The Lost Message of Jesus The Lost Message of Jesus

Steve Chalke & Alan Mann
ISBN 9780310248828 (0310248825)
Zondervan, 2003

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

Ever felt disillusioned with Christianity? You go through life carrying a truckload of garbage, then you go to church and find another truckload dumped on you. It's enough to make you want to jack the whole thing in.

If that's you, then this book is for you: Chalke & Mann come onto the scene like a bulldozer, tip over the garbage truck, clear away the muck and reveal a sleek, shining new jag. Except it's not a jag — it's a double decker bus: tickets free, all aboard for the ride of your life!

Here's the message: Jesus says, "The Kingdom, the in-breaking shalom of God, is available now to everyone through me." It's repeated and explained throughout the book, which is perhaps just as well: "the in-breaking shalom of God" isn't exactly soundbite quality. But don't let that put you off: Chalke & Mann explain exactly what they mean in a down-to-earth, no-holds-barred full-frontal assault on some of Western Christianity's most treasured dogmas.

Let's take "original sin" as an example: you've probably had this dumped on you numerous times — you're a sinner, born into sin, rotten from the outset, a loser from day one, judged by God, guilty as charged and damned to hell. Chalke & Mann say no way: you're a human being, created in God's image (p.67). Original goodness is what Jesus was after, mixing with society's so-called wasters: all God wants is to welcome you home like the Father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32).

It's not just original sin that Chalke & Mann do away with - it's the entire "sinners in the hands of an angry God" routine (p.54-55). When Jesus was crucified it wasn't an angry, vindictive deity hitting out, punishing him for offences that he hadn't committed simply because someone, somewhere had to pay. On the contrary, the cross is God's ultimate declaration of his love for us, that he is here with us in the midst of life's agony & chaos - "a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his Son are prepared to go to prove that love." (p.183).

Not surprisingly, speaking out as plainly as this about these issues created something of a furore, especially amongst the more right-wing evangelical wing of the church, and the Evangelical Alliance (EA) arranged a public debate about the issues the book raises. The meeting took place in October 2004 at Emmanuel Christian Centre, Marsham Street in Westminster, London, and was followed up in July 2005 by a Symposium on the Atonement (see Blogs and More below) organised jointly by the EA and London School of Theology.

The simple fact is, however, that far from abandoning orthodoxy, Chalke & Mann are actually getting closer to it: one major wing of the church that has never accepted the dogma of substitutionary atonement is Eastern Orthodoxy. Here in the west we'd do well to listen to our brothers and sisters in the east, and this book is a step in the right direction, starting to strip away some of the debris that the western church has allowed to accumulate (or even deliberately introduced!) over the past two thousand years. It takes us back to meet Jesus in his original context with his original message of hope, love and life-transforming power. It's God here, now — forgiving, forgetting, embracing you and me.

So back to my bus analogy at the beginning: don't give up: get on board and enjoy the ride! You won't always like the other passengers, of course, and the road's kinda rutted in places — but the scenery's amazing: make sure you don't miss it!

(Review originally written October 2004; revised January 2007)

Blogs and More: The Debate Goes On...
Atonement: Papers from the Evangelical Alliance (EA) / London School of Theology (LST) Symposium on the Atonement (July 2005). Published as The Atonement Debate (Zondervan, 2008).
Atonement and Unity: The EA reaffirms penal substitution as central to its understanding of the atonement.
An Open Letter to The Evangelical Alliance: A Response to the EA.
No penalty, no atonement: Ruth Gledhill's blog at The Times, responding to comments from Jeffrey John (April 2007).
Ten propositions on penal substitution: A concise summary of the issues by Kim Fabricius.
The Crucifixion - Self harm or child abuse?: A Discussion in the Soulspace Forum

Related Reviews
The Biblical Revelation of the Cross (Oak Wood Publishing House, 2006). Norman McIlwain offers a straightforward Bible study of the atonement that takes apart the notion of 'penal substitution' and replaces it with a genuinely biblical understanding of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
The Wondrous Cross (Paternoster, 2007). Stephen R. Holmes argues that penal substitution should be retained as one of several models for understanding the atonement.

Phil Groom, January 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.


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