Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Shack and Universal Reconciliation: Answers to the Charge of Heresy by Evangelical Christians

In March 2017 the movie The Shack will hit theater screens across the country. It's a guarantee that Tim McCraw and Faith Hill's original song for the movie, Keep Your Eyes on Me, will be a hit. Whether the film itself is a blockbuster is yet to be seen, but without any doubt, some evangelical Christians will again charge Paul Young, author of The Shack, with heresy. Dr. Al Mohler recently wrote a blog entitled The Shack - The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment, where he said,
"The Shack rests on the foundation of universal reconciliation... (The) fact is that the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as heresy. The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?"
I know both Al Mohler and Paul Young. I respect Dr. Mohler and his theological acumen. I have the honor of calling Paul Young a friend, and he's been the source of great encouragement to me.  After observing Paul Young minister to hundreds of people at the church I pastor, spending precious time with each person individually - never rushing to the next person or glancing at his watch as if he had other important things to do - I asked Paul Young his philosophy of ministry. He said, "Wade, there is no person or moment more important to me than the person before whom I stand at this moment." I've attempted to model that philosophy of ministry ever since.

Dr. Al Mohler considers himself a five-point Calvinist. He believes God has a distinguishing love for "the elect" and the cross of Christ actually saves the elect. In other words, Dr. Mohler believes the people for whom God sent His Son to redeem are actually delivered (saved) from their sins at the cross by the work of Jesus (see Matthew 1:21). I understand Dr. Mohler's theology and happen to agree with it, though I prefer to call it "the doctrines of grace" because I see these doctrines taught in Scripture.

Paul Young believes the same thing as Dr. Mohler regarding God's unconditional love and the power of Christ's cross. He simply disagrees with Dr. Mohler over "For whom did Christ die?" Paul Young believes that Christ died for every sinner who has ever lived or ever will live.

Paul Young told me he is a "hopeful universalist." He believes that our loving God sent His Son to die for every single sinner without exception. One day God will effectually reconcile every sinner to Himself. Paul uses the term "hopeful" universalism because he understands that the Scriptures speak of judgment, but Paul is "hopeful" that even in judgment, the love of God will eventually bring the sinner being judged to love for Jesus Christ. Paul Young is "hopeful" that the fire of God's love will eventually and effectually persuade every sinner of God's love in Christ. So Paul Young believes exactly like Al Mohler when it comes to the unconditional love of God and the efficacy and power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Both men believe the cross actually reconciles sinners to God.

However, Dr. Al Mohler believes Christ saves selected sinners because God unconditionally loves only certain sinners He has chosen to save, and not every sinner without exception. Paul Young believes God unconditionally loves every sinner the same, and Christ's death reconciles every sinner to God. Again, Dr. Mohler and Paul Young both believe the same thing about God's effectual love and the power of Christ to save. Where these two men part company is over "For whom did Christ die?"

Paul Young and I have discussed Christ's atonement at length, and after listening to Paul describe the power and efficacy God's love in Jesus Christ, I said, "Paul, you believe in God's unconditional love and a powerful cross. You believe that since God intends to save, He will save." Paul agreed with my assessment. He said, "Wade, you understand my view of God's unconditional love and the power of the cross to save sinners. Most people hear 'hopeful universal reconciliation,' and they think heresy. I do not believe anyone is saved apart from Christ dying for them."

Dr. Al Mohler and others believe any expression of hope in universal reconciliation is "heresy."  I would suggest a little humility is in order. The root of the Greek word for humility is "knowledge." When Jesus followers are knowledgeable about the history of Christians disagreeing over the extent of Christ's atonement (e.g. "For whom did Christ die?), the charge of heresy will be put to rest in the hearse of humility.

I was twenty years old when I first read God's Everlasting Love to His Elect by John Gill. To this day, other than the Bible, no book has impacted my life more. John Gill showed me how God is love, and that the Father's love is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness.

Previous to reading Gill, I had been infected with the delusion that God had a holy hatred for sinners and Jesus had a longing love for sinners. I wrongly believed that the Father desired to punish sinners because of His holy nature of justice, but Jesus offered Himself to the Father as a Substitute for undeserving sinners. My notion of a bi-polar God bothered me, but I just assumed that justice and love were mutually exclusive--- until I read Gill. Then I began to see that God is love, and when He moves to save His people, He saves them in love, through love, by love, and for love through Jesus Christ. The Father and the Son are one in motive. "For God so loved the world...."  (John 3:16).

I never personally struggled with what some call God's distinguishing love for His elect. In other words, it never bothered me to believe that God unconditionally loves many sinners but not all sinners. In my mind, since every sinner is the source of his own sin and rebellion, I felt that if God chose to unconditionally love an innumerable company of sinners instead of every individual sinner, who can complain that God is unjust (see Romans 9)?

I see the Bible teaching that God graciously and unconditionally loves selected sinners from every family, nation, language group and culture (e.g. "the world"), and gave His Son to deliver His people from their sins, while at the same time holding other sinners accountable for their volitional sins. I have no problem with God's distinguishing love. We all make decisions to love certain persons unconditionally (e.g. spouses, children, family, etc...). I might say to you, "I love the person to whom you are married, but I don't love your spouse like I love my spouse." I unconditionally love my bride. I chose my wife. I didn't choose yours.  I've never struggled with believing that God chose to love many sinners, but not all sinners. I think every sinner, including me the chief of sinners, deserves nothing good from God, so any sinner who is the recipient of His unconditional love, mercy, and grace is one sinner more than the number of sinners who deserve it. That's why salvation and the gift of immortal life is is an act of God's grace. None of us deserves it.

But in my journey of Christian faith, I have discovered that not all Christians are as comfortable with God's distinguishing love as I am. Some believe that God's love abides upon each and every sinner to the same degree. The idea that God has a distinguishing love for those God has chosen bothers some Christians immensely.

It bothers Christians like my friend Paul Young, author of The Shack.

And it bothered a Christian named George MacDonald (1824-1905).

You may have never heard of George McDonald. It's your loss if you have not. Christian writers and thinkers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Oswald Chambers, Mark Twain (yes, there are reasons I call Mark Twain a Christian), and a host of other superb Christian writers revered George MacDonald.

George MacDonald believed in hopeful universal reconciliation, just like Paul Young.

When a Bible teacher first explained the doctrine of predestination to George MacDonald, it is said that George burst into tears. Although the teacher sought to assure George that he was one of the elect, George became very distraught with the idea that God loved some sinners, but not every sinner. He had nightmares.

George grew up and eventually became a Congregational minister.  In time, George was asked to leave his Congregational ministry for suggesting that the consuming fire of God's love would eventually overcome sin and rebellion in every human being. In other words, George MacDonald believed in hopeful reconciliation. After his pastorate, George MacDonald turned to writing. His influence through his writings became enormous. Most American evangelicals have never heard of George MacDonald, but we have read books written by authors George MacDonald mentored.

C.S. Lewis called George MacDonald "my master." Lewis had picked up a copy of MacDonald's book Phantastes at a train-station bookstall. "I began to read," says Lewis, "and a few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."

G.K. Chesterton said MacDonald's book The Princess and the Goblin "made a difference to my whole existence."

Mark Twain was greatly influenced by George MacDonald, as was the great Christian devotion writer Oswald Chambers who said, "It is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald's books have been so neglected."

George MacDonald would eventually write many books, but two of them, Robert Falconer and Lilith,  show his intense dislike for the idea that God's saving love is given to some and not to others. C.S. Lewis describes in George McDonald: An Anthology  how MacDonald kept the "worthy portion" of his Scottish Calvinism while renouncing the doctrine of predestination: "In the very midst of his intellectual revolt (from Calvinism), MacDonald forces us to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting."

Don't gloss over what Lewis is saying about MacDonald. In the midst of rejecting God's distinguishing love, MacDonald kept his readers focused on the real worth of Calvinism. If the "real worth" of Calvinism is not God's distinguishing love, then what is it?

MacDonald believed in and wrote with a real sense of God's majesty, sovereignty, and power. MacDonald absolutely believed that God does as He pleases at all times, or else He would not be God. This was the portion of Calvinism that MacDonald deemed worthy.

What MacDonald despised was the belief that God chooses to save some sinners but not all sinners. So George MacDonald believed in hopeful universal reconciliation.

C.S. Lewis never fully adopted George MacDonald's eschatology of universal reconciliation. However, Lewis did challenge the traditional doctrine of hell, showing how much he was influenced by McDonald. Lewis also wrote about hopeful reconciliation in his book The Great Divorce.

In The Great Divorce,  Lewis writes of a person named "MacDonald" (coincidence?) who appears as a heavenly guide. MacDonald shows how a person who continually spurns God's love might spend eternity in total isolation and darkness. Then, a character named "Lewis" challenges the heavenly guide (MacDonald) by reminding him that he (MacDonald) had believed in universal reconciliation while he lived on earth (sound familiar?). MacDonald responds that indeed he believes "it is possible that everyone will eventually be saved,"  but "we cannot know this with certainty."  That's up to God. This is why George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis refer to it as hopeful universal reconciliation.

George MacDonald believed that God, during the judgment of sinners in hell, could eventually and effectually convince every sinner of His love for sinners in Christ Jesus.  In time sinners could freely and volitionally bow their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ, coming to an understanding of God's love for sinners. In time, according to MacDonald, all of God's creation could be reconciled to God.

This is exactly what Paul Young hopes in The Shack.

Hopeful universal reconciliation is not heresy. Paul Young, George MacDonald and other Christians who hope in universal reconciliation believe in a loving God and a powerful cross. The disagreement with men like Al Mohler and myself is over the question, "For whom did Christ die?"

C.S. Lewis came very close to embracing the universal reconciliation of his master George McDonald, but C.S. Lewis is certainly no heretic. Questioning the eternality of hell (as Martin Luther did versus John Calvin), or postulating a hopeful universal reconciliation (as George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and Paul Young have done), does not place one outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy.

John Piper once tweeted "Goodbye Rob Bell" when Rob Bell published Love Wins, a book that questions, but does not deny the existence of an eternal hell. During that same time period, John Piper extolled C.S. Lewis as the greatest influence in his life. Both men, Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis, asked the same theological questions in their writings.  C.S. Lewis asked his questions wrapped in a narrative of fantasy, while Rob Bell spelled out his questions in plain English.

John Piper has never tweeted "Goodbye C.S. Lewis." Could it be that it's far easier for us to fire the gun of heresy at those we've never taken the time to thoroughly read, or if possible, get to know as friends?

If a person chooses to reject the doctrine of God's distinguishing love and finds comfort in hopeful universal reconciliation, we who follow Jesus might be careful before we charge our fellow believer in Christ with heresy. Both Calvinism and hopeful universal reconciliation believe in a God of love and an efficacious cross. The difference is over "For whom did Christ die?"

The only alternative to denying God's sovereign, selective love or God's universal love is to turn God into a weak, impotent deity with a fickle love dependent on the performance of His subjects. A god with fickle love isn't good news; it's rotten news. When we make our god as fickle as we are, we have turned our god into a person just like us.

Thankfully,  God is not like us.  His love is an artesian spring that is not drawn out by our loveliness nor diminished by our ugliness. He is love. His love continues. His love never ends. His love can't end because God continues and He never ends, and God is love (I John 4:8).

Both Al Mohler and Paul Young believe the same thing about God's unconditional love and Christ's effectual death. They just disagree for whom it was intended.

So go and enjoy The Shack.

It is not heresy.


GMurray said...

Thank you for your article and comments on this age old controversy.. Presumable the use of Universal Reconciliation is the current
term denoting what we called 'Universalism'
Surely the question is the 'Effectiveness of Christs death' -Did it cover everyone or just the 'elect'? We were taught that while there is enough in the blood of Christ to cover everyone, it was and is only effective in the lives of the elect.. Otherwise Universal Reconciliation must be the result.. Limited Atonement of course was the Theological term used by those who called themselves '5 point Calvanists' - a term which has been somewhat 'watered down' over the years..Its a constant challenge to me..Surely the death and effectiveness of our Saviors death cannot be limited by those who may or may not accept it....To be effective surely it must either be universal in its application or limited to those 'called out by Gods Grace and love' .. - Thanks again for being willing to address this question...
Best wishes,'
George Murray

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post! So encouraging!

As I continue to study the Bible I come to the conclusion the final judgment is not everlasting torment, but to perish. To finally cease to be.

But Jesus has defeated sin. He has defeated death. He said if He be lifted up He would draw ALL men to Himself. Scripture says He is the Savior of ALL, especially them that believe. If in Adam's fall we all were confined under sin and death (in Adam's fall we sinned all) then in the new Adam, the reversal of the curse would leave all benefitting from Christ.

Do I believe in a tortuous hell? Abso-dang-lutely BUT throughout scripture I believe those fires are shown to refine. I cannot explain how or what happened when Jesus went and preached to the souls in prison but He did. I believe the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church or against Jesus. Cannot keep people in.

So thank you for putting a name on my beliefs. I'm hopeful. That doesn't mean I believe you sin all you want and then die and go enjoy heaven. But I am hopeful that a patient God, not willing any should perish but ALL should come to repentance, can effect a total triumphant defeat of Satan. I believe one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord, which pretty much sums up what is necessary for salvation.

So I live in hope, and in trust, and never want anyone to mistake that for a faith that makes light of in and its consequences.



Wade Burleson said...

You bet, George, thank you for the comment!

My desire is for Christians to realize that as long as you emphasize the love of God for sinners in Christ Jesus, you are preaching the gospel, regardless your opinion on the extent of the atonement.

Anonymous said...

Makes light of sin, not in.

Fat fingered typing I guess.


Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Linda, for your comment.

Christians have disagreed over the extent of the atonement for centuries. I call any person who trusts God's love and the power of Christ's cross a fellow believer, regardless of any disagreement over the extent of the atonement!

Bill Kinnon said...

Thank you for this, Wade. Something I needed to be reminded of at this time.

Particularly my need to re-engage with George MacDonald.

Wade Burleson said...


George McDonald is an amazing writer. I've profited from his work immensely.

Christiane said...

On the outside of evangelical Christianity and Calvinism is the ancient concept of the salvific contribution of the Incarnation of Our Lord as expressed by the Eastern Fathers. The Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed one view of this in these words:

"Bonhoeffer on the Incarnation:
“” We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others. The Incarnate Lord makes His followers the brothers and sisters of all humanity. The “philanthropy” of God (Titus 3:4) revealed in the Incarnation is the ground of Christian love toward all on earth that bear the name of human. The form of Christ Incarnate makes the Church into the body of Christ. All the sorrows of humanity falls upon that form, and only through that form can they be borne. The earthly form of Christ is the form that died on the cross. The image of God is the image of Christ crucified. It is to this image that the life of the disciples must be conformed: in other words, they must be conformed to his death (Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:4). The Christian life is a life of crucifixion.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

In the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation, the 'assumption by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity of our humanity', we find solid ground for comprehending who is able to be saved:

"What has not been assumed has not been healed;
it is what is united to His divinity that is saved. . ."
"Gregory of Nazianzus "

So Dr. Mohler's 'limited atonement' understand does not accept the Eastern Orthodox rationale of the importance of the Incarnation salvifically.

On the other hand, in our Western Christianity, we who are 'orthodox' do still hold to 'choice' .... that we are not 'robots' and if we are ABLE to be saved, we still are the ones who voluntarily cry out for help and reach out our hands to Christ to save us from drowning.
So Alfred Mohler's theology rejects this understanding of human 'choice' also, and instead applies the deterministic rules of predestination rather than 'choose life, that you may live'.

It looks like Williams ALSO rejects 'choice' in favor of the power of God's love overwhelming the ability of a human person to reject His love.

Well, one thing is assured:
all Christian people believe that if anyone IS saved, Christ does the saving..... and in my Church we are not into underestimating how Christ goes about His work of salvation in any way .... we think He can be trusted to do it as it should be done, not limited by our pitiful 'theological' and rational constructs.

RB Kuter said...

Wow! This is a great post! I love it when Wade gets into Calvinism stuff. Only God knows the answers, but we can sure strive and study and pray to understand His way and plan. It's critical that we do if we intend to teach and explain The Gospel message.

I view it as God universally loving all people. Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for ALL people. But only those who receive God's offer of redemptive love are born again and become God's children; hence, "the elect".

Wade loves ALL people and loves his church members and close friends even more than he does some of us who he does not personally know nor has met. But he loves his children more than he does anyone.

God loves His children, those who have been born into His Father-child relationship, more than anyone and they are the only ones who receive His inheritance of an eternal, Father-child relationship with Him.

But God's Word makes it clear, to me, at least, although obviously not to many others, that the key to being "born again" is that each person has to make the decision to "deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me."

Christiane said...

I mentioned 'Williams' when I meant to type 'Young'. Please excuse error on my comment above.

Aussie John said...

Another great article!
The gospels,"are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name". I have come to a place of not being willing to label anyone who demonstrates in life and word that they are trusting in the finished work of Christ for their eternal security.

Our Father, alone, knows whom are His, and my task is to declare the Gospel to all who will listen. The results are His!

The thought has often occurred to me, that some who hold to particular theologies will be surprised that some they accused of heresy will be with Christ!

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for the comment. You are correct of their being a "third" way to view the atonement. That way is for Christ to die for every sinner without exception, but only those sinners who "receive and believe" the atonement are reconciled to God. Paul Young, C.S. Lewis, George McDonald, Al Mohler and the others mentioned in this article do not accept the "third view" is logical or possible because of their view of the atonement. Sin is an offense to a holy God, so the question becomes "how does a holy God deal with sin." In the third view, it's sinners doing something to appease a holy God. In the two views mentioned in the article, God is doing the reconciling of sinful man through His actions, not the sinner's. "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that (both grace and faith) are not of yourselves, it is not of works lest any of us boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is also why Jesus is called "The author and finisher of our faith," for "He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion." So if Job is correct and "salvation is of the Lord," then the question becomes "whom does the Lord save"?

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Thanks for the comment!

I agree with you. The Lord Jesus may be doing some gentle correcting when we first get to heaven of many of our wrong views!


Paul said...

Good stuff Wade. I am in the same camp as you in regards to the doctrines of grace but aware enough that calvinism is a human-constructed theology to try and explain an absolutely sovereign God. I often remind my fellow calvinists that those of us who claim to believe so deeply in the sovereignty of God in salvation are often the ones who are so quick to dismiss any variance of belief outside of our own system.

My heart longs for universal reconciliation to be true but I simply can't reconcile it with Scripture ... which leaves me with a selective view of the atonement.

Wade Burleson said...


Couldn't have said it better.

I'm adamantly in disagreement with John Calvin over numerous issues (Church/State, Old Covenant construct, etc...)

So it's grace all the way for me. I never even like mentioning John's name. It's only Jesus.

Anyway, I'm glad to see someone (you) gets what I'm saying. Paul Young is now heretic. If anything, he's more orthodox on the atonement than most modern evangelicals.

Paul said...

Even Lecrae got tossed under the "now a heretic" bus this week for promoting his soundtrack on The Shack movie ... which he admittedly never read the book but saw the film.

I tell my group often that if our doctrines of grace are not big enough to include people whose theology make us uncomfortable, then we do not fully grasp sovereign grace.

Steve Ray said...

Wade I have never forgotten a conversation you and your dad were having when I was visiting in your Ft Worth home one time during our college years. You were obviously wrestling through this issue, which I had never even heard of at the time, and I remember very clearly your dad saying "Christ's death was sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect." It was all way above my head at the time, but it was very cool to remember that as I was reading this blog. I'm headed to a preview of this movie next Tuesday. Have never read the book but I'm aware of the accusations of heresy. Thank you for this!

Pege' said...

Wade, People are religious zealots for "Pilgrims Progress", "Lord of the Rings"," Lion Witch and the Wardrobe", all (IMHO) are in the same genre as "THE SHACK". Once again I see myopic closed minded Christians. I guess it will never end for the books I posted also had critics. I really do not care what Al Mohler's opinion is. I read the book for myself and thought about it and learned some things without his help.

Wade Burleson said...

Steve Ray,

Great memory! Many years ago I rejected the "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" argument. To me it sounded like, "God has enough life jackets in the boat for every person, but refuses to throw one to every person." It made no sense to me. So, I came to the historical position of Lewis, McDonald, Spurgeon, Gill, Sproul and a host of others who say the atonement is both sufficient and efficient for those for whom it is intended.

That's also the position of William Paul Young, and that's why he's a hopeful universalist and I remain a believer in the distinguishing love of God for His people. I realize it makes most people no difference. Yet for those who view the atonement as powerful and effective (as I do and Mohler does and Young does), every person for whom Christ died WILL BE SAVED by God - no exceptions. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks for your comment Pege!

I received the sweetest not from your daughter Annika! Hard to believe she is now a teacher in a public school! Wow, how time flies. But it sure is nice to hear from someone you haven't seen in years, and she graciously expressed her thankfulness for the impact of Emmanuel and my ministry on her life.

Made my day! You raised a good one there!

Aussie John said...

I recently read a transcript of a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson speaking about The Marrow Controversy, which is a different issue to the present conversation, but as he speaks of what Thomas Boston is saying in regard to the Marrow matter, he is addressing the matter at hand, “(Boston) stressing what has become obscured in a mortified reformed confessional orthodoxy, that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is a gospel of free grace , that it is to be proclaimed freely to all . And what Boston saw was that without denying a biblical Calvinism, this emphasis of The Marrow of Modern Divinity preserved two of the great keynotes of the New Testament’s message. First of all, that in Jesus Christ there is fullness of grace for all who will come to him. God has made a deed of gift and grant to all
men because of his free love to mankind lost. There is good news for every man without exception. Christ is dead for him.
And secondly, it preserved the New Testament’s emphasis not only on the fullness of the grace of Christ, but of the freeness of the grace of Christ. ….............For the offer of the gospel is not only a message about the fullness of Christ for all who will come, it is a message about the free grace of our Lord Jesus Christ bestowed not upon the righteous, but upon the unrighteous”.

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

The Marrow Controversy is not as much different as the controversy over The Shack as some might think. Paul is a "free grace" man, and places all grace in the hands of a loving God through the work of the Spirit and the Son. Most modern evangelicals try to make a distinction between "atonement" and "reconciliation" by saying "Christ died for all, but not all are reconciled to God." Orthodox Christians - including Al Mohler and Paul Young, and John Gill, C.S. Lewis, William Tyndale, R.C. Sproul and many others - make no such distinction.

In other words, atonement and reconciliation ARE THE SAME THING. When William Tyndale (the first English translator of the Greek Bible) needed a word to translate the Greek word katallage (reconciliation in Romans 5:11), he coined the word "at-one-moment" to describe how the death of Christ reconciled. So atonement IS reconciliation. Jesus died to reconcile sinners to God. Tyndale’s first use of the English word atonement is in his 1526 translation of the New Testament at Romans 5:11: “We also joy in God by the means of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement.” In addition to the noun atonement (Greek katallagē), two forms of the related Greek verb katallassō occur in Romans 5:10, which Tyndale translated as “we were reconciled” and “seeing we were reconciled.” The words in this passage in Classical Greek mean “to change from enmity to friendship,” or “to reconcile.” In the New Testament, the verb is used in one passage describing the reconciliation of one human with another (1 Corinthians 7:11), but it most often describes the reconciliation of humans with God (Romans 5:10–11; 2 Corinthians 5:18–20; Colossians 1:20, 22; Ephesians 2:16). So you are making the distinction between atonement and reconciliation. John Gill, C.S. Lewis, George McDonald, Paul Young, I and a host of others do not.

Aussie John said...


You said,"The Marrow Controversy is not as much different as the controversy over The Shack as some might think." That's why I used those words of Sinclair Ferguson!

You said,"Most modern evangelicals try to make a distinction between "atonement" and "reconciliation" by saying "Christ died for all, but not all are reconciled to God."


I agree with everything you've written. Absolutely!!

My intention was to simply point out as Ferguson did that "the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is a gospel of free grace, that it is to be proclaimed freely to ALL", not as "what has become obscured in a mortified reformed confessional orthodoxy".

Could you point out where I have made the distinction you suggest?

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

You do not make the distinction between reconciliation and atonement. I apologize for not making clear in my commemt that I was not referrimg to you. I was addressimg a distinction Steve and others have made.

Anonymous said...

For those interested, there are Baptists who are both Calvinist and universalist, the Primitive Baptist Universalists.


Debbie Kaufman said...

I think you have to read the Shack with your heart. There are also many Biblical truths(which are in the Shack) that you have to read with your heart.

The message for me in reading this wonderful book is that God comes to us in whatever form we need. If it's a mother's love, he comes in that form, if it's as "Papa" that is the form he comes to us in. If it's all 4 forms depicted in the Shack, that is how He appears to us.

The Bible is clear as to who God is and it seems to me that He is all the characters that Paul Young writes about in his book.

I love this book. It was given to each member of my family as a gift from a good friend who we also do business with. For me it was a lifesaver as I was in such deep grief at the time I didn't think I could climb out.

Christiane said...

you wrote, this:
" You are correct of their being a "third" way to view the atonement. That way is for Christ to die for every sinner without exception, but only those sinners who "receive and believe" the atonement are reconciled to God."

I think people in my Church do see another way, but not as restricted as is the evangelical way. Take a look here at something very different:

"“For those too who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians, the divine plan has provided a way of salvation. As we read in the Council’s Decree Ad Gentes, we believe that “God in ways known to himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel” to the faith necessary for salvation (AG 7). Certainly, the condition “inculpably ignorant” cannot be verified nor weighed by human evaluation, but must be left to the divine judgment alone. For this reason, the Council states in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes that in the heart of every man of good will, “Grace works in an unseen way…. The Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”

Where we agree is at the important place of 'if a human person is saved, it is Christ Who does the saving'. HOW He does this cannot be boxed totally into our human understanding as to the limitations of His power or His will to save: that area belongs infinitely under His control and my Church acknowledges the fullness of His Lordship over Life.

Anonymous said...

So Wade,

You don't think that this is dangerous to teach that if a person refuses to trust in the Lord Jesus in this life they can still be reconciled after death?
Are those who refuse to trust in Christ in this life forever lost?

How do you reconcile that with the following text?

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

1 John 5: 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

2 Thess. 1: the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power...

Wade Burleson said...


I absolutely believes a person who does not receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will perish.

I also happen to believe in a God of persevering love, who compels people to love Jesus by His unrelenting love for broken sinners.

Paul believes that unrelenting love is for every sinner. I believe that unrelenting love is for His people (Matthew 1:21). Both Paul and I believe those for whom Christ died are reconciled to God by His unconditional grace and unrelenting love.

Paul says that unconditional grace and unrelenting love abides on sinners even during their judgment, and he is hopeful God will eventually, by His grace, bring the sinner in judgment to faith in and love for the Savior.

I do not share that hope.

Anonymous said...

Many of us who hope in universal reconciliation absolutely agree faith in Christ is necessary, as is repentance. But if God could reach Paul on the Damascus road we hope (not know, hope or perhaps believe)if He chooses He can reach anyone, even during the instant of death. Some believe in conscious torment to the end of this age. Others like the PBU believe hell is in this life.

We just find ourselves believing John 3:17 as much as John 3:16. And would NEVER tell anyone they are safe to wait to accept Christ. Hell or annihilation are not something to be experienced even for a limited time.


Anonymous said...

"Again, Dr. Mohler and Paul Young both believe the same thing about God's effectual love and the power of Christ to save. Where these two men part company is over "For whom did Christ die?"

There is more to it than that. Mohler believes that God chose the person to be saved before the world was ever created. That person has no choice. Nor does the person NOT chosen to be saved by God.

In some ways, he and Young are on the same page as in Youngs view, the end, God will override that persons will and save them anyway.

What is left out is human abilitiy and choices.

Anonymous said...

Wade, you don't believe that saying people have a chance after death to be reconciled to God is a dangerous belief? If you believe that they do perish if they do not trust Christ in this life, I just do not see how you can be Okay with universal reconciliation.

Anonymous said...


Just as you and Mohler believe in the penal substitutionary view of the atonement of Jesus, could you explain why Young rejects this? He actually believes that view is false and dangerous. Does Young believe that the cross was God's idea? No. Does he believe in imputed righteousness? No. Was it a sacrificial death? No. His view of the cross is this God is in the midst of my sadness. It is hard to believe that you are promoting the movie and book.

Anonymous said...

You shared Mohler's view, but not Young's. Is it heresy to deny that Christ did not die a substitutionary penal death?

Wade Burleson said...


Paul Young believes that Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death.

Read my next post. It's for you and others who think atonement is different from reconciliation.

Both Al Mohler and Paul Young have the orthodox view that the death of Christ (atonement) is what reconciles sinners to God.

RB Kuter said...

"Read my next post. It's for you and others who think atonement is different from reconciliation"

Spurgeon preached; "The sins of man, the wickedness of our race, the crimes of nations, the iniquities of kings, the cruelties of wars, the terrific scourge of pestilence—all these things in some mysterious way are working the will of God! We must not look at it; we cannot look at it. I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you where human will and free agency unite with God's sovereignty and with his unfailing decrees. This has been the place where intellectual gladiators have fought with each other ever since the time of Adam."

I believe this same sentiment could appropriately be applied to the issue of whether God determines the decision of people to accept or reject Christ or they choose from their own free will.

Indeed, I (and I'm sure many others) will be anxiously awaiting this next post.

Anonymous said...

p. 120 "I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don't need to punish people for 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." Read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and let me know what you find....

Anonymous said...

Wade you say, "So go and enjoy The Shack. It is not heresy." Where would you say Paul Young is wrong in what he says about God in The Shack?

Wade Burleson said...


Type your name. It's helpful for dialogue.

"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Unknown said...

"Farewell, Rob Bell," was Piper's tweet! ;-)
Great post, and you didn't really even touch on the other issue related issue concerning the immortality of the soul (and how the church has dealt with that notion)!

Unknown said...

Wade Burleson,

Intriguing article.

You wrote, "I understand Dr. Mohler's theology and happen to agree with it, though I prefer to call it "the doctrines of grace" because I see these doctrines taught in Scripture."

This statement confuses me, as it appears to contrast, as if Dr. Mohler doesn't prefer to refer to the 5 points as "The Doctrines of Grace" as you do. I am guessing that that was not your intent. His "theology" would be "Calvinism" ("Calvinistic"), of which the "Doctrines of Grace" are a vital portion.

Dr. Mohler refers to the portion of Calvinism [his theology] known as the 5 Points of Calvinism (TULIP) as "the Doctrines of Grace".

"Calvinism [Dr. Mohler's 'theology'] is most closely and accurately associated with the so-called “Doctrines of Grace,” which summarize the teaching of Scripture concerning the gospel. The Bible teaches us that we are born sinners, and are thus spiritually dead. Dead in our sins, we cannot on our own even respond to God’s grace. Thus, as Jesus told His disciples, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” [John 6:65]." ~ Dr. Mohler

Here is the link:

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts, then on Young's book "Lies We Believe About God?" Young seems to diverge even more from orthodoxy in that.

With all due respect, your appeals to Young's theological legitimacy seem to rest more on his character and your relationship than the treatise on theology that he offers in The Shack. Fiction or not, it would seem that the Shack's full purpose is to influence the thinking of its readers - something that can't be categorized under fiction alone; and while that's not the explicit point in your defense, that's certainly implied. Young's work, while packaged in narrative is designed to cast dispersion on historically held, and well defended Christian truth. In that sense, I would say that your recommendation for your readers to "enjoy" the Shack lacks qualifying at best, and is likely foolish or dangerous.

Additionally, your defense of this position is dubious. Setting Young on the foundation of McDonald on the foundation of Lewis is fine in regards to the accountability of the larger body, but you failed to hold any of these men up to the light of scripture based on all of their statements. While that cannot be done for Lewis, McDonald, and Twain in a small space like a blog, Young has at least concisely exposed readers of The Shack, Eve, and Lies We Believe about God to a broader sense of his personal theology. This theology is worrisome considering his apparent fervor for 1)universal salvation (embraced in "Lies" and not qualified by "hopeful") 2)the elevation of man and the diminution of God, 3) the limiting of God's sovereignty, and his disdain for penal substitutionary atonement(calling the cross child abuse can't really be categorized any other way) and his doubt in inerrancy and sufficiency of God's word.

We can hold this in the light of McDonald's and Lewis's questionable theological positions all we want and use that to justify Young's (a reverse ad-hominem?). However, those positions are defined by the men and not scripture itself. If we could demonstrate through the Bible the potential absence of Hell (we can't - Rev 21:8, 20:15, Matt 10:28, Matt 25:46, Luke 16:23 and others), then perhaps Young's hopeful universalism would hold water. Unfortunately, even a dismissive approach to universalism renders its holders in opposition to God's word; a position which opens up all sorts of problems that leaders in the church cannot afford to allow into the body, regardless of what Lewis, Piper, McDonald,etc. say. These men will be judged by God in the end, not each other. And their theology is ultimately subject to God's word, if Scripture is truly inspired. It is not subject to the words of their peers or ours.
Based on your blog here, I'm afraid your respect and friendship regarding Young has a heavy influence on discerning whether his body of work is Godly or not. There is, of course, no problem with Christians having friends from different theologies, denominations, or even religions, but they cannot be given free pass as brothers when their fruit suggests otherwise. The Shack is, at best, a work without value to the body; most likely, it is poison to those who are not secure in the faith, especially as its author espouses as belief that denies the necessity for repentance to salvation.
Can we really say that Young is a Christian in light of his own statements?

Anonymous said...

to follow from my above post - this is an interesting point-counterpoint to the new book where he DOES express some of his core theology

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Re "Evangelical Charges of Heresy":

When I was in-country in the Seventies, everything except Jack Chick and Hal Lindsay was Heresy.

To Evangelicals, the definition of Heresy is "not agreeing completely with MEEEEEEEE".

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

George MacDonald believed that God, during the judgment of sinners in hell, could eventually and effectually convince every sinner of His love for sinners in Christ Jesus.  In time sinners could freely and volitionally bow their knees to the Lord Jesus Christ, coming to an understanding of God's love for sinners. In time, according to MacDonald, all of God's creation could be reconciled to God.
I have heard similar speculations in the blogosphere, cited as a speculation in Eastern Orthodox theology about the nature of Purgatory and Hell.

Basically, if you eventually outgrow the Grey Lands of The Great Divorce, it WAS Purgatory. If you never outgrow it, it IS Hell. (And there may be some who never WANT to outgrow it.)

Bruce L. Scheffler said...

I have always looked at salvation in this manner. We are all born sinners, doomed by our sin to be locked up in a jail cell for eternity. Jesus dying on the cross allowed Jesus to go to each cell and rip the door off throwing it away forever. And then He tells us the good news of what He has done for us and to get up and leave the cell and follow Him. If we choose to do that then we are "saved" and will spend eternity with Him. If we choose not too then we are doomed to spend eternity in "hell". God will NOT force us to be saved. His perfection and love for us does not allow Him to take away our "free will" that He gave us. Which does not mean He cannot find a way to show us how much His love for us is and how much He will try to convince us of this.