During my recent sojourn to Messy Christian’s blog a couple of weeks ago I got into a discussion over whether or not elders may ‘rule’ a church, and what the nature of that rule is. This person occasionally writes for this blog.
While perusing that blog, I noticed that under the “In my Library” section there was a recent one (‘The Lost Message of Jesus’) by Steve Chalke. This book has proved controversial, and a scathing review of it appeared in last month’s Evangelicals Now.
Some will remember that Steve Chalke became a bit of a darling of the evangelical scene in the UK in the 90’s. A Baptist pastor, engaging speaker, good looking he had quite an impact. He was even the main speaker at a mission in Derby in 1995. Susan and I took some neighbours to hear him.
Not only this, he had a growing interest in reaching inner cities – youth, addicts, homeless etc. His vehicle for this was the Oasis Trust which gained significant support from churches and evangelical organisations throughout the UK. Such was his impact that he began to appear regularly on GMTV. He had the kudos that other evangelicals did not have because he was helping to meet real physical needs.
My wife Susan wrote to him at the height of his popularity. She was concerned that once in the media spotlight he would lose his gospel focus. She received a very gracious reply from his office and thanked her for her concern.
However, his book shows that her and my fears have been realised. Amongst the several points made in the EN review was the denial of penal substitution (i.e. that Christ came and died as our perfect substitute to take the penalty of God’s wrath that we deserved). Paraphrasing Packer in his lecture What did the Cross Achieve?, penal substitution is a distinguishing mark of evangelicalism. But for Chalke, the penal substitution theory presents us with
“a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed, morally dubious in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love'”p.182, according to EN.
Thus, Chalke has decisively moved away from an evengelical position.
Why am I telling you this? Well I was just surprised to see it listed on the !oxgen blog, that’s all. Of course, I can’t tell the reasons why the writer(s) may want to read the book – I may even read it myself in due time. Yet, most people have no problem advertising what they would also recommend.
But I went a little further. In discussing the issue of ‘rule’ mentioned above, my friend suggested I read an article on Rom 13:1,2 posted on the !oxegen website. What’s interesting is that the author is the creator and a contributor to the website Jesus Radicals. What’s this? It’s a website for Christian Anarchists! I have not read very many of the articles here, but the underlying philosophy of this group is the anarchism of writers such as Noam Chomsky and others. In this mode of thinking there is an intense distrust of any heirarchical power structure. In it’s Christian manifestation, there is an intense distrust of any form of power structure in the church. The site contains articles denying that any authority inside and outside the church, except that of Jesus, is biblically authorised and mandated. Hence I believe I have found the source of my opponents arguments – a political philosophy which serves as a filter by which Scripture is interpreted.
One last final point: on that same site, there are a couple of papers denying the penal substitution theory of the atonement!
Is there a connection between Christian anarchism and this denial of a vital doctrine? I’ll let you know if I find out!