The Shack Author Rejects Biblical Substitutionary Atonement

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LTRP Note: The following article is written by free-lance writer, John Lanagan, who attended a church meeting this past weekend in which The Shack author spoke. The church, East Hill of Gresham, Oregon, is presenting a series on The Shack and began the series by having Young address the congregation. In view of a recent radio interview with Paul Young where Young said he did not believe in the biblical view of substitutionary atonement (see links below), Lighthouse Trails is presenting this article. It is not the intention of this report to single out East Hill Church but rather to warn believers of The Shack’s interspiritual and universalistic theology and the book’s major impact on many many churches. Because it is being packaged and presented as a Christian book, we are compelled to issue this warning.

by John Lanagan
Free-lance writer

“For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted–you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:4)

This “different spirit” was welcomed during a recent church service in Gresham, Oregon. Paul Young, author of The Shack, spoke to the East Hill congregation during the opening night of a five weekend series called, appropriately enough, The Shack. Sometimes on the verge of tears, and possessing great rapport with the crowd, Young was given a standing ovation.

Before the author spoke, a father stood before the congregation with his young child. His prayer was his child would love what the Lord loves, and hate the things the Lord hates. On that same altar stood a constructed replica of “the shack,” a stage prop for the evening’s festivities. The question must be asked, does the Lord love what is happening through The Shack?

In an interview with Pastor Kendall Adams of KAYP Radio, Paul Young denied the substitutionary Atonement of Christ.[1] (for transcript, click here – no longer online) In other words, the author of this bestselling book does not believe Christ was punished on the Cross by the Father for our sins. This is a central doctrine of our faith–that Jesus willingly took our place of punishment and that through His sacrifice we can have eternal life.

Increasingly, The Shack is being accepted by “Bible-believing” churches. Although East Hill Church is not the first to do so, its promotion and use of the novel as a teaching tool guarantees more open doors for the author.

Does the book’s theology concern East Hill leadership? The Shack has “theological gaps,” agreed Senior Pastor Jason Albelo, but the five part series will proceed as planned. Albelo, who had not heard the author’s denial of substitutionary Atonement, emphasized he was not “arguing the theology of The Shack,” but, rather, “I’m using its theology of healing.”

Yes, but why? The Bible is replete with those who have been saved, sanctified, delivered, defended, and cherished. This “theology of healing,” on the other hand, is not based on Christ or His Word. For many in the audience that night, this may not have been understood–or may not have mattered.

With all due respect to Pastor Albelo, who courteously fielded my post-service questions, East Hill leadership cannot choose to disassociate from anti-biblical aspects of the book if they are promoting a five weekend series based on it. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

According to East Hill’s Small Group study guide for The Shack, “Practice reading/thinking in light of God’s Word. As you read, or re-read, The Shack, highlight any truths about God and relationships. Take time to do some Bible exploring, and make notes of scriptures on which those truths are based.”[2]

Perhaps the “reading/thinking in light of God’s Word” could also be applied to those “theological gaps” Pastor Albelo mentioned. For example (and there are many), the god of The Shack, unlike the God of the Bible, does not mete out eternal punishment. The novel’s “god” says, “I don’t need to punish sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it, it’s my joy to cure it.”[3] Everyone who has read The Shack has been exposed to this teaching–and make no mistake, it is a teaching.

Does the Bible teach that the Lord does not punish? Well, no. According to the Word of God, “[W]hen the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

This is the good news of the gospel–that we who repent of our sin and make Jesus our Lord do not have to suffer everlasting destruction. But to pretend that eternal hell does not await those who reject Christ is to deny the authority of the Bible. And maybe that is the point.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

A hard Truth? Yes. But a gentle Savior. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

When The Shack was originally written and submitted to publishers, it proclaimed ultimate reconciliation–“Christian” universalism–which is the belief that through Jesus all people go to heaven–Satanists, Mormons, Hindus, and every Christ–rejecting person that has ever lived. While the editors of The Shack have stated they removed UR from the book[4], the novel nevertheless seems to subtly and frequently promote universalism.

For the author, the hope for UR apparently has never changed. He told Pastor Kendall Adams, “Even if there was ultimate reconciliation, which I don’t know, but even if there were, that doesn’t diminish the damage of sin at all.”[5] It doesn’t? UR totally contradicts the gospel message of Jesus Christ. The Bible, the Lord’s love letter, is our road map through life and into eternity.

Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:11-12)

At East Hill, the author spoke of his tortured past, and of the love of God. At one point, speaking of the years spent trying to overcome his pain, he said praying didn’t work, fasting didn’t work, and reading Scripture didn’t help.

Those words drifted out there like poison balloons. When I mentioned this to Pastor Albelo, he said, “Come on, you know that is out of context.” My own Pastor, in attendance that night, said later, “Think of all the unbelievers and new believers who heard Paul Young say that.”

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)

East Hill is not the first mega-church to promote The Shack, and will certainly not be the last. The apostate church is rising, and The Shack has successfully introduced the beginnings of goddess worship, a false Christ, and a denial of the purpose of the cross.

Please understand I am not calling East Hill apostate. All churches need to be careful that books and movies don’t supersede God’s Word as our means of teaching Truth. Many people cheering for The Shack are looking for God. Some don’t understand He primarily reveals Himself through Scripture. Some do not understand repentance. Others, however, simply don’t want the God of the Bible. The Shack has given them a glossy substitute. The apostate church will consist of those who truly believe they are worshiping Christ.

I very much appreciate Pastor Albelo’s patience while listening to my concerns. As we spoke, with that makeshift “shack” on the altar behind us, he noted he couldn’t “police every book.”

“No,” I said, “but you don’t have to promote them, either.”

John’s blog

2. Understanding The Shack (Part 1) Jason Albelo 3/14-15/09
3. William P. Young, The Shack, pg. 120
4. Wayne Jacobsen, “Is The Shack Heresy?”
5. http://rock-lifecom.files/shakcomp.mp3

Quotes from Paul Young’s interview with Pastor Kendall Adams on KAYP Radio:

Kendall Adams: “I, I take it that you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t agree that the cross was a place of punishment for our sin.”

Paul 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!”… 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.” LTRP Note: For more information on this “huge debate” regarding the atonement, please see our research: Slaughterhouse Religion: When they reject the blood atonement … Also see Faith Undone, chapter 11, which addresses this issue.

To listen to interview,click here.

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