Two books – one new, one old – have suddenly grabbed public attention and captured the hearts of multitudes. One is long and instructional — a dictation from a channelled spirit guide. The other is a fictional testimony full of tear-jerking dialogue. A Course in Miracles was “dictated” to channeler Helen Schucman in 1977 by her spirit guide who claimed to be “Jesus.” A Course in Miracles (ACIM) is obviously occult, while the more subtle message of The Shack by William P. Young has been widely accepted in postmodern churches.
The esoteric spiritual traditions — whether Christian mystics, Hebrew Kabbalists, Zen Buddhists, Islamic Sufis, or Hindu yogis — all have specific practices to help individuals overcome this great ‘illusion of separation’ and to experience the One True Self, which is in us all.”[2,p.149]
“God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things…. ” [panentheism] –The Shack’s “Jesus.” [1,p.112]
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims…. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters.” –The Shack’s “Jesus.” [1,p.182]
“Jesus… said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5)
The two books share a common message. I saw a stark preview of it back in 1992. Skimming through a magazine called Well-Being Journal, I noticed this New Age “insight” from the author’s “inner guide:”
“Many people believe in evil, sin, and dark forces. It is your purpose to teach the opposite which is the Truth: there is no devil, no hell, no sin, no guilt except in the creative mind of humankind.”
I heard similar deceptions at Gorbachev’s 1997 State of the World Forum. At the time, keynote speaker Marianne Williamson was touting the Kabbalah, not A Course in Miracles (ACIM). While those New Age “insights” would fit both, they are best expressed through ACIM, which Williamson is now popularizing through Oprah Winfrey’s weekly radio program.
The Shack calls for a similar denial of reality. Yet countless pastors and church leaders are delighting in its message. By ignoring (or redefining) sin and guilt, they embrace an inclusive but counterfeit “Christianity” that draws crowds but distorts the Bible. Discounting Satan as well, they weaken God’s warnings about deception. No wonder His armor for today’s spiritual war became an early victim of this spreading assault on Truth.
Roger Oakland, author of Faith Undone, hinted at this transformation in his article “My Trip to the Rethink Conference:”
“For nearly two thousand years, most professing Christians have seen the Bible as the foundation for the Christian faith. The overall view at the Rethink Conference, however, is that Christianity, as we have known it, has run its course and must be replaced…. Speakers insisted that Christianity must be re-thought and re-invented if the name of Jesus Christ is going to survive here on planet earth.”
No room for the historical Jesus? Must we reimagine God to make Him fit the rising universal church?
That seems to be the aim of The Shack’s female “God.” Here she is speaking to the main character, Mackenzie (Mack for short):
“For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”[1,p.93]
“Religious conditioning?” Is that how Mr. Young views Biblical Christianity?
It’s easy to be persuaded by his clever arguments. The Shack is written as a personal testimony that draws readers into virtual dialogues with a playful, culturally relevant “God.” In contrast to the dry, occult lessons in ACIM, The Shack leads readers into vicarious experiences in a world of revelations and sensations. The only sin-like issue here is independence — what ACIM calls “separateness” — a refusal to accept universal oneness with “God” and man. Unhindered by Biblical guidelines, The Shack offers no standard for right or wrong, so there’s no real need for Biblical repentance. It fits right into the popular vision of a unifying, non-judgmental church.
“So how do I become part of that church?” asks Mack.
“It’s simple,” answers the fictional “Jesus.” “It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life… being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people, and life is all about relationships.”[1,p.178]
That sounds partly true, as do most spiritual lies! For example, Jesus criticized the Pharisees who “searched the Scriptures” but refused to “come” to Him. Today’s postmodern seekers are just as foolish. They ignore unwanted Scriptures, and then flock to the culturally attuned “Jesus” of their imaginations.
In The Shack, readers meet a permissive “God” that “submits” to their human ways. They look through the veil between life and death, see the joy beyond, and communicate with loved ones — subtle examples of “calling up the dead,” which the Bible bans(Deut. 18:11). Mack “sees” the colorful “auras” that show spiritual maturity among the dead-but-alive. He even practices astral travel — what The Shack calls “flying” — a word popularized by Maharishi Yogi long ago.
“Such a powerful ability, the imagination!” said The Shack’s fictional “Jesus.” That power alone makes you so like us.”[1,p.140]
Here the boundaries of the church are broadened to include almost everyone. The only exception seems to be “independent” folk who refuse to “come” to this universal “God.” This isn’t Christianity — and this false “Jesus” would agree. When Mack asks him what it “means to be a Christian,” he answer:
“‘Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.’ The idea struck Mack as odd and unexpected and he couldn’t keep himself from grinning. ‘No, I suppose you aren’t.'”[1,p.182]
Of course, he’s not! The word “Christian” refers to Christ’s followers — not to Jesus — and it has always clashed with trendy cultures. Even when ‘the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26), that word was a derogatory label used by enemies of the Church. But that didn’t keep faithful Christians from joyfully claiming that name and sharing His Word!.
Re-imagining the Trinity
The Shack opens in the context of tragedy. Four years have passed since the cruel murder of Missy, Mack’s precious six-year-old daughter. Enveloped in grief, he receives a strange invitation. “I’ve missed you,” it says. “I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. Papa.” What could it mean?
Doubtful, but drawn to the meeting, Mack heads for the Oregon wilderness and finds the dilapidated old shack. “God” miraculously transforms it into a cozy cottage, and Mack meets his supposed maker:
“…the door flew open, and he was looking directly into the face of a large beaming African-American woman. Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms….”[1,p.82]
“Just as she turned… a small, distinctly Asian woman merged from behind her…. He then glanced past her and notices that a third person had emerged… a man. He appeared Middle Eastern.”[1,p.84]
“When they finally stopped giggling, the large woman… said, ‘Okay, we know who you are, but we should probably introduce ourselves to you. …you could call me what Nan [Mack’s wife] does: Papa.’..
“‘And I,’ interrupted the man, who looked to be about in his thirties…. ‘I am Hebrew….’
“Mack was suddenly staggered by his own realization. “Then, you are….” “‘Jesus? Yes….’
“Mack stood dumbfounded…. Just as he was about to crumple to his knees, the Asian woman stepped closer and deflected his attention. ‘And I am Sarayu [the Holy Spirit, Creativity].’ she said…
“Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do…. Since there were three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing…. ‘Then,’ Mack struggled to ask, ‘which one of you is God?'”
“‘I am,’ said all three in unison.'”[1,p.86-87]
Their ongoing dialogues reinforce this new view of God. They immerse Mack in spiritual re-education, for each comment contradicts his previous understanding of God. For example, this new “Jesus” never returned to heaven. Was there no real resurrection? Not according to the female “God”:
“Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly [which he demonstrates in the book], he chooses moment-by-moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us….”[1,p.99-100]
But the Bible tells us that Jesus did return to His heaven after His crucifixion. Besides, neither God our Father nor the Holy Spirit made themselves finite or visible to man. “No one has seen God at any time,” said the true Jesus. (John 1:18)
Yet, here we see all three in human form — on earth! “God” explains:
“‘By nature I am completely unlimited… I live in a state of perpetual satisfaction as my normal state of existence:’ she said, quite pleased. ‘Just one of the perks of Me being Me.’
“That made Mack smile. This lady was fully enjoying herself…
“We created you to share in that. But then Adam chose to go it on his own, as we knew he would, and everything got messed up. But instead of scrapping the whole Creation we rolled up our sleeves and entered into the middle of the mess-that’s what we have done in Jesus…. When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. …flesh and blood.”[1,p.98-99]
Denying Sin, Guilt and God’s Authority
Unlike the true God, this false trinity exercises no authority over man. That should please today’s postmodern church leaders! They seem to shun words such as “sovereignty” and “authority.” After all, a reigning God who sets the moral standard for all time could cause division. He could impede their main purpose: inclusive relationships and “authentic community.”
No wonder Mack is confused when he asks, “Why would the God of the universe want to be submitted to me?”
“Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationships,” answers “Jesus.” [1,p.145] Together the “trinity” explains:
“Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want…. We carefully respect your choices….” [1,p.123]
“‘Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?’…
“‘Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.’
“‘You can’t be serious! You’re messing with me again,’ moaned Mack.
“‘Child,’ interrupted papa, ‘you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.’…
“‘…enforcing rules [says Sarayu] …is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse.'”[1,p.203] [ACIM uses the word “attack” instead of “accuse.”]
Are God’s guidelines really “a vain attempt to create certainty?” Of course not! To impress God’s unchanging values in the minds for faithful believers is no “vain attempt.” But there’s plenty of uncertainty for those who believe in evolving Truth and adaptable Scriptures. Such “uncertainty” can lay no firm foundation for either peace or confident faith! In fact, many “Christian” pastors today suffer from agonizing doubts — even about the existence of God! Small wonder, when they build their ministries on the shifting sands of people-pleasing “truths,” not on the solid Rock of God’s Word.
In this new story, sin no longer separates unholy people from our holy God. It fits right into postmodern churches that ignore Biblical commands such as “Do not be conformed to the world” and “Abhor evil” (Romans 12:2,9). Chipping away at the reality of sin, guilt and God’s just judgments, this transformational process undermines any real understanding of our need for discernment, repentance or the cross. Even God’s amazing grace becomes meaningless!
Notice how The Shack’s false “God” mocks our true God by minimizing His sovereignty and judgments:
“I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation…”[1,p.126]
“You don’t need me at all to create your list of good and evil. But you do need me if you have any desire to stop such an insane lust for independence…. Mackenzie, evil is a word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of Light. …evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have any actual existence.”[1,p.136]
That’s a lie! Though the wonders of God’s love and promises are vastly beyond our comprehension, He has told us His standard for good and evil — and He will punish those who minimize sin (and thus the need for the cross) or reject His ways and warnings. :
“They are foolish; for they do not know the way of the Lord, the judgment of their God….” Jer 5:4
“You thought I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you…” Psalm 50:21
“…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…. Professing to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:18, 22
“Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people- the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words….” Jeremiah 6:19
A Course in Miracles [ACIM] echoes those views of authority, sin and guilt:
“Sin is insanity…. Sin is the home of all illusions…. There is no sin.”
“…guilt is always totally insane, and has no reason….”
“The Holy Spirit never commands. To command is to assume inequality, which… does not exist.”[2,p.103]
“…you have let the belief in darkness enter your mind and so you need a new light…. The voice of the Holy Spirit does not command, because it is incapable of arrogance. It does not demand, because it does not seek control.” [2,p.76]
“There is no guilt in you…. Your only calling here is to devote yourself, with active willingness, to the denial of guilt in all its forms…. We are all joined in the Atonement…. So will the world of separation slip away…. For peace is the acknowledgment of perfect purity, from which no one is excluded. Within its holy circle is everyone whom God created as his Son.”[2,p.282-283]
These absurd claims remind me of Ray Yungen wise words, “Satan is not simply trying to draw people to the dark side of a good versus evil conflict. Actually, he is trying to eradicate the gap between himself and God, between good and evil, altogether.”
But God says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?… ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord.” 2 Cor. 6:14-18
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” Deut. 12:32
Both books demonstrate a perverted kind of forgiveness — the world’s way of promoting unity and healing apart from the cross. Not only does Mack learn to “forgive” all who have hurt him, he also forgives “God.” As if God had done something wrong!
Following the same reasoning, ACIM’s “Jesus” offers this bit of twisted theology:
“Forgive, and you will see this differently…. These are the words which end the dream of sin, and rid the mind of fear. These are the words by which salvation comes to all the world.”
It may sound loving to claim universal salvation through human forgiveness. But it’s not Biblical! This counterfeit “Jesus” has totally divorced himself from God’s Word — the living Word which is the true Jesus. (See John 1:14)
Our God is Judge as well as Love. And since He is also sovereign and holy, he must deal with the reality of sin. It can’t simply be dismissed or justified. His salvation is only through the Biblical cross, in spite of ACIM’s denials and The Shack’s deceptions. We partake in His atonement (not a New Age atONEment) through Biblical faith, not positive presumptions.
“…if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:9-10
An evolving process hides the unchanging truth
“There is a new world emerging….” writes Tamara Hartzell, author of In the Name of Purpose. “This new world stands against the truth, against the Lord Jesus Christ, and against God. Its rise is coming about in the power and authority and deception of the god of this world (angel of light), who will easily lure the spiritually-prepared masses into worshipping him and his Coming One.”
Her insightful report on “The New Age Ark of Oneness” gives us an overview of this spreading deception:
• relativism is replacing truth
• worldliness is replacing righteousness
• the New Gospel of peace with the world through Oneness is replacing the original Gospel of peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ
• the New Spirituality is replacing the true faith that comes from the Word of God
• the unity in diversity of Oneness is replacing the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ
• unity-seeking dialogue and spiritual experiences are replacing the Word of God.
It’s not surprising that so few Christians notice or resist this process. Ever since John Dewey and Julian Huxley began to replace factual learning with subjective socialization, our ability to discern error has been undermined. As Donna Garner said, “We now have twenty years of indoctrinated people.”
Leaders inside and outside churches have discovered that facilitated group experiences create new perceptions, which produce corresponding feelings that establish new beliefs. These steps are key to change. The Shack’s “God” agrees:
“Paradigms power perception and perceptions power emotions…. So check our perceptions, and beyond that check the truthfulness of your paradigms — what you believe.”[1,p.197]
“…religion is about having the right answers…. [in contrast] I am about the process that takes you to the living answer.”[1,p.198]
“You cannot see in your mind’s eye something that you cannot experience.” [1,p.201]
“It is impossible not to believe what you see,” says ACIM’s “Jesus,” “but it is equally impossible to see what you do not believe. Perceptions are built upon the basis of experience, and experience leads to beliefs. It is not until beliefs are fixed that perceptions stabilize. In effect, then, what you believe you do see.”[2,p.207]
Like other virtual experiences, reading The Shack stirs the imaginations of the gullible. It plants perceptions that shape new beliefs in “open” minds. What few realize is that the end of this process will be a bit like Pinocchio’s experience. The cruel tempter had promised Pinocchio all kinds of fun and food on “Pleasure Island.” But when he arrived, he changed into a donkey and became a slave.
In the midst of today’s deadly deceptions, the true God offers hope:
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-36
by Berit Kjos, Kjos Ministries