Universalism? (Theology behind the Shack)

A quote from Wm Paul Young:

“Many of us, if we’re being honest with ourselves, interpret the Bible in terms of what’s acceptable. Instead of going to the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to what’s being said in it, we interpret it in terms of what won’t get us in trouble, stir the pot or make too much noise. We don’t want a controversial opinion that might put us at odds with what’s considered “safe,” so we think of it in terms of what won’t cause a racket.

We come to the Bible with fear and insecurity instead of coming with confidence and openness, knowing that the Holy Spirit lives in us, guiding our hearts.”


Can you relate? Do you agree?

After thinking long and hard about this for the past 20 plus years, I’ve come to this philosophy:

Over and above any teachings (doctrines) we extract from the Bible we have to realize that the Scriptures are carefully crafted by God for one purpose: to lead us into relationship with Papa, Son, and Holy Spirit. THIS is why there is such ambiguity on SO many topics in Scripture. You were never meant to only just extract truths from Scripture, but to be in relationship with the One who is Truth. This is the heart and soul of my philosophy and theology now, to be in relationship with Mr. Truth Himself. He has all his theological ducks in a row. He has all his theology worked out. He is perfect theology. I trust him and I trust him to reveal himself.

All of us have holes in our theology: two in the hands, two in the feet, and one in the side.

In the following interview, Wm Paul Young, (author of The Shack), is asked “In what ways are you a universalist?”

So what do you think of his response? Does he have Scriptural basis for his thoughts? Let’s take a look!

His first statement is that all the kosmos (all of creation in entire universe) was and is being created by and existing in Jesus Himself reminds me of one of my favorite verses:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17 NIV

I like keeping things in context and letting the author, Holy Spirit, actually say all of what God was intending to say.

For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

Don’t you just love that? This is especially wonderful when we consider that “God is Love” (1 John 4).

Who isn’t one of God’s offspring? Does this differ from being his child? One of his sheep? It would seem so as the Scriptures speak of some being children of the devil and Jesus clearly says to some, “you are not my sheep” to those who don’t believe. But it should be concluded logically that even these lost and fallen ones are still considered his “offspring”. Everyone came from and find their Source in their Creator – Yeshua (Jesus) Himself.

Here is another pertinent Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:13-23 NIV)

All of creation exists inside of and from the LORD Jesus Christ who is the Creator. Is this a surprise to anyone? Is this a new way of thinking about Jesus for you? As THE Creator? As the Sustainer of all creation? I think it’s amazing!

So this Scripture also points to the fact that all the cosmos (all things!) has been reconciled. It is our joy now to accept our acceptance and receive our reconciliation. Why shouldn’t this also include even those in Sheol (the grave)? Where did we ever get the idea that there was no hope beyond the grave? Jesus preached to spirits in prison, why do we think that this activity ever stopped? What tangible ways and experiences might his “preaching” take on? Object lessons? Facing harsh hard heart realities? Refiners fire?

Paul Young’s second statement is drawn from Romans 5 and 6 among other Scriptures. In these passages it talks about how, just as Adam was our representative, Jesus was even more our representative before the Father! The thought is this: Jesus didn’t just die for us (all of creation), he died “as us” without exclusions. Without exceptions. Here are some Scriptures to meditate on from Romans 5:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So this tells us that salvation is already true for everyone. Just as in Adam sin became true for everyone, so Christ has made salvation true for everyone. He already saved you no matter who you are. Now we have the wonderful privilege of believing and enjoying and declaring the joy of an already finished work!

Yes, only those who receive it and believe it will reign in life. Will all ultimately receive and believe it? It’s obvious that many who die in this life do not receive it. Don’t some scorn and reject the gift of the abundance of God’s grace and his gift of righteousness?

1 Corinthians 15:22 says this:

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

“All” kind of means all… kinda sorta… unless it doesn’t?

What if someone read that Scripture and dared to believe what it actually said? Would they be rejected by Christianity at large? Tarred and feathered and branded a heretic?

See what is going on here? And this is only one of many Scriptures that could lead someone to believe that in the end, “all will be made alive” like the Bible says.

More from Romans 6 (keep in mind this flows from the above passage Romans 5):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus (and based on Romans 5, who hasn’t?) have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Okay, so what I’m seeing here is pretty amazing. Without consulting you, Jesus has already pulled something off for you. He saved you and didn’t even bother to ask your permission. The nerve!

Just this morning I had my seven-year-old little girl read this on my t-shirt:

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 9.20.44 PM

Here is the full context:

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 10.37.32 PM

And then we talked about how Jesus has already saved us. He saved us by his grace long before we were born, and as the bible puts it, even “before the foundation of the world”. This salvation is experienced through faith and that faith is “not of yourselves”, it is the gift of God. The reconciliation of all of humanity (and the entire cosmos – all of creation) is something that God has joyfully accomplished through the cross and resurrection of Christ.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:2

You and I are part of that joy! I think he wants each one of us to know how uniquely part of His joy we truly are!

Hebrews 12 talks about Jesus as the “author and perfecter of faith”. I don’t believe he is referring here to your faith but His perfect faith.

What do you think of how Eugene Peterson interprets this passage of Scripture?

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 9.28.55 PM

So Is Paul Young a Universalist?

Paul Young’s third statement clears up the matter. It depends on your definition doesn’t it? He is not a “universalist” by the supposed common definition. All roads don’t lead straight home to Papa. Jesus is the Only way home to Papa. Everyone should know this.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” -Jesus John 14:6

“There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

After thinking long and hard about where I see Wm Paul Young coming from, here is my conclusion:

Wm Paul Young is as hopeful as the Scriptures allow.

And shouldn’t we all be? Of course Paul Young is aware of the tension and ambiguity in Scripture and the realities of “hell” and what it says of judgement and punishment.

Yes. There will be, what some translations render as, “eternal punishment”, upon those who resist their own reconciliation. But what does eternal punishment mean, biblically? Does it mean forever and ever and ever without end or hope? Eternal conscious torment? I wonder if God finds this idea of eternal conscious torment unacceptable and is prepared to do something about it? After all, he has the keys to Death and Hades.

I trust the One with the keys!! I trust his heart! I trust his plan! No matter what it is. He does, after all, have to keep the children in heaven safe from an unrepentant pedophile. The unredeemed MUST be kept out.

Could it be, as some theologians have pointed out, that the punishment is restorative and not punitive? That everyone is eventually redeemed? The Scriptures are unclear.

It is brought up in the book by Brad Jersak, Her Gates Will Never be Shut, that the words the translators have chosen for punishment and judgement do have a restorative and not a punitive tone to these Greek words.

For those people who have misunderstood and refused him now and died in that condition of unbelief, will they somehow be drawn to him and surrender to his love beyond the grave?

Could Papa, Son, and Holy Spirit craft a scenario for each and every heart much like Mack experienced portrayed so beautifully in The Shack?

There are plenty of Scriptures that suggest this very thing and reveal this hope of Papa’s heart. “Love always hopes” you know, and “God is Love” and Love will always love his enemies just as he asks us to do as well. Love asks Mack to forgive the killer of his daughter. Love asks Mack to “release his throat” and for the opportunity to redeem even him.

I was surprised myself while in conversation about this topic when I was reminded of Jesus words:

“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.” John 6:44 NLT

and this: “The Father and I are one.” John 10:30 NLT

And finally: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” John 12:32 NLT

So there you have it. Jesus will draw everyone to himself. Why would anyone object? Don’t we all share Papa’s heart that, “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent“?

(Repent is to have a change of mind and receive the free gift of restored relationship – which is the very definition of “eternal life” John 17:3).

Does God get what God wants?

Good question. I just saw this very fitting quote on facebook:

“Wisdom doesn’t seem to even want to know all the answers, but it always asks the perfect questions.” – Jason Upton

I shared those above Scriptures and someone said that “everyone” or “all men (mankind)” doesn’t really mean everyone. I think someone needs to go back to kindergarten. And please tell me this, who would you exclude? Which one of God’s lost kids do you want to suffer eternal conscious torment without hope forever and ever?

Does this mean that I think hell doesn’t exist? Of course not. I know it’s real! I’ve been there and so have you. Hell is primarily the condition of unbelief itself that closes your heart to the unfailing love of your Papa. This unbelief is misery and torment and is suffering and sin. It is everything that Jesus became to make an end of.

Newsflash! He has made an end of it!

I know you don’t believe that. None of us actually seem to believe all of what Jesus pulled off at the cross. God knows this and predicted this long ago:

“Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?” Isaiah 53:1

Many of us are still in our unbelief and still hangin on to hell. BUT, Jesus never gives up and never leaves the side of his Beloved to woo us back to love. And just who doesn’t Jesus love?

From a past blog post:

Another Scripture that points to the mercy of Jesus:

“So he (Jesus) went and preached to the spirits in prison – those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.” 1 Peter 3:19-20 NLT

I believe this speaks to Jesus extending redemption and the message of salvation to all those who perished in the flood. God gives us all way more chances than we deserve.

A while ago I remember sobbing at one of the closing scenes of “What Dreams May Come”. Robbin Williams character travels to hell in search of his wife who had committed suicide. He was determined to stay with her and to try to instill faith and hope in her that could set her free. At the time I watched that movie I was in a personal hell of my own and to think that Jesus was right there wooing me back to redemption was an absolutely beautiful thought!

Here is what I believe Jesus wants everyone to know:

“There is a seat reserved for you at the table of the feast that God has prepared for all of humanity.”

(By the way, there are doctrines of demons that many Christians have embraced that attempt to limit the extent of Christ’s work on the cross to somehow exclude someone. We seem uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus has included everyone.)

The Bible teaches us, however, that everyone absolutely must “wash your robes” in the blood of Jesus (like applying the blood to the doorpost of your house) and wear the wedding garments of his righteousness to enjoy this feast or you will be thrown out into outer darkness… until you are willing to repent (“change your mind”) and wear his righteousness? See Matthew 22!

The curative and restorative qualities of “hell”?

Wouldn’t it be agony and torment to resist the very Love in whom you live and move and have your being? Could it not be His fiery love that is very lake of fire in which the wicked will burn in his very Presence? Did you actually think there was somewhere you can exist that the Creator and Sustainer of all is not present?

Scripture tells us, “God is a consuming fire”.

Does this mean the torment never ends? Can those in the lake of fire never escape? Could it be that these are the very ones outside the gates of heavenly Jerusalem, to the thirsty ones to whom the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”?

Check this out:

“Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. 18 And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

21 May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.” Revelation 22

Those who share Papa’s heart read this and have hope that God will get the reward for his sacrifice on the cross. That Everyone would come to repentance and come home! The prodigals return!

Read verse 15 and then 14 again. Doesn’t verse 17 remind you of the rich man in torment in Hades?

How could anyone who shares in the heart of the Father not rejoice over the possibility of the prodigal coming home? Every. Last. One.

Does this mean that everyone will come home? Not necessarily. Scripture seems vague on this point. I suppose anyone can choose to resist and turn away from his love. I believe He will respect your choice.

Didn’t Jesus share a story of a rich man (the rich were thought to live under God’s blessings because of his wealth) burning in agony, desperately thirsty for a drop of water?

Didn’t Jesus (and the whole Trinity) identify with this sinner when while on the cross he uttered the words “I thirst?” Doesn’t God know all about the deepest agonies anyone will suffer? Doesn’t he have compassion? Of course he does! He promises never to leave them or forsake them. I believe that he holds out hope for everyone in hell to be reconciled. After all, He does hold the keys to Death and Hades. Does he hope that those “hell” holds will find salvation? Love always hopes and He is Love.

Remember the prodigal Son story that Jesus told? Isn’t the real problem child in the story the older brother? Isn’t he the one who wouldn’t go in and to whom the Father came out and pleaded with to come in and join the grace party? This likely represents the religious ones who are determined to be the ones who get to decide who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out, still eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life (found in relationship and union with the Trinity (Papa, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Jesus Christ is the only One who is “right”. He alone is “the Truth” and he is perfect theology.

I love this quote:

All of us have holes in our theology: two in the hands, two in the feet, and one in the side.

So are you going to judge me? Tar and feather me and “cast out my name as evil” for taking a serious look at what the Bible actually has to say about hell and the possible hope for the “damned”?

Jesus alone knows his Father. Christ is the only One who is “in”. He is the One New Man and the “only human being”. He called himself the Son of Man which is Hebrew and Aramaic idiom which means “human being”. This brings us back to Romans 5 and what Christ has pulled off “as us” – our truest representative.

Check this out:

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Mathew 11:27

He is the only One who is “in” right relationship (“righteous”) with the Father which Jesus defines as Eternal Life (John 17:3).

You are at his mercy to reveal himself to you. Thankfully he is delighted to do exactly that! That is why he came after all, isn’t it?

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, 8 for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.” John 17 (a small portion of Jesus prayer, read the rest!)

So “the world” here represents those who don’t belong to God who were destined to reject him and face the fiery judgement and lake of fire?

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 24:14

Could this Scripture just relate to the first fruits, the “called-out ones”?

“The Greek word that is translated as “church” in the Bible is ekklesia. … Thus, ekklesia means “those who are the calledout ones.”. Simply put, the invisible church, the true church, is composed of those who are called by God…” (R.C. Sproul – Source)

Here is a note from Mel Wild on my blog post, The Shack (Response to a Critic):

On the universalist claims, saying that salvation and reconciliation are universal is not the same thing as being a universalist. Young calls himself a “hopeful” universalist, meaning that he hopes that all will accept God’s invitation (which is the same as God’s will – 2 Pet.3:9). There’s a good article from another evangelical in response to Mohler on Paul Young’s site here: http://wmpaulyoung.com/universal-reconciliation/

Young’s theology is almost identical to that of C.S. Lewis and respected theologians like George McDonald and James and T.B. Torrance. Not to mention, most of the early church fathers like Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers who, ironically, were framers and original defenders of Christian orthodoxy! Nobody calls these people heretics.

It sounds like a lot of objections are Cessationist objections. There is nothing the book and movie can do to make them happy about that.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut

I have been reading a book called “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut” by Bradley Jersak. You wouldn’t think that a book about hell would bring you much hope or joy right? Well it certainly was a comfort to me. He started out telling his story of how he came from a tradition that was firmly committed to the infernalistic ideas of hell (eternal conscious torment forever and ever and ever and ever without a shred of hope of release or parole for the damned).

The Bible I read tells me that it is God’s kindness that leads people to repentance (lit. “having a change of mind”). Of course when people experience the Love of God for themselves it changes their mind – first about who God is and also about the “sin” that is destroying you. “Sin” is anytime you function as a negation of the intended design of who you are – that which is apart from your essential design and identity of love (source).

You were created in God’s image. He is love. You are love. Anything God defines as sin: fornication, pornography, drunkenness, greed, etc… must be discarded for the truth. You are love. And sin isn’t what love does. Haven’t we all figured that out by now?

If you refuse to change your mind (“repent”) about your sin and turn from it now, there is an appointed time of judgement. His fiery eternal love will burn it away. The Bible says this fiery judgement will happen for everyone! But there is NO condemnation for those “in Christ”. Which begs the question, who isn’t “in Christ” (Romans 5-6) since he wrapped up all of the cosmos (including you) into himself when he died (to sin) and rose again (to new life and new creation)? He left no one out. It is finished! It really is.

So Be Holy! Holy is your essential design and identity of love. Holy is fullness of joy! Holy is Peace. Holy is who you truly are in Christ. So start thinking right (repent) and start being the good boy or girl that you truly are “in Christ”.

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives in reverent fear during your temporary stay on earth (1 Peter 1:16-18)

I will close with John Crowder’s amazingly refreshing talk that will bring a great deal of clarity from the Scriptures as to how good this “Good News” of Jesus really is and how it relates to hell:

further reading:

Categories: the shack | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Universalism? (Theology behind the Shack)

  1. Good stuff, Daniel. I really liked the Paul Young interview because it clarifies what he actually believes, not what the naysayers are trying to label him as…

    So true on what they said about labels. We use labels as weapons. As Paul Young said, “the reason we love labels is because then we don’t have to deal with relationship…”

    As Kierkegaard said, “Once you label me, you can dismiss me.”
    I wait for the day when the church grows up relationally and we don’t have to be so childish about this stuff.

  2. I would propose that C Baxter Kruger and Wm Paul Young among many others are here to bring some illumination, restoration and healing to the church. Whenever someone comes along and says, “the Emperor has no clothes on”, of course the Emperor doesn’t like it.

    I was reading this Scripture today and look what stands out:

    Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

    …No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. (John 6)

    “ALL be taught by God”. The word ALL there stood out. Does it follow then that ALL shall learn from the Father and come to Jesus? hmmm…

  3. Pingback: The Shack, a Response to a Critic (Theology behind The Shack) | Daniel Lovett

  4. Michael Basham

    Reblogged this on StarSword.

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