Review: Different Eyes by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann

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Puritan Board Junior
[IMGL][/IMGL]There are problems with the world, big problems. How do we address them? How do we think about them? How do we then live? In Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann suggest we take on God’s view of the world. God is aware of our problems and our needs, and has entered human history. He has made his own story to reveal himself to us. Chalke and Mann write: “Jesus came to help people to see the world with different eyes; to understand that they were blessed by God – and as a result, to empower them to live that way” (74).

God came into human history through Jesus. The way God turned our bad story into his Redeeming story is through the cross of Christ where he defeated death. In this story of God, he then sends out the church to live out his victory over death. Christ’s message, according to Chalke and Mann, is to invite people into this changed community, to be a people characterized by following His’ teaching. What sort of teaching is this? It’s not a to-do list, nor a pragmatic list, but a list with a vision in mind: conformity to Christ. Here, they introduce what they call “Virtue Ethics” which “emphasizes the person or community involved in the decision making and concentrates on the development of their moral character as the key element in the ethical choices they make and the way that they choose to live” (39).

Virtue Ethics, aimed at making people into Christ-like people, “is only made possible through a living relationship with his Spirit, who develops in us a moral character based on virtues that are at the heart of who God is, expressed in the life of Jesus” (61). Unsurprisingly then, in this beautifying of the person to reflect the character of God makes his people into pictures of himself to the world finds its most potent meaning in the Last Supper:

“Perhaps then, when Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, what he really meant was, just like him, his followers are to be a sacrament – a visible sign of an invisible reality –for a watching world” (129).

God’s people are then making redemptive decisions over death and living lives filled with habits beautifying to the world around them as an evidence of God’s presence and desire to redeem the world.

On the whole, the Chalke and Mann are wanting to push people to think with theological reasons for how they should live. This is commendable, especially in a day when “doing good” is largely governed by “feeling good” about it. At the exclusion of feeling good, many see no need for doing good. This being said, the book has serious theological failings, and therefore has dangerous implications for why people live the way they live in light of those truths.

Chalke and Mann’s approach is to emphasize the narrative of the Bible, the development of the story and theme’s (what might be called a form of Biblical Theology). What is drastically unfortunate here is that in doing this they trump propositional truth claims. This is most clearly seen in their brief discussion about the relationship between God, the Bible, and history:

“Yahweh’s association with the vengeance and violence of the Old Testatment era wasn’t a true expression of who he was so much as the result of his determination to be involved with his people. This unwillingness to distance himself from the people of Israel and their actions meant that at times he seems to be implicated in their excessive acts of violence. From the very beginning, Yahweh’s dealings with Israel were motivated by his desire to demonstrate his love. But for a people saturated in a worldview dominated by gods of power and violence, it was inevitably going to be a slow uphill struggle to understand his true character and nature” (42).

There are a few things to note about this picture of God:

1. It undermines the clear teaching of Scripture. There is clear teaching all through the Bible that God commands war on sin and rebellion. Certainly there are unique dispensations of how this is done, but let us not forget that the God of the Bible commanded the death of Achan and his entire family (Judges 7), slew Ananias and Supphira (Acts 5), has a robe drenched in the blood of his enemies with a tattoo on his leg (Revelation 19:11-16). This God is Jesus Christ, who “saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). This is a God of war, righteous war, when his glory is defamed. But this God is love and peace and mercy that we might know him tenderly. Ultimately, their assertions gut the Bible of any authority because it is clear (according to them) that much of it (that is, all that judgment stuff) doesn’t really present us with the “true character and nature” of God. If anything, the OT serves as a worn-out old hag of a history showing what God wasn’t able to fix. (And, as everyone knows, the history of the Christian Church isn’t marked by a stellar track record either.) With the Scripture being largely undermined in its ability to present us with the true character of God throughout, they in effect gag God of being able to speak to us clearly in our words on his own terms. Further:

2. It undermines our ability to actually trust this God. Why should we trust a God who went along with things he didn’t condone (according to Chalke and Mann)? Why should I trust this God to be for my good (in all things! – Romans 8 ) when it’s clear that he can only act with permission? Do I want to love this God? The sense of the book is that Chalke and Mann understand Christ’s Gospel message to be an invitation into his reign, but only an invitation. There is no power to raise the dead soul to life (and one gets the impression in the book that there’s really no such thing as a truly dead man, simply one that needs to get a handle on real mercy and love and follow Jesus). In a book on supposedly Christian ethics, one inherently must deal with conversion and sanctification. The lack of material on this leads to my third observation on this:

3. It makes God impotent, pitiful, and sad. We all can’t help but feel a little sorry for God here. How terribly sad it is that God, the creator and author of the universe, has trouble clearly communicating himself to his people. I guess he’ll have to sluff along with the crowd’s desires. But hey, God loves his people, so he’ll act like the mob for a while to push them towards some powerful redemption in a few thousand years. God, according to Chalke and Mann, thus really has no say in changing people, he just provides opportunities. But feel confidence in this God, because it’s a slow uphill struggle, and gosh darn it, God’s a little engine that just doesn’t give up. I feel trust, awe, and confidence in this God already!

The Gospel

The nature of the Gospel for Chalke and Mann seems to be this: Jesus died to kill death so that we might join in God’s story of redemption, so that you can have the ability to see the world with the love and mercy that God sees it with. You see, Jesus didn’t do any vertical work, he did horizontal work – killing death by the blood of his cross so that our story could crescendo. Jesus “came to set us free, to give us the resources to live beautifully” (147). We are invited into God’s story, and God is speaking something about us.

“God’s story tells us that our lives are of value. The gospel is not just about God’s act of forgiveness, it is also about his invitation to partnership. Filled with the Spirit of God, we are called to work to bring in the Kingdom. The Church is a revolutionary community with the goal of making disciples – disciples who transform the society they live in” (102).

In brief, Chalke and Mann miss the point of the message of Christ and the Gospel. Without any sense that man has been reconciled to God by God’s own initiative to deal with man’s rebellion towards him, “blessed are the peacemakers” makes absolutely no sense. That is, when you see that God sends his Son to die in the place of what God’s enemies deserve, then you get a real glimpse into what it means to be a peacemaker. Chalke and Mann present the picture that we should love our enemies like God, who went along with violent people because he didn’t have any ability to change them or communicate himself clearly to them. Moreover, Chalke and Mann’s picture gives no foundation for the peace desired other than that Jesus has killed death on the cross. Did he kill sin? How are people forgiven when they have offended God’s glory? Does God brush the punishment their sins deserve under a cosmic rug? Contrary to Chalke and Mann’s presentation, we can be peacemakers because God is the ultimate peacemaker, not simply in destroying the great enemy – Death! – but in restoring us to himself through his Sons’ own radical mission of taking the place of our sin before God and absorbing the wrath that we deserve. Being a peace maker, according to the Bible, costs. There is little cost in the Gospel of Chalke and Mann.

Chalke and Mann’s depiction of the Gospel in helping people live beautifully is inadequate to the task. I admire their language in discussing the call on Christians to be Christ-like as living beautifully, but when they present an impotent God who takes sin lightly with a Gospel of minimal importance, there is little to be excited about in being involved in his story. They present a picture of the Christian life as one of pragmatic choices of character building. As Luther helped us remember, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Ultimately, I do not recommend the book for any Christian to read for spiritual benefit.

* As a disclaimer, I did receive this book for free from Zondervan for review at my blog The Strasbourg Inn.*
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