Thursday, 5 March 2009

Meeting Steve Chalke

On Friday we had a service of celebration for a member of our Church who was a headmaster at the Oasis Academy in Bristol.

Steve Chalke came to the service and gave a tribute on behalf of the school and Oasis.

Now over the last five years or so Steve Chalke has gone from being in many ways the poster boy of UK evangelicalism to a more controversial figure. His achievements with Oasis Trust, Faithworks, media appearances, politics and conference speaking (Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor), put him right in the top group of christian leaders in the UK. He even inspired a line in the wonderful song by Why? called "While Rome burns"

"Every year Steve Chalk brings out a video
With a hope to show us what goes on in third world countries
Occasionally we contemplate, to make a pledge
But relegate, or think of kids in Bangladesh and
Watch the news

Are you going to try to find a way
Visit and care donate and pray
Or are you going to rosin up your bow
And fiddle while Rome burns"

That first line best expresses who he was to my generation, as the thousands who jumped up and down at Greenbelt singing those lines understood. It was the nineties, we were Christian young people, and he was a voice in the culture standing up for the voiceless.

Yet many people now know of him since he wrote his book "The lost message of Jesus" and the debate on the atonement that has raged ever since.

I don't hold the same view as Steve Chalke regarding penal substitutionary atonement, but I can see where he is coming from. I will explain that in a future post. It just seems a shame that the reaction it has provoked (from people I mostly agree with!) has, I believe, actually made it more difficult for discussion. Black and white, "with us" or "against us", heresy hunting is more akin to the inquisition than modern British evangelicalism. We won't win many people if we talk and act like that, and we certainly won't win each other.

Not that I spoke with him about this at all, it was not relevant.

He was gracious, kind, friendly and affable. He gave a fabulous tribute to John and showed his own vulnerability in facing such tragedy while also lifting people's gaze to the love of God found in Jesus. He was loving and tender with the family.

His work in education in the UK at the moment is simply amazing, and he remains a key voice within evangelicalism, keeping the message of social action both at home and abroad on people's minds.

And I think that is what struck me the most on Friday. If some of his critics had but a twentieth of his track record then maybe some of their criticism would sound less hollow.

So while I do certainly disagree with him on the technical specifics of penal substitutionary atonement, I value his contribution to the UK Church scene and pray for an increase in his ministry as he continues to be a voice for the voiceless, and brings hope where there has been no hope.

Can disagreement actually bring you closer together? I think so, when you love despite your differences, not because of your agreements.


Jongudmund said...

Black and white, "with us" or "against us", heresy hunting is more akin to the inquisition than modern British evangelicalism.

Really, Dave? I'd say that about sums up modern British evangelicalism.

(AKA: Everything is heresy unless it's absolutely true. And I know I know the truth but I don't think you do. Get away from me heretic.)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Jongudmund.

The attitude of many evangelicals over here (particularly the conservative ones) is that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the only right one, and anyone who dares question it gets burnt at the stake (what happened with Steve Chalke is a good example). Sounds like a lot of "truth" but no grace to me.

I first encountered Steve 25 years ago, when he was an itinerant evangelist. It was obvious back then that he had an exceptional gift for communicating Christianity in a non-religious and culturally relevant way.

He's gone on to do more than anyone else I can think of to present a positive image of evangelical Christianity to the wider world. So it saddens me greatly that he's been vilified for thinking outside the box.

We need more like him, and we need to accept a diversity of views.

ross said...

Sorry to disagree with you all, but what Chalke denied was not a matter of 'technical specifics' but it was actually the very beating heart of the Gospel (if you believe Jesus dying in our place to take our punishment is biblical). We must be willing contend for the truth, even with nice, friendly, affable, intelligent guys like Steve Chalke.

Adrian Warnock has just written a good article about this, you can read it at: