Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." John 20:29
Note: Many will say this is fiction and therefore criticisms of Young's theology in this book are off-limits or irrelevant. But Young is a Christian who places God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as central characters in his book, The Shack. Why insert obvious lessons that Mack, the main character, is learning about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit if we are to assume that God in this book is fantasy or fiction? The characters who represent God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit make speeches and give spiritual information and advice. Without this, there would not be a story. The fact this book has been a bestseller renders its views of God even more significant. No book presenting religious themes and characters should be immune from examination and, if necessary, criticism. Any reader is perfectly warranted by the book itself to critique any problematic theological content.
All references to The Shack are from the edition by Windblown Media, Newbury Park, CA, 2007. There are many editions of this book, so page numbers cited in the article may not match all editions.
Would you like to take a trip this weekend and visit Jesus in the flesh? See Him face to face? Sit down and eat with Him? I think most Christians - and maybe even some non-Christians - would jump at the chance to do this while still alive on earth. It sure would make our problems just a little smaller if we could somehow have a couple of days like this with Jesus! Instead, Christians since the time of the resurrection are asked to have faith, to know by faith that Jesus is with us every moment. And he is. But it's often a tough road and our faith tends to spring holes and leaks. Yet, "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).
Mack, Young's main character in The Shack, does not have to develop faith the way the rest of us do. He gets to visit Jesus - and the whole Trinitarian Godhead, in fact. Mack has gone through a horrendous time, having lost his six-year-old daughter, Missy, to a cruel killer. This understandably places him in a state of anguish, anger, and doubt, wondering how God could allow this tragedy. A note mysteriously delivered to Mack's mailbox, signed by "Papa" (Mack's wife's name for God), invites Mack to the shack, the place of Missy's torture and death.
Mack travels to the shack and finds it renovated into a beautiful cottage with three persons in residence: a breezy, cheery African-American woman who likes to cook and who gives her name as Elousia; Jesus, a short Middle-Eastern man always at work in a shed; and an Asian looking woman named Sarayu who is "keeper of the gardens." Mack soon learns that Elousia is Papa -- God the Father -- and Sarayu is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is, of course, Jesus.
Mack is in such agony, that his encounter with God's love over the weekend is startling and transformative. Young depicts this restoration deeply and movingly. No reader can come away from the book without a refreshing reminder of the love and fellowship in the Persons of the Trinity, and how God's love for us is so deep that we cannot fathom it. Mack and the reader get glimpses of the unity of the Trinity - how the Three Persons of the Godhead are never in discord or disharmony. This aspect of the book is invigorating and inspirational (except for God and the Holy Spirit being women). Unfortunately, the uplifting that is experienced by Mack and the reader is overshadowed by grave errors in other areas. In his zealous endeavors to depict God's love, Young falls out of balance and, as a result, undermines other equally essential attributes of God.
It's hard enough as a reader getting used to the woman character being called "Papa" without also reminding one's self that this woman is God the Father (Note: Young uses female pronouns for God and the Holy Spirit; my use of these pronouns in this article reflects Young's choice, not mine). Mack is confused as well, but Papa explains: "If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning" ( 93). Could this "conditioning" possibly be how we are conditioned by God's word to view God as "Father?" Well, yes, it would be. What is wrong with being conditioned by the Bible to regard something the way God presents it? In fact, the word of God is our standard for how we should perceive God, and the nature of God is vitally important to get right. God does not reveal himself willy-nilly in this form or that one, akin to the Hindu gods or the capricious gods of Greek mythology.
Although it is true that God is spirit (yet he appears in this book in human form), God is clearly referred to throughout the Bible as male, and Jesus calls God "Father" numerous times. Jesus is how we are to think of God. Jesus taught, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him" (John 14:7) and "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father" (John 6:46). Jesus is not God the Father but He was the revelation of the Father: "He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:9). Papa is not only going against the biblical view of himself, but also seems to be messing with Mack's(and the reader's) head. If Papa's appearance as a woman is of no consequence, then there is nothing wrong with calling God "mother." The same objection holds true for the Holy Spirit. (Much later in the story, Papa appears for a short time as a male because God feels Mack needs a father figure at that time).
The appearance of God in human form is rare (and some believe such appearances are God the Son) in the Bible for God and nonexistent for the Holy Spirit. Appearances of God in the Old Testament, such as when the Lord visited Abraham in Genesis 17, and when Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, are called Theophanies. In the Old Testament, "every theophany wherein God takes on human form foreshadows the incarnation, both in matters of grace and judgment" (Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, http://bible.crosswalk.com/Dictionaries/BakersEvangelicalDictionary/bed.cgi?number=T690).
Theophanies do not occur after the incarnation of Jesus; therefore, Mack's encounter with God in human form is disturbing, especially since God is appearing as a woman. Some believe that Theophanies in the Old Testament were actually Christophanies, appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ. One commentator explains it this way:
"The Son remained eternally with his Father, eternally the Son of God, but not yet human. This is an important fact to remember because when God appears in the OT in a Theophany, this is the Triune God who is appearing. When God speaks his attributes to Moses, this is not only representative of the Father, but of the Spirit and Son also. While the Theophanies certainly point to the day when the Son would be made flesh, we must remember that this had not yet happened. When the Son did come in human form, all Theophanies ceased forever. God must no longer reveal himself through that means. Christ is the final, complete, perfect revelation of the glory of God" (http://doxoblogy.com/2007/02/27/theophanies/).
In The Shack, not only is God the Father in a female form, but God has the wounds of the cross on his/her body (95, 164)! This is definitely beyond the bounds of the Bible because while Jesus incarnated, God the Father did not. Although the Trinity is a unity in substance, in purpose, and in mind, the whole Trinity did not incarnate. The Bible teaches that it was only Jesus who added humanity to his deity. Thus, when Papa states to Mack "When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human" and "we now became flesh and blood" (99), he is speaking contrary to Scripture. God the Father and the Holy Spirit never became flesh and blood; neither were all three Persons of the Trinity God the Son! The latter view is a heresy known as modalism (God manifesting as three persons but actually being only one person).
These are not minor blunders; misrepresenting the nature of God and the Trinity should not go down smooth as butter. If a Christian like Young desires to communicate information about God, even in an imaginary setting, he has a responsibility to present uncorrupted the foundational truths underlying Christian belief. While there are many disagreements among Christians on secondary and minor points, there are essentials that have been professed by Christians for over 2,000 years, and the nature of God and a biblical view of the Trinity are among these. Many Christians have even given their lives defending these truths. Just because the book is fictional does not excuse a Christian writer for serious inaccuracies on the nature of God.
Mack recalls that in seminary, he had been taught that Christians should
"listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated by and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?" (65, 66)
The implication is that God's voice being "reduced to paper" is somehow insufficient for Christians, although God's word says "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; see also Romans 15:4 and 2 Peter 1:20). Is it not a gift to have God's "voice" on paper? It is not "reduced" this way, but rather preserved. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35), said Jesus.
Young's references to "proper authorities," "intellects," and "controlled by the intelligentsia" make Christianity sound like an elitist cult with tyrannical leaders telling people what to believe. This is a charge common from unbelievers, but rarely from Christians. While there are Christian cults with such traits, this is not biblical, authentic Christianity; nor do any respected Christians hold such errant ideas. Perhaps Young was in a bad church and is painting all of Christianity with his tainted view.
And is God "in a book" the same as God "in a box?" It would seem so from what Young writes. Yet it is God Himself, the author of Scripture, who gave us Scripture! Is Young questioning the authority of Scripture? And who is forcing Christians to buy expensive Bibles? And who is trying to make Christians feel guilty ("guilt edges")? If this were not Young's view, he would counter or correct it, but he does not. His alternative to this distorted presentation of Christianity is the hazy, foggy theology of Young's Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu.
Sarayu, the Holy Spirit in the book who appears as a wraithlike, wispy woman, speaks to Mack about rules, and then tells him "I have a great fondness for uncertainty" (203). This is a real head scratcher since there is no biblical basis for such a statement. Why would the Holy Spirit like uncertainty? Does not God know everything, past, present and future? Not only can God (and this goes for all three Persons of the Godhead) not be uncertain, but there is no basis in God's character that would cause Him to have a penchant for uncertainty. This contradicts the attributes that God has revealed about Himself, such as omniscience and an unchanging nature. Papa states to Mack that "we have put all our eggs in the one human basket [meaning Jesus]. There is no plan B" (192), implying that God was taking a risk, unsure of results. Yet Papa assures Mack he was not taking a risk. So why does Papa use this aphorism?
At another point, Jesus tells Mack that He wants to be at the center of Mack's life "where everything in your life . . . is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being" (207; this gave me another New Age flashback since Eastern teachers talk about the "dance of life;" it also has panentheistic overtones). As soon as Jesus finishes this unusual speech, Sarayu announces to Mack "And I . . . I am the wind" (207). Although the biblical Jesus says that those born "of the Spirit" move like the wind (John 3:8), and angels are referred to as wind, for the Holy Spirit to say she/he is the wind is another matter. It can lead to a misapprehension of the Holy Spirit as a force.
Jesus, in explaining that appearances don't matter because "Being always transcends appearance," remarks to Mack that "God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things - ultimately emerging as the real - and any appearances that mask that reality will fall away" (112). This assertion reminded this writer of Hindu thinking from her New Age days. The Biblical God is omnipresent but He does not dwell in matter! When Mack leaves the cottage later and returns to his regular life, he thinks that this return means "more likely he was back in the un-real world" (237). This statement reinforces the idea that our world is not the "real" world, another New Age belief.
The implication of the claim, "being always transcends appearance," is that reality is not a truthful representation of what exists. This is a very troubling assertion not only to find in a Christian book, but to find it as a declaration given by the Jesus character. After all, God created the world, and it has objective existence. While it is true that appearances can be deceptive, that is not the point of this passage or statement.
The idea that appearances "mask" an ultimate reality is a Hindu and New Age teaching. While it is true that we cannot see the spiritual world in the material world, the material world is real and what we see is not masking another reality. If that were true, then one would have to conclude that appearances are an illusion, a projection of our thoughts, or a mere disguise of true reality. These are all New Age and/or Eastern views.
the phrase that God is "the ground of all being" comes from
philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich
1965). Tillich is regarded by many as being a nontheist, that is, one who does not believe in God as a personal being, but rather is "being" itself -- the source of all that exists. In fact, Tillich said that "god is not a being, but being itself." Others view him as a panentheist, one who believes that all is contained in God although God also transcends all. One writer calls Tillich a "transtheist." Whatever term is used, Tillich's concept of God effectively renders God impersonal, even if Tillich still claims God to be personal. Tillich stated in his Systematic Theology that "God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him"(205).
It is only reasonable to conclude that Young is quoting Tillich when he has Jesus say that God "is the ground of all being" since these are Tillich's words. The next question is whether Young understands the implications of this. He seems to, at least in part, because of the statements that follow this remark. Whether Young fully concurs with Tillich or not is not really relevant here; what does matter is that he quotes Tillich and offers unbiblical views about God and reality. [See Addendum at end of article for additional information on Paul Tillich].
The Jesus character talks in anguish about the misuse of earth to Mack, using the pronouns "her" and "she," as though the earth is a conscious organism (145). Nowhere in Scripture does the earth have this status because, of course, the earth is no such thing, contrary to the claims of many groups. While humanity should not mistreat the earth's resources, The Shack's Jesus speaks of the earth with a bizarre reverence.
Papa talks to Mack about being a parent being fond of his/her children, no matter what mess they are in (119; also see 163). (The indication in several parts of the book is that all are God's children). But Mack is confused; he asks, "What about your wrath?" Papa prevaricates but Mack keeps pushing the question. Finally, Papa replies, "I don't need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It's not my purpose to punish it; it's my joy to cure it" (120).
This sounds more like a psychological assessment rather than the words of a holy God. Papa seems to have forgotten Romans 3:23: "For the wages of sin is death" and is overlooking the numerous passages in both Old and New Testaments about the wrath of God, such as Romans 1: 18, 19: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them;" as well as two statements on God's wrath "on the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6).
If there is no wrath on sin, and God is just indulgently angry with the "mess" his "kids" are in, then what are we saved from when we are redeemed through faith in Christ? God's word tells us that it is God's righteous wrath: "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Romans 5:9). And how is this wrath expressed? It is eternal separation from God (Matthew 25:46; John 5: 28, 29; Revelation 20:15). God's wrath is not arbitrary, inconsistent, or volatile; it is righteous because it is based on his absolute goodness.
Because sin is downplayed in the book, and because God's righteous wrath is missing, the price Jesus paid is also missing. Instead of sin, words such as "brokenness" (161, 191) and "independence" are used (99, 146, 148).
The book talks about how man's desire to be "independent" of God brings on man's problems with God. This choice of words closely resembles Paul Tillich's statement that man's estrangement from God came from man's desire to be independent of God. Is it coincidence that Young so closely repeats Tillich, even using similar words? It is something to wonder about. While there is some truth in the fact that man in his natural state is relying on himself and attempts to act independently of God, the lack of a referral to sin and the sin nature is troubling.
Further clouding the issue of sin and redemption, Papa tells Mack that he (Mack) needs to forgive his daughter's murderer because "for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him" (224). Papa explains that the murderer is also "my son," and that she (Papa) has forgiven "all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship" (224-225). Mack is not sure he can forgive, and trying to persuade him, Papa remarks that "When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established" (225).
While we are told to forgive, God certainly does not need us to forgive others so that God can redeem them! Also, there is no complete forgiveness unless a person trusts Christ through faith. Young makes a distinction between being forgiven and having a relationship with God, but we are forgiven and have a relationship with God when we trust Christ. If one is forgiven, why does one need to trust Christ? For a "relationship?" This is confusing and incorrect.
Jesus tells Mack "I'm not a Christian" (182). While technically Jesus cannot be called a Christian since a Christian is a Christ follower, Jesus further remarks to Mack that those who come to him (Jesus) have backgrounds as Mormons, Buddhists, Baptists, Muslims, that some are "bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians" but, continues Jesus, "I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved" (182). This is a baffling statement at the very least, and erroneous at the worst. How is one "transformed" without becoming a Christian?
The word "Christian" comes from the Bible, which tells us that those who had believed on Christ were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). First Peter 4:16 says "but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name." Christians are to glorify God "in this name." Why is Young's Jesus so negative toward the word "Christian?" This is deeply disconcerting as well as being contrary to scripture.
The repudiation of the word "Christian" implies that one does not need to identify one's self as a "Christian" or maybe does not need to be one. Jesus wants to "join them in their transformation," a phrasing that sounds more like a self-improvement program than redemption from sin. And why is Jesus "joining them" and not the other way around?
Papa informs Mack that he has no expectations of Mack, and that Mack can never disappoint him (206). Has Papa not read the Bible? Or did he/she somehow miss the commands given to believers, such as "Love one another" (John 13:34; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4,9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, and many others); "If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men" (Romans 12:8); "Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8), "Render to all what is due them" (Romans 13: 7), and numerous others. Jesus himself says, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). First John 5:3 tells Christians, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (see also John 14:23, John 15:10; 2 John 1:6).
We cannot earn salvation by keeping any laws or commandments, but there are commandments to believers. In fact, it is hard to find passages in the New Testament that do not contain commandments. Surely if God has given these, He desires us to strive to keep them (through the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit).
As if dealing with a female god named Papa and a female Holy Spirit are not enough, Young introduces another female character. In an extended scene, Mack is confronted by a woman (who does not identify herself) with the fact that he has been judging God. This woman can read Mack's mind (160), and implies that what influenced the man who killed Mack's daughter is "the man who twisted his son into a terror," and that a "legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam" (161). This could be interpreted as putting blame for evil acts on a person's parents or upbringing. However, Ezekiel 18:19-20 states
"'What?' you ask. 'Doesn't the child pay for the parent's sins?' No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent's sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child's sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness."
The Bible is clear that we each are responsible for our own actions, even though we inherit a sin nature.
Jesus tells Mack later that this woman is Sophia, "a personification of Papa's wisdom" (171). Mack replies that he thought Sophia, which means "wisdom" in Greek, was a personification in the book of Proverbs (this is true), and says that Sophia "seemed so real." Jesus responds, "Oh, she's quite real." Jesus then whispers to Mack, "She's part of the mystery surrounding of Sarayu" (171). Jesus first agrees that Sophia is a personification but then contradicts himself and says she is "quite real," implying that Mack encountered a real person.
In truth, not only is Sophia not a real woman, contrary to what Young's Jesus asserts, but we discover in the New Testament that Jesus "became for us the wisdom from God" and is "the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:30, 24).
The presence of Sophia is disturbing on many levels, not just because she is not a real person, but also because in recent years, Sophia has been represented as almost a goddess by some churches, taking precedence over Jesus Christ (from "Sunday with Sophia" by Katherine Kersten). One commentator notes, "The new teachings about Sophia are actually drawn from the apocryphal books of Baruch, Sirach, and Ecclesiasticus. The only place in the entire Old Testament where wisdom is personified is in the early chapters of Proverbs. And these chapters make it clear that the literary device of personification is being used, and that there is no intent to view 'wisdom' as a divine creator god or goddess" (Harold S. Martin, "Paganism at the Re-Imagining Conference in Minneapolis," http://www.brfwitness.org/Articles/1994v29n3.htm).
Despite some emotionally gripping twists and turns in the story, and the insights Mack gains through the tragedy of losing his daughter, the undermining of sin and the distorted, if not outright inaccurate portrayals of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are too pervasive to recommend this book. While the book offers the important message that God is loving and desires to comfort those who are hurting, and that he is with us when we are in the darkest places of the heart and mind, it is just as necessary to know God in all of his aspects, which he has revealed to us in his word. All of God's attributes are always present in perfect balance, but the view of God in this book is a portrait way out of balance.
Undoubtedly, some readers will sense God's love and grace in the book and may benefit from this. However, good results cannot excuse the serious biblical departures though many will undoubtedly defend the book on this basis. Even if unintended or done in ignorance, erosion or distortion of biblical truth is serious and should not be shrugged away. Sadly, we are in a time now when "doctrine" is an undesirable word (despite instructions in the New Testament to hold to sound doctrine), and when those who critique poor or bad theology are cast in a bad light. None of this, however, should dissuade a Christian from evaluating material according to the Bible.
Summary of major problems with The Shack:
Portrays God the Father and the Holy Spirit in human form
Portrays God the Father and the Holy Spirit as female
States that God the Father and the Holy Spirit incarnated as flesh and blood
States that God and the Holy Spirit became God the Son
A demeaning of God's majesty
Undermines sin and the price Christ paid on the cross
Undermines God's righteous wrath and justice
Undermines the Bible, the authority and written word of God
The book's Jesus character rejects the label "Christian" for those he will "join in their transformation"
Sophia presented as a real person with divine powers
Statements reflecting problematic views of Paul Tillich
Implications of inclusivism
I am including this information on Paul Tillich due to the declaration in the book about God being "the ground of all being," and statements regarding man's problem as being "independent of God." In doing this, I am not claiming that Young follows Tillich, but these statements echo Tillich. It is beneficial to know about Tillich because of his influence on many theologians today, including the well-known Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has denied the essentials of the Christian faith and considers Tillich his favorite theologian. Moreover, panentheism (God is contained in creation but also transcends it) is on the rise in the church today, while at the same time, propositional truth is becoming less popular [a proposition is a statement that is either true or false]. Tillich's views are considered by some to be panentheistic, and Tillich rejected God's revelation in the form of propositions.
From John J. Thatamanil, The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament (Kindle Edition: Fortress Press, 2006): Thatamanil claims that Tillich's form of panentheism could be called "transtheistic," because Tillich "transcends theism" and is neither a theist nor an atheist "in any conventional sense" (10). For Tillich, according to Thatamanil, "God is more than personal" (10). Thatamanil also states that "no modern major Christian theologian has received more sustained attention from Eastern thinkers than Tillich. Thus far, he has been particularly attractive to Buddhist thinkers. Tillich's own interests lay in this direction. But Tillich's theology can also find a promising hearing in encounters with Hindu theology" (9). Tillich was apparently influenced by and/or had interest in Zen Buddhism (a footnote on page 10 of his book recommends as a resource on this topic The Formless Self by Joan Stambaugh [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999], pages 55-71). Tillich asserted that "man discovers himself when he discovers God; he discovers something that is identical with himself although it transcends him infinitely, something from which he is estranged, but something from which he never was and never can be separated" (Paul Tillich, "The Two Types of Philosophy in Religion," in Theology of Culture [NY: Oxford University Press, 1959], 10; quoted on 18). Rather than a supernatural God who intervenes in the natural world, Tillich preferred to see God "as the creative ground of being" (19). Thatamanil likens Tillich's concept of God to the nondualism of Hinduism. Tillich believed that although all people are present in God because God is the "ground of being," a person can act independently of God, exercising a freedom that puts distance between them and God and thus bring on estrangement (20-21).
From Stanley J Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Intervarsity Press, 1997): Tillich rejected the idea of God's revelation in words or propositions. Therefore, the Bible is not God's word; rather, revelation is "event and experience that can happen through many different media" (123). For Tillich, according to the authors, the Bible "'participates' in revelation as the document that records the event of final revelation in Jesus the Christ" (123). Jesus became the Christ through his sacrifice; Jesus and "the Christ" were not always one and the same (124, 128). "The Christ" is "not a person but a power of New Being" (124). Tillich's view of God is "a form of panentheism" and Tillich himself used this word (126). Tillich tried to maintain that God is personal while at the same denying that God is a personal being, thus expressing a contradictory theology (126-27). Tillich denied the literal account of Adam and Eve, and, the authors' write, Tillich said that when humans "actualize their freedom," they fall from innocence, becoming estranged from God (127). The historical fact of Jesus' life is irrelevant to Tillich who believed that one can still have faith in the "New Being" without an actual Jesus (128). Most importantly, Tillich denied the deity of Christ, averring that Jesus was human but, say Grenz and Olson, "achieved a union with God that belongs essentially to every human being" (128-29). Tillich also denied the bodily resurrection of Christ (129). According to the authors, Tillich's views were a combination of several contradictory heresies: adoptionism, docetism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism (129).
Tillichs' view of Christ:
"According to Tillich, Christ is the 'New Being,' who rectifies in himself the alienation between essence and existence. Essence fully shows itself within Christ, but Christ is also a finite man . . . . . Thus for Tillich, Christ is not God per se in himself, but Christ is the revelation of God. Whereas traditional Christianity regards Christ as wholly man and wholly God, Tillich believed that Christ was the emblem of the highest goal of man, what God wants men to become. Thus to be a Christian is to make oneself progressively 'Christ-like,' a very possible goal in Tillich's eyes. In other words, Christ is not God in the traditional sense, but reveals the essence inherent in all existence, including mine and your own. Thus Christ is not different from you or me except insofar as he fully reveals God within his own finitude, something you and I can also do in principle" (http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Paul_Tillich).