A couple of people have posted comments on the Lost Message of Jesus review and I think their objections to the review are similar to other viewpoints I’ve heard expressed in other contexts. The two main ideas I want to challenge are the idea that Christian leaders should not attempt to oppose teaching that appears to contradict the Bible; and that the worth of Steve Chalke’s book can be judged by its effect on individual people’s lives. I want to show that the Bible clearly teaches that one the prime responsibilities of Christian leaders is to oppose false teaching (especially false teaching about the cross); and that no matter what positive effect Chalke’s teaching has it must be opposed.
Firstly, they suggest that opposition to Chalke’s book is either “censorship” or needless, and that people should be left to decide for themselves. Of course, people should make up their own minds, but the responsibility of a Christian leader (such as those who wrote the review) is to
… hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
Paul even goes so far as to tell Titus that those who oppose sound doctrine
… must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach… (Titus 1:11)
I think that the review clearly shows the areas in which Chalke’s teaching contradicts what the Bible teaches on the nature of God, the nature of mankind, and the cross. Christian leaders who are obedient to Paul’s instructions will oppose what Chalke teaches, and will do so publicly in order to guard those who might be harmed by it.
Both the commenters referred to the effects of Steve Chalke’s book on individual spiritual lives in order to justify its worth. It is wonderful when people are truly encouraged to love and worship God more, and to read books that give us more insight into God’s nature. However, we have to be sure that the God we are loving is the real one and not one we’ve constructed ourselves, and that we are faithful to what the Bible teaches us about God’s nature. In 2 Timothy Paul had this to say:
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3,4)
Why is Paul so concerned with sound doctrine, and so harsh in his condemnations of false teaching? I think the answer is found a few verses earlier in the chapter, where Paul tells Timothy that he is giving him this instruction
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead… (2 Tim 4:1)
One day each person must face Jesus as their judge. At that point, the most important thing is not whether Steve Chalke has encouraged people to love God more, or if he has managed to describe the “God that I know” — instead, has he accurately described the one true God, and has he accurately described the way we can be saved from God’s judgement? I believe that Chalke has described a different God from the one who has revealed himself in the Bible, and has turned what Jesus did on the cross into a myth: a demonstration of love that cannot save us from judgement. Faith in Chalke’s God (who lacks moral purity) and Chalke’s Jesus (who has not atoned for our sin) is not the faith of the Bible, and will be utterly useless when Jesus returns to judge.
Opposition to false teaching opens us up to being caricatured as engaging in censorship, but is in fact simple obedience to God’s instruction in the Bible. Descriptions of God and encouragement to love him are only worthwhile if they are consistent with what the Bible teaches us about God and salvation.