Chalk is very influential in his own right, but his influence on McLaren is significant. McLaren himself highly praises and recommends this book. As I was reading Chalk's book, I could not help but to repeatedly say, "Sounds like McLaren," or "that's where McLaren gets it from." But outside of its affect on McLaren and the Emerging Church in general, there are a number of issues throughout the book that bear some response.
First, Chalk has a faulty understanding of human nature. Essentially, this is what separates conservatives and liberals. Conservatives, traditionally speaking, view human nature as inherently sinful and evil. Conservative Christians and theologians call this original sin. Liberals reject this and argue that human nature is inherently good. Whenever man does evil it is not the result of their sinful nature, but of some other factor (lack of education, lifestyle, influences, experiences, childhood upbringing, etc.).
Chalk argues, in contrast to original sin, for "original goodness" (67). Chalk believes the church's fascination with the doctrine of original sin "is a serious mistake," the "grave error that has dogged the Church in the West for centuries." To Chalk, original sin has robbed us of emphasizing God's love. He makes it clear that he does not believe that persons do not need to be reconciled to God, but that Jesus, to him, "is rejecting any idea that we are, somehow, beyond pale" (67).
Secondly, Chalk's understanding of the Kingdom is faulty. There is a common thread throughout virtually all Emergent material: the Kingdom of God is a present reality (that is, it is here and now) not just a future hope. Emergents are frustrated that modern Evangelicals emphasize the future hope and forget the present reality. To them, this is unbalanced. However, they turn around and repeat the same unbalanced on the other end; they emphasize the present reality of the Kingdom and almost completely ignore the future hope. Chalk is no different and he lays the foundation for that mistake.
Finally, Chalk has a faulty understanding of the cross. Perhaps the most quoted passage from The Lost Message of Jesus regards the statement that substitutionary atonement is "divine child abuse." Quoting John 3:16, Chalk asks, "how then, have we come to believe that the at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?" To Chalke, penal substitution contradicts God's love:
To Chalk, penal substitution has a number of flaws. First, it is "child abuse" because God punishes Jesus for something he did not do. Secondly, it is "morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith." Therefore, it is implied, Christians should discard it as unnecessary not because it is necessarily unbiblical, but because it has become a "huge barrier" to those seeking the faith. Finally, if God is love, then how could He pour out His wrath and torture His Son in a vengeful way? Did Jesus not Himself say to "love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil?"
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 (182-183)
In Chalke's theology, the cross is the ultimate 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" (183).
To put it frankly, Chalk is not a Christian. No matter how hard one tries to redefine the cross, to deny the atonement as propitiatory is heretical and anti-Christian. Although persons like NT Wright have tried to argue that Chalke doesn't deny penal substitution, it is difficult, at least from this book, that to make such an argument. Chalke is obsessed with God's love that by misunderstanding it he has really diminished it. Only whenever we understand God's justice and holiness can we see the cross, not as "divine child abuse" but as an even greater (not just a symbol) act of love. Even though we were still sinners . . . Christ died for us! Now that is love.
Overall, for anyone wanting to have a deeper understanding of the Emerging Church, especially McLaren, this book is helpful. But for those wishing to be enriched in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), look elsewhere.