The 21 Statements by Which to Identify Universalism in The Shack

All of the following statements, unless otherwise identified, come from the mouth of Papa (who fills the role of God in the novel and in the film).

  1. “The first aspect of God is never that of the absolute Master, the Almighty. It is that of the God who puts himself on our human level and limits himself” (from p. 88).This statement, to say the least, is over stated. God has revealed himself both as being Almighty, as transcendent, as beyond us in omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Yet he also is One who desires a deep relationship with his people, as being immanent or close to them.

  1. “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human” (99).While this statement reflects knowledge of the Trinity, it represents serious, even heretical distortion. Only the Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate. Jesus and the Father are one in nature or essence (John 10:10; Hebrews 1:1-3) but only Jesus became a human person. Throughout his life he submitted himself to do the will of the Father as a distinct person of the Godhead who had not become incarnate, as even the Lord’s prayer recognizes (Matthew 6:9-13; see also Hebrews 10:5-10). As Jesus faced the greatest challenge of his human existence, his death for sinners, he committed himself in the Garden of Gethsemane to do the Father’s will (Matthew 26:36-45). Finally, Paul the Apostle asserts that all the fullness of deity abides in Jesus in a bodily form (Colossians 2:9). And in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 the distinctive natures of the Father and Son are delineated: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Jesus Christ is the perfect bridge between God and human beings because he alone has two natures—divine and human, with the latter being acquired at his nativity. While there is much beyond human comprehension in understanding the Trinity, nowhere in all of Scripture is it ever said that the entire Trinity became human. The movie, “The Shack,” is extremely deceitful here regarding the Trinity (see BDS, chap. 2).
  1. “Although Jesus is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything” (99-100).Yet on rare occasions Jesus did manifest himself as equal with God. Note that he could pronounce that someone’s sins were forgiven, which only God can do (Mark 2:5-7). He was self-consciousness that he is God (John 10:30). He proclaimed himself to be divine (Matthew 26:63-65). His death was both human and divine in the sense that he died as a human being dies but in that he died for the sins of all humankind he did a divine act (BDS, chap. 2).
  1. “God cannot act apart from love” (102).Again this is an over statement and misrepresents God’s true nature. While love is always a constant in God’s nature, and The Shack contributes to our understanding of God as love, the Bible asserts that holiness too (Leviticus 19:2) and righteousness (several times mentioned in Romans 3:21-26) are equally and perfectly eternal attributes of God. Both love and righteousness/justice are found mentioned together in many places: Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 45). Thus God always acts in both love and holiness. Since Paul Young later says things which limit God’s holiness or justice, his statement here is a distortion of who God is. But it is in line with the basic tenet of UR that God’s justice and holiness are trumped by his love (BDS, chap. 2).
  1. The Father, the Spirit, and Jesus were together at the cross and together were crucified (95-96, 102, 222).This teaching clearly constitutes heresy. While the Trinity was indeed present at the cross, and Jesus never ceased to be God and One of the Trinity, yet Jesus alone became human and he alone made the sacrifice of atonement for sin. While the divine nature of the Trinity is the same for all persons in the Trinity, different persons in the Godhead have differing roles. Countless Scriptures make this clear—that God the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (among many, note John 3:16; Romans 3:21-25-26; note again the Biblical texts cited under #2 above). Indeed, the prophecy of the death of Jesus, found in Isaiah 53, reveals the role of the Father as the One who brings forth the sacrifice of Jesus (almost every verse in this great text affirms this truth). God planned the sacrifice of Jesus, and Jesus was the One sacrificed (BDS, chap. 2).
  1. God says: “I am not who you think I am” (120).The next point (#7) is in the immediate context where this statement is made. It is Papa’s reply to Mac when he asks whether God is a God of wrath and punishes sin. It follows a discussion in earlier pages (107ff.) where holiness and love are discussed. In light of the following chapters in the novel and scenes in the film, the words are meant to portray God to be supremely love, that he doesn’t judge people in hell, that all are his children. Thus this statement, as other reviewers have also recognized, is the bedrock of the whole story of The Shack. Paul Young is seeking to redefine God as UR consistently does. All of God’s other attributes are subjected to his attribute of love. Yet this redefinition of God destroys God as revealed in the Bible where all his attributes, including love and holiness and righteousness, are in perfect balance, are equal, and are in harmony. Indeed, the Apostle John, who expands the direct speech of Jesus in John 3, describes God who out of love gave his special Son to give eternal life to those who believe (v. 16), also describes God as the God of wrath for unbelievers (v. 36) (BDS, chaps. 3-4).
  1. “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (120).This statement is in the context of #6 above. While this statement is true it is not the complete truth. It ignores the fact that people are born in sin and commit sins. The Bible says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The consequences, the wages, of sin is death for everyone who has not accepted the gift of forgiveness and eternal life found in believing in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). God punished sin when Jesus took the punishment we deserve and bore this in his death on the cross. (BDS, chap. 4).
  1. In a “circle of relationship” involving God and people there is no authority, no hierarchy, and no submission (122-124).Yet Jesus claimed that all authority over all creation belonged to him and he commands his followers to obey him (Matthew 28:19-20). While Jesus calls them brothers (Hebrews 2:10-18) and friends (John 15:14-15), in the New Testament his followers never call Jesus by these titles. Jesus also is teacher and Lord to his followers (John 14:13; Colossians 2:6ff.; Romans 10:9-10). Jesus said that our obedience to him proves our love for him and becomes our source of joy (John 14:15-24; 15:9-17). In many other ways this definition of relationship is false. All pure relationships ultimately betray people and are doomed to failure. Relationships require structure in order to have a stabilizing and positive influence on culture. Finally, the Apostles themselves identify subversives in their day as those who “reject authority” (Galatians 2:4; Jude 8). They pray that God be given glory and authority through Jesus Christ (Jude 25) (see BDS, chap. 5 where I note the failures of a “pure relationship”).
  1. God cannot send any of his children to an eternity of hell just because they sin against him (162).This is a summary of what Papa says in several conversations. The problem with this belief is threefold. First, it obscures who his children are. Because all people have been created by God all people can be labelled “God’s children” or “offspring” in a general sense. The Apostle Paul does this in Acts 17:26-28. But in a more exact sense only those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are God’s children. Again this is why Paul insists that those who are God’s children in a general sense must repent and believe in Christ who has been raised from the dead: Acts 17:29-32. They believe that Jesus Christ has taken their sin and for them paid the penalty of eternal death. The rest of humanity will experience an eternity in hell. Second, it is the sin of refusing to believe in Jesus that condemns people to an eternity of judgment in hell (John 3:16-18, 36). Jesus himself said that unless a person is born again—spiritually reborn—he cannot see, will not enter, God’s kingdom (John 3:3-8).  Finally, hell must exist and be everlasting if heaven exists and is everlasting. See BDS, chap. 9.
  1. “Your understanding of God is wrong.” I’m not one who will “condemn most to an eternity of torment” (162-164).This is typical universalist thinking. It goes to the heart of who God is and what he does. UR redefines God. UR believes that the attribute of God’s love trumps his attributes of justice and holiness.  By such reasoning God cannot condemn anyone to hell but must rescue all humanity and even the fallen angels from an eternity of judgment. If people don’t believe the gospel about salvation in Jesus before they die they will repent in hell by means of the corrective (not punishing) fires of hell. Yet such teaching effectively destroys who God is—one perfect and complete in all his attributes. And Jesus spoke clearly that there are only two destinies: “eternal life” for his people, who serve him; and “eternal punishment” for those who reject him (Matthew 25:46) (BDS, chap. 9). A major fault with UR is that while it sounds reasonable to human thinking it violates Biblical teaching (=God’s thinking).
  1. God loves all his children the same, equally, and “perfectly,” but “differently” (154-163).As pointed out above under #9 not all people are God’s children in the sense that they belong to him on the basis of faith (=the only basis). The Bible says: “To all who received him (=Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13) (BDS, chap. 9).
  1. “Mercy triumphs over justice because of love” (164).This is probably the most central affirmation that universalists make about the actions of God. For them it explains why hell cannot be forever, why God cannot punish sin, why God does not judge, and several other statements in the present list. It is close to a quotation of James 2:13 but is actually a misquote and misinterpretation. Young adds the words, “because of love” (not in the verse) and uses these words to explain God’s actions when in the context James is describing what people should do—they should be impartial and not judge their neighbors. Indeed, Young omits the first part of the verse that actually affirms God’s judgment (something which universalists deny): “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy.” God will judge believers for showing partiality (note verses 8-11). (BDS, chap. 9)
  1. “Judgment is not about destruction but about setting things right” (169).These words are an exact quote of what the early church father, Origen, a universalist, said in the third century. They contradict Jesus’ words that the broad way leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13); and the apostles spoke of the destruction of the wicked (Romans 9:22; Philippians 3:19; 1 Thesssalonians 5:3; 2 Thessal. 1:9; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:16). In Romans 8:1 Paul said that there is “now no condemnation [=judgment] to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The implication is that those who are not in Christ are under judgment already (BDS, chap. 9).
  1. “Every human institution is the matrix, a diabolical scheme” (122-124).Yet the Bible teaches that God created the institutions of marriage (Genesis 2; Ephesians 5), the government (Romans 13:1-7), and the church (Matthew 16:16-19: it is “his” church). It is a false dichotomy to oppose relationships to institutions. Without institutions there cannot be lasting, meaningful relationships, but “every person will do what is right in his own eyes” (BDS, chap. 6).
  1. “I don’t create institutions—never have, never will.” The institutions of the church, government and marriage are the “man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. It’s all false” (179).Clearly again this is universalist thinking. Throughout its history the proponents of UR have opposed the evangelical, Christian church as an obstacle to their success. As stated above under #14, God created the three institutions as part of his wonderful plan to bring light to the nations and to stabilize society and relationships. These institutions preserve culture and needful structures. Without these the world would collapse into darkness under the sway of anarchy foisted on the world by Satan, the prince (John 14:30) and god (2 Corinthians 4:4) of this world. Because Young falsifies and opposes the three necessary institutions as “a trinity of terrors” he is an anarchist, terrorist, and demonic. See a fuller defense of these institutions in BDS, chap. 10.
  1. About all people Jesus says: “I have no desire to make them Christians” (182).Again, UR thinking wants to distance itself from Biblical Christianity and thus makes this silly argument. It is true that Jesus never used the word “Christian.” It first comes into play after Jesus ascended and returned to heaven. In Acts 11:26 the disciples, the believers in Christ at Antioch, are first identified as Christians. But it is Jesus’ desire to make disciples from all nations and he commands his followers to do so and to baptize them in the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20). Disciples and Christians are one and the same group (see further in BDS, chap. 10).
  1. “I am now fully reconciled to the world. . . . It’s not the nature of love to force a relationship but it is the nature of love to open the way” (192).Reconciliation means that God has taken the initiative to make peace with sinners. It’s one of the great doctrines of the Bible. But while God has made reconciliation available for all, he has not reconciled anyone until a person believes. Without faith a person remains alienated from God and an enemy (Colossians 1:20-23). Indeed the world hated Jesus and his disciples before and after the cross (John 15:18-16:4). If UR “opens a way” by which the will of some not to believe is voided, how then is this belief not “forcing a relationship” and thus contrary to love (BDS, chap. 11)? See #20 below.
  1. God has opened “a path of reconciliation” (222).Again, the Biblical truth is that only believers in Christ are on this path of peace with God. Faith is the condition. People must be “in Christ.” Otherwise, people are on the path to destruction (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; and Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14). Note that the words above are “a path” instead of “the path.” Universalists don’t want to exclude anyone from a destiny with a loving God; they want to include all. They don’t like Jesus’ exclusive claim in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I devote two entire chapters to the Biblical word “reconciliation” and what it means, in BDS, chaps. 11-12.
  1. The Holy Spirit says: “I have a great fondness for uncertainty” (203).While we can appreciate the mystery surrounding how the Holy Spirit works we can be sure of one thing: the Spirit, Jesus said, will never speak independently but will speak and lead in accord with what Jesus has said and says (John 16:12-15). The Bible makes it clear that the Spirit must be in agreement with our Lord’s teaching—in accord with the truth (1 John 2:21-22, 26-27). If Jesus spoke of the certainty of eternal judgment and eternal life (so Matthew 7:13-14; 25:41) the Spirit cannot and will not contradict this—or breed uncertainty about Jesus’ teaching. One thing of which believers can be certain is the Spirit’s witness to them that they belong to God. He assures us of our salvation (Romans 8:13-16). False, subversive teachers do not have the Spirit (Jude 19 says) (BDS, chap. 13).
  1. “For you to forgive this man (the murderer) is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. . . . He too is my son. I want to redeem him” (224).Here the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and sonship are deeply intertwined. It is necessary that Christians forgive those who harm them. But the relationship of being a son or child of God in the narrow sense (see # 9 and 11 above) is reserved only for those who repent (confess that they are sinners; Romans 10:9-10), believe in Jesus Christ and receive him as their Savior (John 1:12). Finally, God’s desire to save or redeem anyone (as 1 Timothy 2:4 expresses it) cannot be accomplished unless that person wishes to be saved. It is here that UR becomes extremely deterministic. It teaches that in the end God overrides a human being’s will not to believe before death to bring one to salvation after death. UR teaches that God voids human will.
  1. “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship” (225).The Bible teaches that being forgiven by God is to enter relationship with him. Young’s failure to mention faith as the only means whereby one is saved from the judgment for sin (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16) and receives both forgiveness and relationship with God is really the face of non-loving. It is like a scientist withholding the key to a box containing the antidote for a worldwide plague. Universalists doom all humanity to eternal separation and death.

As you view the film in the theaters watch and listen for the above 21 statements. They are there, perhaps slightly reworded and subtle. The film is propagating universal reconciliation (UR). And there may be additional statements that correspond to the tenets or beliefs of universalism.

Because the film has these quotes or teaches these doctrines then the movie, like the novel, is a subtle, deceptive propagation of universalism. It seeks by way of subliminal messages to bring the viewer to a different, unbiblical view of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Both the novel and the film constitute a subliminal sell of universalism.

When one compares this list of statements with the tenets or doctrine of universal reconciliation it is unmistakable that The Shack bears the marks of universalism. The universalism is subtle but careful listening reveals it.

 

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