Evangelical Alliance and Oasis Trust

Steve-ChalkeLast week the Evangelical Alliance discontinued the membership of Oasis Trust, headed up by Steve Chalke.

After many months of prayerful discussion, the Evangelical Alliance council concluded that a relationship between an organisation and one of its members in which the member felt it could not comply with a reasonable request from council, was not tenable.

In the social media feeding frenzy that followed, quite a few things have been missed and are worth noting.

First, this was not a knee-jerk response, but followed a long period (since January) of private discussion, as the Oasis statement also notes. This looks like a good model for attempting to resolve disputes, in line with Jesus’ teaching in Matt 18, and is a contrast to much long-range pot-shotting that happens on this issue. This in itself does give some credibility to the statement that

The Evangelical Alliance council remain deeply respectful of the work and achievements of the Oasis Trust and have a strong desire to avoid any unseemly dispute and to speak well of each other.

Surely you don’t have to think someone is ‘evangelical’ to respect them? I am curious to see the way critics of this decision still seem to think ‘evangelical’ is merely a term of approval, a bit like the popular understanding of holding ‘Christian’ views, rather than defining or describing a particular theological position.

Secondly, although some have characterised this as a power-play, EA were not asking Chalke to stop making the case for a change in attitudes to same-sex relations, simply that an organisation with an influential ministry amongst young people, and claiming to be rooted in the Bible, would give equal prominence to the case for the ‘traditional’ view. Although some changes were made on the Oasis website, they could not agree to this.

Having heard the concerns expressed by the Alliance’s board and council as to what has been perceived by some as a campaign to change the Church’s historic view on human sexuality, the Oasis board did clarify their position as having ‘no corporate view on this matter’.

However they were unwilling to fulfil the council’s request to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view.

So Oasis have not even done as well as the Pilling Report in representing different views! Steve Chalke is not the same as Oasis Trust, but he is clearly a very influential figure. Given that Oasis would or could not put a contrary view alongside Chalke’s, it might be interesting to reflect on where the power plays are really going on.

Thirdly, although the question of sexuality was the presenting issue, it is clear that the root cause lies somewhere else. As Gillan Scott notes, this does not look like good PR for evangelicals, and in fact Chalke’s subsequent comments on the nature of the Bible might have been a better ‘fight’ to pick. Justin Thacker, former head of theology at EA, highlights the contrast with previous disputes:

My fear is that what really distinguishes the hell debates of the late 20th Century and the homosexuality debates today is that while the former was essentially an in-house debate, the latter very clearly is not. The secular world simply didn’t care what conclusions we reached on hell, but they care very deeply what we say about homosexuality.

But what he misses here is the underlying issue at stake. He does note that ‘..those, like Chalke, who have come to revise their views regarding homosexuality have done so while still upholding the authority of Scripture.’ And Chalke wants to be known as an evangelical. But it is very hard to treat this comment with much credibility, at least in relation to Scripture. As I observed previously:

When he says ‘The Bible is mistaken in attributing the actions to God that it does’, he really is saying that the Bible is an unreliable witness to the truth about God’s will, actions and intentions, much in the same way that Strauss, Schleiermacher and Harnack did. To that extent, he represents a position that most evangelicals have been working against for the last 200 years.

The reason for this is that I think it is very hard to reconcile a ‘revisionist’ position with a persuasive reading of Scripture, even though many people are trying to do this. Much more persuasive is the position of the biblical scholar and ‘revisionist’ Luke Timothy Johnson:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says?

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good.

And a good number of others agree. Whether you think this is right or that my observation about the nature of the debate is true, it is clear that Chalke’s public position on the Bible is a long, long way from the EA statement of faith:

We believe in…

3. The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.

The statement also sets out a Relationships Commitment which includes:

3. We respect the diversity of culture, experience and doctrinal understanding that God grants to His people, and acknowledge that some differences over issues not essential to salvation may well remain until the end of time.

But given the way the same-sex issue is connected to the status of Scripture—and, more explicitly, Chalke’s own statements on the unreliability of Scripture—it is hard to see how this overrides the affirmation of Scripture in the statement of faith.

421589-004As usual, the most marginalised voice in all of this is that of Christians who experience same-sex attraction but who believe that the church’s ‘traditional’ teaching on marriage and sex is correct. Sam Allberry, who has contributed to the Living Out website, comments:

Today’s announcement from the EA is less about a particular stance on homosexuality than it is an affirmation of what Christians have always believed about the Bible – that it is God’s clear and good word for us all. Their statement will be a great encouragement to the many of us who experience same-sex attraction and yet who hold to the classic biblical understanding of human sexuality. I’m thankful for their leadership and care in what must have been a hard decision. We need to hold to what has always been defining for evangelicals – the ‘evangel’, the good news of Christ’s invitation to all broken and weary people to find true rest and satisfaction in him.

EA’s action here will certainly not make it popular. But could it be that it is actually offering a thought-through response and demonstrating consistent commitment to its position, even though that does not go down well in wider society? If so, is this not something the church needs to be doing a little more often?

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34 thoughts on “Evangelical Alliance and Oasis Trust”

  1. I confess to being relieved at this news. Steve Chalke does do amazing work but that doesn’t mean his position on this issue is biblical. I completely agree that the most marginalised voices are of those who experience same-sex attraction but hold to a biblical view of holy living. I still think that this whole debate is as much about what constitutes holy living as it is about anything else.

  2. Ian, the bottom line is that Oasis has been thrown out by the EA over the gay issue. You then blame Oasis for a power play.

    Have any other groups been asked to change website content over controversial issues (Oasis had already made changes in response to the EA)? Has the Evangelical Alliance itself in its news releases even acknowledged that evangelicals have a range of views on this issue (its own research showed this)? Has it itself practised ‘when speaking or writing of those issues of faith or practice that divide us, to acknowledge our own failings and the possibility that we ourselves may be mistaken’? The Oasis website specifically says that it wants to start a conversation, and invites responses from all sides of the debate. Does the EA?

    It looks more like the EA is saying you can’t be pro-gay and evangelical.

    I’m sorry, but this is NOT something the church should be doing a little more often.

    • ‘It looks more like the EA is saying you can’t be pro-gay and evangelical’. Yes—except that is not what they said, and Oasis have not contested this.

      The specific request was simply to put both sides—rather ironic that Oasis have not done this. It looks very much as though Steve Chalke won’t accept a disagreement with his views within Oasis, at least in terms of public profile.

      Given that Oasis does a lot with young people, and that young people are (to my observation) poorly engaged with the real arguments here, this looks both controlling and irresponsible. But odd no-one has criticised them for it. That wouldn’t be cool, would it?

      You ask whether EA has acknowledged the range of views…and then cite their own research. So the answer is clearly ‘Yes’. The question is whether those views are well informed. Given the ill-thought through stuff flying around, I suspect the answer is ‘no’.

      • Oasis are not calling for the whole of the EA to change.

        If they are willing to request that Oasis put both side of the argument and let them stay them why would they not respond in kind.

        • Er, because EA are not signed up to Oasis’ basis of faith. Oasis are signed up to EAs.

          It is difficult to accuse EA of not wanting debate, when they host and research all sorts of things. But that does not involve putting their core beliefs up for negotiation.

          • But the issue wasn’t to do with core beliefs. If it had been about Steve Chalke’s/Oasis’ attitude to the Bible, that would be more understandable.

            Instead, it was to do with the interpretation of the Bible on the issue of homosexuality in particular. The EA basis of faith doesn’t mention this.

            I have had a look on the EA website. It is difficult to find anything positive about same-sex relationships (though I may have missed them). There is all sorts of stuff saying that they are wrong, and I have yet to see any examples where they give any indication that this is not a view shared by all evangelicals, or that this might be a legitimate area of debate. Please feel free to point out examples if I am wrong.

            The response of EA to an organisation which suggests a positive biblical argument in favour of same-sex relationships (and encourages discussion of this on the website from all angles, as an important conversation), is to demand that the organisation host a counter argument. Something which EA has not appeared to do on its own website, or demanded of any other organisation.

            The EA is implicitly saying you can’t be evangelical and pro-gay. Despite the growing number of evangelicals who are pro-gay.

          • ‘The EA is implicitly saying you can’t be evangelical and pro-gay.’ I suspect if asked, this is what they would say—and I think they would be more or less right. They have published resources along these lines, exploring the issues. And of course anyone who affiliates with them knows this, don’t they?

            But this is not what they are saying in *this decision*. Oasis have not just pushed one particularly line, but they have also published a rite of blessing of a same-sex union, which Chalke has used, in contravention to Baptist Union policy, and they have refused to post material giving an alternative view. So they won’t even give space to the view of EA with whom they are affiliated. So why continue affiliation?

          • “‘The EA is implicitly saying you can’t be evangelical and pro-gay.’ I suspect if asked, this is what they would say—and I think they would be more or less right.”

            Do you really mean this? Do you really mean that you cannot envisage being an evangelical but coming to a different interpretation of the Bible from that of the EA on this issue?

          • On a separate note, I don’t know what relevance Baptist Union policy has with regards to this issue.

            For the record, as far as I understand it, Steve Chalke does not contravene current Baptist Union policy (it has been recently revised).

          • ‘Do you really mean that you cannot envisage being an evangelical but coming to a different interpretation of the Bible from that of the EA on this issue?’

            I don’t doubt there are people who call themselves evangelical and hold a different view. But I don’t think I have yet found a convincing argument from Scripture to contradict EA’s view–and I have looked quite hard.

            The weakest arguments I have found have come from Accepting Evangelicals, and I have quizzed some leading individuals in this group on the question. It seems to me that people are either reading pastoral concerns back into the text, or misreading the basic data of the text, or deciding the text is unclear when it is fairly straightforward. William Loader (a revisionist) thinks the same, as does LT Johnson whom I quote above.

  3. When Luke Timothy Johnson says “I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says,” isn’t that rather begging the question? The disagreement with other evangelicals like Steve Chalke is about whether or not the bible is actually condemning the sort of faithful gay relationships now affirmed by much of western society. ‘Plain meaning’ doesn’t seem to be universally understood. Didn’t Jesus himself encounter this problem when he was repeatedly accused of breaking the plain meaning of the Sabbath and purity laws, even as he affirmed that they would never pass away? As someone who spent many childhood years fearing I was a pervert because of my gender and sexuality in the light of such ‘plain readings’ of Scripture, people like Steve Chalke have enabled me to see Good News where previously I only experienced shame and despair. The difficulty in reading Scripture together is not so much that the plain meaning is being ignored by one group and affirmed by another, but that different groups prioritise different apparently plain meanings from different (and sometimes competing) passages. For example, the plain reading of Jesus’ teaching on the superiority of inner vs outer purity informs what I think the plain reading of Romans 1 might be when Paul condemns certain kinds of sexual activity. This is far too complex and important a topic to be dismissed with “little patience”, because it so massively impacts some of our lives, both temporal and eternal.

  4. Tess, I am not sure if you have read the context of LTJ’s comment. He has looked at the texts in detail, and believes that there is little ambiguity in them. He then goes on to say that he thinks they are wrong.

    This is quite different from the debates about slavery, women, or divorce—in all these cases there are Scriptural texts pulling in different directions.

    As I explore in another post I think this is the honest thing to do if you want to see change in the church’s approach: we think Scripture is wrong and we want to do something different. But to say (as SC does) ‘I respect Scripture’ but then to go against the fairly clear meaning is rather disingenuous.

    See http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-bible-and-the-gay-debate/

    • ‘This is quite different from the debates about slavery, women, or divorce—in all these cases there are Scriptural texts pulling in different directions.’

      Except Luke Timothy Johnson explicitly compares the debate to slavery and women.

      • Yes, he does, but does not come to the same conclusion. There is a complex and a simple response in each of these cases. For the complex, developed case do read Webb’s book.

        Here’s the simple one: In the OT the single most significant theological act of God is delivery his people from slavery. This immediately puts a massive question against any acceptance of slavery as a normative or acceptable form of human life.

        In relation to women, Paul says in 1 Cor 7.4 that a woman exercises authority over her husband’s body. This is incompatible with an ontologically hierarchical view of the male-female relationship, and to my knowledge is without parallel in the first century.

        There are no such parallels in relation to same-sex sexual union which is everywhere in Scripture viewed not just negatively, but as the apotheosis of rejection of God. [This does not solve the ethical question, but does indicate the completely different nature of the biblical texts on the respective issues.]

    • Conveniently disconnect this debate from gender and slavery etc.

      You make it sound logical and plain but for many of us it is not as plain as you suggest.

      To many of us it looks like the same kind of discussion.

      You can ignore this by suggesting we are misusing scripture or that we are being influenced by culture but many of us are genuinely wrestling with these issues.

      The EA, your blog here, Andrew Wilson, Adrian Warnock, and others are all well meaning people but you seem to miss the point that we cannot be silenced simply by removing us from the group.

      • ‘To many of us it looks like the same kind of discussion.’ I understand that, but with respect I do think this can only be true if you have not looked carefully at the kinds of texts involved and the nature of the discussion.

        Slavery appears to be both accepted and mitigated and spoken against in Scripture. At times Scripture appears to limit women’s roles—but at others allows women to be God’s agents as leaders of the nation, as apostles, church planters and teachers. So in both these cases there appear to be both positive and negative texts.

        In relation to same-sex relations, all the texts are uniformly negative, and emphatically so. I don’t think this *automatically* solves the problem—but it clearly shows the kind of discussion we need to have is quite different. See my summary on women in leadership here http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/summary-the-bible-on-women-and-authority/

        Do please point out if I have made a mistake here.

        If I wanted to silence you, I would not have allowed your post. However, this post was NOT on the question itself of SSM but whether EA acted with integrity in relation to their stated values. I think they did. Can you point out if I am wrong here?

        • Thank you Ian. I am not accusing you, or any other individual, directly of silencing people but that the kind of stance that seems to remove people from the group has thus effect. I find it hard to think that many in your own church would feel comfortable being honest given both your views expressed here and the privilege that you have of being involved in academic study. Had the EA taken a different approach then perhaps more evangelicals would be willing to speak their mind.

          I know that you feel comfortable suggesting that because we seemingly opposing views on gender and slavery this gives them a different status than homosexuality.

          I am not saying that you have to agree with my position on this but what I feel compelled to request is that you encourage fellow evangelicals to not too quickly dismiss us from the conversation.

          It seems that some want to make it look like we do not believ in the bible as the word of God but this is misleading.

          I think you would resist suggesting that comps/egals (depending on your view were not taking the bible seriously.

          To do so over this issue is to prejudge those with a different position.

          What are your thoughts.

          • ‘I find it hard to think that many in your own church would feel comfortable being honest given both your views expressed here and the privilege that you have of being involved in academic study.’ So how was it that someone, with a different view from mine, engaged me in a long conversation about it only last Sunday?

            ‘I know that you feel comfortable suggesting that because we seemingly opposing views on gender and slavery this gives them a different status than homosexuality.’ I am not sure what you are saying here.

            I am not dismissing anyone from the conversation. But I would be interested to hear any persuasive arguments from Scripture that the ‘traditional’ teaching is mistaken.

            ‘I think you would resist suggesting that comps/egals (depending on your view were not taking the bible seriously.’ As I point out above, since the nature of the relevant texts are quite different, the two issues are not really comparable.

            To suggest that the two views on SSM are equally tenable is *not* to be neutral, but is in itself taking a position—and one that I don’t think is warranted.

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful response, Ian.

    Yes the EA will cop some flak and are being painted as the baddies, but it’s clear Steve Chalke & Oasis have been drifting away from an evangelical approach for some time, as some of your excellent previous analysis has shown. Whatever the presenting issue it was surely only a matter of time before there would have been a parting of the ways – and I think evangelicalism will be stronger for the EA having put a line in the sand.

  6. Hi Ian – very well written post – thank you. On the matter of exegesis vs hermeneutics, I think that Steve Chalke’s article last year (http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/sexuality/stevechalke.aspx) did roll his conclusion on the women/slavery debate and line it up with his hermeneutical position with regard to same sex relationships:

    “Although motivated by a laudable concern for inclusion, many of the arguments used in an attempt to soften these uncompromising statements unintentionally end up clouding the real issue – one of wider hermeneutics rather than simple exegesis.

    The vast majority of Christians now recognise that women can, and should, teach and lead. So, how have we got there when, on the face of it, the New Testament prohibits it?”

    • Yes, I read that. What was really shocking was Steve’s complete ignorance of the key debates about women’s leadership, which is often a hallmark of this discussion.

      The Archbishop of Wales said the same last week. Because the Bible clearly prohibits women’s leadership, but we allow it, clearly we don’t do what the Bible says, so why should we on this issue.

      Five minutes reading would show how nonsensical this argument is. My posts on this start here.

      http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/summary-the-bible-on-women-and-authority/ and I comment:

      6. The nature of the texts on women’s roles sets this issue at some distance from current debates on same-sex relations. There is no positive recognition of same-sex sexual relations to parallel the positive texts on women’s examples and leadership, even if these are set alongside the texts which are disputed or which have been read negatively in the past.

  7. Ian a great article and further comments. There are core issues if doctrine AND there are core issues of behaviour . This is one of them. Your comments are so helpful here.

  8. “This is quite different from the debates about slavery, women, or divorce—in all these cases there are Scriptural texts pulling in different directions.”

    I agree with this, Ian: what I find confusing is how you reconcile the Bible “pulling in different directions” with the Bible never being wrong.

    Chalke and likeminded people would, IMO, be better off outside evangelicalism. Most “open evangelicals,” the closest evangelicalism has to a liberal wing, are firmly set against affirming gay relationships. Yourself, Goddard, Broadbent, Wright, Gumble: all the heavy-hitters are united on this. Leaving evangelicalism behind would free people like Chalke to question concepts like biblical authority, which lie behind the culture wars. They could reinvigorate liberal protestantism.

    Put simply, Chalke and the Evangelical Alliance think in different terms. Best they divorce now than stay in a loveless marriage.

  9. Ian

    “The Archbishop of Wales said the same last week. Because the Bible clearly prohibits women’s leadership, but we allow it, clearly we don’t do what the Bible says, so why should we on this issue.”

    I am with the AoW on this, but for different reasons.

    Until we agree that women’s leadership has not reversed the decline in membership and is not what God intends for our flourishing, we will not be able to speak with authority on Gay relationships.

    Ian you are doing a great job of holding back the tide. It would be much easier though if you we not on the beach in the first place.


  10. Many thanks, Ian – another clear and thoughtful analysis.
    As James has pointed out, it seems to be getting to the stage where those, like Steve Chalke, who hold to a ‘revisionist’ position on this matter, cannot really continue to call themselves ‘evangelical’ in any meaningful sense.

  11. Sorry to come to this debate a little late, but it seems naive to say that there are no positive examples of homosexuality in Scripture! Just off the top of my head: David & Jonathan, Ruth & Naomi, 2 men in a bed and one is taken…

    Evangelicalism is broader than just one view. One can be a revisionist in terms of women, slavery, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality and still be an evangelical. It just depends on one’s reading of the texts. Is your reading the only way??

      • We’ve come to different conclusions on that one. I just hope your tolerance is such that you can cope with differing viewpoints!

        But my point was more to do with your idea slavery isn’t supported in the Bible. The OT talks about beating your slave to near death, the NT encourages slaves to obey their masters in 3 different places. Yes you can use the bible to interpret itself as is the case in your example about freeing the jews from captivity, but to say there are no positive examples of gay people in the bible is just silly and doesn’t do your argument any favours.


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