As expected my article on Premier answering Steve Chalke’s accusations against both the Bible and the church got a fierce response. These responses teach us a great deal about the church in the UK today and our weaknesses. Chalke himself has responded (in a way).
The Heresy Hunters
Firstly there are those who welcomed the article and then took the opportunity to stick the boot into others. The inability to distinguish between primary and secondary issues is a cause of great strive. It means that whilst there are those who will fight to the last ditch on their particular doctrinal/cultural shibboleth, there are others who, in order to avoid that, won’t join the battle about anything!
Secondly many of the responses were sympathetic and sad – recognizing the good that Chalke has done but lamenting his fall from grace – this strikes me as a much more Christian response.
Thirdly there were those who tried to defend Chalke – the most common line being expressed in the following tweet – “Chalke is one of the few people that is transcending the liberal/conservative divide, coming towards real kingdom stuff”. The flowery language is meaningless. Everything that Chalke teaches is just classic 19th Century Protestant liberalism but in evangelical language. Although Chalke wrote a book somewhat arrogantly entitled ‘The Lost Message of Jesus” (which presumably he, like all cult leaders, had found), there is actually nothing new in what he says. It is the same with Rob Bell and Brian McLaren and others of their ilk. They have not found a ‘third way’; they have just rejected the ‘narrow’ way for the usual broad path.
But it is the fourth group who really disturb me. They are those who ignore the issues and just play the man and on social media this can be really ugly. So for example ‘Tom’ tweeted “Your article published yesterday absolutely reeks of bitterness. I was just wondering, have you ever met the guy?” The trouble is that there is no answer to this – although I tried. There was no bitterness in my article but that’s how Tom ‘felt’ and so it must be so –because feeling transcends reality. It also enables you to attack the person and not have to engage with the arguments.
One that really surprised me is a well known Anglican blogger called The Church Mouse. He really went to town with the personal stuff. As an aside I always think it is cowardly to attack known individuals from the safety or your anonymous blog – stand up and be counted! Are you a man or a mouse?!
Anyway this is what he started off with:
“Text book straw man argument. Steve Chalke doesn’t say any of the things he is accused of here. Better to take the best of your opponent’s argument and engage with it seriously than treat it with contempt.”
At first I assumed that he had just made a mistake and gave him tbe benefit of the doubt. If you read my article you will see that Chalke did say at least several of the things said in my article – not least because I give direct quotes from him! I would argue that everything I said that Chalke said is correct. Why would I lie? Why would I make it up? And if I am mistaken or have misunderstood I am quite happy to be corrected.
But the Mouse went on:
The following are some of the false claims you make on Steve’s behalf: (1) The Bible is not God’s word; (2) The Bible is not God’s revelation; (3) Genesis is “a parody”; (3) Jesus would “have nothing to do with much of the Bible; (4) Jesus “corrects and throws out” bits of the OT…You do not use any direct quotes for those claims, none of which Steve makes. There are others, of lesser importance, such as your representation of Steve’s reading of Moses in Numbers 15 (again no direct quotes used).
Twitter is of course, even with the 280 characters, a difficult place to debate in any depth, but a simple reading of my article – and watching the three Chalke videos I am critiquing will proof that Chalke does say or indicate each of these points. For example if you say “The Bible is a library and not a book – that’s what the Bible literally means… the church over time has come to regard as sacred. It reflects the moral values and consciousness of each author” then you are saying that the Bible is not the word of God. You are saying it was the Church not God who over time said it was sacred. You are saying that it reflects the values and consciousness of each author not the values and consciousness of God.
When all this was pointed out, The Mouse went into full patronising mode.
Oh dear. I just said you got it wrong. That isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you’re going to write and engage on Twitter please don’t fly off the handle. Some may think you are unable to handle even the mildest criticism.
(All these tweets by the way can retweeted as confirmation bias by those who want to have a go!)… But the trouble is The Mouse did not just say I got it wrong. He said that I made false claims and that I deliberately said that Steve said things he didn’t. In most normal peoples books that is an accusation of lying – but in the irrational world of the 21st Century post-modern Christian it means because I never actually used the words ‘ you are lying’ I did not accuse you of lying.
Speaking of lying (have you noticed how in our world everyone wants to back up their case by accusing everyone else’s opinion as lying?) The Mouse then went on to state:
I think you have interpreted Steve’s videos and asserted your wrong interpretation as his words. You just got it wrong. Your quotes from the videos are so short (often just two words) that they don’t fairly represent his arguments.
You’ll notice the standard response of the post-modern liberal – it’s all about ‘interpretation’. It’s the Alice-in –Wonderland ‘words mean whatever I want them to mean’. Steve’s videos are quite clear – he is a good communicator- who knew exactly what he was saying, and said it well. The irony here is that the Mouse after accusing me of ‘getting it wrong’ by making false claims (which is apparently not lying) then went on to tell an ‘untruth’ himself, asserting that my quotes were ‘often just two words’. None of them were. Read it and see. Again I assumed that The Mouse had just in the heat of the moment made a mistake (we all do) and I wouldn’t want to accuse him of lying, so I gave him the chance to apologise and correct it. He refused. So we are left with a blatant and demonstrable lie.
My view is that the Mouse was trying to shut down debate by basically slandering me as dishonest and some kind of fundamentalist who was either too stupid to understand what Steve was saying or just plain dishonest. When his bullying patronising did not work he then just resorted to insult. Again this was for the benefit of his fans rather than my correction or edification
“This has to be the worst advert for the Solas Centre in history. Is this how you teach people to engage in public?”
I’m a sensitive soul so this kind of barb tends to get underneath the skin. It makes you question (not a bad thing) whether you are being a bad witness, harming your church or organisation, or giving a bad example of public engagement? The accusation is of the type that even making it is considered proof of its existence – like the one about bitterness. There is after all, no smoke without fire. It was for me, a surprising and somewhat irrational and unnecessary attack.
The Rainbow Christians
And of course all this is followed avidly by those (often with rainbow flags beside their names) who ‘like’, ‘retweet’, repeat the same arguments/accusations and come up with such sweet witticisms as “calm down dear’. The sad thing is that so much of this comes from people who profess to be Christians – and even more ‘real Christians’ who are all for love. Liberal Loving Christians tend to be in practice some of the most illiberal and unloving people I have met! (Not all…but it does seem to be a pattern!). Sometimes I find non-Christian liberals to be more open…
The result of all this is quite deliberate. There is no intention of engaging, or ‘having a conversation’. It’s all about demonising, mocking and seeking to shut down any questioning of their ideology. I am quite happy to admit I am wrong – and to be honest, I hate having these kind of arguments – they become deeply personal and I find them highly stressful. But I am not going to be bullied by this kind of emotive, irrational intimidation. These are the people who spread the word that you are narrow, nasty and some kind of 21st Puritan bigot. (My favourite insult was the man who asked “How would you feel about being described as a 17th Century Puritan who uses Evangelical language” – an insult which I regarded as a compliment!). But the gossip often works. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to speak in a place and been told afterwards ‘you’re not as bad/nasty/dumb as they say you are!
The Strife of Tongues
I was asked today – how do you cope with this stuff? I’m not sure I do. I’m deeply conscious of my own flaws and sinfulness but I guess the best answer is to say that I just go to the Psalms – its astonishing how many of them are to do with gossip, lies and people speaking ill of you! The tongue is a deadly poison…but my antidote is the truth, love and beauty of Christ. The purity of God’s Word is a tremendous refuge from the strife of tongues!
Finally Chalke’s own response. As it happens I will be down in London this week. It was suggested that Premier’s ‘Unbelievable’ might host a discussion/debate between myself and Chalke. I would have been very happy to interrupt my schedule to do that. But it turns out that Steve has no desire to engage with me. It’s almost as though he is the Dawkins of liberal Christianity – only prepared to dialogue with those who agree with him or those who would look good on his CV!
I often find that people who are into conversation, dialogue and respect don’t have enough respect for those they disagree with to converse and dialogue! Personally I regard it as cowardly and as rude as hiding behind the wall of an anonymous blog. So Steve will continue his ‘smile to camera’ demolition of Christian doctrine, safe in the knowledge that if anyone like me is stupid enough to challenge his newly found ‘lost message of Jesus’ – they can be suitably trashed by his fans on social media.
But the truth will out.
Let me stress again the only reason I bother with all this is not to have an argument (I have enough of those already) but because I genuinely believe what I said in the initial post – that Steve’s teaching takes us away from Christ. And his glory is all. I pray that anything I say that detracts from that will be removed.
Meanwhile I leave you with my Psalm from Sing Psalms for yesterday:
PSALM 37 10 9 10 9 anapaestic
1 Do not fret on account of the wicked,
do not envy the ones who do wrong;
2 For like grass they will very soon wither,
like green plants they will not flourish long.
3 Put your trust in the LORD and be upright;
then secure in the land you will live.
4 Take delight in the LORD above all things—
the desires of your heart he will give.
5 To the LORD let your way be committed;
trust in him—he will do what is right.
6 Then your justice will shine like the morning,
your just cause like the sun in its might.
7 So be silent and seek the LORD’s presence,
and be patient until he replies;
Do not fret when you see the successful,
if their schemes are promoted through lies.
PS. I just came across this:
David Robertson (who tweets as @theweeflea and is a Baptist minister in Dundee), has taken exception to the approach Steve Chalke (another Baptist minister and founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust) to the Bible. Robertson even compares Chalke to the devil, pretending to be ‘a smiling shining angel of light’; Chalke is a man who would have us follow him rather than Jesus, a man who makes up the Gospel to suit himself; a man who is a ‘false teacher’; a man whose message is ‘anti-Christ’.
I don’t mind a good argument about the Bible and how we use and interpret it. The Bible, like all of Christian doctrine, belief and practice, is an ‘essentially contested concept’ (as Stephen Sykes once put it). There has never been a time when all Christians in all places have agreed about any of it. To disagree – about the Bible, atonement, Mary, sin, grace, St Paul, icons, or even Jesus – is not to be ‘anti-Christ’; it is simply to be one fallible human being discussing important things with another fallible human being. There simply isn’t one right interpretation or understanding against which all others are wrong: there is no divine magisterium to which some people have access and others don’t, and have only, therefore, to obey.
But it’s more than that too. Disagreement about these things, however fundamental we think they are, even if we are looking for ‘good disagreement’ – which means we may never agree – does not turn the person you disagree with into the anti-Christ. David Robertson isn’t alone in doing this: the internet, especially Twitter, is full of people who appear to think that denigrating other people is the only way to get your point across – just look at some of the, frankly odious, responses to the appointment of Bishop Sarah Mullaly to London, let alone the ways in which our political debate has been so debased.
If I may use the Bible in this discussion, I would like to point to the way in which Jesus castigates those whose faith is based on self-righteousness rather than on love. I would also say that a faith that is completely dependent on being right is actually a form of fear, as if the whole house of cards will come crashing down if certainty about any of it is removed. It seems to me that the Christian faith is first and foremost a way of life, and not a house of any kind. I have argued before that I think it is also to forget that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus and Paul is a living God who has never stopped leading God’s people from where they think they would like to stop to where God would like them to be. And we haven’t got there yet. And the scary thing about stopping where you would like to be is that we tend to build a calf to worship and call it God.
The rush to judgement, the labelling of others as ‘anti-Christ’ or ‘heretic’ or ‘false teacher’ or ‘the least in the kingdom of heaven’, needs have no part in all our discussion and disagreement. Jesus (again, if I am allowed to bring him in to the discussion) seems to think that it is the fruit of a righteous life that matters, where even those who do not profess the faith we hold might be on the same side. Love not only defines the fundamental reality of the universe (God), and the fundamental kind of relationship we are to have with other people, it is the only thing that matters.
Jonathan Draper, General Secretary of Modern Church
I’m almost tempted to host a competition to see who can find the most flaws and logical fallacies in this nasty wee blog – but let me just say some.
- I’m not a Baptist minister
- Yes there has been plenty of times when all Christians have agreed about some of the Bible!
- There is a divine magisterium – its called the Bible…and its not as obscure as Jonathan claims.
- Disagreeing with someone does not turn them into Anti-Christ….and I never said it did. Disagreeing with, going against the message of Christ, does mean you are going against (Anti) Christ). I claimed that Steve’s message was against the teachings of Christ rather than being ‘the lost message of Jesus’. Again ironically Jonathan accuses me of going against the message of Christ thereby making me anti-Christ!
- Its not good to complain about the internet being used to denigrate people and then use the internet to denigrate me ie. Calling me self-righteous.
- Yep – Jesus does attack the Pharisees and the false teachers. In very strong terms…which means Jonathan would condemn Jesus!
- Jonathan complains about a faith that is dependent on being right (again note the denigration he gets into) whilst of course being convinced that he is right to say this!
- The Christian faith is not a house – but Jesus and his apostles would disagree….but who are they to say they are right!
- Yes – there is a calf being built. Your own theology and ideology being set up as a replacement for the sure and certain word of God.
- Yes – indeed – you have rushed to judgement. And as I listen to you all I hear is judgement.
- Yes – Jesus does say we should live a righteous life but he does not say it doesn’t matter what faith you have. The first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. We are not permitted just to invent our own gods or worship idols.
- Love is the only thing that matters. The only problem is that Jonathan is unable to define love – not least because he is unable to say who God is.
This is a great example of what happens when you reject the God of the Bible. You end up making your own waffle, and being judgemental in your own name (all of course whilst declaring you are being non-judgemental).