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In Defence of the EA

The EA took the decision to remove Steve Chalke’s Oasis Trust from membership last week, after a long process of consultation. Christianity Today has a summary, the EA’s statement and the response from Oasis here; based on the reports, I think they’ve made a painful, but right and very courageous decision. Unsurprisingly, though, lots of people have got very angry about it. Some have conflated “removing an organisation from the EA” with “declaring that nobody in the organisation is a Christian”, which is clearly absurd, and miles away from what the EA have done. Some have got annoyed on the rather fatuous grounds that, since Steve Chalke self-identifies as evangelical, therefore he must be one, and nobody has the right to say otherwise. (“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”) But others have expressed irritation or dismay for other reasons, charging the EA with being religious, exclusive, Pharisaical, divisive, inconsistent, and so on. So without knowing much of the background to the discussions behind the scenes, here’s a quick response to the public discussion I’ve seen. (Readers interested in what the word “evangelical” properly refers to, and how it differs from progressivism and liberalism, would do well do read Roger Olson’s blogs on the subject, and the multi-authorFour Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism book, but that’s not my subject for today). I’ll take the accusations against the EA one at a time, and explain why I think they don’t hold up.

Religion

“The only time Jesus drew a line, it was religious people who were on the other side.” Well: since pretty much everyone in the Mediterranean world in the first century was religious, including a certain circumcised, Torah-observant, festival-keeping Jewish Messiah, that’s not a particularly striking claim. Everyone in that scene (John 8:1-11) was religious. So what? The key issue in the scene when read thoughtfully is not religion, but hypocrisy: mask-wearing, play-acting, living as if something is true, when in fact it isn’t. And while there is nothing obviously hypocritical about what the EA has done – read the reports and see – there might well be something slightly hypocritical about claiming to “restore confidence in the Bible” while affirming that it contains all sorts of mistakes, contradictions and inaccuracies, claiming to read the texts on sexuality “thoughtfully” while ignoring most ancient and contemporary scholarship on the subject, and claiming to start a “conversation” while closing your ears to what virtually every Christian in history has said about something. Maybe.

Exclusion

This is the sort of charge that gets thrown at anyone who dares to suggest that, since X is true, not-X is false. Outrageous as it may seem, affirming that certain things are true of Christ involves affirming that certain other things (e.g. Arianism) are not true of Christ, and excluding people who teach them. Affirming that God wants sex to be used thisway necessarily involves affirming that it should not be used that way. If the EA stands for anything, it must be capable of affirming certain beliefs and excluding others. We can argue about whether Oasis has acted in ways that damage relationships with other evangelicals, and whether their stance, or that of Steve Chalke, is outside the boundaries of evangelicalism – although imagining for a moment what (say) John Wesley would have thought of it will quickly point us in the right direction – but objecting to the very idea of excluding people in the first place is the most unthinking sort of soggy relativism. Of course the EA excludes people; all organisations do. If everybody is an evangelical, then nobody is.

Read more at Think Theology

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  • Grundune

    What do the letters EA stand for???? Somebody please tell the author that we all aren’t on his high level of scholarship.