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.
On 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.
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
A thoughtful, characteristically irenic, but challenging introduction to your forthcoming blog posts. I look forward to reading them.
John, you’re much more gracious than I. I have a dimmer view of him than you after he wrote, sadly, a blog post about why he won’t be blogging about the sovereign grace horrors. I found that telling…he can tell the world about what they’re doing wrong, but when it’s in his tribe, he buttoned up. Something tells me if it was a catholic, or even worse, a liberal scandal (tongue in cheek), he’d have no problems posting.
Has Rome changed their position on what is the gospel and what it is not?
Looking forward to your posts John H. Armstrong
Challies irritates me. You’re probably the reason. Way to go, John. Making me swerve from my Reformedness.
Robert, I would submit that Rome teaches Jesus is our only hope for salvation. That He was the promised Messiah of the Scriptures sent to save His people. That’s the Gospel.
Oh. I thought the RCC cursed protestants and rejected justification by grace ALONE through faith in Christ ALONE. Am I wrong about that? If so, when did they recant their position?
John, I think the correct term is “extremely conservative uber Reformed Christians” Haha
Robert, your view is common but incorrect. I shall attempt to show why along the way. Read on and keep an open mind to what is really happening in the world of theology.
Thanks John. I would appreciate reading what they have written about their position, if they have recanted Trent. Do you know what document may have their new doctrinal position?
Hey John, it’s a beautiful day here in New England. Although I would agree there is at times unnecessary rock throwing between RC’s and protestants, I have a question. Isn’t there a big difference between justification by faith alone and justification by faith plus works? It seems to me we need to make a difference between developing loving relationships and correct doctrine. I can love someone but disagree with their theology.
When I hear Protestants grossly misrepresenting Catholic teachings and practice, I suspect that they do not have one informed Catholic friend they are close to? This is sad if Protestants and Catholics can not be friends in an age of missional ecumenism which is an entirely different world from 150 years ago where many Catholics and Protestants were all living in separate towns and even killing each other at times.
Robert Wells, the Vatican II documents would be a good place to start, along with the various Joint documents with the Lutherans, etc. They take priority over Trent.
Also, there is less distance in the RC and Protestant doctrines of salvation than is commonly thought. The Reformers were using Medieval Roman Catholic theology against other Roman Catholic theology, after all. And the best of RCC tradition has always affirmed that salvation is by Jesus Christ alone, just like the best of the Protestant tradition has always affirmed that the Christian life must be a life of faith working in love (faithfulness).
Adam, my question may sound augmentative. I am only asking for my own knowledge. Who said the more recent documents take priority over Trent.? Is that an official Vatican statement. My Roman Catholic priest friends would state that the protestant and catholic view is as different as night and day. We are not throwing stones at one another. But we do seek to understand one another.
I didn’t take it as argumentative at all, Dan. But we could start with Vatican II, since it finally and directly countered Trent by affirming that Protestants were true Christians and recognized their sacraments. That, then, is the official position of the RCC and constitutes a modification of earlier positions. So regardless of whether Trent was legally countered, it has been superseded in practice. Peter Kreeft and Alaster McGrath have done a lot of work on RCC and Protestant salvation and found them to be essential identical save in rhetoric and emphasis.
OK, if we are all on the same page why am I not allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper in an RC church?
Trent has not been contradicted, nor is that possible. Recognized sacraments other than Baptism?
I do not see much difference in the Lutheran and Catholic views on Justification. That said, the joint declaration did not modify Trent.
Adam, you could be a big help to me if you could give me a citation from McGrath. I am working on a doctorate in church history. I have to do a 40 page paper for a class on justification.
Vatican II created an ecumenical wedge in RCC theology that created inconsistency in Rome’s exclusionary practice that has not fully been worked out. So while they (perhaps begrudgingly) concede that Protestant sacraments are valid, they still require you to be a member of their Church to participate.
Dan, let me look around for some quotes and I’ll post them here.
I’m all for ecumenicism, but let’s not pretend the Catholic Church doesn’t consider Protestantism to be anathema.
“Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran Confessions and by the Roman Catholic Church’s Council of Trent. These condemnations are still valid today and thus have a church-dividing effect.”
Thank you Adam.
I’m sure that John will address many of these concerns in his forthcoming posts. I’ll just say I too am disappointed in the rhetoric and what seems to me to be a willful hesitancy to understand Roman Catholic doctrine on its own terms. We have to extend some grace and truly *listen* to what Catholic theologians say Trent means. Remember that the Roman Catholic Church is not exactly “confessional” the way the Reformed traditions are.
If anyone is interested I did write a brief piece on how Protestant and Roman Catholics talk past each other on the issue of justification:
Dan Korzep lots of Protestant denoms practice closed communion as well. It’s not so much about saying that we’re not brothers and sisters so much as honestly recognizing that there remain deep theological and practical differences. Now, I am all for sharing Table fellowship in spite of those things, but I get where the Roman Catholic Church, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and others are coming from.
Can a Reformed Christian be Conservative? Was Jesus conservative?
When i find myself at Mass – funeral, usually – i always take communion. I know I’m in the family – it doesn’t matter to me who thinks i am or not. Doesn’t matter to me who’s theology is off — if communion is served i participate.
.@JohnA1949 Must the Reformation Wars Continue? http://t.co/5bihoXEcPQ http://t.co/cl0RDHhLn6 http://t.co/90H5tMGJrL http://t.co/Y9z5Yd9kQ6
There are plenty of gospel teaching churches in Toronto!
Thanks for this post. It is quite helpful! It was attitudes like Challies’ that pushed me out of the Reformed tradition and eventually into Orthodoxy.
Will Hinton liked this on Facebook.
Richard Roland liked this on Facebook.
Nathan R. Hale liked this on Facebook.
Jordan Litchfield liked this on Facebook.
Steve Rhodes liked this on Facebook.
Thomas Nathan Smith liked this on Facebook.
Clay Anderson liked this on Facebook.
Ken Bogan liked this on Facebook.
Brett Bonecutter liked this on Facebook.
David Springer liked this on Facebook.
Sharon Schafer liked this on Facebook.
Vicki Scheib liked this on Facebook.
Albert Anthony Cota liked this on Facebook.
Robert Wells liked this on Facebook.
Anita Siml Armstrong liked this on Facebook.
Richard Kidd liked this on Facebook.
Forrest Lee Horn liked this on Facebook.
Daniel McDonald liked this on Facebook.
Addison Hodges Hart liked this on Facebook.