The Shack’s Author William Paul Young on Substitutionary Atonement

In 2009, Lighthouse Trails posted an article titled “The Shack Author Rejects Biblical Substitutionary Atonement.” The article was largely based on an interview that The Shack author William Paul Young did. Below is a partial transcript of the interview between Young and a pastor named Kendall Adams. When your Christian friends, family members, pastors, and church members tell you they are going to go and see the upcoming movie, The Shack, ask them if they really understand what The Shack author believes. You may listen to the entire interview by clicking here. You can also pass out Warren B. Smith’s article/booklet The Shack and Its New Age Leaven and Substitution: He Took Our Place by Harry Ironside.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

On the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (that Jesus Christ took the penalty for our sins on the cross):

Adams: “On page 120 [of The Shack] where God says, you know, I don’t punish sin, sin is it’s own punishment, you know, this is when Mack , um, is having a hard time with his view of God pouring out wrath, etc. But then when it says, “Mackenzie, I don’t need to punish people for sin. I guess when people read the scripture my question is, doesn’t God…hasn’t God, and doesn’t He…punish sin?”

William Young: “Some of it is semantics, we’re dealing with the concept of the wrath of God and, and here’s an underlying question. “Do you believe that God does anything that is not motivated by love?”

Adams: “Well I think in scripture we have wrath, we have justice, we have mercy-”

Young: “I understand…but…”

Adams: “…we do have love, so…”

Young: “Do you believe that God does anything that is not motivated by love, cuz love is his onthological character, it’s his being, justice is an activity of God, uh, wrath is an activity of God, so…”

Adams: “So you do believe though, that he does punish sin…”

Young: “I..I believe in the wrath of God, absolutely, but, but the wrath of God is, is always couched, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodly (undecipherable word here) and unrighteousness of men, it’s not against the men, it’s against everything that is damaging them, hurting them, causing them to sin against eachother, everything that is contrary to his nature, and um…so…”

Adams: “But-”

Young “I, I absolutely believe in the wrath of God, yes, but I believe it’s motivated by love .”

Adams: “But this love also, and just as you quoted, you know, you mentioned uh the lake of fire, etc., it does say that there is torment day and night, so there is punishment, torment…”

Young: “Ya, and it, it is in the presence of the Lamb.”

Adams: “Here’s my question, if God doesn’t punish sin, what is the cross then, because if Jesus took our punishment on the cross, if he died for our sins, he was taking our punishment. If God doesn’t punish sin it seems like that demeans the whole concept of the cross.”

Young: “Oh, not at all. Look, the cross is, is the plan of God from before the foundation of the world, to redeem us back from being lost, being in the grip of our sin and lostness and idolatry and everything else, it’s absolutely essential. There’s no hope for any human being let alone the human race apart from the cross.”

Adams: “So you do believe that Christ was punished, then, for our sin.”

Young: “I believe that, that Christ became sin for us.”

Adams: “I mean that he was a sacrifice, that he was punished, he took…”

Young: “Uhuh…by who?”

Adams: “The Father.”

Young: “Why…why would the Father punish His son?”

Adams: “Because sin demanded justice, it, it demanded-”

Young: “Oh, it, but it, where was Father when the Son was on the cross?”

Adams: “In your book, when it says, um, Mack had a problem with ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and God basically says, ‘Mack, I never left him’…”

Young: “That’s right.”

Adams: “When Jesus said ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ it…”

Young: “Ya, he’s quoting, he’s also quoting and doing the cry of David in the Psalms, and in Psalms that’s totally reconciled within the Psalms. The next thing that he says, even though that’s exactly what he feels for the first time as a human being who was born of the spirit, baptized of the spirit, filled with the spirit, for the first time, he doesn’t sense the presence of the Father, and in that he cries out. But Paul the apostle comes up later, and Jesus first says, but into your hands I commit my spirit, so he’s still saying, you’re here. And Paul says, where was God the Father? For God the Father, 2 Cor. 5:19, was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them. So where was God the Father? You…and where did reconciliation happen? I believe it happened on the cross. And it says that God the Father was in His son reconciling the world to himself.”

Adams: “Ya, many see that as Christ being the agency of our reconciliation but that when, you know, that Christ was taking the wrath of God upon him, I, I take it that you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t agree that the cross was a place of punishment for our sin.”

Young: “No. I don’t, I am not a penal substitution …reformation…point of view.”

Adams: “But isn’t that the heart of the gospel? Is that the heart of the gospel?”

Young: “No! Ha, no! The heart of the gospel is that we are, are so pursued, the heart of the gospel is in Ephesians 1:5. He predestined us before the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons and everything is by, for and through Jesus, and when Jesus dies, all die, all die.”

Adams: “But all the sac- all the sacrifices in the Old Testament, they were for the sins of the person, as they laid the hand on the lamb, or, or the Passover, you know the lamb’s blood was shed and put on the doorposts so when the death angel came it passed over, that way…”

Young: “And, and I understand uh, ya, I’m not saying that I don’t agree with some sense of substitutionary atonement.”

Adams: “But you disagree…”

Young: “But it’s way broader (muffled) than that.”

Adams: “But if you reject a penal substitution that Christ died as a penalty for our sins, it seems like that is the, that is the Christian faith.”

Young: “I don’t know if you’re aware, but that’s a huge debate that’s going on in theology right now within the evangelical community.”

Adams: “It is, and I, and I, and I would say everything hangs on that, I mean, there’s so many scriptures that Christ died for our sins, 1 Corinthians 15:3 -”

Young: “Oh, and, and I, I agree with that, I, he became sin for us..”

Adams: “No, he died for our sins. Romans said, the Father delivered him over for our sin. If he didn’t, if he wasn’t delivered for my sin…”

Young: “I’m not disagreeing with any of those passages at all, it’s just that how do we understand it? And how do we define what exactly took place? And I’m saying, that there is a huuuuuge amount of disagreement among theologians, about what all that means.”

Adams: “Kay.”

Young: “And so there is, you know, a degree of ambiguity there. And uh, what I’m saying everything that happened there, is the purpose of father, son and holy spirit, and that purpose is, our redemption, is salvation, reconciliation, and I don’t see, um, that it’s necessary to have the father, uh, punish, in that sense, the son!”

Adams: “Ya, we could, this is, I think this is an important issue.”

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