Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Shack and Divine Nobodies

All right, here we go...

I know several of you have read the book The Shack by William ("Willie") P. Young, and I've heard nothing but favorable reviews of the book from various people. I've not read the full book, but I have read excerpts and I've browsed the Willie's website and blog. I've truly enjoyed most of what I've read. The book seems to be the type of fiction that teaches and reminds us of some wonderful things about God. To be completely honest, I've also had a few "what the...?" moments as well. What I mean is, some (very little) of what I read seems to be off base, even for my mind that has been letting go of 'religious' and 'small box God' thinking for quite some time. Some of what I've read doesn't line up with my understanding of scripture and with my own personal experience. That's not to say that I'm right and the author is wrong in these few small areas. And I'm not personally complaining about the book. (Having not read it, I can't really comment much... I'm only commenting on what I have read). I want to read it and I think I'll enjoy it when I do read it, based upon the favorable reviews I've read from all of you.

Apparently, there are people who are far more vocal about any "concerns" they may have about the book! On this blog post from yesterday, Wayne Jacobsen - who had a lot to do with the book coming together - speaks about "the hostile tone of false accusation and the conspiracy theories that some are willing to put on this book." He goes on to say, "Some have even warned others not to read it or they will be led into deception."

Jacobsen then puts together a list of various objections to the book, and he responds to each one. Some of the objections that he responds to include:

Does the book promote universalism?
Does it devalue scripture?
Is this a feminist God?
Does The Shack promote Ultimate Reconciliation (UR)?

You can read all of the objections he lists and all of his responses on the blog post. I like where he is coming from.

Also, while I'm at it... I'm not trying to get into any hot water with any of my friends here, but I've also seen a few of you talking about Jim Palmer's Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces. Again, these are a couple of books that I think are truly inspired and at the same time I have some of my own personal concerns. In this case, I've read Divine Nobodies and I interacted with Jim and with some other people who commented on his myspace blog for a short time about a year ago. I was initially 'wide open' about the Divine Nobodies book, but as I got further in to it I sensed a tinge of universalism, and when I began reading Jim's blog I really began to get sick to my stomach! I'm just being honest - and friends, please hear me out all the way! (I'm not one of those people that Wayne Jacobsen mentions who can "find a universalist under every bush"). :)

Again, I'm being honest and vulnerable among friends. When I was interacting on Jim's blog last year, I became so troubled by what I was reading that I had to stop reading the blog and interacting with Jim and the others. And I'm not a hypersensitive person! But in this case I just couldn't stomach it after about a month.

All of that said... Overall, I do think highly of Divine Nobodies and I have yet to read Wide Open Spaces, but I will, because of all your recommendations. There is a whole bunch of pure, biblical grace in what I have read, but there are also some things that I think go completely down the wrong path. I want to hear from you as far as your own thoughts on all of this.

When it comes down to it, I put my trust in no author or teacher, nor should anyone put their trust in me or you or anyone else, but we learn from the great teacher, The Holy Spirit. And it's like Wayne says on his blog, "I never view a book as all good or all bad. It’s like eating chicken. Enjoy what you think is the meat and toss what you think are the bones."


  1. T. Austin Sparks came up with a great acid test to such questions:

    "What is the measure of Christ in this?"

    When you answered that, you have a perspective and it's true value.

    For me - There is nothing else other than Jesus. I desire to know nothing than Him and to walk with Him - who is my life.

    I have read both of Jim's books and enjoyed them...for me the biggest take away is that we cannot 'box' God. This ought not be a secret to any of your regular blog readers or Jesus freaks.

    Jim's books gave me comfort in knowing there are people out there that are sick of the trappings of trad-ville (bad church-isms) and are committed more to their relationship with God.

    Then again, both Jim and I have been to Seminary and have the T-shirt (lamb's-skin) RoF in extreme laughter.

    I would use Spark's acid test for this discussion brother....but I have to agree there is a slimy old lying weasel in his asbestos underwear (from the garden) at work to continue to deceive that there is no ultimate truth and we can be as god in harmony.

    To this I answer what Jesus stated: "I am the WAY, the TRUTH, The LIFE"

    I am sure you have opened the pandora's box on this one bros.


  2. What part of everyone being reconciled (universalism) to God makes you sick?

    Not looking for a bible study on why you're not a universalist.

  3. Joel--I've got to say that The Shack is one of the best books I've ever read. It gave me a whole new perspective on how much God loves me, and the lengths he will travel to bring healing to His children.

    The criticisms of the book are way off-base, but understandable. The way it portrays God's outrageous love might frighten some people.

    To answer the first commenter's question, the measure of Christ in The Shack is enormous. I walked away from the book in total awe of the greatness and the goodness of God.

    Could I find reasons for theological disagreement with small sections of the book? Sure. (Isn't that true of every book, except the Bible?) But that would miss the point. The Shack is a great picture of the immensity of God 's love. That's why I've recommended it to so many people.

  4. I'm entirely with you on this, Joel. I don't think there is anyone I've met more like-minded with me than you.

    I agree with God's great love and grace. However, like you, I do not at all agree with universalism. Why? Because I don't like the idea of everyone being saved? Of course not. I would love for everyone to be with God for eternity. The reason I despise it is because it's simply not true. It's dangerous to unbelievers. They think that they are fine when they are not! Yes, it makes me sick as well, Joel. I'm not intending to offend anyone who believes in Universalism here but the fact is, is that not everyone will believe, therefore not everyone will receive salvation.

    I would have to do a lot of scripture twisting in order for me to believe in Universalism.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments on this so far. If you know me, you know I'm not trying to be controversial. Especially just for the sake of controversy. I'm being open and honest about what I've thought about for the past year or so (in regards to Divine Nobodies). The blog post by Wayne Jacobsen about The Shack provided sort of a catalyst for me to bring it up. I basically knew this would be a hot topic, but I brought it up and I invited your thoughts for the purpose of edification, not controversy. :)

    Alvin... "What is the measure of Christ in this?" That's definitely always the great question. All in all, as I said, I see a whole lot of Christ in The Shack and Divine Nobodies. I also see some things that don't sit well with me, so I'm hoping to discuss some of those things as well.

    What you said about Jim's books in regards to getting out of the trappings of tradition and a boxed-in God, those are truly wonderful things that I have gleaned as well. I've enjoyed the one book I've read, as well as the quotes I've heard from the other, for exactly those reasons.

    Rick... If I want to preach a full on sermon about universalism, I'll darn well do it! However, I don't want to, so you're in luck. ;) (just being light, folks). So, I'll try to put it quite simply. As Matthew (Daelon - LOL) said, I don't believe universalism is the truth. I don't believe everybody is saved.

    When I was interacting on Jim's myspace blog a year ago, I brought this up and it seemed as if Jim was unwilling to affirm the truth that not everyone has Christ in them. He spoke about people being created in the image of God, and he spoke about us looking for Christ in everyone, so that we can help them see Christ in them. But how can I find Christ in everyone, if Christ is not in everyone? It's a very important thing to not just let people assume Christ is in them, just because we can help them bear some traits of Christlikeness.

    Jim talked about everyone being forgiven, and as I tried to point out that not everyone is born again, he went on in another blog post or in his comments about how being born-again is something that happens in our soul and minds. It's when we change our "mind" about who we already are, that we're born again. The problem is that "who we already are" is not "in Christ" unless we have been born again spiritually (not in our souls/minds).

    Now... I can handle the idea of Christ's blood having provided forgiveness for everybody. But forgiveness is NOT salvation! Forgiveness does not save us, forgiveness does not provide Christ's indwelling life, but rather forgiveness is a prerequisite, so to speak, of salvation. Forgiveness does not mean that we have died and been risen again with Christ, which is what really needs to take place for salvation.

    That's the short of it, or at least as short as I could make it. Don't get me wrong, I am not against anyone, even if I disagree with them! I'm for the truth, and when I see something that is a grave disservice to the truth, it can get me a little riled up. :)

    Richard... thanks for your comments on The Shack. From what I read of Jacobsen's comments regarding the objections to the book, it really does seem as if the criticisms are off base.

    And indeed, I can find theological disagreements in just about any book I read, and I'm sure people can find plenty of disagreements with me. It's the major ones, such as universalism, that I'm more concerned with, and I'm happy to keep on discussing all of this with anyone who has any thoughts.

  6. Not an expert on universalism...but I believe Jesus died for all - Adolf Hitler, Herod, Judas, any one of us who ever drew breathe...the good, the bad, the ugly.

    You can invite people to the feast - but you cannot make em eat or even come.

    At the end of the day only God reserves the sole right as creator to deem who is righteous and given eternal life. I found my salvation in Jesus Christ who is my life.

    just think'in out loud - can be dangerous.

    In Him,

  7. I was going to add a comment about The Shack here but it kept getting longer and longer so rather than tying up Joel's comment space, I decided to post my thoughts on my blog. If anyone is interested, you can read my impressions over there.

    I did want to discuss the other books here. I read Divine Nobodies and really enjoyed it. I just started Wide Open Spaces and, even though I haven't gotten very far into it, I've already found much to think about.

    I can't say that I picked up any UR in Divine Nobodies. I'm not saying it wasn't there but I agree with walking church's assessment of it. "...for me the biggest take away is that we cannot 'box' God." That's what I like about the book.

    While I agree with Joel that Christ is not in everyone, I do believe Father will sometimes reveal something about himself through our interactions with different people including non-believers.

    I love the concept of "divine nobodies." For too long, religion has focused on the Christian superstars. It's encouraging for me to see a glimpse of Christ in the every day circumstances of life and through normal people.

    I love how you all discuss a controversial subject . . . just a sharing of ideas with no animosity or friction.


  8. Alvin... Those are some good "thinking out loud" words. :) And as Aida said, this is a sharing of ideas and not a hashing out of anyone being right or wrong.

    I, too, believe Christ died for all and I'm not the judge of righteousness and eternal life.

    I do think, however, that when we have the truth of God in recorded scripture, that we can use it, as led, to reveal truth to people instead of simply telling them that they're ok because Christ is already in them, when we don't know that that's the case.

    Just as an example, Paul was in Athens and he found the altar with the inscription, "To the Unknown God." Rather than asking the people, "tell me what you think, tell me what you feel inside, tell me how you see and understand God, tell me about God in you," Paul said (and please allow me to paraphrase), "I know who this God is. Let me tell you the truth about Him." After his 60 second speech, some mocked him, some said, "we'll hear you again on this matter," and some "joined him and believed." He wasn't trying to make peace with everybody. He was boldly preaching the truth.

    Since we know what righteousness is (the righteousness of God, given as a gift, through faith - "for by grace you have been saved, through faith"), then I don't think we're putting God in a box by telling people what God has told us about Himself. :)

    Since we know that "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," then I don't think we put God in a box by being upfront about the truth that "what is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

    I can't judge whether a person is righteous or not, but I can keep myself from affirming things about them that I don't even know are true. In my own personal interactions with Jim a year ago, it seemed to me, over the course of a few weeks, that he simply would not acknowledge that there are people who are spiritually dead and there are people who are spiritually alive. It seemed to me that he lumped everybody in the spiritually alive category, and the only thing that was needed was to help people find Christ in themselves. That seemed to be the gist of what he was saying at the time, making no differentiation between saved or not saved.

    My main concern centered around this, and so that's why I asked others for input. I'm not saying he's a universalist, just that I've sensed it in my interaction with him. To me, there is no measure of Christ in universalism, because it's not the truth. The Bible is quite clear that not everyone will believe and that some will end up in the lake of fire. I think this is very, very important! While it's far from me to make the final call on who is saved and who isn't, I can make sure that I don't make the truth that I know to be fuzzy. :)

    And again, overall I see a whole lot of good stuff coming from Jim. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water, but I do want to clearly define the baby and the bath water. :)

    And also again, I realize that this is controversial stuff. But I realize also that this is among friends who have nothing to prove to each other. I feel very comfortable bringing this up here, even though I know I may be going against the flow.

    Aida... I read your blog and I'll be heading over there to comment.

  9. Re: Universalism - another thought

    Question which might be quite a conversation killer is:

    Why would you want to spend eternity with someone you don't know?

  10. I don't know if all will be saved, but I do dare to hope.

    Paul talks about knowing as he is known when that which is perfect has come. In John's Revelation he sees all the dead standing before God and being judged (knowing as they are known?). Isn’t that the point when one chooses whether or not to allow God to have His way with them for eternity?

    For now, my desire is for my relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be used as a catalyst for bringing others into relationship with the Trinity. I want God to be able to end as much suffering as possible here and now through the witness of those who have the gift of faith.

  11. WC... that would be a good one, because the narrow gate, and "I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of iniquity," only applies to cats. :)

    (Nothing special about cats, I just picked a random animate object aside from humans).

  12. okdiane... hi, and thanks for your comment. I would dare to hope, too, but unfortunately truth supersedes hope. As WC has said, and as I've affirmed, we're not the judges of who has eternal life, but the One who gives is has told us plainly that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.

    As I've also said, I think the same scriptures that testify about Jesus are also perfectly clear that not all will be saved.

    That said, I echo your words and I wholeheartedly join you in your desire that our relationship with God, and His love and grace flowing in and through and out of us, would be an aid in drawing others into a relationship with Him.

  13. Joel,

    I don't see that truth clearly stated in scripture nor do at least two very solid Christian biblical scholars. There are texts that support both sides. And some of the texts seem to me to refer to the time before the resurrection. So I don't see it as wishful thinking.

    I also don't see why it makes a whole lot of difference, since no one, in my opinion, can be scared into a love relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit or anyone else for that matter. Having no definitive answer makes it clear that it's not something we need to know. My reason for wanting people to know God is born of a love for Him and people that wants more people enjoying the fellowship.

  14. Hi okdiane... I guess it's pretty easy to see where we disagree, and that's ok. Since I do see this issue as definitive thing in the Bible, that's why it's so important to me. I've been in plenty of conversations with others and I've heard various other interpretations, and I've sought God on this time and time again, and I'm left with the conclusion that the Bible is very clear that not all will be saved.

    Therefore, it's important to me because I don't want to make any room at all for the possibility that anyone will think "everyone is OK." This isn't a fear-based! It's based on love! If someone is swimming in a river with alligators, I'm gonna love them enough to tell them.

    Again, I understand that we disagree about the alligators in this river, but at least you know where I'm coming from.

  15. Joel, I, too, am OK with disagreeing. I also like a good exchange with someone who's interested in exploring.

    I don't know anyone who doesn't know that the water is full of alligators. So what seems to be needed is a way to avoid becoming their victim, starting right now, whatever name they have. Jesus is the way I believe I have to offer. If someone doesn't accept that way I doubt if it's going to matter what I tell them about whether or not all will be saved.

  16. okdiane... But if they do accept it, then through love I've just kept them from being eaten.

  17. Joel, and I would say that it is the relationship they have with Jesus in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that keeps them from being eaten regardless of what is believed about whether or not all will be saved.:)

    It's the alligators we're already wrestling with that open us up to needing help. Jesus comes for those who know they are sick not those who think they are well. Seeing someone who's well gives one hope for healing and courage to admit to being sick.


  18. okdiane... yep it's plain to see the difference of how we view it.

    People are born in Adam, and they will die in Adam unless they put on the Lord Christ Jesus, by faith. (Born again, made alive with Christ, being made a new creation, etc). I realize this is messed up, God-in-a-box thinking, ;), but as long as my Bible tells me so, I'm not going to be one who lets those in Adam remain in the thinking that all is well.

    I can never say to a person, "look for Christ in you," or "the kingdom of God is within you," when I don't even know if that person has Christ in them. Adam was created in the image of God, and Eve was formed from Adam, but after the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom 5:12)

    Since the New Covenant and life in Christ is entered into by faith, and the kingdom of God is within those who have faith, am I boxing God in by warning that those without faith are going to be eaten by the alligators?

  19. Joel, I don't at all think you are boxing God in. That's not where I see our disagreement. As I see it, the disagreement is in how Jesus makes the Trinity known to us. And that may come from a difference in what we understand to be the content of faith.

    Faith for me is primarily believing that God exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him. He is not my enemy or my rival, which is what he became to Adam and that's what he's been for all born since Adam until Jesus came and revealed the truth. That's how I understand what's been given to me by the revelation of Jesus Christ who is God incarnate.

    It's that faith that makes me alive in Christ. And Christ is what I desire my life to reflect to those around me. Once a person comes to faith in God's totally good intentions toward them Christ is alive in them. And only by their fruit will I be able to recognize Christ in them. I know of no one who has come to faith in Christ by looking into themself.

    Does that better explain why I see no purpose in warning people about an alligator that might eat them?

  20. okdiane... What you've said here is not at all what I got out of what you said earlier. Perhaps the imagery ("alligators") wasn't such a good way to talk about the issue.

    That said, I still don't agree with your take on this.


    How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

    "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"

    But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "LORD, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:14-17)


    For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

    He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-19)


    Is this not worth warning people about?

  21. Joel, I haven’t a clue what you see in those passages that you have to warn people about.

    I read Paul’s words as an encouragement to me to “preach the gospel of peace” and “bring glad tidings of good things” because people can’t “believe in Him of whom they have not heard.” I’m further told that the ability to hear comes from Jesus, who is the word of God, and from hearing the gospel comes faith. That makes my part easy. Jesus does the heavy lifting.

    John is saying that Jesus came not to condemn but to save those who were already condemned. Until Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” came to give eyes to see and ears to hear people were blind and deaf to the nature and character of God and couldn't believe in the way the only begotten Son could.

    The people Isaiah spoke of didn’t yet have the benefit of the Incarnation.

  22. I guess we just disagree then. :)

    I could give you a lot more post-cross scripture that speaks of the need to warn people of their condition in Adam, and their need for Christ. People in Adam are still condemned, having not come to faith. I don't want them to die in Adam and be eternally condemned.

  23. I guess we do but only on how to facilitate the process not on our shared desire to see people come out of darkness into light, out of death into life.

  24. I'm sure the things we agree upon far outweigh the things we disagree on. I appreciate your part in the dialog on this little conversation.

  25. What part of everyone being reconciled (universalism) to God makes you sick to your stomach?

    "Not" why you don't believe it, but why does the idea of universalism make you sick?

    and...I'm not being argumentative, I'm just curious.

    p.s. I'm so glad I was in luck about the sermon thingy...whew ;)

  26. Rick... simply because it's a lie that some well-intentioned people believe, that comes against the necessary truth of the foundation of faith that is necessary for salvation.

    That was the reason for my "alligator" illustration. If people are swimming in a seeming peaceful river, but I've seen the alligators, and I don't warn them of the alligators, then people will get eaten because they don't see the danger, since other people are telling them they're OK.

    The reality of hell is what makes the lie of universalism sickening to me. It's that simple.

  27. Hey Joel,

    Folks I know who advance universalistic notions encourage people to know and experience God 'now' because it's such an incredible way to opposed to scaring people into buying fire insurance for 'later' people who are scared into buying fire insurance really know God anyway?


  28. "Folks I know who advance universalistic notions encourage people to know and experience God 'now' because it's such an incredible way to live..."

    Wonderful, fantastic, so do I.

    " opposed to scaring people into buying fire insurance for 'later' people who are scared into buying fire insurance really know God anyway?

    Are you so sure that by telling people there are alligators in the water I'm simply trying to "scare" them into getting out? Aren't I wanting them to be safe? Denying the reality is far more of a risk than I would ever want to take.

  29. To tell the truth, I never intended for this to become a discussion about universalism itself. I was taking it as a "given" (and still am) that most people who read this blog are against the lie of universalism.

    We'll talk about living life in the now all day long, because Jesus is "I am." We'll talk about Christ who is our life. We'll talk about the glorious wonders of the New Covenant that Christians are living it, all because of faith in what the Blood of Jesus has accomplished.

    But just so you know, in case you're planning on speaking any more on universalism, I'm personally done with discussing it because it's a moot point with me.

  30. Whoa Joel...just wanted you to consider the motivation or heart of the other.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Adios :-)

  31. I wasn't going to revisit this, and I'm only doing so for a moment because through an email from a friend, I realized an error I made. Not in what I said, but in how I said it.

    I realized my last comment may have come across as a little blunt or gruff, and that's not what was intended. The actual content of the conversation in this series of comments is quite up my alley. I mean, I wholeheartedly enjoy discussions like this. I've been involved in myriads of conversations involving controversial subjects like this in online forums over the years.

    However, over the course of the days of this conversation, I realized that the direction things were heading isn't why I posted this particular post, and it's not the overall purpose of this blog either. I'm all for conversations taking on lives of their own, heading off in different directions, but in this case, I wasn't meaning for it to turn into a matter of arguments for or against universalism. The point is moot, as far as it not being something I feel the desire to discuss on this blog. And I heard from at least three of my blogging friends that they either stayed out of the conversation entirely or stopped paying attention to it.

    So... in the end I decided to just say that I was done talking about the topic, and perhaps I should have been less terse in my comment about that. Thanks again, everyone for keeping a controversial subject civil while it lasted!