Recovering from Spiritual Abuse and Discussion about The Shack

Spiritual Abuse, The Shack, Paul Young, Brenda Campbell, Spiritual Recovery

I’m happy to share a post from my friend, Brenda Campbell. Brenda is also a long-time friend here at SSB, and she has a tremendous heart for those who have been harmed and also those who are stuck spiritually. She has gone on her own journey, and like many of us, has explored ways of making Jesus alive again after being let down by leaders in the church. In Brenda’s post below, she shares how Paul Young’s The Shack helped her spiritually. In full disclosure, although I own the book, I have never read it entirely, only skimmed it with the intention of reading it.

You can be sure I have read and heard lots of criticisms about the book – that it is not doctrinally sound, that Paul Young is New Age, etc. There are a lot of spiritual bandwagons in Christendom. I don’t like to get drawn up into hype – either pro or con. But what I like to do (when I have the time) is to take a closer look. I like to read the original source, and then opinions from both sides, and see how it lines up scripturally. I then decide which complaints or criticisms have merit. In other words, I try not to be quick to come to conclusions, but evaluate based on my foundational beliefs, what I see in Scripture, etc. I take what passes my test, and throw out the rest.

This post is not a promotion of The Shack per se. I cannot promote it if I haven’t read it. But I can invite you to read Brenda’s words. She found the book helpful for her in her spiritual journey and thought it might benefit others who have been harmed by people in the church.  So, as with everything, read Brenda’s words, read the book, and see what you think. Is it really heretical as some claim, or is there something worthwhile, or even life-changing for you as you learn to look at God through different lenses? Let me know what you think!  ~Julie Anne

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Screenshot from Facebook

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse and Discussion about The Shack

Brenda Campbell

A survivor of abuse, based on parenting techniques derived from Bill Gothard’s principles, recently shared the graphic, enduring and heartbreaking toll that abuse has taken on his life. Aside from the emotional and physical repercussions, the spiritual damage seems insurmountable, as it is for many survivors. How does one trust a god who condones and even encourages such horrendous behavior? Why would we even want to hope that such a god exists? We struggle to believe that this god could possibly love and frankly, we are not sure that we even want him to. After all, he sanctioned, condoned or appointed our abuse!

Spiritual Sounding Board has become a safe place for survivors to gather to share support, insight and yes, outrage. Julie Anne has become a modern-day Joan of Arc, fighting on behalf of those who are wounded and marginalized by religious systems that dare to justify their behavior as god’s will. She continues to expose what is sometimes hidden and to call out groups and leaders who continue to abuse in god’s name. Because of her influence and tenacity, SSB is a haven as well as an advocacy group.

What has been noticeably absent from the recent discussions, however, is the work of an abuse survivor who was raised in the highlands of New Guinea. The son of an angry father who did not have the “parenting gene,” he was sexually molested by members of the tribe his parents were ministering to and then later at an MK Boarding School.* He grew up disconnected from god, from himself and from others and his enduring wounds often caused him to wound others, even though he was in ministry. He states that he knew how to hide knives in words and he did it frequently.

His life, ministry and almost his marriage came to a screeching halt in one 24-hour period due to the hurtful choices he had made. The crisis proved to be a turning point and he committed to tell the truth about his past and to deal with the pain, addictions and alienation that abuse had created. At the end of an 11-year period of healing and reconciliation, he wrote a little book for his children, at his wife’s request. His purpose was to communicate the things he had learned about God during his recovery. He never anticipated that it would be published, be on the New York Times best-seller list, or become a major-motion film.

While many in religious circles dismiss Paul Young’s work and have worked tirelessly to discredit and disparage him, he offers a refreshing and much-needed view of the God who loves and yearns for connection with us. He has written two additional novels that continue to challenge the conservative evangelical view of God and the place of women in the home and church (see his novel, Eve). Lies We Believe About God is his first non-fiction work and it “exposes 28 commonly uttered things we say about God as lies that keep us from having a full, loving relationship with our Creator.” [http://wmpaulyoung.com/lies-we- believe-about- god/] More recently he is featured on TBN in a series titled “Restoring the Shack.” It is worth checking out even if you have a hard time tuning into Christian television!

For those of us impacted by spiritual abuse who are rightfully wary of the god who abuses, Paul’s work is critical. As an individual who has struggled with the fallout of spiritual, physical, emotional and sexual abuse within a religious context, he understands the depth of pain that we experience and offers a fresh but thoroughly Biblical view of Papa God. He is not a God who is absent, judgmental or just waiting for a reason to punish us. He does not have a low view of humanity but rather joins us right where we are. He created us for relationship with him and with each other. Abuse destroys that essential connection and healing Source on every possible level. Sexual abuse has been rightfully named a “Soul-killer” and when it occurs within a religious context, the impact is far greater than one can imagine.

Through his novels and now his non-fiction work, Paul challenges beliefs we have been taught as absolute sound theological doctrine. In order for abuse to flourish within religious contexts, untruths about God and what he requires are a pre-requisite. Exposing those teachings as false may help create safer environments where abuse is not tolerated but more importantly may help those of us so deeply impacted begin to heal and reconnect with God. The beliefs he challenges include:

1. God loves us, but doesn’t like us.

2. God is good. I am not.

3. God is in control.

4. God does not submit.

5. God is a Christian.

6. God wants to use me.

7. God is more he than she.

8. God wants to be a priority.

9. God is a magician.

10. God is a prude.

11. God blesses my politics.

12. God created (my) religion.

13. You need to get saved.

14. God doesn’t care about what I’m passionate about.

15. Hell is separation from God.

16. God is not good.

17. The cross was God’s idea.

18. That was just a coincidence.

19. God requires child sacrifice.

20. God is a divine Santa Claus.

21. Death is more powerful than God.

22. God is not involved in my suffering.

23. You will never find God in a box.

24. Not everyone is a child of God.

25. God is disappointed in me.

26. God loves me for my potential.

27. Sin separates us from God.

28. God is One alone.

Many avoid taking a look at Paul’s work out of fear of being led astray or of heresy. And we are not alone—his own mother initially labeled him a heretic! The voices and warnings of many theologians ring in our ears. It is critical to remember, however, that doctrine is based on interpretation of Biblical passages and interpretation is never without bias. Young’s views are not derived from his ideas alone but on all of the Scriptures in their original language rather than the traditional translations. Doctrine should be faithful to the big picture that the Bible presents—the narrative it provides that tells us who God is and what He desires from humanity. Young’s views are derived from the big picture rather than simply exegesis of a specific passage. He is a student of Church history and writes about how our view of God has changed rather dramatically in the last century.

I’ve been grappling with Young’s ideas for seven years or more. I have read and re-read some of his work, have studied the issues myself, have watched numerous YouTube videos of his teaching and have come to the conclusion that he is sound and that his view of God is accurate. This has changed how I view myself, my relationship with PapaGod and most importantly, how I view and interact with others. As an abuse survivor, reconnecting with the Source of healing and love is critical. I challenge SSB readers to go check it out for yourselves. Grapple with his ideas, wrestle with them and see what happens. The most horrendous outcome of abuse that occurs within a religious context is disconnection from God. Paul’s work offers a refreshing and much needed way back.

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24 thoughts on “Recovering from Spiritual Abuse and Discussion about The Shack”

  1. “He is not a God who is absent, judgmental or just waiting for a reason to punish us.”

    So true, and so opposed to how I was raised and churched. I think my parents prided themselves in character building by setting us up to fail and then being right there to punish us for that failure. I think when God allows us to fail it’s because he wants us to run to him to pick us up.


  2. Hi Mark,
    It is unfortunate that parents, though maybe with good intentions, taught us such untruths about PapaGod. As a Nana of two amazing little girls, I cannot imagine ever feeling about them the way I was taught god feels about me. If we can love our own children and grandchildren with such an all-encompassing love, how dare we believe that God could love us any less?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda, I so appreciate your comments on “The Shack”. The book was so good for me. Growing up in a legalistic home, I’ve had much to learn about PapaGod. May God bless you. Regina (Wahama ’75)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for this. It’s such a breath of fresh air for so many of us. Compared to some of the versions of God we’ve been introduced to through Christendom down through centuries, this loving God seems too good to be true. But I was surprised to find that this view of God is the mainstream historic Christian confession from the early church fathers. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us.

    Another great resource that has helped me in learning more about the Trinitarian theology behind The Shack is Dr. C. Baxter Kruger and his website is http://www.perichoresis.org. It’s kind of rocked my world (in a good way).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I saw Paul Young speak at The Forgotten Gospel Conference last summer (Denver). He is the real deal. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him. His writings are challenging the religious sacred cows that conservative evangelicals have constructed. That is why he is called a heretic. I find most, if not all, of his points are based on a good study of biblical and early Christian history. (I am actually probably more progressive than he is). My take is that modern Christianity has gotten its history wrong, and Young hits on a lot of these falsehoods (many of them in the list here). Also, when we read material outside what our churches or evangelical tradition has taught, it’s okay to accept some points and reject others. That’s what thinking for yourself is. The evangelical tradition is so paranoid of thinking outside the box that people are afraid to rethink doctrine or beliefs. We are free to explore claims of truth and follow where the historical/biblical evidence leads. It’s not dangerous to “stay outside The Shack” as some have said. It’s dangerous to play the fear mongerer and not encourage people to think for themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. By the way, Paul Young is a survivor of sexual abuse and has an amazing story of recovery that he hasn’t written about to my knowledge… only shared when speaking.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. That’s just it – take the information that lines up doctrinally for you, and leave behind what doesn’t. We should always be doing this. I don’t recall lining up with any pastor 100%. We need to use our critical thinking skills, our own discernment, listen to the Holy Spirit, back up with scripture. If Paul’s message helps those who are struggling with the image of God, then Brenda’s post has done what we had hoped.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. mw,
    I’ve looked over your article briefly and it definitely is worthy of a more thorough review (I’m traveling today). Thanks for your work and for your openness.


    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good, Muff. I really do encourage people to investigate. We don’t “push” things here except exposing abuse. That’s not a debatable topic for me as you know.

    Coincidentally, The Gospel Coalition has put out an article just today on Paul Young which you can find here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-lies-we-believe-god-william-paul-young

    I’m very interested to hear especially from survivors how Paul’s books affected you. Did it help in your walk with the Lord? Did you find him off theologically? Were there parts of his teachings that resonated with you?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved the book, loved the movie. To those who object saying that God is not an overweight black woman, I say of course not, and neither is God a burning bush, a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire, nor–my personal favorite–a smoking firepot with a torch!

    And as for the accusation of universalism, I didn’t see that at all. In the book God does say that by the work of the cross he reconciled the world to himself, and then goes on to say that people must in turn reconcile themselves to him. God did his part, we now have to respond and do ours. Jesus also said, in the book, that no, all roads do NOT lead to him, most roads don’t lead anywhere at all, but he will travel down any road to find his lost sheep.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It is astounding to me that Paul’s works have been summarily dismissed from folks like those in the Gospel Coalition but not surprising. C. S. Lewis and George McDonald are revered writers who utilized metaphor to describe God, something that Scripture does frequently as well and that the GC article refers to.

    In skimming over the GC’s article on Young’s work, I am struck by their concern that Young has deviated from “mainstream” or “orthodox” Christian thinking. And yet, the view of God espoused by GC folk and others within conservative evangelical churches is completely different from the Early Church view of God. Who defines orthodoxy or mainstream? And which group has deviated from that view?

    When you look at what view of God creates an environment where abuse can be maintained, it is not the view that Young and other theologians like him present. The view of God that is embraced by GC folk–that “majestic unfettered King” view–is based on hierarchy, a prerequisite for abuse to prosper.

    But a theology of abundant, gracious, other-centered, self-giving Love creates an environment where abuse is not tolerated and each person is loved and valued for who they are–a CHILD of God. The ideas that some are in and some are not, that some are elected and others are not or that some are rewarded and some are punished is antithetical to the love of a parent for his/her CHILD. If we get that as somewhat healthy parents, how can we imagine that God’s love is anything less?

    The fruit of these two disparaging views of God are testament enough.

    I chose love.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Julie Anne asked; “I’m very interested to hear especially from survivors how Paul’s books affected you. Did it help in your walk with the Lord? Did you find him off theologically? Were there parts of his teachings that resonated with you?”

    I almost responded yesterday, then thought who wants to listen to my long winded experience. Today, I am jacked up on caffeine and ready to stick my big toe in this discussion. For those with short attention spans, my apologies.

    I think I shared here way back in the day about my conversion experience. I was 28 years old & I was in a prison of pain, (I had the mother of all hangovers) when I knelt in my living room & asked if anyone/God was out there to help me. A few days later I was enveloped in a loving presence, I concluded it had to be Jesus. I will not try to put to words how that impacted me, other than to say, this Presence knew me through & through & loved me in spite of all my sick secrets, shame and failures.

    So began my hunt for Jesus in churches, starting with Assembly of God & many other denominations only to land in a place where the pastor was mentored by John MacArthur.

    Some of you reading this will not be surprised that I found judgement, control, and spiritual abuse. Along with hearing that I wasn’t godly material because I had too many questions, suffered from anxiety, and wasn’t experiencing a peace that passeth all understanding, blah, blah, blah…

    After fourteen years of being told that I wasn’t submitting myself to the authority of the scriptures, or those in leadership, along with I must have some secret sin, or I wasn’t in the word enough, not praying adequately, you know the drill. I had a huge blow out with my pastor, who insisted that all victims thank God for CSA. I walked away from it all. I was a none.

    A few years later, I was once again headed up north to our cottage, our TV & internet was still on a seasonal hold so I needed a book. It was pouring outside, after I was inside of book store, I realized I left my damn readers in the car. I could read the titles but not the small print on back of book. I saw “The Shack” and was drawn to the cover, being a lover of murder mystery’s, I assumed I was buying a crime novel. (Had I read the small print & realized it was a book about God I wouldn’t have bought it.)

    The Shack brought back my memory of how much the Presence I experienced loved me & others, and how no-one can fathom His understanding and our ways are not hidden from Him. Isaiah 40

    I wept as I finished the book and thought if only Jesus was that good.

    The Shack melted a little ice around my heart. It was one of many pinpricks of light in my long, slow “dark night of the soul” till I found blogs that helped me understand that I wasn’t backslidden, alone or bitter, I was wounded.

    I am a done now, and I love Jesus. Life is my cathedral to connect with people who wouldn’t step inside of a church, but are open to listening to my story. LOL, I have been nickname affectionally Rev by my lake friends, who have only heard about the church and her wicked oppression through history.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Dear GM,

    I am so sorry for the abuse that you experienced at the hand of organized religion but so grateful for that Loving Presence who enveloped you when you were 28. And, I’m am glad that you left your damn readers in the car and walked out with The Shack! I have come to firmly believe that Jesus is just that good and then some. His love is beyond anything we can imagine and certainly not the judgmental, gotcha-kind of love we were taught by the church.

    Rev, keep preachin!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I’m sorry, but it’s really sad for me to read an article like the GC one linked above, and it starts with his title using a little “g” for God. I can only hope that folk will investigate for themselves and not let his opinions stand in the way.

    Tim Challies put out a blog post a few weeks past, which is similar to this one.


    Tim Challies has declined an invitation to dialogue with Paul. I wonder if Gavin Ortlund would decline as well.

    The following article was written as a response to the Tim Challies post but it would work just as well as a response to the GC article.


    I think this gives “the other side” of the discussion. It explains why I think Paul’s theology has not been accurately represented.


    Love your story. My husband has a similar story. He wasn’t raised in the “church”, but during a time of crisis he had an experience that changed him forever. It was deeply personal and planted deep the realization how much he is loved and known by Jesus. He shares freely with so many the love that Jesus has for them and it comes from a security of His love.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Julie Anne: How can I get in touch with you through private email? I would like to communicate with you about my spiritual abuse. I look forward to hearing from you!


  16. If I remember correctly, Jesus didn’t fulfill the legalists’ expectations of Him, either – and He was killed for it. Reading “The Shack” helped me to realize that I too had in many ways put God in my own little box. I greatly appreciate how William Paul Young compelled me – and countless others like me – to let Him out of the box and see Him for the majestic and merciful God that He is.

    Thanks for sharing this here.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Brenda wrote:
    And yet, the view of God espoused by GC folk and others within conservative evangelical churches is completely different from the Early Church view of God. Who defines orthodoxy or mainstream? And which group has deviated from that view?

    I’ve heard this before. It’s almost as if Christianity never got it right until Calvin and Luther arrived on the scene with their iron-clad and air-tight theologies.
    I too am a done, not with Messiah as my only hope, but with the baggage men have piled onto him over the centuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. @MuffPotter:

    I’ve heard this before. It’s almost as if Christianity never got it right until Calvin and Luther arrived on the scene with their iron-clad and air-tight theologies.

    Exactly the same mythic history as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, Branch Davidians, Westboro Baptist (Fred Phelps), and Landmark Baptists. Not sure where the Seventh-day Adventists and Calvary Chapels fit on the spectrum, but I’m sure they’re on it.


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