An edited version of this article was published on the Premier Website – here. It was edited because of length, but I think the issue is so important that I should reproduce the whole article here. I wrote The Anti-Christ Message of Steve Chalke and then this reply The Chalke Response Steve has refused to have a conversation with me or to discuss it, but that did not stop him posting this reply –
To be fair I decided to go through the whole of his post and deal with it bit by bit. There are areas of agreement, but overall Steve’s argument is a classic example of the kind of doctrine that is decimating the Church throughout the West. I hope this response helps.
The Chalke Conversation – Agreement and Disagreement
They say that jaw jaw, is better than war, war. They are right. And that is true for the Christian church as well. We are too quick to demonise one another and we have forgotten the art of listening. Which is why it is important that the discussion that Steve Chalke has initiated about the Bible should continue and not just resort into the kind of polemic one sadly sees all too often on message boards and comments columns. For that reason I wish to respond to Steve’s latest defence of his position which makes interesting reading.
Despite what may appear to be the case we do have areas of agreement.
1) We both agree that the question is Important. Has God said? What does God say? How do we know who Jesus is and what his will is? Surely there is no question more important than that?
2) We both agree that you are not a heretic if you ask questions of the Bible, or if you doubt and are troubled by some passages. We have to wrestle with very difficult questions. In much of my work I speak to many atheists, pagans, Muslims, ‘liberal’ Christians etc. and they have real and sometimes difficult questions. I don’t have a manual of clichéd answers ‘what to say when….’ Like Steve I struggle with many issues. It’s what the Puritans used to call ‘wrestling’.
Even as I write I am returning/recovering from a talk I gave at Durham Christian Union – the questions afterwards were brilliant. And not easy. When I became a Christian many moons ago I was given a book with the title along the lines of ‘101 problems with the Bible answered’. As a young Christian I didn’t have any problems with the bible. After reading that book I had 101! The problems mentioned were real; the answers were shallow and superficial. I had a mini-crisis of faith but then reasoned that I was a young Christian, I could not expect to know everything and that I should just trust God and his word, and over time I would begin to understand. 40 years later I think I’m down to about six! But Steve is right. We do have a God given responsibility to think about these things.
3) We agree that Sunday schools, churches and theological seminaries should help people tackle these issues. I am sorry that Steve got no answers in Sunday school and even worse that according to him, Spurgeons college, where he trained were unable to help. Inadequate teaching in both church and college will always have consequences.
4) We agree that the culture, personalities and circumstances of the authors are to be taken into account when seeking to understand what the Bible says. Context is essential to understanding text.
5) We agree that the Old Testament Scriptures point to Christ. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
6) We agree that it is wrong to take the poetical passages as historical narrative. There are different genres in Scripture – history, law, poetry, gospel and prophetic – it doesn’t help our understanding to confuse them.
7) We agree that there should be open, honest discussion and debate.
But there are also major areas of disagreement.
1) We disagree on the nature of inspiration. Steve too often sets up a strawman that he is then able to knock down. For example in his treatment of 2 Timothy 3:16 he tells us that God breathed does not mean dictation. But who said it did? The ‘dictated’ parts of the Scripture are few and far between – the most famous being the Ten Commandments. No one is arguing that Moses, Paul, David, Peter, John et al were ‘automatons’. They were human beings through whom God communicated (‘breathed’) his word. Their personalities, characters and cultures come through in their writings- but the Lord controlled the process so that he gave his word through them. They were not infallible human beings, but the writings the Spirit inspired through them, are.
The choice is not between the Bible being dictated or being just a record of the prophet’s own interpretation and understanding of what God is doing in their life’s and culture – and often according to Steve, like Moses, Luke and Paul getting it wrong. 2 Peter 1:20 tells us clearly “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.”
According to Steve scripture is by the prophet’s own interpretation which in reality is no more valid than ours – as he puts it, we contribute to the development of humanity’s moral and spiritual imagination, which is being constantly stretched and enlarged by its growing understanding of God.” There is another more biblical view. God inspired men in such a way, that using their characters, circumstances and cultures, he was able to communicate his word to us – without error.
Steve seems to believe in a progressive revelation that continues after Revelation. I believe in a progressive revelation of Christ through all the Scriptures which ended when the Spirit inspired John to write “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” (Revelation 22:18-19). I believe there are no more books to be added to Gods infallible word. Steve believes that none were infallible in the first place!
2) We disagree that because Jesus is infallible, the Bible cannot be. He confuses the issue by setting up the one against the other. The first and most obvious problem is this. If the Bible is not reliable, if it is full of mistakes, then how do we know who the Jesus of the Bible is?
Steve’s position seems to be that anything he doesn’t like in the Bible can be dismissed by describing them as not Christlike. But how does he know what Christ is like? Without an infallible Bible an infallible Jesus is useless to us. Why? Because we could not know what that infallible Jesus is like, or wants us to do? It’s like being told there is treasure in a field but not being told which field, or where to find it! It may be there but if we can’t get it, it’s useless. We are left to the tyranny of feelings, traditions and ‘experts’ telling us what God, the Spirit, Jesus really meant. They are the ones who discover ‘ the lost message of Jesus’ – a message that the rest of us have been too dumb to work out.
Jesus told his incredulous disciples that it was better for them that he would go away because he would send another Comforter/Counselor who would remind them of everything he had taught them. Jesus being the Word does not mean that the Bible cannot be the word of God. In fact it almost demands that it is.
Jesus has not left us with a mistaken, uncertain and unsure record about himself. The Word has given us his word. When you take away the infallible word of God from the people of God you leave them without The Word.
3) We disagree that Jesus was opposed to the Old Testament Jesus was not ‘famous for his numerous challenges to its actual text and attitudes”. Instead he challenged the Pharisees misunderstanding, additions and distortion. Ironically it seems as though the Pharisees too believed that the Bible was not enough and that we needed to have further revelation and interpretation in the light of the times! In that sense Steve’s 21st century modernism is the same as that of the 1st Century Pharisees. Jesus challenges both when he says ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’. The only one who has the right to add to it is the One who has been sent from the Father.
His attitude was not ‘Moses got it wrong’ and it is therefore not the will and words of my heavenly Father. His attitude was to revere and honour the inspired Scriptures and to castigate those who perverted, distorted and misused it.
4) We disagree that 2 Timothy 3:16 does not imply the infallibility of all the Scripture. Here Steve is simply being inconsistent. Whilst arguing that we are not to take the Bible literally word for word, he then argues from a literal word for word position. It is technically true that the word ‘infallible’ is not used, but then the word ‘Trinity’ is never used in the Bible but that does not mean that the Bible does not teach the Trinity. Likewise the term ‘God-breathed’ is clear (especially when seen in the context of the rest of Scripture) Just ask yourself– does God breath error? Is this what Paul meant?!
Steve’s claim that the use of the term ‘all scripture’ to mean the whole Bible is ‘eisegesis’ (reading into the text a meaning that isn’t there) is itself eisegesis. How do we know that? It is true that Paul’s comment is about the Old Testament scriptures, but it is not solely about that. Paul probably wrote 2 Timothy towards the end of his life. He would know much of the New Testament (not least because he wrote a considerable part!) and there is no doubt that both he and the other apostles regarded their writing as Scripture. As Peter wrote in 2Peter 3:16 “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
The truth is that Steve does not want parts of the Old Testament (and indeed even some parts of the New) to be the word of God and so he reads into Scripture what he thinks it should mean!
5) We disagree about our view of Jesus and the Trinity – Steve’s Christology is all over the place (should we place Spurgeons for this as well?!). For example when he states “It is through Jesus, for the first and only time in history, we get to see and hear God exactly as he is”. That’s biblical illiteracy. . Much of God is revealed in the Old Testament. Christ is revealed in the Old Testament. Of course in the New we see much more, but it is just wrong to say that it is for the first and only time we get to see God as he is.
6) We disagree about the claim that saying the Bible is wrong is not saying the Bible is wrong – Steve is being disingenuous. It’s true to say that the bible is not wrong, we are. The trouble is Steve thinks that we are wrong because we think the Bible is not wrong. He has already claimed that Moses and Luke (the Bible) got it wrong.
Whilst I don’t like people playing with words in order to discredit the Word of God, I also have distaste for people misusing history to try and make their case. I’ve noticed that Steve in seeking to deal with a simplistic view of the Bible often counters with a simplistic view of history. For example is it really the case that Wilberforce was accused of ‘liberalism’ by many in the Church for being anti-slavery? Steve is reading back into the 19th Century, 21st century presuppositions and cultural norms.
7) We disagree about debating these issues. There is no point in claiming you want open and honest discussion and then refusing to engage in such open and honest discussion. I have offered and others have suggested that we should discuss these issues – but Steve has refused. It’s wrong to claim the moral high ground and claim love and respect, whilst refusing to show it.
These errors have tremendous harmful consequences. It allows Steve to pick and mix the bits of the Bible he does not like. As in the example he uses when he claims that Paul is wrong in 1 Timothy on the question of women, because he is not reflecting Christ.
But it seems as though Steve’s Jesus somewhat conveniently just happens to share the same cultural views that Steve has. Lets ignore the uncomfortable fact that Jesus chose 12 male disciples, and instead lets just state that because Jesus was for equality then Paul was wrong in 1 Timothy. (This is not to say that a case cannot be made against the traditional interpretation of 1 Timothy but you have to do so in the context of the whole of Scripture – not by just dismissing Paul!).
In the discussion on 2 Timothy 3:16 and the definition of all Scripture as being ‘God-breathed’ it is important to note the context. Paul warns about those teachers who are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (v. 7) . He tells us that we are to continue in what we have learned from the Holy Scriptures that are suitable for all that we need to grow as Christians. He tells Timothy
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. “ (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
That’s a word from the Lord that both Steve and I would do well to heed!
My concern in all of this is straightforward. I return to the quote I gave from Erasmus in my first article ““the Bible will give Christ to you, in an intimacy so close that he would be less visible to you if he stood before your eyes”.
Steve’s attack on the bible as the word of God, ultimately takes the Word of God away from us and ends up presenting us with a false Christ, one made in our own image, one made in the likeness of our culture and society. The Jesus for our times is not a Jesus we just make up to suit the times; He is the Jesus of the Bible. You take away from the Bible; you are taking him away from us. Proclaim Christ. Preach the word! If we demean the word, we cannot preach the Word.
20th January 2018