Wm. Paul Young is the author of the best-selling novel The Shack, and his new release, Eve: A Novel, is a #1 Amazon best-seller in biographical fiction as of the writing of this review. Unfortunately, its best-seller status means that the bad theology in the book is reaching many readers. While some would protest that this is just a fictional story, even fictional stories can convey theology, and Young’s has not improved since he wrote The Shack. Spoiler alert: this review will discuss major points of the plot.
The story revolves around a girl named Lilly, who arrives badly injured, but who is apparently very important as a Witness to creation. We find out through the story that this means she has visions (or hallucinations) of the process of creation, Adam and Eve in the garden, and their Fall. The possibility is introduced, however, that Lilly might be able to enter the events in the Garden to prevent the Fall of mankind.
Theology of the Trinity
Young’s theology of the Trinity was a major area that reviewers criticized about The Shack. In Eve, he uses the fact that the Hebrew word ruach is feminine to justify referring to the Holy Spirit with feminine pronouns. To use an artifact of Hebrew grammar to overturn the clear teaching of the relational maleness of the Holy Spirit (for whom Scripture uses male pronouns) takes too much liberty. See an analysis of why this is flawed. Another troubling aspect to Young’s attribution of femaleness to God is that he depicts Adam being literally suckled by God as an infant. Young avoids using the biblical names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the Trinity.
While God created both men and women in His image, God always portrays Himself in Scripture as relationally male. This does not demean women (in fact, sometimes women may have an advantage, such as understanding the imagery of the church as the bride of Christ!); rather, it expresses certain truths about God.
Young portrays a God who is loving, but not in control of how events unfold. Rather, God must respond to Adam, Eve, and even Lilly’s choices—a form of open theism. This contradicts Scripture, which presents God as in control and sovereign.
Theology of Creation
In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Young thanks Hugh Ross, Fuz Rana, and Reasons to Believe, who he says “helped me to craft the days of creation in a way respectful to both the text and to science” (p. 301). The story presents a creation that took billions of years, a moon and stars that were created on ‘the first day’ and simply revealed on ‘the fourth day’. We have amply critiqued Ross’s views on creation, to the point of writing a whole book against them. But at least here they are in the proper fictional format!
Unconstrained by six normal-length creation days, Young portrays God as creating Adam as an infant and growing to adulthood alone without Eve. Only when he begins to lose satisfaction in his relationship with God alone does God cause Adam to become pregnant (!) with Eve, who is born and grows up before they are married. Seeing Eve as someone who was only created when Adam began to grow dissatisfied with his relationship with God has troubling theological implications, especially compared to the biblical view that Adam existed for only a short time (part of a day) without Eve, and God intended to create her from the beginning.
Theology of the Fall
Young portrays the Fall as something gradual; a loss of interest or satisfaction in Adam’s relationship with God. Eating the fruit only was the final step of this fall in the story. Young also portrays Eve as repenting, allowing her to stay in Eden with God, while rebellious Adam was cast out. She only leaves Eden because she loves him so much. Eve is actually presented as a guru throughout the book, as a mystical guide and spiritual mother.
Theology of Christ’s bride
Part of the central point of the plot is that there are three pivotal women through history—Eve, to whom the promise of the Seed was given, Mary, the mother of the Seed, and the woman who would marry the Seed. Young’s heavy-handed foreshadowing means that no one is actually surprised when Lilly ends up being the Bride. This is actually a serious theological error, because the Church is presented as the Bride of Christ—no one person will ever be married to Jesus, but the Church collectively will be His Bride.
It is also troubling that Young portrays femininity as ‘special’—it is women who are pivotal throughout history, who are superior spiritual guides, who have the mystical power to bring life into being. Scripture, while presenting a positive view of women as people created in the image of God, does not exalt them to this almost-goddess status; it gives an honest portrayal of their faith and of their sinfulness, their need for a Saviour. And Young’s plot revolving around the pivotal women means that he almost completely neglects the Man that stands at the center of history, Jesus.
Young’s writing style is cloyingly florid; he is overly fond of adjectives and nonsensical analogies. The book would have been stronger stylistically if he had taken out half of these at random. The book jumps between perspectives, and between consciousness and dreaming/hallucination, so often that it leaves the reader disoriented, which may have been deliberate on Young’s part.
Perhaps in an attempt to make Lilly seem more believable as a character, Young has Lilly use mild profanity in several places. It felt needless and contrived.
Eve isn’t good storytelling, and it contains terrible theology. It is saddening that such a trite mess should be a best-seller.
It is always a pleasure to read articles on Creation Daily, especially those written by Lita Cosner. She has a way of presenting a difficult point in the Bible for one who is not trained in languages used in the Bible. Thanks to all who dedicate their lives in contenting for the truth, especially from the first book of the Bible.
Cobus V., Namibia, 6 October 2015
I have not read the book (and never will), but in my opinion the writers of such books have found the magic formula: degrade Christian belief and God's Word to something worldly and sinfull, and you have a best-seller. It proves man's fallen state.
Mark W., China, 6 October 2015
I'm reminded of a Homer Simpson quote, "Sacrilicious!" Why do writers spend their time twisting scripture when they could be helping to explain it through fiction with a solid theology? C.S. Lewis pulled it off, others can too.
Ronald W., United States, 6 October 2015
And I thought 'The Shack' presented bad theology...
Once again Lita Cosner has turned chaos into order with a clear and concise review of a book with themes that I am sure to encounter either at home or in the workplace. Books like this are the reason SOUND DOCTRINE should be the rule of the day among believers everywhere.
Mark G., Canada, 6 October 2015
Thank you Lita, you just saved me a few dollars purchasing another book in which I would find myself groaning every few pages at the poor theology.
Considering that the author drew from Hugh Ross, I am not surprised that the Bible used is the NEV (New Elastic Version), in which truth is regularly stretched to the breaking point.
Richard A., United States, 6 October 2015
I find it interesting, but maybe just a coincidence that in Jewish mysticism Lilith was the first wife of Adam and now we are presented with Lilly as the wife of Christ. Also note that Lilith in some aspects represented men's fear of women's control of men through sexual enticement. Very possibly much ado about nothing but it still intrigues me.
Caleb L., United States, 6 October 2015
Thanks again CMI for your strong stance on the truth! So refreshing.
D. C., United Kingdom, 7 October 2015
Literature would be in the dark ages or at the latest ’1984’ if fictional stories that convey theology followed the carefully laid down doctrines and rules stated by the biblical scholars – "There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting”. (Paul may well have backed, in moderation, the protests against ‘The Satanic Verses’.)
You have written a well crafted, straight forward review that moulds precisely with creation.com’s audience, however why review this book in the first place? What were you expecting? Was it that Mr Young’s book conforms precisely to Creation.com’s left brain perspective on the Genesis story? Should it have been a book that is shackled to layers of clear biblical data, structure, analysis, logic that sits perfectly alongside the creation.com manifesto?
As the columnist writer Eva Malony pointed out ‘Writers are generally independent thinkers who dislike having their thoughts roped by doctrine. ‘The church has always felt more comfortable with conservative Old Testament prohibitions, "don't do this" and "don't do that”.’
Yes you have some valid editorial comments but face up to it the original book that Mr Young’s story is based on contains analogies of a women made from her husband-to-be’s rib, talking serpents, cherubims, whirling swords and a 930 year old man…
Lita Cosner responds
You assume that heterodoxy is necessary for good literature. However, many of the most celebrated authors in English literature have been committed Christians whose writings reflected Christian theology. I don't know what books containing "filthiness, silly talk, or coarse jesting" you think advanced literature so much, or how those elements in particular enhance, rather than detract from, literature.
I reviewed Eve because it is a #1 Amazon best-seller that contains errant theology. I thought our audience should know about the problems of this book because it might save some people a few dollars that they could spend on a better book.
I happen to be a writer who is glad for doctrine. Many writers will say that having certain constraints is a helpful starting point for shaping their writings. I would say Eve is precisely what happens when one throws off good constraints.
Seathrun M., Ireland, 7 October 2015
Lita refers to Young having Lilly use "mild profanity" - apparently in the interests of realism. This is probably a dominant trend among modern novelists but - as Lita would surely agree - totally unnecessary. Many outstanding novelists of the past have avoided profanity - Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe to name only two! - so this modern trend seems a needless display of godlessness. Even Huxley - who wrote Brave New World - felt that it was unacceptable, though his characters sometimes used the ingenious substitute expletive "Good Ford!", perhaps based on the motor manufacturer's name!
Stephen H., United Kingdom, 7 October 2015
Thanks for this. I have posted a link to your review on my blog.
You saved me an hour's work. I bought a copy of 'Eve' recently as I thought it my duty to be up to date on this sort of thing as a creation activist. I read it and thought of a review of 'The Shack' which said 'bad writing meets bad theology.' I concur.
'The Shack' by Mr Young made some thoughtful points about suffering and forgiveness but I thought was somewhat muddled theologically and depicted the Trinity in a manner I thought unhelpful to say the least. This is very much worse.
It is a tragedy that this sort of mixed up pseudochristian experimental theology should be going out into the world depicting a feminised, weak, post-modern deity, a misunderstood Satan, and general confusion about the Creation and Fall.
I mentioned on my blog that if people want to read Christian speculative fiction which respectfully re-imagines and reflects on the Fall, they should go to C S Lewis' masterpiece 'Perelandra: A Voyage to Venus' which is a thousand times better that 'Eve'.
I will be safely disposing of my copy, I don't want to pass this misleading, confusing and disturbing material on to anyone else.
Jerry W., United States, 8 October 2015
Lita, after reading your review I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Consider this, the name Lilly is similar to Lilith from Jewish mythology [see the Babylonian Talmud].
Lilith in Jewish mythology. “After God created Adam, he became lonely, so God created Lilith from the same dust as Adam. But they quarreled; Adam wished to rule over Lilith. Lilith [a militant feminist] proud and willful, claimed equality with Adam. She left Adam and fled the Garden. God sent three angels in pursuit of Lilith. They caught her and ordered her to return to Adam. She refused, and said that she would henceforth weaken and kill little children, infants and babes. God then created Eve to be Adam's mate [from Adam's rib, so she couldn't claim equality]."
Elements of the Lilith myth reflected in our world today: strife in the home, militant feminism, wanton slaughter of innocent children [abortion].
Parallels between Lilith and Lily in the book “Eve”:
• “Lilith” myth: Adam is lonely so God creates Lilith from the same dust Adam was created in
• “Eve” book: Adam is dissatisfied with God, so God created Eve by causing Adam to be pregnant
• “Lilith” myth: Lilith is the bride of the First Adam
• “Eve” book: Lily is the bride of the Second Adam (Christ)
It appears the book “Eve” may be a subtle parallel of the Lilith myth, but I hope I am wrong.
Lita Cosner responds
It is not so subtle, and it plays out in an important way in the storyline of the book.
jeremy S., United Kingdom, 10 October 2015
Okay, here I am again presenting another view. I didn't like the Shack, not so much for its shock shack value, but for its overt USA dramatic spin! Maybe they'll do a movie? Phew. Anyway, Lita, I really can't see any problem with the beautiful, comforting personification of the second person of the Godhead trinity being personified as female. Why not? Her scriptural characteristics such as a 'bodily form as a dove' descending upon Jesus, her attributes described in 1 Corinthians 13, and the first few chapters of Proverbs, indicate a very feminine, Motherly side of God's 'family'; designed to be represented by a godly family on earth. Why are staunch Church Christians so opposed to this concept? Heaven governed by three men? Sounds like a gay marriage, to be blunt; no comfort to me.
Lita Cosner responds
Jeremy, God presents Himself in Scripture as relationally male; if you read the article I linked to in my review. The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture that refers to Him with male pronouns, and never with female pronouns. So it's simple politeness, as well as good theology, to refer to Him as He prefers.
Geoff C. W., Australia, 18 October 2015
@Jeremy S: It's probably safe to say that about half of all doves are male, so the Spirit being manifested as a dove does not make Him female. Other attributes of the Spirit include counselor, fire power and boldness, and He carries a sword. While these are not necessarily male characteristics, they could not be said to be more female than male. I Corinthians 13 is about love, not the Spirit. And even if it was about the Spirit (which it isn't), are the qualities outlined only found in females... or more in females than in males? If Paul is exhorting us to exhibit those things, is he only talking to males, since females already have them? Jesus perfectly exhibited all those positive traits. Does that make Him female? The early chapters of Proverbs depict a father talking to his son. Where is the femaleness in that? The only females in those chapters are a woman of ill repute, and wisdom. Neither of those is the Holy Spirit. I suppose if you want the real clincher, remember Who it was that made Mary pregnant with Jesus. If that's not maleness, what is? I think you're up against it trying to pull this one off. Probably better to let God decide how he wants to be described and addressed. I am reminded of a feminist who stood to pray in a church I once attended and began a prayer with 'Mother God...' No thanks.
Lita Cosner responds
Thanks for this comment, but just to clarify--the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary in the Virginal Conception, but that did not involve the normal male role in conception. I don't think you meant that, but just to avoid anyone drawing that conclusion.