Both the Evangelical Times and Evangelicals Now have articles on the current controversy over Steve Chalke’s book The Lost Message of Jesus. Neither article appears on their respective searchable databases yet. But they are worth a read.
In the former, Nick Needham (author of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, a three-volume work on the history of the church) challenges Chalke’s view that penal substitution is a relatively recent theological innovation, and that the early church Fathers spoke nothing of it. After quoting a few of the early church Fathers, and showing that penal substitution was widely taught (thus showing only the tip of the iceberg, says Needham), he says,
Of course, if we could ask the early Fathers why they believed in penal substitution, they would have said, ‘Because it is in the Bible’.
Then there flows some key scriptural references. Pretty devastating.
The second article is a report on the recent public debate, hosted by the Evangelical Alliance in front of 700 people, on the Chalke’s book. Apparently, Chalke did nothing but confirm our worst fears. It seems that calls that he was ‘misrepresented’ were untrue. Everyone understands exactly what he is saying.
Not surprisingly, the issue goes wider than Chalke’s personal views. The question has opened up a fault line in evangelicalism in the UK. With the equivocation of the Evangelical Alliance over the issue, not only is the value of Mr Chalke’s writings in question, but also anything that the EA does (some would question the general stance of the EA anyway!). What used to be a marker of evangelical respectability (i.e. ‘We are a EA-affiliated church!’) will soon become a sign of liberal drift.
The EN article closes, saying
The Evangelical Alliance, and the wider evangelical community, must think seriously about his impact upon its unity, its theology, and most importantly, its view of the message of Jesus. We stand at a crossroads.