When Grace Creates Forgiveness

I give a big clap to Tim Challies for his recent reconsideration of his review of Ann Voskamp’s book. Not because he has “changed his mind,” but because he recontextualized reading and reviewing: it is about the words — read that closely — the extension of another person in words, in this case a sister in Christ, and so he has asked for forgiveness and so I ask my readers to give Tim Challies a big clap for listening to the power of the gospel embodied in fallen creatures — like Tim, Ann, me, and you — and for learning that all writing is personal communication.

Tim says this at the end. May this be the beginning of a new iWorld.

I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author. There was reason for the shame I felt when I saw that name in my inbox. I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author. I had assumed poor motives and in arrogance and thoughtlessness had squelched useful discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

There is value in engaging the ideas in any book, and especially a book about this Christian life, but the desire to uphold truth has no business coming into conflict with love for another person. Truth and love are to be held together as friends, not separated as if they are enemies. In my desire to say what was true, I failed to love. I ask Ann’s forgiveness for this.


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  • Tom Howard

    it would be good if we could all catch this “virus” . . . “Truth and love are to be held together as friends, not separated as if they are enemies.” But so often it slips from our grasp. well at least my grasp. . . great post, admirable apology

  • What is most amazing is that his post and its manner is so rare as to be genuinely newsworthy. A surprise or reversal. It shows just how much Christian virtues suffer through the expediency and tyranny of technology.

  • I commend Him for the apology and practice of humility. It’s a positive turn in the right direction. He deserves grace. But to be honest this statement exposes so much more “how I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author.”

    How is love an afterthought if your theology is so airtight? How is love like the caboose on the train of good theology? This is what is modeled so regularly and few seem to ask if theology has anything to do with it. This is much more than a character flaw it’s a theological flaw. Lack of Love is heresy to me.

  • Luke Allison

    Very encouraging, particularly his ability to see his own “insider/outsider” biases.

    What’s less encouraging, however, is his comment section! But that goes without saying.

    I heard a teacher this year say that “maturity is your ability to protect others from yourself.” May this be a lesson to all of us!

  • John W Frye

    @Dan Jr. #3,
    Then we are ALL heretics at times. Correct? Do you love perfectly?

  • RJS


    I think we are all heretics at times on these grounds. I know I have learned to be much more careful about how I interact with and criticize ideas.

    We have a habit in “local” communication to be critical, and often a little harsh. It is “impersonal” and separate from the “person” of the other (author, preacher …). In addition we often speak to a select audience with similar mind. But the internet-blog interaction must always be viewed as personal – as though the other is in the room with you, and the audience is not of similar mind.

    We can be critical and disagree, but we need to take care to do it properly.

  • It’s always good to see someone prepared to admit they were wrong and ask forgiveness – especially since it’s so rare in internet theological debate.

    But I have to admit I found the content (and not just the tone) of the original article more than a bit hard to stomach. Reading Henri Nouwen and Dallas Willard makes someone a dangerous mystic? And being inspired by the architecture of Notre Dame makes someone a works-righteousness legalist? Wow.

  • T

    It’s a great apology and post; regardless of the original. He went into depth about not only his feelings and their bases, but also his affirmation of the author as a person and sister in Christ. Good stuff.

  • This does my heart good. I know that it makes Ann’s heart glad too. I know Ann – she’s pretty much the real deal, as gracious and loving and forgiving in person as she is online. (I know this because she’s had to forgive me some pretty ugly things over the years, too.) She has not deserved the nasty lashing inflicted by the internet theological crowd – particularly, because, she is often their same theological leanings (whereas I am not. I’m as far from Calvinism as one could possibly get.) They have been eating their own – and it has been their loss. Well, no….it’s been a loss to the Body of Christ. Even when we don’t agree with someone we often can learn something from them.

  • You know….another brief thought: I think that in the era of the internet we forget that times have changed. Used to be, an author was a spokesman, a trendsetter, an esteemed scholar, etc. Now? That bestselling author might just be a humble farmwife and homeschooling mama to six children. The smackdowns that take over the literary and theological world become very personal, whereas we’re still used to them taking place on an ideological level, between people with coarse skins who are used to and able and indeed expecting to defend themselves from the get-go.

    What Ann has done here, though, has been to allow this whole thing (and this isn’t the first time…she’s faced a lot of criticism) to play out (uncomfortably) but to be used beautifully by God to show His redemption when He is allowed to work in ugly situations. That’s pretty much Ann’s whole point – that God is a redeeming God who thru the praise of His people dwells with them and turns the mess to beauty. We all can learn from this situation.

  • “Would I have said that to someone I had planned to share a meal with a few weeks later?”

    That’s a great rule of thumb from Challies. Never write anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face over supper. I’m happy he learned that and I think we could all stand to absorb that.

    I like to read theological blogs and I disagree with people all the time (especially over here at Jesus Creed!). A while ago I decided to never write a comment I would hesitate to speak to another’s face. I think it has saved me from many foolish words. After all, we’ll be accountable to our King for every word.

  • T

    I think Dan Jr. makes an interesting point that deserves some fleshing out. No, none of us loves perfectly. But more to Dan’s point, we don’t merely teach about God’s nature, about holiness, or human worth when we talk explicitly about those subjects. We also teach about these things indirectly. I would dare say that *most* of what we teach, on these and a variety of very significant matters (including the relative value and reach of God, his grace, etc.), we do so indirectly. Sometimes, especially as a parent, I wish this was not the case, but parenting has shown me how deeply true this is.

    I think Challies was rightly concerned about the teaching he was giving (about God, the author, love for other Christians, etc.) in how he did this review, and it led him to do a rare thing: apologize, which also teaches a lot in a positive way. Way to go, bro.

  • John W Frye,
    I listen quite a bit to Tim Challies and the Gospel Coalition & TG4 fellas. Their way of demonizing others outside of Neo-Reformed theology is their made mode of operation. He threw Henri Nouwen and Dallas Willard under the bus in his book review but he doesn’t seem to think that was unloving. As a pastor their speech effects our local community in real ways. I have people that read his book reviews were Tim calls things dangerous, “wolves in the church,” “stomping on the Gospel” etc. Then some of my people hear me quote Dallas Willard or Richard Foster meanwhile The Gospel Coalition has tipped them off to how “dangerous they are to the Gospel.” Tim Challies pits me and Dallas Willard types against the Gospel. That is unloving.

  • T

    Dan Jr.,

    FWIW, I was also surprised/saddened by the lumping of Dallas with several other rightly-respected folks (Teresa of Avila, Henri Nouwen) and referring to them all as dangerous mystics! It honestly makes me laugh out loud typing it. Dangerous guy, that Dallas Willard (who I believe is ordained by the SBC, but I could be wrong). Challies talks about those in his circles, which I now assume does not include Willard. I wonder how far one has to deviate from Reformed theology and practice (though not orthodoxy) to get the “dangerous” label attached to them?

    The way that the warning label of “dangerous” gets used (too often in Reformed camps) is a bit comical, to put it positively. The author’s book in this review was labeled as dangerous, especially for young Christians, to which I thought, so is the bible! We all need a community of folks with Christ-like character, even for the bible, if we want to read and live it well. I just didn’t see anything in what was quoted from the book to warrant the “dangerous” tag, but I’ve not read the book.

  • Dan Jr, as a young guy who is firmly in the Neo-Reformed camp I’d like to respond to you. I also don’t like some of the tone that you recognize. But that tone exists outside the TGC, T4G and Neo-Reformed world. We can’t all agree but I’m with you in the need for careful attention to our tone.

    I think your statement: “Their way of demonizing others outside of Neo-Reformed theology is their made [sic] mode of operation” is a bit much. Surely it’s not all like that. Want some evidence? Look at the list of recommended Good Friday reading from Justin Holcomb over at The Resurgence; the parenthetical author’s description added by yours truly.

    The Seven Last Words from the Cross, by Fleming Rutledge (Episcopalian)

    The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, by A. W. Pink (Evangelical Calvinist)

    Finding Hope in the Last Words of Jesus, by Greg Laurie (Mega-Church Pentecostal)

    Cries from the Cross, by Erwin W. Lutzer (Conservative Evangelical)

    Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus (Roman Catholic)

    Cross-Shattered Christ, by Stanley Hauerwas (Stanley Hauerwas!!!)

    Thank God It’s Friday, by William H. Willimon (United Methodist Bishop)

    Surely these recommendations are not demonizing others outside the Neo-Reformed camp. There are grouchy voices within every camp. I personally am thankful for Challies’ apology and everybody from every camp could from it.

    Many Blessings.

  • DRT

    I am buoyed by the apology.

    But I am with John-Mark. The content was even more unloving than the tone if you asked me.

  • Rick

    Dan Jr #13-

    “Then some of my people hear me quote Dallas Willard or Richard Foster meanwhile The Gospel Coalition has tipped them off to how “dangerous they are to the Gospel.”

    Where did you see this?

    (I am not sure how it turned from as discussion about Challies to one about organizations such as the TGC)

  • Steve,
    I’ve seen that list before. I like some of what comes out of the Neo-Reformed websites and podcasts. But you’ll have a hard time convincing me otherwise that “defending the flock against false and dangerous teachers” is not a major thrust. In their passion for this, and I know its harsh and maybe they don’t realize they are doing it, but they have been “demonizing” a good chunk of teachers who love Jesus and people. I’m not saying others don’t and I’m not defending other organizations who do the same. But this approach is more than a “tone-thing” its an ethic and its built into their theological-center. I was an insider to the neo-reformed/Acts 29 network and I had to unplug because it has a strong undercurrent of combativeness and fighting for Jesus. Sorry, but I’ve watched its character effects on too many people. You should check out Roger Olson. He’s been very forthright about how many have been pushed outside the “Evangelical-tent” because of this.

  • Rick,
    Tim just did this in the book review> http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/one-thousand-gifts. He name dropped Dallas Willard and his done this many times before.

  • Rick

    Dan Jr #19-

    But you mentioned The Gospel Coalition (“…meanwhile The Gospel Coalition has tipped them off to how “dangerous they are to the Gospel”). Where did you get that?

  • Rick,
    Are you looking for documentation? Because I’d have to go back over the last couple years to gather up quotes given to me by other pastors and parishioners in our area. I know that I’ve seen stuff from Justin Taylor, Kevin Deyoung and DA Carson (Gospel Coalition folks) calling people “emergent” as a way of labeling certain people dangerous. People aren’t dumb, they pick up the innuendos. I’ve been in loads of conversation were people have used these guys as ammunition to call out dangerous stuff.

  • Tom F.

    Definitely props for being able to distinguish between a person and their ideas, and for being humble enough to acknowledge the messiness of these sorts of things on the blog.

    I was saddened to see many of the commenters on Chailles site push back against his apology. It’s almost like people don’t want him to be civil to her.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Tom #22, I saw those too, and also hear Neo-Reformed leaders talking like they have a special call to attack others to protect the “Gospel.” Evidently, they would not concur with the sentiments expressed by U2, “I can stand up for faith, hope and love while I’m getting over certainty…Stop helping God cross the road, like a little old lady!”

  • Steve Sherwood

    Wish there was an edit function. While the Neo-Reformed folks do sometimes seem like they feel they need to be God’s truth squad, or attack dogs, the apology that prompted this thread WAS a very good and admirable thing. I was wrong to have not joined in acknowledging that.

  • Rick

    It is interesting how an individual wrote something, and apologized, yet now it has developed (here) into a guilt by association. Rather than being about TC’s apology, this thread has turned into a criticism of everyone in the TGC, Acts29, neo-reformed, etc….

  • T


    In fairness, the apology was praised, and it should have been. It also raises the issues, because part of the apology was that Challies said he stood by the substance of his review. And the substance of his review was that the book/author was dangerous because, in his opinion, she has been influenced by “mystics” like Willard, Ter. of Avila, Nouwen, etc. and puts too much emphasis on experiencing God outside of scripture.

    This is the kind of substance that is common from Challies and other popular reformed leaders/commentators. Willard’s book, the Divine Conspiracy, won a book of the year award from Christianity Today, yet, for Challies (who is by no means exceptional in this regard among neo-reformed), Willard is a dangerous mystic. Perhaps I misread the apology (which, again, was a great and good thing), but I don’t see Challies backing away from the substance of his critique, which included this criticism of some of the author’s influences, and is common in reformed camps. FWIW, TGC seems to be more diplomatic IMO, and tries to keep one foot planted in conservative reformed camps, and the other in larger evangelicalism, but they are still careful to only use and keep leaders who can pass muster with the more strictly reformed, like Challies.

    The apology truly deserves a read and even study. It is clearly a positive and rare step forward. It is hard to read both posts, though, (let alone the comments!) and think there is not much in the neo reformed thinking regarding those outside its circles that remains surprisingly accusatory towards someone as mainstream evangelical as Willard. I wish Challies wasn’t representative of many in this regard, but that’s just not the case.

  • Rick


    But is the issue a theological difference, or (as Steve #15 pointed out) one of tone?

    Challies comes from a different steam, so he is uncomfortable with some of the theological positions she takes. Is he not to be honest about that? However, he does admit that he over-reacted and lumped together her, with say, Osteen. He recognizes there are degrees of differences and he needs to be more careful in how he categorizes those degrees.

    I realize that you come from a different stream and would have a problem w/ that part of Challies theology. However, I would expect you to express those concerns if you were reviewing a book of his. I also would expect that your tone would be healthy.

    You stated: “TGC seems to be more diplomatic IMO, and tries to keep one foot planted in conservative reformed camps, and the other in larger evangelicalism, but they are still careful to only use and keep leaders who can pass muster with the more strictly reformed, like Challies.”

    I appreciate you recognizing the TGC’s tone. Earlier comments here wanted to throw it under the bus as well. That is where I have a problem. Guilt by association, simply because of some common theological positions.

  • T


    I enjoy talking with you. (Just figured I’d take the time to say that!)

    I do think TGC does see itself as reaching out to the larger evangelical world, and so it tries to keep a good tone, even as it has a distinct POV.

    I do want to talk about different streams and expressing concerns, as well as guilt by association. I do hail from a continuationist (non-cessationist) camp and school of thought. I don’t know if that would make me a mystic or not for purposes of Challies’ review. But I do read many books by folks who are cessationist in theory and/or practice, and when I do I don’t think of them as inherently “dangerous” for that difference, despite how central the practice of the gifts is to the New Testament missionary and church work and life. I’ll often recommend such books and/or authors. By contrast, I think of this line from Challies’ apology: “[I]n my review I went so far as to say that [the book] could well prove to be dangerous to some readers. The thread of mysticism influenced by the likes of Nouwen and Manning and Willard, the language of sexuality and ecstasy—these are genuinely troubling and I stand by the concerns I raised.”

    Again, the apology is great and should be praised. At the same time, this continuing stand by Challies to not only disagree with various authors, including Willard, but categorize them all as mystics (as if that label is sufficient to describe them and the depths of their respective thinking and works), and, worse, as dangerous and troubling, is a problem. Again, we’re talking about an author in Willard whose book has the highest praise from Christianity Today, a leading voice of mainstream evangelicalism, but is “dangerous” to Challies. You ask if this is tone or genuine difference. Neither option makes it any better. If this was a quote from a fringe heresy-hunting blog, it would be less of a problem. But Challies has one of the most read Christian blogs on the web. His POV is shared by many and he influences many more.

    As I said, I can and do disagree with many folks on a variety of issues. I just rarely use “dangerous” as an adjective for a mainstream evangelical author’s teaching or about them personally.

    You mentioned: “Earlier comments here wanted to throw [TGC] under the bus as well. That is where I have a problem. Guilt by association, simply because of some common theological positions.” That’s what I see Challies beginning to acknowledge in this apology by reference to his “circle”, but still doing with these so-called mystics. The commenters to the post seem to understand this perfectly, both those that agree and disagree with him. Heresy hunting/labelling just seems to be too much a part of the neo reformed culture and practice. Much more than the theology, it’s my least favorite feature of the stream. Not that it has a monopoly, but it seems to want to lead the way on that front.

  • Rick

    T #28-

    Although I don’t always agree with you, I have appreciated your defense (and posts) regarding the continuationist position. I do agree that words such as “dangerous”, unless describing clear heretical teachings, are damaging to all sides. I think that some- not most- of those in the neo-reformed crowd can be over-reactionary, and many times they have to then correct/clarify their comments.

    I don’t know if Challies would see the continuationist as “dangerous”, but I believe he does disagree with it. However, that disagreement would put him at odds with many in the “neo-reformed” camp (Acts 29 alone has a large % of continuationists), which goes to show the diversity in groups that many are trying to “label” as one single-minded entity.

    Speaking of “labelling”, that is taking place by both sides, as can be seen in this thread.

    In regards to “heresy-hunting”, I certainly think there is a problem with goal and tone. However, simply pointing out theological concerns is different than looking for fights with anything that smells like a “false teacher”. There is a difference between “heresy-hunting” and simply using discernment. Team Pyro and Apprising Ministries are very different than Kevin DeYoung or Justin Taylor.

  • John Inglis

    I’ll believe Challies’ apology has legs when he takes down his book review or rewrites it appropriately.

    John I.

  • Scott W

    Theologically, I’m an outsider to this debate but I heard something humorous as I listened to Reformed dogmatics Prof. James Torrance of the Univ. of St Andrews in Scotland on a panel about Douglas Campbell’s book Deliverance of God in London. He referred to some of his fellow Reformed folk in America and Scotland (which I suppose some of the Neo-Reformed crowd would fit in) as the “Caliban” (i.e., Calvinist Taliban). This post reminded me of this.

  • Rick

    Scott W #31-

    Considering what the Taliban actually does, I don’t find the term “humorous”.