Did You Really Think The Shack Was “Just” Fiction?

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“Calm down, The Shack is just fiction!”

If you used this line in defense of The Shack (book or movie), I’d love to get your thoughts on Paul Young’s latest book. The book is titled Lies We Believe about God, and for the record it’s non-fiction. This recently released Amazon best seller reveals Young’s thoughts about God … and surprise, surprise … the picture of God painted by Young in The Shack is not “just” a made up story. Instead, Young’s portrayal of God was purposefully written to reflect Young’s theological convictions about God.

Before I mention my concerns with Young’s latest book, let me offer the following five clarifications:

  1. Young seems like an affable guy. I have no doubt that I’d enjoy visiting with him and getting to know him better.
  2. Young’s theology has been shaped by experience. In criticizing his theology I do not want to minimize his suffering.
  3. Young’s motives seem pure enough. I don’t think he set out to misrepresent God. I think he wants to help people.
  4. While I’m not crazy about Young portraying “Papa” as a black female, this is really the least of my concerns.
  5. There were parts of Lies We Believe about God that I actually enjoyed, like the parts about magic and politics.

Clarifications aside, here are 14 unbiblical ideas you’ll find in Lies We Believe about God:

  1. Instead of crediting God’s sovereign grace as the reason God loves us, Young argues that God loves us (he is “fond” of us) because we are lovable (27).
  2. Instead of acknowledging the biblical doctrine of depravity, Young argues that while we all have issues we are certainly not depraved (35).
  3. Instead of recognizing the sovereignty of God, Young argues that control is not part of God’s vocabulary. Instead God submits to people (42-43).
  4. Instead of insisting on the exclusivity of Christ, Young openly argues that all will be saved after hinting at universalism in several chapters (118).
  5. Instead of presenting God as supremely concerned with his glory, Young suggests that God is supremely concerned with “us and our passions” (129).
  6. Instead of balancing the love of God with the biblical teaching that God is the holy Judge, Young argues that sin does not separate us from God (137).
  7. Instead of calling Christians to trust in God because he is both good and sovereign, Young argues that we trust God simply because he is good (139-146).
  8. Instead of celebrating the the cross as God’s plan from eternity past, Young argues that such a plan would make God a “cosmic abuser” (149).
  9. Instead of rejoicing that God the Son gladly endured the cross, Young argues that a traditional view of the atonement amounts to “child sacrifice” (169).
  10. Instead of urging people to look to scripture to learn about God, Young argues that we should look at ourselves if we want to understand who God really is (178).
  11. Instead of holding the truth that judgment comes after death, Young argues that death creates a crisis that leads all to repenting after death (187).
  12. Instead of showing an unbeliever named Matt his need for Christ, Young argues that Matt was a good man who was already a child of God (205-208).
  13. Instead of talking about God’s righteous anger toward sin, Young argues that God is never “disillusioned” or “disappointed” in us (214).
  14. Instead of defining sin with the standard of God’s revealed Law, Young argues that sin is failing to live up to the “Truth of your being” (229).

These unbiblical ideas are rooted in two foundational problems:

  1. Young bases his theology on experience more than scripture. He says as much in the introduction, explaining, “What you are about to read will tell you much about me as a person.” These words prove true as Young redefines God to fit his experiences and perspectives. He repeatedly explains how his family life and personal experiences of suffering have shaped his view of God, rather than explaining how biblical truth has shaped his perspective on life and suffering. Not surprisingly, in Lies We Believe about God, Young makes more references to his novels than scripture.
  2. Young sacrifices the transcendence of God for the immanence of God. He regularly talks about God as a loving parent, and he repeatedly reaches conclusions about God by reasoning from human experience (as if anything true about humans must also be true of God). Granted, it is hard to balance transcendence and immanence. However, Young seems to have taken on a pass on the idea that God is holy and set apart.

In conclusion, Young really isn’t offering the church anything new. Open theologians like Greg Boyd have walked away from the biblical truth about God in an attempt to  answer the problem of evil. Postmodern theologians like Brian McLaren have redefined God in an attempt to make God relevant in the 21st century.  Popular personalities like Donald Miller and Rob Bell have stripped God of his transcendence in an attempt to make the idea of God more palatable to postmodern tastes. Alas, there is nothing new under the sun.

Yes, it’s disappointing to see another talented person settle for a less-than-biblical view of God. What’s more disappointing is the fact that so many Christians don’t see anything wrong with Young’s portrayal of God in The Shack. Even worse, many who see the problems defend them in the name of “fiction.”

Originally published March 13, 2017 on landoncoleman.com.