Hollywood insiders report the next major leap for the message in William Paul Young’s million-selling book “The Shack” is a first-run movie featuring the talents of Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba and Forest Whitaker.
According to an Indiewire report, Whitaker will direct and star in the Summit Entertainment film based on a book that has become iconic among evangelicals but also has drawn strong criticism for its theology.
One of the chief critics of “The Shack,” James B. De Young, is a former neighbor and colleague of Young who authored a response, “Burning Down ‘The Shack.’” De Young charges that “The Shack” minimizes God’s holiness and judgment, distorts the work of Christ on the cross and falsely grants forgiveness and salvation to everyone, a doctrine known as universalism.
“I remain convinced that ‘The Shack’ is aberrant theology,” De Young told WND on Tuesday. “‘The Shack’ goes to the heart of universal reconciliation, Christian universalism.”
Universalism is the belief that a God of love and goodness never would allow people to be separated from him forever, which means everyone ends up in heaven.
But De Young said that’s simply not what the Bible teaches.
He pointed, for example, to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 25 after Jesus told the parable of the handmaidens and their lamps.
In his parable of the 10 talents, Jesus said: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.”
After explaining how the sheep are rewarded, Matthew records Jesus saying: “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’”
The chapter concludes with Jesus’ words, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Christian Post reported the $30 million Lionsgate film will begin shooting in Atlanta or Vancouver later this summer.
Controversy has followed the book since it was self-published in 2007. It created shock waves among many Christians not only for its theology but also for its portrayal of the Trinity as an elderly black woman, an Asian woman and a carpenter.
Many Christian organizations have concluded the book contains “heresies.”
One evaluation, from the Reformed Nazarene church, said the book incorrectly conveys that God is limited by his love and cannot practice justice. It also incorrectly suggests, the church said, that on the cross, God forgave all of humanity, whether they repent or not.
But the book has sold in the range of 20 million copies.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. has written that the book is “a theology that is unconventional at best, and undoubtedly heretical in certain respects.”
He said many Christians like it simply because of their own ignorance of theology.
De Young agreed.
He told WND that it appears Young wrote the work after “he couldn’t stomach the narrow understanding of the Gospel,” that God rejects those who sin and refuse to repent.
He said Young’s beliefs gut the foundation of Christianity, and “ultimately there’s no divine savior and lord, because if people including the devil and his angels get into heaven, there’s no cross left to preach.”
“If we cast off the uniqueness of the gospel message, then God is relegated to an understanding of a deity of our own creation,” he said. “Let Him be God.”
KDAL radio in Duluth, Minnesota, published a commentary on the upcoming film by Shannon Houston: “It’s going to be interesting to see how people react to the movie – especially considering the fact that Winfrey is most likely playing the role of God. When issues of race and gender intersect with Christianity and Christian beliefs, controversy almost always ensues.”
WND reported several years ago on a rumor that “The Shack” would be made into a movie.
“The Shack” is the story of a man who meets God in the woods after he emotionally and spiritually sinks into what he calls “The Great Sadness” when his daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer.
“A relationship with God comes only by personal trust or faith placed in Jesus Christ,” De Young told WND. “For the book to ignore this core of faith is to propound another and different gospel to that of Jesus and the Apostles. It is the heart of the gospel, but it is ignored in the heresy of universal salvation.”
He said a film “will only reinforce such a distortion.”
“Indeed, what people see will have a greater impact, potentially, than the printed page,” he said. “If Young is true to his novel, his script will no doubt continue to lead people away from a total understanding of the God of the Bible.”
Note: Media wishing to interview author James B. De Young, please email.