Tony Campolo is a heretic. This of course has been said before. But it's usually by right wing, conservative fundamentalists who think the Red Letter pastor is an Obama loving liberal. But this time its different. This time it is the turn of the nice, loving, all inclusive Baptist pastor, Steve Chalke, to accuse Tony (and many other believers) of denying a fundamental of the Christian faith. In his latest foray Steve has taken the gloves off. He accuses Campolo and others of rejecting a fundamental doctrine/principle of the Christian faith. It's a very serious charge because it has to do with the very nature of God. The Bible tells us that God is love. Steve tells us that we deny that. Explicitly. Why? Because if we don't accept the validity of same-sex relationships then we are denying this fundamental doctrine. Furthermore he goes on to point out the practical implications of our heresy. We exclude and cannot welcome gay people into our churches. But we need not worry – he is holding a conference next year that is designed not to change views 'but to encourage dialogue and build inclusive churches'. He has nailed his one thesis to the door of the Christian media and therefore the new reformation and discovery of the lost message of Jesus is just about to happen. You can share in this at £70 per head (early bird) but personally I would save my money. Why?
It's Godless - Steve is creating a God in his own image, rather than accepting the revelation that God has given to us of himself. In a twisted piece of logic he takes one phrase in one verse, (1 John 3:16), 'God is Love', pre-determines what love is (love accepts everyone no matter what), and then says that anyone who does not agree with him, his definition of love and his standards is denying God. A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever anyone wants to say. And that is especially true in Steve's continual misuse and abuse of Scripture. We are not at liberty to make up what God's love is. 1 John tells us. Amongst other things this is how we know what love is – that God loved us, gave his Son for us and himself became the atoning sacrifice (the propitiation) for our sins. Given that Steve has already dissed the doctrine of atonement as 'cosmic child abuse', he really is in no position to tell us what God's love is, when he rejects the Bible's own explanation of that love.
The trouble in all of this is that far too many Christians just do not grasp what is going on here. It is not that Steve and those who are backing him, are just a wee bit wonky in one or two minor aspects of theology, but nonetheless are really loving and practical Christians. The fact is that he teaches a different God, than the God of the Bible. In that sense it is 'Godless' and in fact Christless. Some of you will be horrified and shocked by my saying that about a noted religious leader – but then you probably would have been horrified and shocked at Jesus telling some noted religious leaders of his day, that they were of their Father, the devil! Steve of course gets it though. He accuses myself of not believing in the God he has made up – and he is right. I don't. I believe in Jesus and the God of the Bible – not the made up Jesus of Western middle class liberalism.
It's Graceless and Anti-Gospel. I have rarely heard such a graceless and anti-gospel statement. Why? Does it not sound the very opposite? Do you see what Steve is saying here? You are not welcome in his church if you do not accept his pre-suppositions and his views and if your behaviour does not conform to them. That is the logical outcome of his view that unless one endorses and agrees with the behaviours and views of others you cannot welcome them. Steve says that I cannot welcome homosexuals into my church because I accept the Bible's teaching about homosexuality (although of course in the post-modern way of making words mean whatever you want them to mean he will say that his anti-Bible teaching is actually what the Bible has been saying all along). I say I can and do. Herein lies the difference. Steve says that he can welcome homosexuals because he accepts the validity of their relationships. Does that mean he can't welcome prostitutes – after all he does not accept the validity of their sexual relationships does he? So no prostitutes can be welcomed in Oasis churches? I disagree – they are welcome in my church. I believe that the good news is for sinners (of which I am the chief), and that proclaiming the gospel does not mean 'accepting people' for what they are, but seeing what they could become in Christ – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. It's why I will welcome homosexuals, heterosexuals, thieves, liars, murderers, adulterers, paedophiles, male, female, transgender, socialists, capitalists, fascists, communists, Muslims, Hindus, Baptists, atheists, Anglicans, politicians, Scots, English, Africans and Americans. All are welcome because all are sinners and all need Christ – whatever their social background, sexuality or sin. Steve says we can only accept people if we accept what they are. The Good News says come to Jesus just as you are, weary and heavy laden...'nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling' and he will change you. Steve's version of the good news offers at best salvation by works and self-acceptance of what you are. The real good news offers new birth, new creation and radical transformation to what you can be. That's grace.
It's Gutless and Gormless. This is just one small section of the Western Church seeking acceptance with the zeitgeist of the predominant culture. We all know how the current culture is working. This week a pensioner who had demonstrated against same sex marriage was told by the Red Cross that he could not volunteer for them because "We are committed to and bound by our fundamental principles which... do not take sides in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. We have to consider the compatibility of people's publicly expressed views in line with the fundamental principles." We all know this is nonsense. The Red Cross would not ban Steve Chalke for being pro-gay marriage (nor should they), but their 'principles' mean that they have to ban an OAP who is opposed to it. In the same manner Steve's conference is not really about 'dialogue' and people of opposing views getting together.
Take a look at the speakers....in the blue corner are Steve, Vicky Beeching, Rev Cameron Trimble (centre for progressive renewal), Dr Christine Ross (equality and diversity consultant), Matt Hurst (who lives in London with his partner Nathan and is leader of Oasis church, Waterloo), Jill Rowe (Oasis director of ethos and formation), Rev Benny Hazelhurst (director of Accepting Evangelicals). In the middle I assume is Andrew Marin, of the Andrew Marin Foundation, who refuses to state what his position is. And in the red corner is Tony Campolo (who will join by video), apparently the one person who holds to the traditional position – although given that Steve has pronounced that such people no longer believe in the same God who is love, it is difficult to see why Tony is invited – unless of course the cynic in me says, in order to be able to put out the propaganda that this is a dialogue. I cannot but help thinking that things are slightly skewed in any 'dialogue' when the token conservative is Tony Campolo! If Steve genuinely wants to have a dialogue between people of opposing views rather than a diatribe from those who all share the same view, then why not invite someone who is really going to challenge the status quo? In fact through the columns of Christian Today, let me challenge Steve Chalke to a real dialogue! That should make the conference a whole lot more interesting. Given my previous posts I think we have a lot to talk about!
To sum up – the Gospel of 'Jesus accepts you just as you are, so we do to' is not the Good News of 'Jesus invites you to come to him, repent, be baptised and be renewed and forgiven'. In fact it's Chalke and cheese.
David Robertson is Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, and director of Solas CPC.