The Chalke Conversation – Agreement and Disagreement

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.

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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.

Conclusion:

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.

David Robertson

20th January 2018

15 thoughts on “The Chalke Conversation – Agreement and Disagreement

  1. A well modulated article.
    I know nothing of Spurgeons but it would be interesting to trace the beliefs of graduates but what Chalke seems to be coming out with now is seems little more than liberal, form criticism, higher criticism of Bultman and many others, which if you do not start from a thorough conversion, can easily pull faith under in the undercurrents of Cupitt’s Sea of faith.
    And, as I was taught, on a Methodist Faith and Worship Course for local preachers that the gospels were the redacted work of the communities following a theoretical Q document, there is no reason to believe the contents other than a human construct, with, perhaps, some sort of symbolic spirituality and good examples to follow.
    An extension of this type of teaching is to rely on the red letter bibles, where the spoken words of Jesus are regarded as authoratative, but the rest isn’t. The Jesus Seminar was a parody of this idea, to “discover the historical Jesus”
    https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-seminar.html
    is a reasonable summation.
    “Question: “What is the Jesus Seminar?”

    Answer: The “Jesus Seminar” was begun by New Testament “scholar” Robert Funk in the 1970s. It was Funk’s desire to rediscover the “historical Jesus” that was hidden, he believed, behind almost 2000 years of Christian traditions, myths, and legends. The Jesus Seminar was created to examine the biblical gospels and other early Christian literature to discover who Jesus truly was and what He truly said. The Jesus Seminar was (and still is) comprised almost entirely of individuals who deny the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible. The agenda of the Jesus Seminar is not to discover who the historical Jesus was. Rather, the purpose of the Jesus Seminar is to attack what the Bible clearly says about who Jesus is and what He taught.

    The crowning publication of the Jesus Seminar is a work that goes through the four biblical gospels and the gospel of Thomas and proceeds to determine what Jesus truly said and taught. It divides Jesus’ words from the gospels into categories based on how likely it is that Jesus truly said them. Words in red indicate words that Jesus most likely said. Words in pink represent words that Jesus possibly said. Words in grey indicate words that Jesus likely did not say, but are close to what He might have said. Words in black represent words that Jesus definitely did not say. It is interesting to note that in this work from the Jesus Seminar there are more words in black than in red, pink, and grey combined. Almost the entire gospel of John is in black. It is also interesting that the gospel of Thomas is given a significantly higher percentage of red and pink words than the biblical gospels. It is absolutely ridiculous, even offensive, to think that a group of “scholars” today can more accurately determine what Jesus did and did not say than the authors of the gospels, who wrote in the same century in which Jesus lived, taught, died, and was resurrected.

    The “scholars” of the Jesus Seminar do not believe in the deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the miracles of Christ, or the substitutionary atonement death of Christ. Perhaps most significantly, they deny that the Holy Spirit is the author of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), having moved the minds and hands of all the writers (2 Peter 1:20-21). Since the Jesus Seminar does not believe these Christian doctrines, they relegate anything that Jesus says in support of them as “black.” Essentially, the agenda of the Jesus Seminar is, “I do not believe Jesus is God, so I am going to remove anything that records Jesus saying or teaching that He is God from the gospels.” The claim that the purpose of the Jesus Seminar is to “discover the historical Jesus” is false and misleading. The true purpose of the Jesus Seminar is to promote the Jesus that the Jesus Seminar believes in instead of the Jesus of the Bible.

    Recommended Resource: Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Darrell Bock

    There is much more to learn about it from a search.

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  2. Surely Steve Chalke underestimates the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. Steve can’t accept what he perceives as ethnic cleansing etc in the O. T. Was the great flood when Noah and his family alone were saved, an example of “ethnic cleansing” or the judgement of God? God’s judgement is expressed in many ways and often the innocent suffer because of the sin of others. Today the industrial scale of the abortion industry is akin to ethnic cleansing where the wicked and indifferent flourish and the innocent perish. What does he have to say about that in today’s world? Not only has he got it wrong when it comes to the doctrine of Christ and the nature and authority of the Bible but he has got it wrong in the doctrine of God and his holiness…. also the nature of sin and the necessity of judgement before a holy God. It can be a problem for any of us to fail to let God be God but rather decide for ourselves what God can or cannot do which Steve seems to be doing in his theological approach.

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    1. Ive never had an issue with what I read in the OT. Judgement and justice must take place. Remove this from the OT or New, what do we have?
      Today we meat out justice in all manner of forms, without batting an eyelid. But for some reason we put ourselves in the shoes of those judged in the OT, appealing to our culture and values, and judge God on a few short texts that were written 3k years ago. Is it our place to judge if God eliminates a wicked nation, men, women and child, which we know little of?
      It’s folly to do so. And relies upon presupposed objective moral values and duties, that the liberals who rely upon them and appeal to, never declare their origin! To suggest it is genocide is one thing, to suggest genocide has always been wrong is another. There must be a basis for such a claim. From whence does it derive? Certainly not evolution and culture. That’s changeable. The liberals appeal by inference to objective values they cannot explain.
      Your right, the abortion industry kills millions of babies, in the name of choice for women, as if this is a universal overriding objective moral value and duty. If only those who argued that OT genocide was wrong, attacked abortion with the same fervour and used the same objective values. But they don’t.

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  3. C S Lewis said it all before (although at greater length) in his essay in 1959, “Fern seed and elephants”. http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html

    The last paragraph sums it up, and indeed i quite prophetic concerning the C of E let alone Steve Chalke:

    “Such are the reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology. It is right that you should hear them. You will not perhaps hear them very often again. Your parishioners will not often speak to you quite frankly. Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; now he tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.”

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    1. Thanks for the link to the CS Lewis essay, goodfeltg. The full article is well worth reading.

      Without coming across (I can’t recall how) “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell, which I searched out, (it includes some quotes from the Lewis essay) as my training in law, and subsequent conversion, caused me to intellectually dispair at what was being peddled, without any semblance of counter-critique, I, too, may have floundered, as seeming to be isolated, in a Methodist training setting. In any event, through self study that led to coming to a reformed position, I left the methodists as I could not vow not to teach or preach against the doctrine of the church. Some Methodists today embrace the teachings of Chalke and Rob Bell.
      An older friend, retired dentist, methodist lay preacher, spent his formative years in the Brethren, and his roots of belief remain in his influencers at that time, Jung and Albert Schweitzer and the quest for the historical Jesus who, with steadfast presupposition, is different from the Jesus of faith, although Lewis is held in high esteem as well.

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  4. 4) We disagree that 2 Timothy 3:16 does not imply the infallibility of all the Scripture.

    This is how I see scripture. To illustrate….

    All of David Robertsons blogs are inspired by David Robertson. They are a number of words placed in an order, forming sentences, paragraphs, articles. They may be typed directly by David, or dictated by another.
    In the case of Oswald Chambers, his words are infamous, even though he himself wrote none of them. (His wife made shorthand notes, from which books were drafted after his death.)

    But to grasp the meaning of what a writer is saying, requires getting to know the man or woman. The author. Those familiar with either David or Chambers, can read a sentence, and understand what they are saying. They know the man. They know the motives. The purpose. When you know an author, you understand much more than words on a page.

    To understand scripture requires more than reading the words. Jesus told the Pharisees this. “You read scripture seeking life, but you don’t find it, because you won’t come to me.”
    Paul said the same, “the letter killeth, but the spirit gives life.”

    There are those reading scripture, that read scripture only, and do not seek the one who is the author. It is he who gives the revelation, meaning and understanding. Without which we become like the Pharisees. We see words, open for interpretation. Jesus didn’t leave us with such. He has given His Spirit, to teach us, correct, edify, as Paul sets out in 2 Tim 3:16.

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