So I mentioned yesterday that I had called the Breakforth Organization with some concerns with the speaker line-up, particularly William P. Young who is the author of the Shack. I was told that they would get back to me and I am pleased to report that I received an email this morning from Dr. Arlen Salte, who is the Executive Director of Breakforth. Here is the email in the entirety:
Thank you for calling to express your concerns about William Paul Young as a speaker at Break Forth Canada. Please understand that we investigate any main platform speaker at Break Forth Canada to ensure that they are in alignment with orthodox beliefs. This involves essential doctrines of the Trinity, as well as a denouncement of universalism. While we understand that there are some who still have issues with William Paul Young or The Shack, please rest assured that on essential core doctrines there is no wavering from the Apostles Creed.
I am very conservative in my theology and I take a very high view of scripture. Despite the high wire act of walking between so many different denominations (and those from no church background), I insist that anyone teaching a class at Break Forth Canada (aside from some technical classes) can at the very least stand on the Apostles Creed. It is our experience that anyone who bolts to prominence and who speaks in a creative manner will become the object of much controversy, predominantly on the Internet. For some reason, there is a relational disconnect that takes place when people move from the world of flesh and blood to the world of bits and bytes. What someone would never say to a person’s face all of a sudden becomes fodder in blogs and emails. This makes it doubly difficult to separate fact from fiction.
While The Shack has certainly garnered negative reviews, and people are very welcome to express their opinions (as long as it reflects Christian grace), The Shack has a lineup of evangelical luminaries who are very strong proponents. Let’s remember that Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message Bible interpretation and Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. had this to say about The Shack: “When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of “The Shack.” This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” did for his. It’s that good!”
There is little doubt that a man of Eugene Peterson’s status and biblical depth would carefully examine the theology of The Shack prior to agreeing to have his name and bold recommendation placed on millions of book jackets all over the world. Apparently, he believed strongly enough in the Biblical and Theological integrity of the book (wrapped in a story) to take a stand. Perhaps someone who disagrees with The Shack can at least extend the grace to acknowledge that something they perceive to be errant can be used by God to stir a person outside of the walls of the church to consider a relationship with Christ. For example; as much as I have serious theological disagreements with Godspell as it is in its original form, I know that many people have been drawn to a deep faith in the Jesus Christ.
Regardless of a person’s view on The Shack, William Paul Young is only speaking for 45 minutes at two elective classes and not a general assembly. During the time of the elective classes where he is speaking there are 57 other options to choose from. We understood that William Paul Young would be controversial in some circles so we wanted to ensure that there were many other options available to people. Our policy has always been that if a speaker makes significant theological errors at the conference, that they will not be invited back to Break Forth Canada. We have done this several times in the past. We also had many people of deep theological discernment last year in William Paul Young’s classes who we interviewed after Break Forth Canada 2009. We were assured by every single person that there was nothing said by William Paul Young in his elective classes that contained theological error. It is after this careful review took place that he was invited back to speak at 2 elective classes at Break Forth Canada 2010.
Simply put, we’ve done more ‘homework’ on an elective class teacher than most pastors would do before they allowed another person to fill the pulpit on a Sunday morning (which would be similar to having William Paul Young as a keynote speaker at Break Forth Canada, which I state again, he is not).Despite our apparent differences I pray God’s richest on you and your ministry.I also ask that you pray that God would touch the lives of the thousands who come to Break Forth Canada. Every year, many people are brought to faith in Christ, marriages are saved and many are changed for all eternity.
Dr. Arlen Salte; Executive Director
And so there you have it. I found this response to be particularly gracious, though it is a template, as I sent an email from another email address and received the same response. Do I agree with him? Not at all. I certainly understand where he’s coming from, but the reality is that the Shack, while quite bad and which does have major errors and heresies and is particularly troublesome, is not even my main issue. Rather it’s with interviews that he’s done with people, as well as his penchant for Universal Reconciliation. As well, the fact that Eugene Peterson has endorsed it means little to me, as while I do appreciate his theological contributions to other works, I consider the Message Bible to have done much harm to the Christian faith. Not only that, but the fact that he could even compare it to Pilgrims Progress tells me that he either has never read Pilgrims Progress, or has never understood it.
Lastly, it seems to me that these people have not been vetted nearly enough, nor do I think that holding them to the standard of the Apostle’s Creed is particularly helpful, as you can pick your poison of word of faith preachers or other heretics who would gladly hold to that. I think in a case like this that you need to deeply ascertain the theological underpinnings of any speaker, because otherwise you can get into trouble. I do appreciate though, at the very least, that there are some safeguards in place. As I said in an earlier post, I would be very surprised if he said anything sketchy to a crowd this large. I would imagine that he would be on his best behavior, as that sort of things lends credence in the public eye. In any case, I just wanted to pass that along to either put peoples minds at ease about going, or fortify their decision not to go.