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Three of Great Britain's most prominent Christian groups have ended their 14-year conference partnership, scuttling the annual Word Alive youth event. At issue was disagreement over a speaker, the Rev. Steve Chalke.

But below the surface simmers a theological controversy that threatens to split the country's evangelicals.

Spring Harvest's namesake conference, the largest Christian event in the country, draws about 55,000 people each year to a multi-site, multi-week lineup. The organization recently asked that Keswick Ministries and the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) be willing to put Chalke, a member of Spring Harvest's council of management, on the student- and family-focused platform they co-host. When the ministries balked, Spring Harvest cancelled the event.

"The Word Alive committee, in good conscience, just didn't feel it would be appropriate, during that week, for Steve Chalke to be given a platform," said UCCF communications director Pod Bhogal. "Steve Chalke has made his dislike of penal substitution really, really clear, and … we didn't feel the nature of the atonement was one of those things you could agree to disagree over."

Chalke's theology first came into question in 2003 with the publication of his book The Lost Message of Jesus. In it, Chalke, the senior minister of Church.co.uk and founder of Oasis Trust and Faithworks, compared the prevailing Protestant view of the atonement to divine child abuse.

"[W]ouldn't it be inconsistent for God to warn us not to be angry with each other and yet burn with wrath himself [against sin and sinners]?" he later wrote in an article defending his position. "I, for one, believe that God practices what he preaches."

Chalke criticizes the penal substitutionary ...

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July 2007

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