In a blog that I published here last week, on May 7, I linked to an article by pastor and blogger Tim Challies. His blog argued that Pope Francis was not a Christian. I debated for days with myself about responding to this sadly uninformed post. To be completely honest I do not like to engage with this kind of Internet “yellow” journalism. I honestly believe that the claim of Tim Challies is so preposterous that it is virtually unworthy of a response, yet after a few days I changed my mind. Why? Simply put, I feel that someone who has a personal history with a mindset like that of Tim Challies should attempt to help non-theologically trained readers grasp a very different evangelical perspective on Catholicism, one that does not promote the “Reformation Wars” of the last five hundred years. My perspective is that Challies’ arguments are so profoundly flawed that any careful reader of the sources, and of the stories that come from real Christians who live in the present, will readily alter genuinely open minds. The kinds of arguments Challies used are the sad result of a faulty set of assumptions and an extremely rigid series of propositions. In the end Tim Challies neither understands Catholic theology very well nor does he grasp the core of what makes for a truly healthy evangelical theology. I believe such a theology promotes the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17, not further misunderstanding and warfare. If Luther said he would kiss the pope’s feet if he proclaimed the gospel what would he do with Pope Francis? I think you get my drift.
Since unity is my particular passion I decided to tackle this recurring debate head on in order to show why Challies fails to honor Christ or the grace of God in the gospel. In this regard I do not judge Tim Challies’ motives or his personal faith. I can only believe he wrote what he did in good faith, according to what he understands. The results of what he wrote are my sole concern. Challies has written a divisive and harmful polemical article that pretends to know the state of a man’s soul before God. This type of judgment serves only to feed the prejudice of some evangelicals and promotes a false view of Pope Francis and the post-Vatican II Catholic Church.
I confess that I do not know a great deal about Tim Challies. I gave a brief introduction about his writing, and personal biography, in my May 7 post. I had previously not spent time reading his blogs until this one came to my attention. I only knew his name because several readers had told me that he was a wonderful blogger. My response on May 7 was linked with the blog of Chaplain Michael Mercer, an evangelical Lutheran minister. Michael is also a prolific blogger who posts his blogs at the iMonk site. I openly agree with Michael’s well-written response to Challies. I had no idea, in advance, that he was going to use my ideas in his blog.
What I propose to do, for several forthcoming posts, is to offer a personal response to some who commented about Challies blog on Chaplain Mike’s post. The comments that were posted there numbered in the multiplied hundreds. Many of these were playing off of my own work since Chaplain Mike used my story to show how one evangelical changed his mind about the “Reformation Wars.” Michael is completely right in how he makes use of my views. I thus want to use these comments on his blog to show why I further believe this to be true.
One commenter on the iMonk site wrote: “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who is Tim Challies?” This is a great starting point. Another person who commented called Tim Challies an “evangelical celebrity.” Another said, “