Update November 22, 2008
27 - Ministry News
August 15 - "The Errors of the Emergent Church"
August 7 - "Evangelical Meltdown" Islam and Christianity at Yale
5 - "To the Friends of Eric & Melanie"
June 27 - "Oprah's New Age Religion" and "God, Give Us Godly Leaders"
How The Shack
Became the #1
By Eric Barger
(Updated March, 2010)
Give therefore thy servant an
understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between
good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? - I Kings 3:9
like Paul Young. Having heard him speak about his life and book three
times in Portland, Oregon, in fall of 2008, I found him to be passionate, witty
and funny. While at Young's alma mater (Warner Pacific College), I was
able to spend a few moments with him privately, during which time I asked
him to respond personally to several criticisms and concerns that I and
other Christians are raising about the theological content of his book.
I wish I could report that he allayed my apprehensions, but instead I
went away convinced that The Shack is more than just a little
offbeat but is, as Dr. Albert Mohler pegged it during his May 26, 2008, radio
Yes, The Shack is indeed a novel. And many will wonder what could
be wrong, since it is identified as a Christian book and authored by a
man who claims to be a Christian. After all, The Shack is
heralded by many seasoned Christian leaders. Pastors are preaching from
it. Sunday School classes and small groups are reading and discussing
it. Many Christians are buying it by the case to give as gifts. Some
Christian schools are even sanctioning and encouraging the reading of
the book. But this is not just a benign story of man overcoming life's
challenges. Make no mistake, the book presents doctrine throughout its
clever and gripping story - something the author clearly intended to do.
Therein lies the problem.
Trading the Kingdom
for a Shack
For those unaware of
the book's storyline, here is the description of
The Shack from Amazon.com:
Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family
vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found
in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness.
Four years later
in the midst of what he refers to as 'The Great Sadness,' Mack receives
a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack
for a weekend.
Against his better
judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back
into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world
In a world where
religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant 'The Shack' wrestles with
the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with
is a publishing phenomenon, but you may ask, "Is it
really any big deal?" This self-published book has sold nearly
copies since its May 2007 release. It debuted at #1 on The New York
Times Bestseller List and remained at either #1 or #2 for an
astounding 87 weeks. It has also held the #1 position on many other
bestseller lists, including Amazon.com, USA Today's Top 150 Books,
Barnes and Noble and Borders Books and was the #1 book of 2008 at ChristianBook.com.
According to the author, in late 2008 the book was selling at a rate of
87,000 copies a week in the secular book stores alone. All of
this has allowed Young and his two publishing partners the luxury of
holding out for just the right major motion picture deal as well. But
there is a reason why several dozen publishers turned this book down.
Here are a few of my observations - and objections.
Several chapters into the book, a most unorthodox version of the Holy
Trinity is revealed. Young's tale diminishes Almighty God from His
rightful position as a supernatural being. Instead of speaking by His
Word and His Spirit, He is morphed into a feminine figure,
reduced to passing notes to those with whom she wants to
is portrayed in The Shack as a large African-American woman named
"Papa," also called "Elousia." (Talk about gender confusion!) Jesus is a
Jewish carpenter complete with a tool belt, and the Holy Spirit is
depicted as an Asian woman named after "Sarayu," a mystical river in
ancient India related to the Hindu deity Kali. Clearly, there is a
trinity in The Shack but it is absolutely not the
From my first glance at The Shack, it struck me that the idea of
God in human form, even in the pages of a novel, is more than just
theologically questionable. It is forbidden by several passages from
both the Old and New Testaments, not the least of which is the Second
Commandment (Exodus 20: 4-5). The Apostle Paul proclaims, "Because
that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were
thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart
was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And
changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to
corruptible man..." (Romans 1:21-23a)
The Shack, Chuck Colson's BreakPoint contributing editor
Travis McSherley wrote, "This is the root of the book's problems. In
the course of the biblical narrative, God the Father never reveals
Himself in the form of a human. In fact, Christ rebukes His disciples
for even suggesting it. (See John 14:5-10)
"The Shack would not dispute these limits of understanding
- it dedicates many pages to chastising believers who cling too tightly
to traditional views of God's nature. Yet, instead of expanding our
thinking and our appreciation for divine mysteries, the book shrinks
them quite dramatically by creating a deity so clearly influenced by
human expectations of what God should be."
Sin, Hell, Judgment, Salvation, the
Hierarchy and Authority in the Godhead, a Polynesian
Goddess and other assorted problems
Here are just a few of the many issues raised by The Shack:
Young's "Papa" character insists that sin is its own punishment. This
distorts the reality of Hell and discounts eternal retribution for sin.
Readers of The Shack are told that Jesus is only the best
way to know God – not the only way.
The Shack teaches that, when Jesus went to the cross, God Almighty
died there, too. This is a heresy known as patripassianism. (In our
private conversation I challenged Young about this, but to no avail.)
The Shack states that there is no structure or hierarchy within
the Trinity and that the three personages of God are all equally subject
to one another and to humans as well. I challenge fans of The
Shack to open a Bible and try to make that square with the
Young's "Papa" character is suspiciously akin to a Polynesian/Hawaiian
goddess who also happens to be known as "Papa." When I quizzed Young on
this, he denied any knowledge of such a deity. However, the similarities
with The Shack's God character are stunning.
let's move on to perhaps the biggest concern.
Is Paul Young
still a "Reconciling Universalist?"
I have noticed that in
nearly every electronic or print media interview, Paul Young volunteers
that he is "not a universalist" and does so without ever being asked
about it. But is he merely parsing words? Young is obviously nervous
about the Christian world becoming convinced of any such thing. That
said, it strikes me as odd that on a web page intended to answer critics
of the book, one of his editors, Wayne Jacobson, acknowledges that Young
had previously embraced a form of universalism known as "universal
reconciliation" and that this belief indeed appeared throughout the
original manuscript. (Jacobson refers to it as "ultimate reconciliation"
to avoid using the dreaded "U" word, "universal.")
Jacobson's website states:
"Does The Shack
promote Ultimate Reconciliation (UR)?
"It does not. While
some of that was in earlier versions because of the author's partiality
at the time to some aspects of what people call UR, I made it clear at
the outset that I didn't embrace UR as sound teaching and didn't want to
be involved in a project that promoted it. In my view UR is an
extrapolation of Scripture to humanistic conclusions about our Father's
love that has to be forced on the biblical text.
"Since I don't
believe in UR and wholeheartedly embrace the finished product, I think
those who see UR here, either positively or negatively are reading into
the text. To me that was the beauty of the collaboration." (See:
It is obvious that
Young, Jacobson, and partner Brad Cummings all have a great deal to lose
by not doing their best to debunk the book's critics. They are very
aware of where Young was theologically when he wrote the book. And
that is the point, isn't it? It is the content of the book (and
presumably that of the forthcoming motion picture) that is being
In the very beginning,
I began to smell universalism in The Shack by simply reading it.
These thoughts were more than confirmed through a very scholarly paper
critiquing The Shack written by Dr. James De Young. Other leaders
who have been critical of the book, including Dr. Michael Youssef, Janet
Parshall, Jan Markell and Dr. Larry DeBruyn, have quoted Dr. De Young's
research - and for good reason.
Dr. De Young is a conservative professor at Western Seminary in
Portland, Oregon. He is fluent in Greek and Hebrew and also teaches an
elective on the early Church Fathers. He is well-equipped to expose
universalism from both biblical and historical perspectives. Perhaps
equally important to our discussion here is the fact that for several
years both Dr. De Young and Paul Young were members of a theological
discussion group, or "think tank," known as the M3 Forum. In response to
the bountiful amount of universalistic ideas found in The Shack,
Dr. De Young has published a well-documented 39-page paper which can be
here. Once on the website, you will also find
several shorter documents and a discussion forum with remarks from
readers, many of whom defend The Shack. These comments serve to
illustrate the tremendous confusion and lack of biblical thinking we
see abounding inside the Christian community today.
After having Young tell me face to face that he was not a
universalist, I asked him about Dr. De Young's paper. He bristled at me
and made several accusations about De Young which I now understand to be
unfounded. Since the meeting with Paul Young, I had the opportunity to
meet personally with Dr. De Young for several hours. In our meeting he
shared with me another yet-to-be-released paper he has written
exposing Paul Young's very bold defense of universal reconciliation. I
can best describe the information in it as shocking. In fact, in the
spring of 2004, Paul gave one of the most complete defenses of universal
reconciliation imaginable and reiterated this position on at least two
occasions, the latest being in May-June 2007, after writing The
Their having had no previous indication that a staunch believer in
universal reconciliation was in their midst, Paul Young’s revelations
came as a complete blindside to the M3 Forum members. After the group
contested Young's ideas, Dr. De Young gave a lengthy rebuttal to all of
Paul's points, branding Young's position as heretical and citing a church
council decision from the 6th century. After this event in 2004, Paul
Young ceased participating in the M3 Forum.
Reflecting upon my personal conversation with Young at Warner
Pacific in October 2008, I wish I had asked specifically, "Are you now or
have you ever been an advocate of universal reconciliation?" (Note that
classical universalists believe that all religions lead to the same
place, whereas those who hold to universal reconciliation believe that
all men [read that "ALL"] are already saved because
of Jesus' work on the cross.) This position purports that there is no
penalty for sin, no literal hell and no need to accept Christ and repent
of one's sins. It dramatically undermines the work of the Church,
evangelism and the core teachings of the New Testament. It is a satanic
trap, denying essential beliefs taught by Jesus, the Apostles and Bible
believers throughout the Church Age. It is also exactly
what Young believed in 2004. It is what he believed when he wrote The
Shack and, whether he believes it today or not, you can be fairly
certain that with millions of dollars at risk he is not about to re-edit
The Shack to try to make theological corrections - at least
not without an act of God. Again, the real question is not how skillfully Young may
craft his words in denial of being a universalist or even what he may
actually believe today. It is the theological
content of The Shack that orthodox Christian critics are
concerned about. Besides, universalism is but one of the many glaringly
unbiblical aspects of the book.
The REAL Problem
The bottom line
concerning books, movies, television shows and other input like The
Shack is that, if our emotions rule and we fail to use scriptural
discernment, we can be taken captive by "evil imaginations."
Beware lest any man
spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit... - Colossians 2:8
Knowing that the author
actually portrayed himself as both Shack characters Missy (the
violated-then-murdered six-year-old) and her father, Mack (the one
searching for God in a painful world), one's heart surely breaks for what
Paul Young has evidently endured in his lifetime. However, if readers
fail to think biblically and allow only The Shack's emotional
storyline to grip them, they chance becoming prey to the very thing that
I believe has duped many Christians into accepting and even endorsing
the book. Empathy towards the author or his characters, or becoming
enamored by what many testify to as the positive real-world outcome of
reading the book, cannot trump one's biblical analysis of
the work. Young plays upon emotions constantly in the book and also as
he lectures publicly, believing that, because hearts are allegedly being
touched, God must be giving approval to The Shack. When
speaking to me personally, he emphasized the concept that results are
all that matters. I responded that, just because people testify that the
book is somehow helping them, this does not necessarily mean it is
actually ordained by God. After all, God can use many means to reach
people. God regularly uses disasters, accidents and tragedy of all sorts
- even unorthodox or cultic books - for His glory. This, however, doesn't
mean that God somehow deems heresy or terrible events as somehow good or
positive in and of themselves.
The Nicest Heretic
Paul Young is perhaps
the nicest heretic I have ever dealt with personally. That may sound
flip, but it's true. He is a very nice guy who is presenting and
defending some very dangerous, even seductive, heresies. As one who wears
his emotions on his sleeve and who found himself being swayed by the
heartbreaking storyline of The Shack, I must again caution. To
allow a gripping story to cloud our ability to detect the subtle and
not-so-subtle theological errors strewn throughout its pages is exactly what Dr.
Michael Youssef meant when he described The Shack as "a deep
ditch that's covered by beautiful landscape."
The disturbing truth is
that books like The Shack would never become bestsellers in the
Christian world if Christians were on guard, thinking biblically, and
were willing to follow the Scriptures! In these dangerous days, it is
paramount that we actively develop "eyes of understanding" that
constantly check everything by the Word of God - especially the stuff
that claims to be of God. The Scripture implores us to prove or test all
things (I Thessalonians 5:21-22) and this test can be accomplished only
one way - by knowing the Bible and then utilizing what we know from it.
Every believer needs to be alert to the reality that in these last days
deception is going to come at a rate never fathomed before. Mark my
words, as time passes Satan is preparing to use unheralded and brazen
trickery that will look and sound very spiritual, even Christian. The
only hope we have to avoid the traps successfully is by prayerful,
dedicated and aggressive study of God's unchangeable Word. Otherwise,
sooner or later we'll find ourselves amongst a growing number of people from
previously trustworthy evangelical circles that are heading straight for
Jesus warned us in
Matthew 24 that, if the end days were not shortened by His return, even
the very elect would be deceived. Can we not assume that many who
currently hang around the Church - and even some who preach or write
books now popularly accepted in Christian circles - may in reality
never endure to the end and are thus actually wolves in
There are many other
concerns raised by The Shack that space here does not permit me
to delve into. To provide this information in more detail, I've produced two new in-depth DVDs. "The Death of Discernment: How
The Shack Became the #1 Bestseller in
Christianity" and "Universalism: Is Everyone Already Saved?"
are each well over an hour long and provide documentation, insight and
scriptural understanding relating to these important and timely issues.
powerful DVD message illustrates the desperate need for clear and decisive
biblical apologetics in the Church today. Find out why author and Christian
apologist, Eric Barger, believes that the popularity of William "Paul"
Young's emotionally charged story, The Shack,
signals an unprecedented lack of discernment from within Christianity.
the unbiblical, unorthodox theology contained in this runaway bestseller and
soon-to-be-released motion picture and how it threatens to deceive untold
numbers of both Christians and seekers in our midst.
Add to Cart
CD Add to
Universalism has become the "politically correct" religion of choice of many
in public life today. Through the misguided ministries of Carlton Pearson,
Mike Williams and others, a form of Universalism known as "Universal
Reconciliation" has made inroads into modern Christianity as well. In this
DVD presentation, Eric Barger defines and illustrates Universalism and
compares it to biblical Christianity.
Above all, this message clearly illustrates the biblical truths of salvation
through Jesus Christ alone, the absolute need for a regenerating, "born
again" experience and the fact that eternal and unending separation from God
awaits all who reject salvation through Jesus sacrificial death.
Add to Cart
Add to Cart
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