Evangelical student organisation splits with leading Christian festival

By staff writers
April 25, 2007

A group which has been at the centre of legal battles with universities over the rights of Christians to opt out of equal opportunities policies, has announced it is to split with a leading Christian event.

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) which runs a number of Christian Unions in universities, has announced that their partnership in producing Spring Harvest’s ‘Word Alive’ Bible Study week for students, has come to an end.

They believe that God's punishment and retribution should be central to the teaching of Christian students. The idea is also central to the statement that UCCF requires Christian Unions in universities to sign. This has led to exclusion of Christians who have felt unable to subscribe to such beliefs about a vengeful God.

Rev Richard Cunningham, director of UCCF, said that the decision to end the partnership lay in the 2003 publication of the controversial The Lost Message of Jesus by the Rev Steve Chalke, a member of the Spring Harvest Event Leadership Team and Council of Management (trustees).

In The Lost Message of Jesus, Chalke rejects ideas of God held by some conservative evangelicals, which suggest that God punished and killed his son.

Canon Jeffrey John recently hit the headlines when he also rejected such a view in his BBC Lent talk. Jeffrey John said that his views were in line with the Church of England’s doctrinal commission on the subject.

Steve Chalke has also said that his views are orthodox, and that the idea of a vengeful God is at odds with the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, in the Gospels.

Commentators have previously suggested that those Christians who hold ideas of the crucifixion based on God's punishment and retribution, would also be willing to attack their fellow Christians, and take others to court to get their way. But they also suggest that such values and methods are at odds with the teachings of Jesus Christ, as contained in the Bible.

The Word Alive committee, of which UCCF is a part, however, said they believed that views which challenged the idea of a vengeful God were contrary to orthodox biblical teaching and as such, "decided that the Rev Steve Chalke could not teach from a Word Alive platform," said Mr Cunningham.

In response to the closing of ‘Word Alive’, Peter Maiden, the chair of the Keswick Convention council, said: "Word Alive has been a very important partnership for the church in the UK. There have been, however, increasing pressures on this partnership in recent years.”

“The controversy over the atonement, which has been an issue in the church in the UK in recent years, has also created difficulties in the partnership, and in the light of these pressures, it was considered best to bring Word Alive to an end.”

The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, who is chair of the Word Alive committee, was one of two bishops who publicly criticised Jeffrey John's BBC Lent talk on the atonement. It later transpired that the Bishop's statement of condemnation was issued in a press release, before he had read John's talk.

He said, “I am sad at the ending of the partnership. The new Word Alive event remains totally committed to our distinctive of lively Bible teaching for all the family and to having on the platform only those who are enthusiastically committed to the historic evangelical faith. In the present climate, that means commitment to a high view of Scripture and to a penal substitutionary view of the atonement.”

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