What Does “Evangelical” Really Mean?

Can we trust the word evangelical anymore? It doesn’t look like it. In a recent article from The Independent, a UK newspaper and news website, Reverend Steve Chalke was heralded as a “prominent evangelical pastor” who has said that he now supports “monogamous same-sex relationships.” (You can read the full article at this link.)

Now, often when we read the word evangelical in reference to believers, we think of theologically conservative Christians who uphold the authority of God’s Word. But Steve Chalke is not upholding the authority of God’s Word, at least not in reference to homosexual behavior.

In fact, Chalke also denies the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement. You see, this doctrine teaches that because of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, all were made sinners (Romans 5:19). Furthermore, Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin, but instead of punishing us, He punished His Son, who served as our perfect substitute.

So, how can we be spared God’s judgment for sin? Well, that’s the key to substitutionary atonement. Scripture tells us that Christ was “wounded for our transgressions” and was “bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). God came to earth in the form of the God-man Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life, died, and rose again three days later … to save all those who would believe! Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel of Christ “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”

But Chalke denies this doctrine. In fact, a number of years ago, he became quite well known in the UK and among theologians worldwide for referring to penal substitutionary atonement—Christ’s death on the Cross to satisfy God’s judgment—as “cosmic child abuse” in his book The Lost Message of Jesus:

John’s Gospel famously declares, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son? The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. . . . If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetuated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. (p. 182–183)

In Chalke’s view, it seems that Christ was not punished for our transgressions, as the Scriptures clearly state. Rather, according to a review by a prominent UK church leader and blogger, Chalke believes that it is simply Christ’s victory over death and sin that is the key to our salvation—without any kind of atonement for our sin. But, how does a victory over sin and death without payment for man’s sin justify us before a holy God? The fact is, it doesn’t.

Not only has Chalke abandoned the basic model of atonement laid out in the Bible, he has also abandoned a literal reading of Genesis. He is the founding director of a UK charity that is raising money to open a school in England. When asked whether creation would be taught, he stated that it would not:

“My personal belief is that… those who wish to read into Genesis chapter one that God made the world in six days… are not being honest and scholarly. It won’t be taught in the school because I think it’s rubbish. It’s a bizarre thing to claim the Bible suggests that. Genesis is saying that behind creation is a good God.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/jul/13/schools.uk4)

The most unfortunate part of Chalke’s statements about biblical creation is not just that he disbelieves it, but that he thinks the plain meaning of Scripture in Genesis is “rubbish.” Based on Chalke’s compromise on Genesis and the atonement, it’s not surprising that he is compromising on homosexual behavior as well.

He argues in favor of same-sex relationships based on supposedly “faithful gay relationships.” He blames Christians who stand on the authority of Scripture in regard to homosexual behavior for the high rate of suicide among homosexuals:

“When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneness, secrecy, and fear.” …

“People’s lives are at stake,” he says. “Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by church attitudes, which, all too often, drives these statistics.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prominent-evangelical-pastor-reverend-steve-chalke-declares-support-for-monogamous-same-sex-relationships-8452572.html)

Scripture makes clear that homosexual behavior is sin in a number of passages (Genesis 18:20, 19:5; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10). What is sad about Chalke’s belief is that he is willing to condone behavior that is sinful in the eyes of God because he believes that message is “focused on the person of Christ.” You know, this is a very deceptive idea of love—really, it’s hate, because Chalke refuses to speak the truth that people so desperately need to hear.

I encourage you to read our lead article for today, Pro-Gay Theology: Does the Bible Approve of Homosexuality? by Steve Golden (AiG–U.S.), to better understand how to respond to the claims of church leaders who support same-sex relationships.

As believers, we can learn a lesson from this. That is, we can’t trust the word evangelical when we see it attached to church leaders. We must be diligent to scrutinize their beliefs against Scripture. Furthermore, we can do the truly loving thing when we encounter those who engage in homosexual behavior or any other sin—we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them and call them to repentance. That message is one that is truly focused on the person of Jesus Christ.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

Ken