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Chalke Talk

Church leader, Steve Chalke, has released his opinion on human sexuality and marriage (here). Chalke is a well known evangelical leader in the UK. While I disagree with his view, what interested me was how he consistently said that his view is Biblical. Just what does he think of the Bible? This is what he said:

"The Bible... doesn't claim to be the word of God; it claims that Jesus is the word of God. It is a book that guides us to Jesus... A Christian's way to understand the Bible should be to read both Old and New Testament through the lens of Jesus."

It appears that there is a more fundamental difference between Chalke's view and the evangelical view. Let me first point out an equivocation. It is the use of the term, "word." The Bible is the word of God in one sense and Jesus is the Word of God in another sense (which, by the way, you would only know because the Bible tells us that Jesus is the Word of God and we can trust the Bible because the Bible is the word of God. If the Bible is not the word of God and serves as the grounds for the belief that Jesus is the Word of God, then the latter belief can be called into question).

When we speak of Jesus being the Word of God we are referring to Jesus revealing God, he is God en-fleshed, God with us. When we speak of the Bible being the word of God we also mean revelation, but the revelation is not the same as the revelation of Christ. Christ is the personal revelation of God incarnate. The Bible, on the other hand, is the revelation of God's verbal communication to human beings. This is what Paul means when he writes to Timothy:

“… from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

The Bible is the inspired word of God as set down by human authors. That is what we mean by "God-breathed." The knowledge that Christians have of Christ is grounded in the God given testimony of scripture and the internal witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And if that is the case, and according to Paul, scripture is what we must accord our thoughts with. Scripture, if you like, is the authoritative lens through which we see everything.

Second, in what way might we read the Bible "through the lens of Jesus?" It seems reasonable to say we know Jesus through the word of God and so one might say we "see" Jesus through the lens of scripture, but I am not sure how one might say we read scripture through the lens of Christ. Perhaps it means that Jesus is a measure for the truth of scripture. In other words, the exhortations of scripture should be tested against who Jesus is. This certainly appears to be what Chalke means when he instructs us to imitate Christ in our lives. However, if Jesus is some sort of test for scripture and at the same time the scripture is the source of knowledge of Christ then it is not clear how Jesus can be a test for scripture.

Perhaps, then, Chalke thinks that one knows Jesus in another way apart from scripture. Perhaps it is a personal encounter with Christ that renders a person knowledgeable of Christ. This fits better with what Chalke says. It is perhaps a Barthian view of scripture - that the Bible is the means of encounter with the Word, but is not necessarily an accurate picture of historical fact. Perhaps one can never know what really happened on Golgotha, but only through the narrative (myth) can we encounter the real Christ. This seems to fit Chalke's view, but I am not sure he goes that far.

What is clear is that Steve Chalke is not clear. And that is the problem. It is a constant reluctance to accept the clarity of scripture that creates confusion. "It is all a matter of interpretation" is the clarion call of our time. This is to subvert scripture's function in the Christian life - through thinking and acting in accordance with scripture life makes sense, comes together, coheres.

While I think that interpretation can be a difficult task at times, scripture is quite clear about its own nature as the inspired word of God. If you are interested in a good critique of contemporary confusion and a summary of how we come to the idea that scripture is clear, may I recommend an article by John MacArthur (find it here).