William Paul Young, the author behind the faith-based bestseller The Shack, later turned into a movie in 2017, has addressed one of the main controversies behind his book, by disputing the Christian mainstream view that those who die without knowing Jesus Christ cannot achieve salvation.
Speaking to Eternity website in Australia, the author was asked what happens to a person who does not know God or does not return to God within the time frame of their life on earth.
"You're putting a 'don't return [to God]' as if death is the final arbiter," Young said.
"Romans itself says that death can't separate you from the love of God [see Romans 8:31-39, in particular]," he argued, insisting that the verse applies to all people, including those who haven't accepted Christ.
"And every time the New Testament talks about the issue of judgment, it talks about crisis — the Greek work for judgment — and it's a crisis. You're going to enter a crisis — and I don't think the story is over; I don't think death is our damnation," he continued.
"I think that Jesus is both our salvation and rightful judge but that judgment is intended for our good, not our harm."
He added that he doesn't believe people's stories are over "just because you die."
"I think there is an ongoing relational confrontation between the One who knows you best and loves you best. Potentially forever and, potentially, you could say 'no' forever. How someone could do that I don't know, but definitely that tension is held in Scripture for sure," he positioned.
Young's interview was focused in part on the docu-drama "The Heart of Man," based on himself and others sharing their personal stories of the Prodigal Son parable. The biblical account is about a wayward son returning to his father.
In the film, which is being released in Australia this month, he opens up about sexual abuse he suffered in the past, and admits to cases where he has abused others.
Young told Eternity that he wants his experiences to serve as a warning against sexual sin, which he explained is a devastating choice.
Going back to the controversies he attracted with The Shack, he defended his depictions of God as a female, as well as a male.
"Imagery was never intended to define God, or God would be a burning bush [Exodus 3:4] or a nursing mother in Isaiah [49:5]. Imagery doesn't define God; it's a window through which we can apprehend some element of God," he positioned, noting that God is referenced as having a "womb" in the gospels of Luke and John, chapters 1 and 3.
The Shack, both the movie and book, prompted significant praise but also criticism from Christian circles, for not only its depiction of God and universalist message but also for its handling of topics such as loss, grief, and the questioning of God.
"In one scene, 'God' was asked about 'that wrath thing,' — the wrath of God, which is seen repeatedly in the Scriptures. Response? 'Sin is its own punishment,'" pointed out Jerry Newcombe, an author and on-air host/senior producer for D. James Kennedy Ministries, in an op-ed for The Christian Post in March 2017.
"Well, sin is its own punishment, but the Bible also makes it clear that God is angry with our sin. If you don't think God hates sin, look at Jesus on the cross. That's what God thinks of our sin," he added.
"The whole point of the movie is dealing with pain and loss. That's noble. But that is precisely where the cross fits in. On the cross, Jesus experienced incredible pain. He went to Hell for us. When we truly take our pain to the foot of the cross, then comes true healing."
As a previous CP story showed, more American Christians are abandoning traditional Bible teaching and what many consider essential to Christianity, including the belief that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
J. Lanier Burns, research professor of theological studies and senior professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, told CP that the growing shift away from traditional Bible-based teaching, which supports a more pluralistic approach to faith, stems from higher education institutions.
"This is the agenda of the universities at the present time because it is felt that maybe it is religion that has generated all the wars and so maybe if we can get rid of exclusive religion we might have greater peace in the world," Burns said.
"We have got to get back to truth but I think it's a very long way back now because I think the force is against us."