Thursday, April 26, 2007

In keeping with the roots of UCCF

There is a long history of division over penal substitution in church history, particularly in the UK.

Way back in 1910 The Split between The CICCU and SCM was precisely over the centrality of penal substitution. The Leaders of SCM at the time didn't deny penal substitution. They merely denied its centrality. IVF (later renamed UCCF) came from those root in Cambridge.

To refuse to allow someone who not only denies the doctrine, but likens it to child abuse is therefore utterly consistent with the roots and foundation of UCCF.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pierced for our transgression response

The Pierced for Our Transgressions website has posted a response to NT Wright's article here

Monday, April 23, 2007

Does Steve Chalke Really deny penal substitution?

After a partnership of 14 years Spring Harvest has finally ejected Word Alive.

Adrian Warnock has been blogging about this here

what is the crime that Word Alive has committed to receive such discipline from the authorities of Spring Harvest?

Spring Harvest has not disciplined Word alive for false teaching, or promotion of immorality. It appears that the reason for the rift is that Spring Harvest perceives Word Alive to be divisive. UCCF refuses to allow one of the board of Spring Harvest, Steve Chalke, to speak at Word Alive, because he has clearly denied penal Substitution.

This whole issue requires careful attention, as there are many different issues to deal with, all of which seem to be up for debate on the internet. If penal substitution is denied, is the gospel itself denied? Should different opinions be welcomed at an event like Word Alive? What will be the fall out from this split? Can't Christians just stop fighting with one another and all just get along?

Before answering any of these questions, there are some facts of the whole case that have been disputed. Some people are saying that Steve Chalke hasn't denied penal substitution at all.

NT Wright (defending his endorsement of Chalke's book) quotes Chalke, and then asks what Chalke acutally means:

The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement that “God is Love”. If the cross is a personal act of vioence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. (p. 182f.)

Now, to be frank, I cannot tell, from this paragraph alone, which of two things Steve means. You could take the paragraph to mean (a) on the cross, as an expression of God’s love, Jesus took into and upon himself the full force of all the evil around him, in the knowledge that if he bore it we would not have to; but this, which amounts to a form of penal substitution, is quite different from other forms of penal substitution, such as the mediaeval model of a vengeful father being placated by an act of gratuitous violence against his innocent son. In other words, there are many models of penal substitution, and the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story is at best a caricature of the true one. Or you could take the paragraph to mean (b) because the cross is an expression of God’s love, there can be no idea of penal substitution at all, because if there were it would necessarily mean the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story, and that cannot be right.

Clearly, Steve’s critics have taken him to mean (b), as I think it is clear Jeffrey John and several others intend. I cannot now remember what I thought when I read the book four years ago and wrote my commendation, but I think, since I had been following the argument through in the light of the arguments I myself have advanced, frequently and at length, about Jesus’ death and his own understanding of it, that I must have assumed he meant (a). I have now had a good conversation with Steve about the whole subject and clarified that my initial understanding was correct: he does indeed mean (a).

Well, whatever Chalke said in a private conversation to NT Wright, he certainly makes clearer statements in Redeeming the Cross an essay posted on the web, showing very clearly that he in fact means (b).

In reality, penal substitution (in contrast to other substitutionary theories) doesn’t cohere well with either biblical or Early Church thought. Although penal substitution isn’t as old as many people assume (it’s not even as old as the pews in many of our church buildings), it is actually built on pre-Christian thought...
The theological problem with penal substitution is that it presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution flowing from his wrath against sinners. The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him; and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross.
Given the chance to clarify whether he is talking about a particular presentation of penal substitution, or penal substitution at all, Chalke is very clear, that it is the whole idea of penal substitution that he rejects as making God a child abuser.
In The Lost Message of Jesus I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to ‘child abuse – a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’ Though the sheer bluntness of this imagery (not original to me of course) might shock some, in truth, it is only a stark ‘unmasking’ of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology. And the simple truth is that if God does not relate to his only Son as a perfect father, neither can we relate to him as such.
Steve Chalke does in fact clearly deny penal substitution. There is some irony in the NT Wright article. In comments he makes about the recent book Pierced for Our Transgressions
he says,

Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’.
I fear that it is Wright's criticisms of Pierced for Our Transgressions, not the book's statements that Chalke denies penal substitution, that result from a failure to read the relevant texts.

Steve Chalke clearly denies penal substition. He hates the idea. In His mind, it undermines the loving character of God. I hope that NT Wright will withdraw his accusations of carelessness on the part of the authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions, and humbly admit that it is he who has been careless.

To read more on Chalke's book, see my review of it here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reflections on the birth of a Son.

After the birth of our second son and third child in the early hours of Thursday morning, I have been struck afresh by many things about life.

1. Life is fragile.

Watching a baby seconds after his birth struggling for breath and wondering, praying that he will not stop. Seeing his tiny chest beating 150 beats per minute. Our physical life is desperately fragile. We are indeed like flowers.
2. Life is precious.
There was obviously no inrinsic change in value in our son the moment his life became outside the womb rather than inside. But seeing him, touching him, holding him, smelling him, hearing him brings home the extraodianry value that a human being has.
3. Life is either well spent or wasted.
Human life is precious ultimately because of the precious Lord whom we are called to image. My son is called to live his life displaying the character of God for the glory of God.
Looking down at my little son, not knowing how long his life will be, or how he will use that time, makes me deeply aware of the fact that he might spend his life well, or badly. He might spend his life honouring the Lord, or honouring idols. He has his whole life ahead of him. I pray it will be a life well spent.
4. Life is eternal.
Thinking of my son's age in seconds, then minutes, then hours, and now days helps impress upon me the eternal significance of this life. Though his physicla life here is fleeting, he has an eternal soul. It has one of only two destinies. My son will spend either an eternity praising the Lord Jesus for his goodness and mercy, or an eternity shut out from his presence. The name we have chosen for our son indicates that he belongs to the Lord, and he will in the end be judged by God alone. May he life his life before him and for him!

Friday, April 6, 2007

A Christian View of Work 10: Our Labor in the Lord is Not in Vain

The Lord’s Work is not in vain.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

The answer to the ‘abel’, the fleetingness of life, is to live your life with reference to the One who is not fleeting. It is the resurrection of Jesus that makes it absolutely clear why living your life for the Lord transforms everything.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:50-58)

If we trust in Jesus Christ, we will be raised. So everything we do in the Lord’s service is not in vain.

a. By working for the Lord, whether it be filing or telling someone the gospel, we are building his kingdom. That kingdom, unlike our filing system, will last forever. Our work is restored to be a proper exercise of the image of God. We once again display God’s eternal glory.

b. We will be raised. Our relationship with Christ will go on for ever. So anything that exercises that relationship is building an eternal relationship. So it too will last.

So even if nobody notices that we are working our hardest for the Lord, it is still an eternal work. For we are honoring the Lord who deserves honoring. We will eternally live to honor him.

Everything we do in the Lord’s service is not in vain. It’s not meaningless. That is why we need to do everything in the Lord’s service. So long as work remains worship of the Lord, it will not be in vain. In fact, as we heard in a recent Sunday night address, all that we do for the Lord is multiplied by the Lord by compound interest laying up a great deposit of praise for ever in heaven.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Creation has been subjected to frustration not finally as a display of despair. The Lord has subjected it to frustration in hope. Frustration of this creation, and therefore of all work in this world proclaims a greater hope that our work is not in vain if it has been redeemed from futility by the one who is building an eternal city that will last for ever. If we are children of God through faith in Jesus’ death for us, where the curse we deserved has fallen, then we can rest secure that all our labor in the Lord will never be in vain. It will be used by the Lord to build a world that will never be touched by idolatry, frustration or decay.