Tuesday, October 12, 2004

English folks debating about the atonement...

Blogs can be an interesting way of connecting with things I am sure I would never have heard of otherwise. I have been reading reports about the controversy in the UK over a guy named Steve Chalke and a book he wrote challenging the majority evangelical view of the atonement. That is a subject that always interests me because I think it is one theological point that can have a big influence on our action and expression of Christianity.

I am no fan of a really rigid approach to atonement theology that treats anything diverging from penal atonement as heresy. I mean, the early church had no formal theory of the atonement, yet they seemed to do as well as any of us in being disciples of Jesus. I think that fact points to the possibility that we need to consider and hold a number of theories in tension in order to grasp something of the fullness that God is trying to communicate in Jesus.

From what I heard about Chalke's point of view, it sounds like is putting forth a lot of good ideas that need to be heard. In an article some time ago, I struggled with some of the theology of Christ on the Cross that made no sense to me, and from what I read on Graham's blog, it sounds like I should read Chalke's book; it seems like he is communicating clearly what were just a bunch of muddled hunches for me.

The one thing I don't understand though, and that has a lot to do with not knowing the English context they are in, is why the debate actually arises in the first place. Not that that is at all a bad thing - on the contrary I think it is great that they would all get together and talk these things through. I guess what I would expect to happen would be for Chalke to write the book, get labelled as a heretic and written off by some segment of the evangelical community, and everyone would go on quietly with their lives. I mean, its not the first time ideas like this have surfaced. J. Denny Weaver in America wrote a book full of very similar ideas, and I don't think it even caused a stir (heh, maybe evangelicals just ignored it because they figure Mennonites aren't really evangelicals anyway). And Steve Chalke seems to be quite concerned with remaining an evangelical in good standing, enough so to defend himself vigorously and passionately in a packed debating hall. Rather than just saying, "so what, some people think I am not an evangelical, who cares" he seems to demonstrate that being a member in good standing of the evangelical fold is of great value. Can anyone explain this to me?


Graham Old said...

I've absolutely no idea why he is so desperate to remain an evangelical. I guess he has a ready audience there and is keen to help them gain access to a more noble vision of God and the work of Christ. Maybe he sees this as more for their benefit than his?

But the funny things is that people are getting so worked up by this. As you say, and as Steve said on the night, these ideas are far from new. He actually doesn't go half as far as Weaver.

Yet, as people harped on and on about wrath (I'd guess 8 out of 10 questons were people insisting that God is angry. Weird!) I did sit there thinking, "If this is what it means to be an evangelical, I'm glad not to be one!"

It's a good book, btw. One to read and give away.

Paul Fromont said...

JJ. We'd have the same debate down here is people actually read. I've only seen the book in one shop...nothing in the city i live in. I've had to order it in, so I can read it and then give it away (it's entry level). As you said, and I agree (as our long-ago e-mails communicated), the atonement is critically important to discipleship, ethics, mission etc. Hence i think a book like this needs to be widely read and discussed. Evangelical and fundamental thinking needs to be stretched for the sake of God's mission in God's world. We're sitting on our hands because of poor / waek theological thinking and reflection. Our doctrine of heaven / end things is another critical doctrine for living and mission. When the likes of Tim LaHaye et el become the principal source of 'theological' reflection in the pews weve got some serious problems. Wouldn't it be good if people started with Chalke, moved onto to Deaver etc....Grace friend.