The Lost Message of Christ 1.1


Is God a Child Abuser?
I am off to a theological debate tonight with about 1000 people, assuming all the tickets get sold (700 are already gone). Not that i chose this – i have a 5:30 meeting with Church Missionary Society in London and they are all going out to the debate after the meeting, so i said i would tag along.
Steve Chalke will be defending his book “The Lost Message of Jesus“. I dont think it will be a heresy trial or defence. Probably more of a good excuse to reexamine what we believe, in its starkness. Everyone loves Steve C. and we think he is sound, so i cant see it getting ugly . . . . unless we start off by singing some REALLY CHEESY CHORUSES FROM 1987, and then it might get ugly.

Regardless of how it turns out, i have to ask myself the question . . .
“How long has it been since a theological conversation needed a large auditorium and had to limit numbers to 1000 tickets at £3 each?”

Faithworks has a book review.
Faithful Reader has a book excerpt and so does Brutally Honest.
Christdot says “Hence my comment, in The Lost Message of Jesus, about the tragedy of reducing God to a ‘cosmic child abuser’. Though the sheer bluntness of my imagery might shock some, in truth, it is only because it is a stark ‘unmasking’ of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology”
– Blogger Stephen Dancer says: “Steve Chalke makes some good points and he makes some howlers.
MyBrainHurts has a theological chart that really will make your brain hurt.
Anabaptists are coming out tonight, and Stuart Murray Williams is participating in the debate (He was at our conversation yesterday)
Ecclesia says : “The Evangelical Alliance has arranged the event to look at issues raised by Steve Chalke’s new book, ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’, which has provoked outcry from several Evangelical quarters. . . .

In the book, Steve Chalke calls into question the idea that God orchestrated Jesus’ death on the cross, causing the newspaper ‘Evangelical’s Now’ to question whether Steve Chalke could be considered an ‘Evangelical’ any longer.

The concept of ‘penal substitution’ – the idea of a wrathful God who can only have his anger at iniquitous sinners appeased through bringing about the violent death of his Son – forms the basis of much Evangelical thinking, although it was not a view held by the early church.

Penal substitution first emerged in ‘draft’ form with Anselm in the 11th Century. It was substantially shaped by John Calvin’s legal mind in the Reformation and was finalised by the Princetown scholar Charles Hodge in the 19th Century.

Earlier approaches focus on Christ’s death and resurrection as his victory over all the forces of evil and sin, including the earthly and spiritual powers that oppress.

Steve Chalke said; “In my view, the real problem with penal substitution (a theory rooted in violence and retributive notions of justice) is its incompatibility, at least as currently taught and understood, with any authentically Christian understanding of the character of God or genuinely Christocentric worldview – given, for instance, Jesus own non-violent, ‘do not return evil for evil’, approach to life. “
From Ecclesia website


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • graham says:

    I think Steve was right in saying that the hoo-hah surrounding this isn’t actually just about his book. After all, it’s all been said before.
    ISTM, that Steve is being used as a bit of a scape-goat. What d’yu think?

  • Matt Stone says:

    Tony Campolo had some interesting things to say along these lines last week. He had come along to Mike Frost’s Converse group to discuss his new book which he co-authored with Brien McLaren. In the course of the conversation there was a lot of discussion about atonement models and how the penal substitution model just isn’t connecting with postmodern seekers. Personally this model strikes me as more of a souless spiritual accounting formula than a metaphor suggesting cosmic child abuse, but I have read a lot of feminist commentaries that raise this issue and I can see where they are coming from. Either way, I agree that we do need to think through alternative metaphors to describe what christ death means so that we can connect wih people where they are at. I think N T Wright and J H Yoder have some interesting things to say in this respect.

  • alan cross says:

    that explains why the early church focused more on the resurrection of Christ than on the cross, although Christ crucified was a pretty big deal to Paul, it seems to have been seen more holistically as the ushering of a new order, Kingdom being restored, the consequences of our sin being done away with, and the devil’s work being destroyed (1 John 3:5,8). So, I see his point. But, I do have a problem with the statement that God didn’t orchestrate Jesus’ death. That gets into some serious sovereignty issues and fails to explain all of the prophetic foreshadowing in the Old Testament – like Isaac’s sacrifice, and everything related to atonement in the tabernacle and temple. I’m all for rethinking our interpretations and approaches, but let’s proceed cautiously and with a lot of theological reflection. We’re messing with some pretty serious stuff and need to use a great deal of wisdom. So, the debate sounds cool. I wish I could be there.

  • John-Julian says:

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, that early Christianity did not produce an image of the crucified Christ? The earliest version of Christ on the cross shows him in a white robe, and from then on until the 14th century, the crucifixes are all non-suffering, with the Christ figure sort of relaxedly “resting” against the cross. Then comes the 14th century and we end up with the twisted, anguished, scarecrow-like crucifixes. I think the early Church was on to something we’ve forgotten!

  • Robert Hyde says:

    Which early church are people talking about in this discussion? Apparently not the one in the New Testament. Or the old for that matter – Isaiah 53 anyone?
    “…how the penal substitution model just isn’t connecting with postmodern seekers” – SO THAT MAKES IT WRONG????
    OK, I know that there is more to the cross than penal substitution alone, but isn’t the real problem the old chestnut of splitting the attributes of God, not being able to reconcile his holiness with his love – as though holiness cannot love and love cannot contain anger (as a reaction to evil)?

  • tim says:

    You might be interested in reading a report that I helped write on thd Lost Message debate as well as the statement that Stuart Murray Williams gave that evening.
    Both are available at the Anabaptist Network site (

  • For those who may have missed it, the UK Evangelical Alliance has condemned Chalke’s book. I couldnt agree more with their statement and less with Steve Chalke. For more info including quotes from both these documents click on the link attached to my name or visit

  • Sorry, the name in the last post has the wrong link, this is the right one!

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