During the last ten years Paul Young has written a total of 6 books (2 more novels with also a 365 day daily devotional connected with each of the 3 novels), and now, just released, the book, Lies We Believe about God. What I anticipated, that this would be a real eye opener—an “in your face” rewrite of biblical truth along the lines of universal reconciliation (UR), is exactly this. This book projects 28 lies that evangelical Christians believe and seeks to overturn every one. In chapter 13, the lie, “You need to get saved,” is addressed, and Young confesses that he believes in “universal reconciliation.” Everyone is already saved. My review of Lies will be forthcoming; look for it on my web site where this review is.
Young’s other two novels (Crossroads, 2012, and Eve, 2015) are filled, like The Shack, with put downs or questioning of the same biblical core doctrines about the nature of God, the judgment of God, the meaning of the death of Christ and penal substitution, the Trinity in other forms, the order and causes of the Fall, what it means to be in fellowship with God, and many more.
Common traits to all 3 novels.
There are several common traits belonging to all 3 novels. All three involve the main character experiencing a dream brought on by a severe accident, medical emergency, or severe crisis (in the order of The Shack, Crossroads, and Eve). All experience an other-world journey of sorts in which the person (man, man, and woman) encounters the Trinity. In the 1st novel, the Father is portrayed or imaged as both a Black woman and an old Indian man; the Son is portrayed by a Jewish carpenter; and the Holy Spirit by a South Asian woman named Sarayu.
In the 2nd novel, the Father is portrayed by a little girl who dances around the main character, the Son is portrayed by Jesus who suddenly appears and disappears, and holds Tony in his arms; and the third by an old Lakota Indian woman appearing as grandmother.
In the 3rd novel, the Father is seen and named as Adonai, Elohim, and perhaps other titles; the Son appears as the Eternal Man (at times it is not clear if this title refers to the first or second Person of the Trinity) and other titles; and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as the wind.
All three novels emphasize the need to have a relationship with God that is “pure” (using the word of The Shack), where neither subordination nor authority is expressed, whether by God or by people. This is a relationship formed by love. Consonant with love is the understanding in UR that God is love in his triune Self; all other attributes of God are limited by love. This is the standard fare of universal reconciliation (UR).
Review of Crossroads by W. Paul Young
Crossroads (2012) was written by Paul Young a few years after The Shack.
I begin my review of Crossroads by giving a synopsis of the story. Then my critique follows—not chapter by chapter but according to topic. I present a list of about ten topics which are at the heart of the theology or doctrine of the novel. After citing Young’s presentation of these topics or issues as captured in various statements, I then give my critique of each in brackets. The words enclosed in [ ] are my evaluations based in an evangelical understanding of what the Bible teaches. This format allows anyone to search for a given topic, read what Young says about it in his story, and then read my evaluation of it.
If the reader of this review has a limited time to give to it, I suggest that chapters 3 (pp. 29-49), 5 (pp. 64-83), and especially chapter 13 (pp. 178-207) are the most informative. The more significant topics listed below are #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11; but the most significant topic that attacks what Christians believe about God is #8, dealing with justice and judgment and the nature of God. Also read the “Concluding Observations” at the end.
Tony, the main character of the novel, is a vain, self-centered business man living in downtown Portland, Or. He has fed his ego to find certainty and safety. He is attracted to Jesus as compassionate and caring, and the one his mother deeply loved. But he has come to view Jesus as a “great dead teacher” and rejects God as malevolent, capricious, untrustworthy, impersonal and uncaring.
Tony has experienced great personal losses. He has lost a son of five years due to disease, has married and divorced the same woman twice, and is estranged from his siblings and from his daughter. He drinks heavily. He is paranoid, thinking that someone is following or observing him. He has several offices and retreat homes in Portland and on the Pacific Coast. He lives in a secret office which is protected by multiple electronic barriers and alarms, and has inner secret rooms. One day he sustains a severe fall with internal head bleeding. He is rushed to Oregon Health Sciences University in a coma. There the doctors also discover that he has a brain tumor.
The story introduces us to another person, a girl of fourteen, who is nearby in another hospital room. She is dying of acute leukemia.
In his coma “between heaven and hell” he sees a small speck of light that becomes brilliantly bright and leads him to follow it. He begins his journey on which he will meet many, including angels and the Trinity (as described above). His journey leads him on a trail into a wild, tangled jungle of weeds which represents his inner being, his soul. He enters a rock cavern which represents a temple where he worships himself.
In the tangled place he encounters various keepers of it, such as Bluster and Swagger. Working for Ego (Tony’s inner self) they tear out as weeds all the flowers such as roses. As Tony begins coming into relationship with God this tangled place—his soul—takes on more and more order and beauty.
The surprising element in this story is that Jesus gives Tony the gift to heal anyone before he dies. As the story and journey of Tony unfolds, the reader is left wondering who this person will be.
As in The Shack, Crossroads includes several conversations that reflect universal reconciliation. These involve the meaning of hell, the Trinity, the nature of God and his wrath, who is a child of God and what relationship with God means, and others.
As typical of all three novels, Crossroads has multiple instances where biblical truth is compromised or refuted, all for the sake of furthering corrupt doctrine which in general flows from Young’s professed (in 2004) universal reconciliation (UR). In my book, Burning Down the Shack, I expose how Paul converted from evangelical belief to UR prior to 2004. His first novel is filled with various beliefs of UR. And they are also found in Crossroads. Here is the evidence in support of my claims.
The clearest expression of universal reconciliation occurs in chapters 3, 4, 5, and 13. Here are the various topics that support UR. See especially number 8 below dealing with judgment and the nature of God, from chapter 13. I put my response in [ ] after citing the story.
1. The nature of hell (43-45). At the door into the tangled place Tony meets Jack who is dead. Jack suggests that Tony is in a place that may be called both hell and home. This leads to a discussion of what Tony believes hell is. Tony believes it is a place of “eternal torment,” “where God punishes people he is angry with because they are sinners,” “where bad people are separated from God.” Then ensues a discussion whether hell is really this, whether just because Tony has this belief, and this belief makes it real for him, is it actually true? The suggestion is that hell is not actually as Tony believes it.
Further (48) hell “is believing and living in the real when it is not the truth” and one could potentially do this forever. [Thus hell is not what Tony has believed it to be. Universalists consistently reject the idea that hell is a destiny of everlasting punishment.]
Then Jack asserts something that is true: “Whatever you believe about death and hell, it is truly not separation.” [This means that God is in hell with those there, implying that hell could not be torment and that none there are separated from God. The usual Christian definition of hell, that it is separation from God, is rejected here, as it is in Lies, chap. 15.]
Later, Jesus tells Tony: “Love will never condemn you for being lost, but love will not let you stay there alone” (92; “there” referring to his hiding place apart from God). [Again this reinforces the universalist idea that love limits God’s other attributes such as justice and holiness. Under UR, there are none under judgment/condemnation because of the love of God.]
[This depreciation of hell is typical speech of universalism. Nothing is ever said about the Bible’s teaching—that everything that Tony has said about hell is in the Bible. See more on the judgment of God below.]
2. The nature of God. In addition to the foregoing, Jack also asserts that God is “good all the time” and cites texts (Rom 8:28ff, without identifying it) to show that Tony can never be separated from God’s love. [But the novel never identifies how Tony can enter into a relationship with God. The implication is that everyone is already in a relationship with God and to believe that one is not “is a lie” (47). And this is what Lies, ch. 13, asserts].
Later there is a strong defense of the Trinity (72ff). Jesus explains that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all agree that God is one, but Jesus appeared to reveal that God is a plurality of persons, a community (something that is even basic to the Jews’ faith). Young says that Jesus declared: “The Father and I are one and we are good.” [The latter half of this verse is not part of the quote of John 10:30, and is nowhere else stated. But it is essential to the most basic belief of UR that God is love.]
Young stipulates that “oneness” characterizes the Trinity (72). [But oneness seems to suggest community when Jesus’ statement in John 10 is dealing with “one nature” or “essence.”] Later, “oneness” is used to describe a human being consisting of body, soul and spirit (113). [But this seems off base, since God is three persons in one, not three aspects or forms in one.]
Young goes on to rehearse the course of church history. While the coming of Christ brought an emphasis on relationship, the latter was lost due to the Greek’s love for isolation and singularity. These Greeks influenced Augustine, and later Aquinas, to give birth to a “nonrelational religious Christianity” (73). While the Reformers corrected this, shortly after their deaths the Greeks were “resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion” (73). [While this is partially true it is overstated; relational Christianity has always existed. Here Young also reveals his bias against theological training. And the main influence from the beginning of Christianity has been the OT and Judaism, not the Greeks.]
Young observes that nothing is “deeper, simpler, and purer” than “other-centered-love” (73). [These words recall Young’s insistence in The Shack that God seeks a pure relationship, where there is no subordination to God, and no authority, but only equality. I show in my book that a pure relationship is doomed to failure and contradicts knowing Jesus as Lord, Savior, Master, Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, and other titles. It contradicts his claim to have all authority (Matt. 28:18-20).]
Further along, Grandmother (the Holy Spirit) declares that although “almost nothing you believe about him [God] is true” he, Papa, cares for Tony with deep affection (79). [Note above under 1) and 2) what Tony believes about God. It is a distortion of evangelical faith].
[Young’s flirtation with the idea of portraying the Trinity as three separate persons comes out in various ways: the Father is a little girl, Jesus is Tony’s guide, and the Holy Spirit is an old Indian woman. At one point Jesus tells Tony that he got his beautiful or remarkable eyes from his “Good Dad” (86-87).]
3. Relationship with God. As he views the place, the habitation which represents where Tony dwells, which is the inner being of Tony, Tony encounters Jesus who holds and consoles him. Jesus tells Tony that his inner being which is now tangled and broken was once a magnificent garden. To change it requires Jesus to be patient and let the land (Tony) decide the speed of its restoration. Jesus chastises Tony for thinking that technique and speed shortcuts will bring “relationship and process” (60). At this point Tony sobs bitterly as he realizes that he is “pitiful waste of a human being” (62). [Here again is UR’s emphasis on relationship rather than confession of sin, repentance, and faith.]
Tony is told that transformation comes by trusting Jesus and will involve suffering. Tony was created by the community of the Trinity to exist in community (65). Since God is a community then Jesus has never done anything by himself (66). Relationship is at the heart of who God is (66). [This again is the central trust of Young in all his novels. While it is not incorrect, Young does not show that it is faith in Christ and belief in the gospel that is the access for relationship.]
Tony has been dying since he was born. He is going through a crisis of faith (on the verge of physical dying) (69).
God never forces a relationship, but he is never absent (80). [Again this is very similar to language from The Shack and fits in with other statements in the foregoing.]
Young asserts that trying to explain the Trinity is difficult: “The understanding is in the experience and relationship” (113). [Yet whose experience and relationship? What standards are used to gauge whether either of these is genuine? Why is there not an appeal here to the only authority written for Christians, the Bible? Without this any experience could claim validity, even Satan could claim such. Note Satan’s experience in the wilderness temptation where he even cites Scripture.]
Near the end, relationship is again highlighted when Young has one of his characters proclaim: “The world has no meaning apart from relationships” (245). [While this is true, the greatest relationship is that which we may have with God; and it is unfortunate that never in the novel does Young present how one enters into this relationship, as the Bible reveals it.]
4. The nature of Jesus. Jesus as fully God created all things, and the “entire cosmos,” Jesus says, “exists inside me” (70). [This is a pantheistic and anti-transcendent, it seems, for the creation does not exist in him but through him, for him, and because of/by means of him—not in him (Col 1:16-17).]
Although Jesus is God he doesn’t know the plan that God the Father has for Tony, but he will wait in faith and trust his Papa and the Holy Spirit to make it clear (70). At one point Jesus identifies the God of the OT as his Father (87). [The mention here of Jesus’ lack of knowledge is troubling, for Jesus does not have to exercise faith and trust, being himself One with God. It suggests that Jesus is less than the same nature as God.]
5. Faith/belief. Tony is told that there are a lot of people “besides Christians who believe in me” (71). Later Tony confesses belief in Jesus probably because of his mother’s faith (89). [Yet when one believes in Christ he becomes a Christian, a follower of Christ. Young’s language here is consistent with UR which disparages the word “Christian” and raises the question of what it means to believe. Also UR regularly says little about faith, being born again, being saved, etc.]
6. The nature of the Holy Spirit. Young introduces this person of the Godhead as an old grandmother with the Indian name of Lakota (chosen because Tony has a little Lakota blood in him) (87). As mentioned above she has information that Jesus does not have (70). [Yet Jesus claims that the Holy Spirit will never speak from/of himself but only what Jesus leads him to say/teach—John 16:12-15. He is not an independent voice.]
7. The gospel. Little mention of the gospel is made. But it is mocked, at least how evangelicals believe it. After a time of soul-searching Tony asks what Grandmother wants from him—Is it to “confess” his sins, to “invite Jesus into his heart”? (83). There is no answer from Grandmother.
8. Justice and judgment in the afterlife. Young discounts justice as trying to be fair but always failing. Grace and forgiveness are never fair. “Punishment never restores fair. Confession doesn’t make things fair” (115). [This is consistent with PY’s attempt to disparage justice and judgment.]
For there to be a rebuilding of lives for the real, right, good and true there has to be a tearing down of the wrongs. There has to be a judgment in the “life after” but God will not do the dismantling without peoples’ participation. The focus is on the rebuilding, not the tearing down (159). [Again, this form of judgment is hardly that of the afterlife described in Scripture, as final, irreversible, and punishing, but in UR, as here, it is something redemptive, remedial and corrective (159-160). All this is in keeping with the final deliverance of all from hell, as universalism contends. It comes close to giving to works the means of salvation.]
Perhaps the most dramatic and theological scene of the book occurs in chap. 13. Tony’s Ego exhorts Tony to look to Jesus who went to the cross to secure freedom for Tony. Jesus bore the wrath of God instead of the creation that deserved it. At least four times the word “instead” is used to say that Jesus suffered God’s judgment, justice, and eternal fire instead of human beings (193). [Mature Christians will recognize here the terms belonging to the doctrine of penal substitution; namely, that Jesus suffered the penalty of eternal judgment as a substitute for guilty sinners. But Young rejects penal substitution.]
But the surprising element comes in the following words. Young has Tony ask Ego whether this sacrifice of Christ “worked.” “Did Jesus bear the wrath of God successfully?” (193). Ego is not entirely sure and suggests it is an assumption (194).
But the dialogue continues. Ego asserts that as a result of the creation’s disobedience, “the wrath of God is now a constant part of God’s being” that burns “with an eternal flame, consuming everyone and everything that does not accept and appropriate what Jesus did” (194). Ego repeats this, then concludes: “So if you want to escape the wrath of God, you have to become like Jesus, surrender your life and live like Jesus did, holy and pure. Be ye perfect, even as I am perfect . . . That’s in the Bible” (194).
When Tony replies that there’s no hope for him because he doesn’t have what it takes to live like Jesus, Ego tells him that there is hope for everyone. Tony responds that then having a relationship with God is only wishful thinking, just a possibility (195). Ego replies that in Tony’s wishful thinking he becomes like God.
Tony challenges Ego by quoting: “For God so loved the world” and suddenly realizes that God loves him. He accuses Ego: “You are liars and your lies are demonic” (195). Ego protests that the word “lies” is “just old-school mythology” and that he is a “spirit messenger of God” to lead Tony into the truth (195). Tony retorts: “A bunch of liars, that’s what you are!” (195). When Tony inquires by what authority Ego had a right to be with him, he is shown a giant of a man, “big Tony,” who is Tony’s superior self (196). Big Tony claims that he saved Tony’s life and boasts: “apart from me you can do nothing” (196). He continues: “It would have been better if you had never been born” (197).
Fully dejected, Tony then hears the voice of a little girl named Hope you rejects Tony’s self-appraisal as a “worthless failure.” She says to him: “You are Grandmother’s boy, you are adopted by Papa God, you are not powerful enough to change that” (199). She exhorts Tony to fight his “empty imaginations that raise themselves up against the knowing of the character of God,” to fight and tell the truth (200). She identifies herself as one “who relentlessly loves you” (200). She exhorts Tony: “Trust that you are not alone, that you are not hopeless” (200-01). Later the little girl is identified as God the Father.
As a consequence of this dialogue, Tony accuses big Tony of being a liar, for saying that he is alone. Tony asserts that the whole Trinity is with him. Big Tony reminds Tony that the Father killed his parents, murdered his son and ignored his prayers. How could Tony “trust such an evil being who would kill your innocent son like he did his own?” (202). Tony replies that he doesn’t know the Father well enough to trust him, but “Jesus trusts his Father, and that’s good enough for me” (202). The scene ends with the Holy Spirit warning that Tony should guard his heart and mind so that the voices of big Tony and his friends don’t “haunt” him (204). The “good news” is that Ego and his associates will not be around to help build walls in Tony’s heart (204). Tony needs to trust Jesus and the Spirit for his security and safety (205).
[Note here the blatant attempt to subvert the true gospel and supplant it with the heresy of universalism. Several points are being propagated:
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ is presented but then rejected as not working and only an assumption. It is then assumed to be part of the lies that big Tony utters. At least seven times “lies” and “liar” are used to slander the truth of the work of Christ on the cross (Rom 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21). In public meetings Paul Young has clearly rejected “penal substitution.”
- The nature of God as wrathful is overplayed to such an extent that it is distorted and actually rejected in the words that follow about love. In this chapter Young uses the term “wrath” 16 times in his attempt to disparage it.
- The nature of God is slandered by having big Tony say that God murdered Tony’s parents—that this comes from a wrathful God, an “evil being.”
- Universal love for all without distinction is the basis for declaring that Tony belongs to God and this cannot be changed. This accords with the UR belief that all are God’s children.
- Young uses terms about Tony that Jesus uses of Judas (“it would’ve been better if he had never been born”). The following discussion suggests that even Judas is God’s child and loved by him. These words are not appropriate of anyone except Judas.
- The gospel is falsified here. The gospel invites people to believe and accept Christ as their Savior from sin—not to “become like Jesus” and live for him. The latter concerns sanctification—how to grow as a Christian—not how to become one, which is by the new birth (John 3). Stressing the idea of becoming like Jesus means to base one’s salvation on works which cannot save. It is also the basis of liberal theology.
- In the NT the good news is about what Christ has done, not what we can do to stop egoism. The evangelical truth is represented negatively—that it will “haunt” Tony.
- There’s an implicit acknowledgement that the Father is associated with wrath but Jesus with love—the old liberal theology coming through.
- When trust is mentioned, it is to trust many things: that Tony is not alone; that Jesus trusts the Father; that Tony should trust his mother; that Tony should trust God for his safety and security. But the one thing missing that the Bible emphasizes is that a person should trust Jesus Christ for salvation! But this contradicts UR.
- Note what is missing: an invitation to repent of sin, and accept Christ into one’s life in order to be saved and become a child of God (John 1:12; Rom. 10:9-10).
This dialogue is breath-taking in its propagation of the views of universalism and its attack on the Bible and evangelical truth.]
9. Conversion, repentance, and the church. Young disparages the idea of church, going forward, and “asking Jesus into your heart.” They hadn’t helped Tony (124). He makes fun of a Pentecostal church service (128ff). Later, the pastor of the church is made to look stupid by his wrong understanding (in Young’s view) of the role of women in the church (168-72).
In Tony’s entangled place—within his being—Bluster and Swagger under the control of Ego pull up flowers because they think of them as weeds.
As Tony becomes more convinced of his self-absorbed being, he considers repentance to embark on a better path. But he considers that such is replacing his old agenda with a newer, more self-righteous one—a performance-based agenda (191). [In this way Young dismisses the biblical role for repentance.]
10. The nature of human beings. Each person develops from an ugly-looking root into a beautiful flower (156). Pain and suffering belong to the root. God considers everyone worth transforming into monuments of grace and love (157). [While these are true words, they come from a universalist and so mean that there will never be one in everlasting separation from God.]
11. At the very end Young deals with the issue of imagery that has such a strong place in his first two novels, especially that depicting the Trinity. He has Grandmother (the Holy Spirit) say: “Imagery has never been able to define God, but it is our intention to be known, and each whisper and breath of imagery is a little window into a facet of our nature. Pretty cool, eh?” (286). [In this way Young is attempting to deflect criticism about his use of imagery to depict the Trinity. Yet it still is true that, while imagery can depict all persons and creatures in the universe, including God the Son, who became human, trying to depict the Trinity as three separate beings is impossible and blasphemous; it violates the Second Commandment.]
12. Citation of authorities. Young cites at the beginning of each chapter a quotation of an author, including C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and others, Christian and non-Christian. The implicit suggestion is that these agree with Young in the basic thrust of the chapters. He also cites these and other authors as found in Tony’s library. In his acknowledgements at the end of the novel he cites such authors again among many others. The problem with this is that C. S. Lewis and Edwards were never universalists. Among the others he cites, Jacques Ellul and George MacDonald (290) are universalists.
The most weird part of this novel is the idea that Jesus allows Tony (in a coma in ICU between “heaven and hell”) to leave his hospital bed and enter the heads of various people he meets, including Cabby (a Downs Syndrome boy), his mother, his mother’s companion (a vivacious Black woman who takes care of Cabby), this woman’s male policeman friend, and this person’s mother who has Alzheimer disease. With a kiss Tony is able to transfer from one person’s head to another person’s head and see through the eyes and converse out loud with the person within whom he dwells. In this way Tony is able to travel around the City of Portland and attend a Pentecostal church service. The point is to expose Tony to some genuine people, including Christians, who show him the error of his past living and bring him along to desire to live more deeply in relationship with Jesus. Jesus has granted Tony the power to grant life to one person (92). His ability to enter other peoples’ heads is probably the way that Tony is able to discover who the candidate for this healing may be. It could be himself or someone else, including Lindsey, the daughter of Cabby’s mother. Lindsey is in another building next to Tony’s, at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and has little hope of surviving her acute cancer. Tony’s final visit is to a temple, his soul, where he converses with his deceased son, Gabriel. Gabriel convinces his father to save Lindsey, not to bring him back from the dead. Gabriel admonishes his father to stop blaming himself, the world, and God for his death. He tells Tony that they will never be separated, that they are already together.
After arranging for the redoing of his will, Tony grants life to Lindsey. He accepts his own death which is passage into the presence of God.
Paul’s publication of his second and third novels has great significance for several reasons. (1) It shows that he continues to want to propagate his doctrinal errors, in general stemming from his conversion to UR. (2) It shows that the critique of his first novel, with claims that it centers on the heresy of UR, is basically correct and justified. He continues to propagate this heresy.
There were many reviews of The Shack when it first came out, in addition to mine. One was by a very liberal reviewer who wrote that The Shack embodied liberal, even radical, theology. This reviewer heralded the novel as the first significant attempt for this radical theology to find its way into mainstream evangelical circles.
All readers of Young’s fiction should take notice.
While viewing on TV a modern detective story of sorts several statements about truth and lies were made that seem appropriate to Young’s novels, and his most recent book, Lies We Believe about God. Here are the statements:
- It’s easier to modify the truth than to create a lie.
- It’s easier to alter history than it is to create it.
- The more truth to one’s lie the easier it is to believe and remember it.