Steve Chalke Responds: Is the Bible the Word of God? Is it infallible?

Following David Robertson’s robust critique of his position, Premier Christianity invited Steve Chalke to respond and explain more about how he understood Scripture.

You can read Steve’s article here.

I want to pick up on a few things in Steve’s article. 

  1. Both and/ either or

Steve says

“Does 2 Timothy imply that the scriptures are ‘the word of God’? The Bible itself is unambiguous: ‘The word of God’ is a person not a book.”

The mistake Steve makes here is to decide that two things are mutually exclusive.  This is a prime example of insisting on “either/or” when there is a “both/and.”  This has been a constant error throughout the history of the church. Another example that also focuses on Christ is the insistence that he must be either fully God or fully man.  Scripture shows us, as the early church concluded that he is both.  This becomes important a little further on.

Steve is being somewhat naughty here because the point that God breathes Scripture does quite obviously mean that the words is Scripture are from him. They are his words and so the totality of the book is His Word.

As I noted in an earlier article, David the Psalmist talks about God’s Word in the following way.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path”

David says this in the context of Psalms that encourage meditation on the Law of the Lord. In other words, David is talking about the Torah, the Scripture that was available to him at that point.

If Scripture is God’s Word, then he owns the words. We cannot disconnect them from him and suggest that he is infallible but his words are not.

  1. Human or Divine?

Talking about inspiration, Steve comments

“What does the term ‘God-breathed’ mean? Does the Greek word theopneustos – sometimes translated as ‘inspired’ – necessarily imply the idea of dictation; that God controlled the tip of each writer’s pen?”

Note that he sneaks in here something that people are not arguing. Check out our e-book “How do you know?” available from our publications page. It includes a summary on the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture which I believe accurately reflects the classical evangelical position. The claim has never been that God simply dictated Scripture in the same way that Mohammed received a dictation of the Koran, although there are points in Scripture where he does explicitly dictate and tell his prophets to write -for example, Moses on Mount Sinai. However, the normal sense is that he is able to speak through people, inspiring them to write his words. This means Scripture is written into contexts and will reflect the style and character of the Biblical writers. There is a sense in which Scripture is a human book.

However:

As I commented above, we know that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine and taking on a human nature did not make the Son imperfect or fallible.  Scripture is also both human and divine. Divine because God inspires it, human because he works through human authors. But God, working sovereignly through humans is able to ensure that they are able to report him accurately. Or else, what exactly is the inspiration that Steve suggests. He tells us what he thinks it is not but I don’t think he really explains what it is with clarity. Rather, the suggestion seems to be that inspiration is little more than encouraging a conversation, saying some things and leaving it to imperfect human beings to remember what he had said. This leads to a third point

  1. Jesus The Word entrusts the communication of his words to humans through the Holy Spirit

Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. This would include enabling them to recall all that he had said and done.

This is important because it helps us to see what the New Testament writers understood as their role. They were lead into all truth by the Holy Spirit and they were able to communicate it accurately. It is fascinating that Steve Chalke does not just undermine the Oldd Testament but also significant portions of the New Testament too.

Steve says

“So, for instance, I do not agree with 1 Timothy 2:12-15, which teaches: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.’ And, I think it has a different understanding of the Genesis creation story to me when it explains the reason for this tough stance against women leaders is that: ‘Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.’ As for the point that ‘women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety’, I would struggle to teach that!”

Well, those are difficult texts to wrestle with and a good Bible student or tutor will want to understand them in the context of the whole Bible.  However, to dismiss something completely because I find it uncomfortable?  Really?  If I am able to make the decisions about which parts of Scripture to agree with or disagree with then who really is infallible?  It is the person who makes the choices.

Now Steve claims that he makes the assessment by reference to Jesus.

“Why? Because, at heart, my question is simply, this: Does 1 Timothy’s view of the role of women in church life, or in society as a whole, reflect Jesus – ‘the Word made flesh’ (John 1:14)? And, my answer is no.”

However, let’s think this through carefully. First of all, does Jesus teach explicitly on this topic? The answer is “no.”  So, what do we know about Jesus and men and women? Well we know that he loves and values men and women equally, treating women with great dignity. That’s unsurprising, he is the one through whom and for whom we were made, male and female in God’s image.  However, we also see that he chooses 12 men as his apostles. Women are the first witnesses to his resurrection but men are chosen to write the 4 Gospel accounts.  Now, does that give us a full understanding of the roles of men and women in church life? No, it doesn’t. So, on what basis is Steve Chalke deciding that 1 Timothy’s view doesn’t reflect Jesus. It is on his own assessment of Jesus.  Is he willing to consider that he might be the one at risk of “eisegesis” reading his own cultural assumptions onto Christ?

  1. All Scripture

Here’s the oddest bit. Steve reckons that because the whole of Scripture wasn’t complete when Paul wrote the words “All Scripture” that Paul didn’t mean “All Scripture” but only to the Old Testament.

Well

  • As Steve acknowledges – the Old Testament is the “very bit that so many have most problems with.” So, if that bit is attested in this high way, then shouldn’t we say “even more so” what comes after.
  • What does Paul mean when he says “All Scripture is….” Does he mean he is making an assessment “Yes that bit is good enough” in the way that the man from Del Monte would take a bite of the pear and give a thumbs up that the fruit was ready for harvesting. I would say “No.” Actually, it is obvious that Paul sees a quality in Scripture here. Scripture’s nature is that it is God breathed. The point is that we now have a standard for what Scripture is. That is why early Christians were keen to know whether the new books were Scripture or not. Did they carry that same authority?  Could they be (to take another Biblical image) grafted in to the Scriptures they already had.
  • God inspires Paul and writes from the eternal perspective of a past/present and future.

 

  1. Useful

Steve Chalke states that he sees Scripture as “useful” but in what sense? If I can pick and choose then in what sense is it useful? Well this is how Steve treats 1 Timothy 2 -the bit he disagrees with as “useful.”

“But, do I find its views ‘useful’ in terms of wrestling with how we are called to navigate the issue of culture as we seek to listen to the voice of Christ? My answer to that is – yes!”

Now at this point we are surely tempted to ask “What sort of use is that?”  I can read anything from “Fire and Fury” the book about Donald Trump, through to Shakespeare’s plays and find them useful as I want to navigate culture and seek to listen to the voice of Christ. I can read John Stott and Joni Erikson Tada and find them useful. Indeed, I can read Premier Christianity magazine each month filtering the articles that are in my assessment closer to Christ and say that Premier Christianity is useful.  However, all of them are quite different from Scripture aren’t they?

Now, let’s look again at 2 Timothy 3:16. Here it is in full with verse 17 as well for good measure.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”[1]

Paul tells us the way in which Scripture is useful and why it is useful.  It is useful because of who it is from, it is God’s inspired word and because of how God uses it, what it’s purpose is. Scripture is able to prepare us for every good work.  The ESV puts it as “that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work” whilst the NRSV describes the believer as “proficient” There is a sense here of Scripture as sufficient. It is exactly what we need.

An honest conversation?

Steve concludes by saying:

“Why do I bring my views to the table? Because, as I understand it, by its very nature, the Bible calls us to continue this open and honest discussion and debate. But, as I do, I am also reminded that even when I disagree with others, it is by my love and respect for them, as Jesus explained, that everyone will know that we are his disciples. This should be what marks us out as the Church.”

Fair enough, an “open and honest discussion and debate” is fine. However, so far we have not seen any evidence of that. You see, Steve has certainly put views on the table but when he has been challenged both about his understanding of the Bible and his misrepresentation of the views of those he seeks to disagree with, he has so far failed to come back and respond. So unfortunately there isn’t much open and honest discussion happening.

More importantly however to whether or not Steve agrees or disagrees with David Robertson or you or me is this. What about when God disagrees with him? His approach to scripture allows him to disagree with it but what about when it disagrees with him. What about when it disagrees with me. I might wrestle with it, struggle, dislike it sometimes even but the point is that if God is speaking and disagrees with me then my responsibility is to comply with him.

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT.

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