Have you heard about the recent movie release of “The Shack”? It is adapted from the book, with the same title, written by Wm. Paul Young. The book has sold over 20 million copies. The author is an engaging communicator who takes his readers, now viewers, on an entertaining, thoughtful, and emotional ride dealing with some of life’s most important questions. He taps into the human experience of suffering and healing. He attempts to address the age old question, “if God is good and all powerful why do bad things happen to good people?,” “what is the purpose in my suffering?”

Just this week I found myself watching a television special with Wm. Paul Young. I couldn’t change the channel. His own personal suffering reached to my soul. He stated, “We are as sick as the secrets we keep.” YES, that is so true! He speaks from a deep well of suffering, misfortune, mistakes, and recovery. As he was sharing vulnerably about his life you were drawn into his story.

Combine all this with the fact you have stars like Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington playing roles in the movie. Then you have a sound track of Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, Dan + Shay, Hillsong United, and Lecrae to name just a few.

Now, for the record, I plan to watch the movie. But let me caution you, if you choose to watch the movie or read the book, to do so with biblical lens. For without a filter, you will get caught up in this story that is well told. You will begin to feel empathy for the character and relate it to your life and to those you know that are currently drudging through life.

The problem that I have with the book and movie and with the author is his belief in what he calls “hopeful universalism.” Wm. Paul Young espouses a view that believes all humanity will eventually be saved; insisting that Christ’s atonement did atone for everyone’s sins. When dealing with eternity I prefer not to be hopeful, I want to know the truth. I love people too much just to be hopeful they will spend eternity in heaven; I want to know they will. And the Bible is clear, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

On page 182 we see this heretical view being communicated. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says,

Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” “…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.’

Some might say this is ambiguous at worst. But the author clearly defines himself as a “hopeful universalist.” When interpreted in the light of the author’s belief system the connection is clear. He calls himself a “hopeful” universalist because he acknowledges that the bible does speak of judgment.

On his blog he attempts to soften the contrast between Orthodox Christianity and Universalism by asserting he believes “that it is only through Christ that people are saved, and that even reformed theology teaches the efficacy and power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.” The problem here is that the bible clearly teaches that individuals, because of the denial of Jesus, will spend eternity in hell (too many verses to quote here). And I believe even most secular humanist would believe that at least there is another place for the worst of the worst like Hitler, Pol Pot leader of the Khmer Rouge (the killing fields), or someone like Ted Bundy.

Some might compare the movie to a parable. Perhaps along the lines of Pilgrims Progress or The Chronicles of Narnia. Some supporters even defend the ethos of the movie by pointing out that C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, wrestled with similar thoughts through his interaction with George MacDonald. And while MacDonald had influence in Lewis’ life, it is clear that Lewis did not adapt universalism to his briefcase of beliefs.

There are redeeming moments in “The Shack.” For example, he clearly communicates that following Jesus is about a relationship, not religion & rituals.  He says well that we can’t always understand our suffering or God’s purpose in our suffering, because we are not God and we don’t see the big picture. We must simply trust God. Which by the way is one of the themes of Ecclesiastes, our current sermon series, [shameless plug] found here

So if you decide to see the movie or read the book it will be a good discussion starter and one that should be carefully viewed through the lens of the bible. Give special care if you decide to take your teenagers to see the movie. It could evolve into a great discussion.