Friday, October 31, 2008

Universal Reconciliation

The Theological Implications

Part 3: THE SHACK and Universal Reconciliation

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Writing from the standpoint of being a one time “theological buddy” of Paul Young, author of The Shack, James De Young notes that the “the most serious error is Paul’s embrace of Universal Reconciliation which lies imbedded in the book.”[15] When applied to Christianity, Universal Reconciliation (UR) behaves like a computer virus that first invades, and then infects the whole body of biblical Truth. Contradicting distinctive Christian teachings, UR proposes a dialectic that changes biblical beliefs about God’s love and justice, Jesus’ atonement, heaven and hell, and the balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

Divine Love and Justice

In the composite of His being, the loving God is interested in personal relationships (John 1:12). But at the same time, He remains holy and just (Isaiah 6:1-7; Genesis 18:25). At one and the same time, He is both separate from and near to His creation and His creatures. At times, He even becomes angry with people (Ezekiel 16:26; 38:17-23).[16] After all, how should God feel about and respond to the crimes and injustices He sees perpetrated by one group or individual against others? Is He to idly stand by and let the villains get away with it? If UR is true, then, yes. Love trumps anger and justice. But if UR is not true, the answer is, no. Sooner or later, in this life or the next, God will bring the bad guys to justice and punish them. This is the wrath of God. But in sync with a UR worldview, The Shack manifests aversion to the idea of divine wrath.

Alluding to a biblical statement in the book of James—by the way, biblical allusion can peddle spiritual delusion—the sensual Sophia tells Mack that Jesus and Papa chose the way of the cross, “For love.” The “all-wise-Sophia” then explains to Mack, “He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.”[17] Rebuking Mack, who is role-playing Judge, she asks, “Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone? Do you want justice, ‘Dear Judge’?” (The Shack, 164-165) For salvation to be universal, God’s love (mercy) must overrule God’s justice (righteousness) and sense of fair play.

When isolated from the rest of Scripture, and on the face of it, James’ statement (“mercy triumphs over judgment,” James 2:13b), might seem to support the contention that God’s mercy will trump His justice in the end. But as the context shows (James 2:1-13), James is addressing the issue of equity between people, admonishing them to work out their relationships according to God’s rules (“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself . . . Do not commit adultery. . . Do not kill.”). If they discriminate against the less fortunate around them, if they fail to love their fellows, then they can be certain of one thing: “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13a, NASB). In other words, the first half of the verse affirms our accountability to God for how we treat others. Give no mercy in this life, receive no mercy in the next life (Compare Matthew 5:7.). On the other hand, the merciful will be exonerated, for in the last judgment “mercy triumphs over judgment” for them. Ironically, the first half of the verse affirms the opposite from what UR supposes the last half does; namely, that love overrides justice. But because God’s being is balanced, His love does not diminish His justice (Galatians 5:21; Revelation 20:10, 15; 21:8; 22:15). Yet one scene in the The Shack suggests otherwise.

In a comfortable, schmoozing, and relational conversation about the Canadian rock musician Bruce Cockburn, Papa says to Mack, “Mackenzie, I have no favorites; I am just especially fond of him.” Mack then responds, “You seem to be especially fond of a lot of people . . . Are there any who you are not especially fond of?” After pensively contemplating the question, Papa responds, “Nope, I haven’t been able to find any. Guess that’s jes’ the way I is.” (The Shack, 118-119) Bingo! God is as “fond” of Nero, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein as He is of Jesus, or Mother Theresa. It’s all one big “circle of relationship” (“Kum Ba Ya”). As Morris comments,

The other religions of the world, in either ancient or modern times, lack a deep sense of the purity and holiness of God and of the ill desert of sin. It is thought unpalatable to man that God’s holiness must be taken seriously in any attempt to solve the problem of reconciliation.[18]

Any universalism necessitates imagining a God at variance from His transparent self-disclosure in the Bible. So this exchange of divine wrath in favor of divine love causes The Shack to jettison the doctrine of Jesus’ penal and substitutionary atonement for sin.

Jesus’ Cross and Sin

Theologian Wayne Grudem explains that the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ “has been the orthodox understanding of the atonement . . . in contrast to other views that attempt to explain the atonement apart from the idea of the wrath of God or payment of the penalty for sin.[19] Because in The Shack’s view divine love supersedes divine wrath, we would expect to find indication in the book that Jesus did not die as our representative to provide a penal-substitutionary atonement for sin. And this we find.

No Punishment—Oh Really?

In a poignant moment with “deep sadness in her eyes,” Papa tells Mack,

I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it. (The Shack, 119-120)

Thus, a Christian reader is left groping to explain why Jesus died. We need to understand the relationship of human sin to divine punishment.

Though Paul Young vaguely infers that the atonement might be substitutionary (The Shack, 162), he does not, for reason of love eclipsing wrath, and for Papa’s co-crucifixion with Jesus, present it as the payment of a penalty for sin (Remember Papa said: “I don’t need to punish people for sin.”). The issue is not whether God needs to punish people for sin. After all, who are we to tell God what His needs are, or are not? The issue is whether God does punish sin, and according to the Bible, He has punished and still punishes sin.

The Bible tells us that physical death is God’s continuing punishment for sin. Though we may deny we’re sinners, we cannot claim exemption from death. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12; Compare Genesis 2:16-17.). So if God possesses no “need” to punish people for sin, then why not abolish death now? But excepting the generation of the translation (1 Corinthians 15:50-56), we are all destined to die. As a pundit put it, “The statistics on death are overwhelming. One out of one person dies!” Death happens. I know, for as a pastor, I’ve officiated at hundreds of funerals. So about the inference that God doesn’t punish sin, let’s get real. If He still punishes sin in time, how can we be sure He won’t punish sin in eternity? We can’t, and this fact brings us to consider the death of Jesus.

Jesus’ Penal-Substitutionary Atonement

Though men dispute the reason for Jesus’ death, and whether or not He was raised from the dead, they do not dispute that He died. That’s history. He lived. He died. In light of death’s cause, that it remains a continuing punishment for sin, the begging question becomes—why did Jesus die? Did He die to be punished for His own sins? If so, then He was just another sinner like the rest of us because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But the Scriptures declare Him to be sinless (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19). Thus, did He, as opposed to the forbidding idea that He died for His own sins, vicariously die as the penal substitute for the sins of others? The Scriptures declare this to be the reason Christ suffered and died (Isaiah 53:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In fact, that’s why Jesus said He would die (Mark 10:45) Now either Jesus deserved to die for His own sin(s), or He died for the sins of others. As Donald Macleod summarizes:

People speak with horror of ‘the penal theory of the atonement’. But what happened to Christ on the cross? He died. And what is death? It is the penalty for sin! . . . On that cross He was dealt with as sin deserved. The glory of it is, it wasn’t His own sin. It was our sin. He bore the sin of the world (John 1:29). [20]

As with other world religions, and believing that people want a relationship with God,[21] universal salvation rejects the idea that sin is a personal offense against God that deserves punishment (Contra Psalm 51:1-4; Romans 3:21-26; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.). Therefore, the demand for penal propitiation of sin becomes unbecoming of a “touchy-touchy-feely-feely” god who has been manufactured by our emoting culture and church.

Jesus’ Death—an Inspiring Example

So if all persons are saved (i.e., universally reconciled), then the question arises, “Why the cross in the first place?” Robertson McQuilken summarizes the dilemma. He writes that universalism,

. . . undermines belief in the atoning death of Christ. For if all sin will ultimately be overlooked by a gracious deity, Christ never should have died. It was not only unnecessary, it was surely the greatest error in history . . . Universalism . . . demands a view of the death of Christ as having some purpose other than as an atonement for sin. [22]

Thus in the salvific scheme of universalism, Jesus died for some reason other than that we might be forgiven for our sins.

Beginning with Abelard (1079-1142), liberal Christianity proposes that Jesus died to provide mankind with an inspiring and sacrificial example. Though His death does give us that (John 15:13), the implications of His atonement are far more profound.

As I see it, the atonement theory of The Shack seems to be that Jesus died to inspire people to become more selfless as they seek “relationship” with God and with each other.[23] (The Shack, 225) One theologian frames the liberal theory of the atonement: “If there is anything liberal theology is agreed upon it is that the frequent biblical references to God’s wrath (anger, displeasure, indignation, rage, vengeance) must be interpreted down to mean something like frustrated love.”[24] And that is exactly how The Shack interprets God’s wrath. Persons not choosing relationship with God merely frustrate His love for them, a love which in the end, will universally win out.

In a Universal Reconciliation scheme of redemption, divine wrath needs to be toned down. This may explain why The Shack pictures Papa as having been co-crucified with Jesus. (The Shack, 95, 102, 107, 222) As evidenced by the Jesus-like scars on her wrists, Papa had magnanimously borne her own wrath. Perhaps Papa even atoned for her sins. Who knows? But in that Papa was crucified with Jesus, it cannot be held that Christ suffered and died alone as man’s penal-substitute.[25] (The Shack, 96) In a supreme exhibition of love, Papa took the hit herself. This is the ancient heresy of modalism in which the three members of the Trinity are so fused in their relationship that any personal distinction between them is lost.

Heaven and Hell

According to the worldview of The Shack, Hell cannot exist because evil, however it may be perceived, is not real. It’s a mirage. Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) tells Mack, “Both evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they (i.e., ‘evil and darkness’) do not have any actual existence.” (The Shack, 136) The logic of universalism might be constructed like this:

  • The omni-present God of light is omni-benevolent toward all people.
  • Hell would be a restricted, dark, and malevolent place.
  • Therefore, assuming God’s omni-presence and benevolence, hell can’t exist.

Thus, as a place of “eternal punishment” and “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30, 46), universalism denies the existence of hell. God is “fond” of everyone. Universal Reconciliation cannot allow for a place where men are eternally separated from God, where any hope for “relationship” with God would be devastated.[26] However metaphorical it might be, I think of the sign over the inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy, “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” Hope can’t happen in hell.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

It can also be charged that UR is fatalistic. Freedom of choice is violated to such a degree that even atheists are forced to spend eternity with a person they do not like in a place where they did not want to go—with God in heaven. There are fools who mutter in their hearts, “No God” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Sadly, the Bible describes some people as “haters of God” (Romans 1:30). Are we to project that such individuals, who in this life possess deep animus toward God and who have spent the majority of their lives despising and/or denying Him, will derive one moment’s enjoyment from being in the presence of the One whom they loathe? Will God grab these despisers and deniers by the nape of their necks and drag them “kicking and screaming” into heaven? Thus, C.S. Lewis wrote:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. [27]

Similarly, Alister McGrath also remarks: “Universalism perverts the gospel of the love of God into an obscene scene of theological rape quite unworthy of the God whom we encounter in the face of Jesus Christ.”[28]


Absent faith in and acceptance of the truth, the differences between God and sinners are irreconcilable. Exhibiting that people can and do reject “relationship” with God, even after extensive pleading to be reconciled, Jesus lamented over the ancient Jewish nation, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Emphasis Mine, Matthew 23:37, KJV). If any person refuses relationship based upon the terms of the Gospel, they will remain un-reconciled to God—forever. But Christian believers have been reconciled and possess an eternal relationship with God through the penal and substitutionary blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a hymn writer states:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood—
Sealed my pardon with His blood:

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we,

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement! Can it be?

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

The Truth:

"For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21)

15. De Young, Back of the Shack, 3. De Young notes that, “The greatest doctrinal distortion in the book is Paul’s assumption of universal reconciliation” (p.3), and that the book’s storyline has “universal reconciliation at its base.” (p.4)
16. “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” See Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975) 82. After describing the fear of a little boy who, because of intimidating scenes recorded in the Old Testament, thought of Jehovah as a “dirty bully,” a liberal preacher explained: “We have long since rejected a conception of reconciliation associated historically with the idea of a Deity that is loathsome. God, for us, cannot be thought of as angry . . . who because of Adam’s sin must have his Shylockian (i.e., ruthless money-lending) pound of flesh.” See G. Bromley Oxnam, Preaching in a Revolutionary Age (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Series, 1971) 79. The book comprises the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale Divinity School, 1943-44.
17. The allusion is to James 2:13, where the second half of the verse states, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (NASB).
18. Morris, The Cross, 250-251.
19. Emphasis Mine, Wayne Grudem, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) 579.
20. Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By, Understanding Christian Doctrine (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2002) 151.
21. Contra Romans 3:11 which says, “there is none that seeketh after God.”
22. Robertson McQuilken, The Great Omission, A Biblical Basis for World Evangelism (Waynesboro, Georgia: Authentic Media, 2002) 41.
23. Vernon Grounds summarized that Abelard’s “view of our Lord’s passion, exhibiting the great love of God, so frees us from the fear of wrath that we may serve him in love.” Grounds notes that by subordinating “everything to the controlling idea that the cross” is the demonstration of God’s love, man’s love for God is “almost automatically” drawn out in return. Ground’s summary of Abelard’s theory describes the meaning of the atonement presented in The Shack. See Vernon C. Grounds, “Atonement,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison, Editor-in-Chief (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960) 73.
24. Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2005) 553.
25. Papa tells Mack, “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us dearly. Love always leaves a significant mark . . . We were there together.” (The Shack, 96) This statement is made in spite of the fact of Jesus’ cry, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
26. Brian D. McLaren disdains “violence and war” writing that it “is one of the reasons many of us have become critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular.” See Everything Must Change (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) 144. Nobody I know likes violence and war. I don’t. Yet the testaments, both Old and New, from beginning to end, contain it. Is the eschatology, McLaren and others are critical of, American, or biblical? Remember: America did not hatch the Bible.
27. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, The Best of C.S. Lewis (New York: Christianity Today, Inc., 1969) 156. I thank Dr. De Young for drawing my attention to Lewis’ quote.
28. Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988) 106. Again, I note that Dr. De Young drew my attention to Lewis’ quote. Though he is an Arminian within the camp of open theism, Clark Pinnock states: “Universalism is not a viable position because of the gift of human freedom.” See William Crockett, General Editor, Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996) 128.
29. Philip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah, What a Savior!” The Celebration Hymnal (Dallas: Word/Integrity, 1997) 311.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sin Separates

Part 2: THE SHACK and Universal Reconciliation

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

The Christian underpinnings of The Shack make it necessary for the allegory to deal with fallen humanity’s relationship with God, for as the prophet told Judah, “[Y]our iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). For reason of sinning, the Bible depicts man to be living in a broken world and estranged from God. Thus Papa explains to Mack why things are the way they are when she says to him, “The world is broken because in Eden you abandoned relationship with us to assert your own independence.” (The Shack, 146) Consistent with the allegory’s antiauthoritarian and antinomian bent, The Shack defines sin as abandoning relationship.

But the Bible defines sin as breaking God’s rules, for as John wrote, “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The dynamic of sin is more than deserting relationship with God. In the allegory’s explanation of the world’s brokenness and the importance of relationship over rules, a theological inconsistency arises. It is this: To explain his “sin-is-abandoning-relationship” theory, the author refers to the very Eden narrative in Genesis where God ordered Adam, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Emphasis mine, Genesis 2:17). Ironically, by breaking the rule of God, Adam broke relationship with God. For doing so, God expelled Adam from Eden. So rules do have something to do with relationship. In fact, rules are tests of relationship! “Thou shalt not murder,” it seems to me, would have been a good rule for Missy’s killer to have obeyed. If he had, there would have been no Great Sadness.

Though for reason of God’s grace, obedience to rules does not determine a person’s relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:8-9), but His rules do define what a relationship with Him looks like. Those who love God will not place other gods before Him. Those who love other persons will not abuse them. Anyone can say to someone else, “I love you!” Some men use the statement to manipulate and use women. They say it but do not mean it. So the greater question becomes, “Do you love me?” The Apostle Paul wrote that “love does not” (Emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is more than saying. Love is doing, and to that end, and as the Ten Commandments indicate, rules define “doing” love.

So the question becomes, after ruining our Eden by our sin, after having broke “relationship” with God, how can we reconciled to Him? Note: Though we need to be reconciled to God, God does not need to be reconciled to us. He has done nothing untoward to offend us. But before dealing with our necessity to be reconciled to God, William Paul Young’s position should to be noted; that is, he believes in a Universal Reconciliation* (UR) which finds basis in God being reconciled to the world.

Wayne Jacobsen, one of Young’s collaborators and editors in writing The Shack, admits that Universal Reconciliation was part of the book’s “earlier versions because of the author’s partiality at that time to some aspects of what people call UR.”[7] And according to a professor and acquaintance of the author, “Paul’s embrace of universal reconciliation . . . lies embedded in the book.”[8] But just what is Universal Reconciliation?

In the words of one theologian, Universal Reconciliation,

. . . maintains that Christ’s death accomplished its purpose in reconciling all humankind to God. The death of Christ made it possible for God to accept all humans, and he has done so. Consequently, whatever separation exists between a human and the benefits of God’s grace is subjective in nature; it exists only in the human’s mind. [9]

In short, Universal Reconciliation holds that without exception, and for reason of Christ’s atonement, all persons are saved. The world needs to do nothing to be reconciled to God, for according to Papa, she is fully reconciled to the world.

While talking with Mack, Papa leans forward, crossing her arms on the table, and says to him, “Honey, you asked me what Jesus did on the cross; so now listen to me carefully: through his death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” (Emphasis mine, The Shack, 192) In a later conversation, Papa tells Mack, “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.” (Emphasis mine, The Shack, 225) Rightly, the allegory points to Jesus’ cross as the centerpiece of reconciliation. But wrongly, on a number of counts, Papa’s statements can be misleading.

First, God’s state is not one of being reconciled to the world. In fact, God does not need to be reconciled to the world for He has never done anything to estrange Himself from the world. About the New Testament passages dealing with reconciliation between man and God, James Denney commented in his classic work, The Death of Christ,

Where reconciliation is spoken of in St. Paul, the subject is always God, and the object is always man. The work of reconciling is one in which the initiative is taken by God, and the cost borne by Him; men are reconciled in the passive, or allow themselves to be reconciled, or receive reconciliation. We never read that God has been reconciled. [10]

Denney’s statement contradicts Papa’s.

To see whether Denney’s observation is correct, we should notice three central New Testament passages that mention man’s reconciliation to God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 1:21, KJV). In each of these passages, God is the subject of reconciliation, and man is the object. In these passages, man is reconciled to God, and not the other way around. We quote.

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Emphasis mine, Romans 5:10)

And all things are of
God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (Emphasis mine, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

And you
, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight . . . (Colossians 1:21-22)

These Scriptures do not reveal God is reconciled to man. God possesses no “need” to be reconciled to sinners. While through the cross God reconciles sinners to Himself, it is not the other way around. In this regard, the two adverbs which modify “reconciled” in Papa’s statement are troubling.

The first adverb “I am now suggests there was a time when God was not reconciled to sinners.[11] The adverb describes the state of something in the present that was not the case in the past. But as has already been noted, the cross did not reconcile God to sinners, but rather sinners to God. From God’s perspective, the atonement made the world savable.

The following adverb, “I am now fully,” implies that nothing else is needed for reconciliation to occur.[12] Papa’s declaration makes it seem that, as far as God is concerned, reconciliation is a done deal—that peace between God and man has been secured when in fact it has not. Yes, on the basis of Jesus’ atonement, God offers the “olive branch” of reconciliation to people, but it does not stand that they are automatically reconciled to God or are moved to accept His peace plan (i.e., the Gospel). As has been pointed out, people do refuse to believe the Gospel thereby short circuiting relationship with Him. It cannot therefore be rightfully stated that God is “now fully reconciled to the world.”

Second, the world’s standing is in fact, not one of being fully reconciled to God. The “atonement” of Jesus forces nobody into “at-one-ment” with God. Though the cross makes reconciliation with God accessible to man, it is not thereby consequent that all persons will receive the reconciliation He offers, for God does not coerce people into relationship with Him. He invites, but does not impose. Thus, after declaring others and himself to be “ambassadors for Christ,” the Apostle asks, “as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (Emphasis mine, 2 Corinthians 5:20). If everybody stands “now fully” reconciled to God, then Paul’s plea is unnecessary. But in the cross, God is simply saying to man, “These are the terms by which you may be reconciled to Me. Now, it’s your move.” Theologian Thomas Oden states that the completed work of the cross is an offer . . .

to receive God’s reconciling act. Until that occurs through repentance and faith, the sinner remains behaviorally unreconciled to God, even though God offers it already as a gift . . . [13]

But obviously, there is a sense in which, despite the cross, all persons do not receive God’s pleading invitation to be at peace with Him. For whatever the reason, many persons ignore or refuse God’s invitation. They are not moved. They follow their own spiritual agenda. For example, the agenda of some is atheistic. They mock the thought of God’s existence. The agenda of others might be hedonistic. They love “feel-good” experiences more than God. Others are narcissistic. They love themselves more than God. Others in life are materialistic. They love things more than God. If any of these attitudes dictate our lifestyle, then Scripture declares that, “the love of the Father is not in” us (1 John 2:15). Of spiritual infidelity, James states: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). There are those who mock the Gospel, who think of it as either foolishness or a scandal (1 Corinthians 1:23). Do such attitudes and responses evidence a state of being at peace with God? Without exception, all persons are not “fully” reconciled to God, for if they were, they would all be saved. So the question arises, how can someone be reconciled to God?

Adolf Schlatter stated that because reconciliation is an aspect of justification, “reconciliation occurs by faith” (Romans 5:8).[14] Absent repentance for sin and faith in the Gospel, persons will remain un-reconciled to God (Romans 1:5; Hebrews 11:6). Though God extends the olive branch of peace to people, many refuse to accept the divinely initiated overture thereby imploding the whole reconciliation process. They refuse to accept God’s peace plan. The sinful rebels remain at war with God. We turn now to address the theological implications of universalism—how UR affects other vital Christian teachings.

Stay tuned for the riveting conclusion . . . .

The Truth:

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him" neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)

7. Wayne Jacobsen, “Is The Shack Heresy? LifeStream Blog,
8. An acquaintance of Paul Young, a “theological buddy,” has written an extended essay that tracks The Shack’s universalism. See James B. De Young, At the Back of the Shack a Torrent of Universalism (Damascus, Oregon: Revised May 2008, 39 pages). Professor De Young’s essay can be downloaded online in a PDF format at ( Like Jacobsen in the preceding quote, De Young states, “About four years ago Paul embraced universal reconciliation, and strongly defended his decision” (p. 5).
9. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 1027.
10. Emphasis mine, James Denney, The Death of Christ (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., 1982 Reprint) 103. Morris also states: “It is interesting to notice that no New Testament passage speaks of Christ reconciling God to man. Always the stress is on man being reconciled. . . . It is man’s sin which has caused the enmity.” See Leon L. Morris, “Reconciliation,” The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Organizing Editor (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962) 1077. Further, of the eleven New Testament mentions of reconciliation, “in every instance man is said to be reconciled to God.” See John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) 179.
11. As dictionaries define the word, “now” means “at this time or moment . . . nowadays.” See The Random House College Dictionary, Revised, Laurence Urdang, Editor in Chief (New York: Random House, 1988) 911.
12. The word means “containing all that can be held; filled to the utmost capacity; . . . complete; entire.” See Ibid. 534.
13. Thomas C. Oden, The Word of Life, Systematic Theology: Volume Two (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press, 1989) 356.
14. Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles, Translated by Andreas J. Köstenberger (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999) 246.

*UR is the belief that every person who has ever lived is, or will ultimately be, either before or after death, reconciled to God. Historically, universal reconciliation leads to Unitarianism which denies the biblical Trinity. After all, if God saves all persons, who needs Christ and His atonement on the cross, or the application of salvation to the human soul by the Holy Spirit? Universalism makes the Trinity unnecessary!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THE SHACK and Universal Reconciliation

Relationship, Rules and Reconciliation[1]

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Reconciliation means a change in “relationship.”[2] The need for reconciliation presupposes estrangement between two parties (Matthew 5:23-24). Whereas they became enemies, two parties become friends again. Often, reconciliation needs to occur between humans, between friends, spouses, races, tribes, and nations. But reconciliation also needs to occur between people and God. Though Paul stated that the Colossians were “reconciled,” he noted that in their former state they had been spiritually “alienated” from God (Colossians 1:21-22). Because of our sinfulness we are all separated from God, and need to be reconciled with Him. As such, the doctrine of reconciliation is core to the Christian faith. As White remarks, “Since a right relationship with God is the heart of all religion, reconciliation, which makes access welcome and fellowship possible, may be regarded as the central concept in Christianity.”[3]

In contrast to those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (Philippians 3:18; 2 Timothy 3:4), the Bible calls faithful Abraham “the friend of God” (James 2:23; Romans 4:3). In their relationship to God, all humanity falls into two groups: they are either His friends or enemies. Either, they are reconciled to God, or they are not. The Shack therefore, is big on relationships.[4]

In a conversation between members of the trinity and Mack, Sarayu tells him (though Papa might be speaking), “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are a circle of relationship . . .” (The Shack, 122) Dismissing any idea of hierarchy or subordination amongst members of the trinity, Papa-Elousia later explains to Mack that, “Submission . . . is all about relationships of love and respect.” (The Shack, 145) The vaguely Christian underpinnings of the book, and its emphasis upon relationship on the one hand and its de-emphasis of rules on the other, requires that the connection between law and the Christian life be examined.

Rules and Relationships

In cavalier fashion, the novel dismisses the relevance of rules (law) to relationship (love). (The Shack, 7, 122, 123, 197-205) The “all-God-cares-about-is relationship” theory renders rules to be obsolete (“Kum Ba Ya”). Sarayu even states to Mack, “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules.” (The Shack, 197) This statement reflects an antinomianism that contradicts both the words and spirit of Holy Scripture. As such, it begs questions and raises issues about the role rules play in relationships.

Question one: As taught by Jesus, is there any ingredient more important to relationship than love, first between people and God, and second, among people with each other? Endorsing the Great Commandment and associating love with law, Jesus said,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Emphasis mine, Matthew 22:37-40, KJV).

There is no more essential ingredient to relationship than “love,” for as Paul put it, love is “the greatest” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Question two: Can you, dear reader, think of any element more necessary in the definition of love (relationship) than laws (rules)? No matter how The Shack might spin it, relationships involve rules. Rules inform me where my rights end and another person’s begin. As a deterrent to sinful behavior which can hurt the lives of others, rules are a necessary guide. They tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. Ever hear of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or read the hundreds of other rules in the Bible? Take adultery, for example. What if a man leaves his spouse and children to pursue a “relationship” with another woman? What arbitrates between those two competing relationships? They’re both relationships, aren’t they? Will laws? Will a judge? Or, do we simply endorse the moral chaos of self-indulgent free love?[5] For the sake of arbitrating relationships, both the hierarchy and enforcement of law is needed. While it may not be that way amongst the members of the Holy Trinity in heaven, it certainly is necessary for us folks here on earth.

So like Jesus, the Apostle Paul combined law with the love, rules with relationship. He wrote:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Emphases mine, Romans 13: 8-10).

When defining the love of earthy relationships, rules cannot be jettisoned. Like Siamese twins, they cannot be separated. As Jesus and Paul indicated, rules (law) complement relationship (love). Did not Jesus say that upon loving God and one’s neighbor “hang all the law and the prophets”? The sin residing in us ever threatens our relationship with one another. With sinful and selfish dispositions, and sometimes knowingly, we choose to indulge ourselves at cost to others. Breaking rules destroys relationships. When that happens, relationships need to be repaired. When marriages become broken by adultery, when the Seventh Commandment is violated, reconciliation needs to happen in order for the marriage to survive.[6] This is the real world in which we live, a world of broken relationships, and not the ethereal world of a Thomas Kincade painting. But the need for reconciliation exists not only among persons on earth, but also between individuals on earth and God in heaven.

To be continued. . . . .

The Truth:

"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight." (Colossians 1:21-22)

1. Universal Reconciliation is the belief that every person who has ever lived is, or will ultimately be, either before or after death, reconciled to God. Historically, universal reconciliation leads to Unitarianism which denies the biblical Trinity. After all, if God saves all persons, who needs Christ and His atonement on the cross, or the application of salvation to the human soul by the Holy Spirit? Universalism makes the Trinity unnecessary!
2. R.E.O. White, “Reconciliation,” The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Abridged by Peter Toon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991) 420. Morris determined that, “The basic idea of reconciliation is that of making peace after a quarrel, or bridging over an enmity.” See Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965) 250.
3. White, “Reconciliation,” 421.
4. Over forty times The Shack uses the word “relationship(s).” Indeed, though perhaps overdrawn, exaggerated, and even at points, profaned, one of the strengths of the story is its emphasis on relationship.
5. Rules in Scripture exhibit God’s righteousness (i.e., justice), and are an essential aspect of relationships. Being sourced in His absolute authority and infinite wisdom, God’s law(s) orients mankind as to the good or evil of behaviors which either help or hurt others. Inherent within real love is right law.
God’s rules declare which behaviors best benefit how people should relate to Him and to each other. His guidelines objectify both right spirituality and morality. Because God is right, God is Righteous. Thus, God’s righteousness might be understood like this: Out of His love and concern for the relational wellbeing of humanity—God does desire that people to live in peace and harmony with one another—He after the eternal counsel of His infinite wisdom, designed rules to promote the harmony of humanity. God communicates His rules in the Bible (e.g., the Ten Commandments). Because He is righteous, God keeps His rules. He conforms to His own standards. Because He is absolutely righteous and just, one day God will bring humanity into account for how they obeyed the laws of love. He will judge the world. He will enforce the rules. “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11; See Romans 2:5-16).
6. On this point, we must note how Scripture employs the images of adultery or harlotry to picture Israel’s breaking “relationship” with God (See Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 3:1; 23:10; Ezekiel 16:15-63; James 4:4.). In both its sexual and spiritual dimensions, adultery signals the breaking of relationship, and that is why God said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:15). So for violating the Seventh Commandment, Jehovah divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Nanotechnological Transhuman Cyborg

This is the topic of a radio interview!

John Loeffler of the Steel On Steel radio program interviewed Dr. Martin Erdmann this week on the topic of the new emergent scientific religion of transhumanism and how it seeks to use nanotechnology to design super humans and super soldiers of the future: part human, part machine. Herescope readers have special permission to access this fascinating interview online.

Dr. Erdmann, a historian and theologian, serves as a senior scientist at University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland. On the radio show he discusses the ethical implications of transhumanism and nanotechnology. He is also the author of Building the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Churches' Contribution to Marshal Public Support for World Order and Peace, 1919-1945 which documents the early efforts a century ago to set up a global governmence structure (the United Nations) via the mainline denominations creating a Dominionist mandate.

To listen to this radio interview visit:
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Dr. Erdmann was the featured speaker at the Discernment "Transformation of the Church" conference held last weekend in Niles, Michigan. See the previous Herescope post for details on how to order CDs of his talks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Transformation of the Church

CDs are now available from the Transformation of the Church conference held this past weekend, October 10 & 11th, in Niles, Michigan. The conference covered a number of topics that are very current in the transformation of the church movement today.

  • Pastor Jeff Whittaker: His firsthand account of his personal experience attending the Emergent church leader Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” conference.

Pastor Whittaker gives a lively and animated report of his personal experience attending Emergent church leader Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" conference in Goshen, Indiana. His entertaining and eye-opening report details the extent to which this movment has adopted the non-biblical practices and doctrines of earth-centered spirituality. Pastor Whittaker's written reports were posted on Herescope HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE earlier this summer. He updates the conference with information concerning the repercussions of his first reports.

  • Pastor Larry DeBruyn, a frequent contributor to Herescope over the past several months, delves into several controversial issues in the modern church.

Pastor DeBruyn examines the question: "Was Paul a Mystic?" He provides a helpful explanation of the key elements of the emerging mysticism that is permeating the evangelical world. His talk is, in part, based on his 4-part Herescope series that ran in May 2008 HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Pastor DeBruyn also covers the controversial topic of the new music in the churches in a session entitled "The Romancing of the Soul: Music and Mysticism." This is a must-hear session for those who are experiencing the divisive new music firsthand in their local churches. Pastor DeBruyn's background information is both startling and disturbing.

  • Dr. Martin Erdmann, a Senior Research Scientist and Bible professor, examines the historical and theological roots of Dominionism:
"The Rosicrucian Vision of a Transformed World" delves deeply into Medieval history and the ambition of alchemists and Hermetics to combine science with theology to create a paradise on earth.

"The Puritan View of Post-Millennialism" examines the historical roots of modern American Dominionism, and deals a devastating blow to modern Reconstructionism by conclusively linking key historical Reformed leaders to the Hermeticists and their esoteric doctrines.

"The Transhumanist Vision of a Transformed World" is a shocking report on the current efforts to blend science with spirituality for the purpose of creating a literal technological "New Breed" of man. The eschatological implications are staggering.

  • Jewel Grewe of Discernment Ministries reports on the New Breed movement in evangelical circles.

"The New Breed" is a doctrine that has gained prominence in the past several years in the New Apostolic Reformation. But it is also an old Latter Rain heresy. Jewel Grewe gives an eye-opening report on just how widespread this horrendous heresy has become, and how it is actually being applied to young people in the church today.

  • Sarah Leslie of the Discernment Research Group, provides a synopsis of the conference:
Describing her firsthand encounters with Dominion theology in political circles during the 1980s during the rise of the Christian Right when she was a right to life leader, Sarah Leslie explains the serious ramifications of holding to a Dominionist worldview, and explains the dialectic process going on between Right and Left Dominionists.

ALSO AVAILABLE: Pastor Larry DeBruyn has graciously permitted us to distribute Dr. Martin Erdmann's excellent "Expository Sermon on Romans 1:1-4," preached at the Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Sunday AM, October 12th.

CDs $5.00 each. Phone 765-583-4799. After November 1st call 903-567-6423. Credit cards accepted. Discernment Ministries, PO Box 2535, W. Lafayette, IN 47996.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Encountering Voices in the Silence of Contemplative Prayer

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Through practicing the discipline of solitude and silence, contemplative spiritualists hope to hear God personally speak to them. As one nationally known personality stated on the Be Still DVD, “intimacy automatically breeds revelation.”[1] But if a voice speaks, there is some question regarding its identity. Therefore, in the video’s same segment, “Fear of Silence,” Richard Foster offers advice about how to discern who might communicate in the stillness. He said,

Learning to distinguish the voice of God . . . from just human voices within us . . . comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference.[2]

Though there could be others, Richard Foster admits to a cacophony of possible voices that might speak: first, human voices from within and without (A source that could involve hearing oneself speak, in which case, contemplators would be listening to themselves.); second, Satan’s voice; and third, God’s voice.

In order to determine whose voice might be speaking, Foster provides criteria. If the voice is positive and reaffirming, then the voice is God’s. If however, the voice is that of a bully who “pushes and condemns,” then the voice must be that of Satan. To discern whether or not the voice is human, Foster offers no advice.

If the voice is human, one is left wondering, why go into a meditative trance to hear yourself, or another human, speak? After all, in the normal concourse of life people talk to themselves, and listen to others, all the time, unless contemplators feel so isolated and alone, or unless, in accord with the eastern monistic worldview, meditators believe they are gods so that when they hear their voice, they are listening to god!

Yet Foster is also of the opinion that the voice could be God’s. He errs, however, by asserting that the divine voice invariably “draws and encourages.” Scripture does not record that God exclusively spoke in that manner. Yes, God speaks positively. To disobedient Israel He said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). But God also speaks negatively. Speaking for God, the prophets of Israel called the sinful nation to repentance as they warned the people of coming wrath and judgment. Of the prophets who droned on and on with their “encouraging” message, even in the face of Israel’s utter moral and spiritual collapse, the Lord said,

The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds (Jeremiah 14:14).

In light of God’s manner of speaking through the prophets, can biblical Christians categorically dismiss all negative messages as originating from Satan?

Assuming that God speaks Soul to soul today, what if Foster’s paradigm for determining “the voice” was reversed, that the negative voice is God’s, and the positive is Satan’s? It happened that way. God warned Adam and Eve that for disobedience to His command, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But Satan reassuringly told Adam and Eve, “You surely shall not die!” (Genesis 3:4). The point is—when engaging meditative spirituality, the contemplator can never be certain who will speak, and consequently, the experience can become the spawning ground for myriads of flashy ideas based solely upon, “he heard this,” or, “she heard that.” At this juncture, Christians, and the church, will have turned aside “to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4).

We live in the age of the Holy Spirit and His spiritual communication and communion with the soul of the believer. But the Spirit’s communication is not always pleasant. Of the Holy Spirit’s communication Jesus predicted, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Even the Comforter does not always comfort. Sometimes He convicts, and conviction of soul is not pleasant to experience. It upsets. None of us likes criticism. We do not like to be told we are wrong. Yet without the voice of the Spirit’s conviction, we would continue in sin, pursue unrighteousness, and deny we are accountable to God for our behavior. So when, for legitimate reasons, the Spirit’s conviction comes over them, will Christians be so deluded by the positivity and feel-good mindset that saturates today’s evangelical church that they will ignore the Spirit’s conviction, or worse, that they will assign godly conviction to be the bullying voice of Satan?

Criticism is never pleasant, especially if it’s warranted. Instinctively, we become defensive. Nevertheless, not only is the Holy Spirit the believers’ Comforter, He is also their critic. As we might indulge the fleshly inclinations of our hearts, the Spirit brings feelings of guilt to bear down upon us. He calls us to repent of sin, and return to God’s righteousness. Again, should believers rightfully assign all guilt feelings to Satan? If the message of the plethora of positivity preachers who dominate evangelicalism is to be believed, then the answer would be, “Yes.” Negativity is of Satan. But if the Bible’s standard of spirituality is to be believed, the answer is “No,” for one mark of spirituality in the Bible is a person’s sensitivity to sin (See Genesis 18:27; Job 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8; Romans 7:14-25; etc.).

In his classic work on the subject of holiness, German theologian Adolf Köberle countered the significance of the negative criteria Foster mentions. He wrote:

The clear-cut difference between mystical piety and that of the Bible can be seen most clearly in the attitude towards prayer. All mystical prayer . . . becomes a blissful absorption into divinity, where personal consciousness ceases, like the impassible, dreamy rest of Nirvana. The experience of all Biblical suppliants stands in direct contrast to this beatific transcendence. When anyone has really encountered God Himself and not merely a higher ego or an imaginary, fantastic portrayal of God, he is roused from dreaming to watchfulness, from an impure approach to a terrified retreat, from the familiar confidence of bombastic prayers to words that express a real feeling of awe towards the One Who is so far above the suppliant himself.[3]

Köberle then cites Isaiah’s response to his beatific communion with the Lord when he exclaimed,

Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:5).

Can Isaiah’s beatific experience accurately be described as one of being drawn to and encouraged by the Lord? If not, then to use Foster’s expression, was Isaiah being “bullied” by Satan?

That contemplative spiritualists engage in practices that, by their own admission, expose them to the influence of Satan’s voice is troubling. Scripture admonishes believers, “Neither give place [Or, opportunity] to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). But in his advocacy of contemplative prayer, Richard Foster admits that Satan may seize the silence as an occasion to speak. He writes,

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance . . . there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way![4]

Question: In light of Scripture’s admonition to “resist the devil” (James 4:7), why should Christians flirt with a spiritual practice that might expose them to hear Satan, or a demon, speak? The Apostle Paul warned,

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God (Colossians 2:18-19).

One of the marks of spiritual defrauders is that they take their “stand on visions they have seen.” Is it not a legitimate inference from, and application of, Paul’s words to think that such defrauders might also take their stand upon voices they have heard?

The Truth:

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)

[1] Michelle McKinney Hammond, “Fear of Silence,” Be Still (DVD © 2006 Twentieth Fox Home Entertainment LLC).
[2] Ibid., Richard Foster.
[3] Italics mine, Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness, John C. Mattes, Translator (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938) 35-36.
[4] Richard J. Foster, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992) 157. In a bibliographical note regarding Foster’s initial work, Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), philosopher Arthur Johnson stated, “In an attempt to provide advice on living the Christian life, Foster promotes a very mystical view of Christianity.” Johnson concludes that, “Much of what the Protestant Reformers opposed is promoted by Foster.” See Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988) 153.

Reprinted with permission. Altered slightly for blog use.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Strange Case of Simon Magus

Samaria was a religious ghetto that devout Jews tried to avoid (John 4:4). Half-breeds, part Jew and part Gentile, lived in the province north of Judah. Ostracized by the Jerusalem community, the Samaritans built their own worship center, and held as their sacred writings the first five Old Testament books known as the Torah. Yet, the risen Lord Jesus Christ announced that one day the Gospel would be preached in that province (Acts 1:8).

After persecution arose, persecution orchestrated by the as yet unconverted Apostle Paul, and forced the Christians to leave the comfort zone of Jerusalem, God used Philip, an ordained layman, to preach the Gospel in Samaria. During Philip's ministry in a Samaritan city, a power encounter occurred between the evangelist and a former practitioner of the occult arts named Simon the Great, who, in previous years, had duped Samaritans into believing that he possessed "the Great Power of God" (Acts 8:10). But the "great" met a greater. Simon's feigned power paled in comparison to that of Philip who, in the power of God, performed extraordinary exorcisms and healings among the Samaritans. Simon was impressed--so much so that, along with many others, he apparently believed "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ." He was even "baptized" into Samaria's First Baptist Church!

Amidst this overwhelming response to the Gospel in Samaria, and fearing that the long-standing ethnic and religious schism between Jews and Samaritans would transfer into the life of the church, the Jerusalem apostles promptly dispatched Peter and John to the scene. Upon arrival, they gave apostolic sanction to the work of God in Samaria thereby uniting it with what God had done in Jerusalem. In that sanctioning, Peter and John first prayed for the Samaritans, that they would experience Pentecost like they had in Jerusalem, and then "laying their hands on them," the new Samaritan converts began "receiving the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17).

In the midst of all this however, all was not well in Simon's heart. He coveted, and therefore attempted to buy, the authority and power of the apostles, power and authority that was not theirs to give. To Peter he made a request: "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:20).

To this Peter responded, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" (Acts 8:20-23).

Amidst all of God's spiritual blessing, and Simon's attempt to buy into it, the question arises: was Simon a true or a false believer? Did he really know Christ? In the words of Jesus' parable, was Simon wheat, or a tare?

Regarding the controversy of the supposed genuineness of his conversion, no real consensus can perhaps be reached. Good and sincere Bible students and theologians fall on both sides of the issue. After all, Simon believed, and additionally, was baptized. But how could Peter have said to one who was a true believer, "To hell with you and your money!" (Acts 8:20, Phillips). As such, the example of Simon Magus plays into the current debate over Lordship salvation. Yes, he believed. He was even baptized. But was he really saved? Allow me to share why I do not think that Simon was a true believer.

First, as a bystander, Simon witnessed the divine conference of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans through the apostolic laying on of hands, though he himself apparently stood outside the loop. In the narrative, Luke contrasts the recipients of the Spirit (verses 14, 15, 16, 17) with Simon. The wording suggests that Simon was an onlooker and not a participant. This may further be indicated by Peter's address to Simon, "You have no part or portion in this matter . . ." (Acts 8:21). Simon had no right to receive the Holy Spirit. In another context, the Apostle Paul wrote that, "[I]f anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Romans 8:9b). If then Simon did not, in concert with the rest of the Samaritans, receive the Holy Spirit, then we can assume that in spite of what he might have believed about the message and the miracle-working ministry of Philip, he remained unregenerate. And failing a new birth that can only come from heaven, he was lost (John 3:5).

Simon's attempt to purchase apostolic power and authority insulted the sovereign grace of God. A common practice of ancient pagan religions was to sell and auction-off priesthoods, and perhaps in such a mode, Simon was trying to purchase the position and the magical tricks of Philip. Maybe he had bargained with others before to obtain the secret arts of the occult. To Simon, Christianity involved position and power for purchase, and not a Person to worship. In other words, Simon believed the notion that he could purchase "supernatural powers to promote himself."

The case of Simon Magus serves to remind us that, though it promises people forgiveness for their sins, the Gospel does not offer naked power for the control and manipulation of others. Neither does it promise health, wealth, or a "wonderful plan for our life." The Cross provides solely for the remission of our sins.

In experiencing true conversion, motive means everything, and Simon's motives were not right. Like him, people attend and join churches today for all kinds of selfish and fleshly motives. Churches exist to serve and entertain them. The case of Simon Magus begs the question all of us ought to ask ourselves: what are our motives?

As he did with Ananias and Sapphira, and in accord with his innate prophetic gift, Peter examined the spiritual secrets of Simon's heart and said to him, "[Y]our heart is not right before God" (Acts 8:21b). Further, Peter said to him, "I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity" (Acts 8:23). Such language indicates the continuing state of Simon's idolatry and slavery to sin. The Gospel had not liberated Simon.

To indict Simon for reason of his bondage in sin, Peter goes to the Law and draws upon a passage where Moses compared Israel's idolatry to be like "a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood" (Deuteronomy 29:18). Note also in the Deuteronomy context (verse 19) that all the while their hearts are committed to the vanities, the idolaters of Israel make pretense of being on God's side, of being at "peace" with Him! Moses envisioned the existence of boastful persons within Israel whose hearts would remain idolatrous ("the root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood"), and whose living would remain ungodly ("though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart"; Deuteronomy 29:19). In his denunciation of Simon, Peter applies Moses' profile of an unbelieving idolater to Simon.

After his stinging rebuke of Simon's attempt to buy into the apostolate, Peter calls upon Simon to "repent of this wickedness . . . and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you" (Acts 8:22). It becomes a point of note that in the Deuteronomy passage that Peter uses to indict Simon, the Lord would never forgive such sin as Simon was involved in (Deuteronomy 29:20). Likely, that is why Peter introduces Simon's forgiveness as only a possibility.

In response to Peter's call for him to repent, Simon then says, "Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me" (Acts 8:24). Simon's comeback indicates that he believed Peter could serve a priest-like function for him. Yet, it was not within the domain of Peter to forgive sins or make intercessory prayer for that. Let that warn us about accepting any sort of sacramental approach to God. Salvation cannot be by human device.

Trying to get on the apostolic bandwagon, Simon Magus was, I believe, a religious conformist. Like so many today, he went with the latest religious fad and wanted the religion of the apostles to serve his agenda. To that end he desired to buy from Peter influence that was not for sale. In the end however, Simon could not muster himself to ask God's forgiveness for it all.

Simon the Baptist was not saved.


"In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." (Ephesians 1:7)

This article was written by Pastor Larry DeBruyn. Used with permission and altered slightly to fit blog usage. The original article is posted HERE. Link added.