Book Review: Different Eyes by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann


Title: Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully
Authors: Steve Chalke and Alan Mann
Publisher: Zondervan

As the world’s morality and ethics grow increasingly “gray,” Christians need to know how to respond to moral dilemmas in a way that reflects Christ to the world. To be “salt and light,” as it were. But how do we do it when there seem to be so many issues that the Bible doesn’t speak explicitly about?

“How do those who follow Jesus live distinctly in a time of uncertainty?” ask Steve Chalke & Alan Mann in their new book, Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully.

A Worthy Attempt…

The big idea behind the book is important. Christians need to know how to interact on a moral/ethical level with the world around us in a way that reflects Jesus. From what I can see, Chalke & Mann don’t want people to simply read their book, but engage with it. To actually try to put Christian ethics into practice. As they rightly say, “Our faith may be personal, but it can never be private” (p. 102).

This is an important point because it is essential that Christians think and act Christianly within our spheres of influence. When we fail to do so, we fail to be salt and light in the world. The discussion questions on four selected topics are also useful for thinking through the reasons why we believe what we believe about issues of homosexuality, war, euthanasia and the use of wealth.

Where we start running into problems is when we start seeing everything as being potentially gray, forgetting that where the Bible is clear, we must be as well.

…That “Misses the Mark”

Honestly, I found this book to be a mess. Throughout there’s a relatively low-view of Scripture presented that simultaneously affirms its truth as a narrative, but suggests that many of its commands are not binding. “The Bible is first and foremost a story-based moral vision rather than a list of universal rules,” Chalke & Mann write. “Believing that the whole of life is somehow covered by the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament Law is even more unrealistic than it is optimistic” (p. 38).

It’s true that the Bible is primarily a narrative…of God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity and all of creation. It’s all about Jesus. When we make it a story primarily about morals, we miss this.

While it’s true that the Bible is not a list of universal rules, the rules contained are universal. Matt. 5:17-20 speak to this point where Jesus says that He has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. While some commands are completed and fulfilled in their entirety because they foreshadowed Christ (such as the sacrificial and ceremonial systems), and every command exists within a cultural context, no command is merely cultural. Each one has an applicable principle for us today. And we are only able to fulfill them at all because Christ has perfectly fulfilled them for us.

Additionally, there’s a curious ambiguity to how the authors view Christ. While they don’t deny His death, burial and resurrection, they certainly seem to devalue it.

We believe in a God who was incarnated for thirty-three years, not just for three days. . . . in Jesus’ life and teaching as well as his death and resurrection. The heart of the Bible’s message about Jesus is built on a foundation of a life lived well, rather than simply the events of a long weekend. (p. 55, emphasis mine)

They further add that, “[T]he Jew we base our ethics on was executed for his views and actions” (p. 101).

The problem with this is that it ignores the reality of what Scripture says. It wasn’t simply because He broke the Sabbath that he was executed—it was because he said he was God (see John 5:18). Additionally Paul reminds us that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection—the Atonement—is of first importance (see 1 Cor. 15:3-11).

Our Real Issue

Finally, the authors tell us that the most common word translated as “sin” doesn’t indicate willful rebellion or transgression, but “conveys the idea of missing the mark, rather like an archer trying but failing to hit the target” (p. 101). The authors suggest that in light of this definition, humans are trying to be what God wants us to be, but just can’t quite get there ourselves.

While it’s true that the root word does mean “to miss the mark” (it also means “to sin,” or “to stumble”), the whole of Scripture shows our situation to be far more desperate. It says that left to our own devices we do only evil continually (see Gen. 6:5). We do what’s right in our own eyes rather than God’s (Judges 21:25). It says that “no one seeks God” (Rom 3:11).

Our issue is not that we just can’t cut the mustard—it’s that without Christ we have no desire to even try.

The problem with the archer analogy is that it reduces the severity of sin and God’s standards. If God’s standards are nothing less than perfection, to even miss the mark by a little bit is a damning indictment.

After reading Different Eyes, I did not see a life lived beautifully, only base moralism. When we try to define what is biblically moral on our own terms rather than trusting what Scripture says everything starts to get fuzzy.

Instead of equipping readers to think Christianly about ethics, Different Eyes presents a view of the Christian life that’s devoid of any real power and beauty. We need more than morality. We need a new heart. And we need Jesus to give it to us.

A complementary copy of this book was provided for review by Zondervan

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