Tim Challies Appearance

As I promised yesterday, the world famous, credentially challenged [not an insult . . . honestly!] theoblogian Tim Challies lands here on TSK as part of his blog tour for his new book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (forward by John Macarthur)

Ajj100Animateddelayed-1TSK: Why all this controversy about having only trained, credentialed professions writing books like this from people that give verbal assent to the priesthood of all believers?

TimchalliesTIM CHALLIES: That’s the question, isn’t it? I think it is good that Christians are concerned about whom they will learn from. It is wise to be careful and, dare I say it, discerning, when it comes to the books we read and the authors or teachers we trust. Who can count those who have been led astray by false teachers?

Yet it is a strange contradiction that those who identity most closely with the Protestant Reformation seem often to be those who are most prone to forgetting about the priesthood of all believers. This idea, that God offers His truth to all believers through His Word, is a defining characteristic of Protestantism but one that continues to make Christians uncomfortable. Though many give it verbal assent, it is still easier to simply find and trust certain teachers, always giving them the benefit of the doubt. “I am of Paul! I am of Apollos!” can become “I am of MacArthur! I am of McLaren!” We can take comfort in another person’s position, believing that only a truly godly man could rise to become the Senior Pastor of a large church, or we can take comfort in another person’s credentials, assuming that a man with so many degrees and accolades must be right. Yet all the while the Bible commands each of us to do the hard work of discernment and to realize that we are all called to pursue and obey the truth.

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I think it is important to realize that writing a book is not the same as taking the role of a pastor or elder. The spiritual authority we give to the men who lead our churches is not given to those whose books we read. There is no office of “author” in the New Testament. So while we read, we need to do so under the spiritual oversight of those whom God has placed in authority over us, always remembering to read with discernment (and, if necessary, with their help). We need to judge books not on the basis of the credentials of the author, but on the basis of faithfulness to Scripture. This is, ultimately, the only standard that really counts for anything.



This is an important issue to the church because I believe Christians need to allow themselves to become accustomed to the idea of “amateurs” writing books. More and more the blogosphere is functioning as a kind of minor leagues and those who are able to prove their mettle, so to speak, may find that they are now attractive to publishers. I may be the first of the Christian bloggers to be given the privilege and responsibility of writing a book, but I definitely will not be the last.

Ajj100Animateddelayed-2TSK: The wisdom of crowds in the blogosphere can no doubt help in the self-correction of error but what do you see are the dangers?



Timchallies-1TIM CHALLIES: Certainly there can be wisdom in crowds. It is for good reason that God has determined that Christians are to be in community with one another. It is through the blessing of Christian community that we experience much growth and, if necessary, correction. But when we expand community to something as diverse and yet impersonal as the blogosphere, the dynamic tends to change. True Christian community, the kind we read about in the early church, is impossible to replicate in a virtual setting. It has long been my experience that, now that my blog is widely-read, it is almost impossible for me to say anything without offending at least one person. Suddenly those crowds offer as much confusion as correction.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment contains a chapter entitled “The Dangers of Discernment” and in that chapter I wrestle with an obvious problem—that those who claim to be most discerning are often those who are least gracious. So much of what passes for discernment, and particularly on the internet, is indistinguishable from anger or bitterness. Truth and love are in conflict rather than existing in harmony. So there are definitely dangers inherent in the pursuit of discernment.

One of the great dangers of crowds in the blogosphere is that people tend to say things in an online or anonymous setting that they would not otherwise say. The relative safety of blog commenting, at least as it compares to face-to-face communication, leads people to say things they would never have the courage (or good sense) to say in other situations. And when this kind of comment piles up, it can create a mess of confusion and anger. It damages the church’s witness to the world, can cause one Christian to hurt another, and can disrupt the fellowship we are to enjoy with one another.

Perhaps the biggest danger is that we allow majority not only to speak, but to rule. Though there may be wisdom in crowds, there may not always be. Nowhere in the Bible would we learn that truth exists with the majority. Society seems to regard it as a given that poll results point to truth and that the greatest wisdom lies with the mind of the masses. Yet ultimately we are responsible before God for what we believe and we must be willing to cede to a biblically-informed conscience, even in the fact of controversy.



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Follow the whole blog tour

Jan 7- Evangelical Outpost

Jan 8 – Tall Skinny Kiwi

Jan 9 – A-Team

Jan 10 – Sharper Iron

Jan 11 – Gender Blog

Jan 14 – Jollyblogger

Jan 15 – Between Two Worlds

Jan 16 – TeamPyro

Jan 17 – Michael Spencer

Jan 18 – Church Matters

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Want to respond to Tim?

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

11 Comments

  • Tim, thanks for your responses.
    I think its amazing how you can live blog those conferences and respond so quickly to whats going on around you. Its a kind of “knee-jerk theology” and I doubt if many seminary trained professionals could do half as well as you.
    In fact, a recent study showed that Seminary graduates were less likely to perform well in situations of stress and chaos than those who had never been to Seminary. So maybe your non-formal background has enabled you to do theological reflection in a quick, public and yet accurate way.
    And i know which kind I prefer to read.
    Hey – it really makes me angry that people are giving you a hard time because you did not attend Seminary and do not hold a paid “office” in a church.
    My discernment tells me that people are confusing spiritual gifting with positions of authority and that just doesn’t jive with the Scriptures.
    I have problems with the idea of Senior Pastors exercising an “authority” over “laity” or “laymen” that may not exist. Christ is the only proper and legitimate head of the Church (Macarthur).
    Some say this was the original heresy – that of the Nicolations.
    In fact, a well known Indian church planter writes . .
    “the first false teaching came into the Ekklesia through Nicolas . . . . Significantly, Nicolas means “conquering the laos or ordinary people”. In contrast, Jesus called the “laos” or the ordinary people His brothers and sisters (Mark 3:31-35). It was Nicolas that started the division between “listening brothers” and “speaking brothers” where the speaker claimed a higher status. Jesus condemned this division and compared it to idolatry and fornication (Rev. 2:6, 14, 15). Yet the clergy/laity division continues abated in our churches even today. According to the Scriptures, every believer is a royal priest and never just a layperson. (1Pet. 2:9, 1 Cor. 14:26-31)”
    Victor Choudhrie, The Church in Your House, page 26,
    I know there are other views of the Nicolations but if Victor and others are right, and this artificial divide is the original false teaching of the early church, then in my opinion, you have every reason to publish this book.
    Anyway, hope your book does well.

  • Thanks Tim for your words of wisdom. Yes we need the voices of trained scholars but at least here in the US, there’s been built up this mantra that if you don’t have at least three of the four Ps (published, pastor/planter, Phd and I better stop there) that what you have to say isn’t publishable – and unfortunately the offerings of some publishers bear out this thinking.
    One of my heroes (and the guy who bought and edited my first article) is Mike Yaconelli – he never went to seminary and served in an unordained capacity with some itty-bitty California based church he founed (the story of how some Seventh Day Adventists took pity on him and ordained him is priceless). Same with Shane Claiborne – he helped found a community but he has no formal ministerial “credentials.” Yet these two authors are having an international impact that gives me hope.

  • he never went to seminary and served in an unordained capacity with some itty-bitty California based church he founed
    When you go looking, you’ll find that every Christian has heroes (or, at the very least, people they much admire) who do not have the kind of credentials we think they might. There are lots of very good men and women of God who do not have the seminary training. And, of course, there are lots of terrible teachers who have all kinds of great credentials. So ultimately it is faithfulness to the Word that must be the standard we judge by!

  • Tim,
    Thanks for reminding us to “tell the truth in love”. I find that I need to constantly remind myself to evaluate my motives prior to hitting the “post” button when writing or responding on the blogosphere. Too often we get caught up in correcting error that we fail to show love to the person whom we believe to be in error.

  • Tim – I’ve always appreciated your gracious tone at your blog. I grew up in a fundamentalist church that prided itself for its discernment but it was a discernment devoid of grace and humility. Consequently, to this day I have a very difficult time respecting- much less actually listening to- “discernment” ministries. You and Tim Keller are two of the few I have read that express doctrinal disagreement in a way that is gracious and, to use Paul’s phrase, “seasoned with salt.”
    Your pursuit of humility and gentleness is a gift to the church and allows young men like me, who generally can’t stand people who are “discerning”, to understand that one can be certain without being arrogant and judgmental. Thank you for your work at the blog and for writing your book, I look forward to reading it.

  • I think the problem is that in any community, some people appoint themselves as leaders – whether or not they have formal qualifications, training or recognition.
    That seems to me to be so far from the gospel, where those who want to be first are told to be the least.
    Yac and Shane are examples for the rest of us. We need more like them.

  • More and more the blogosphere is functioning as a kind of minor leagues…
    Only 2 days on the tour and you’ve already managed to work in a baseball metaphor! Awesome! 🙂
    (Yeah, I know I could’ve said something deeper. But the caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s only 7 AM here)

  • What about C.S. Lewis? Wasn’t he just a regular lay-person? Mere Christianity doesn’t seem like the ramblings of someone trying to simulate deep consideration of God and His word. Mr. Challies doesn’t look like much of a wanna-be, either. You’re either Biblically sound or you’re not.

  • I am going to use this quote! It is awesome
    Yet it is a strange contradiction that those who identity most closely with the Protestant Reformation seem often to be those who are most prone to forgetting about the priesthood of all believers. This idea, that God offers His truth to all believers through His Word, is a defining characteristic of Protestantism but one that continues to make Christians uncomfortable. Though many give it verbal assent, it is still easier to simply find and trust certain teachers, always giving them the benefit of the doubt. “I am of Paul! I am of Apollos!” can become “I am of MacArthur! I am of McLaren!” We can take comfort in another person’s position, believing that only a truly godly man could rise to become the Senior Pastor of a large church, or we can take comfort in another person’s credentials, assuming that a man with so many degrees and accolades must be right. Yet all the while the Bible commands each of us to do the hard work of discernment and to realize that we are all called to pursue and obey the truth.

  • In case you did not read it below is a copy of my post on this issue. It was really sad to see that some people reacted negatively to what Tim was doing. If there is a problem with the content of what he said that would be a fair criticism.
    I commend anyone that grows in Christ to the point where they can discuss critical issues with the community of faith.
    Previous post from my blog
    Recently I invited Tim to speak at our Church when he was in Chattanooga blogging for a youth conference. He did a good job in presenting his case for spiritual discernment and also did an excellent job fielding questions from the audience.
    One of the reasons I had Tim present his book was to encourage other “lay people” to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18) to the point where they would be teachers in their sphere of influence (Heb 5:12). Tim is a good example of what Christians should be like. By reading his blog one can tell that he spends a lot of time reading the Word of God and a lot of time reading good books.
    The church would be blessed to have more laymen that were equipped to do the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11).
    Thank you for sharing your passion for Christ with us here at LABC.
    2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

  • I really understand what everyone is saying about how you dont need to be seminary trained to be a credible author etc. I am aware though that the pendulum swing is possible and that being seminary trained can become labelled a bad thing. One thing is certain, being ignorant doesn’t qualify you to write books. I think what qualifies you to write books, or be in leadership etc is a combination of training (whether that training is formal or not – the chances are that any kind of training is going to involve you picking up at least one book that has been written by someone who HAS been formally trained) and experience. I dont want to read a book by someone who is 21, got a degree in whatever and has no experience! I also dont want to read a book by someone who is 41, not had any formal training AND has NO experience!
    Personally I believe that one of the problems with seminary is that people go so young, before they have had any time and opportunity in the real world to gain experience so that when they go and sit in class they are not so easily indoctrinated but rather more equipped to question stuff and filter it through the experiences that they’ve had.
    Just some thoughts.

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