Excerpts of a review by James B. DeYoung, Western Theological Seminary
Recently The Shack has been approaching sales of [seven] million copies. There is even talk about making the book into a movie. But while the novel breaks sales records, it also breaks with the traditional understanding of God and Christian theology. And therein lies the rub. Does a work of Christian fiction have to be doctrinally correct?
Who is the author? William P. Young [Paul], a man I have known for over a dozen years. About four years ago, Paul embraced "Christian universalism" and has defended this view on several occasions. While he frequently disavows "general universalism," the idea that many roads lead to God, he has affirmed his hope that all will be reconciled to God either this side of death or after death. Christian universalism (also known as universal reconciliation) asserts that love is the supreme attribute of God that trumps all others. His love reaches beyond the grave to save all those who refuse Christ throughout their lifetimes. Even fallen angels, and the Devil himself, will one day repent, be delivered from hell, and enter heaven. There cannot be left in the universe any being whom the love of God does not conquer; hence the words, universal reconciliation.
Many others have pointed out the theological errors they find in the book. They fault Young's view of revelation and the Bible, his presentation of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus' death and the meaning of reconciliation, and the subversion of institutions that God has ordered, such as the government and the local church. But the common thread tying all these errors together is Christian universalism. A study of the history of universal reconciliation, which goes back to as early as the third century, shows that all of these doctrinal deviations, including opposition to the local church, are characteristic of universalism. In modern times, it has undermined evangelical faith in Europe and America. It has joined with Unitarianism to form the Unitarian-Universalist church.
By comparing the creeds of universalism with a careful reading of The Shack, one discovers how deeply universalism is embedded within the book. Here is the evidence in brief:
Near the beginning of this review I raised the question: "Does a work of fiction have to be doctrinally correct?" In this case, the answer is yes, for Young is deliberately theological. The fiction serves the theology, not vice-versa. Another question is: "Do not the good points of the novel outweigh the bad?" Again, if one uses doctrinal impurity to teach how to be restored to God, the end result is that one is not restored in a biblical way to the God of the Bible. Finally, one may ask: "Could not this book lay the foundation for seeking a growing relationship with God based in the Bible?" Of course, this may be possible. But, in light of the errors, the potential for going astray is as great as the potential for growth. Young offers no direction regarding spiritual growth. He discounts the Bible and the institutional church with its ordinances. If one finds a deeper relationship with God that reflects biblical fidelity it will be in spite of The Shack and not because of it.