the Jesus gospel

A recent book written by Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus (2003) has provoked considerable controversy within evangelical Christian circles. In a withering critique of classic Christian theology, Chalke famously claims 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... such a construct stands in total contradiction to the statement 'God is love.'"

Chalke's book claims to rediscover the forgotten core of Jesus' teaching, while throwing away the thousands-year-old notion of penal substitution -- the doctrine that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. Or, as the apostle Peter so succinctly put it: "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree...by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).

But never mind that old fuddy-duddy Peter doctrine; Chalke insists that our new age demands a new view of Jesus and what on earth he was doing up there on that rugged cross anyway. And, according to him, it was all about making a "vivid statement of the powerlessness of love." No, really.

Thankfully, there have been some excellent, forceful, and uncompromising answers from various evangelical leaders to Chalke's claims. But one of the best I have come across is The Jesus Gospel by Liam Goligher. The reason it is my favorite is that it barely even mentions Chalke and his refried-bean version of 1860's Liberal theology, except to simply observe in the Introduction that in Chalke's work we find "the same tired old same old."

Rather, Goligher spends the entire book on a marvelous man-hunt throughout the Old and New Testament for the real person of Jesus Christ and what His mission was. The result is just one more example of how God is able to make the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalm 76:10), because Chalke's work has motivated such glorious observations regarding the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross, including its foreshadowing in the Old Testament types and shadows. As controversies often do, Chalke's claims have inspired a more careful and devotional look at the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ than we may otherwise have had in our generation.

Among my favorite Goligher meditations:

"Every Christian will either have a God-centered or a man-centered theology. The Christian who gives the Bible its due will learn that, just as the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, so also the chief end of God is to glorify himself and to enjoy himself forever. He will learn from Scripture that God loves himself with a holy love and with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength" (p.13).

Among my favorite Goligher meditations:

"The Passover teaches us that the Israelites were just as sinful as the Egyptians. We miss the point if we don't realise this. They would die too. God made sure that none of the preceding plagues went near the Israelites. But now God says that he is going to visit every home in Egypt -- that means Israelite homes too. The soul that sins deserves to die... On the night when the Lord went through the land of Egypt something died in every house, either the firstborn died or the lamb died. The New Testament gives us an explicit explanation of what this signifies for us. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 we read, 'Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed'" (pp. 51, 52).

"Christians will often talk about salvation being free but in fact it is desperately expensive. It is free at the point of delivery but only because the cost of it has been met somewhere else by Someone else" (p. 115).

"There is One who stands outside and above, proclaiming 'I am who I am' (Ex. 3:14). His voice disturbs us because he does not speak the language of the market, nor of this world. Rather, he calls us to lay everything at his feet and to worship him because he is who he is, the Holy Other" (p.141).