Is Steve Chalke a Heretic?


Steve Chalke

When I was a teenager, a young trainee pastor at Bible college came to lead a youth weekend at our church. The main thing that I remember is that he talked about sex, and it was one of the few youth weekends I attended that was not boring. His name was Steve Chalke.

Several years later, I heard of Steve Chalke again when he set up a charity, aimed at helping homeless people, which morphed (the charity, not the homeless people) into Oasis Trust. I was therefore interested when recently, during dinner with a friend, they mentioned that Steve Chalke had been ‘thrown out’ of the Evangelical Alliance. Was such a thing even possible? I had (wrongly) assumed that the Evangelical Alliance was a union for anyone who called themselves a Christian, a place to share ideas and resources, and which organised events which might prove helpful to said Christians. I had not realised it was possible to either ‘belong’ or be ‘thrown out’. What, I wondered, had SC done which merited being thrown out of this esteemed organisation? Had he murdered someone, eaten babies, kicked a dog? No! He had, apparently, become a heretic.

I heard a few whispers about the apparent downfall of SC. I heard that he had turned his back on evangelical Christianity, that he questioned the crucifixion, and even went as far as to call the death of Jesus “child abuse”. I wondered if I was hearing things properly. Searches online were varied, and it was hard to find the truth. I decided to buy his book, The Lost Message of Paul, and decide for myself.

The book is, to be honest, challenging. It begins with an introduction, when SC explains that he is rethinking his faith, and says he is hoping for an informed debate. It seems somewhat ironic to me that the reaction of established Christianity is simply to rebrand Chalke as a heretic and to exclude him from the Evangelical Alliance—but perhaps the debate happened before I was aware of this, and there were other reasons for his exclusion. I again checked online, but he is still the pastor of a church, still working amongst some of the neediest people in our society. I listened to an online interview, and he was still saying that he believes in one God, still believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so what is the reason for his exclusion? Maybe he really did eat a baby.

The book gave some insight as to why people find his ideas difficult—I find them difficult myself. The book basically gives good insight into the culture in which the Bible books were first written, and then questions whether we have properly interpreted what the words are saying. My understanding is that SC now questions whether the idea of ‘original sin’ is correct (the idea that when man sinned in the story of Genesis, that sin was then passed down to every person in every generation that followed, hence separating them from God). He makes the point that Genesis is a Jewish book, written in Hebrew, and yet Christians never ask Jews today what their understanding is, we never think about what the words would have meant in Hebrew.

Much of his explanations are very interesting—did you know that in Hebrew, you cannot have a word for an emotion? So, when it talks about God’s anger, it actually talks about God’s nose, because when you’re angry you snort through your nose? But that word could also be translated as passion, or fury, or great sadness?

I felt that SC’s views here (if I was understanding them correctly) were flawed. I never taught any of my children to do wrong, and yet they all did, so my experience suggests that people are born ‘sinful’ and the rest of the Bible seems to support this. If we are all ‘sinful’ then how can we approach God, who has no sin? Surely before we can approach, we need to be washed, there needs to be some kind of repentance? But his argument is persuasive, it cannot easily be dismissed, and gives pause for thought. (Or, of course, you could just chuck him out of your club.)

SC also builds a case for refuting Hell, or that people will be eternally damned. He says that this idea was first introduced by the Renaissance poets and artists (like Dante) and were not based on the Bible at all. SC does think that there will be judgement, but that it will not be an eternal suffering, more of a refining fire that will prepare us for our eternity with God. One example is when Jesus talks about Hell, and the gnashing of teeth, which SC says should never have been translated at all, as the word Jesus used (translated as ‘Hell’) was an actual place, used as a rubbish tip, where wild dogs lived (and gnashed their teeth) and that Jesus is asking, would you rather live with God, or in that place?

There is too much in the book for me to cover everything here, and I found many of the ideas troubling, though also that many fitted with my understanding of God. One of the main points made by SC was that God does not create people for eternal suffering, in other words: Hell, as usually defined, is a human invention and does not exist in the form we imagine. SC says he cannot accept that God, who is defined as Love, could create people knowing that they will eventually be destined for eternal suffering.

SC makes the point that if you asked Paul, or any of the early apostles, how they knew that they were saved, they would look at you blankly, and reply: “Because I am a Jew.” The Jews believed that, simply because they were Jewish, they were chosen, they were ‘saved’. SC argues that when Jesus died and rose again, this grace of God, was automatically extended to non-Jews, in short, that all people were now ‘chosen’ and therefore ‘saved’. He points out that when Paul writes that ‘through one man, all have sinned,’ we have no problem accepting that this means that due to the actions of Adam, who represents the first human, all people now sin. However, when, in the same passage, Paul then says that through the actions of Jesus, all are now saved, we start to add caveats. We say things like, ‘but it only applies if people have faith’ or ‘but people have to believe in the New Testament, and ask God into their lives, otherwise it doesn’t count.’ But that is not what is written. It is written as an equation—Adam sinned, so all sin: Jesus rose, so all are saved. It is, I feel, a compelling argument.

I find that I am left with a lot of questions after reading this book. SC has written a second book, and I will read that and see if it offers some clarity. There are things I disagree with, but some I find it difficult to define quite why I disagree. There are other points which I would like, very much, to be correct, but have not yet decided if it is wishful thinking or true. SC is undoubtedly a talented speaker/persuader, but that does not necessarily mean that he is correct.

Would I recommend this book? Well, that rather depends on who you are. If you don’t feel that you know everything about God, and that there is more to faith than perhaps you have discovered, then you might find this interesting. However, if you think you have faith and God pretty much ‘sorted’, and really you want to read things that backup rather than challenge your views, then perhaps you should avoid this book. SC writes that he hopes his book will start a discussion. My feeling is that it probably will (I for one am bursting to discuss his views with other people!) but unfortunately for SC, I suspect that he will not be part of those discussions. He has stated his views, people will now either agree or disagree with them, but as with most leaders, I expect the only feedback he receives will be negative. It is also quite likely to be voiced by people who have not read his book and have simply heard vague quotes. I do not know whether what SC wrote is correct, but I’m glad he wrote it because I think it’s good to sometimes question what we believe and explore other ideas. None of us knows all there is to know about God, he is beyond our understanding; but we can strive to understand a little more. What do you think?

Thank you for reading.
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How We Use the Bible…


Hello, thanks for popping back to read this post, which continues from yesterday’s post about how the Bible was compiled. As we saw, the Bible was assembled gradually, and it was relatively recently that the Bible we have today came into existence (even though the books were written thousands of years previously).

Firstly, I find it interesting that our holy book was assembled using logical criteria. This is the way that God chose for people to learn about him, and it was put together logically. I think that sometimes today, churches rely too much on ‘supernatural’ inspiration —we want God to show us things miraculously. Yet the Bible was put together by a group of people making sensible decisions. When we read the Bible, we find this is consistent with how God often led his people, in both the Old and New Testaments. People tended to win wars/save nations, mainly by logical strategy, and less by miracles. We want God to “zap the answer to us” and yet, it seems, God has given us brains and he expects us to use them. Should we move house/rebuild the church/go and preach in darkest Peru? Perhaps, after prayer, we should think about all the pros and cons, and then make a sensible decision. You might see writing in the sky telling you the way, but that would be rare.

When we are disputing something, we need to be careful about saying: “It’s clearly written in the Bible that…” In my experience, people only say this when someone else has obviously NOT seen something as “clearly written” and has formed a different belief. If it was CLEARLY written, then there would be no differing of views amongst people who claim to believe the Bible. We should remember that the Bible was written originally in Hebrew and Greek, we are probably reading a translation, we will certainly be reading it in a different age and culture. Meanings can get lost, we can misunderstand things. A little humility when discussing the Bible would be good.

The Bible does not claim to be infallible. Some religions, such as Islam, believe that their holy book was dictated by God, so it cannot reliably be translated into other languages (because you always change the meaning slightly when translating things). However, the Bible was not dictated word-for-word by God. There are seeming anomalies between some of the books. This in my mind makes the Bible more authentic, because if people were going to sit down and write a ‘holy book’ they would make sure it had no mistakes! The Bible, however, was written by people who had witnessed God working, and they wrote their accounts, and they remembered some details differently—which doesn’t make the account untrue, it simply shows they were real people, writing what they honestly remembered.

What about the books which were rejected? Is only the Protestant Bible correct? This is tricky. I recently listened to a sermon about the book of Jude (which is included in the Bible). Jude refers to ancient Hebrew books, which we have since lost, but which Jude himself obviously regarded as ‘scripture’. Jude was a brother of Jesus—you would think he might know what was ‘holy’ and what wasn’t. Personally, I have no idea.

And that’s the thing really, the point of why I am writing this. We want everything to be sorted, we want God to be nicely tied up, to be sure we see the whole picture, know everything there is to know. But we don’t. God has not chosen to tell us everything. The Bible is, I believe, inspired by God—but we should be careful how we use it. Those early Christians were, absolutely, followers of God—they died for their beliefs. But they had a slightly different Bible to us. They relied on God, not texts, and God used their belief to explain the texts they had, so they could come to him.

Can we believe the Bible? It is the book which I believe God has given to people, to help us to know him. It is not an absolute, definitive, set of rules; we should be careful when we are applying it to others —people have used the Bible in the past to justify slavery and wars and all sorts of injustices. Be careful when you quote bits of it. Almost anything can be justified using selective editing of key verses:
Do I believe in reincarnation? No! (Can I find Bible verses which seem to support reincarnation? Yes.)
Do I believe some people were created to be slaves? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support slavery? Yes.)
Do I think we should be dishonest and scheming? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support gaining things through cheating? Yes.)

But if we read the Bible, honestly searching for God, then we will find him. I did, and I know other people who have…why not read it and decide for yourself?

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
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Who Compiled the Bible?


I was challenged recently when I quoted a bit of the Bible, and someone asked me when it was written, and when it was included in the Bible. I had absolutely no idea, so did a little research. If you know more than me, and can correct any of the following, then please do—otherwise, this is where the Bible came from:

The first 5 books of the Bible were thought to have been written by Moses, and are called The Pentateuch. They were probably established as ‘scripture’ by Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are what the Jews today still mean when they refer to the Torah. (These books were in existence way before Ezra and Nehemiah, but the early Jews pretty much ignored them until the prophets reminded them they were important.)

Then, about 200BC, the writings of the prophets were added. Later, the book of Psalms was also included as ‘scripture’.

Now we come to the time of Jesus’ birth (about 5BC —historians have discovered things since we set our calendar dates!) It was very important at this time for the Jews to have a clear understanding of what their holy books were. Jews were beginning to move away from Palestine, and they wanted to know exactly what defined them as a race, what their core beliefs were. So, in Palestine, when Jesus was alive and referred to ‘Scripture’ he would mean the 39 books we now have in our Old Testament. (Though the Jews combine some of the books, so I think they have 24–but they’re the same content.)

However, further afield, other Jews included other books as part of their scripture. The further away from Palestine they lived, the more books they seemed to include (some had as many as 15 extra books in their ‘scripture’). Books translated in Egypt make up the Septuagint, and this contains hidden books (known as Apocrypha which means ‘hidden’). Some of these books have since disappeared, and we don’t know what was in them.

So, what about the New Testament? Well, after Jesus left, the people who believed in him, began to separate from the Jews into a new religion. They still regarded the 39 books to be scripture, their holy books, and when in the New Testament letters they refer to ‘scripture’, this is what they meant. However, gradually, people began to write other things. People who had seen and listened to Jesus began to write accounts of his life and teaching. Later, other people interviewed them, and wrote their own accounts. The early church began to decide what it believed (such as whether non-Jews could be Christians) and the leaders of the early church wrote letters, teaching the church. Letters were called ‘epistles’. People within the church basically chose which of these letters and writings they regarded as sacred. So, there were the letters written by Paul, as well as letters written by Thomas…and the ‘Shepherd of Hermas’ …and the ‘Apocalpse of Peter’ …and the ‘Epistle of Barnabus’…and so on. Some of these writings contradicted what Jesus had taught, and some had a definite bias. Gradually, over several years, the early church began to accept some writing as being from God, and disregard other writing.

Then, in AD325 (so rather a long time later!) the church decided to state, once and for all, which books should be included as ‘scripture’. They formed a committee (because churches, it seems, have always liked committees) called the Council of Nicea. As far as I can tell from my research, they didn’t actually decide very much.

In 381, the church had another try. They formed the First Council of Constantinople and set out clear criteria for which books to accept, and which to reject. The criteria for inclusion was:

*The book was written by a first-hand witness of Jesus, or someone who had interviewed witnesses (such as Luke).
*The book was written within 100 years of Jesus (which meant, if it had been wrong, people alive at the time would have said so).
*The book should be consistent with the other books of the Bible.

This Council decided which books should be part of the Bible. They chose the books we have today, including the books of the Apocrypha.

In AD 400, St. Jerome assembled the books of the Bible, in Latin. It was called ‘The Vulgate’.

In the 16th century, a man called Martin Luther was studying the Bible, and trying to discern what it meant. He decided that actually, the Apocrypha should not be included as Scripture. The church formed another committee (the Council of Trent) who decided that Luther was wrong. This is why today, the Catholic Bible contains different books to the Protestant Bible.

Okay, that’s the end of the history lesson (interesting, huh?) So, what are the implications? This is getting too long, and I want to talk about it properly, so I will write another post tomorrow.

Bye for now. Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
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Nahum


Nahum is one of those little books which you sort of know is in the Bible, but can never find when you want to, and always end up looking in the Contents page. It comes between Micah and Habakkuk – not that this represents when the books were written. It is all about the fall of Nineveh (which you will have heard of from the story of Jonah).

Scenes on walls, in the city of Nineveh – found when the ruins of the city were discovered.

Nahum was apparently originally written as a poem – possible as an acrostic poem (each line beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet). This has been somewhat lost in our modern translations, though some of the descriptions do read more like poetry than history. It is thought to have been written either just before the downfall of Assyria (making it a prophetic book) or just after (making it a history book) – so dated about 615/612 BC. Most people seem to think it was written after the fall of Thebes (which was 663 BC) and before the fall of Nineveh, and it certainly sounds like a warning to me, rather than a poem about what has already happened.

It seems that although the people of Nineveh had listened to Jonah and changed their ways, about 100 years later, they were back where they started, ignoring God and oppressing people and generally being bad. Nahum says they are going to be destroyed, and sometimes the descriptions are shockingly graphic (again, not something we ever studied in Sunday School – I would have remembered!)

The basic message, for today as much as then, is that God is holy, and will not tolerate evil forever. He is slow to anger, and he wants people to change and return to him, but he is a just God, and if people continue to ignore him, he will destroy them. God loves justice, and everyone will be judged. Sometimes, when we watch the news, it feels like God has gone to sleep, that awful things are happening and there is no justice. I especially felt this when I saw photographs of the children in Syria being torn apart by the war. However, this book reassures us, that God will act, when the time is right.

Art from Nineveh.
The art was discovered in the remains of the destroyed city, and are now in the British Museum.

Next week I’ll tell you all about a trip to ‘Spoons and the Tate. Why not sign up to follow my blog, so you don’t miss it?

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Micah – A New Year’s Resolution


Did you make a new year’s resolution for 2019? Do you plan/hope to improve something? It’s good to pause and take stock sometimes, to check how we’re living is how we want to live.

Micah is a book which I have often heard quoted, though have never read from start to finish before. It was written about the same time as 1 Kings, which is a history book, whereas this is a prophecy. It tells the people what will happen – that they will be taken into captivity – though it doesn’t say when. They were later taken captive by the Babylonians, and remained captives for much longer than they expected. There is also a snippet in Chapter 5, which foretells the birth of Jesus, and is often quoted (fairly randomly and out of context in my opinion!) at Christmas carol services.

However, for me, the most beautiful part of the book is chapter 6 and verse 8. This tells the people – and us – what God requires. Being a Christian, deciding to follow God, is not about rules or religion or rituals. Micah writes:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This should be our code of conduct. Not grabbing what we can from the world, but being fair; not judging other people, but being kind; not declaring that we understand the Bible and other people are wrong, but being humble and following where God leads us. I think this is a good principle to try and live by this year, as we take stock and look forwards. It reminds me of something my cousin recently shared on Facebook, which I felt says it all, really. I will share it with you (I don’t know who originally wrote it, so I can’t credit them).

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motive.
Be kind anyway,
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

I hope your new year is happy, and that you live it well.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
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anneethompson.com

Bible Blog – Jonah


Reading through the Bible is taking way longer than expected! This is partly because there is more there than I realised, and partly because I often don’t understand what I’m reading, and have to spend time doing a little research. There are stories which I knew well, others which I’m sure I’ve never read, and some which leave me with this huge “What???” feeling.

The book of Jonah, however, is one which I felt I knew well. When I was a child, aged about 12, a man called Mr Goss did a series of five sermons on Jonah at our church. They are the first sermons I ever really listened to, and I still remember some of the things he said. (On a different note, I heard recently that Mr Goss’s life went wrong after this, he made some bad decisions, ended up in prison, and died young. I hope the people who knew him remember that he was also a gifted preacher, and some of what he did with his life was good and worthwhile. This is an especially poignant thought when reading Jonah, which is all about people making good and bad decisions – because we all do both. Yet God is bigger than our mistakes.)

The book of Jonah was written about the same time as 2 Kings (a history book) and Nahum (another prophet) so roughly 615BC. Both Jonah and Nahum are about Nineveh, a city which was part of the Assyrian empire (and today would be part of Mosul, in Iraq). You probably know the story:

Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh, to tell them they are evil and God is going to destroy them. Jonah decides to run away, and goes on a boat in the opposite direction, towards Tarshish. There is a big storm, Jonah is thrown overboard, and swallowed by a big fish. The fish vomits him out on dry land, and Jonah goes to Nineveh. The people repent, God doesn’t destroy them, Jonah is angry.

I have a few thoughts about the story. Firstly, why did Jonah try to run away? Did he fear the people of Nineveh, or was he frightened he would look silly? I can relate to both of those feelings. Then later, when he’s in the belly of the fish, and life is looking hopeless, he cries out to God. This still happens today; very often people wait until everything is going wrong, there is no hope, before they cry out to God. He is often our last resort.

The book of Jonah is all about second chances. Jonah tries to run away from what he knows God wants him to do, and yet later, after the fish vomits him out, we read that God spoke to him a second time, telling him to go to Nineveh – he gets another chance to do what he should have done in the first place. Later, the people of Nineveh, after they have listened to Jonah, turn back to God and God doesn’t destroy them – he gives them another chance. I think this reflects so much of what I have read in the other books of the Bible, about a God who always sees the wrong that people are doing, and yet he gives them another chance. God wants people to change and come to him, he doesn’t want to destroy them.

I find the character of Jonah to be very interesting. He was clearly a very passionate man, someone who acted on impulse, very hot-headed. Even so, God chose to use him. Perhaps it was that passion, that depth of feeling, which made him an excellent speaker (because whatever it was that he said to the people of Nineveh, it was enough to change a whole city including the King). Being passionate was both Jonah’s greatest strength and his biggest weakness. We all have weaknesses (some more than others). If we let God help us, he can turn those weaknesses into strengths, which is pretty amazing really.

Caster Oil Plant
This is probably the plant which Jonah sat under.

The book of Jonah doesn’t really finish (in my opinion) it just sort of stops. After the city is saved, Jonah goes off in a sulk, and builds a shelter, which a plant grows over, shading him from the sun. Then the plant dies, and Jonah is livid. God says that Jonah has no right to be angry about the plant, which Jonah did nothing to create, and compares it to the whole city of souls which God wanted to save. Then it stops. We have no idea if Jonah realised he was wrong, or simply stomped home again. I have never really understood the bit about the plant – it just shows that Jonah was a pretty awful person (in my opinion). But perhaps he changed.

I will continue reading through the rest of the Old Testament – near the end now.

Thank you for reading.

Have a good week.
Take care,
Love, Anne

“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”


“You shouldn’t have…”

I have been watching people receive gifts recently (we all have, I suspect) and I have noticed that some people are exceptionally good at receiving gifts—and others aren’t. There are those people, who simply make you feel that what you have given them is the best thing ever, and has made their day. They seem to smile with their whole face, and look genuinely delighted with those slippers or that mug or those earrings. Other people (and I’m afraid that I might be one of these) struggle to appear pleased, even if they are. I am always aware that I’m being watched, that my reaction matters, and so it all goes to pot and even when I am excited by the gift, I’m not sure that I show it very well.

The thing is, I think that receiving is very important, and there are lots of us who find it difficult. This Christmas, I have heard lots of people say things like: “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” and they mean it. They absolutely do not really want to be given anything. They don’t want gifts, and (perhaps even more) they don’t want help. If they need to be driven somewhere, they would rather pay for a taxi than accept the offer of a lift from a friend. They will grind themselves into the ground with exhaustion rather than let someone help them.

Of course, this isn’t true of everyone, and there are a few people who ONLY ever take from others. They will stand by and let others do all the work, ask for favours but never do any in return, and generally are a drain on those around them—but I’m not talking about those people. I want to consider the others, the people who dislike accepting, because I think it’s important.

We talk sometimes about relationships being “Give and Take” and yet we are so loathe to “take”. This makes relationships unbalanced. I find I feel much closer to those people who will let me help them, who are not completely self-sufficient.

If you believe the Bible, there is lots there to show we should accept help. Right back in Genesis, Man was created to need a helper, so Woman was created. Man didn’t say,”Oh, no thanks, I can manage on my own.” Man needed Woman. And later, the absolute example has to be God himself, who came as a completely vulnerable human baby in order to reach us. Many times during Jesus’ life, from the very first time he needed to be fed by Mary, to the times he asked for a drink of water, or for other people to organise things or find things, or provide things, he asked for help. And his needs were genuine—when he asked a woman at a well for a drink, he really was thirsty and needed a drink and didn’t have a pot to collect water.

This is a lesson that I learnt painfully, when I had brain surgery. I changed from an independent person who didn’t need (or want) much help, to someone who suddenly needed lots. It was a tough lesson to learn.

So please, think about it this week. If people offer to help, perhaps you will deepen your relationship with them if you accept. It’s probably good for us, makes us humble, to realise that we all need other people, we can’t manage to do it all on our own. We were created like that.

Thanks for reading, have a good week.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
Why not sign up to follow her blog today?
anneethompson.com