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Steve Chalke – The Lost Message of Paul

SPCK 295 pages £9.99 ISBN 676 0 251 07940 7

Steve Chalke’s new book is the sequel to his book The Lost Message of Jesus. To parody Oscar Wilde: to lose one message is unfortunate, but to lose two is careless! 

The book begins with the words: “I want to start a conversation about Paul the Apostle”.

This does appear to claim too much. Sorry Steve, this conversation has been going on for several decades. Apart from the assessment of Paul’s use of the word faith in his letters, there is very little meaningful engagement with others who have seriously interacted with Paul’s thought. 

This section of the book is well-written and easy to follow; even if some readers will want to draw different inferences from the evidence. Not least to give a more sympathetic and nuanced reading of the Reformers, Luther and Calvin.

The first page also includes the statement: “I believe that Paul has been misunderstood. Badly misunderstood.” There are useful things in this book about reflecting on Paul’s context, central purpose and primary target audience – but Chalke’s actual reading of Paul is highly selective and leads not to clear understanding but further lack of clarity.

The rest of the book is mainly taken up with an attempt to rewrite the theology of heaven and hell; including a lengthy excursion into Dante’s architecture of the afterlife.

I found the arguments more emotive than compelling. They are based on a selective use of Paul, a long line of straw men and a failure to interact with a wide range of evangelical scholars who have written on the subject.

I cannot recommend this book; there are better popular treatments of Paul’s thinking. Try Tom Wright’s Paul: A Biography.

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex

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