‘Heresy Hunters’ and ‘Doctrine Police’ – A response to Tim Challies’ blog

With the release of the movie The Shack, there has been a renewed interest and fair amount of talk about the good/bad or truth/error of the book and the author himself, William Paul Young. Additionally, the recent release of Paul’s new non-fiction book, Lies We Believe About God, has doubled the size of the lightning rod that is Paul Young and The Shack.

I have been slow and a bit reluctant to enter this fray, because though I relish conversations, I do not enjoy debate, and I detest arguments… and I fear that might be the outcome of offering my opinion. But for the sake of the many who have asked about a certain blog that Tim Challies wrote, and for the sake of the many who have real questions regarding their understanding of God, I have decided to write – even against what may, in fact, be sounder judgment. I am not necessarily an authority, but I do bring a real familiarity with the worldview that shapes Mr. Challies objections, because I taught from that perspective for many, many years, both in schools and churches. So here we go…

Lies We Believe About God contains 28 short chapters wherein Paul Young addresses 28 statements, which are commonly held to be true in certain circles of Western (particularly American) Evangelical Christianity. Paul has questioned these statements because he believes they are neither true nor accurate, hence the title “Lies.”

His book was not meant to be an academic book on Christian doctrine or an exegetical work on various passages of Scripture. Paul Young’s point is to challenge assumptions that have been made and to offer an alternative, and in Paul’s mind, a better, more accurate view of God and life. Tim Challies does not agree and takes issue with Paul on just about everything.

What we end up with is a clash between two different interpretations of Scripture, two different views of God, and two different understandings of theology. Unfortunately, it does not simply end in “we see things differently” but rather ends with Challies claiming Paul Young “despises sound doctrine” and describes him as “beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy” and labels his work “a credo for false teaching, for full-out heresy.” He admonishes Christian booksellers they “should be utterly ashamed to sell this book or any other by its author” and confidently warns readers they “should not subject themselves to his teaching or promote his works”.

So what has Tim so rattled and upset? What are the thorns that are irritating him so? Well, let’s look at his blog and see what he finds so troublesome…

What follows are quotes from Tim Challies blog. (He quotes Paul Young and occasionally comments).

Thorn 1

Chapter 2: “God is Good. I am not.” This chapter looks at the human condition. “Many of us believe that God sees us all as failures, wretches who are utterly depraved.” But the reality, he insists, is far different: “Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness. We are true and right, but often ignorant and stupid, acting out of the pain of our wrongheadedness, hurting ourselves, others, and even all creation. Blind, not depraved is our condition.” First falls the doctrine of human depravity.

Let me say first, that both Paul Young and myself believe that indeed, all of humanity is fallen, broken, twisted, and blind. The disagreement with Tim Challies is how we understand the concept behind the word “depravity.”

Let me ask a question…

Does any human being have the ability to fundamentally change (at the ontological level) what God has created or done?

The declaration of Genesis is that God made mankind and pronounced his creation as, not just good – like the previous things that were made, but “very good” because he made us in His image and after His likeness. What God does from his hand and heart and declares to be good in its very essence… no human has the ability to change that good into bad.

If this is true, then the way I read the story in Genesis leads me to believe Adam and Eve did not change the fundamental essence of their nature. Did they twist or distort it? Yes. Did they become alienated from God, each other, and themselves? Yes. But, like Adam and Eve, from whom we inherit this “fallenness”, our act(s) of disobedience, unbelief, arrogance, or independence cannot undo what God has done.

Conclusion: Paul Young has not thrown out the concept of depravity. He disagrees with Tim Challies understanding of it. And he has given a thoughtful reason why he understands the idea of depravity differently. So Tim’s first charge of “heresy” is false. It is little more than a difference of opinion.

Thorn 2

Chapter 3: “God is in control.” Close behind it is God’s sovereignty. Christians often state that God has a plan for our lives, even through pain. “Do we actually believe we honor God by declaring God the author of all this mess in the name of Sovereignty and Omnipotent Control? Some religious people—and Christians are often among their ranks—believe in grim determinism, which is fatalism with personality. Whatever will be, will be. It happened. And since God is in charge, it must be part of God’s plan.” He insists that God is not sovereign, but that he “submits rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship…” As we will see, this idea of God’s submission to humanity is one of the book’s most prominent themes.

Mr. Challies alleges that Paul “insists that God is not sovereign”. But his quote of Paul does not say this implicitly or explicitly. What it does show is that Paul has rejected Tim’s concept of sovereignty.

So again, what we have is a disagreement over the understanding of a concept or word.

To this point in the blog (and actually this is true of the entire blog) it is interesting to note that Tim never gives a reason (biblical, theological, philosophical or otherwise) why Paul’s views are wrong. He simply states they are. I do not judge why he has failed to do this. However, please be careful. If you, the reader, think the reasons are so self evident that it should be obvious to everyone; then you have just revealed how entrenched you are in your particular way of thinking and that you are unaware of other legitimate ways of understanding.

In the quotes from Chapters 5 and 12 Mr. Challies not only fails to give a reason why Paul Young’s thoughts are erroneous, he doesn’t even bother to comment. Could it be he assumes the quotes are self-condemning enough to prove Paul has stepped outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy?

Thorn 3

Chapter 13: “You need to get saved.” Here he turns to the matter of salvation. I will excerpt this at length so you can see his full-out embrace of universalism—that everybody has been or will be saved by God.

So what is the Good News? What is the Gospel?

The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.

What or who saves me? Either God did in Jesus, or I save myself. If, in any way, I participate in the completed act of salvation accomplished in Jesus, then my part is what actually saves me. Saving faith is not our faith, but the faith of Jesus.

God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?

That is exactly what I am saying!

Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God “dragged” all human beings to Himself (John 12: 32). Jesus is the Savior of all humankind, especially believers (1 Timothy 4: 10). Further, every single human being is in Christ (John 1: 3), and Christ is in them, and Christ is in the Father (John 14: 20). When Christ—the Creator in whom the cosmos was created—died, we all died. When Christ rose, we rose (2 Corinthians 5).

Young leaves no doubt that he espouses universalism. To further his argument, he includes an appendix on the matter.

It is very clear that Paul Young believes that the atoning reconciliation accomplished in the Incarnation of the eternal Son as the man Jesus is not for a particular group but universal, i.e. for all of humanity and therefore has indeed saved everyone. No one has been left out. Paul cites several scriptures that he believes bear this out. This is called unlimited atonement. It is not, nor has it ever been in the history of the Church, a heresy. Mr Challies may disagree with Paul Young but he is misleading and incorrect to label this heresy.

Secondly, Mr. Challies calls this belief universalism. Not true. The common understanding of Universalism is that it is the teaching that all of humanity will eventually spend the ages to come enjoying the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit. In everyday terms, the belief that everyone goes and abides in heaven when they die. Paul does not teach this. He is on record as having repeatedly said so for years.

What Paul young states unequivocally is that the atonement Jesus accomplished was effective for all of humanity. Therefore, every person is included in this salvation. In other words, God has provided salvation for all for he has saved all. The problem is that we have come to understand the word “saved” as equivalent to going to heaven to live in eternal bliss in the presence of God. So, many people read Paul’s words and assume this meaning, including apparently, Mr. Challies. But though Paul Young adamantly maintains that Jesus has obtained salvation for all, he is just as adamant that not all will respond with trust and love in Jesus. I believe this is a balanced and faithful view of Scripture.

Paul has always referred to himself as a “hopeful” universalist. And by that, he means that he actually hopes that this will be the final outcome for all. And it baffles me why doesn’t everybody hope that? Interestingly, the Church has never taken a position on this idea and it was never the subject of any of the ecumenical councils or creeds. So what gives any of us the right to now label this thought heresy?

For some reason, and I’m not quite sure what that is, in certain religious circles of todays’ climate in America being labeled a universalist and espousing universalism is just about the worst heresy one can be accused of. For someone who traffics in theological ideas, like Paul, this label is the kiss of death. I believe Tim Challies knows this. His awareness of this phenomenon is implied when he says, “This book is a credo for false teaching, for full-out heresy. I do not say this lightly, I do not say it gleefully…

Yet, Tim not only misrepresents Paul and what universalism actually is, he chooses to ignore Paul on record denying this accusation dozens of times. This is troubling to me, and I believe it should be to you too.

Thorn 4

Chapter 15: “Hell is separation from God.” Having advocated universalism, he must now say something about the tricky matter of hell. “I may have convinced myself or been convinced by others that I deserve to be separated from God. Such lies will bring with them a shadow in which I experience a sense of separation, feelings that seem to validate the illusion that God is not connected and in relationship with me or that God has stopped loving me or has given up on me. Many of us on the planet live in this illusion now. … I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love.” Hell, too, falls by the wayside.

Did you notice that Paul says, “I propose the possibility…?” Clearly, Paul is not sure what hell is. But he believes two things:

  1. That the current theories of hell are false and inadequate and
  2. what he is proposing is not hard fact or doctrine. It is an educated guess as to what hell may be.

Apparently Tim does not read Paul’s statement this way. He asserts that for Paul Young hell has “fallen by the wayside” and what he means by that phrase becomes clear in a later paragraph where he accuses Paul Young of writing “that hell does not exist”.

This is a blatant misrepresentation of Paul’s belief on Mr. Challies part. Paul never made that claim. Rather, he is offering the possibility that this version of hell, which is more akin to Dante’s version, (and it is apparently Tim’s version as well) does not exist.

So again, Mr Challies has called Paul Young a heretic because his theory of what hell may be is different from Paul’s theory. I find it deeply disturbing that someone could accuse another of heresy because their views are not the same. The truth is; dozens of theories regarding the existence and nature of hell have been offered throughout the history of the Church precisely because we don’t have a complete picture of this subject and so will never come to a definitive answer. And for someone to claim that they know accurately the nature of hell is so presumptuous it borders on arrogance of the worst kind. At the very least, they are either ignorant of Church history and the debate around this issue or they just don’t care. So when someone tells you authoritatively and dogmatically that they know what hell is… run.

Thorn 5

Chapter 17: “The cross was God’s idea.” Should we be surprised that he now moves against the notion that the cross was somehow part of God’s divine plan? He borrows Steve Chalke’s language of “divine child abuse” to describe any God who would plan such a thing.

Chapter 19: “God requires child sacrifice.” And then he refutes the doctrine of propitiation: “One of the narratives about God is that because of sin, God required child sacrifice to appease a sense of righteous indignation and the fury of holiness—Jesus being the ultimate child sacrifice. Well, if God is like that, then doesn’t it make sense that we would follow in God’s footsteps? But we know intuitively that such a thought is wrong, desperately wrong.”

I would suggest these two “thorns” for Tim are closely related and are really about a larger issue. And that issue is theories on the atonement. It is difficult to articulate what Tim Challies believes because he never really states it. I assume he believes his readers already have a pretty good idea of his take on different theological subjects so he sees no need to restate them. But here again, we are back in the waters of disagreement over different theories of the Atonement. And as I have repeatedly said, it is irresponsible and a misrepresentation to label someone a heretic because they disagree with your particular views, especially when they are attempting to articulate a legitimate historical viewpoint.

Paul does not claim that the cross was not part of the plan. What he is proposing as an alternative is the part the cross plays in the plan. It is a historical fact that the Romans invented the cross as a means of inflicting as much suffering as possible upon a human before their body succumbs to death. What Paul is disagreeing with is the notion that the Father and Spirit would inflict suffering on (punish) the Son. Paul proposes that we did that and God used it as the means to save us. He disagrees with the notion that the Son was killed by the Father – that Jesus dies to save us from God. He believes we killed Jesus and that Jesus came to save us  from our sins, not from the Father.

What Paul proposes is that in the love and wisdom of the Father, Son, and Spirit, they incorporated our evil response of cruelty, torture, hatred, and murder culminating in Jesus’s death on the cross to be the way in which they would accomplish the healing of our souls.

Mr. Challies goes on to say that Paul “refutes the doctrine of propitiation.” Not true. What Paul refutes is a particular version of the doctrine of propitiation. He accuses Paul later in his blog “that any God who would punish his Son as a substitute is abhorrent, and that the very notion of appeasement is unworthy of God.” Apparently, Tim believes that propitiation has to do with God needing to be appeased in order to save us. Paul does not.

Question: When God repeatedly told Israel He “was not like the gods” of the surrounding nations and “there is no one else like me,” is it possible what made Yahweh distinct was that he does not need to be appeased, like all the other gods? I believe it is more than possible. In fact, I would say it’s highly likely this was part of what Israel was to learn. There is ample evidence throughout Israel’s story. Consider what God is attempting to teach Abraham when he tells him to go and sacrifice Isaac. The Hebrew Scriptures explicitly state that Yahweh does not delight in sacrifice. Psalm 40:6; cf. Hebrews 10:5; Hosea 6:6 cf. Matthew 9:13, 12:7.

Since we haven’t referred to the Bible much, let me do that here for a moment. Briefly, the word propitiation comes from the root idea of satisfaction. It is used 4 times in the NT. Three of them are by John and one by Paul. Let me give you an example: “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I John 4:10

Notice; John does not say that propitiation took place only in the death of Jesus. He does not say, “God sent his Son to die”. He simply says, “God sent his Son to be the satisfaction for our sins.” I would suggest John has the entire Incarnation in mind, not just one particular aspect of it.

Furthermore, who and what is satisfied by the eternal Son becoming flesh? Most would assume that it is God (all three persons) who is satisfied. There are other options, but I’ll leave those alone for now. If it is God who has been satisfied in the sending of his Son, then what in God has been satisfied? Some, and I would include Mr. Challies because of his statements, would reply: it was God’s justice and/or wrath. If this is true, then it would support the idea that God is a god who needs to be appeased.

However, and I find this fascinating, the words justice and wrath do not even appear in the entirety of John’s letter. But do you know which word John uses most frequently in his little letter? It is love. Yikes, it’s actually in the sentence! What does this mean? I would suggest; it was God’s love that was satisfied in the sending of his Son. This makes perfect sense of John’s conversation of love in another place – John 3:16-18. And if God’s love is perfect love, then there is no need for appeasement. What kind of love would it be if it required the beloved to do something to atone for it’s sins and failures? This contradicts the very point of I John 4:10.

I believe it is terribly unfortunate that people like Tim truly believe of God that He is a being that needs to be appeased. But I would never label Tim a heretic because his view is also a historically legitimate view of the Church.

Thorn 6

Chapter 21: “Death is more powerful than God.” Do we need to urge people to respond to God before they die? According to Young, not necessarily. “I don’t think God would ever say that once you die, your fate is sealed and there is nothing that God can do for you. … Personally, I do believe the idea that we lose our ability to choose at the event of physical death is a significant lie and needs to be exposed; its implications are myriad and far-reaching. … I think evil exists because of our turning from face-to-face-to-face relationship with God, and because we chose to say no to God, to Life and Light and Truth and Good. God, with utmost respect and reverence, submits to our choice even while utterly opposing it. God, who is Love, not only allows our choice but joins us in our humanity in order to rescue us from our choices that are harmful and destructive. God has gone to incredible lengths to protect our ability to say no, even though that freedom has produced unspeakable pain and loss.”

Mr. Challies assumes that if Paul thinks our fate is not sealed when we die it only follows that Paul would have no reason to urge people to know Jesus and follow him. Not true. Paul talks to people all the time. You see, what motivates Paul to talk with others about knowing Jesus is this; he knows of Jesus love for them. And because of his own incredible experience of Jesus love for him, Paul doesn’t want anyone to spend another second living without knowing Jesus. For that would be to continue existing in the consequences of their blindness and destructive ways.

On the other hand, Mr Challies assumes Paul would feel no urgency because he reasons that if your fate is not sealed before you die, what’s the rush? The “rush” is spending one more minute missing the experience of a relationship with the best being in the universe.

For the record, there is no Scripture that explicitly says that when you die your fate for all ages is sealed. Oh, I get where people could think that, but it’s only a theory – not heresy.

Thorn 7

Chapter 27: “Sin separates us from God.” As the book draws to a close, he looks at the nature of sin and its effect on our relationship with God. “There is a truth about who you are: God’s proclamation about a ‘very good creation’ is the truest about you. That very good creation is the form or origin of you, the truth of who you are in your being. Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is. Behavior becomes either an authentic way of expressing the truth of your good creation or an effort to cover up (performance behavior) the shame of what you think of yourself (worthless). And what does the truth of your being look like? God. You are made in the image of God, and the truth of your being looks like God.”

Please note:

Tim offers no comment, no alternative view, nothing. He simply quotes Paul.

As Tim begins to come to the close of his blog he offers this summary of what he has discovered.

Going Back to The Shack

Through twenty-eight brief chapters, Young systematically discusses and denies tenet after tenet of the historic Christian faith. He denies human depravity and divine sovereignty. He proclaims there are none who are specially loved by God and that formal religion is opposed to God. He insists that all humanity has been or will be saved by the gospel, that hell does not exist, that God merely submitted to the cross, that any God who would punish his Son as a substitute is abhorrent, and that the very notion of appeasement is unworthy of God. He denies that sin separates us from God and that death represents the end of our opportunity to respond to his offer of divine grace.”

I have already worked through Tim’s objections, repeating my response would be redundant, so I won’t.

However, a brief response (italics mine) to a specific point of his accusations seems in order:

  • “Young systematically discusses and denies tenet after tenet of the historic Christian faith.”
  • [Paul’s thoughts bear] “only a passing resemblance to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”
  • “Young seems set on undermining orthodox Christianity.”
  • “He is set on revoking and replacing the very pillars of the Christian faith.”
  • And a few paragraphs later, “he outs himself as beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.”

I believe that here, Tim has made a grave error. I do not know why he made such a bold claim. I only know that it is absolutely, irresponsibly, false.

Mr. Challies makes these claims with the utmost certainty. Therefore, it seems to be a rather large point for him. But his error is this:

The similarity in all these claims is that Tim has assumed that his version of the Christian faith is the historic, orthodox, once for all delivered to the saints, pillars of the Christian faith. This strikes me as not a little bit over confident, maybe even smug.

Mr. Challies accusations simply are not true.

Some of his thoughts may be true, but throughout the history of the Church there has been rich dialogue and millennia of study, which has produced many views that are not in line with Tim. Some the Church has classified as heresy. Others views have not been. These are not heretical views. They are legitimate ways of interpretation that continue to be discussed, even debated. And more than that, many of the subjects that Tim raised – the Atonement, the nature of God – these are mysteries that we should peer into with reverence and humility. We all see through a glass darkly.

Two final issues I want to bring to your attention:

First, here are Tim’s final observations:

While the excerpts above may represent Young’s most significant claims, they are far from the only concerning ones. There is barely a chapter in the book that does not do damage to one or more precious doctrines.

I disagree; they damage Tim’s interpretation of doctrines.

Many times these depend on novel interpretations of Scripture passages or on creative word studies.

They may seem novel or creative to Tim, but for the most part, they are not to the history of the Church’s struggle to find the meaning of Scripture.

It is a well-established rule of polemics that before we engage another person’s ideas, we must ensure we have accurately understood and presented them.

I think Paul does accurately understand them. He grew up learning them, and he studied them in college. This is the very reason he questions these assumptions.

Young seems unconcerned with such protocol. To the contrary, he often lampoons or otherwise misrepresents what evangelicals believe. Time and time again he crafts a sloppy straw man, then beats it into the ground.

I disagree. What is more, Mr. Challies’ accusations miss the stated purpose of the book. His critique may sound good, but his inaccuracy demonstrates that Tim has lost touch with what many evangelicals in America believe. I have taught in evangelical bible schools and colleges. I have served in evangelical churches and had hundreds, if not thousands of conversations with evangelicals. They are my “people.” This is my heritage. And I know from personal experience that many of the issues that Paul raises are not simply “straw men”. Paul has received hundreds of thousands of emails that reveal these are real beliefs that have consequences in the lives of real people.

Young never addresses whether or not the Bible is our ultimate authority when it comes to what is true and what is false. Thus, he rarely proves his statements or defends his own beliefs with the Bible. Even while he dismantles the Christian faith, he often appeals to no authority outside himself.

First, Paul is not trying to prove his statements. He is calling into question beliefs that he himself once had and taught and beliefs he has encountered. Second, this is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Not once in his blog does Tim quote or even refer to a Scripture. In fact, as I have noted, he never even gives a reason to validate his accusations and labels of heresy. This would be comical, if it weren’t so sad.

The easiest book to write is the one that asks questions but stops short of proposing answers.

Again, this sounds good when you write it but is simply and profoundly not true. Paul proposes answers to every question he raises. Are they definitive, absolute, conclusive answers? No, and they are not intended to be.

This is especially true when the author associates humility with uncertainty and confidence with arrogance. And, sure enough, this is what Young does.

I do not write this with any ill will in my heart… but this statement is a cheap shot. Tim should know better. Paul does neither of the things Tim accuses him of. Both certainty and humility are something we need. Yet, uncertainty is a crucible where humility grows… and so the tension. We all have danced around the fine line between confidence and arrogance. Paul does speak out of his experience – both damage and joy. And I know the man, he sincerely and passionately wants people to be confident in God – not their theological system.

The book is not a presentation of certainty,” he says, as if this is an asset.

I disagree with Tim; this is an asset. I’m sorry he does not agree.

Finally, and I think this is crucial, Mr. Challies is scandalized by the idea that God would, and has, submitted himself to humanity. This, I believe, is at the heart of these matters. For the humility of God is the heart of the Incarnation. It is the heart of the gospel. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

This is not simply “window dressing” where God appears to be one way in order to win us over so he can then return to his true nature of narcissistic power and dominance, barking orders at us to fall at his feet and worship. I believe this image of God is unworthy of him and should be called blasphemy, and rightly so. Is it possible that the very way in which God reigns and leads his people is by serving them? Yes it is.

The stooping of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is not a temporary coat that he puts on and eventually takes off. The Incarnation is not some cosmic, deistic “bait and switch.” We may act with hidden agendas in our pockets, behave in ways not consistent with our nature to get what we want, and it’s called hypocrisy. But God is incapable of doing that. If Jesus washes our feet, he does it because that is the way God is. Jesus is not revealing something that is different from God’s true nature. He and the Father are one! The Incarnation is a self-revelation of God, not some divine used car salesman’s pitch to get us to buy in.

Furthermore, the cross is the ultimate demonstration of the true nature of God. How else are we to understand Jesus’ statement, “No one takes my life, I lay it down,” if that is not God submitting to us? We didn’t take his life… he gave it up to us. This is the way of the cross, the way of suffering… the way of Jesus. Our king bears our scorn, hatred, and torture that culminate in his death and our salvation.

He submits to minds he designed that in their scheming hatred premeditate a way to kill him; he submits to hands that he knit together which beat and torture him; he submits to hearts he formed that scream with blood thirsty passion that can only be appeased with his murder, he submits to wills he fashioned that manipulate both laws and people in order to shame him and get what their hearts want… The Creator submits to the blindness and brokenness of humanity, to us at our worst, in order to heal the very hands, minds, hearts, and wills that are trying to end his life.

How is this not submission? Paul Young believes it is. I believe it is. I think Paul the apostle does too.

“…Taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

I am bewildered that this offends Mr. Challies enough that he deems it worthy to be labeled heresy and Paul Young a heretic. I couldn’t disagree with him more.

In conclusion, Tim Challies has rejected Paul Young’s invitation to a conversation. For he neither answered Paul Young’s questions nor demonstrated any error in what Paul has written. He offers no support historically, theologically, or scripturally that his accusations are accurate. And in truth, they are not. What Tim Challies has done in this blog is misrepresent what Paul Young wrote and even the man himself by providing a label of “heretic” that is blatantly false. This may attract readers to his blog, such is the weird world of social media, but his accusations hold no merit.

In Lies, Paul Young has raised what he believes to be false ways of pursuing the knowledge of God. Did he do it perfectly? No, who does? But in questioning commonly held dogmatism, he has caused people to think, to own what they really believe of God, and this invites conversation. Far from being a subversive tactic to lure people to abandon their faith, Paul’s book is a call for readers to abandon their god for the true God; one who is better than we can possibly imagine, who was revealed perfectly in the face of Jesus.


Converse with John MacmUrray at the Open tablle conference in portland

Categories: Blog


  1. John D. Kemp says:

    John thank you for this lucid & insiteful treatment of the differences of opinion between these two men. I love you guys. You three, Paul, Baxter & you John are mentors to me & I have found much comfort & healing so far. Much more will come because Jesus is the pioneer & perfecter of faith. He will see us to completion.

  2. Mike Rough says:

    Great post, John! And done in a very loving and kind way! Hope to see you in Tennessee!

  3. John Lewis says:

    Wow! Thanks for taking the time to give a balanced and clearly thought out response to Tim. I look forward to sharing this post with others.

  4. Steven Russell says:

    This is a very fine article, equally in terms of both tone and content. It did my heart and my mind a great deal of good. I hope the author receives my thanks.

  5. Harry Azzenbacht says:

    Your response is well thought out and logical… why is it that Christians seem so afraid of logic? Is not God the author of logic? Tim Challie seems confined to regurgitating seminary talking points, programmed into him by the gatekeepers of western evangelicalism, and less able to deduce, with simple reading and comprehension skills, the very nature of what Paul Young is really saying. Well done, sir.

  6. Bill Tongue says:

    I think we can all agree that you have done your best to speak the truth in love, something Tim did not do.

    Another blog wondered at, but did not address, the charge that “God submits to man”. It could not, nor could I, find a specific reference in The Shack to substantiate this “charge”. Your discussion was very helpful…and quite thorough and convincing. Thanks for that!

    • John MacMurray says:

      Thank you Bill. I actually believe that God’s “stooping” beneath us to lift us up is the heart of the gospel!

  7. Brad Jersak says:

    Thanks John, for standing with our friend and the beautiful gospel of our beautiful Savior. When sloppy critique and willful misreprentation take the guise of faithfulness, pushback is appropriate. I’m glad you were given the grace to do it, because there are so many believers abandoning tgeir faith and Paul offers them hope that maybe God isn’t the bastard they were indoctrinated to accept.

  8. Ryan Coker says:

    Bravo John, nice response! Obviously Tim (along with many other fundy’s) is struggling with the success of “The Shack” book and movie and His new book. His blog is clearly about throwing stones at Paul Young and the Grace reformation that is happening now. Bless his heart…I hope and pray one day he’ll become aware of the love of God within himself and all.

    • John MacMurray says:

      Thank you Ryan. I do not know, nor do I wish to speculate or assume Tim’s motives but I too pray that Tim, along with all of us will continue to grow in the relentless love of the triune God.

  9. Pamela Rixom says:

    How sad. Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be described very simply and in just one word. Until we get to heaven we will not understand God’s definition of it and because of that, don’t think of it in our trying to understand God’s nature. The word is LOVE…God’s LOVE. Once you are surrounded by it, submerged and filled up with it, there will be misunderstanding. I look forward to getting back in God’s presence without the hindrance and confusion, doubt and lack of understanding of this world. It has been almost 40 years but my desire has not faded. While I am crippled, I am healthy so I know I have more time to wait. It is with great anticipation I look forward to passing on. What a wonderful surprise you will all have and then say. “I understand now.”

  10. As for heresy hunters and their charges? Well, there is good company to be kept in the heresy camp. Wasn t Jesus called a heretic for how he presented his portrait of God?

  11. Scott Gressett says:

    As a layman, what I find so refreshing in Lies and in John’s reply above is the preeminence placed on our relational, loving God over “being theologically right”. Give me the former, as we will all likely compare D’s on our collective term papers in heaven.

  12. sharon long says:

    thank you. i read the Challies blog & i did not agree with it. wow did i ever get heat for enjoying this movie. thanks for this

  13. Josh Greeson says:

    I’m always so glad when someone takes the time to rationally dismantle bullcrap, so that I can spend my time with my family instead of feeling compelled to do so myself… Great job!

  14. Michael says:

    I find your defense of Mr. Young to be very misleading.

    Among other things, Mr. Young clearly denies that a person is saved by repenting and believing the gospel, and he absolutely teaches that everyone is already saved. He writes the following: “Are you suggesting that everyone IS saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!” (capps added for emphasis)

    Mr. Young also claims that every every single human being is in Christ and Christ is in them.”

    This is completely wrong according to the Bible.

    Christ is not living in every human being. Those who hate God, who are practicing child molesters, human traffickers, Islamic terrorist, etc., are not of God and do NOT have Christ living in them.

    Christ lives in those who are born again by the Spirit of God through faith.

    The apostle John says the following:

    7 Little children, LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

    8 He that committeth (practices) sin IS OF THE DEVIL; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

    9 Whosoever is BORN OF GOD doth not commit (practice) sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

    10 In this THE CHILDREN OF GOD are manifest, and THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL: whosoever doeth not righteousness IS NOT OF GOD, neither he that loveth not his brother.

    11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

    12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

    13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

    14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

    15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. ~ 1 John 3:7-15

    • Michael, you totally misrepresent what Young has said in INTERVIEW AFTER INTERVIEW.

      As explained in this article “universal salvation” is NOT universalism. If you would read just a few paragraphs before he says this term, here is what he says:

      “God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.”

      Excerpt From: Wm. Paul Young. “Lies We Believe About God.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/iO26-.l

      The question is simple … did Jesus die for all of mankind (what N.T. Wright and Young teaches) or only for a limited set of people (which is what John Piper teaches).

      Salvation is open to all mankind. It is as simple as that.

      I go through this in my series on the Shack found here: http://AdventuresInGrace.com/64

      • Michael says:

        The quote you cited is universalism: “God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.”

        Mr. Young has changed the gospel message of salvation through repentance and faith into ” our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.”

        So, you are not properly representing what he says. He clearly says: “Are you suggesting that everyone IS saved? That you believe in UNIVERSAL SALVATION? That is exactly what I am saying!” (capps added for emphasis)

        He says EVERYONE IS SAVE. Everyone is NOT saved!


        • Ryan Coker says:

          Bless your heart Michael…..the Apostle Paul says different….1 Timothy 4:10….10 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

    • jay echternach says:

      Michael- thx for being the lone person willing to stand up and be recognized in a public forum and state what 99.9% of evangelical Christians truly believe.
      John, many of us in publishing and you folks in the pulpit know all to well that any part of scripture can be twisted to mean something other than what the original writers intended. The bible has been torn apart and dissected by better, smarter people than you, Baxter or Paul for 1,000’s of years. You have done your best to defend Paul your friend and at the same time have shown your true colors, as he has.
      When Paul states in Chapter 3 that he believes in universal salvation, that is Universalism! We all know what words mean and his true intent. You cannot offer in his defense that he has stated ELSEWHERE that he is not.
      The book and chapter either stands on it’s own or it doesn’t. You and he try to mince and parse words even further by eqivocating on the act of faith, belief as if we accomplished anything that compares to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If that is not heresy, I don’t know what is.
      I’ll give you the same analogy I gave our mutual friend, you are in line at the grocery store and after the checker completes ringing up your purchase he informs you it is FREE, the man in front of you paid it forward. You pick up your bags of FREE groceries and head out to the car. In your and Paul’s words, these are NOT truly free, as you obviously completed the work and carried them out. Christ did die on the cross for ALL, you guys got that right BUT you have to accept the gift.
      Your worst summary of Tim’s words were his criticism and your defense of Paul’s wonderment; maybe there is not a hell. Your defense; Paul states it is a possibility! Oh my, what a theological treatise. Like saying the opposite; maybe there is not a Heaven and we get to say it without any implications to our words and what that means.
      John, people have misrepresented the word of God for a LONG time and you folks have unfortunately joined that sorry list. I give you credit for being a wordsmith and an accomplished preacher of God’s word. We all know, as do you, when you changed your view of scripture and your heart has not healed since the GSCC church split You know the truth of scripture but have joined ranks with these other men for fame or a new platform, I don’t know why BUT pray you will come to your senses some day.
      We look all the way back to the garden of Eden (by the way, as you know your scripture, where man was in unity with GOD before the FALL and sin did SEPARATE us) and find the serpent telling Adam; surely you will not die if you eat of the tree. Unfortunately that is the same twisting of words and tickling of the ear that you folks are meddling in with this “Hopeful Universalism”. It perverts God’s word, it diminishes the sacrifice and person of Christ and leads unknowing people to put their trust in a loving God, who will just as lovingly judge our faith, “What did you do in my name?”
      May God have mercy on your soul…….

      • Chris says:

        I want to clarify two things:

        1. Christian Universalists are CERTAIN that everyone who experiences hell gets out of it one day. By contrast, “hopeful universalists,” which Paul Young calls himself, hopes this is true, but they maintain the possibility that it might not be because of what they see in scripture. The distinction between the two is the degree of certainty and how one views a host of scripture passages.

        If this distinction seems meaningless to you, and you still think it accurate to label Paul Young a Christian Universalist, then I contend you are glossing over some important points, because your issues with Paul Young’s content are something else–something bigger perhaps.

        2. When Paul Young writes, “our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence,” he is talking about the very thing Jay mentions in his free grocery analogy: that one has to accept the free gift of the groceries, otherwise they do you no good. If Paul Young were using this same analogy, he would say that if you don’t believe the groceries are yours (if you don’t “participate in that reality”), you will not enjoy their benefit–in other words, you’ll go hungry (continuing to live “in the blindness of your own independence”).

        Now, in offering these points of clarification, I am not trying to sweep Jay and Michael’s disagreements under the rug. I am just hoping to point the disagreements towards, what I think, are the actual and more substantive issues. Young is not saying that believers have no part to play in responding to the gospel, and he is not saying that rejecting the gospel is without consequence.

        The distinctions Paul is bringing to the table do not deny the existence of hell, God’s wrath, or His judgement, but they do, however, intend for us to debate the nature and character of these realities and what implications our conclusions have about God–and us.

  15. Henry says:

    Excellent response! Thank you. I think you passed up an opportunity though.
    “It is a well-established rule of polemics that before we engage another person’s ideas, we must ensure we have accurately understood and presented them.”
    That is quoting Tim Challies, right? Seems the height of irony, particularly in light of your very competent exposition of Challies’ misrepresentation of Young. God bless you!

  16. Chris Black says:

    Hey John! I love your heart and the way you communicate. Thanks for your thoughtful responses. Blessings to you!

  17. gregconstantine says:

    Hello there.

    I am posting here to let anyone reading this know that the responses to the “lies” that Mr Wm Paul Young speaks about in his book “Lies We Believe About God” are in fact the original teachings of the original Christian Church. I also wish everyone to know that that original Christian Church still exists today, and has not changed its teachings or doctrines from the beginning. This original Christian Church is known as the Orthodox Christian Church. You may be familiar with it if you know that the majority of Greek and Russian peoples for example are Orthodox Christians. But be assured, the Orthodox Christian Church isn’t just for certain ethnic groups, but it is for all the nations.

    Please, I encourage anyone reading this to look into the Orthodox Christian Church. If you live in or near a major US or Canadian city, finding a local Orthodox parish will be relatively easy. There are also numerous resources on the internet that will help.

    Please, I ask again to seriously consider Orthodox Christianity. Many Evangelicals have found the Church and have converted to Orthodoxy. You will not be alone.

    Come and see, and you will be amazed. I promise you.

  18. Doug Root says:

    Thank you John …I’ve never met you but I know Baxter. What you just wrote is ” strong as cabbage” …
    Excellent work.
    Blessings as you guys continue to unpack the epistemological relevance of the homoousian!

  19. wilfred mancy says:

    Thanks for making the effort to write all that John. I’d need a holiday after that much coherent thought. I am very grateful for the thoughts of Paul, Baxter, yourself and Don Keathley they have helped me to have a better understanding of God and myself and how we relate. I feel I am not quite so deep in the quagmire now, thanks.

  20. I am not contesting anything you’ve said in this article.

    However, after listening to scores of video interviews and reading scores of articles done by those favorable to Young, I have found a common thread – Young’s supporters are ready to explain what he means, but he is not.

    Even on his own web site, he has an article about his beliefs regarding Universalism but it is written by someone else. (http://wmpaulyoung.com/universal-reconciliation/). If he genuinely believes what you say he believes in this article, why is he not explaining it this way himself?

    I can understand confusion about a fictional book, but Lies People Believe is every bit as confusing as The Shack theologically.

    I am concerned with his hesitancy to clearly, fully explain his beliefs when asked direct questions. And I am concerned that his Lies book, just like The Shack, is just as likely to promote heresies as to promote Bible truths because of it confusing vagueness.

    I say this with all due respect to you. I do not question your sincerity. But in some ways, you are doing what you are saying Challies did – you are telling us what Young means, not what he wrote/said. And, from my point of view, Challies explanations seem a better fit for Young’s actual words.

    I just wish Young would be clear and upfront if his beliefs are genuinely Biblical, speaking for himself instead of letting others explain what he means.

  21. Sparrow says:

    When you spoke of God submitting to us, being so vulnerable like that, it suddenly came to me that I never have to be afraid of a God like that! That thought is so freeing! Thank you so much for sharing this truth!

    When I read the summary of ‘heretical ideas’ that Challies lists about Mr. Young, I realized that I believe all of those ideas..That loving, vulnerable, kind, approachable, embracing and gentle (yet strongly supportive) God is the One I have personally encountered at a very dark time, and I am so glad He is the real God, not the scary, vindictive one of religion!

    Your ministry is new to me. I am so interested in reading more here on your blog. Ever since a deep experience I had with God, I have seen Him in such a different way, been more at peace, and am universalist in my thoughts, and I am so glad to find that my beliefs are orthodox and not heretical, and that they are shared by many other Christians! Thank you and blessings to you!

  22. Rob says:

    Thank you so much for the article. I understand where Mr Challies is coming from. I’ve been there and done that!

    My upbringing in Calvinism had me affirming ‘Total Depravity’ as one of the foundational pillars of the belief structure.
    What staggers me now is that, while constantly affirming the condition,(to prove my conformity), I believed that the interpretation of the faith we had was absolutely correct.

    Somehow a depraved person could have a indisputably correct knowledge of God. Insanity?????

    Another sad aspect is when interpreting justice by legal we default to retribution. This was much more convenient and kept ones hands clean. Opinionated judgements and attitudes were the facade to hide behind.

    Freedom from confidence in Adams legacy is wonderful.

    A growing confidence in the almost unfathomable work of Jesus Christ blows my mind continuously. There are no cheap cliches. The intensity of Love. The Consuming Fire. Pain, Healing, Justice and Restoration have a far greater meaning now.
    No longer can we hide. We are exposed, and vulnerable.
    This is a beautiful place to be, a child in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit.

  23. gary says:

    Salvation? Human beings do not need salvation. The need enlightenment; enlightenment from the belief in invisible ghouls and devils and the fear of these imaginary creatures.

    I believe that traditional Christianity can be proven false in less than five minutes, simply by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

    1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
    2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
    3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstition-based claims:

    1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were writing.

    2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

    3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof:


  24. Jimmy Moriarty says:

    Hi John, Shalom from Jerusalem, the city of the great king. I appreciate your deft hand in your rebuttal to Tim Challies arrogant critique of Paul’s book. I’d love to get an OTC in Jerusalem!


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