How 'The Shack' seduced evangelicals
Prof who knew author says book's acceptance exposes weakness in church
Posted: June 16, 2010
10:12 pm Eastern
Thursday, June 17, 2010
As a seminary professor and a former colleague and neighbor of the author of "The Shack," James De Young has a unique perspective on the mega-best-selling work of fiction that has captured the hearts of many wounded Christians and skeptics and become the topic of sermons and Bible classes in churches nationwide.
While well aware of the testimonies of many who claim they have experienced emotional and spiritual healing from the book's portrayal of God, De Young warns in a newly released book of his own that "The Shack" author William Paul Young's primary intent was not to tell a good story that happened to contain theology but to teach an unorthodox view of God he claims changed his life.
Undergirding "The Shack," De Young told WND in an interview, is an age-old heresy – universal reconciliation – that diminishes the work of Jesus on the cross and the holiness and justice of God by asserting that everyone eventually will be saved from eternal damnation.
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Paul Young has vigorously and repeatedly denied he is a universalist, but De Young says he was personally acquainted with Young's spiritual journey over more than a dozen years. De Young points to a 103-page paper Young wrote that presented his embrace of universal reconciliation and rejection of the "evangelical paradigm."
DeYoung's new book, by WND Books, is his attempt to warn of "The Shack"'s seductive theology and present what he believes are the biblical answers to the questions it raises.
"I think it is very clear 'The Shack' is written to teach theology," said De Young, a New Testament language and literature professor at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore. "It's not just written to tell a mystery story."
De Young told WND his hope is "that as the truth is known about the universalist background of the author – and how it can be found throughout 'The Shack' – that people will realize a good story needs to be good teaching as well."
In 1997, De Young and Young, whose families socialized through a Christian school and youth sports, co-founded a Christian think tank called M3 Forum. For the next seven years they discussed and probed topics, doctrine and problems facing the church as it approached the new millennium. Young submitted his surprising paper embracing universal reconciliation in 2004.
Less than two years later, Young asked friends to read the early draft of a novel he was writing as a Christmas gift for his children. Though highly impressed by the manuscript's potential, the friends were opposed to the universal reconciliation they found in it and acknowledged publicly that they spent over a year trying to remove that message. Mainstream Christian publishers declined interest in publishing what became "The Shack," so Young and his friends formed their own publishing company.
In need of revival
Now, with 10 million copies in print, "The Shack" has been on numerous best-seller lists for more than two years and become an iconic work among enthusiastic evangelicals, with many buying multiple copies to hand out to their friends.
But De Young believes the acceptance of "The Shack" by evangelicals and their institutions is evidence of a church in need of renewal.
"I'm really dismayed to see that Christian publishers and radio programs, TV programs have basically imbibed the feel-good spirit of 'The Shack' and have not critically examined the theology," he told WND. "If you point that out to them they feel offended. They feel that you're being overly critical. They feel something like, 'Well, can't you look beyond the doctrine and appreciate the story.'"
De Young laments "a great lack of discernment" in Christian media and publishing that is willing to "look askance at the doctrine" if a book enjoys widespread popularity and makes a lot of money.
Many evangelicals and churches have been seduced by "The Shack," he said, because the story resonates with many who have difficult backgrounds in which they've been deeply wounded emotionally and spiritually.