Charlotte Haines Lyon listens to both sides
of a contentious debate about whether Jesus had to die and interviews
author and presenter Steve Chalke and Evangelical Alliance general
director Joel Edwards
Just under a year ago Steve Chalke published
a book with Alan Mann called The Lost Message of Jesus. The
darling of the evangelical world argued that God loves humans especially
He also happened to mention that as Jesus demands
that we love our enemies, he couldn't see how God could demand a
sacrifice in order to love us.
Loud indignation ensued
amongst evangelicals. Had Chalke become a liberal and turned his
back on truth?
Disturbed by the furore
caused, the Evangelical Alliance held a debate last week looking
at whether penal substitution [that salvation has been achieved
because God punished His Son, Jesus, instead of sinful humans] is
necessary to Christian belief.
Accusations flew. Chalke
chastised those who had assumed he had read feminist theology after
comparing penal substitution to "cosmic child abuse".
(The phrase was coined in the pub.) He also claimed that letters
of support had not been published in at least one evangelical magazine.
Simon Gathercole, lecturer
at Aberdeen University, said that Chalke had "made a serious
revision of not only the church's preaching but of Jesus' teaching."
Anna Robbins, of the London School of Theology, charged that Chalke
spoke of a "Christ of human construction."
Chalke responded by saying,
"penal substitution is devoid of ethical depth." His supporting
speaker, Stuart Murray Williams, chair of the Anabaptist Network,
asked if penal substitution "will help build peacemakers and
break the vicious cycle in the world at the moment?"
At question time, one
bible verse was read after another, in an attempt to prove Chalke
wrong. Yet, there was enormous applause when Chalke gave his final
Once the passions had
calmed a little, Charlotte Haines Lyon caught up with Steve Chalke
and Joel Edwards.
Chalke, Baptist Minister and director of Oasis Trust
Did you feel on
trial at the debate?
Some of the time, which
I think is a shame because all I have done is take evangelical scholars
and put their broadsheet words into tabloid language. Sometimes
I get disappointed that we don't think more deeply about these issues.
At the end of the day
it's all about mission and nothing else. It's about the character
of God. What we believe about God determines what we think about
ourselves and how we engage and react in the world.
How long have you
held this position?
Always. I have always
believed that God is passionate about us and especially about the
poor, by which I mean all of those who get shut out of choices.
As I've got older I have become more articulate at thinking and
talking these things through.
So is it like coming
Well a bit. I know a
lot of people feel like this because they have written to me about
it. To tell you the truth it's hard to stand up and say it, because
you bring heaps of criticism upon yourself. But I've got to be strong
and say it's ok to believe these things.
Did you expect the
reaction you've had?
I didn't expect it so
strongly. Particularly as my book doesn't talk about penal substitution
at all! It's about inclusion and God's love. Then it's got this
sentence saying if God is love and Jesus said love your enemies
then how could God not love his enemies. God says love your enemies
but then doesn't love his until he's got blood - how can God run
on a different ethic to the way he's asked his people to live?
Do you think that
this furore is due to apparent heresy or fear of something new?
I think it is like the
emperor's new clothes and when someone stands up and asks questions
people get scared. I think there is a bigger view to be had of the
Jesus took on all of
the evil systems of the world, individual and corporate, he walked
through it all and he would not cave in. He became the second Adam
and reversed things. As in Adam we all died, in Jesus we all live.
He's an example to all
of us. He's an example to Christian Aid; you can take on evil trading
systems. You can take on governments. You can take on the multinationals
and they have bigger budgets and faster marketers than you. We will
not stand aside. We will not return evil for evil. And Jesus says
Edwards General Director of the Evangelical Alliance
What did this debate
mean for the Evangelical Alliance?
It means that we were
able to have an open and honest debate. In an environment where
we still respected each other at the end of it.
Have the concerns
been mainly around heresy or around unity?
I don't think I have
heard anybody discuss heresy. If The Lost Message of Jesus and Steve's
opinion was that wrath, God's judgement, justice and sin do not
exist, I think we would be having a very different debate.
I think the question
is firstly about the sufficiency of penal substitution as the primary
or only model of atonement. Secondly for us as an Evangelical Alliance,
is penal substitution the only way in which you can be a legitimate
This is a question that
we need to look at responsibly, and biblically in the light of where
we are now without selling anything short of what the cross means.
So at the moment penal
substitution isn't necessarily a check box for the Evangelical Alliance?
If anyone looks at clause
three and four of our basis of faith; there is a very clear implicit
relationship between Jesus' work of substitution and penal substitution.
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.
So are you willing to
deepen the debate as Steve called for tonight?
I think we plan to do that in any event. We have been looking at
our basis of faith for the last two years. We will want to do the
work of drilling down in more detail, some of the things we could
only deal with in passing tonight.
If it hadn't been
Steve Chalke who is so influential in the Evangelical Alliance would
we be here tonight?
There have been many
theologians who have wrestled with this issue but largely they have
done it in the safe zone of academia or within a niche market. Steve
hasn't introduced the notion he has popularised it.
Because it is the phenomenon
called Steve Chalke, we have actually been catalysed to have a public
debate. It would have not been appropriate to have had this debate
in the first instance behind closed doors following a very popular
book. I think what we have done is follow the discussion at a populist
level and now we have to have the debate in a much more detailed
and intentional way.
It's been a good thing
It has to be a good thing
that Christians can ask tough questions and end in a place where
we still love each other and respect each other.
The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann,