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Why Does a Good God Allow Bad Things?


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Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?
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From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner

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Christianity for Skeptics
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The Shack Revisited compared with the Bible

the-shack-revisited-cover
Baxter Kruger’s book to which Paul Young wrote the Foreword.

undoing-of-adam-cover
Baxter Kruger’s book in which he expands on the theology of The Shack as presented in The Shack Revisited.

by 

Published: 20 June 2017 (GMT+10)

This year, 2017, has seen the release of a movie of the 2008 best-selling novel The Shack by W. Paul Young.1 In it, a fictional father, Mackenzie (Mack), grieving over the abduction and murder of his six-year-old daughter, Missy, struggles with why God could have allowed such a thing to happen. The shack is a cabin where Mack encounters bodily manifestations of the Trinity.2 

The Shack Revisited is a 2012 book by Baxter Kruger,3 which says that Kruger has “written the theology that goes with The Shack”.4 Young wrote the Foreword to Kruger’s book and says: “If you want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book [i.e. The Shack Revisited] is for you.”5 In this article we shall discuss this theology, as well as that in other material by Kruger,6 and compare what Kruger says with what God says in the Bible.

Kruger bases much of what he writes on the theology of Karl Barth as expounded by Thomas Torrance in his book Atonement.7 In the Preface to his book Jesus and the Undoing of Adam (ref. 6) Kruger says that it represents the heart of his doctoral dissertation on Professor T.F. Torrance’s theology, at Kings College, Aberdeen, Scotland.8 Note: Young’s portrayal of the Trinity in human form has been adequately discussed in the reviews in ref. 2, so we shall be discussing other matters in this article. See too our previous article by Lita Cosner What The Shack gets right.

The story behind the story

Kruger, a close friend of W. Paul Young, begins his book by telling readers, “There is a story behind the story” of The Shack, which he relates as follows:

“By the time Paul was six years old, he had been emotionally abandoned, physically and verbally beaten, and sexually assaulted—repeatedly. … He cried out to God for healing, rededicating himself and his life a hundred times, until his ‘rededicator’ finally burned out. His life became a form of hiding, while he desperately searched for relief and help anywhere he could find it. … Mackenzie’s weekend at the shack represents eleven years of Paul’s actual life.”9

So the two authors, Young and Kruger, are attempting to deal with the problem of why we humans experience pain, suffering, and death. Kruger continues: “So the story within the story is that The Shack is our story, too, the story of our pain and blindness, of the God who seems so absent, so uncaring and impotent when it really matters, and of our lives paused in shame.”10

Kruger didn’t need to stop there. He could have mentioned the evolution-inspired and anti-Christian Nazi Holocaust under the control of Adolf Hitler that took the lives of at least 10 million human beings; or the Soviet Gulag State that murdered about 26 million for political reasons (including the Holodomor, Ukrainian for “murder by starvation”, a Stalin-made famine that killed millions in 1932–33); or the Chinese purges under Mao Zedong of up to 80 million; or the biggest life-taker of all—the abortion of unwanted unborn human beings—some 1.5 billion worldwide since Roe v. Wade in 1973.11 It seems there is no limit to the harm human beings willingly do to each other, when God’s commands for how we should live and relate to each other are defied or just ignored.

Where did bad things come from?

According to God’s Word, pain and death entered our world at the event known as ‘the Fall’. This was after our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed the command God had given to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17). The immediate result for them both was a guilty conscience, so “they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Then God called them forth and pronounced the penalty, about which He had warned them, and which now applied to them (Genesis 3:2–3, 16–19).

A consequence of Adam’s sin in choosing to do what Satan wanted him to do, and that God wanted him not to do, was that henceforth man would now have a sin-nature inherited from Adam and would be “a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Also, Satan gained control over man’s social, political, economic, educational, and religious systems. That this is so is shown by what happened at the temptation of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 4:5–8: “the devil … showed him [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

Jesus did not challenge or dispute this claim of Satan’s when He answered, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” In other words, this was a very real temptation for Jesus, in just the same way as was the temptation to make bread out of stones, even though neither would be a temptation for any of us!

See:

The Fall—according to Kruger

Kruger gives his reason for why Adam and Eve tried to hide from the presence of God after they had disobeyed Him, as: “it was the love of God that they feared.”12 And he offers:

Adam projected his own brokenness onto God’s face. … He took a paintbrush, dipped it into the cesspool of his own double-mindedness and guilt and shame, and painted an entirely new picture of a god with it. And it was this god, created by his own darkened imagination—not the Lord—that he feared and from whom he hid. … He now projected his pain onto God, thereby creating an entirely mythological deity, a figment of his own baggage.13

Kruger goes on to suggest that God’s action of clothing Adam was “an act of love, of acceptance, of real relationship”14 and he then says: “We see the Lord putting aside all rights to abstract justice and punishment, and we see him more concerned about his lost and terrified creatures than he is about his honor.”15

Not so. God did not put anything aside. According to Genesis chapter 3, God summoned Adam from his hiding place among the trees of the garden, conducted a trial, and then passed sentence. Satan’s temptation of Eve had involved doubting the Word of God, denial of that Word, disregard for the judgment of God, and defamation of the character of God. God’s honour was indeed at stake and of the utmost concern.

See:

The love of God and the holiness of God

Kruger spends several chapters of The Shack Revisited highlighting the fact that the three persons of the Trinity love each other, which of course is a biblical concept and undeniably true. And he goes on to say: “We are accepted as we are, known and loved for our benefit, embraced forever, because love is the nature of the blessed Trinity.”16 (Emphasis in the original.)

See:

In the Bible, the book of Acts shows us the way in which the Apostles went about the task of obeying Christ’s command to them to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations, (Matthew 28:19). Interestingly (perhaps even surprisingly) the love of God is not mentioned by any preacher or teacher in Acts in any speech or discourse. In fact, as a Concordance will show, the word ‘love’ does not occur anywhere in Acts in any context. Instead, Peter, Paul, and the other evangelists reiterate the themes of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s judgment, and the need for their hearers to repent and believe in Christ. See Acts 2:38, 3:19, 4:12, 10:42–43, 13:38-39, 16:30–31, 17:30–31, 26:19–20.

Paul’s expositions on the love of God, including the great theme in Romans 5:8 that God loved us while we were still sinners, were all written to Christians, and were not, it seems, preached to non-Christians.

See:

Concerning the holiness of God, Kruger writes:

“To begin with, the holiness of God has been given far too prominent a position in our vision of God and of the relationship between God and the human race.”17
“The holiness of God was detached from the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and reconceived within the world of Roman law, becoming a legal idea. Instead of holiness being a name for the incomparable love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, it became a matter of law, morality, and ethical perfection.”18

Actually, the Bible presents holiness as the attribute by which God was especially known in both the Old and New Testaments. See (inter alia) Joshua 24:19; 1 Samuel 6:20; Psalm 22:3; Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 50:29; Ezekiel 39:7; Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 1:12; John 17:11; Hebrews 12:10; Revelation 4:8. God is called ‘the Holy One’ no less than thirty times in Isaiah alone. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to “be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 & 45; cf. Leviticus 19:2; 20:26; 21:8).

The God of the Bible is supremely love, and simultaneously He is also unspeakably, unimaginably, and supremely holy. Hence God’s love is properly God’s holy love. It distorts God’s revelation of Himself to try to present a purely warm, cuddly image in which man’s sinfulness is not much of an issue. As Kruger’s own mentor, Thomas Torrance, writes: “God is opposed to the sinner in their sin, and the sinner is opposed to God.”19 (Cf. Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.”) God’s holiness is in stark, utter contrast to the sinfulness of mortal man, so much so that without the mediator Jesus for believers to appropriate, God would be unreachable and unapproachable. In Isaiah’s vision of God in Chapter 6, as the prophet becomes acutely aware of God’s intense holiness in contrast to his own sinfulness (verse 5) he exclaims: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

When Peter in the New Testament saw the astonishing miracle of the massive haul of fish (Luke 5:4–7), he caught a glimpse of just who this Jesus was—the Creator God Himself. Far from a ‘wow’ response, wondering how he could have his needs met from this amazing relationship with a powerful friend, his reaction was reminiscent of Isaiah’s. It reflected the awesome reality of the yawning, seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the absolute holiness of God and the darkness of even the best of humanity by contrast. Falling down at Jesus’ feet, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O, Lord” (Luke 5:8).

This same Apostle Peter, addressing believers in the New Testament, repeats God’s Levitical command to holiness: “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

Why did Jesus die?

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Kruger says:

“The death of Jesus Christ was not punishment from the hands of an angry God; it was the Son’s ultimate identification with fallen Adam, and the supreme expression of faithfulness to his own identity as the One who lives in fellowship with the Father in the Spirit.”20
“And Jesus died because the only way to get from the Fall of Adam to the right hand of the Father was through the crucifixion of Adamic existence.”21
“It was not just Adamic existence that was crucified in Jesus Christ; it was Adam and you and me and the whole human race.”22

So what does the Bible say?

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
“For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18).
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Why this emphasis?

Answer: God cannot justly pardon sin solely on the ground of a sinner’s repentance, because a righteous God could not do so and still maintain the integrity of His own previously proclaimed edict (the penalty for sin is death). God can pardon sin only when the pronounced penalty has been paid. Jesus paid the sinner’s penalty so that God could pardon the sinner and remain righteous at the same time, as Paul writes in Romans 3:26, “It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

See:

The Gospel

Kruger says: “the gospel is not the news that we can accept an absent Jesus into our lives. The gospel is the news that the Father’s Son has received us into his.”23 

He relates the story of a young girl named Stephanie who told him of a vision she had had of God on a throne. Lots of people, bruised, cut, with bloodied knees, exhausted, sad, and crying were trying to get up the steps of the throne to God, but couldn’t. Then she saw Jesus, who gathered them all into his arms, walked up the steps, and sat down in his Father’s lap. To which, Kruger responded: “Stephanie, that is the gospel.”24

It’s a moving story, but that’s all it is. It doesn’t take into account, e.g., Jesus’ own parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, to which those invited refused to come, and then one who did attend entered without a wedding garment. The king’s response was: “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness” (Matthew 22:1–14).

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul gives us a somewhat different portrayal of the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4 he writes:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (Emphasis added.)
good-news

This and many other passages of Scripture demonstrate that God shows his love toward us in providing the means by which we can come into a right relationship with Him. This is the biblical Gospel, i.e. the message that when Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He bore the divine wrath against sin. His death was vicarious, i.e. on behalf of others, because He Himself had no sin (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). And His death was expiatory, i.e. it satisfied both the justice of God and the law of God, and thus made possible a free pardon for all who are willing to receive it (Romans 8:1).

Sadly, we need to mention here that the Apostle Paul has some very solemn things to say about those who, he asserts, “are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). Here is what Paul writes:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned. As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8–9 NIV).

So why is the full biblical Gospel not joyfully accepted by everybody? Paul gives us two reasons:25

  1. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
  2. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

See:

Is everybody saved?

Kruger says: “When he [Jesus] ascended to the Father, he took the whole human race with him to the right hand of God the Father almighty—inside the circle of all circles, into the very life of the Triune God.”26 

In support of this, Kruger quotes Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:4–6, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”27 

However, Paul addressed this letter “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). He was not addressing the world. The terms “we” and “us” in all of Paul’s letters refer to believers. Nowhere in the Bible does God say that all humanity is saved or will be in heaven or is already there now. In Jesus’ prayer to God the Father for His disciples before His crucifixion, He said: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me” (John 17:9).

Much as one might like to think of God as a warm fuzzy father figure who will take everyone to heaven in due course, that is not what the Bible teaches. In a verse sometimes quoted by universalists, John 3:17 indeed says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” But the very next verse goes on to say: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Rather than universal salvation, there will be a universal judgment, at which the Judge will be the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:27–29). This means that when Jesus paid our sin debt, He did so, not as a third party, but as the Judge Himself. If the Judge pays the penalty Himself, He is free to do so on His own terms. The terms that God has lain down for the forgiveness of sin are repentance (Acts 3:19) and believing the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1–2). This involves our seeing ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness, asking God to forgive us, and receiving Jesus not just as our Saviour but also as our Lord (John 1:12Romans 10:9).

We must meet these terms before we can benefit from Christ’s atoning death for us, but when we do, God forgives our sins (1 John 1:9), He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us (2 Corinthians 5:21Philippians 3:9), and ‘since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).

See:

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Judgment

Kruger says: “the judgment of God is not the divine ‘dark side’ finally having its say … as Sophie says in The Shack, ‘Mackenzie, judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.’”28 

God says:

“And He [God] has given him [Jesus] authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out, those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:27–29).

This judgment is known as the Great White Throne Judgment. For a prophetical description of it, which God inspired the Apostle John to write, see Revelation 20:11–15.

Believers

Believers won’t receive judgment for their sins, because Christ has paid their sin-penalty in full, when He died on the Cross and rose again. For believers, there will be an assessment, when “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10–12) and Christians will receive the rewards appropriate for their stewardship of the gifts, talents, opportunities, and responsibilities each has had in this life (1 Corinthians 3:13–152 Corinthians 5:10).

See:

Non-believers

However, there will be a judgment of the unsaved dead (2 Timothy 4:1). Concerning this the Bible warns that the penalty for their sins will involve exclusion from God’s presence forever (Matthew 13:41–42; Revelation 20:11–15). The bad news is that we have all fallen short, both of God’s rules for human behaviour, and also in our relationship to God Himself (Romans 3:23). God calls this failure ‘sin’, and He says that the penalty for sin is ‘death’ (Romans 6:23)—alienation from God in this life, and forever in the next.

Theologian Bruce Milne writes:

“The Bible’s teaching here is quite unambiguous and of awesome seriousness. Those who remain unrepentant when confronted with God’s claim on them, who reject His will when it is made known to them, and who continue through their lives in the blasphemy and rebellion which sin implies, will face God’s just wrath.”

“No doubt some of the language used to describe Hell is necessarily symbolic, as is the language to describe Heaven. However, the fact that we are thrown back on symbols does not mean we can disregard or devalue them. They are God-given, and while they cannot tell us everything, they will not mislead us. There is no evading the Bible’s witness at this point. Hell is a reality of unspeakable solemnity (John 3:18–2036).” 29

At the Great White Throne Judgment, the time for mercy will be over, for ever. History will have reached the time of the consummation (or completion) of all things. The good news is that the mercy necessary for us to avoid being condemned at this tribunal is available now, but it must be appropriated in this life to be effective in the next.

See:

Does the biblical Gospel give assurance of salvation?

According to Kruger it does not. In rejecting what he terms the ‘legal gospel’, Kruger writes: “the legal model forces us to think of God as divided.”30 He goes on to talk about God having “a split personality”, and he says: “Jesus has successfully changed God, on the legal model, but he has left the human race broken.”31 And: “The legal gospel with its double-minded God is incapable of producing peace, real hope, and abiding assurance in the human soul.”

Not so on all counts. When Jesus took our punishment upon Himself, bearing the just judgment of our sin, He did so as God the Son, otherwise it would have been impossible for Him to have done so. Jesus did not change God the Father, as Kruger claims. What Jesus did, God did, because Jesus is God. When Jesus died and rose again He did so as both our substitute and our representative, i.e. as our proxy. Thus our sin-debt has been fully paid, and so we are free to enter into God’s wonderful love and fellowship.

How sad that anyone would reject the biblical Gospel as fervently as Kruger does. Nevertheless there certainly are people who lack assurance of salvation, like author W. Paul Young, as narrated in ‘the story behind the story’ of The Shack, as reported on p. 1 of this article. So what is the answer?

Our assurance as Christians of forgiveness of sin, of freedom from condemnation, of eternal life, in short of salvation, emanates from nothing less than the character of God Himself. It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18), and so the promises of God, recorded in His Word, are true. Here is what God inspired the Apostle John to write:

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:10–12).

And John reiterates: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13).

Assurance therefore does not come from our feelings, or from anything we have done, but solely from believing that what God says is true.

What about the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’?

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Kruger writes: “The other-centred love of the Father, Son, and Spirit is … not dependent on anything we may or may not do, including praying the Sinner’s Prayer.”32

So what is the Sinner’s Prayer?

Answer: One form of this is: “Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner. I believe that you died for me and rose again. I ask you to forgive all my sins, and I ask you to come into my life as my Saviour and my Lord. Amen.” While it is true that no one in the New Testament prays this prayer (including the repentant thief on the cross), nevertheless it combines in a few short sentences the message of the Gospel portrayed throughout the New Testament.

For example:

In John 3:5 & 7, Jesus said to Nicodemus: “You must be born again”,33 i.e. spiritual life has a beginning just as necessarily as physical life has a beginning.
Romans 10:9 says: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
John 3:16 says: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
John 1:12 says: “to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

The Sinner’s Prayer simply and adequately combines all of these factors into one package. However, it is not reciting the prayer but responding in genuine faith that makes it effective.

See:

Conclusion

Authors Paul Young and Baxter Kruger have used the medium of a fictitious story to present their version of why bad things happen in the world. The purpose of this article, as stated at the beginning, has been to compare their theology with what God says in the Bible. We certainly can feel compassion for the struggles experienced by The Shack’s author as a result of the consequences of human sin assaulting his childhood. But the solution is hardly to be found in distorting the Gospel out of all recognition, so much so that one is really presenting a false Gospel, so resoundingly warned against in Scripture. The Bible contains both the answer as to why suffering (physical and emotional) and death exist, and the ultimate, eternal solution.34 

For a more comprehensive answer to the question of why God allows suffering and death, please see these articles:

Beyond the Shadows

beyond-the-shadows
walking-through-shadows

In the very earliest days of the CMI ministry, Creation magazine founder Dr Carl Wieland suffered a horrific car accident in the Australian desert that caused a great deal of bodily harm, with permanent effects. This is a whole other story, explained in the book Beyond the Shadows and the DVD Walking Through Shadows—resources that have been a huge help to many. They are semi-autobiographical but (especially the book) feature extensive biblical and logic teaching, tempered by the furnace of personal experience, about how to understand death and suffering (which includes the emotional components) in a world created by a God of love. Highly recommended.

Related Articles

References and notes

  1. Young, W.P. The Shack, Windblown Media, FaithWords, Hodder & Stoughton, 2007. Originally self-published, now sales of 20 million copies worldwide are claimed. Return to text.
  2. See Challies, T., A Review of The Shack, challies.com/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young.
    See also Shocked by The Shack (Let Us Reason Ministries), http://www.letusreason.org/bookR21.htm. Return to text.
  3. Kruger, B., The Shack Revisited, FaithWords Hachette Book Group, New York, 2012. Return to text.
  4. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 16. Return to text.
  5. Ref. 3, p. ix. Return to text.
  6. Kruger, B., Jesus and the Undoing of Adam, which Kruger refers to some half-a-dozen times in The Shack Revisited. (Page numbers quoted are to the pdf available at: ftp://ftp.compuconference.com/Christian_Material/e-text/Perichoresis/Jesus%20And%20the%20Undoing%20of%20Adam.pdf. Return to text.
  7. Torrance, T., Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, Paternoster, USA, 2009. Return to text.
  8. Kruger, ref. 6, p. 8. Return to text.
  9. Kruger, B., ref. 3, pp. 5, 7 & 8. Return to text.
  10. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 14. Return to text.
  11. This was the USA Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in that country, with huge influence worldwide. Return to text.
  12. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 20. Return to text.
  13. Kruger, B., ref. 3, pp. 165–66. Return to text.
  14. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 169. Return to text.
  15. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 170. Return to text.
  16. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 126 Return to text.
  17. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 31. Return to text.
  18. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 129. Return to text.
  19. Torrance, T., ref. 7, p. 153. Return to text.
  20. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 26. Return to text.
  21. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 50. Return to text.
  22. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 28. Return to text.
  23. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 194. Return to text.
  24. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p.147. Return to text.
  25. This paragraph adapted from Piper, J., Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, Crossway Books, Illinois, 2006, p. 105. Return to text.
  26. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 40. Return to text.
  27. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 146; and ref. 6, p. 29. Return to text.
  28. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 128, which quotes The Shack, ref. 1, p. 171. Return to text.
  29. Milne, B., Know the Truth, Intervarsity Press, p. 332, 1998. Return to text.
  30. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 34. Return to text.
  31. Kruger, B., ref. 6, p. 37. Return to text.
  32. Kruger, B., ref. 3, p. 124. Return to text.
  33. The Greek of this verse can also be translated ‘born from above’. Return to text.
  34. The description of Young’s ‘rededicator burnout’ is distressing, but there is no biblical mandate for expecting automatic relief for personal suffering of any sort from continual ‘rededication’. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Zoe K., Australia, 29 June 2017

Dear Mr Grigg,

I was so pleased to read your article on The Shack Revisited, in which you expose the unbiblical theology of Paul Young and Baxter Kruger. Many years ago, the church my husband and I attended fully embraced Baxter Kruger’s teachings, which are based on Karl Barth’s Trinitarian Theology and Thomas Torrance’s Incarnational theology.

All the familiar biblical words and terms are being used, but the meanings have been totally changed. E.g. “sin” is “unbelief in Jesus”, not “the transgression of the law”; “repentance” is to “realise you are already in Christ and to accept it”; “Christ” is “Christ plus all humanity included”, and the list goes on and on. According to Kruger, at the incarnation, when God became man, man also became God. And at the resurrection, all humanity was forgiven and taken up with Christ into the Trinity. In other words, humanity = Christ. And now all humanity exists within the Trinity— thus man is God! In this way the Trinity is a sort of Quaternity. This is Kruger’s version of the Trinity—as expressed in his Doctrine of Perichoresis. But it gets worse, because in this theology everything (the entire universe) is God. In this way, a Hindu concept of God and the universe reborn (re-incarnation) has been “clothed” with a Christian façade.

He is proclaiming a different “God”, a different “Christ” and a different “gospel”. Realising that Kruger defines the “us”, “we” and “our” of Paul’s writings as the whole world, instead of Christians, was a huge breakthrough for us. We were so pleased to read that you have also recognised this and expressed it in your article.

As for The Shack, I read it before starting my research and what struck me was the complete absence of the explanation of evil. The devil and judgement did not exist. I found this very strange, but at the time was not informed enough to understand the story’s demonic theological foundation.

Once again, I am encouraged to read your article The Shack Revisited, and to see how CMI are keeping up with the many deceptions that are taking place today.

Kind regards,

Kirk H., United States, 20 June 2017

"God cannot justly pardon sin solely on the ground of a sinner’s repentance". What? "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’" (Luke 18:13).

"God can pardon sin only when the pronounced penalty has been paid". Are we not paying that penalty anyway? "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). What exactly was it that Jesus paid for us as a substitute? Also, is "the pronounced penalty" what God teaches us about forgiveness? "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you" (Matthew 6:14).

The Scriptural phrases cited, (e.g., "for our sins, laid on Him, the just for the unjust, bore our sins, made Him to be sin") can point just as easily to "identification with" rather than "substitution for" us sinners.

As creationists, we know that we were judged to die in Genesis 3, and nothing will change that. As Jesus told Nicodemus, "he who does not believe has been judged already" (John 3:18b). So again, what penalty did Jesus pay in substitution for us? "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) is a weak foundation for such a huge doctrine. It's not a teaching verse, He's quoting scripture, and the Father is not His God. Who knows what He really meant? Maybe He was keeping the mystery of the gospel hidden for a few more moments.

"Identification with" is a powerful picture of atonement and reconciliation, much more so than "substitution for" (in my opinion), and should not be discounted, especially among creationists grounded in "First Adam - Last Adam".

Russell Grigg responds

The Bible presents Jesus as identifying with us by sharing our existence, and as being a substitute for us in His death. He identified with us by “taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7). When He began His ministry, His first act was to identify Himself with fallen humanity in His baptism—not because He had sins to repent of, but because it was “fitting to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). He experienced being tempted (“in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)). He hungered, thirsted, prayed … in short, He was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17).

However, the purpose of His death on the cross was not just to share what happens to every one of us. He was our infinite substitute, “the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3:18). He did what no other human being could do. “He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He took on Himself all our iniquity, and God treated Him as the accumulation of all human guilt, even as sin itself. “God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And the purpose of all this was not only to obtain forgiveness for us, but also “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This doctrine, known as ‘the substitutionary atonement’, is the core doctrine of evangelical Christianity (cf. Isaiah 53:5). Denial of it leaves the world without a sin-cleansing Saviour (cf. Romans 5:6–11).

How wonderful that because Jesus bore the divine penalty for sin, all who accept God’s offer of forgiveness on the basis that Jesus has paid their sin debt can know that their sins are forgiven. God sees no sin in any of His people when He looks upon them in Christ. Instead he sees righteousness—the righteousness of Christ. What a wonderful Gospel, and it’s freely available to all who are willing to receive Christ as their Saviour and Lord (John 1:12).

DAVID C., United States, 20 June 2017

Love you guys and the work you do. This article is great. Therefore it is somewhat frustrating to always see you stop 1/2-inch short.

It is not "believing" the Gospel but obeying the gospel that saves us. (To understand that start by asking what is the difference in those two). And please note that the sinner's prayer is not in the Bible anywhere (no one has ever been able to give me a book chapter verse for it and I can find no example in the Bible anywhere of anyone being saved in such a manner). It was Billy Holliday in the early 20th century who really formalized and popularized this approach.

Russell Grigg responds

Christianity is about people coming into a right personal relationship with God, through the forgiveness of their sins, and I agree that believing that Jesus is Saviour means obeying Him as Lord.

As Jesus said: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of god remains on him” (John 3:36).

As I said in the article, it is true that no-one in the New Testament is saved by praying the Sinner’s Prayer (including the repentant thief on the Cross), but it summarizes in a few short sentences the message of the Gospel portrayed throughout the New Testament.

Philip W., New Zealand, 20 June 2017

I am aware that Paul Young (the author on the cover) has embraced universalism since the publication of "The Shack". However, I believe it may be unfortunate that the other two authors of “The Shack” Wayne Jacobsen (see Lifestream Ministries) and Brad Cummings (See The God Journey podcast) have not been explored by Creation Ministries to determine if "The Shack" really was written at the time with the intention of portraying universalism. My understanding is that they worked hard to remove all references to universalism from the text as they did not, and still do not, believe in universalism. A look at 'He loves Me" by Wayne Jacobsen may be a useful addition to the theological coverage offered around the authors of The Shack by Creation staff (see the Chapters “What really happened on the Cross”, and “The antidote for sin”). When their input to the book is considered it becomes much easier to give the benefit of the doubt to the authors on tricky sentences that may have alternative meanings depending on the bias with which the text is read. My personal opinion is that there is much to be treasured in the book as it has helped me to engage with God as a loving Father rather than someone needing to be appeased. I also suspect that many people will not be misled by any “minor” theological errors in the book (such as the trinity being depicted as people – albeit in a dream) but instead will be drawn to engage with God directly, Once engaged he can quite easily work in people to slowly align their beliefs with the truth over time.

Thanks for all the good work you do – these articles on The Shack are the only times I have found myself not fully agreeing with your assessment of the issue. Always good to be kept on our toes and consider arguments either way.

Russell Grigg responds

Thank you for your comments on the article. The copy of The Shack that I have read does say on the title page “A novel by Wm. Paul Young In collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings”, and I have read Wayne Jacobsen’s article titled “Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Shack?” in Lifestream.

Although Wayne says he and Brad took universalism out of the story when they rewrote it in four drafts over 16 months, they certainly didn’t convince Paul Young. Here are some passages in The Shack that do nothing to deny universalism.

p. 104 Papa says: “The God who is—who I am who I am cannot act apart from love.” As I point out in the article God is simultaneously supremely love and supremely holy. So he does nothing out of love, especially with regard to sin, that would be contrary to His holiness.

p. 147 Jesus says that God is submitted to Mack.

p. 171 Sophia says: “Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.”

p. 194 Papa says: “through his [Jesus’] death and resurrection I am now fully reconciled to the world.”

p. 225 Papa says: “I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation.”

p. 227 Papa says: “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.”

I need to point out that my article is about the theology in Kruger’s book The Shack Revisited, which Paul Young says in the Foreword that he wrote to that book that it [i.e. Kruger’s book] is for those who “want to understand better the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack” (p. ix).

Young also says in the Foreword: “Please don’t misunderstand me; The Shack is theology.” (p. x) “The perspective and vision, visible through the window that The Shack has provided, is now enlarged and articulated here in accessible and comprehensible language; and I hope the emerging picture that Baxter is painting on this word canvas stuns you into wonder, worship, and possibility.” (p. xii)

In summary, neither The Shack nor The Shack Revisited deals with our sin problem. As Messianic Jew Michael Youssef says: “Beloved, the best place to meet God is not at the shack but at the cross. For the Gospel is the greatest story ever told, and better still, it is true.”

Graham P., New Zealand, 20 June 2017

Great review. The key to the folly of the shack might be Karl Barth, who is mentioned at the top, who said erroneously that the Bible's individual words don't count, that only the general impression matters. No wonder his followers are so deluded...

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