Questions for Steve Chalke

Steve Chalke (he of Oasis, the ministry not the band) has a piece out today arguing in favour of blessing same-sex relationships. You can read it here.

After reading the piece my response is to ask Steve a number of questions.

  1. Pile of QuestionsIf arsenokoites refers to prostitution, to support your case can you cite one contemporaneous Greek source (I’ll take anything from 200BC to 200AD) which uses the word in that context?
  2. If Romans 1 refers to Cybele temple prostitution, how does the mention of female homosexuality in that passage fit in with the fact that Cybele female prostitutes were never homosexual?
  3. If “nature” in Romans 1 refers to one’s individual nature rather than generic human nature (phusis), to support your case can you cite one contemporaneous Greek source which uses the word in that context?
  4. If the correct pastoral response is to affirm homosexual behaviour within monogamous committed couples, what is your opinion of groups like True Freedom Trust who help gay Christians live a single chaste life or other pastoral support which helps men and women explore their past and sometimes establish new sexual identities?

There are plenty of other things I could write, but it strikes me that that’s a good place to start. Steve’s core argument is that the verses in the Bible that cover the issue don’t engage with “Permanent, Stable, Faithful” relationships, but then is that really the case? What about permanent, stable, faithful incest?

66 Comments on “Questions for Steve Chalke

  1. Thanks for that Peter,

    They certainly are good questions. But there is another one, not to Steve Chalke, but to his fans. Why do some Steve Chalke fans (highest profile being NT Wright), who would be orthodox on say, penal substitutionary atonement or sexuality feel obliged to stand up for him? When “Pierced for our transgressions” was written Wright accused the authors of getting Chalke all wrong, so they went to check with Steve Chalke… they hadn’t. Steve Chalke seems a nice enough guy, who is pretty secure, I think he can stand with his own comments. So, it’s fine to say, he is, bit by bit, loosing the plot. Stop defending him and start encouraging him back to where (we assume) he was.

    • Though we must try, try and try again, it is hard to work out how best to love our enemies, safely, in practice, in the case of the foot soldiers who are all over the internet nowadays, of (in effect) the following conspiracy:

      “All laws banning homosexual activity will be revoked. Instead, legislation shall be passed which engenders love between men. … All churches who condemn us will be closed.”

      [Michael Swift: “Gay Revolutionary”; From Gay Community News, Feb. 15-21, 1987]

  2. It must be noted that Steve Chalke is also a leader at Spring Harvest who, over the last few years have promoted Andrew Marin. Marin has the message that homosexuals do not need to submit their sexuality to Christ and many churches whi have studied Marin, such as Boston Vineyard, are now going down the route we see Chalke going.

    Christ when he was faced with the woman caught in adultery neither condemned or condoned the woman. He challenged those who would throw stones and challenged the woman to “go and sin no more”. Chalke, and those like him, fail to challenge the sin and instead join with the sinner in celebrating their broken-ness.

  3. Thanks Peter for this. I will admit I have not looked at the exegetical niceties of the discussed passages and as a result am not qualifed to comment on them. However, I feel there is a theme running throughout Steve’s piece you don’t really address (unless you have elsewhere).

    He talks of a subtle but important distinction between exegesis and hermeneutics:

    ‘Exegesis and hermeneutics are two essential tools for understanding the Bible. But, while exegesis analyses the actual structure and meaning of the text itself and looks at the nuances of the linguistics, hermeneutics digs deeper to unearth what’s behind it, as it explores the cultural and social perceptions of the writer and their hearers.’

    From my perspective it seems like you are talking from cross-perspectives and this is based on a differing understanding of the BIble. For you, Peter, your hermeneutic is based on primacy of exegesis where the original meaning is the most important thing. For Steve, the original meaning is not quite as important firstly because the Bible doesn’t present a coherent picture on any one issue necessarily and secondly because there is a general direction scripture is pointing to based on revelation history and of course, exegesis. I would say neither approach is perfect and it’s our task as Christians to debate (in love) the correct approach. However, not just ‘what’ the Bible says, but ‘how’ the Bible says.

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this Peter (unless you’ve shared them before and I’m not aware). Going beyond exegesis – how does Christian tradition suggest scripture speaks to us, especially in the light of the fact that we didn’t have a written Word for at least the first few decades after Jesus died, and the boundaries of scripture weren’t agreed until around the 4th century (I believe).

    Also, as a quick aside (and again, as someone who has not looked at the evidence), I was wondering if you know (simply for my interest’s sake) when polygamy in the Jewish tradition (as expounded in the OT) went out of practice?

    • I understand the distinction, but on this particular issue we have to engage with the simple fact that most of the arguments used to tell us that the Biblical texts on this subject don’t mean what we always think they’ve meant are bogus. The first three questions I’ve listed above explore that idea.

      What you’re left with then is an argument that goes, “Yes, the Bible texts seem to condemn *all* homosexual behaviour, but despite this they are wrong”. That’s a very dangerous hermeneutic to take. It raises all kinds of issues around whether God was simply not capable of anticipating our C21 debates and providing clear basic answers, and it provokes doubt on the entirety of canon.

      There are SO many assumptions made in the revisionist argument (e.g. that C1 writers had no idea that “permanent, stable, faithful” homosexual relationships existed) and they can all be pretty much put to bed when examined critically.

      As for the NT Canon, we can pretty much see that affirmed by the Church catholic from the mid C2. We certainly have some great Christian texts from the turn of C1/C2 which are notable in quoting from pretty much every book of the agreed NT canon and none of the other Xian texts available at that time.

      I’m afraid I’m not an expert on Jewish polygamy, but my understanding is that by the C1 it was very much a frowned-upon practice.

    • ‘For Steve, the original meaning is not quite as important firstly because the Bible doesn’t present a coherent picture on any one issue necessarily and secondly because there is a general direction scripture is pointing to based on revelation history and of course, exegesis.’

      You’re right Sam, this is Chalke’s position, and its a very poor view of Scripture for someone who claims to be a believer to present. Scripture, in the final analysis is God’s word and not man’s. It is by its own confession ‘truth’. All NT writers have a very high view of God’s word. I have no doubt at all that when God speaks he speaks coherently. Evangelicals have always accepted the unity of the word and assumed any apparent incoherence to be a failure in our minds and not God’s word. Chalke is willing to say the fault is with God’s word.

      I also find it quite disturbing that he affirms the clarity of what the Bible says about women (did he always do so) but sees less clarity with what it says about homosexuality. Affirming the clarity of patriarchy makes accusations of inconsistently conveniently easy (for myself, I think both are clear).

      If God has condemned homosexual relationships then it is less than loving for Chalke to affirm them – it shows neither love for God nor love for homosexual people (affirming them in sin as it does).

      Peter Ould’s comments to my mind are on the ball.

    • ” For you, Peter, your hermeneutic is based on primacy of exegesis where the original meaning is the most important thing. For Steve, the original meaning is not quite as important firstly because the Bible doesn’t present a coherent picture on any one issue necessarily and secondly because there is a general direction scripture is pointing to based on revelation history and of course, exegesis. I would say neither approach is perfect and it’s our task as Christians to debate (in love) the correct approach. However, not just ‘what’ the Bible says, but ‘how’ the Bible says.”

      I think this is broadly correct, but you then need to be consistent if you take this approach. For example, the argument is often made that “natural” (phusis Gr.) in Romans 1 refers to what is natural to an individual, not to humanity in general. If this is true, we would expect to find such a usage of phusis in the contemporaneous Greek literature wouldn’t we? In reality, phusis in the New Testament and other C1 Greek literature is almost always referring to generic human nature and not individual human nature. One can argue as much as one wants about the “general direction” of Scripture, but when the textual evidence from within and without the Bible contradicts your basic argument, what value “direction” which is not supported by the very text which is meant to provide that direction?

      • I think that, as with many proponents of ‘inclusion’, Steve Chalke will claim that, if there is a posteriori evidence of dedicated monogamy for those any orientation, then it fulfils the overarching biblical mandate of love. He does not test whether that personal pact, however committed, should be subjected to any other restrictions.

        His position is not just that, as Peter Ould says ‘biblical texts on this subject don’t mean what we always think they’ve meant’, it’s that when they do prohibit a behaviour, it is only the most egregious variant of it. The view that Chalke takes is that the biblical pronouncements are not valid in this case because:

        1. The author would not have had our contemporary, committed same-sex relationships in mind;

        2. The author spoke from within a tradition that was ignorant of what we now know about sexual orientation.

        3. The central message of the scripture was to prohibit temporary, exploitative encounter, rather than committed, protective one (which makes you wonder why they should single out the homosexual element at all). The mention of same-sex prohibition must be conditioned by 1 and 2.

        4. The focus was on heterosexuals who abandon their true orientation to explore other forms of sexual expression.

        5. The descent is only related to those who engaged in ritualised orgiastic sex associated with temple prostitution.

        Ergo, we must judge the extent to which Paul view has been shaped by any, or all of these and decide that, on the balance of probabilities, his message bore no relevance to what we see today.

        The problem with this view is the lack of self-critical awareness needed to interpret the scripture objectively. There seem to be no attempt on Chalke’s part to prove conclusively that points 1 – 5 above are true. However, it doesn’t matter whether we are sure that they are true. What matters to him, is that *if* they are true, they provides the impetus for a central idea of the gospel and his sense of mission, which he calls ‘radical inclusion’.

        It is correct that we start a debate on the nature of inclusion. However, Chalke believes that he already understands what a modern take on inclusion looks like. He extends Christ’s rhetorical question: ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?’ (Luke 12:25) to say: ‘Who of you by worrying can resist his sexual orientation?’ The two issues that I have with this approach:

        1. The focus is on trust, rather than nonchalance. In both cases, we should ‘cast all our cares upon Him, because He cares for us’.

        2. Whatever behavioural adjustments that we make to prolong life, life expectancy can be shortened by calamities beyond our control. There is no reason to believe that the same applies to acting on our sexual impulses.

        In the first century, some converts felt it necessary to impose circumcision on the Gentile Christians. It was a fairly minor observance, but Paul saw it as a much more dangerous return to dependence on OT observances, rather than the gospel of grace. He declared: ‘Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!’ (Gal. 1: 7 -9)

        Behind his execration, we can here the jangling of the apostolic keys of the Kingdom, as the lock shuts on those who are overtaken with a passion for publishing an adulterated gospel of our blessed Messiah.

  4. My problem with what Chalke has written is that it is an unbelievably weak argument. His comment on Leviticus, for example, in essence says “Leviticus says this about homosexuality, but says this about the handicapped. We don’t follow what it says about the handicapped, so why should we about homosexuality?” which is an argument of such poor scholarship that I am pretty sure a primary school child could have created it!

    He claims that his view comes from reading the Bible, but when it comes to supporting his view all he can do is attempt to take pot shots at the other side of the argument, rather than support his own.

    And despite all of this his supporters say “well done”? It’s a sad state of affairs if evangelicals agree with this argument, as it is nothing of the sort, but merely a non-argument.

  5. Charismatic youth leaders rarely make profound exegetes of Scripture or students of historical theology. This has happened before, with Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. I tried following Wright’s fulminations against ‘Pierced for our transgressions’ and got lost in the prolixity and tangential comments. Rhetoric is no substitute for argument.

  6. You asked good, critical questions until that last sentence. “What about permanent, stable, faithful incest?” There’s no such thing, obviously, and such a flippant rhetorical question fails to take Chalke’s claim seriously and dismisses it both uncharitably and unduly.

      • Doh! I’m an idiot. I read “incestuous” as “pedophillic”. That’s obviously wrong (even though many incestuous “relationships” are pedophillic). Sorry for the mistake! I take my original comment back.

        • I thought that was your mistake! This subject is much more complicated then we first think and often we “hear” what we think someone else is saying (so we impose our expectation on them), not what they’re actually saying.

    • See, that’s why the ‘PSF Incest’ argument is used by those who think gay-sexual relationships are wrong. They can point to a consential sexual union that is still seen as morally, intrinsically wrong by the majority of those that don’t think PSF gay relationships are wrong. It shows that consential PSF relationship isn’t the last, only word on morality.

      I honestly think that this line of argument will be used less and less as it is only effective if there is no section of society that either sees it as objectivily immoral/harmful or believes that it doesn’t exist.

      Personally I think that PSF, conentual, over the age of conset insestuous relationships are morally wrong, that those in them shouldn’t be allowed to get married much less clergy be sued if they didn’t perform the wedding and they should even be illegal. However I don’t think they should go to jail, if they are willing to get steroloised or use birth control part of me thinks what business is it of the authorities? It seems gross, twisted, open to power abuses… but would I want to actually say that to a couple? And then you see the tragic examples of married couples who later find out they are brother and sister; what do you say to them.

      I honestly think that all it would take is a test case with a likeable couple for it to become decriminalised.

      It’s the same reason that peodophilla was used as an attempt of an example to show that having a sexual orientation doesn’t in itself justify it as moral. That there are those with certain sexual orientations that the church, and even society as a whole would say are damaged and should be helped to remain celibate.

      That one doesn’t work as well because of the lack of conset that is able to be used. Liberals tend to focus on the consent issue and ignore the orientation one and conservatives the other way round and so talk over each other. Probablly on purpose so they don’t have to refine their arguements!

  7. Let’s look at Steve Chalke’s argument regarding inclusion. It is central to his change in interpretation. After all, he claims that the real question for the church is ‘the nature of inclusion’. He wants the church to grapple with this because, only by doing so, we will find wise answers. (Paragraph 2) It was even his IMPETUS for performing a dedication and blessing service in Autumn 2012: ‘Not to challenge the traditional understanding of marriage – far from it – but to extend to these people what I would do to others – the love and support of our local Church.’ (Paragraph 7)

    He then claims that the church has ‘failed’ by providing celibacy as the only means of coping with homosexuality. The implication is that homosexuality is either beyond the possibility of change, or unnecessary to change. In fact, he believes the church has a mandate to provide the means of ‘coping’ with (read, accepting) homosexual relationships by affirming them, once they are monogamous. He asks rhetorically: ‘shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?’

    THIS IDEA OF CELIBACY AS THE ONLY MEANS OF COPING WITH HOMOSEXUALITY IS A FALSE DICHOTOMY. The testimony of Peter Ould and many others demonstrates that none of us has to *cope* with either homosexuality or heterosexuality. Celibacy and heterosexual monogamy are conscious choices available to all who are open to transformation by divine grace. The real question is whether we have ended our attempts to broker a subtle compromise with the very human prioritisation of erotic fulfilment (whether hetero or same-sex). If we abandon this goal for God’s priorities, even if we fail unimaginably more than ‘seventy-times seven’, He still promises us through Christ: ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37) This is the true basis of inclusion: humble re-ordering of our priorities to place God’s claim as first.

    The question remains: ‘is inclusion on our own terms a key theme of the gospel?’. Well, Christ wanted to include the rich young ruler, a man prompted by what he heard to ask of Him: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Mark 10:17) After an exchange regarding the law, Christ identified the ultimate darling of his soul: possessions: ‘ “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (vs. 22). We are then told: ‘At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.’ The same happens when we confront anyone with the treasure of their souls: it might be popularity, wealth or sexual conduct that is incongrous with scripture.

    As saddened as Christ Himself was by the man’s response, He did not amend his demand for this man to abandon his earthly wealth. Christ’s unwillingness to negotiate with this man clearly contradicts Steve’s INCLUSION gospel. Christ exclaims: ‘“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of
    God!’, rather than suggesting that His mission had somehow failed rich people. Steve hs no interest in changing Christ’s teaching about wealth in the light of revised hermeneutics.

    Elsewhere in the gospel, excusing oneself from His demands on account of even family bereavement was met with a sharp rebuke: ‘“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22) No hint of accommodation there, yet the inclusion mantra is the cornerstone of Steve’s argument. Apparently, without inclusion on their own terms, ‘we consign them to lives of loneness, secrecy and fear’. This reduces God to a compliant codependent. If the behaviour is too deep-seated, God feels obliged to compromise those sins that shortened His Son’s earthly life.

    Even the parable of the Great Banquet shows that unqualified inclusion is a false gospel. After invited guests fail to prioritise the wedding over their personal excuses, they become hostile and are rejected. The banquet hall is graciously thrown open to those who could never ennoble the occasion, However, one such guest fails to respond to the great and unexpected privilege (with appropriate attire) and is completely EXPELLED.

    The gospel certainly does challenges any sense of religious entitlement, but it also challenges complacency and intransigence with the prospect of reprobation: delivering men over to do as they please with consciences seared away by habitual sin. Yes, the true gospel often finds favour among those whose desire for God is summarily dismissed by pious moralisers. Yet the gospel also continues to challenge us all to abandon our darling sins in pursuit of its great hope: eternal life. Those who don’t will ultimately be EXCLUDED.

  8. ‘Was the author intending to enshrine the view that all lifelong sexual unions should be exclusively heterosexual because this is a ‘creation ordinance’? Or, is this simply the normative illustration, whereas the critical truths of the story lie elsewhere?’

    By the word ‘author’, I presume Steve Chalke means the human writer. His exposition probes the scope of the author’s intent. In contrast, Paul claims a scope beyond the concerns of the author’s contemporary situation: ‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ (Rom. 15:4)
    Again, Paul casts his mind back to OT penalties endured several millenia before and declares: ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’ (1 Cor. 10:11). The apostolic tradition accepts that scripture has a relevance that can extend beyond the original scope imposed by the author’s intentions. The writer may not have *intended* to enshrine the view for perpetuity that marriage should be a permanent monogamous commitment, but Christ enshrined this idea, reasoning from the original unrevoked divinely ordered impetus of sexual differentiation. ‘For this cause,…’
    The writer may not have *intended* to enshrine the view that all lifelong sexual unions should be heterosexual. In Matthew’s gospel, Christ invoked the account of sexual differentiation and the union of the archetypal sexually differentiated pair as the enduring authoritative pattern for marriage. It is referenced as an original pattern to follow, whereas the OT norm is actually polygamy. Homosexual coupling contradicts this original pattern as much as the trivialisation of marriage by divorce for any cause.

  9. Now that Steve Chalke has denied an obvious truth of Christian morality, every Christian who frequents the church he leads should seriously consider his position. Is it, or is it not, scandalous for a Christian to worship under the oversight of this unbeliever?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.