Some Snooping

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!

Some Snooping

9 thoughts on “Some Snooping

  1. Anonymous says:

    My forays into the internet ‘Christian’ community are just as disconcerting as yours have been. That which terms itself evangelical often isn’t. The blogosphere has ‘denizens’ as well as inhabitants, I’m afraid.

    Due to lack of time (and, quite frankly, interest), I rarely engage in much debate. I get tired just thinking about it.

    I take encouragement when accepted reformed orthodoxy presents itself(by ‘accepted’, I disavow any connection to a certain Durham bishop and his musings). Even out here – perhaps especially out here – we are a rare breed.

    Press on my friend!

    Ho hum.


  2. Stephen says:

    What’s a ‘denizen’? I looked up my OED and I wasn’t any the wiser!

    My interest will probably wane too. There are some more important issues to deal with – like understand what that certain Durham bish is on about, and why the reformed/presbies are in a tiz about it.

    What this little foray into this ’emergent church’ mob emphasises to me is just how easy it is for clever people with radical and wrong ideas can have an influence on people who do not care about biblical doctrine, church history, worship i.e. the me’n’Jesus-and-maybe-my-bible(-if-it-speaks-to-me) group

  3. Alastair says:

    If you want to have a good idea of the Durham bishops’s impact on the Reformed Presbyterian community I suggest that you subscribe to the ‘Warfield’, ‘byfaithalone’ and the ‘Wrightsaid’ yahoo e-mail lists. That way you will get to hear both sides of this debate. That’s what I do, anyway. I even have the Trinity Foundation’s (John Robbins) material sent to me.

  4. Stephen says:

    I’m on Warfield and byfaithalone already. My problem is not access to materials. It’s just availability of time and setting priorities – family, study, ministry – you know the kind of thing! That’s one reason why I have not ventured on to Wrightsaid – I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Perhaps I’ll get some time over the summer to get my teeth into it. But then, I think I said a similar thing to you back in Feb…

    BTW did you know that your buddy Hauerwas is listed as one of the ‘authorities’ on Strange connection.

    BTW again: I will get back to your lo-o-o-o-o-ng comment on a previous post. I have not forgotten…

  5. Anonymous says:


    I have a suggestion for you. Instead of snooping and guessing why that book is on his list, why don’t you ask Eddie why he recommends that book? You don’t strike me as the narrow ‘evangelical only’ type that would dismiss the writings of others simply because it doesn’t punch with evangelicism. If that be the case then I could find flaws in the writings in any author you might recommend. I don’t think the goal of the gospel is for us all to be evangelical or belief exactly the same evangelical doctrines. The goal of God is for us all to be in Christ and for him becoming all in us.

  6. Stephen says:

    Howdy Anonymous!
    (Sorry about the Blogger system that prevents you saying who you are easily – it’s a bit of a bind.)

    To be honest I wasn’t really concerned about why the book was on the site in the first instance. I was just noting it was there. As I said, people advertise what they are reading without necessarily agreeing with all or any of the content. So that’s why I haven’t asked ‘eddie’. Actually I had no idea that it was he (or she?) that had recommended it – thanks for letting me know.

    However I am interested in whether there is some necessary connection between ‘Christian Anarchism’ and a denial of a funadamental doctrine.

    Of course every writer is human and fallible. Any book is bound to have errors of some form or other. But some are more serious than others. Having studied the bible in more depth over the last couple of years I have begun to appreciate truth in some writers I previously would not have considered. However, hopefully I have not become blind to their errors at the same time.

    I am an evengelical, but I also recognise that Christians are found in all sorts of places, under all sorts of theological labels. Criticism of Chalke or anyone else should not be read as questioning their standing before God. Only God will judge.

    However, I do believe in speaking the truth in love. I can therefore discuss doctrinal error as I see it. Others can discuss my errors. Perhaps we can help each other in doing so. Any part of Scripture teaches only one thing, not many, perhaps contradictory, things which are all equally valid. Therefore it is a) unsatisfactory to remain divided over interpretation b) even more unsatisfactory not to talk about it at all! (Of course the application of that truth by the Spirit of God can be unique to each individual.)

    One day we will all know the truth in all its fulness. Why not start now?

  7. Anonymous says:


    Here is how silly your excercise is:

    Can we make a case against evangelicism and radical legalistic fanaticism?

    See my point?

  8. Stephen says:

    Perhaps it’s silly – that remains to be seen. But it’s fun to find out!

    Peace, whoever you are!

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Denizen” – a dweller or inhabitant of a particular habitat – at times with a pejorative ring to it. For example ‘a denizen of the underground or of dark places’. i.e the internet

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