Sat April 11th, 2015
Steve Chalke is a big man! With his history in the media and his governmental connections he has a lot to teach the rest of the church. Sadly, in recent years he has diverted in his path and taken a route that has separated him from mainstream evangelicals. It all started with `the lost message of Jesus' in which he rejected the traditional teaching of penal substitution and has accelerated as he welcomed the redefinition of marriage.
I read this book initially to be ready for a TV debate on its content, which was then cancelled, but as with `the lost message' I found the beginning very good.
Structurally it is made up of lots of short chapters, which I favour and found helpful. The paper isn't very `white' but the font is big enough to read despite this.
Chalke is clearly a thinker, but I think he is a confused one. As someone who has a relational theology, it saddens me to find a thinker like this author who just cannot see the relational imperative of Christianity and fundamentally in the heart of God. Early on he chooses to see Christianity as a set of principles, a set of practices that we follow, rather than a relational walk with God.
Also early on in this book he rejects the traditional view of God's omnipotence, which is clearly because of his personal rejection of the Calvinistic view of God, but he oscillates in what he replaces that view with, ignoring Arminianism and Relational theology and running on to openness and process theology. If you like he leaps from one extreme to the other.
On the journey he does come out with some great insight, like - the mistaken belief that freedom stems from escaping discipline, when actually discipline is freedoms friend.
It is about 2/3rds of the way though that Chalke begins to play his hand. He starts by the unnecessary use of expletives and then begins to portray Christianity as just another World faith. He tells a moving story of apartheid as supported by the Christian faith, but he forgets that much of the Christian church was anti-apartheid and that we were using scripture to help us as well. Just because a small element misuses scripture for their own ends, it doesn't mean the wider church is doing so!
Chalke doesn't say so in black and white but he infers that the same will be true in the long term to those who currently preach sexual restraint and traditional marriage. Somewhere in this section you get the feeling that he is comparing himself to Oom Bey, a hero to Nelson Mandela and that in days to come he will be thought of in a similar way.
Hard luck Steve!
For those holding to traditional views of biblical inerrancy he also has a go at those.
Then he suddenly swings again towards relationship with Jesus, but only for a moment, and when he does it is to conceal the fact that he slips in his statement that the Bible is insufficient in its guidance to us and cannot direct us through all the issues we face. If this were true, I would be unable to carry on!
He then tells us an engaging story of a godly man on a journey of discovery who ends up to be Muhammad. Conveniently for his message he neglects issues of being a warlord and marrying a child. This story suggests that there is a limited difference between Islam and Christianity. He goes on to say that the Bible portrays God as Jewish (something which is self-evidently not true). He declares Christianity to be a multi-faith religion and declares the essentiality of dialogue with other faiths - not something I would be against but it is hardly the core of the gospel!
As you would expect he returns to his attempted demolition of penal substitution by using weak and confused arguments. Finally he makes a public statement about his recent loss of membership of the Evangelical Alliance, the organization that represents the majority of mainstream Christianity in the UK. He calls his penultimate chapter `Better Together' - the slogan of the EA, in which he states his own manifesto. He sells this well, but I am so glad that I am not so easily taken in.
In closing, this is a likable piece of writing, but one that clearly has his own non-evangelical views sewn into its fabric. I am glad I read this, because it lets me know where the author is in his faith, but it isn't a book that I can recommend, because it tries to subtly shift evangelical readers from their relational faith to one that is all about practices. The outward positive emphasis of the book on character development ( a truly vital element ) is unfortunately a smoke screen for adapting the church to society rather than for purifying it.
Steve, you are so good at governmental and social engagement, and so bad at theology. Please stick to what you do well!