Thursday, April 28, 2005

Steve Chalke and the Atonement

I've been thinking of blogging on this for a while now, and have sifted through some interesting links and discussions. Then yesterday I findAlbert Mohler has commented on it, and I find our D. A. Carson has written on it in his book on the Emergent Church (all of the negatively).

Before getting to their comments, some background. Steve Chalke is a Baptist minister in the UK, and one of the most visible 'evangelical' faces in Britain. He founded the Oasis Trust, which does a great deal of admirable work reaching out to people society often ignores, and he appears often on television to represent Christian perspectives, or hosts religious programmes (such as 'Songs of Praise'). He is, I am certain, a genuinely caring, compassionate man, with the best motives in the world. All of this, then, makes what he has written all the more serious.

In his book, The Lost Message of Jesus, Chalke aims to details his view of how God favours the poor, and has a special compassion fo them. However, among all that he wites, he makes some brief comments that the cross was a demonstration of God's love, and that the idea of penal substitution is a form of'cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed'. And so in the sweep of a pen, Chalke disassociates himself from traditional evangelical doctrine (central doctrine), and demeans all those who believe in the substittionary atonement, and worst of all, the God Whom the Bible clearly teaches ordained such an atonement as the central aspect of the Gospel. Indeed, one blogger in England rightly comments that

Chalke differs from earlier liberals in only two respects that I can perceive: he has written a book that is easy to read and widely popular; and for reasons that I cannot fathom he still wishes to be considered an evangelical, despite having abandoned one of the hallmark doctrines of evangelicalism.

The whole episode has been quite shocking to me for a number of reasons. First, Chalke will reach a lot of people with this, and will influence many people who profess Christianity, yet know not their Bible (a great number today - and for some of the results, see this thread, filled with many judicious comments, but also many exhibiting, how can I say, a great deal of faulty reasoning and ignorance of biblical truth). The second shocking thing I'll mention, however, is the position of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) in the UK. There was a debate, after which they strongly spoke out against Chalke's position. That was good. However, within a month, they had softened their position, partly (largely?) in response to the fact that there were many voices within British evangelicalism speaking in support of Chalke (again, deeply worrying). The head of the Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Joel Edwards, noted that while the EA statement of faith seemed to imply penal substitution, said:

It is not explicit, therefore the question we have to ask honestly and biblically together is, whether or not someone could deny penal substitution and legitimately remain in the Evangelical Alliance.

Wow. Indeed, they have orgainsed a symposium to debate the issue at London School of Theology (formerly London Bible College), for July 6th to 8th, which will include I' Howard Marshall and Joel Green as speakers. Now, I believe the symposium will come down strongly for the truth of penal substitution, and I hope the EA will strongly reaffirm that (indeed, indications are that the symposium is sided towards biblical truth). But a few months ago I would have never thought that evangelicals in Britain would seriously be talking about whether penal substitution is the only true understanding ot the meaning of Christ's death.

UPDATE: Read Mohler's Article again...noted that they EA are changing their statement of faith to be far clearer on penal substitution - excellent...I am very relieved.

A;so, it seems the symposium is moved to 2006 according to Mohler...can't find any more info online, but interested to see what comes of it.

There are some very good responses (other than the ones I mentioned above), and I list them here:

Punished in Our Placeby Garry Williams

Have We Lost the Message of Jesus? by Andrew Sach and Mike Ovey

Steve Chalke and the Cross of Christ by Nick Needham

Made a Curse for Us in Free Presbyterian Magazine

A Scandelous Attack on the Cross by Martin Downes

I could write exposition on the substitutionary atonement, but it would be poor compared to other resources. In particular, for perhaps the best brief statement (relatively) of the truth of the substitutionary atonement, go here:

What Did the Cross Achieve: The Logic of Penal Substitution by J I Packer

Finally, on Joel Green, who will be speaking at the symposium I mentioned, see these articles by David Linden

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross - Part IRecovering the Scandal of the Cross - Part II
The Current Downgrade in the Doctrine of the Atonement

A final note - I hope the get Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, or some other excellent theologians for the symposium.


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