Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Steve Chalke's "The Lost Message of Jesus"

Don Macleod provides a very helpful review of Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus.

Here is an excerpt:

Where there is a shallow doctrine of sin, we can expect a shallow doctrine of the atonement. The expectation is not disappointed. Chalke is weary of the Evangelical obsession with preaching "Christ crucified", regards the idea of penal substitution as immoral ("a form of cosmic child abuse") and sees the cross exclusively as a symbol of love. There, Jesus absorbed all the forces of hate, just as Carol, the victim of an unfaithful husband, saved her marriage by taking all the pain to herself and granting her husband full pardon. The cross is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as His Son are prepared to go to prove their love.

It is astonishing how such a doctrine has survived from the days of Abelard till now despite all its flimsiness. How can the cross be a mere demonstration: a gesture? If death is the wages of sin (as it surely is) and if Christ died, then the cross is penal in its very nature. His penal suffering is not a theory, but a fact, and the resulting theory adds not a single iota to the horror of what he endured. The narrative is that he suffered what sin deserved.

We shall never understand the cross unless we see it first and foremost not as an action of Christ the Son, but as an action of God the father. How can the sacrificing of His only Son demonstrate the Father’s love? Suppose we, for no reason, did it to ours; would that demonstrate our love? The cross cannot be a demonstration of the divine love unless there is something in the relationship between God and man to which the death of His Son was the only answer. With all the power of his soul, Jesus prayed that the cup might pass from him. With all the ardour of his being, the Father wished he could grant that prayer. Both were constrained by a self-imposed necessity. The Son of Man must suffer. "Die he, or justice must."

The lost message of Jesus? More like the familiar message of the liberal establishment, garnished with half-forgotten heresies.