This book contains much that is thought-provoking and challenging. Chalke rails against the way Christians (and the church) can be judgmental rather than gracious - assenting in principle to what Christ says but failing to put it into practice. And yes, we do need to keep asking ourselves where in our church and society we would be likely to find Jesus if he walked this earth again today. And we need to keep repenting.
However, Chalke pushes the pendulum so far back that he loses the crucial balance of what Jesus actually did say! (It's also significant, I think, that he quotes very little from the book of Acts and the Epistles, which tell us what the first eye-witnesses of Jesus thought his message was, and how they put it into practice.)
Some of the book comes across at first glance merely as slightly wacky: for example he asserts that the reason God tells Moses, "no one may see my face and live" is not because of God's overwhelming majesty and holiness (cf Isaiah 6), but because God's face is riven which so much pain that the sight of it would be too much for Moses to bear. But the book, along with the challenges and insights, and the things that raise an eyebrow or a question mark, has a dangerous undertone.
Someone once said that most heresy comes about simply because we emphasise one truth at the expense of another! Christ's humanity rather than his divinity (or vice versa); God's sovereignty rather than man's free will (or vice versa). And, in his attempt to emphasise God's love and grace, Steve Chalke has subtly downplayed talk of sin and judgment.
This started to alarm me long before I got to the pages which proved the most controversial: Chalke's attack on the principle that one of the awful things happening at Calvary was that Christ was being punished, by his and our loving Father, for our sins.
It is encouraging that Chalke recognises early in the book that "although God is love, this doesn't exclude the possibility of him eventually acting in judgment". However, when it comes to examining the Cross of Christ, Chalke seems to be unable to hold those two ideas - love and justice - together.
His view of the Cross is predominantly that is was God's final and total identification with the lost, the outcast and the marginalised. This is true. But the bible also teaches (and no, we shouldn't find this easy to stomach!) that:
"God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-26).
Compare that with Steve Chalke:
"The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is, the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his Son are prepared to go to prove that love..."
Very sadly, this starts to remind me of Richard Niebuhr's famous description of the essence of theological liberalism: `A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'