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)
TSK: 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?
TIM 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.
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.
TSK: 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?
TIM 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.
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
Want to respond to Tim?