Wm. Paul Young: Lies We Believe About God (Part One)

Today I'm beginning a series of blogs about Paul Young's superb book, Lies We Believe About God, his first work of nonfiction. Young, author of The Shack and other novels, is a man after George MacDonald's heart. 

Let me ask you: Do you feel love? Do you feel God loving you? Do you feel love awakening in your heart in response to God?

If you do, what you’re feeling is the awakening! It is the simultaneous miracle of loving while being loved. Remember, you were made for this. How did you lose it? Just like me, you believed lies about God...
— Herb Montgomery, Renewed Heart Ministries, from Finding the Father

The foreword to Lies is by C. Baxter Kruger, author of The Great Dance and Patmos, and one of the best contemporary writers on the Trinity. Kruger and Young are theological blood brothers and the triune nature of God is at the heart of Young's writing as well. This post features some of the highlights from the very helpful and insightful foreword. 

I especially appreciated Kruger's opening words: "Most Christians have a deep desire to be faithful to Scripture..." 1600 years ago, Augustine complained that the many early Church Fathers who held doctrines different from his own were not being "faithful to Scripture;" rather, they were allowing their own views of what God should be like to influence their understanding of the Old and New Testaments. It's an argument we hear often today, particularly from Western Reformed theologians, and sometimes it's even true. But it's a strawman argument when used against the best thinkers, whether Origen and Gregory of Nyssa in the early days of the church, or Baxter Kruger and Paul Young today. Are differences of interpretation on controversial issues due only to an obstinate desire to fashion God in our own image, even in the face of what is plainly set forth in Scripture? Nonsense! One of the breakthroughs in my own thinking was the realization that one can proof-text one's way to several different and entirely contradictory understandings of key doctrines, such as penal substitution, the atonement, the meaning of salvation, and the final fate of the wicked. The best arguments for any understanding of Scripture go far beyond trotting out one or two dozen verses, no matter how compellingly they might appear to support one's position. 

"The fact is," writes Kruger, "we all bring our family prejudices, our personal histories, and our habits of thought into our reading of the Scriptures. Just as we cannot hear our own accents, we cannot readily see our own assumptions--assumptions that shape what we see and how we see it. Not least this applies to what we "see" in the plain teaching of the Bible." He then makes a point that has become central in my own thinking: "the metanarrative of the Bible's story...guides our interpretation of the details...when our understandings of the larger story of the Bible differ, then our beliefs about the details differ, too, and we 'see' things differently."

So, this naturally lead Kruger to consider how Young views the larger story of the Bible.

"Paul and I agree that the New Testament explodes in the joyous conviction that Jesus Christ is the Lord God in Person. He laid down His life for the forgiveness of sin and to defeat the powers of death that enslaved humanity...The apostles, John and Paul in particular, realized the staggering implications of Jesus's very identity as the Son of God incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended. Apostle Paul envisions Jesus as being with the Father before creation as the One in and through whom humanity is created and given the gift of grace (2 Timothy 1:9), and as the One in and through whom the Father chose us and predestined us to adoption before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5)..."

"...The implications...are mind-boggling. If Jesus is one being with God and one being with us, then His very identity as fully divine and fully human speaks volumes about the relationship between God and humanity and about everything else in the universe. Was this union of the divine and human simply Jesus's plan B, a halftime adjustment, quickly thought up and implemented after the "surprise" of Adam's debacle; or are we here standing before plan A, the original and only divine plan? How seriously are we to take the absolute oneness between Jesus and His Father, and His absolute oneness with us as broken sinners? Are we not here in Jesus Himself standing before the greatest news in the universe?" 

"...From my perspective, working out the implications of Jesus' s identity as the eternal Son of God united with humanity in our sin is the task of truly Christian theology. Here we find the metanarrative, the larger story from eternity that informs and re-forms our vision of God, of humanity and creation."

"...[I]s Jesus, as the Father's Son and anointed One and Creator and Sustainer of all things, and thus us all in Him--is He not the light that enlightens the darkness of our minds? After years or wrestling with the teaching of the apostles and with the writings of the leaders of the early Church, I can give you my thesis. It is not perfect, but it is honest, and I think it will help you understand where Paul Young is coming from. Here it is:

"To speak the name of Jesus Christ with the apostles and with the early Church leaders is to say, 'Father's eternal Son,' and it is to say, 'Holy Spirit, anointed One,' and it is to say, 'the Creator and Sustainer of all things--incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended to the Father.' Therefore, to speak the name of Jesus is to say that the Triune God, the human race, and all creation are not separated, but together in relationship. Jesus is Himself the relationship; He is the union between the Triune God and the human race. In Him, heaven and earth, the life of the blessed Trinity and broken human life are united. Jesus is our new creation, our adoption, our inclusion in the divine life, the new covenant relationship between God and humanity, the kingdom of the Triune God on earth."

"You can see in my thesis why Paul and I regard the widespread notion that human beings are separated from God as a fundamental lie, one that denies Jesus's very identify. We are committed to thinking out and communicating the implications of Jesus's identity in every way possible. The "lies" that this book set forward are perceived as lies through the lens of Jesus's identity and what His identity shouts to us about God, about ourselves, about creation, about our destiny, and about our future..."

To read the full foreword and Paul Young's presentation of Lies We Believe About God, buy the book (click on the link below). We'll present excerpts from a number of chapters in the weeks to come. 

Lies We Believe About God
By Wm. Paul Young