Two More Responses To Tim Challies’ Condemnation Of “Christian Wikileaks”

August 18, 2011 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Kris says:  In addition to Brian Auten’s very well-done response to Tim Challies’ piece on C.J. Mahaney, we have the following from commenter “Argo.”  This is addressed to Brent Detwiler and was also posted to Brent Detwiler’s blog.  The indented (block-quoted) portions are quotes from Challies’ original article.  The parts in parentheses are “Argo’s” thoughts.

“Argo” says:

Brent, I commend you for even responding to Tim’s post, let alone being so easy on him.  I, however, am finding it very difficult to be as charitable.  I will try to keep this as nice as I can.

“What are we to think of wikileaks-style revelation? How are you and I to react? Is it public? Is it something we ought to read?”

(These are fabricated dilemmas; a set-up, to feed us a preconceived opinion. We can answer these questions on our own for ourselves; they are not hard; we do not need Tim’s opinion.)

“Tabloid culture has made us voyeuristic…”

(General, unsubstantiated claim.  Inappropriate to apply so broadly to the Christian community who reads this post.)

“Society has declared document leaks a legitimate form of…exposing those who have wronged us.”

(Debatable statement at best.  Couched in patronizing, presumptuous language.)

“We (who, the Christian readers?) tend to praise whistleblowers who advance our agendas…”

(Again, generalization, presumptuous; inferring that those who support Brent’s documents are blind sheep following passion, not reason.  This is a baseless claim.)

“Does the Bible condemn or condone whistleblowers?”

(Never seen “whistleblower” in my translation, but then, it’s not ESV.  Whistleblower is, to me, a disparaging slang term, usually not associated with honor.  We see where Tim is going.  Can I use a different word for whistleblowing? How about “exposing”, “revealing”, “enlightening”? What does the Bible say about those words?  This is an easy game to play.)

“Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate Christian whistleblowers.”

(Okay, my turn in the game:

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who reveal chronic patterns of sin and authoritarianism in our churches].

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who expose the serious concerns of church members who have been spiritually abused].

Let us be sure that we do not begin to celebrate [those who enlighten us as to the pitfalls of authoritarian-style church polity].

Now…do we all still agree with Tim?)

“Which in turn means that it was wrong to make these documents public.”

(Shocking that he would conclude this, especially since the ladder that led to this summit contained the following rungs:  “I have not corresponded…”, “I have no formal connection…”, “wikileaks-style revelation”, “tabloid culture”, “voyeuristic”, “whistleblowing”.  Again, I am shocked that Tim concluded that Brent was wrong to release the documents.)

“It is clear where the bias lies…”

(It is?  Really? Where? Because not even CJ or the SGM Board has enlightened the rest of us as to this little detail.  Funny how a man with no contact or formal relationship with SGM or Brent could know this when the rest of us do not.)

“[The documents were]…just written to influence us against CJ.”

(Wow.  Brent apparently has a time machine now, and Brent’s documents must have used it to influence the hundreds of people who started and commented on three anti-SGM blogs years BEFORE any of us, including SGM, knew the documents existed.)

“The Bible would tell us not to read…”

(Er…where does the Bible address wikileaks? Or menus for that matter? Or textbooks? Or phone books?  Do we just need to check with Tim to decide what type of literature/media the Bible says we can and cannot read?)

(INTERMISSION: Tim says he hesitated reading the documents at first, because he knew his motives would be OBVIOUSLY sinful.  Inference: the same is true for all of you out there in humankind-land who read the documents.  Your motives are OBVIOUSLY sinful to any true Christian.  Thanks, Tim, for knowing my heart so well.  But then, Tim said he finally read them, because…well, because lots of other people were reading them.  Okay, I guess it’s fine to sin against your own conscience as long as everyone’s doing it.)

“If they have broken the law, or are putting people in danger the situation may be different.”

(Now this is where it gets really egregious.  Let me get this straight.  We are supposed to blindly follow our church leaders, regardless of what patterns of sin and hypocrisy they are engaged in, putting aside our consciences before God, putting aside the command to test every teaching against scripture, as long as the leaders are not breaking the law…as in the, like, go-to-court, secular, legal, every citizen law?  Oh…well, I have a brand new perspective on history, then!  For example, what the heck were all those slaves doing in the South carrying on with all their stop-oppressing-us business?  The nerve!  I mean, it wasn’t like the slave owners of the time were breaking the law.  And what about that pesky Dr. Martin Luther King?  How dare he protest segregation!  It wasn’t against the law.  It wasn’t putting anyone in danger.  Perfectly fine, so what was Dr. King’s problem?)

(CONCLUSION: I am very pessimistic right now about the reformed movement.  Is this really what I’ve been following? You know, I think they run a late service at the Lutheran church up the road.  I think I’ll sleep in and the stop by.  It may not have contemporary worship, but at least I won’t have to hear a sermon on “The Evils of Whistleblowing on Wikileaks”, or “Gospel-Centered Blogging”.)

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Kris says:  I also had an observation to add to Brian Auten’s thoughts.  I posted this as a comment earlier today.

I was actually considering writing some sort of response to Tim Challies myself. When I saw Brian’s post, I realized I didn’t need to – he pretty much said everything I would have said, and since he’s an SGM insider, his words are more powerful than mine would be.

The only thing I would consider adding would have to do with this assertion from Mr. Challies:

It was almost 6 weeks ago that this information came to light. Beyond a brief mention in an interview, this is the first I’ve written about it, despite being rebuked by a handful of bloggers and receiving many email requests for comment. I guess this is the kind of situation I typically comment on since, in some ways, that’s what I do on this blog: I try to write about what is of interest to Christians in this little slice of the Christian world. Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose. [emphasis added]

I used to have a lot of respect for Tim Challies. I discovered his blog way back in the early days, before it became his full-time occupation. (He used to work as a web designer, if memory serves, but once he’d built enough of a name for himself, and had a book contract, he was able to quit that job and focus on blogging/writing full-time. I also believe he’s now employed at least part-time by his church as one of its “teaching elders,” a position he was offered no doubt at least in part because of his blogging fame.)

I think I found his site way back in 2004 or 2005 while looking for information about Rick Warren. My parents’ church had been suddenly overtaken by “Purpose-Driven” stuff, and my dad and I had been having discussions about what was bothering him about Warren’s materials. We found Mr. Challies’ analysis of the “Purpose-Driven” movement to be very helpful. I also appreciated his various book reviews.

Also, interestingly enough, it was Challies’ live-blogging from SGM conferences – as well as his positive reviews of SGM materials and how obviously enamored he was with CJ Mahaney – that caused Guy and me to visit and then stick around our SGM church as long as we did. By the time we were attending our SGM church, I’d developed into such a Challies fan-girl that I kept telling myself, “Surely you must just be imagining that there’s something wrong here. Surely a guy like Tim Challies cannot be wrong. He’s got such great discernment about everything else!”

Later, though, after we’d left SGM and then stumbled upon SGM’s long history of spiritual abuse because of interacting with others on this blog, I began to have my doubts about Tim Challies. I’d contacted him probably 3 or 4 weeks after first hearing of some of the really bad stories, just knowing that he’d take some of the same brain power and energy he’d directed toward deconstructing Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” materials and use it to take a closer look at SGM.

Well, I was wrong. He did answer my email, but it was the briefest and most non-committal of responses. About six months later, I think I wrote him again, and once again got something like a one-sentence email in return.

I guess I’m a little bit slow, because I still didn’t get it. I still didn’t understand why it was that Tim Challies could critique Rick Warren but seemed to be so willfully oblivious about problems with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I can’t quite remember when it was that the pieces finally began to fall into place. Maybe it was something one of the commenters here said. I don’t recall anymore. But one day I realized that – contrary to what Tim Challies asserted in his post yesterday

…Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose.

he does have a career motivation to write positive stuff about SGM.

While what Mr. Challies says here is technically true – he isn’t “formally connected to SGM” – it is nonetheless a misleading statement.  The reality is that Tim Challies does indeed have some pretty significant connections with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Sure, he’s not technically employed by SGM or on SGM’s payroll.  But whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, he does indeed have something to lose!

The “Reformed” world is pretty tight these days. Tim Challies supports his family of 5 at least in part through ad revenues from his blog, and through royalties he earns from his books. I don’t have a copy of Challies’ latest book in front of me, but I am fairly certain either CJ Mahaney himself or one or more of CJ’s close cohorts provided book blurbs (endorsements) for the cover. SGM also has an eager book-buying population. Historically, if CJ recommends a book, the book will be sold in SGM bookstores (and at SGM book tables), and SGM lemmings will stand in line to buy whatever their pastors recommend.

It’s now totally logical, why Tim Challies wouldn’t dare to break ranks with the likes of Reformed Big Dogs like Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. Or even of the Junior Reformed Big Dogs like Kevin DeYoung. All of these men have given CJ a free pass and have declared Brent’s documents to be meaningless. Challies wouldn’t dare be the lone voice going against that crowd.  If he were, he would jeopardize a significant portion of his book endorsers and the book-buying audience he depends upon for his livelihood

So he gives us his half-hearted sermonette about the evils of Wikileaks for Christians. Even as he admits that he hasn’t read all of Brent’s documents, he pronounces judgment on them and feels free to declare that they primarily represent an “interpersonal conflict.” Mr. Challies seems grimly determined to overlook the obvious larger picture that is present in the fact that Brent Detwiler grew so frustrated over trying to call CJ to some sort of formal accountability over the course of a decade that Brent believed he had no other alternative but to send out his documents to a large circle of SGM pastors. If such a dramatic move doesn’t indicate serious organizational flaws (and not just a “largely interpersonal conflict”) I’m not sure what does.

Mr. Challies – the guy who first garnered a blog following by picking apart Rick Warren and making a name for himself as having “discernment,” even going so far as writing a book about discernment – now shows us that when his livelihood is at risk, his discernment takes a vacation.

Within the context of SGM, I now believe that Mr. Challies’ discernment is about on par with Mr. Mahaney’s humility. Both men may have “written the book” – but that doesn’t mean they actually live out what their subject matter.

© 2011, Kris. All rights reserved.