Read Part 1.
When I speak of Young’s universalism I am not referring to the belief that Jesus Christ provided an atonement for every sinner; a position which I hold. I am instead talking about the liberal theological teaching that God will save everybody, whether or not they have placed their trust in His Son.
Because of the author’s encounters with hurt and pain, it is understandable that he has searched for a god who is safe and accepting. In his striving to push past the debilitating burden that bitterness carries with it, perhaps he has embraced a god that characterizes his wish to move on and forgive—everyone? One can’t be sure. But Young wants to remove what he sees as the hard edges off of the traditional concept of God:
Every human being you meet, interact with, react and respond to, treat rudely or with kindness and mercy: every one is a child of God. If we considered that we are all together members of one family, might we care for one another with more consideration and kind intention? Every human being is my brother, my sister, my mother, my father … a child of God (206)
Naturally, he has just appealed to Paul’s statement before the Areopagus in Acts 17:28-29 (though he also grabs at Ephesians 4:5-6, which is aimed at Christians, for help). Once more his inability to read the Bible coherently is troubling. When Paul quotes the pagan poet Aratus in Acts 17:29 he is not using him to teach that we are all adopted into God’s family, no matter what we believe. If that were the case he certainly wouldn’t have spoken of future judgment and demanded repentance (Acts 17:30-31)!
What the quotation above demonstrates is that Young conceives of humanity as a set that is properly related to its Creator. we’re all one big family, but we don’t treat each other like we should. Of course, this is a logical result of his thinking about sin in Pelagian terms as ignorance and bad habit.
Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. (119)
If we take Jesus seriously, then we are not dealing with outsiders and insiders; we are dealing with those who are seeing and those who are not seeing, trusting and not trusting. (55)
Since we are “all on a journey,” a continuum, it is wrong, says Young, to think in terms of believers and unbelievers (57). In actual fact, he assures us that since we are created in the image of God, “the truth of your being looks like God” (229). Our violence, insensitivity, arrogance, and selfishness are a result of our lack of understanding of the central truth of our being in and like God.
If you think this is starting to sound slightly panentheistic, or at least that Young’s god is just a big kiss (to borrow Joseph Parker’s term), I think you are hearing right. This is the way Young’s theology is tending, and I expect him to veer in that direction in the years to come. You’re okay even if you didn’t cut it in this life. Young opines,
I don’t think God would ever say that once you die, that your fate is sealed and there is nothing that God can do for you. (182)
Well that’s nice. But we ought to make sure that we are taking Jesus seriously like the author tells us to. The Lord Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), which included an intentional betrayal (Jn. 13:11). He said that the world, that is, the ungodly rebellious people whose thinking is not subordinated to God’s revelation, hated Him (Jn. 15:18). He excoriated the religious leaders with language which was unmistakably non-inclusivist. He called some of them children of the devil (Jn. 8:44), and the Apostle John broadens the category considerably (1 Jn. 3:10). It takes no real effort to discover that the Lord’s attitude to “insiders and outsiders” is at variance with Wm. P. Young.
He that is of God hears God’s words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God (John 8:47)
A person who refuses God’s words is a person who is “not of God.” To this the rest of the New Testament clearly agrees (e.g. Mk. 4:11; Eph. 2:12; Jam. 4:4; Jude 4, 18). How, for instance, can you wring a positive message out of this?
Serpents, brood of vipers! how can you escape the condemnation of hell (gehenna)? (Matthew 23:33)
Young’s idea of taking Jesus seriously is to ignore what Jesus says wherever His words cross Young’s idea of what Jesus should be like. It’s all of a piece: the view of sin, the universalism, including postmortem redemption, the transformation of hell into love’s fiery embrace; these are all the family of products which Young’s concerted lack of attention to God’s words yields. It is undiluted liberalism. Promising people that they are adopted into God’s eternal family just on the basis of their humanity is as big a lie as could be told. The god that sustains his doctrines is not the true God of the Bible.
I feel that there is no need to go into detail about the awful interpretations of Scripture which the author adduces in support of his doctrines. Whether it’s his distortion of the tale of the Rich Young Ruler to teach that we’re all inherently good (34), or his miscue about the meaning of the English word “categorize” based on its derivation from the Greek term kategoreo (56, though Young misspells it), where he also incorrectly reads Revelation 12:10 as saying “the Satan is an accuser,” his interactions with Scripture are always quite wretched. On pages 170-171 his understanding of the episode about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac is that “God will step into our darkness.”
The darkness that surrounds Wm. Paul Young prevents him from reading the Bible fairly and squarely. No wonder that when he wishes to recommend a book to his readers he picks the work of another confirmed heretic — the Canadian “teacher” Brad Jersak’s book Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (131), a book denying the biblical doctrine of Hell. Jersak is the architect of the appalling and vapid teaching of “listening prayer,” whereby everything that happens to a person can be interpreted as the voice of God. (For more information on Jersak see Lyndon Unger’s MennoKnight blog).
Not Recommended … but Pastors Might Want to Have It
Lies We Believe About God is a terrible book when judged against the criteria of truth, whether it be biblical or theological. It is not the sort of book any Christian ought to read for spiritual help. But it is perhaps useful for pastors to read and teach against. This is, after all, the author of The Shack! I decided to do just that, and gave four mid-week Bible Study hours to taking my congregation through the errors in the book. Several times I have been told that those studies have been of real help at separating the wheat from the chaff.
This is what Wm. P. Young believes. He is a false teacher, and his all books should be avoided by those concerned with glorifying the true God of the Holy Scriptures.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.