Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

December 2004

December 31, 2004

I am in a pensive mood today. I spent some wonderful time with the Lord this morning, just basking in His presence in a meaningful time of personal worship. Some days I can sit for an hour or two hours, reading and praying but getting nothing out of it. I allow my mind to wander and find myself wishing I was doing something else - anything else - other than spending time with God. Other days I just delight in His presence and have an awesome time of just resting in Him. Today was one of those days. How I wish I could spend time with Him that way every day. I am rational enough to know that I am the only one standing in the way of that happening.

After spending time with God I spent some more time thinking about the year that was. (In case you are wondering where I found all this time, I took the day off). Nine hours from now the clock will strike midnight and another year will be behind me. Already I can feel 2005 breathing down my neck. But on the whole I think 2004 was a good year, perhaps even a banner year. Here are just a couple of the highlights as they related to my life and, in particular, this web site (an increasingly difficult distinction to make):

The Passion of the Christ - What a huge deal that movie was. Evangelicals were calling it the greatest opportunity for evangelism since Pentecost. The whole world was buzzing with the name “Jesus” - asking who He really was, what the purpose of His death was, and whether He has received fair treatment in history. But it was short-lived. The movie failed to have any measurable impact in evangelism and in the end, proved to be “just another movie.” Perhaps a well-made movie and one that deserves some recognition in the area of cinematography and direction, but it was still just a movie. I wrote some harsh reviews that quickly became the most-read articles on this site. One of the reviews was even published in-whole in a book dealing with The Passion. There was mixed response to the reviews with many readers registering outrage and others support. In the end I believe The Passion was a failure because it did not do the one thing necessary to change lives, and that is share the Gospel. Perhaps Evangelicals will be more cautious in the future about the next big thing. Then again, probably not.

31 Days of Wisdom - In March I began a 31 day study of Proverbs, posting a daily reflection right here. I found the study very memorable and enjoyed every day of it. I enjoyed it to such a degree that I may start anew in March of 2005. One can never have too much knowledge of Proverbs!

Worshipping The Seeker - This was an article that pretty well slipped under the radar, but it was very important in my spiritual development this year. I can’t even quite explain how or why, yet somehow at the time I wrote it it meant a whole lot to me and it continues to be significant in my life to this day. I suppose what I learned in the Scripture just changed all my perceptions about who is the One doing the seeking in our churches.

41 Books - That is how many books I reviewed on the site this year. I had set a goal of 50 but somehow ran out of time. There were a couple of periods where I didn’t read a word for several weeks at a time and that surely hurt my chances of attaining the goal. In 2005 I intend to reach 52. I suspect my current reading list must have close to that many books on it already!

The Best Book - I wanted to honor the book I felt was the best of all the titles I read in 2004, but looking back at the list I am having a difficult time singling one out. I suppose if I had to choose I would go with Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. I found it a wonderful, fresh look at the doctrines of grace and it introduced me to an author for whom I have since gained great respect. I will give honorable mentions to 20 Controversies That Almost Killed A Church by Richard Ganz and Hard to Believe by John MacArthur.

You! - Of course the greatest blessing of this site in 2004 was having the opportunity to meet and interact with so many of you! Staunch Arminians, outspoken Calvinists, proud Papists - it seems there is quite a diverse mix! This site has allowed me the opportunity to meet so many people who have encouraged, challenged and exhorted me. I am honored to have developed so many friends that I respect and feel I truly know, though I have never met most of you. It is amazing how the Internet has allowed fellowship among believers so that we can be united as brothers and sisters without ever really meeting each other. I do hope to have the opportunity to meet many of you face-to-face at some point in this lifetime, but if we do not, be sure to keep a date open in your calendar so we can meet for a cup of coffee in heaven.

The Year Ahead - Tomorrow I will post some information about the year ahead. I am excited about 2005 and will share some of what I’ve got planned!

December 30, 2004

In this article I will be reviewing Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN, known hereafter simply as A Generous Orthodoxy. This is going to be quite a long book review - probably the longest I have written. To spare you having to read the full text if you are not so-inclined, I will ruin any sense of expectation by giving in advance my general impressions of this book. In short, it is awful. I consider it, in terms of content, one of the worst I have ever read and it stands as damning evidence of what passes for Christian reading in our day. Though it was easy to read, and even enjoyable at times, throughout the text Brian McLaren has consistently, deliberately and systematically dismantled historical Protestantism. From Sola Scriptura to hell to biblical inerrancy, nothing is sacred.

December 29, 2004

This morning I began writing my review of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. As of 3:45 PM I am several hours in, but not near enough finished to seriously think I will be able to post it today. There go my plans for the day! I have written most of it, but now need to go back and edit it, clean up the introduction, and attempt to write a charitable conclusion.

It is a difficult thing to read a book, written by one who claims to be a believer, treasured by many more who are definitely believers, but so contradictory to the faith. I have not yet decided how I will handle this. Do I just say what I believe and indicate that McLaren’s writings are heretical and thus he is a heretic? Would I be uncharitable to label him in this way or would it be a greater sin to pretend he is not? I believe this review will be ready by many and will likely generate some discussion. If my articles on the labyrinth are any indication, the discussion will not be all positive.

But how can I not label as a heretic one who says the following:

  • He apologizes for his continued use of masculine pronouns to describe God. He proposes several solutions to this dilemma, including interchanging he and she or using the clumsy s/he. In the end he merely apologizes for the use of he, affirms that he considers God neither male nor female and tries to avoid using pronouns altogether. He goes on to say that the usage of the Father/Son imagery so prevalent in Scripture “contributes to the patriarchalism or chauvinism that has too often characterized Christianity.”
  • That we have “misunderstood and misused Paul.” He believes that traditional views of Paul have pitted him against Jesus so that we have “retained Jesus as Savior but promoted the apostle Paul to Lord and Teacher.” He tells us that the result of today’s Christianity is “a religion that Jesus might consider about as useful as many non-Christians consider it today.”
  • In regards to Mary he expresses a realization that his Protestant faith has been impoverished “with its exlusively male focus.” He explains how much we have missed, as Protestants, by failing to see the beauty of the incarnation through Mary.
  • That he rejects TULIP, all of the solas and biblical inerrancy, Further, he mentions the people who most understood what it meant to be biblical Christians as St. Francis, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham.

So what do you think? Do I just out and declare that he is a heretic and let the chips fall where they may, or do I instead take the charitable approach, drawing out the good and merely warning against false teaching?

Regardless of what I do I am looking forward to finishing this review and turning my attention back to the five solas, useless though they may be in McLaren’s eyes.

December 28, 2004

Brian McLaren seems to enjoy controversy. Actually, it would seem from his books that he even likes controversy merely for the sake of controversy. Like the boys in days of old who used to sneak out of church, go into the adjoining outhouse and stir up the “pot” just to create a stink, so it seems McLaren likes to make trouble. He does this in a nice way, accompanied to all sorts of disclaimers and warnings, but at the end of the day, that seems to be his clear intent. He seems to view his job as being the one to ask questions, sometimes even outrageous ones, but never to answer them - a definitively postmodern attitude.

His theology (or lack thereof) is difficult to nail down, mostly because, as I indicated, he prefers asking questions to answering them, but seems to be a fusion of the New Perspective on Paul, Mysticism, Inclusivism, Open Theism and humanism. While he operates under the guise of a teacher of the Bible, in reality it seems he teaches mostly human wisdom with just the occasional reference to Jesus or the Bible. He is a student of every branch of Christianity and, in reality, of all religion and human experience, trying to draw and absorb what he likes while rejecting what he does not.

In his latest book, A Generous Orthodoxy McLaren tells his audience why he is a “Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN.” He goes through each of these topics, showing what he has learned from each, which aspects of each he has integrated with his faith and why he considers himself an adherent to all of them. In other words, he makes up his faith as he goes along, much like someone might choose a meal from a buffet line. Steve Camp writes the following about the book: “There are no rules, no models, no denominational walls; no truth constraints; no theological grids; no ecclesiastical structures; no polity; no historic faith; no seemingly observance of hermenuetics for properly interpreting Scripture; no common meta-narratives; and not even any agreed definitions to common biblical terms and truth. It’s just him learning, growing, evolving, experiencing, left unfinished kind of Christianity.” Above all, there is no authority outside of himself, for authority is a bad word in the post-modern matrix.

As one who is devoted to the Reformed faith, a term I consider to be synonymous with biblical faith, I was especially interested in seeing how he identifies with Calvinism. I had to read 179 pages to even get to that point but finally came to the chapter entitled “Why I Am A Fundamentalist/Calvinist.”

It does not take a discerning reader long to find that McLaren does not understand Calvinism. He speaks of the broad view of reality espoused by Calvin as being Determinism, “which says that ultimately, our freedom is an illusion, and that we’re just puppets of one sort or another.” He provides the metaphor of God being a video game creator and player and humans as mere characters who are there for God’s entertainment. Being good means that we do not resent God for jerking us around like the puppets we are. McLaren says he has little time for determinism because “if it’s true…I can’t help but not believe it, because after all, I have no choice.” McLaren clearly knows very little about even the basics of the Reformed view of God’s Sovereignty, human responsibility and free will. But that will not stop him from passing judgment on what his false view of Calvinism is, which will further convince others that this mistaken view is correct. He says also that “I do not believe that this universe is a movie that’s already in the can, having been produced and shot already in God’s mind, leaving us with the illusion that it’s all for real and actually happening. I find it hard to imagine worshiping or loving a deterministic, machine-operator God.”

McLaren believes that in terms of intellectual rigor, Calvinism is the highest expression of modernism. Since he now rejects modernism and tells us that we are progressing into a post-modern age, this is not a compliment. Rather, it is a warning that a system based so fully on modernism may well be left behind as our society passes into post-modernism. Reformed believers need to find a “nonmechanistic identity” which will draw more from the wisdom of Anabaptists, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics.

McLaren supposes that there are two ways Reformed Christians can honor Calvin and the other Reformers in the road ahead. I suspect most Reformed believers are far less interested in honoring Calvin and the Reformers than God, but for sake of charity I will allow McLaren’s point to stand. He suggests we could do so in one of two ways:

  1. To faithfully defend and promote their post-medieval formulations through all time. Reformed theologian Dr. John Franke calls this “the conservative distortion of so closely equating Reformed theology with the events, creeds, and confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as to virtually eliminate, in practice if not in theory, the reforming principle of the tradition, thus betraying a central committment of its formal character.”” This sounds very nice, but Reformed theology is primarily equated with the Scripture and with the God’s own teaching about redemption. Creeds and confessions are subordinate standards, in that they, as with us, are in submission to the authority of Scripture. To equate Calvinism with events, creeds and confessions is to do it injustice, for it is primarily concerned with the Scripture. While it is, indeed, always Reforming, the centrality must continue to be on the Word of God. McLaren, unfortunately, does not define what he believes are the “post-medieval” formulations, though it seems from his subsequent discussion that this must include the five points of Calvinism as encapsulated in the acronym TULIP. In other words, the very heart of Calvinism is post-medieval and growing more invalid by the day.
  2. “To follow their example in seeking to construct formulations of faith that are as fitting to our postmodern times as theirs were to their post-medieval times. This is the path a new generation of Reformed/Reforming Christians will take.” Actually, I disagree with this. Believers who are truly Reformed and who truly understand what the Bible teaches about redemption, will not change their formulations of faith, for these are set in stone in the Word. They may adapt to the times by changing presentation or making small changes to the periphery, but they will not change the formulations. Indeed, they cannot.

McLaren proposes that Calvinists reinvent the acronym TULIP in light of a less deterministic and mechanistic worldview. In doing so he shows that he has no respect for or understanding of the Reformed faith, and hence, for a biblical understanding of redemption. Here is what he proposes:

Triune Love - He believes we should not allow the metaphor of God as judge to be predominant in our faith. We should not view God’s relation to creation primarily in terms of legal prosecution (as judge) and absolute control (as sovereign). Instead, we should allow the metaphor of the community of the Trinity to dominate our thought, so the attribute of love can emerge. Calvinists, then, should not be so harsh and judgmental, supposing they really know who God is and how He interacts with this world.

Of course man’s Total Depravity, the original “T” in TULIP, is a foundational doctrine that McLaren all but rejects later in his book. Man’s depravity sets the stage for all of our theology and is the basis for the biblical teaching on redemption. We must begin with our own inability, lest we begin to believe that we are somehow responsible for our faith. It is crucial that we know that God as judge is not merely metaphor, but is truth grounded in Scripture. God is the judge of the living and the dead and will judge each and every person. Furthermore, He does have complete, unlimited control over His creation. What McLaren refers to as “naked will” is no less than what God claims for Himself through Scripture. Where Calvinism is drawn from and defended by Scripture, McLaren offers know Scriptural support for his claims.

Unselfish Election - For his second point, McLaren turns to missiologist Lesslie Newbigin and his claim that God does not elect anyone to exclusive privilege, but to missional responsibility. Election is a “gift that is given to some for the benefit of others” and to be chosen means to be “blessed to be a blessing, to be healed to heal, to be chosen to serve, to be enriched to enrich, to be taught to teach.” This understanding, he believes, would be revolutionary and liberating for the Reformed believer.

In his teaching on election, McLaren creates a straw man. The doctrine, when believed in light of the Scripture, does not fill the Christian with pride as he looks down on the reprobate. He does not parade around like a peacock, laughing at those who have not been given such privileged status, or as McLaren states it, do not possess something that, “like a popular credit card, offers elite privileges to possessors.” The doctrine of Unconditional Election breeds humility, for when we first understand our depravity, we must realize that God chose us not on the basis of anything we could do, would do, or could offer Him, but merely out of His unsurpassed grace. An understanding of this doctrine motivates us to share the Gospel with others that they might also receive His grace. How could we lose sight of something so beautiful? Why would we want to forsake this?

Limitless Reconciliation - Instead of speculating on the extent of Christ’s atonement, Reformed believers should concentrate on “relational reconciliation.” This is a reconciliation that extends love to our neighbours, forgives others and always focuses on being peace ambassadros of Christ to all.

McLaren sweeps under the carpet as mere and unimportant speculation a doctrine that has far-reaching implications. Furthermore, he perverts the Biblical meaning of “reconciliation.” The Bible does not use this word arbitrarily, but speaks of the reconciliation of man to God and how this can be accomplished. It speaks of redemption! Salvation! Our ministry of reconciliation is not relational healing of myself to my neighbor (right and good as that may be), but the far more important relational healing of a sinful man to a holy God.

Inspiring Grace - Instead of picturing God’s grace as a dominating, almost mechanistic force that we are unable to resist, the Reformed faith should view God’s grace as a passionate, powerful and personal desire to shower His beloved with healing and joy and every good thing. Having received this grace, Reformed believers would be inspired by grace to extend that grace to others in good works.

God’s grace is grace because it cannot be resisted. Were it resistable, it would be a mere favor or gift. Were God’s grace resistable, we would all resist it, for in our natural, fallen condition we despise God and everything He might offer us. In McLaren’s view God does not provide us grace to save us, but presumably, following our decision to follow Him, gives us grace in the form of healing, joy and every good thing.

Passionate, Persistent Saints - Acknowledging the previous four points, Reformed believers would be indefatigable in attempts to live and share the gospel, resilient after failure, persevering in adversity, persistent over centuries and across generations. Rather than grim endurance, they would have unquenchable hope, confident that God will never fail to fulfill His promises and would be passionate to join Him in expressing saving love for our world.

McLaren once more shows his misunderstanding of Reformed believers when he says they have a “grim endurance.” Reformed believers have far more than that! They live with an obedience filled with grace, love and compassion that is born of the Spirit. Perseverance of the Saints refers to the belief that God will never let go of those He has chosen. This gives us great joy and hope, not mere endurance.

Conclusion

Brian McLaren has rewritten the doctrines of grace, the doctrines that summarize what the Scripture teaches about redemption; about how sinful men can be reconciled to a holy God. He has taken these doctrines, which in part and in totality focus exclusively on the works of God in, to and through us, and has rewritten them in terms of what we can offer God and each other. He has given them a man-focus rather than a God-focus. Further, and this is consistent with a theology of redemption and justification drawn more from N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul than from the Bible, he removes the emphasis from reconciliation, substitution and judgment to mere human acts.

I am preparing an extensive review of A Generous Orthodoxy and will post it in later this week.

December 27, 2004

Led By The Spirit by Jim Elliff is a short, but well-argued, satisfying and scriptural examination of how a believer can know and understand the will of God. It is also practical, having been based on the author’s own experience in being what he refers to as an illuminist - a person who, when confronted by difficult decisions in life, seeks guidance from God by getting a series of impressions which he believes come as God directly impacts the spirit. This belief is taught by most evangelical leaders today, though perhaps the most notable of these is Richard Blackaby in his book Experiencing God. While Elliff does not rule out such forms of communication altogether, he does teach that there is no reason to believe that such means of communication are normative for Christians today. These types of communication are inherently subjective, meaning that there can always be an element of doubt in the recipients mind about whether he really heard God’s voice or merely his own mind. A quote from George Whitefield is helpful to understand this: “God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist’s way. He may bless him.

December 26, 2004

In his small but powerful book Led By The Spirit, Jim Elliff describes Christians he terms “illuminists” - people who, when confronted by difficult decisions in life, seek guidance from God by getting a series of impressions which they believes come as God directly impacts the spirit. This term is not to be confused with illumination, which is the Spirit’s work of illuminating the words of Scripture to believers. The author used to practice this kind of decision-making so knows it well.

Here is a short quote from the book that I found very meaningful:

God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist’s way. He may bless him. He may honour his faith more than his method. I am quite sure that God always condescends to our imperfections. And if there is immaturity, we must realize that God will often use in our zealous immaturity what he disallows in our maturity.

The Great Awakening preacher, George Whitefield (1714-1770), who had such tendencies in his earlier days, later commented, “I am a man of like passions with others, and consequently may have sometimes mistaken nature for grace, imagination for revelation.” He put away his illuministic patterns as he grew in Christ. Yet, it is important to note that he was used in those earlier days just as dramatically as in later life.

Ellif is correct when he says that God condescends to our imperfections. I believe this is especially the case when our imperfections are due to immaturity in the faith. As we mature and grow, we should be able to remove many of those imperfections as we learn how to walk in the ways Christ commands us.

That is a thought that has been playing in my mind for several days now - that God condescends to my imperfection. And that God that He does, for my imperfections by far outweigh any good I may offer Him.

December 25, 2004

I woke up this morning to find my site showing nothing but error messages. I called technical support and they told me that they are doing maintenance today and things should be up and running later this morning. You see, this is why I use iPowerweb. I called on Christmas morning and got a support rep on the first ring. Anyways, things should be back to normal later today. If you can see this and everything looks normal, it is safe to assume they have fixed the problems. I’m off gorging myself with turkey and stuffing and other stuff.

December 24, 2004

I thought for today, just to be different, I would grab headlines only from other blogs.

Canada’s Homosexual Marriage Ruling - My friend Leslie, who is a lawyer, decided to tackle the Canadian Supreme Court’s “opinion” on homosexual marriage. With her legal mind she can read out of the document things that most of us probably missed altogether. Part one of her analysis is here with part two coming later.

The Apologist’s Verse - Every apologist knows 1 Peter 3:15 which reads (in the NASB), “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always [being] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” What most people do not realize is that this verse not only tells us that we need to be able to defend our faith, but it also includes an affirmation of Christ’s deity. James White has more.

Ugh - Check out Doug’s vulgar but hilarious link.

Is Swearing Sinful? - Most Christians believe and agree that swearing, by which I refer to using profanity, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, is sinful. But what happens when a believer creates a fictional or even semi-fictional setting and includes swearing in it? This is what David Heddle of He Lives writes about this week. You can read about it here.