Writer of The Shack, William Paul Young Outs Himself as a Heretic

The_Shack

by John Ellis

Two months ago, I ordered a copy of The Shack, the New York Times bestseller that has sold over twenty million copies.[1] I intended to read it and then write a review in time for the release of the movie. However, I was unable to force myself to finish reading it.

For the record, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy reading The Shack. Over the years, I’ve become very familiar with the contrived plot, blasphemous characters, and heretical teachings. It’s been inescapable. The number of family and friends who rave about the book match the family and friends who denounce the book. Not long after its release, I researched the teachings of The Shack and concluded that, at best, it wasn’t worth my time reading; at worst, I would just become incensed over the heresy being subtly introduced (or not so subtly) to brothers and sisters in Christ. The devil is indeed a lion seeking to devour people. The movie, of course, changed my perspective on the value of me reading the book, and that brings me back to my opening paragraph. And, as stated, I couldn’t force myself to finish The Shack.

In the intervening weeks since I last attempted to force myself to read the book, I’ve debated the validity of publicly commenting on The Shack. I mean, I haven’t read the book nor have I watched the movie. I’ve researched the material enough to be comfortable holding to strong opinions and even sharing those opinions with friends and family. But, publicly declaring a popular book and movie as anathema probably requires having read the dumb thing at least once. That ain’t happening.

Of course, all of the above raises the question as to why I feel justified in breaking my self-imposed silence and publicly denouncing The Shack, both book and movie. Well, what’s changed is that William Paul Young, the author of The Shack has written a new book titled Lies We Believe About God. And I’ve read Young’s new book.

Whatever confusion people may have had about what Young actually believes, he has helpfully cleared it up with Lies We Believe About God. With his new book, Young has demonstrated that the charges of heretic lobbed in his direction because of The Shack are justified. The warnings from people like Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, and popular Christian blogger and pastor Tim Challies have been proven necessary and true.

For the record, this isn’t so much a book review as it is a listing of some of the unbiblical and heretical teachings and beliefs of Wm. Paul Young.[2] My intention isn’t to offer robust critiques and/or apologetics in reference to his errors, but to confront Christians who defend The Shack with the erroneous beliefs of the man who wrote the book. This means, of course, that I’m assuming a level of orthodoxy that doesn’t actually exist among my readers. If you are confused by some of my assertions, please email me using the email provided in the “Contact” tab above. I’d love to dialogue with you about your questions.

Opening the second chapter, Young writes, “This lie is huge! And it is devastating!”

The lie that Young is referring to is the “lie” that God is good and humans are bad. Or, as the title of the chapter puts it, “God is good. I am not.”

Reading chapter two of Lies We Believe About God, verses flooded my mind. Verses like “None is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10),” “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:12),” and “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:5).”

The Bible clearly teaches that humans are bad; humans are not good. And the Bible teaches that the reality of the depravity of humans is because of sin. That’s the problem and the very reason that Jesus had to come to earth – the sin/badness of humans separates them from God, who is holy and just. God’s law has to be obeyed, and sin has to be punished. Jesus obeyed God’s law because none of us can, and He then died on the cross as the punishment for the sins of those who place their faith in him.

Opposed to that foundational teaching of Scripture, Young believes (and teaches) that, “We are true and right … Blind, not depraved is our condition.” In other words, sin isn’t the problem, lack of education and oppression are the problem. If that were true, if Young is correct, then God’s plan of redemption was unnecessary and Jesus didn’t need to die. This explains why Young believes that it is a lie that “You need to get saved,” the title of chapter 13.

In the middle of chapter 13, Young writes, “God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I’m saying!”

The author of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young is a universalist, a heretic. That bears repeating.

The author of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young is a universalist, a heretic.

And lest you think that I’ve left out some context, Young continues, “Every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God ‘dragged’ all human beings to himself.”

As stated above, chapter 13 is the logical conclusion of chapter 2. And at this point in my reading of Lies We Believe About God, I was expecting chapter 15, “Hell is separation from God.”

In chapter 15, Young claims that if hell is not a created thing than God is hell because God is not created. And, hold onto that, because Young comes back to it. However, before returning to that thought, according to Young, if hell is a created thing, then we can be separated from God and, misquoting Romans 8:38-39, Young asserts that we “do not have the power to separate [ourselves] from the love of God. And whatever hell is, if it is a created thing, it cannot separate you from the love of God.”

Rejecting the notion that hell is a created thing, Young returns to the belief that hell is not a created thing and, hence, that makes hell the one and the same with God. Using Young’s own words, “hell would be God.” Circling back to the heresy of universalism, Young believes that God’s love is hell for those who are currently rejecting Him. God’s kindness and mercy is the hell that will eventually purge them of their independence and into a God who has already saved them because they are not sinners.

Chapter 17, however, takes the heretical and blasphemous cake, so to speak. According to the chapter, people believe the lie that “The Cross was God’s idea.”

Young labels God a “cosmic abuser” if the cross was His idea. Young’s attack on the very center of Christianity is not new. For centuries, those in rebellion against God love to toss the charge of “cosmic abuser” in the face of the Almighty Creator of the Universe. At least most of those people are doing so honestly, and aren’t denying what the Bible teaches. However, the author of The Shack, Wm. Paul Young manages to both blaspheme God’s name and deny the substitutionary atonement.

Because this is such an important point, I’m going to link to an article on The Gospel Coalition that interacts with Young’s belief and teaching on the cross. I encourage you to read Owen Strachan’s TGC article in order to remind yourself of the vital and necessary place in Christianity that the substitutionary atonement holds. This is not a game, because one of the most popular “Christian” authors in the world is promoting damnable heresies and blasphemies against God.

Throughout Lies We Believe About God, Wm. Paul Young continuously ties those “lies” to points of emphasis in The Shack. Young didn’t write his latest book merely to teach his theology; he did so to clear up confusion about the theology he was teaching in and through The Shack.  Wm. Paul Young’s latest book confirms the pleas for discernment and the warnings of heresy about The Shack from many theologians, pastors, and writers. Christians who have shrugged off those warnings would do well to ask themselves if they are among those whom the Apostle Paul warned would “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).”

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] According to the cover. I haven’t verified the claim, not do I intend to do so. It sold a whole bunch, that’s for sure.

[2] Furthermore, this article isn’t even a complete cataloguing of Young’s errors and heresies. That task would require its own book.

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12 thoughts on “Writer of The Shack, William Paul Young Outs Himself as a Heretic

  1. So, is our inclusion in Christ’s work on the cross only made real by an act of our will (repentance)? Or, did he already decide who would repent and excluded them from his work on the cross while he was there? Did Jesus fail in his mission to “seek and save the lost”? I’m not a universalist (I don’t believe everyone will necessarily enter the kingdom), but I think scripture demonstrates fairly clearly that Christ’s saving work on the cross was “universal,” at least as universal as the effects of Adam’s fall. That’s what I think Young is getting at.

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      • I don’t see anywhere in the selections that you quoted where he says that he is a universalist. Even if he did, you would not be correct in drawing the conclusion that by the term “universalist” he means that he believes all paths lead to heaven and that everyone enters the kingdom. You are forcing your definition of universalism on him, which isn’t a fair characterization. Stop getting hung up on a word, and actually listen to what is being said.

        As for your article rehashing the tired arguments for Calvinism, the scriptural and theological gymnastics required to prop up five point Calvinism wear me out. I applaud your efforts and commend your article as a fantastic and concise introduction to Calvinism, but as neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, I will choose Option 2, and not try to argue with you that you’re not really a vegetarian.

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      • Have you read Young’s latest book?

        Also, in my article, I quote Young – “In the middle of chapter 13, Young writes, ‘God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I’m saying!’”

        That is the definition of a universalist. Not to mention the fact that he refers to himself as a universalist at other points in the book. Which brings me back to my question, have you read Young’s latest book?

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  2. I read THE SHACK when it first came out. I wanted to know what the hullabaloo was about. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the book was awful, but I definitely agree with your assessment that the book is heretical and doesn’t present a biblical worldview (and that’s an understatement). This guy has made a lot of money, and I’m sure he made even more selling the rights of the book content to the movie scriptwriter. I actually like reading novels written by non-Christians. Reading those books really sharpens my biblical worldview. So, I guess THE SHACK fulfilled a valuable role in helping to further sharpen my biblical worldview. I’m glad you weighed-in on the book, John, because I respect your perspective.

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  3. I read the book years ago at the insistence of a friend. You are correct. It is awful and heretical. After listening to several interviews with the author, it is obvious the man has not forgiven his father. Ironically, he has done exactly what his father did…taken the Holy Word of The Lord and twisted it order to support his personal agenda. The only difference is which side of the pendulum they are on. His father was legalistic and abusive; Young is lawless and anarchist. Both are liars and wicked, using and abusing God in order to justify their evil.

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  4. Thank you for writing this article. I am going to print it, copy it and dissimilar it to the people at my church who think The Shack is nothing more than a work of fiction and who use it as a witnessing tool and a witness to the nature of God. When I meet these people I ask them “What god?” Clearly it is not the one true God of the Bible.

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  5. Interesting comments,

    I couldn’t help but feel that the article was a severe case of “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. Sure, if the author started his own church movement you can count me out but to bad mouth any vehicle for bringing God into conversations or people’s lives who would never otherwise think of God is a dangerous mistake.
    I for one, who has a brain like everyone else, could evaluate some of the grey areas that the author covered and he has obviously overly liberal views on salvation but please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
    What a refreshing “metaphor” the story presented – a God who is our friend, who wants to come close, alongside us and journey through our tragedies and struggles to bring healing and wholeness!

    I am born again, baptised and believe all the scriptural corrections but come on now: Finish the book and see the overall picture! It’s a shame to have reviewed this fantastic “metaphor” by delving into the author’s beliefs and seemingly working your way backwards. In fact, use your time a bit better and you might find a door opens up elsewhere (hopefully away from review work) – sorry to be harsh but a tree blocked your view of a beautiful forest!

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