Steve Chalke, Evangelical Alliance & why Cranmer is wrong about a new schism

Yesterday, the Archbishop Cranmer blog commented on the expulsion of the Oasis Trust from the Evangelical Alliance (EA). EA have released a statement regarding the issue. Oasis have responded in kind.


His Grace is quick to note that “The EA do not expel members who support abortion; nor do they sever links with those who marry divorcees or accept pre-marital sexual relations as a forerunner of marriage. They do not even expel a member for repudiation of the foundational Evangelical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which the Rev’d Steve Chalke terms “cosmic child abuse“, as though God casually murdered His Son for the salvation of the world, and penal substitution is barbaric and utterly morally indefensible.”

It is this that causes him to argue we now see a new schism in Evangelicalism. He states “And so we now have (another) schism – Conservative (or ‘Traditional’) Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or ‘Accepting‘) Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians.” 

Worse still, claims Cranmer, the EA are themeselves guilty of this error. He argues removal of Oasis Trust from the EA is hypocritical since Gavin Shuker MP sits on their Council of Reference and has voted consistently in favour of gay marriage. This, says Cranmer, is hypocrisy and should see Gavin Shuker MP removed from the Council of Reference.

On two fronts, I believe His Grace has gotten this one wrong.

Firstly, in respect to Gavin Shuker MP, it is entirely possible to uphold the traditional Christian positions on marriage and homosexuality whilst allowing for a recognition of same-sex partnership in law. As Tim Keller has noted: “you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal. Those are not the same issues. They overlap” (1). I have commented similarly herehere, here and here.

Now, I have absolutely no idea about the specific position of Gavin Shuker on marriage and homosexuality. But, it is entirely possible he holds a view not dissimilar to the Anabaptist position outlined by Keller. Unless Mr Shuker openly and repeatedly espouses a view that homosexuality is not sinful, his voting in favour of Gay Marriage is not reason to expel him from the EA Council per se. 

Neither does this represent any hypocrisy on the part of EA. As Cranmer himself notes, “the Evangelical Alliance has excommunicated the Oasis Trust simply because its founder has stated (time and again) his support for committed monogamous same-sex relationships”. Unless he has repeatedly made similar comments in the public square, the EA are perfectly entitled to “excommunicate” Steve Chalke whilst retaining the counsel of Gavin Shuker. Should His Grace produce evidence that Mr Shuker has stated monogamous homosexual relationships are blessed by God and do not represent any form of sin, his argument may stand. In lieu of this, we cannot say the EA have erred on this issue.

On the matter of a supposed Evangelical schism, His Grace argues “we now have (another) schism – Conservative (or ‘Traditional’) Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or ‘Accepting‘) Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians.” Evidently, this is a false classification of the two sides.

Though the EA may defend the traditional position on homosexuality, they fail to defend orthodox views on abortion, penal substitution and a range of other issues. For this reason, most Conservative (or ‘Traditional’) Evangelicals in the UK would describe the EA as outside the ‘Conservative’ or ‘Traditional’ camp. Given, as His Grace rightly notes, the differences between EA and Oasis Trust seem based on homosexuality alone (rather than the more heinous theological errors for which they should have withdrawn fellowship long ago), one struggles to see how they sit on different sides of a schism.

Surely, if schism exists within Evangelicalism, it is between those who uphold traditional, Conservative theological positions and those who do not. Clearly it is possible to hold to traditional, Conservative theology whilst not seeking such implementation in law. Yet, schism does not exist between those who accept legal recognition of certain positions and those who do not. Rather, it is between those who argue that scripture itself permits and blesses those things which are clearly sinful which we may, or may not, choose to legally permit. That being the case, despite his expulsion from the network, Steve Chalke and the EA seem to sit on the same side of the divide. 

That EA have said “thus far and no further” does not alter the fact that the lengths to which they were willing to go before expelling Steve Chalke well and truly write them out of ever being credibly labelled ‘Conservative’ or ‘traditional’. Compare Spurgeon with the Baptist Union or Lloyd-Jones with the Evangelical Alliance itself. If you want to see real schism within Evangelicalism, they occurred long before the EA kicked Steve Chalke out of membership. If the lines drawn by Lloyd-Jones still hold (and I think they probably do), EA and Steve Chalke – despite their recent separation – still remain part of the same camp.

Notes

  1. Keller has specifically clarified this statement. He says “In explaining the Anabaptist tradition, I was quoted saying, “You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal.” I did say that—but it was purely a statement of fact. It is possible to hold that position, though it isn’t my position, nor was I promoting or endorsing the position. I was simply reporting on the growth of that view.”

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