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A review of Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Paul, by Julian Clover

"It is time for a new reformation. It is time to find a way of following Christ that offers liberation and welcome rather than control," says Steve Chalke in his latest book, The Lost Message of Paul. Too often religion "offers freedom but delivers repression" is one of the book’s key messages on how St Paul and his writings have been misused and mistranslated, resulting in shallow and unhelpful theology that is little more than a form of regurgitated medievalism.

For example, St Paul "doesn’t believe in some disembodied theology". He doesn’t believe that "faith is an assent to a set of ethereal beliefs". For him, "faith is a way of living. It is a way of being." In other words, following Christ is about changing society and bringing about a "societal revolution".

In fact the whole idea of "salvation through faith", so beloved of the Protestant reformers is, according to the book, very questionable. "Sola fide" or "faith alone" was made into a fundamental doctrine by Martin Luther (a blatant anti-semite, apparently, much loved by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis). However, it turns out that "fide" is a mistranslation of the Greek word "pistis" which is itself a misleading translation of the Hebrew word "aman". Any serious translation of either pistis or aman must recognise that the original meanings were much more about "faithfulness" in the sense of devotion and perseverance than about faith in the sense of accepting a set of prescribed beliefs.

This reframing is crucially important. Luther translated Paul’s term "Pistis Christou" to mean "faith in Christ", but there is a lot of disagreement about this. Translations up to his time had translated the term as "the faithfulness of Christ" and versions such as William Tyndale’s translation and the King James translation (both completed after Luther’s version) use this form as well. Whether we "believe" or "have faith" has been greatly exaggerated by Protestantism – acceptance, salvation and grace are freely given by God through Jesus to everyone on earth. They are not a Christian monopoly.

The book deals very effectively with other issues such as St Paul’s apparent misogyny and lack of inclusivity. In fact it reframes many aspects of "standard" Christianity brilliantly: heaven and hell, redemption and salvation, original sin, and the angry and judgmental God to name but a few.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the book is the description of the Oasis group of charities, set up by Steve Chalke and employing over 5,000 people to run schools, housing and health projects, city farms, community shops, churches and much else besides. Changing the world isn’t just a theological abstraction, it’s a powerful and inspiring societal revolution!

The above image is a recent photo of author Steve Chalke.

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