Tag Archives: Hell

The Shack Revisited

Since the release of my article, The Shack:  A Story of Freedom or Force?, I’ve received an almost constant stream of hate mail regarding the concerns that I expressed, not about the film itself nor even the book, but rather the beliefs of the author, which he himself expressed clearly in his new theologically driven book, Lies We Believe About God.  In this Young states, among other things, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”

My article in response to such bold and blatant theological error, which has received significant traffic and support over the past few days, was criticized as being unfair to Mr. Young, judgmental, and offering unsubstantiated accusations.  Because I am simply unable to respond to each individual diatribe that I have received over the past few days, I felt it best to assemble my response and to clarify my position, in a single follow up post – which I felt is only appropriate to call, The Shack Revisited.

To begin with, let it be known that I have never met Mr. Young, though I am certain that we have nothing short of a long-list of mutual friends and acquaintances, including pastors, journalists, filmmakers, etc.  From all of these mutual relationships combined, not once have I ever heard anything but wonderful things about Young’s disposition, character, and personal integrity.  As a fellow author and filmmaker, I also have the utmost respect for his creativity and talent, which are beyond evident in The Shack.  In fact, I have nothing against the man. I simply don’t agree with his theology, especially that which is expressed in his new book.

Contrary to this generation’s thin-skinned opinion, disagreement doesn’t equal insult.  I’m absolutely certain that Mr. Young and I agree about many things regarding the nature of God and the gospel of grace, but I would ask, “Are a few commonalities reason enough to ignore the false doctrines that he also holds, such as Inclusionism and Christian Universalism?”  The Apostle Paul didn’t think so.  He and Peter had much in common, but this didn’t stop him in Galatians 2:11 from calling Peter out for his doctrinal drift and theological error.  In doing so, I’m not questioning Mr. Young’s salvation, nor the beauty of his book, rather his love affair with progressivist theology, which is as equally harmful, if not more so, than Peter’s unwillingness to let go of his legalistic tendencies and constant people pleasing.

I’ve been amazed this past week at countless Christians who have been presented with excerpt after excerpt of Mr. Young’s own words describing his adherence to spurious doctrines such as Inclusionism, “Open Hell” (if he believes Hell exists at all), and Universalism, only to look the other way or justify his beliefs as being taken out of context.  Ironically, these same individuals, I have found, are among the first in line to call out legalistic tendencies in mainstream authors as an aspersion against the gospel itself.  Yet, when the pendulum swings the other direction, into liberalism, progressivism, and at times, antinomianism, all remain silent.  The consensus seems to be that there is no evidence for Mr. Young’s doctrinal drift and that The Shack is only a work of fiction, but this just isn’t the case.

In fact, Mr. Young’s own co-writer of the Shack, Wayne Jacobsen, said in an article he penned himself for Lifestream.org that when he first received the manuscript from Mr. Young that “universalism was a significant component in the resolution of that story.”  Mr. Jacobsen, in reference to his objection to Mr. Young’s position on Universalism, states, “Paul hoped to convince me I was wrong and sent me his paper on universalism.  We spent some time discussing it, but in the end I felt it took too much linguistic gymnastics to bend Scripture to that conclusion.”  As the article continues, Mr. Jacobsen explains that Mr. Young agreed to allow him to remove the theme of Universalism from the Shack in order to make the story more palpable to the audience that needed it the most.  Although Mr. Jacobsen was successful in removing the overarching concept of Universalism from the story-line, he says nothing of removing this line of thinking from his co-author, Mr. Young.  In fact, if anything, Jacobsen only further reinforces my concerns, that Young is not simply an Inclusionist, but a Universalist as well.

With that being said, I don’t believe the issue for the church is as much Mr. Young’s personal theology, as it is the obvious idolization of a fictional story by believers.  Hearing people speak about The Shack, one would think that Mr. Young has presented a clearer gospel than Jesus himself.  This is problematic for multiple reasons, but most importantly, it demonstrates the love lost in the heart of the church toward Christ and his word.  Like a desperate housewife bored with her first love, the church has revealed that it is on the prowl for a new gospel that is more exciting than the first.  This I intend to address further next week in a new post entitled, “Legalism or Progressivism:  Which is More Deadly to Faith?”

Until then, those who know me, should recognize that if the issues I’m describing where merely related to a movie, I would never take the time to present such a case, but in no way is this about a single author or a current film, but an evolving distrust for the church, the Bible, and ultimately for God.

“Who is wise?  He will realize these things.  Who is discerning?  He will understand them.  The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

– Hosea 14:9

 

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The Shack: A Story of Freedom or Force?

 

As a Christian it may be less controversial at the moment to offer an opinion about current politics, than it is to express one’s thoughts of the film, The Shack, based upon WM. Paul Young’s book of the same title.  Honestly, I, myself, have tried very hard to avoid sharing my two cents about the book or film, but after reviewing the author’s newest book, Lies We Believe About God, I figured it was time I added my voice to the theological stratosphere.

But before I do, allow me to add a few disclaimers.

I think that it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that believers often behave like the disciples in Mark 9:38. You remember the story. It’s where John informs Jesus that they saw someone else “driving out demons in your name” so they told him to stop.  Jesus rebukes them and uses the moment to reveal that the kingdom is bigger than their egos.  I think this is a lesson that the church needs to collectively relearn today.  It’s no secret that as believers, we have a tendency to shoot our own.  Every theological difference it seems provides opportunity for tearing one another down or spiritually posturing ourselves in hopes that all will see that we are really God’s favorite.

I should perhaps also mention that I know that millions of people have been impacted by The Shack, whether through the book or box office, and in sharing my perspective about the message of the film, I’m in no way desiring to negate the experience they’ve had.  I believe God speaks through a plethora of mediums, film included, and I’ve been a champion for finding God in some of the most unique places.  (I still hold that Avatar transformed how I think about eternity, and I’m also of the viewpoint that AMC’s post-apocalyptic sensation, The Walking Dead, has better theology about God than most Christian churches.)  I point these examples out to express that I’m not a religious prude and that God is able to give revelation even beyond that which may be intended by the writer or director – and The Shack is no different.

But although inspiration can be found in the most unique places, we should still remember that inspiration doesn’t always equal truth.  As Christians, all revelation must always pass through the lens of scripture to ensure that we don’t drift into theological half-truths that can damage our faith.  Film, books, and television can inspire, but only the Bible can offer doctrine.

With the renewed interest in the book, my concern is not that people will ascertain their beliefs about God from the film, but rather that the film will introduce people to additional teachings and materials from the writer.

The challenge for me in Young’s writings, as both a storyteller and theologian, is that they only partially uphold Biblical ideas about God’s nature, such as his goodness, grace, and mercy.  For this reason, it’s easy for the new believer to miss the subtleties of Young’s extra-biblical message, and, perhaps even for the more veteran believer, to mistakenly label Young as a modern Christian reformist who is merely kicking over sacred cows of Christian tradition.

But true reformation is always rooted in absolute truth – specifically that of scripture.  Young’s deconstructionist tendencies, mostly absent of scriptural support, prove that his intention is not only to kick over sacred cows, but also to vacate the farm all together.

Although it’s been speculated in the past that Young held to a form of Christian universalist theology (that all are saved or will be saved apart from faith), Young seems to have clarified his stance in his new book, Lies We Believe About God, which also contains a foreword from known universalist Baxter Kruger.  In the book, Young states, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”  As you can see, Young leaves little question as to where he stands on the topic of universal salvation and even goes on to describe Hell by saying, “I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love.”

The Shack’s blurred gospel message, along with his association with Kruger, are perhaps enough to theologically villainize Young, but this isn’t the point – nor should it be.  Despite his post-Christian leanings, Young isn’t the villain.  The bigger issue is that Young’s stance reveals and represents the binary choice that religion all-too-often presents to its adherents – either God is angry and fault-finding or he’s all-inclusive and universally accepting. The first option is easy to debunk as it is rooted in judgment and legalism, but the second choice, universalism, is challenging to refute without one sounding unloving in doing so.

As I’ve pointed out before, although the universalist ideology appears to offer a loving solution to legalistic Christianity, in reality, its message is one of force.  Much like Rob Bell’s distorted gospel message in Love Wins, Young’s God rejects the biblical concept of freewill and “loves” you so much he’ll force you into the kingdom.  Personally, I believe God is better than this.

This in no way means that one cannot enjoy The Shack as a film, but it should not be used to shape our understanding of God any more than Dante’s Inferno should shape our view of Hell.  With that being said, I do agree with Young that the common religious understanding of God is quite flawed, but instead of departing from the truth of the Word and the foundations of Christian faith, as I believe he does at least in part, I have proposed a reformation of thinking that is based upon scripture and a renewed understanding of God shaped by gazing into the person of Christ.

It is for exactly this reason I wrote the book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.  Upon releasing Good God, there were those who in fact immediately labeled me a heretic, but the difference between my stance and that of Young’s, is that my presentation of God was not just based upon whimsical thinking or fantasy, rather on specific verses of scripture and teachings of Jesus.  While Good God indeed kicked over many sacred cows of traditional theology, it remained loyal to the inerrancy of the Word, the love of the Church, and Jesus’ teaching on the final judgement.

Although I hope Young recognizes how far he’s slid in his post-Christian thinking, I’m more concerned now with the masses who have been influenced (or will be) by his teaching and universalist agenda.  My hope is that people recognize that viewing the Father from each of these extreme spectrums has the tendency to expose one to error.  The only way one can truly construct a proper theology of heaven, hell, love, and judgment is by beginning with the solid and trustworthy revelation of Jesus Christ.

For those looking for an alternative to the narrowed-minded view of God offered by legalism and tradition, but who still value the foundation of scripture, the message of Christ, and the truth of the gospel, I would invite you to consider the almost too-good-to-be-true God that I present in my book, Good God.

 

 

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On Claiming Early Church Fathers (Part 1)

Recently, I’ve witnessed a string of universalist pastors and teachers making claims that many well known early church fathers were in fact universalists themselves.  As a long time student of the philosophical writings of early Christian thought, I have been quite perplexed to witness these claims and see so many of them go unquestioned.  Specifically, the two that I hear most often are Origen and Irenaeous.

Origen, perhaps the most common church Father to be claimed by universalist teachers, is often highlighted for such extreme universalist notions that even Satan himself is redeemed; but rarely does anyone quote where he said this.  In actuality what Origen actually said is this, “So, too, the reprobate will always be fixed in evil, less from the inability to free themselves from it, than because they wish to be evil.” (First Principles 1.8.4)  It seems from Origen’s viewpoint, that all creation, including the devil could be saved, because of free will, but that it would in fact be their will to remain reprobate because of the desire to live in wickedness.  Furthermore, Marc Cortez, a theology professor at Wheaton College, adds to our understanding of Origen’s theology, claiming, “Origen’s point was that Satan did not want salvation because his free will choice.  He (Origen) writes in a letter defending himself against the above accusation, that anyone who would claim that Satan would be saved was a “madman.””

On more vocal universalist thinker recently claimed that Irenaeous was also a known universalist.  This was perhaps the most surprising to me.  In his writing, Against Heresies 1:10:1, Irenaeous himself writes, “[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire.” 

By no means do I expect that one blog post should be viewed as an appropriate discourse on the mountains of writings by early church fathers, but I do hope that it may cause some to do their homework more and not just believe everything they read.  Can one find quotes and bizarre doctrines being presented by Origen or St. Gregory of Nyssa – of course they can!  But one philosophical proposition does not make someone a universalist.  I love what Paul Helm offered on the subject, “The trouble with these claims that we have been examining, vague and insubstantial as they appear, is that once they get into print that fact alone provides credibility to the view, at least to some minds. But printer’s ink is no substitute for evidence. Another reminder of the importance of primary sources, and the danger that what may count as ‘scholarship’ may in fact be nothing other than the retailing of opinions that no-one ever takes the trouble to check.”

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The Goodness of God

A couple people have asked me to post this teaching recently. Here is a message I taught to the students at Bethel College last year during one of their chapel services. Here are all 3 parts.



For more teachings from Lucas Miles, please visit www.oasnet.org, and click on “podcasts”.

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The Bell Keeps Ringing

The Love Wins debate continues to make headlines in mainstream media. Here is a new article from ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/evangelists-trevor-wax-rob-bell-argue-hell/story?id=13417436

For more on my thoughts, click here http://lucasmiles.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/542/  .

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