In this article I speak of a perception I am beginning to get that those with more traditional understandings are not entirely welcome within the UK evangelical movement. I had hoped that this was just a false impression. Since writing this article, I came across a piece from Carl Trueman that alleges that some UK ministers feel they are being leaned on quite strongly regarding the issue of the atonement. It’s important for me to stress that this article is not meant as a criticism of the entire UK evangelical scene, but is rather my own personal reflections on a sense I am getting that UK evangelicalism is heading in a direction with which I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
This month’s UK Christianity magazine (not to be confused with Christianity Today from the USA) has a review of PFOT. I have to confess it left me rather bemused.
On the one hand, the author seems eager to perpetrate the idea that it wasn’t PSA itself that Chalke rejected. In this he is in good company as N. T. Wright has said the same thing. This would be all fine except for the fact that Chalke himself has said in an article that it was PSA itself that he had rejected.
The author of the review on the other hand states that he felt Chalke’s words in his controversial book were inadvisable. One is left a little confused about the reviewer’s own opinion on the issue.
He seems to have similarly mixed feelings about PFOT. He acknowledges some of the book’s arguments as almost irrefutable, but also criticizes it strongly, focusing in on the issue of so-called “limited atonement” which was only a very minor part of the whole book — taking up just a couple of pages at most.
I am left bemused and confused. Although the writer seems to be concerned about a trend to harden lines within Christianity, he seems to do exactly that by focusing on an issue which is not seen by anyone I know as one of first importance. For hundreds of years people have differed about the precise extent of the atonement and how it is applied, whilst agreeing on the penal substitutionary aspects of it, and defining themselves as evangelical as a result.
However much anyone tries to turn the current debate away from PSA to another issue, the key issue of books like PFOT remains the same. This is because — to many of us, both Arminians and Reformed, both charismatic and Cessationist — the concept of Jesus’ wrath-absorbing death on the cross is central to a full understanding of the Gospel.
After reading this review, I am now left wondering whether there is any room left for someone like me in the broad evangelical tent represented by Premier, Spring Harvest, and Christianity magazine. The inter-relationships of all of these organizations are made clear at the end of the online page for the review we are addressing.
It is ironic that the more inclusive the evangelical movement in the UK aims to be by including people who attack or minimize PSA, the more they seem to exclude those who hold a more traditional evangelical position.
I am wondering just where the walls of the evangelical tent now lie. Is it really possible for the tent to include both those who agree with Steve Chalke and those who agree with the writers of PFOT? Surely the tent must exclude one group or the other? Is it really possible to simply agree to disagree on the issue of the atonement and work together? Martyn Lloyd-Jones didn’t seem to think so.