Having Standards Makes You a Troll

UPDATED 5/16/2014: Tim Challies left the following comment below, and I’m copying it here so that readers won’t miss it. I thank him for his cordial response.

Hi, Collin. Thanks for pointing out the citation sloppiness. It has taken me some time to reply and to fix the citation as I’ve been traveling (and, strangely, lost Internet connectivity for 24 hours immediately after posting the article on Teresa, due to being in airplanes with no wifi, airports with inadequate wifi, and a home with a water main break outside it that cut the Internet as well!).

I just appended this to the bottom of my article:

Note: Readers pointed out that initially I did not properly cite Wikipedia’s entry on Teresa of Avila; I appreciate having that pointed out and added a footnote as appropriate. It was clearly marked as a quote in my research notes but that did not make it to the article. As for the general tone of the article, it is meant to be informational more than biographical, by which I mean I do not provide exhaustive information about the false teachers; most of my interest is in the false teaching. Of course this does not excuse sloppy or inaccurate information and this article did not adhere to the standards I would want it to. I am traveling this week and, being away from my usual routines and my usual reference works, allowed myself to be sloppy in both research and writing. It would have been far better to save this for another week and to ensure it was of better quality. I will attempt to revisit this article soon and to do a better job of it. For the next few days I am in Australia preaching two to three times a day and I need to prioritize that (I’d really appreciate your prayers in this time as I have not adjusted well to the fourteen time-zone difference and am extremely tired); I will return to the article after I return to Canada. In the meantime, please do forgive me for my sloppiness.

As for the accusations of trolling, I will get in touch with David, who helps moderate the discussions. I have not yet touched base with him.

ORIGINAL POST:

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This morning I took a look at Tim Challies blog, as I habitually do. I have often enjoyed his writings.

Challies is in the middle of a series on false teachers. Some of the posts are helpful, some less so. This morning’s post was less so.

In this morning’s post, he denounces the mysticism of Teresa of Ávila. I’m not a fan of Teresa’s writings, but even so I was disappointed with Challies’s lack of engagement with her texts. It was as if he had never even held one of her books in his hand.

And then I started Googling.

It turns out that he copied and pasted, with slight rewording, a section of the Wikipedia entry on Teresa.

Here’s what the version of Wikipedia between May 8th and May 11th said.

The kernel of Teresa’s mystical thought throughout all her writings is the ascent of the soul in four stages (The AutobiographyChs. 10-22):

The first, or “mental prayer“, is that of devout contemplation or concentration, the withdrawal of the soul from without and especially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence (Autobiography 11.20).

The second is the “prayer of quiet“, in which at least the human will is lost in that of God by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given by God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).

The “devotion of union” is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, or a conscious rapture in the love of God.

The fourth is the “devotion of ecstasy or rapture,” a passive state, in which the feeling of being in the body disappears (2 Corinthians 12:2-3). Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, the body alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and the spirit in fear of God by such an ecstatic flight that sometimes the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens from this union in tears; it is the climax of mystical ecstasy, along with the gift of miracles and prophecy. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.

Here’s what Challies posted today without citation.

At the heart of Teresa’s teaching was the ascent of the soul into sweet and unbroken mystical communion with God. She described four progressive stages in this ascent.

  1. Mental Prayer. The first is mental prayer, devout contemplation and concentration, through which the soul withdraws from everything physical around it. This happens especially during penitence and during times of observing Christ in his suffering and death.
  2. Prayer of Quiet. In prayer of quiet, the human will becomes lost in God’s will in a kind of supernatural state. Faculties such as memory, reason and imagination have not yet been quieted from outside distraction, but the mind and will are quiet in a growing experience of Christ’s presence.
  3. Devotion of Union. The devotion of union is a supernatural, ecstatic state in which human reason has become absorbed in God and only memory and imagination remain unclaimed. This is a state of bliss and peace where the higher faculties experience a sweet rest and the devotee experiences conscious rapture in God’s love.
  4. Devotion of Ecstasy or Rapture. This is a passive state in which the feeling of having a physical body disappears. Sense, memory and imagination are all absorbed in God. “Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space . This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens From this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.”

When I left a comment noting this “sloppiness,” the moderator called me a “contrarian troll” and blocked me from making further comments.

So that’s what it takes to be branded a troll, eh?

It’s no wonder my undergraduates think that it’s okay to steal other people’s ideas and pass them off as their own. They’re just doing what their pastors model for them.

22 responses

  1. It’s ironic that plagiarism would have cropped up in the middle of a series on false teachers. Gennie Westbrook

  2. Not to minimize your experience, but I found it fascinating that he ended the article by suggesting that you “can also spot her [Teresa’s] direct or indirect influence in the works of bestselling authors like Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) and Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts)” and then Ann Voskamp herself chimes in, “I was taken aback to find myself named as being influenced by Avlia as I don’t own any of her works.”

    I think Ann was being contrarian, don’t you?

  3. What’s up with the plague of plagiarizing pastors these days? Don’t they teach footnoting in Grad School? Do these chaps not know how to append a source in a note? Why pretend knowledge one doesn’t possess? To what end? It’s (plagiarism) just so unnecessary.

  4. Actually, Jim, Tim Challies didn’t go to Grad School. Or Bible College. But he does have an undergraduate history degree, which suggests that he should know how to footnote, not to mention the importance of doing so.

  5. I enjoy reading Challies too–often for the other writings he points me to. This example is disheartening. I suspect he didn’t attribute his source because he wasn’t proud of it. (Wikipedia is in many ways useful, but not as a source for serious citation.) The response, though, is even more disappointing. Really? A troll? It says something about our culture that when we poi nt out another’s error or shortcoming we are negatively labeled (troll, bigot, racist, idiot, hater, hypocrite, etc.). This post does two things for me, though–and neither are bad. It reminds me to read blogs more critically, and to write–and cite– ever more honestly. I’m grateful for both reminders.

  6. Pingback: Et tu, Challies?

  7. Paul liked it when people checked up on him, if his experience in Berea is anything to go on. I wonder why that blogger felt differently.

    Do you remember when Mr. Driscoll called out those who would dare do their own study to check up on a passage he was preaching on? I hate to see this coming from the Reformed camp. The movement used to be so much better at encouraging people to engage their minds in faith.

  8. Weren’t you bounced by the moderator (not Tim Challies) when another prominent Christian blogger pointed out that you have a history of professing that you would never defend (insert name of Roman Catholic figure) and then proceed to defend said Roman Catholic figure? Now plagiarism is always wrong but so is intentionally distorting what happened. Unless it was removed, you made no mention of the plagiarism charges in the comments on the blog.

    • John, I didn’t use the word plagiarism because I was trying to be charitable, and I wanted to give Challies a chance to take the post down. The second sentence of my comment that I posted to his blog alludes to it: “As a matter of fact your discussion of her teaching is almost word for word the Wikipedia entry on Theresa’s teaching.”

      There’s a backstory to this other blogger’s accusation that I “have a history” of defending various Roman Catholics, and I don’t care to address it here. I will merely say that I have no agenda in that direction.

      My comments were in no way a defense of Teresa of Ávila. I merely pointed out that the research needed to be better.

      The moderator claimed to have checked me out, called me a troll, and then blocked me. I don’t feel that I’ve distorted anything. The only way this blog post could be a distortion is if the moderator had not read my comment and merely banned me on the testimony of another blogger. He said himself that he checked me out.

  9. Pingback: Controversy Roundup « Theologians, Inc.

  10. Ironic that Tim went after Ann Voscamp (again). The last time he did so he ended up with a plate of “mea culpa” served up at Ann’s home.

    Good to see that she called him out.

  11. What Tim did reminds me of what they taught me in Junior High – either quote your source directly and footnote, or “put it in your own words”, in which case a footnote wasn’t necessary. Very often what I did came out much like Tim’s work here. A few of the words were my own, and I rearranged the rest a bit…

    I learned better in college.

  12. Worst case scenario: A brother has been caught in the sin of plagiarism and maybe even hypocrisy. What do we do then? “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1) Emphasis on gentleness! Best case scenario: Tim has a very good explanation for what happened, and it turns out to not to be as “bad” as it appears, and the kerfuffle over his writing is unnecessary. Maybe Proverbs 25:8 sort of addresses this: “Do not hastily bring into court.” Either way – we must be careful. Tim is a Reformed guy and a cessationist like most of the people posting here negatively about him. He is a real brother in Jesus. In an age in which we are quick to decry sin in others and hasty to jump on a plane at our own expense and go debate somebody to set them straight on sanctification, that we need to heed Paul’s admonition: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:15) (Note This material was originally taken from a Facebook comment I left on May 16, 2014 on Frank Turk’s post on this matter.) 🙂

    • Chase, thanks for sharing your perspective. I think you’re right. I phrased my original comment on his site in what I considered a very mild manner. In this blog post, I am somewhat more insistent (since my initial interaction was rebuffed). I’m still trying to give Challies the benefit of the doubt, but my main concern is that putting quantity before quality sends the wrong message to the flock.

  13. Hi, Collin. Thanks for pointing out the citation sloppiness. It has taken me some time to reply and to fix the citation as I’ve been traveling (and, strangely, lost Internet connectivity for 24 hours immediately after posting the article on Teresa, due to being in airplanes with no wifi, airports with inadequate wifi, and a home with a water main break outside it that cut the Internet as well!).

    I just appended this to the bottom of my article:

    Note: Readers pointed out that initially I did not properly cite Wikipedia’s entry on Teresa of Avila; I appreciate having that pointed out and added a footnote as appropriate. It was clearly marked as a quote in my research notes but that did not make it to the article. As for the general tone of the article, it is meant to be informational more than biographical, by which I mean I do not provide exhaustive information about the false teachers; most of my interest is in the false teaching. Of course this does not excuse sloppy or inaccurate information and this article did not adhere to the standards I would want it to. I am traveling this week and, being away from my usual routines and my usual reference works, allowed myself to be sloppy in both research and writing. It would have been far better to save this for another week and to ensure it was of better quality. I will attempt to revisit this article soon and to do a better job of it. For the next few days I am in Australia preaching two to three times a day and I need to prioritize that (I’d really appreciate your prayers in this time as I have not adjusted well to the fourteen time-zone difference and am extremely tired); I will return to the article after I return to Canada. In the meantime, please do forgive me for my sloppiness.

    As for the accusations of trolling, I will get in touch with David, who helps moderate the discussions. I have not yet touched base with him.

    • Excellent response, Tim. And I agree about the helpfulness of addressing false teaching. It’s a much better use of our resources than calling someone a false teacher as that would require an exhaustive study, as you note. I’ve blogged about some of the false ideas that are out there, such as from Joel Osteen and Mark Driscoll, for example, but only as it pertains to a specific instance and not passing on their standing as teachers generally.

      Your blog is best when you address ideas critically rather than people. Frankly, I think that goes for all of us who write. Dealing with a person’s ideas can be done critically. Dealing with the person herself or himself though should be an exercise in encouragement and fellowship.

      Cheers,
      Tim

    • Tim Challies, thanks for responding. I wouldn’t have left the original comment if I didn’t have a certain respect for your work. I’m glad you’re citing the source, but I encourage you to actually read Teresa’s work or merely critique mysticism generally.

      I think Tim Fall has a point that it’s easier to talk about false teaching than false teachers. Also, “false teacher” connotes an abandonment of the gospel, not merely error. Is Christian mysticism really an abandonment of the gospel? I agree that it’s an error, but did A. W. Tozer abandon the gospel?

      Engaging ideas with which we disagree requires an extra dose of charity. (I’m preaching to myself here!) We must have charity toward the person we are reading and critiquing so that we can represent them fairly and only speak truth about them. We must have charity toward our readers by giving them research and conclusions that they can trust.

      Blessings on you.

  14. Appreciate the explanation from Challies, but why not first address the inaccuracies written about Ann Voskamp.

    • Hi Kellie… From what I’ve read those are less clear given the use of Avila’s material in Ann’s writings. Tim’s inferences are credible under the circumstances.

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