Saturday, 22 February 2014

Steve Chalke says he wants to draw people to Jesus but his teaching on the Bible risks leading them away

Christianity magazine and Premier Radio have controversially this week given Steve Chalke (pictured) a platform to propagate his views on the Bible.

But the deafening silence from evangelicals (and effusive welcome from others) that has greeted his call (see also here) for a ‘global conversation’ on how we interpret God’s Word is further evidence that many no longer see him as a credible Christian voice 

As Steve Holmes ably argues, we have been having a global debate about the interpretation of the Bible for almost 2,000 years, and there is nothing earth-shattering or even new in what Chalke says.

Few would dispute the fact that Chalke has done, and continues to do, a great deal of good. But many will see his latest article on the Bible as just a further dangerous step down the slippery slope to embracing a new liberalism, following logically from his earlier rejection of penal substitution and his embracing of gay partnerships.

Chalke does nonetheless give voice to the inner doubts with which some Christians struggle and for that reason it is important that we deal in our pulpits and Bible studies with the issues that he raises.

In other words, the able defences of biblical authority with which most evangelical preachers and apologists are already well familiar, need to be made more accessible to ordinary Christians in the pew.

This is because Chalke, though critical of what he sees as Richard Dawkins’ ‘rather superficial and juvenile conclusions’, now risks unwittingly giving credence to the new atheism he rejects, by recycling some of the tired arguments of Dawkins and others as grounds for his own loss of confidence in biblical authority.

His popularity, combined with his undoubted ability to connect with people, in this age of celebrity, I believe poses a real danger. This is made worse by the fact that Chalke continues to insist that he is still an evangelical and that many evangelicals seem reluctant to distance themselves from his teaching.

Now that many young Christians on the front line are encountering the new atheism it is important to ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal not just with Dawkins and his ilk from outside the camp, but also with the arguments of Chalke from within it.

So what are the issues that have led Chalke to abandon an evangelical position?

Interestingly he touches only very briefly on these in the version of his article that appears in Christianity magazine. One has to read his longer article on the Oasis website to see which biblical teaching he no longer feels comfortable with. Here, I believe, we find his real reasons for no longer professing in full the Christian faith taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

Chalke sums up his objections up by referring to the ‘brutality, violence, genocide and punitive legislation contained in the Old Testament’ and the ‘oppressive and discriminatory teaching’ in the New Testament.

The following list of the biblical teaching which Chalke rejects should not surprise. I have made a short comment about each item in italics but reams have already been written more ably by others about each.

1. Sex between two people of the same sex is morally wrong

Chalke wants to endorse ‘faithful’ same-sex partnerships and so rejects the clear biblical teaching that sex is made only for a life-long, monogamous, heterosexual relationship called marriage.

2. The slaughter of the Canaanites in the Old Testament

Chalke seems not to understand the lessons this incident is meant to teach us about the seriousness of sin and the justice, mercy and grace of God.

3. The provision for slavery in the Old Testament

Chalke again seems not to be uncomfortable with the Old Testament’s acceptance of bonded servants (a better option for indebted people than imprisonment or unemployment) and prisoners of war and seems not to be aware that kidnapping a person (real slavery) was actually a capital offence, regarded as seriously in the Old Testament as murder and/or adultery (Deuteronomy 24:7)

4. God created the universe in six consecutive 24 hour periods (Genesis 1)

Many evangelicals dispute that the biblical texts can only be read in this unambiguous way. But Chalke seems either unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge the existence, of the different positions defended by serious evangelicals on the creation narrative from both scripture and history. John Lennox’s ‘Seven days that divide the world’ is a good overview of the various arguments.

5. Disabled people were not able to become priests in Israel (Leviticus 21:16-23)

Chalke accuses the Bible of discriminating against disabled people but the Bible is very clear elsewhere that all human beings are equally made in the image of God and equally precious to him. It actually teaches that disabled people deserve special respect and protection (Leviticus 19:14; 2 Samuel 9). The Levitical passage above is to be seen in its context as pointing to the perfection of Christ as our great high priest, in the same way that animals sacrificed in the temple pointed to him by being ‘without blemish’. It is not endorsing discrimination.

6. The man stoned for gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36)

Like many Old Testament stories this incident teaches us about the serious of sin and the importance of taking God’s commands seriously. Old Testament stories are there to teach us about God’s holiness. They are warnings to us, not endorsements to apply their punishments today (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

7. The varying accounts of who inspired David’s census – God or Satan (2 Samuel 24:1 & 1 Chronicles 21:1)

Chalke asks ‘Can both accounts be right?’ but most commentators see no difficulty here. Satan was acting under God’s sovereignty and with his permission, in the same way that he was allowed to test Job or sift Peter. Chalke is either unaware of this or has deliberately chosen not to say it. He should perhaps read Jay Smith’s ‘101 cleared up contradictions in the Bible’ where this and 100 other commonly cited alleged contradictions are explained.

8. The role of women in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

Chalke again seems unwilling to grapple with texts like this in the context of the rest of the testimony of Scripture about the role of women. There is a huge evangelical literature on this text and others. Is he genuinely unable to see his way here, or is he just being lazy? 

Chalke’s underlying motivation seems to be to remove, or to reinterpret, biblical teachings that he thinks will put people off embracing Christianity. He wants to make the Christian faith more ‘attractive’, ‘relevant’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘welcoming’.

The problem with this is that in so doing he is both undermining people’s confidence in the authority of Scripture, which Jesus himself upheld, and also modifying the Gospel.

Chalke has fashioned for himself an alternative Gospel which cherry picks from Scripture the beliefs he wants and discards those which he finds inconvenient.

He claims that this is in order to draw people to Christ – the real Word of God – but I can’t help wondering if he is simply responding to the temptation of choosing a message which will help him avoid being attacked. 

In embracing popular contemporary causes like gay marriage and avoiding speaking out on areas where Scripture is under attack Chalke risks emasculating the Gospel.

On the one hand he is endorsing a practice (same sex erotic behaviour) which the Bible clearly teaches will result in exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

On the other, he is wanting to excise passages from the Scriptures which teach of God’s holiness, justice and judgement. But understanding these matters is an essential prerequisite to understanding grace and mercy and indeed the true message of the cross.

Jesus Christ put his stamp of authority on the Old Testament and commissioned the writing of the New Testament through the apostles by the Holy Spirit.

In saying that the Bible is not the Word of God Chalke is denying something that Jesus himself taught. He can't have it both ways. He can't claim to follow Christ and yet reject Christ's teaching.

Chalke is walking a dangerous road. In his passion to draw people in to Christ, he risks leading them away. 

For a brief review of Jesus’ view of the Bible see here.

Other coverage and commentary

Huffington Post 
Christianity Today
Brian McLaren    


  1. I once attended a lovely Evangelical Church in Asia

    It was growing and the founder and leader was a professor of Theology in the local University. The teaching in Church and Bible studies, was solid, scripture based and I learned a lot. He had a lovely very pretty wife and four young children

    One day he came to see us and stated that God had told him in prayer that he could have two wives and would like our support to talk to his wife as she was not so happy with the proposal!

    He got his second wife, but lost his first wife and his four children. His first wife divorced him and took his kids to live in another country.

    The church inevitably started to disintegrate. Many left, to a rapidly growing Anglican Church.

    Come to Wales. 100 years ago there were Chapels everywhere, now they are mostly houses or by us a barn for a tractor. What happened? They decided to add to the Gospel, which is just as bad as Steve C subtracting things.

    Would Steve C have supported that man have his second wife and still lead the church? From what we read there is no reason to suppose otherwise.


  2. This article has just called Steve Chalke lazy, cowardly, lacking in understanding and hinted that he's lying. Ad hominem attack, after ad hominem attack on him.

    Steve must be hitting the mark...

    1. Steve has accomplished a lot of good in his life, but this latest piece from him is a very serious attack on the authority of the Bible.

      He is claiming on the one hand to be upholding the authority of Jesus Christ, and yet on the other he is taking a very different position from that Jesus himself did on the authority of Scripture. This is to challenge Jesus' own authority.

      Jesus put his stamp of authority on the Old Testament and commissioned the writing of the New Testament, and he sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles in what they wrote.

      I and others are taking issue with both Steve and his teaching because we believe sincerely that he is doing great damage to the church.

    2. When someone's teaching is criticised,or they face opposition, it should not automatically lead to the conclusion that "they must be correct, or else they would not face such opposition."

      I have heard this argument in the church before and I find it very disturbing. It can and has been used to defend appalling behaviour by church leaders. The argument is that if we face opposition of any sort then we must be doing God's work and "the devil is attacking us"

      If opposition were a sign of doing the Lord's work then Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and others would have been right in what they did.

      I went to a very controlling church for a time. I was banned from speakng to anyone in that church because and I quote "God had told them I was a lesbian and needed to repent and receive deliverance" Funny, I thought you needed to be a woman who was, at the very least, attracted to other women, in order to be a lesbian. I was not, never had been and probably never will be. However, God had told them so it had to be true. They got plenty of opposition and criticism and sadly they took that as a sign that they were on the right path.

      Yes people who do get it right can and do also face opposition. I just think we need to be very careful when we use "facing opposition" as a plumb line for being on the right path.

    3. I'm really sorry this happened to you. I hope you have now found a church where people respect you.

  3. No, Steve's not "attacking", he's asking honest questions - for valid reasons. The bible does contain hundreds of contradictions and mistakes, plus god-sanctioned genocides, god-commanded gang rapes, directions to stone to death gays, rebellious youth, adulterous goes on and on. There are also thousands of textual variations between ancient bible texts, and no originals are in existence, only copies - so we simply have no idea what was originally written. We also do not know which is the 'right' version of the copies we now have. Or, even which books should be included, 66 books per the Protestant bible? Or 73 books per the Catholic edition? Or 81 books per the Orthodox version?

    These are simply incompatible with a perfect god and his perfect 'word'. In the light of the bible's content, it is a very valid question to ask whether every word could really be 'breathed' by a perfect god. An objective reading of the evidence reveals the bible to be a flawed, man-made, non-divine collection of books, letters and fragments of documents.

    How you respond to these issues depends on whether your approach to which beliefs you hold is to (a) stand by your current beliefs no matter what, or (b) to revise your beliefs in the light of the evidence.


    1. It is difficult to know where to start with this as virtually every sentence you have written is highly contestable but each cannot be answered in a sentence. So some brief comments:

      1. I'd be interested to know about these contradictions and mistakes - see

      2. The capital crimes in the OT (murder, rape, adultery) teach us about the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God and like all of the OT law point us to our need for forgiveness through Christ's death on the cross.

      3. The canon was established very early. The deuterocanonical books and apocrypha contain useful history and devotional material but are not scripture.

      4. The original text of the OT and NT are well established through established principles of textual criticism and no key teaching, historical fact or doctrine is in doubt as a result of textual variants.

      5. There is a world of difference between experiencing same sex attraction and having same sex erotic relations. And btw where in the Bible did God command gang rape?

      6. The killing of the Canaanites is dealt with elsewhere on this blog - see

      But most importantly... and this is Steve's key error - Jesus Christ himself put his stamp of authority on the OT and commissioned the apostles to write the NT - see - the whole Bible speaks with Christ's authority

      By saying he accepts Christ but rejects the Bible Steve has made himself the interpreter of Christ and has put himself over the Bible in the place of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. That is very serious indeed.

  4. Natalie

    So Jesus and Paul were wrong or just mistaken?

    God looks down from heaven sees two guys making out and he says yes lets have more of it...!?


  5. Natalie

    Re reading you post. Clearly you do not believe that there is a God.

    If as you point out that this is evidence that Steve is questioning his faith, then clearly he needs to step down from his leadership role in the Church


  6. Insightful and right-on as ever, Dr. Saunders!

    Like several other "modernisers" (i.e. people on the path to false teaching - Rob Bell springs to mind), Steve Chalke appears to have lost touch with the eternal nature of God's word and his commandments. Is it worth pointing out that since "a day to the Lord is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (2 Peter 3:8), that would mean that in God's timezone, His commandments about homosexuality given some 3,500 years ago have a shelf-life shorter than that of a bottle of milk!

    Chalke has even adopted Bell's language of calling understanding the Bible a "conversation" rather than accepting that God's written word is primarily authoritative. (You're a medic; I'm a law graduate: I know a legal system when I see one!)

    Two factors may be at play here: firstly, many of the modernisers find fault with legalism that drives people away from Jesus, typically manifested in an attitude that if people cannot quickly get on board with God's programme of holiness, they are not welcome in church. A "passive" version of this legalism results in churches simply not reaching out to people who do not fit a certain social and moral profile. While they are right that we need to be more loving, the modernisers are nevertheless wrong to throw out God's commandments on the basis that they could cause offence. At heart, God's law is supposed to help us find our way to His grace (see e.g. Romans 7:7).

    Secondly, I believe that many of the modernisers, in common with the legalistic elements of the more conservative church with which the modernisers find fault, have lost sight of the transforming power of the New Birth and the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death the sinful nature. The modernisers think that same-sex relationships are permissible while the conservatives do not, but both are in a position in which they do not have a revelation of the power of God that sets people free from those sinful desires.

    As well as revelation of truth, we need revelation of the power of God to set people free.

  7. PS Sorry to bang on, but a case in point. When Chalke picks on slavery, thus: "How, for instance, is it that Wilberforce, came to the view that slavery was wrong, even though some of the verses – the actual words in black and white – of the Bible clearly have a different view?"

    Here Chalke has fallen into mistaken logic. The abolition of slavery did not involve breaking God's moral commands (and I take note of your comments on the nature of slavery in biblical times). Abolition of slavery in the USA and elsewhere did away with a trade that entailed the deaths of thousands of innocent people during their transportation, to say nothing of the other injustices they suffered.

    Approving of same-sex relationships does, however, involve breaking clear commandments that God has given - and, as outlined above, furthermore deprives those who experience same-sex attraction of the opportunity to be sanctified and set free by Christ Jesus.

  8. One wonders whether or not Steve Chalke embraces Contemplative Prayer. In varying degrees, people who follow this path (which includes Rob Bell, among many others who treat scripture in this way) belittle the authority of scripture, and also play down many foundational doctrines.

    1. My two penn'oth: That might be a case of correlation not being indicative of causation.

      People who are seeking new doctrines may also seek new experiences or forms of worship, but that does not mean that the two go hand in hand.

      And I think too that some of these forms of prayer have been judged on the basis of who practises them (and imagined dangers rather than real ones), rather than on the basis of Whom they honour.

  9. Russell Baylis3 March 2014 at 03:36

    Excellent blog - thank you - except for one thing: your recommendation of John Lennox's book under item 4. Lennox does not endorse 'God created the universe in six consecutive 24 hour periods' but argues for millions of years and gives a very poor attempt at an overview. A review of his book on gives more details of his inadequate handling of the biblical creationist position. I'd recommend "Coming To Grips With Genesis" by Drs Terry Mortenson and Thane Ury for a wide-ranging and thorough treatment. (Perhaps I should add that John is a good friend, but of all his writings this one I cannot recommend.)

    1. I think the point that the author is trying to make re:John Lennox's book is that you can be a believer in creation but not believe the earth is young. I've found John Lennox's book "Has Science Buried God" very good and recommend it

  10. Hi Peter

    I have written an article about his views here:

    Best wishes, David Baker


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