Thursday, February 28, 2013

Challies by way of BHT by way of the SGM situation

Chris Hubbs over at the BHT has broached SGM as a topic in the above.  The topic comes up by way of Tim Challies deciding to blog about the lawsuit involving Sovereign Grace Ministries. 

Which was not a whole lot beyond bromides about how there are two sides to every story (which is itself a frequently inaccurate shibboleth as there can be numerous sides).  We got an observation that not everyone who is slow and quiet about their position is guilty and that Jesus did not contest the false accusations against Him.  And when anyone connected to SGM is as sinless as Jesus then Tim Challies is welcome to keep bringing up that analogy. :)  I don't find it as offensive as other bloggers have found it, but it's a comparison that is ill-advised.  People in the SGM-friendly orbit had no problem opining about Penn State in the last year or so, why get coy when the allegations hit so much closer to home?

But since Challies played the Jesus card we can remind ourselves of people in the Bible who, when accused, didn't evade the legitimacy of the accusations or overlook the reality of problems.  For instance,  David didn't contest the true accusations leveled against him about Uriah the Hittite.  David did not attempt to defend his innocence after insisting on a disastrous census at the end of his reign.  David was willing to admit to Abigail that if he'd done what he planned he would have killed someone for a stupid reason. 

Moving on to the other testament, when the apostles were informed of an injustice in the distribution of food they didn't say anything in their defense and, moreoever, took the occasion to establish what many considered to be the first set of deacons in the church.

But the main thing that jumps out about Challies recent post is that he devoted some time to emphasize the lack of relationship he has had with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

... Today I want to explore how we can think about all of this in what I hope is a distinctly Christian way. Some have heard bits of information through blogs or word of mouth. Some have read stories in the Christian or mainstream media. Most of us struggle to think well and wisely about it. I have no more information than you do, so will be relying on what has already been made public through media new and old.

Before I begin, it may be useful for me to explain the nature of my relationship with C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, though there is actually very little to explain. I recall meeting Mahaney only one time and for no more than two or three minutes. To my knowledge we have never corresponded by email or any other media. He and I have never shared a speaking platform and I have never spoken at a SGM event (though I did liveblog a couple of them several years ago). All this to say that I write as an outside observer rather than as a personal friend and write this article primarily for the benefit of other outside observers.

So there's no relationship.  We get it.  It's like saying that at one point I got to meet Joan Didion for twenty seconds about a decade ago and that was the one time I've ever met with her even though I have several of her books.  Maybe it's like a friend of mine who met Bruce Campbell years ago and got Campbell's autograph.  When Campbell asked what my friend did for a living my friend said, "I'm a pastor."  Campbell looked up with a bit of surprise and said, "I don't get a whole lot of PASTORS asking me for an autograph."  My friend joked with a grin, "He'll remember me now."  A little vignette worth sharing since Challies has taken pains to emphasize the lack of real relationship between him and Mahaney, and between him and Sovereign Grace Ministries.  He's not a friend so much as ... maybe a fan.  Thus the anecdotes for comparison above.  As just a fan perhaps Challies has already said too much in saying what he has.

For sake of review Brian Auten over at the BHT has made a point of establishing what may be called fan credentials for Challies on the subject of Mahaney and SGM to remind us that while Challies may find it useful to emphasize the "just an observer" side the endorsements in the last few years are worth revisiting.

I’d argue — and have already argued in the past with Tim himself — that this isn’t the proper measuring stick for his “relationship” with CJM and SGM.

The proper measuring stick looks something like this (and this is just a quick review I did a while back, running “Mahaney” through the advance search feature on Tim’s blog — 26 pages of hits, this is just from pages 21-26 in date order) –

13 June 2005 (Review of Piper’s Sex and the Supremacy of God — 1st he’d read of Mahaney)
21 July 2005 (Jamming to Songs for the Cross Centered Life) – referred to how he’d been meaning to read Cross Centered Life for a long, long time
22 July 2005 (Greatest Sinner I Know)
25 July 2005 (review of Songs for the Cross Centered Life)
12 August 2005 (review of Mahaney’s Sex, Romance and the Glory of God)
2 November 2005 (Covergence — mentions Mahaney @ MacArthur’s church)
21 November 2005 (A Desperate Jealousy)
2 December 2005 (Link to review of Mahaney’s book on Humility)
5 December 2005 (9th Commandment)
6 December 2005 (highlighting Solo Femininity — SGM’s Carolyn McCulley)
9 December 2005 (Sam Waldron part 2 – reference to Mahaney in MacArthur’s church)
12 December 2005 (Link to Josh Harris re: biblical advice for blogosphere and emphasizing that Harris may soon write on his mentoring relationship with Mahaney)
15 December 2005 (highlighting Bob Kauflin’s blogs for music)
22 December 2005 (Warnock interview of Harris on Mahaney mentorship)
22 December 2005 (Thursday Ramblings – highlights In the World but not of the World SGM audio series)

20 February 2006 (link to Mahaney re: reading/study habits of Dever, Mohler, etc.)
28 March 2006 (link to Mahaney’s interview of T4G guys re: serious threats to the gospel)
29 March 2006 (link to Girl Talk – “a book well worth reading for mothers and daughters”)
20 April 2006 (link to Mahaney’s article re: a plan for reading and study)
3 May 2006 (Link to Harris letter re: his friend, hero and mentor, CJ Mahaney)
13 June 2006 (link to Mahaney’s Deliberate Complementarian Pastors)
9 August 2006 (WorshipGod06 — highlighting SGM as “never known more caring, humble people”)

16 February 2007 — Friday Ramblings (Resolved Conference, included Mahaney)
18 February 2007 — Resolved Conference V (session by Mahaney)
26 May 2007 — New Attitude II
27 May 2007 — New Attitude III (talked with Joshua Harris)
28 May 2007 — New Attitude IX
3 July 2007 — (Link to Shopping for Time)

13 March 2008 (post re: traveling to Ligonier Ministries – Mahaney mentioned)
8 April 2008 (link to CJ/Carolyn Mahaney re: when husbands are criticized)
15 May 2008 (link to Mahaney’s posts on modesty and chance to pre-order his new book)
15 May 2008 (link to SGM’s Carolyn McCulley in Ethiopia)
9 June 2008 (highlighting Mahaney’s book list)
30 October 2008 (Free copy of worldliness for your pastor)
13 November 2008 (quote from Mahaney re: Busyness)

3 September 2009 (link to free Kindle version for Carolyn Mahaney and daughters’ Shopping for Time)

In his 2005 post on Desperate Jealousy, for example, he wrote “[Joshua] Harris had his mentor in Mahaney, and I couldn’t think of too many guys who would do a better job of it. There isn’t much I wouldn’t give to have that type of relationship with a man like Mahaney.”

Brian Auten's litany would seem to suggest that the distance Challies may seem to be trying to create between himself and his blogging on the one hand and SGM and Mahaney on the other, is coming at ... a curious and strategic time.

Challies has written that there's a kind of stakeholder incentive to be or not be involved in public discussion and investigation of a hot topic involving a church and a set of allegations.

This is an issue of greater urgency to some than others. The way each of us thinks through it will depend on the extent to which we are stakeholders, to our relational proximity to those involved and even geographic proximity. If you are a member at a SGM church this issue is very urgent, and particularly so if your church is considering withdrawing from the association. However, the majority of us are far on the outside with very little at stake. For this reason many of us simply do not need to have an opinion.

The farther we are from being stakeholders, the less the likelihood that we are equipped to helpfully evaluate the facts and that we can do anything helpful with the information we learn. The farther we are from being close to those involved, the greater the likelihood that we are drawn more to the scandal of it all than any noble purpose. Not all knowledge builds us up; not all knowledge helps us; not all knowledge helps us love God and love one another in deeper ways. The fact that today’s media allows us to have access to facts, does not necessarily give license to avail ourselves of them.

Then again, being a stakeholder increases the likelihood of prejudice, bias, conflicts of interest, and incentives to misrepresent or distort.   It's not a given that being a stakeholder imbues a person with great reason or ethics. 

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