I originally wrote the following thoughts back in late March 2017, when the movie and book discussed below had just been released. I didn't post it to the blog at that time because emotions about the movie were high (one person on Facebook blocked me when he disagreed with my conclusions in a discussion group for ministers). But now I think the time is right.
There has been lots of discussion and debate the past couple of weeks concerning the movie The Shack. Some people say the movie (and the novel it is adapted from) changed their relationship with God. When people who carefully scrutinize the story point out theological errors in it, fans will say things like, “It’s based on a novel, it’s not meant to be taken literally,” or “Mack’s encounter in the shack is just a dream, stop making such a big deal out of it.”
But the book and the movie are definitely pushing a theological agenda, trying to influence the way we see God and the Bible. When the book first came out almost ten years ago, several people pointed out undercurrents of themes such as universalism (the teaching that everyone is saved by Christ’s atoning death on the cross, whether they willfully repent and accept Jesus as Savior or not). At that time, Young denied that he was a universalist. But now the picture is much clearer.
The following is an excerpt from the book Lies We Believe About God by William Paul Young, author of the best-seller The Shack, which has recently been made into a motion picture that just released in theaters a week-and-a-half ago. (I don’t have the page numbers in the book, but I transcribed this from a segment of the audiobook version, which Young himself reads. The audio excerpt was not just a sound bite of a sentence or two taken out of context, but the entire passage below, with no interruptions.)
So, what is the good news? What is the gospel? 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.
What, or who, saves me? Either God did it in Jesus, or, I save myself. If in any way I participate in the completed act of salvation accomplished in Jesus, then my part is what actually saves me. Saving faith is not our faith, but the faith of Jesus. God does not wait for my choice, and then save me. God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now, our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality, or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.
“Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?” That is exactly what I am saying. This is really good news. It has been blowing people’s minds for centuries now. So much so, that we often overcomplicate it and get it wrong. Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God dragged all human beings to himself (John 12:32). Jesus is the Savior of all humankind, especially believers (1 Tim. 4:10). Further, every single human being is in Christ (John 1:3), and Christ is in them, and Christ is in the Father (John 14:20).
When Christ, the Creator in whom the cosmos was created, died, we all died. When Christ rose, we rose (2 Cor. 5).
Young’s position here is very unbiblical. Young writes, “Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. ... And whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.” But the Bible is clear that one must repent of one’s sins and believe (place their faith and trust) in Jesus in order to be saved. Jesus began His earthly ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17), echoing John the Baptist’s preaching (Matt. 3:2). Young says believing or not believing doesn’t change things. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” So whether you believe in Christ or not does make a difference in your eternal destiny, in whether Christ’s atoning work on the cross is applied to your life personally.
Young continues: “If in any way I participate in the completed act of salvation accomplished in Jesus, then my part is what actually saves me.” This sounds very pious, and is an argument often used by those who adhere to the teachings of French Reformer John Calvin to point out that we don’t contribute anything to our salvation, so that God gets all the glory. The problem is, the Bible is clear that God gives people the choice of whether to follow Him or not. The Bible is clear that Christ died for all. It is also clear that not all are saved (see Paul’s anguish in Romans 9 over his fellow Jews who refuse to believe; also the Jews in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:45–46, who Paul and Barnabas say have not considered themselves worthy of eternal life). So there must be an acceptance on our part to receive what Christ has done for us. And this acceptance is really nothing more than to cease fighting against God and give in to His love and grace. It’s not anything we could take credit for, as if we had taken the first step toward God.
“God does not wait for my choice, and then save me.” It is true that God did not wait for us to come asking for salvation to take the necessary steps to provide salvation for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But we are still required to repent of our sins (Acts 2:38), put our faith in Jesus (Acts 16:31), and confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9–10).
“Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.” While it is true that Christ paid the price for the sins of every man, woman, boy, and girl throughout history by His death on the cross, each person is still responsible to respond to the offer of salvation in order to receive it.
In Exodus 11:1–12:30, when God was sending the final plaque—the death of the firstborn—on Egypt to get Pharaoh to let Israel go, each family was to kill a lamb and place the blood on the doorposts of the house. They were then to remain inside the house to avoid death. The blood of the lamb was sufficient to save everyone in the family. But any firstborn son, even among God’s chosen people Israel, who was not inside a house marked with blood, was subject to death. Similarly, Christ’s atoning sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world, but each person must enter into the place of protection marked by the blood of the Lamb of God—that is, a saving relationship with Jesus Christ—to receive eternal life.