Steve Chalke, in the latest of a series of videos for the Open Church, claims that heaven is not just for Christians.
The pastor of Oasis, a south London church, questioned whether a loving God would really consign people to eternal punishment because they were born into a different faith.
“the common belief that only self-professing believers can be saved is merely a geographical lottery… Could it be that [God] is more interested in people as people, rather than as members of religious groups, whether Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians or even atheists?”
He falls short of an explicit universalism (i.e. everyone goes to heaven) but he gets pretty close.
In a way this is not at all surprising, given Steve Chalke’s previously stated opinions on related matters, but it is nonetheless desperately sad. But why does it matter, why should we be at all bothered by it. I would suggest there are reasons why we should be both concerned and challenged by his comments
Firstly, his teaching is unbiblical. Steve Chalke’s teaching in some key areas is not biblical Christianity; he has long since abandoned taking Scripture as God’s word in favour of deciding for himself which parts of the Bible he finds reasonable and therefore acceptable. Anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of Christ and yet manifestly rejects the word of Christ must be considered a false teacher. What else could you call them?
Secondly, his approach appeals in today’s society which values highly individual rights and entitlement, personal freedom and equality. To say that God does not discriminate against anyone sounds good and kind, but seems to remove any qualification at all for getting into heaven. We need to recognise that for many people attending Steve Chalke’s ‘Open’ Churches, and in the wider church scene there is a strong emotional appeal to the teaching that because God’s grace is so amazing people of all religions (and none) should, or could, be in heaven.
Thirdly, we also need to be honest that Steve Chalke raises some important questions. We need to admit that although God’s word is clear that repenting and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope for eternal life, we do not know precisely who will join us in heaven and we want to affirm that God’s grace is greater than we might imagine.
So, we need to be compassionate and prayerful for the lost rather than retreating behind cold and clinical theological formulations. And in terms of the question as to who it is that will ultimately receive eternal life, we will go as far as God leads us in his Word in expressing his desire that all people should be saved, even though we know that not all will respond to his call to repent and believe the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ.