Reformed Baptist Fellowship

The Faulty Foundations of The Shack – Part 3

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 9, 2008 at 10:19 am

We must respond to The Shack by William Young with discerning caution. The bedrock flaw of The Shack is Young’s deeply rooted aversion to legitimate authority. The Shack is then built on several faulty theological foundations. We’ve considered two of them: Young’s misunderstanding of both the Fall and God.

Third, Young obscures the essentials of justification. Biblical vocabulary like “sin,” “repentance,” and “justification” are conspicuously absent in The Shack. Young continually advocates a “relationship” with God, but this “relationship” is not concerned with the legal issues that stem from God’s righteous and just character. As previously noted, Young fails to recognize God’s righteous justice due to his inadequate understanding of the Fall. Young tells us in his TV interviews that “God is good and He is involved,” but in The Shack he fails to defend God from the Satanic slander that He is not righteous or just and that He cares little about punishing sin. Young does not deal adequately with God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the punishment of death for violation of God’s Law. Consequently, when Young presents the work of Christ on the cross, these legal concerns are absent and God’s mercy is severed from His justice. “Sarayu” (the Holy Spirit) explains that Jesus “chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone?” (164,165) Young appears to pit mercy against justice rather than to present mercy as the satisfaction of justice so that God might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Unconverted and untaught readers will be liable to think that God’s mercy has nothing to do with His justice. It is a deficient Christian allegory that recounts a sinner’s discussions with each of the Persons of the Godhead on topics like hell, the law, wrath, forgiveness, and the work of Jesus, and fails to articulate clearly the doctrines of sin, repentance, and faith in Christ as our substitutionary sin-bearer. It is an unacceptable Christian allegory that promotes a gospel that fails to explain clearly that Christ’s death paid the penalty of our sin and that His resurrection is the basis of our justification. This too is a faulty foundation.

Fourth, Young’s view of the Christian life is infected with antinomianism (against law). Several walls of “the shack” are built on this faulty foundation. For Young, all authority is suspect. Without the foundation of God’s righteousness and justice, authority becomes a pretense concocted by man to control and dominate others with rules. For Young, authority is, by definition, a function of an abuse of power which prohibits the summum bonum: “relationship.” Here is the essence of Young’s definition of what is evil and wrong in the world. He refers a couple of times to Nietzsche’s “will to power” as descriptive of all authority that men exercise. The “Beasts” therefore are religion, politics, and economics – systems of authority that dominate people and force them to comply with rules. Young does not give credence to legitimate, God-constituted authority. “Papa” explains: “Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you.” “Authority, as you think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.” (122,123) Young would have us think that in order to obtain power to manipulate others, men make rules whereas God only wants “relationship.” Young’s anti-authority antinomianism is a faulty foundation upon which a defective superstructure is then built in at least three ways.

First, Young’s anti-authority antinomianism conditions his view of the Godhead. “Papa” describes the inter-Trinitarian relationships on p.122: “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship… What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.” “Jesus” speaks to Mack about the inter-Trinitarian relationships on p.145,146: “We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and always will be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.” “Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?” asks Mack. “Jesus” answers: “Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship.” But anyone who has read only the Gospel of John knows that Jesus accomplished our redemption by His perfect obedience to the will of the Father. Paul wants us to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ (1 Cor 11:3). Young, however, views headship, a hierarchical position of authority, as intrinsically bad. Therefore such a bad thing cannot characterize the relationships among the Persons of the Trinity. Here Young confuses the ontological equality of shared deity by the Persons of the Godhead with their hierarchical relationships and functions in the economy of salvation. As equally divine, God the Father loves us and planned our redemption, God the Son accomplished our redemption, and God the Spirit applies the Father’s love and Christ’s accomplished redemption to us. When God saves a sinner, the Persons of the Godhead act hierarchically: the Son submitting to the will of the Father and the Spirit to the joint will of the Father and the resurrected Son. Young confuses God’s Being with God’s acting. This is a serious error on Young’s part.

An example of how Young confuses God’s Being with His action is his interpretation of 2 Cor 5:19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. In His interviews, Young emphasizes this verse and interprets God was in Christ in a dangerous way: that the Father suffered in Christ or with Christ on the cross. This interpretation is depicted in The Shack (95,96) where “Papa” is seen has having the scars of the crucifixion on “her” wrists. “Papa” speaks of the cross and says, “We were there together.” In other words, the Father suffered with Jesus, in Jesus, on the cross. This is an ancient heresy called “Patripassianism” from the Latin meaning “the Father suffers.” It is a form of “modalism” which teaches that the one God has appeared in three different modes. The orthodox view of the Trinity is that the one God exists as three divine Persons. The orthodox teaching is that it was the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, who was incarnated, suffered, died and rose again, not the Father. Young mishandles 2 Cor 5:19. Verse 19 is an explanation of verse 18, Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. The phrase in Christ in verse 19 is synonymous with through Christ in verse 18 (an instrumental dative). Paul is explaining what God has done by means of Christ’s work, not asserting that the Father was ontologically located in Christ so as to suffer as Christ! No, these things are from God whose reconciliation is accomplished by Christ, through Christ, in Christ. By means of Christ’s work, God acts. His actions are described by three participles which are connected to the verb was in verse 19: He was reconciling, not counting, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation – and that all in Christ.

If the Father suffers in or with Jesus, then a distorted picture of God’s wrath emerges. The essence of Jesus’ suffering was His judicial separation from God, His tasting of death, His experience of hell. Separation from His Father under wrath is what the Son suffered so that we would not be cast away from the presence of the Lord into eternal separation from Him under His wrath in hell. Such a distorted view of God’s wrath born for us by Jesus on the cross is the result of Young’s deficient view of the Fall, as mentioned earlier. By not giving due emphasis to God’s righteousness and justice as our Law Giver and Judge, Young empties the curse that Jesus bore on the tree of its judicial essence. Jesus bore God’s wrath, which entailed (how can we conceive of it?) His separation from His Father, a cup which Jesus drank, a suffering which Jesus bore and by that atoning work, is the basis upon which God now reconciles us to Himself.

I want to acknowledge the grace of God in William Young as a fellow believer (Acts 11:23), but he frustrates me by his sometimes dangerous doctrinal confusion. I’m afraid that he is not a safe theological guide. In the fourth and final article, I’ll discuss two more defective superstructures that Young builds on the faulty foundation of his antinomianism as well as some concluding thoughts.

Alan Dunn, Pastor
Grace Covenant Baptist Church
Flemington, NJ

The Faulty Foundations of The Shack – Part 1

The Faulty Foundations of The Shack – Part 2

  1. Wonderful article: I suppose I expected more from a “Christian” (Mr. Young) who has graduated from Seminary and who majored in “Religion.” “Sarayu” is a Sanskrit word. Why then would you choose “Papa” for the Father? “Papa” is also a Sanskrit word meaning “Sin, Wickedness…”(not good). 1Jn 1:9 – …He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. I simply cannot believe that the writer of “The Shack” has never contemplated that verse in his entire life. Now he’s written a book that circulates around the vortex of a God who is said to be at perfect oneness, but has, at the same time, conflicting virtues of Mercy and Justice – one trumped, as it were, by the other… At best, this man’s work is the product of a Christian who’s doctrine is almost completely heretic. The Shack SEEMS to me an exercise in the Hegelian Dialectic. Using the word “Papa” is to me as I see it, the wolf’s ear sticking up out of the sheep costume. I have no patience for such foolishness anymore. The great apostasy is happening in front of our eyes and Mr Young is either cause or effect within that tide.

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