Now we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is (not) walking . . . in accord with the tradition you received from us. As for you, do not grow weary in doing good" (II Thessalonians 3:6,13).
One can't help but imagine what the disciples saw and felt when they observed Jesus move among sinners. From the adulteress women at the well, to the pagan tax collector hiding in the trees, Jesus taught the early disciples the power of transforming love. He himself declared, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." (John 13:35). It would seem that this tradition of loving people through unselfishly doing that which is good for others is the very mark of Jesus in us. Paul wrote to young Timothy and exhorted him to not associate with those Christians who used people for their own selfish purposes and who were filled with indulgent idleness. This kind of behavior is the opposite of the tradition which Timothy received from the early followers of Jesus. It's interesting to note that the Apostle Paul's concern for Timothy is not that he keep away from those brothers teaching differently, but from those brothers walking differently. Or, to put it in John's language, the world will know that we are Christians not by what we say but by how we love.
The Book "The Shack"
In 2008 I read Paul Young's book The Shack. It came recommended to me by my wife, my mother and my sister, all of whom shared with me the book "rocked their world." I read the book, and though I enjoyed it, it was not life changing for me. My wife would later tell me that for years she has heard me preach on the Father's unconditional love for His people - an eternal, personal and unrelenting love - so she felt the book didn't affect me deeply because it simply presented in different form the very core of my own belief system. She, of course, was right. My belief in God's unchanging love for me - a love that precedes Creation, my conversion, and carries me to and through eternity - is the very basis of my freedom and joy. Memorizing Psalm 139 when a child and reading God's Everlasting Love for His Elect by John Gill as a teenager, solidified in my heart and mind the truth of God's deep, personal and everlasting love for me.
However, tens of millions of sinners do not live in the joy of knowing God's love for their souls. Paul Young, author of The Shack, had a hard time believing God loved him from early in his childhood. The son of Christian Missionary Alliance missionaries in Indonesia, Paul was raised by native cannibals who repeatedly, forcibly and secretly molested him before he was six years of age. Combine that abuse with an angry natural father who taught Paul by His words and actions that God punishes people for their religious non-performance, Paul's image of God, even after coming to faith in Jesus, was that of a distant deity more interested in punishment than a loving Papa enjoying personal relationships.
In The Shack, Paul has used a creative metaphor to present "Papa," or God the Father, as the loving, kind and good Heavenly Father revealed to us in Scripture. Some have expressed outrage that Papa is metaphorically presented in Young's book as a loving African-American woman, as if Young literally believes God the Father is a loving, large black woman. Paul Young's metaphor of God the Father no more bothers me than David portraying God as a big bird ("hide me under the shadow of Thy wings" Psalm 17:8), or C.S. Lewis' imagery of God being "a lion" in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Intuitively I knew after reading The Shack that members of Emmanuel Baptist Church who have heard me preach for years on the love of God for His people would benefit from hearing Paul Young himself.
Paul Young at Emmanuel, Enid, April 4-5, 2009
Last weekend's services at Emmanuel, Enid with guest speaker Paul Young possessed more of the Spirit's gifts of renewal, cleansing and conversion than any weekend I can remember in twenty-five years of pastoral ministry. Several hundred gathered on Saturday night, then again in three services on Sunday morning, and for one final service on Sunday night. The gospel - the good news - was shared in all the services. Men for whom we have prayed for a long time came to faith in Jesus, some of whom will be baptized this Sunday. Addicts publicly expressed their choice to let go of their addictions and turn to God our Heavenly Father through trusting the work of Jesus for their souls. People sat for two hours, without moving, hearing gripping accounts from both Scripture and life of how Jesus sets captives free.
I came into the weekend believing Paul Young's view of the Trinity may be his weak point, but after all four services I now believe Paul Young's view of the Trinity is his strong point. One of the finest messages I have ever heard, a message saturated with the truth of Scripture, was preached in the 8:30 a.m. morning worship service. His explanation of the love relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity, all of whom possess the full and equal essence of the eternal Deity, is the foundation for Young's belief that the Father only does what He does out of a heart of love for relationship. We are putting all six hours of teaching on six CD's in a CD notebook, including six MP3 files, which will be available at our cost - $25.00. You may order by calling (580-237-0602).
Fellowship Supercedes Theological Differences
Paul Young believes that Papa was in Christ reconciling the world (i.e. "every single human being") to Himself. It is no secret that I believe the biblical word "world" does not encompass every single human being without exception, but rather an innumerable company of sinners from every tribe, every kindred, every nation and every family. In this Paul and I would differ. Yet, Paul agrees with me that the God's redemption of sinners is so powerful at the cross, that nothing negates the love of God the Father toward those for whom He lovingly sent His only begotten Son to die. We simply differ over whether those sinners God chooses to enter into a redeeming love relationship include every single sinner who has ever lived or an innumerable company of particular sinners whom God has chosen to redeem.
Some are now calling Paul a universalist. Not so. Paul believes in hell, but he believes hell cannot be comprehended apart from God's love. How God can eternally love people who experience His wrath in hell is explained by Paul using different human analogies which you can hear if you listen to the CD's. It is Paul's hope that every man will one day experience the love of God. Paul differs with me not in affirming the truth that God loves every human being, for I believe the Father does, but in my belief that God the Father has a special, distinguishing, redeeming love for particular sinners. For example, I might tell you that "I love my wife" and then tell you that "I love your wife." But I can guarantee you that I don't love your wife in the same manner in which I love my wife. Likewise, there is a Bride for the Trinity, and she is loved by God with a special, eternal and unconditional love, and the Father has done everything for this Bride to effectually bring to pass her redemption. Paul and I agree that this Bride of Christ is composed of those for whom Christ died - we just disagree that Christ died in the stead of every human being without exception.
Ironically, we both share in common a strong resistance to the legalism of religion. All religions, even some religionists of the Southern Baptist variety, tell you that you must do something to earn the love of God. But the good news of the gospel is that God's love cannot be earned, it rises from His heart of love like an artesian spring, needed nothing to draw it out. To trust and experience God's unconditional love, no matter one's earthly condition, is the basis for true freedom and joy. More importantly, when one's heart is full of the love of God, it overflows with love for others. I came away from this weekend not changing my theology of particular redemption one iota, but through Paul's life and message, recommitted to love every single sinner with whom I come in contact - from the hardest hearted sinner to the one who professes to be my most profound enemy.
Paul Young loves sinners like Jesus loves sinners. Paul signed hundreds of books this weekend, and after he signed each book with a unique personal message, Paul would then personally embrace the person. The lines would often stretch for hours, but Paul was never in a rush. Every single person was treated as a most important person. One could learn a great deal about the hurt sin causes and the healing Jesus brings by simply observing the tearful hugs and listening to soul wrenching conversations people had with Paul Young. Unlike many in the professionally religious world who want the admiration of others, Paul was genuinely humble, shockingly transparent (publicly confessing his own failures) and deeply concerned for the healing needed in the souls of others.
An Illustration of the Power of God's Love
One of our young ladies at Emmanuel has probably been through as much hurt as Paul. She is now seventeen. When she was ten, her father was killed with a shotgun by her mother and her mother's boyfriend. Our church member was then kidnapped along with her brother and taken to Mexico by her mother and her mother's lover the day of her father's funeral. Police eventually caught the murderer and she now sits on death row in Oklahoma. It has been difficult for our seventeen year old church member to trust adults, but as I told Paul her story and watched as he signed her book, whispered words of encouragement in her ear, and then give her a warm and affectionate embrace, it was evident that our church member had come to understand that the love of God cannot be measured by the absence of painful events or the abundance of temporal blessings in our lives. The message got through to this young lady, as evidenced by her tears and her willingess to converse with a strange adult man for the first time in over a decade, that God loves us the way we are and is powerful enough to deal with the ugly and destructive junk in our lives caused by sin.
Stories like this could be repeated over and over again from this past weekend, but because of time I wish to close this short review of Paul Young and his book. It has not been my desire in this post to answer every question you might have about The Shack, nor has it been my desire to defend the author - God is quite capable of doing both for you and Paul Young respectively. My desire is to give a modern illustration of applying the teaching of the Apostle Paul to young Timothy in the verse placed at the top of this post (II Thessalonians 3:6).
Some have suggested I should have "kept away" from Paul Young. Some Southern Baptists have volunteered that Paul Young should never have been invited to Emmanuel to speak. They suggest that he is teaching heresy in his Christian fiction book. I, however, will follow the instructions of the Apostle Paul. I will maintain a friendship and cooperation with my brother in Christ, Paul Young, because he practices the ancient tradition of the fathers of our faith - he genuinely loves sinners.
And I will keep away from those brothers who don't practice this love - no matter how much they agree with me theologically.
In His Grace,