Disappointment. That is what I felt when I read recent quotes of well-known author, William P. Young, in his latest work, Lies We Believe About God. Most people know Young from his best-selling book, The Shack (2007). I loved reading it! From one heart-moving page to the next, I cried my way through its covers a number of times. I recommended it to dozens of friends. The intensive dialogues in the storyline between his characters resembled many conversations I’ve had with God. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing style. After I read The Shack, I found and read his subsequent works, Crossroads (2012), and Eve (2015).
When The Shack hit theaters I wanted to be among the first to see it. I even took my high school Bible class to conclude our reading of the book. The film was an emotional ride of pain and hope. After viewing it for a second time, I texted a close friend about it. And then my little joy bubble burst with disappointment. Upon my friend’s suggestion, I did a little research on Young’s theology and stumbled onto his newest publication. Needless to say, it was painfully disappointing.
Many critics sounded the alarm of heresy years ago about The Shack, but in reading their comments, I found that their objections mostly surrounded the peripheral concepts of the story. For example, critics opposed the depiction of God coming to Mack as a woman. I easily looked over it. In reading comments from his newest book, however, I can hardly disregard the false ideas it presents. Young blatantly proposes false beliefs of Universalism that are in direct contradiction to the gospel message. It grieves me even more to know that many will take the fame of his writings as a validation for his incorrect theology. I thought about writing a responsive blog entitled, “Truths We Ignore about God.”
The age-old heresy of Universalism has crept out of Young’s fictional world into the reality of his ideology. This book clearly undermines what God has said concerning the human condition, salvation, and eternal life. The Universalist lie has plagued the church of Jesus since the apostle John took up his pen to write against the Gnostics in the letter of 1 John. (90 A.D.). Universalist ideas naively undermine the daily sacrifices that millions make to bring the gospel of Jesus to the world. It waters down the message of Jesus to an ecumenical religion of self-worship.
What is the message of universalism? Essentially it proposes that Jesus died for everyone’s sin. It assumes that no one needs to fear the judgment of God in this life or in the life to come. In fact, as Young defines it, we have no choice in the matter of our own salvation. With the twisting of various scriptures and an emotionally driven doctrine, Universalism places human compassion above the truth of God’s nature. Scriptures become secondary to the reasoning of an all inclusive doctrine. Simply put, you can joyfully pursue a god created by your own sympathies. With enough sincerity and time, you will reach the epiphany of an all-sin accepting God, hence the reason for Christ’s sacrifice.
Although I love the affectionate colors in which The Shack paints the image of God, it falls short in presenting the truth about God’s nature. Yes, the Scriptures do present Him as a loving Father, but He is also Truth. As Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no one can approach the Father (or Papa) except through Me” (1 John 4:8, John 14:6). In the movie, two universalistic ideas are subtly woven into the plot. The first is that everyone will eventually find Papa or Father God. The second is that we are all Papa’s children. I would like specifically to address these two thoughts.
Why can’t everybody be saved in the end?
When you ask this question, you must first consider, “what we are being saved from?” Is it simply hell that we are erasing? Salvation is not merely saving people from an eternity in hell; it is about transforming an individual from the human nature into the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4). If everyone will eventually be ushered into heaven without the transforming work of Jesus in their nature, then essentially Heaven will become hell. C. S. Lewis points this out in his book, Mere Christianity, as he discusses the problem with this idea. He writes, “Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse— so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.”
Some may argue that once an unbeliever discovers the fullness of God in the eternal realm of Heaven, they will be changed. As simplistic as this sounds, historically and theologically it is not true. Remember Lucifer, the archangel? He gazed into the nature of God for an undefined span of time and was not exempt from sin. He had a free will, and he used it against the Greatest Power in the entire created and spiritual world. He defied God in his thoughts, and his nature fell into the wicked one that he is now.
Our love for God is only verified by the faith we have in Him when He is unseen. The motives of the human heart are easily veiled in the intensity of God’s presence. However, when we are in the shadows of daily living, and when God may seem distant from us, it is then that our proof of devotion becomes apparent. Seeing God in all of His majesty will not magically make us like Him. We are instructed to change our nature now, by the power of Holy Spirit, if we hold to the hope that we will see Him. (1 John 3:3)
Won’t we all be saved one day because God is incredibly good?
In response to this over-simplification of God’s goodness, we must consider if we can truly be changed into the nature of Jesus without our own consent. Young writes that we will be changed regardless of our desire. In his new book, he states,
“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.”
In the Scriptures, we find the story of the rich young ruler, who hinged his hope for salvation on his ability to be good and on the goodness of God that Jesus demonstrated. In response, Jesus gave him a choice of total abandonment to Himself, or the maintaining of his own wealth. Following their brief discourse, Jesus makes the well known statement, “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Clearly in this passage in Matthew 19:16-26, Jesus shows us that there is a choice to inherit eternal life. That choice does not rest on His ability to be good, but on our ability to believe the truth and follow Him. Some will make the right choice, and others will not.
If universalism is true how do we contend with passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, Matthew 16:24-28, Acts 10:42-43, Romans 2:12-16, Matthew 25:31-46? These passages and dozens more speak of the fundamental truths about the gospel. What are they? First, the good news is that men and women don’t have to continue in the addiction to sin and its power. Secondly, they have a choice to change their nature from human nature to the divine nature by believing in the work Jesus did for them. Thirdly, there is a judgment that will impact the eternity of every person based on his or her response to what God has said. The righteous will live with their Father in heaven. The ungodly will inherit eternal darkness with their father, the devil.
Aren’t we all sons of God?
No. We were created to be sons of God, but we can only inherit this promise by believing the truth about the identity we can enter through Jesus. Paul clearly defines this doctrine in his letter to the Galatians. He states that a true Jew is not one who is a descendant of Abraham’s bloodline, rather it is one shares the common faith of Abraham. (Galatians 3:6-9) Jesus vigorously charged the Pharisees because of their blindness to this truth. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day claimed they were the sons of Abraham by birth, implying their inherited freedom. Jesus responded to them saying, “you are of your father, the devil.” Not everyone is a child of God. Children of God must be born into His family by the work of salvation. Salvation is a joint effort of God’s grace and our faith. (Ephesians 2:8)
Universalism may offer a seemingly popular and less offensive belief system to some, but the essence of this doctrine is easily discounted by the very words of Jesus. There remains only one way to the Father, and He is the only way. Each person will either live or perish by the consequence of what they do with Him.
In summary, I still love the stories of William P. Young. I feel he presents many images that portray the goodness of God. He passionately engages his readers to identify with the reality of suffering. However, can we truly revel in the goodness of God when we detract from what God has literally said about Himself? Can we fully experience the love of God when we erase the truth of human will? No. The reality of Young’s theology isn’t coherent with God’s world of truth and consequences. For this reason I must leave his writings, along with his theology, in genre of intriguing fiction.