Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Part One)

I confess that I do not read the popular blogger Tim Challies. I was aware that he writes blogs which are very popular among conservative Christians, especially extremely conservative Reformed Christians. (I do not think my choice of words here is offensive and think Challies would accept this designation based upon how he presents himself!)

Before last week I was aware that Tim Challies covers a lot of ground in his blogs and touches on many “hot button” issues. He also alerts his readers about great deals on books and kindle specials almost daily. This is a very clever way (and I do not mean this in a flattering way) to increase online traffic and to draw readers back to his site and to reach new readers. I wish I was this clever (and had so much time) but I am not a blog-marketing writer. I obviously do blog but I am content to use this social medium as a side-line for my more important face-to-face friendships, public and academic teaching, networking and permanently published writing of new books, articles and academic papers.

Tim Challies is currently serving on the pastoral staff of an independent church in Toronto, Ontario called Grace Fellowship Church. I visited this church site, while I was researching about Tim last week and came across this sentence: “Grace Fellowship Church was founded in early 2000 under the leadership of pastor Paul Martin who observed that at that time there were only a handful of healthy churches to serve the millions who live in this city.” I must tell you this is normally church-speak for “we are one of the few healthy, biblical, faithful churches in this city.” If I am wrong I’d love an explanation to the contrary but this is precisely what readers who know this lingo will understand. 

tim-challiesOn Tim’s own blog site he answers a question regarding who he is and what he believes in this simple (reductionistic) way:

Challies says: “I am…”

•Christian – I affirm that Jesus is my Saviour.

•Protestant – I affirm the five “solas” of the Reformation.

•Reformed – I affirm the doctrines of grace, principles known to some as Calvinism.

•Evangelical – I believe the gospel (which is the original and truest meaning of “evangelical”).

•Unfinished – Though I find great beauty in traditional Protestantism, I realize that in some areas traditions may not be fully Scriptural. Where that is the case I am eager to change as the Spirit convicts me through the Word.

There is not a single mention of anything confessional or catholic. There is no mention of the Apostle’s Creed, nor Nicene Creed, or the Formula of  Chalcedon. Just words like “Christian,” “Protestant,” “Reformed,” and “Evangelical.” This plays well in many circles and especially works in the Bible heartland. But it says way too little for my interests. Yet, in some ways, I could say even less and mean much more by reference to the ancient creeds and confessions. (I’ll save that for another day.)

Now, why do I even mention Tom Challies? I assure you that I am not seeking to promote his blogs. I read quite a few of them last week. They are well-written in terms of their style and simplicity. Again these are compliments, not sly ways of attacking the character of this brother. Tim seems to be a talented and clear writer who knows how to compose good prose with great care. He is also prolific. He writes several blogs a day, or so it seems. Many of his posts are comments on books and resources but, like me, he also does series on various topics. By going to his site I found his content to be entirely predictable, to say the least. As many readers of my work well know I might have written blogs like these twenty-five years ago. My readers also know that I have been quite honest about my journey toward a “big tent” catholic and evangelical Christianity. I call my view “missional-ecumenism.” This means that I seek the relational unity our Lord Jesus prayed for in John 17:21-24 (ecumenism). It also means that I encourage Christians and churches to major on obedience to the Lord Jesus in the Great Commandment and Great Commission. This can hopefully lead us to real love and deep friendship; cf. John 13:34-35. I think it is obvious that we need both of these now more that at any time in our recent past.

So, to ask the question again, “What has all this to do with the blogger Tim Challies?” On one level, nothing at all. On another, at least as goes the evangelical blog world, quite a lot. You see Tim Challies touched off a storm two weeks ago with a blog about Pope Francis. Let me explain.

Tim Challies is writing a series of posts titled: “False Teachers.” Who are these “false teachers” Tim Challies calls out? It is a religious who’s that (so far) includes: Arius, Pelagius, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Norman Vincent Peale and Marcus Borg. (I wonder if others are coming. In fact I wonder if I will show up on someone’s new list, come to think of it! I already made the roll of some bloggers and authors!) What makes this list remarkable is that Tim Challies added a new person to his list on April 16: Pope Francis. You can read this post at: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-pope-francis.

I confess that I still would not have paid any attention to this post on Pope Francis unless my friend Chaplain Michael Mercer at the iMonk site had brought attention to it. He did so by bringing my work into his response to this very misleading post by Challies. When Michael Mercer responded to Challies last week he gave a very good representation of what I would have said about ecumenism between Catholics and evangelicals. (Michael clearly understands me and he gets this right in his post.) The Internet Monk post about Challies and the pope, titled: “Memo to Tim Challies: The War Is Over,” is here: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/48106.

After reading this post, and then reading hundreds of posted comments about it, I decided to pick up some of these responses here. This provides me with a wonderful opportunity to address some of the more popular ideas that Christians have about Catholics and evangelicals. My responses will not be carefully written doctrinal treatises but popular and simple  responses such as I would give if I were in a public dialogue such as those I have conducted with Catholic theologians. Since I do these events routinely to help foster missional-ecumenism it seems natural to do something like hat here. So pretend that you are in an auditorium. Put on your “agape hearing device” and then come along. This might be interesting. I hope that it is helpful. (This is not about Tim Challies. I am responding to the post he made and then the response my friend Michael Mercer made by using my ideas regarding missional-ecumenism. This is certainly not about Tim Chalies’ character, which I assume is honorable and godly!) I’ve learned a lot from doing this kind of thinking in public so doing some of it here might help some of my readers better understand what I believe and why. I hope this will have some value for earnest readers who want to listen in on a public conversation about where I think we are in the “Reformation War” that Michael Mercer wrote about in his fine post.

 

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