In case you were wondering, the title of this post refers to 3 different people, which will be made clear as you read this post. Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson have been having some debates on Premier.tv, and in the second of those, for all his elusiveness in answering questions, Steve Chalke makes it very clear what he thinks about the bible. You can watch it HERE, but if you want to save 30 minutes I’ll summarise his view.
According to Steve Chalke – When looking at biblical narrative (I can’t comment on other genres for Chalke), what we find in our bibles is the human author’s interpretation of history. And, particularly in passages related to God’s judgment (as an example Num 15 – man being killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath), the bible writers consistently give a wrong view of the Living God.
What brings Chalke to this conclusion? His (flawed) Jesus hermeneutic. The God presented to us in the OT is different than Jesus. Jesus certainly would not condone the actions attributed to God in the OT.
I’m not sure what this says for the Spirit’s role in the writing of scripture. Chalke repeatedly refers to the bible as a library full of a variety of stories and contradictions.
But for my purposes here, I want to consider Jesus’ view of judgment, and his reference to an OT instance of judgment and let’s see if Chalke’s hermeneutic stands.
Numbers 21.4-9 – the bronze serpent. The account is familiar enough: the people rebel, they are judged, but God provides a way of salvation for them.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And theLord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronzeserpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21.4-9)
Now, if Chalke keeps a consistent hermeneutic to what he says in the video, the death of the people (and the presence of fiery serpents among them) has nothing to do with God’s judgment. Maybe low immune systems, heart trouble, fear of snakes, poor medicinal practice, unusually cool temperatures inviting snakes out of their holes, or whatever – but not the judgment of God. So the people are dying for a variety of reasons, Moses prays, and the Lord gives him instructions on a bronze serpent.
If the people look to the serpent with faith in the promise of God, they will be saved. They will live. I wonder, was God involved in their salvation, or was the bronze serpent merely a placebo and the people just had mental problems? Or to say it another way, what did the bronze serpent actually save them from? Did it save them from natural law, or divine wrath? Is Moses (though I don’t think Chalke would grant Mosaic authorship), or whoever, wrong in attributing the presence of the snakes to God but right in attributing salvation to God? If so, then God saves the people from the consequences of playing with snakes, but their salvation has nothing to do with their relationship and position before the Living God. They are only saved from being incompetent snake handlers.
Well, what does Jesus think of this episode? He tells us in John 3. Like the bronze serpent was lifted for all to look to in faith for salvation, so Jesus will be lifted on the cross for all to look to in faith for salvation. If Jesus draws this parallel, I wonder what exactly it is that Jesus saves people from? The bronze serpent in the desert (in Chalke’s hermeneutic) had nothing to do with salvation from God’s wrath, just the coincidental present of venomous snakes in the camp and a magical cure. So salvation in Numbers 21 has nothing to do with the people’s relationship to God, only with snake bites. No judgment. No wrath. God has no problem with the people. It is just these blasted snakes that are everywhere!
If Jesus compares himself to the bronze serpent, then we must say that the salvation he offers has nothing to do with salvation from God’s judgment or that it is in any way concerned with restoring our relationship with God. If we did say that, then we’d be attributing to Jesus that he thought the fiery serpents were judgment from God. But, of course, we know better and that can’t be the case. The bible writer offered that as his interpretation, but he was wrong, and Jesus knew it. So Jesus speaks about a salvation which is…well, I’m not really sure. It isn’t salvation from God’s wrath against our sin and rebellion. It isn’t salvation and eternal life in the restoration of a relationship with God as our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus. Maybe it means we’ll live longer? Or maybe it just means that God doesn’t really judge anyone. We may suffer the consequences of natural law (you play with snakes, you’ll get bitten), but that is all we need fear in this world and the next. Hang in there, and make sure you have medical insurance.
One other problem Jesus text is Luke 13.1-5.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
I don’t know how Chalke would explain this text, other than saying it doesn’t sound like the Jesus he has created. Or perhaps Luke is interpreting what Jesus really said. After all, Luke also gets the whole Ananias and Saphira explanation wrong too (so says Chalke in the video).
Off to have lunch and to read Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.