretty bad company. I would think you would want to know for sure the truth about a person before you spread it to hundreds, even thousands of people on Facebook.

There is no indication that you personally have taken any steps to confront the men you accuse. I know that Paul Young, in particular, spends hours every day answering the questions sent to him. He is readily available on Facebook........I am sure he would answer your questions. But, you have taken the cowardly step of assuming lies about him and posting them without checking to see if they are true. The articles you choose to post have labeled him all kinds of things from Universalist, Pantheist to New Ager without any of them having personally questioned Paul about his ideas.....I noted that most of the articles that attacked Paul Young never used scripture to back up their arguments against his ideas. They have used labels conjured up by “Christian” men to attack theological ideals of other “Christian” men who they think they might be associated with. You don’t wonder yourself why the world has such a bad view of our “Christian” people and see our God as a monster? Why do you want to be a part of this war without first taking the time to first ask the man yourself if he deserves your attacks? Why do you want to shoot one of our own wounded?......If you have followed the steps Christ laid out for us in Matthew and still find Paul to be perpetrating fraudulent ideas about God, then you have more right to speak out against him and his book.

As much as I have enjoyed reconnecting with (you), it is sad to me to see my fellow sisters viciously and publicly spread lies about a friend of our family who is contending for the Faith. If you think his theology is wrong, the biblical response is to confront him, not spread gossip and slander.

With hopes of love and reconciliation...."
Our responses to the highlighted portions: 

 "God the Father was depicted as a woman so that the character could accept the love God wanted him to accept." 

The problem with this is that we don't get to choose how we may depict God simply because we don't like the way He has presented himself to us. Believers in the God of the Bible are nowhere told in Scripture that they are free to construct for themselves a "god" of their own choosing. Actually, quite the opposite. There are many recorded instances of the Israelites' attempting to blend their worship of God with the unbiblical worship practices of the pagan cultures that surrounded and influenced them. Never once did God say, Oh hey, that's okay, whatever you need to do to "get" me, just go right ahead and do it.  On the contrary: God was and is a very harsh Judge of the sin of idolatry, the sin of "crafting" an image of "God" that is to our liking.  This is a sin that is so great, in fact, that it ranks #2 on God's Top Ten Greatest Sins of All Time (aka The Ten Commandments): "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them." (Exodus 20:4-5a)  The following are just are few instances of idolatrous worship condemned by God:

The Golden Calf Idolatry of the Israelites, which can be read about in Exodus 32 (Exodus 32)

The Idolatry of Jereboam, which can be read about in I Kings (1 Kings 12:25-14:16)

 "The articles you choose to post have labeled (William Young) all kinds of things from Universalist, Pantheist to New Ager without any of them having personally questioned (Young) about his ideas." 

Frankly, this one is tiny bit insulting to me, though I know that it is not meant that way.  But this is why it insults me: it presumes that we HAVE to accept at face value what people tell us no matter what our common sense and critical thinking faculties tell us. (Reminds me of the old Groucho Marx adage, "Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?") For example: while I know that Paul Young has stated for the record several times that he is not a Universalist, I would submit that Paul Young is clearly a Universalist, based on this exchange in "The Shack" between Mack and "Jesus," beginning on page 182:

"Jesus" says to Mack:
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “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 my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”
Based on this exchange between Mack and "Jesus," my question is this: Will Jesus travel down the Buddhist road to save a Buddhist through Buddhism? Will He travel down the Islam road to save a Muslim through Islam? Well, as God, Jesus CAN do anything He likes, but what we KNOW from Scripture is that narrow is the way, few are those who find it, and people are only saved through faith in Christ.

What William Young is teaching is Universalism, straight up. So with all due respect, Mr. Young, please don't insult my intelligence by insisting that a plain reading of this passage "means" something other than it plainly says. I'm believing my "lyin' eyes" on this one.

 "Why do you want to be a part of this war without first taking the time to first ask the man yourself if he deserves your attacks? If you have followed the steps Christ laid out for us in Matthew and still find Paul to be perpetrating fraudulent ideas about God, then you have more right to speak out against him and his book." 

Between the two of us who write Sola Sisters, we have a private joke that this is what we call "being written a Matthew 7:1 citation." As in, "You are in violation of Matthew 7:1! You are judging! I'm writing you up!"

But this is a faulty understanding of Matthew 7:1, where Jesus talks about not judging. In context, this exhortation against wrong judgment means for us not to judge with a critical spirit on matters in which we ourselves are caught in sin. In many other places in the New Testament, and also further in Matthew 7 (verses 15-29) believers are exhorted to judge with right judgment; meaning, holding all teaching up against the truth of Scripture.

The writer also references Matthew 18:15, but this Scripture is also taken out of context.  Today's (incorrect) interpretation of this Scripture basically says that if we are in disagreement with a fellow Christian, we must first seek "permission" from the person before we go public with our concerns.  But this is not at all what this verse means. This verse teaches us the principle of going privately to a brother or sister concerning a sin matter, not how to handle the issue of public teaching of false doctrine.  So if Matthew 18:15 doesn't address this, where can we find the model for how to handle public false teaching?  Answer: Paul lays this out for us in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, where Paul publicly names Hymenaeus and Alexander by name and rebukes their false teaching.

Teachings such as William Young's that are published far and wide do not require the Matthew 18 model to be implemented: everyone can plainly see what is being taught for themselves. Using the measure of Scripture, these teachings must be judged to be biblical or unbiblical.  The issue of false teaching is one that should be boldly and publicly addressed, as in another New Testament incident, in which Paul publicly corrects the Apostle Peter over a doctrinal issue:
"When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" " (Gal 2:11-14, my emphasis)
If, however, the false teachers continue to bring false teaching and disregard the faith once for all delivered to the saints, they should be marked out at false teachers (Rom 16:17), and the flock must be guarded from them. This is how serious Paul considered false teaching to be.

However, the more troubling problem we're up against today is our watered-down churches, which tend to be focused on meeting "felt needs" and giving practical, topical self-help sermonettes, rather than teaching the doctrines of the faith.  Consequently, very few people actually know what the doctrines of the Christian faith are: how then would they know when a false teacher deviates from them?  Christians today seem to have kind of picked up popular - but wrong - cultural thinking with respect to right (biblical) judging versus wrong (sinful) judging.  Besides this article, which we hope brings some clarity, Pastor Bob DeWaay has written a very good, scholarly article on the topic of judging with right, biblical judgment; it can be read here.  DeWaay has also done 2 radio programs on this topic:  "The Believer's Call To Judge, part 1" and "The Believer's Call To Judge, part 2."

photo credit: las - initially via photo pin cc

 Additional Resources 

William P. Young: "The God of Evangelical Christianity is A Monster"

Michael Youssef's Warning About The Shack

The Author of The Shack Is A Universalist