Q1 – In your “In the Beginning” presentation, you quote Steve Chalke to show how compromising on the historical nature of the Genesis creation account is associated with other doctrinal error. However, your quote has him saying that the cross is not a form of cosmic child abuse, when other times I’ve heard the quote he seems to be saying that it is.
Answer: – First, a bit of background for those who don’t know – Steve Chalke is a broadcaster and former minister who is prominent on the “evangelical” scene in Britain. One organisation he represents is getting involved with the Government’s Academy Schools programme, and because similar schools in North-East England have allowed pupils to consider creation as well as evolution as theories of human origins, he was questionned about whether his schools would be doing the same. His answer was “My personal belief is that… those who wish to read into Genesis chapter one that God made the world in six days… are not being honest and scholarly. It won’t be taught in the school because I think it’s rubbish. It’s a bizarre thing to claim the Bible suggests that. Genesis is saying that behind creation is a good God.”
Chalke also ran into controversy for views in his book “The Lost Message of Jesus”, co-authored with Alan Mann. Here they state “the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed” (p.182)
So, Chalke isn’t saying that the cross was Cosmic Child Abuse – but he is saying that if you believe that Christ stood in our place and took our punishment for our sins, that you believe it was Cosmic Child Abuse. And if you, like most evangelicals, believe that, and if you are right to do so, then the cross would be Cosmic Child Abuse, according to Steve Chalke. Consequently plenty of evangelicals got pretty annoyed at Chalke’s dismissive attitude towards a core belief.
Chalke sees the main point of disagreement with the idea of God as “vengeful and vindictive”, which he sees as being at odds with the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Chalke’s God is non-violent. This of course sits well with his rejection of the historical nature of the Genesis account of creation, as it is difficult to see how a “non-violent” God could punish Adam and Eve (and all their descendants) with death, or wipe out all but 8 people in a global flood. It also raises questions about what a non-violent God would do with people in the future – would such a God be capable of eternal punishment? Consequently, it is easy to understand how some are calling into question Steve Chalke’s credentials as an evangelical.
What we can learn from this is that conventional biblical teaching is very much at odds with modern thinking, and that there are many people in churches who favour the modern thinking over the biblical worldview, and also that the idea of a God who punishes, and can still be a loving God, is foreign to many minds.
What many find objectionable is that Christ is the innocent victim of a punishment for someone else’s crime, and that God’s punishment of him is seen therefore as unjust. This however ignores one major issue. It’s the injustice that is the point. None of us really want justice. If the world was made to be resolutely just, we all would perish. Our need for the injustice of escaping the punishment, is balanced by Christ taking our punishment for us – we, the guilty, go free, because Christ, the innocent, takes our punishment, that he never deserved. We can’t have one without the other.
Steve Chalke and others have embraced a different philosophy involving a cuddly God who would never hurt anyone, thereby highlighting how much work there is to do within even evangelical churches to ensure their members are worshipping the God who is there, rather than the God they are hoping for.
For another view on Steve Chalke and penal substitutionary atonement, see here