Tim Challies the Gnostic?

A friend’s blog pointed up Kevin Johnson’s critique of Tim Challies on the issue of doctrine and Christian unity. Johnson’s post is stunted at a number of levels.

First, why use a dying metaphor like “wax eloquently.” Why not think of something that conjures up a nice word picture? I’m your reader, you want my sympathy; don’t test my intelligence with banality. Was Tim’s waxing that eloquent? Or is this mere cheek for the sake of it?

Second, why the mud-slinging at the outset? For someone so concerned about unity, tossing about the epithet “fundamentalist” in a pejorative sense is puerile. It is not a mark of good writing to alienate your audience from the outset.

Third, Johnson chides Challies on the latter’s interpretation of Acts 5:12-14 where the emphasis is placed on doctrine over praxis. Johnson claims that there is no discussion of theology as the basis of unity in this chapter. I guess he thinks that “believers were being added” is an indication of doctrinal absence. Believers in what?

Fourth, “waning denominationalism.” I’d be interested to see why he thinks that denominations are on the wane. What of the Southern Baptist Convention–are their doctrinal distinctives on the wane? What about the PCA? What about URCNA? What even of the PCUSA? Waning in whose eyes?

Fifth, Johnson concedes what he chides Challies for in the first place: “Unity in theology is not totally unimportant but the key word here in terms of necessary doctrinal unity is that Christians believe the gospel.” He derides “Calvinism” and “sola fide” but begs a big question: isn’t believing the gospel the problem he sullied Tim for in the first place? (Remember the block-quote at the beginning?) Challies assumes that “believers being added” is to do with believing. Believing what? Well, the gospel. More than that, it would be a gospel consistently worked out in the overall dogmatic perspective of the believer. Would Johnson rather an inconsistent, vague, mushy gospel?

Sixth, why use the term “gnostic”? What kind of gnostic is Tim Challies? Is he a Valentinian gnostic? Maybe he’s got a touch of the Marcion about him? He’d like to get rid of the law-bits in the bible and all. Or is he more of the docetic variety? I should ask Tim the next time I see him if he thinks that Jesus had a physical body or not. I don’t care for this shoddy use of terms to sound theologically profound (not to mention insulting), when in fact he sounds as if he’s read a page or two of Elaine Pagels and thinks she’s on to something.

I’d keep going but I’ve probably said enough.



Filed under challies, evangelicalism

7 responses to “Tim Challies the Gnostic?

  1. LOL. I love a good rebuttal. Not sure we have that here but point by point here are a few thoughts in return for you:

    1) On dying metaphors, please. This is what you lead with? Style? A real substantive critique… [[[[–NOT–]]]]

    In truth, part of the problem here is that you really didn’t interact with the overall substance of what I wrote in the first place.

    2) The use of “fundamentalist” is in line with standard definitions like the one typically offered by Marsden. I would be surprised if Challies didn’t own such an identity were it not so unfashionable. I don’t believe it to be inaccurate even if you think it’s pejorative. But puerile (coming from someone criticizing “dying metaphors”, really?)? You merely assume I’ve used it pejoratively.

    3) Challies didn’t demonstrate that doctrinal unity is the point of Acts 5:12-14 and neither have you. It’s not up to me to provide the burden of proof nor is there anything wrong with questioning such an unsupported claim/assumption on his behalf. But, the post I wrote isn’t merely addressing Challies’ take on the matter. You’ve summarily ignored the positive presentation I did make regarding some of the relevant biblical data. You’ve made no mention here in your critique about what I wrote concerning Ephesians 4 and our identity in Christ as it relates to unity. Am I to infer by your silence that you agree in large part with what I’ve outlined? Are you willing to consider the truth of what I outlined in the main body of the post and take that into account when returning a critique or are you just interested in addressing the first couple paragraphs of my original post?

    4) On what I refer to as “waning denominationalism”, you might review the following links:




    5) I’m not conceding to Challies what I argued against. I’m making the point that doctrinal unity is only a part of ecumenism and not the heart of it. I didn’t deride Calvinism or sola fide (or other things) but instead rightly noted that neither one of them is the Gospel strictly speaking. Both of those things (Calvinism/sola fide) help inform us about the overall message of the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel message per se that was preached in Acts or the rest of the New Testament. It would be extremely anachronistic to present the idea that early Christian believers knew anything about the Five Points of Calvinism outlined at Dordrecht (right as they may be). Saying that is not derisive of either, however, and your claim here is false and without basis.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see “a gospel consistently worked out in the overall dogmatic perspective of the believer” as you write as anything close to what’s presented in Acts 5 or elsewhere in the New Testament. Please be my guest and demonstrate otherwise.

    The closest you might come to such consistency is likely found in places like 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. But, to say that’s anything close to the sort of systematization you or Challies are talking about is taking it too far. That’s not to say systematic/dogmatic theology is bad or unimportant (as I am a frequent and close reader of Bavinck), but that such things do not of necessity provide us with a basis for Christian unity at least as far as the New Testament is concerned. What provides us first with unity is who we all are in Christ.

    Furthermore, the plethora of Reformed/Presbyterian denominations large and small in existence today demonstrate quite clearly that doctrinal unity does not at all guarantee actual visible unity in the Body of Christ. If anything, at least in Reformed circles, doctrinal unity gives an opportunity for even more splintering than might happen otherwise.

    6) Not sure what happened, but there doesn’t seem to be a sixth point.

    7) On the use of the term “Gnostic” – of course, I don’t mean that Challies is a true historic gnostic but instead point you to Lee’s _Against the Protestant Gnostics_ for more reading on this point. Essentially, what I’m saying here in a bit of theological shorthand is that many Protestants overemphasize doctrinal ‘gnosis’-like issues over and above other equally important or even more important concerns. The prophet Micah likely had a ‘doctrinal conception’ of God but what is noted as required is ‘to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8).

    • You’ll note that my general problem with your post is poor use of language; from a dying metaphor (I merely followed your order) to easy accusations of gnosticism. I might also have added–and your comment here reminds me to–that its length is of the “suck-air-in-my-chest-then-pound” variety. By the end of it I merely skimmed because there was too much for my brain to have to unnecessarily work through. Remember what is said of Calvin: brevitas et felicitas–neither of which you used in this post.
      Style clearly demonstrates an author’s lack of care for both subject and reader. While you might find it permissible to toss about “fundamentalist” or “gnostic” as easily as you do “wax eloquent” only to retreat into technicalities, you should at least be informed that a simple read of your post belies disregard for what you are actually trying to communicate: the need for unity. Your Micah 6:8 is well-timed, but who it’s directed to, in your mind, I’m not quite sure.

  2. Sometimes the Internet just makes me laugh. Hopefully, this comment will be short enough for you to fully absorb without further issue.

    Whenever you decide to actually respond to the substance of what I’ve written instead of attempt to give me lessons regarding style, let me know.

    I don’t see “English professor” in your bio so I’m inclined to be somewhat unconcerned with your assertions regarding my use of language. Good men can and do disagree.

  3. Your poor use of language is a reflection of your poor use of theology; the two are related. It’s an overall lack of charity towards language, theology, your reader and Tim Challies.

  4. Constantly repeating an assertion doesn’t demonstrate it. I’ve taken the time to respond in detail to your concerns even though I find them largely groundless. You might consider a spoonful of your own medicine and actually take the time to do the same.

  5. Gentlemen this is a really depressing dialogue. I think you should both be ashamed. Imagine Jesus reading this. Or someone wanting to know Him. When Jeus said be like cildren, i don’t think this is what he haad in mind. Leave your stuff at the alter…

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