Today we will tackle three theological headings. The Trinity, Submission and Free Will. All of today's material comes directly from Tim Challis review that can be found here in it's entirety.
Young teaches that the Trinity exists entirely without hierarchy and that any kind of hierarchy is the result of sin. The Trinity, he says, “are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’… Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” Now it’s possible that he is referring to a kind of dominance or grade or command structure that may well be foreign to the godhead. But a reading of the Bible will prove that hierarchy does, indeed, exist even where there is no sin. After all, the angels exist in a hierarchy and have done so since before the Fall. Also, in heaven there will be degrees of reward and there will be some who are appointed to special positions (such as the Apostles). And the Bible makes it clear that there is some kind of hierarchy even within the Trinity. The Spirit and the Son have submitted themselves to the Father. The task of the Spirit is to lead people to the Son who in turn brings glory to the Father. Never do we find the Father submitting to the Spirit or to the Son. Their hierarchy is perfect—without anger or malice or envy, but it is a hierarchy nonetheless.
There are other teachings about the Trinity that concerned me. For example, Papa says “I am truly human, in Jesus.” This simply cannot be true. God [the Father—a term that the author avoids] is not fully human in Jesus. This melds the two persons of God in a way that is simply unbiblical. Some of what Young teaches is novel and even possible, but without Scriptural support. For example, he teaches that the triune nature of God was an absolute necessity since without it God would be incapable of love. His reasoning is not perfectly clear but seems to be that if God did not have such a relationship “within himself” he would be unable to love. But this is not taught in the Bible.
Overall, I had to conclude that Young has an inadequate and often-unbiblical understanding of the Trinity. While granting that the Trinity is a very difficult topic to understand and one that we cannot know fully, there are several indications that he often blurs the distinct persons of the Trinity along with their roles and their unique attributes. Combined with his novel but unsupported conjectures, this is a serious concern.
Young uses the discussion about the Trinity as a bridge to a the subject of submission. Here he teaches that each member of the Trinity submits to the other. Jesus says, “That’s the beauty you see in my relationship with Abba and Sarayu. We are indeed submitted to one another and have always been so and will always be. Papa is as much submitted to me as I to him, or Sarayu to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.” Why would the God of the universe seek to be submitted to mere humans? “Because we want you to join us in our circle of relationship.” Genuine relationships, according to the author, must be marked by mutual submission. “As the crowning glory of Creation, you were made in our image, unencumbered by structure and free to simply ‘be’ in relationship with me and one another. If you had truly learned to regard each other’s concerns as significant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy.” Submission, according to this book, must be mutual, so that husbands submit to wives while wives submit to husbands, and parents submit to children while children submit to parents. While the Bible does teach that we are to submit to one another, it also teaches that God has ordained some kinds of hierarchy. While a husband is to submit his desires to his wife, even to the point of sacrificing his life for her, he is never called to submit to her in an authoritative sense. Wives, though, are commanded to submit to their husbands, acknowledging that the husband is the head of the family. Similarly, all people are to submit to the God-given authorities and every person is responsible to submit to God.
This understanding of absolute equality not just in value (which the Bible affirms) but also in role and function (which the Bible does not affirm), leads to a strange idea about why God created Eve out of Adam. He teaches that it was crucial for man be created before woman, but with woman hidden inside man. Had this not happened, there could not have been a proper circle of relationship since otherwise man would always come from woman (through childbirth), allowing her to claim a dominant position. She came out of him and now all men come out of her. This allows total, absolute equality, says Young. I can think of absolutely no biblical proof for this and neither does the author offer any.
And so we see that Young uses The Shack to teach an unbiblical understanding of submission. And he uses this topic to bridge to another.
Young’s understanding of free will seems to follow from submission. “I don’t want slaves to do my will,” says Jesus. “I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” Speaking in veiled terms about conversion or something like it, Jesus says, “We will come and live our life inside of you, so that you begin to see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and touch with our hands, and think like we do. But, we will never force that union with you. If you want to do your thing, have at it. Time is on our side.” God, it seems, has already forgiven all humans for their sin and has willingly submitted himself to them, though only some people will choose relationship. He is fully reconciled to all human beings and simply waits for them to do their part. Never does Young clearly discuss the consequences that will face those who refuse to accept this offer of union.
Overall, Young presents a God who is unable or unwilling to break into history in any consequential way. He is sovereign at times, but certainly not so in conversion (a topic that receives only scant attention) and is limited by the free will choices of human beings. Scant attention is paid to God’s fore-ordination, the understanding that nothing happens without it somehow being part of His decree (even while God cannot be accused of being the author of evil). Papa explains to Mack, “There was no way to create freedom without a cost.” But nowhere in the Bible do we find that God is somehow made captive by human free will and that He has to allow things to proceed in order to maintain His own integrity as Creator. Always God is sovereign, even over the free will choices of men. Our inability to understand how this can be does not preclude us from the responsibility of believing it.