The Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, and Cruciform Press – Backscratching at its Finest!

"Let me again disclose that I am a part-owner of Cruciform Press, the publisher of this book. I have written an honest and voluntary review, but I guess there may be some bias. I haven’t quite figured out how to express enthusiasm for a book I was involved in publishing but truly believe in."

Tim Challies

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reading_on_the_bus_train_or_transit.jpgReading an E-book

Have you noticed that the Calvinistas appear to be gaining tremendous momentum in the blogosphere?  The internet has certainly served them well as they zealously self-promote their 'brand' of theology.  What stands out to me the most is their feeding frenzy over books.  Truly, it's getting out of hand! 

As I have surveyed the array of Neo-Cal websites, I have discovered that Tim Challies gets the prize for doling out the most book recommendations.  He has definitely earned his high ranking position on the list of book reviewers at Amazon.com.  He probably sends quite a few customers to Amazon and Westminster Books through those hyperlinks at the end of his posts.  It definitely leaves one pondering whether there is any financial gain involved…  

Some of our readers may be wondering just who is Tim Challies?  On his blog, he provides some biographical information.  Challies explains:

"I am a self-employed computer guy from Canada with no seminary or Bible college education. I have nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in history and one I really only barely deserved, and I earned it from a college people only know of because Clark Pinnock taught there. I attend a church no one has heard of and, until recently, had never met any well-known Christian leaders or speakers. So while I am supremely unqualified, people continue to visit the site. When they do so, they read book reviews, they read personal reflections, and they read what I attempt to teach or share on the subject of theology. I often feel like I’m in over my head."

You can read more about Tim's blogging story here.  His big break came in 2005 when he was asked to fly to Minneapolis to liveblog Desiring God's National Conference.  About three months later he flew to California to liveblog the Shepherd's Conference at Grace Community Church for John MacArthur.  Then in April 2006 Challies was in Louisville liveblogging the first ever Together for the Gospel conference.  And as they say, the rest is history…  To read Challies' liveblogging posts, go here.

Having established himself as a liveblogger and book reviewer extraordinaire, Tim Challies and Kevin Meath — C.J. Mahaney's ghostwriter (according to a reliable source) — began to explore the possibility of starting a newfangled publishing company.  In his Unintended Consequences post, Challies marvels at God's sovereignty. 

On April 13, 2010, Tim Challies announced the establishment of Cruciform Press – providentially (?) just as the third gathering of Together for the Gospel was getting underway.  That year the Fab Four was joined on stage by the two men for whom Tim Challies has recently done liveblogging – John Piper and John MacArthur.  For those of you who attended, do you remember this introduction of John MacArthur?

Here is a description of Cruciform Press:

"Cruciform Press is an alternative publishing company designed from the ground up to operate in the digital marketplace. We publish a new book the first of every month, and every book is the same price. We release print books, ebooks, and audiobooks. We want each book to be helpful, inspiring, biblical, and gospel-focused, as well as short, clear, well-written, well-edited, and accessible."

Just six months later, Cruciform Press was up and running.  Unlike other publishers, it produces a book a month and offers a subscription for its books at a discount price. Monthly subscribers can choose either books in print or e-books.   Think of it as a book club, with one hitch – you don't get to choose the books.  They only offer one a month.  How brilliant – everybody's reading the same stuff…  

Here is a list of the initial offerings as promoted on Tim Challies' website. 

October 2010          Sexual Detox

November 2010      Wrestling with an Angel

December 2010      Servanthood As Worship

January 2011          Reclaiming Adoption

February 2011        Intentional parenting

March 2011            The Organized Heart

April 2011              Cruciform:  Living the Cross-Shaped Life

May 2011               But God

June 2011              Smooth Stones

July 2011               Licensed to Kill

August 2011          Grieving, Hope and Solace

in addition to Tim Challies, who functions as the marketing arm of Cruciform Press, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) crowd has been instrumental in promoting this publisher's books and authors.  A search of Cruciform Press on TGC's website turns up a long list of related links.

With regard to The Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies has become quite popular at their conferences.  Just last year he spoke at the Regional Conference in Ontario (May 29-31, 2012) (link) as well as the Regional Conference in Canada (August 7-9, 2012) (link).  Also, he was a breakout speaker at The Gospel Coalition's Regional Meeting in New England (October 19-21, 2012). (link)   

Earlier last year, TGC's Regional Conference in New Mexico had the theme – The Cross+Shaped Christian Life (link), which was eerily similar to a book published by Cruciform Press.  The author of that publication was at the event and had this to say on TGC's website:

"I am excited to announce that I will be representing Cruciform Press at the 2012 Clarus Conference (a regional conference of The Gospel Coalition) in Albuquerque, NM, March 9-11, 2012.

The theme of this year's conference will be "The Cross-Shaped Christian Life" with guest speakers D. A. Carson and Fred G. Zaspel.

Cruciform Press, who kindly published my book Cruciform: Living The Cross-Shaped Life, has arranged for me to man their exhibitor's booth at the conference. And since my book seems to fit the conference theme hand-in-glove, they are giving every attendee a free copy of the book! The organizers of Clarus 2012 have agreed to highlight my book from the platform and invite folks to stop by the booth to chat with me or get their book signed."

Others are promoting Cruciform's Books.  Earlier this week (March 5) Tim Challies self-promoted Killing Calvinism on his blog, and a commenter wrote this in response: 

"I attended Piper's TULIP seminar this weekend in Minneapolis and saw this book available for purchase in the lobby bookstore. I even picked it up and gave it a hurried glance. I'm sorry now that I didn't bring it home. I'll have to get myself a copy for sure! Thanks for the review, Tim!"

It should come as no surprise the Cruciform Press has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts.

There is so much self-promotion with this publishing company that from now on I plan to refer to it as CRU$IFORM PRE$$ …

Earlier today one of our blogging friends, Matt Redmond, posted his thoughts on the utter silence of those whom we call Calvinistas. 

Here is what he wrote: (link)

"Just silence.

There has been no leader in the Reformed community who has spoken up for the victims of sexual abuse in SGM. Not one. No Reformed leader has nailed their horror or concern to the door. The heirs of Luther who railed against the abuse of indulgences are silent on the abuse of women and children. Those who would die on the hill of complementarianism have ceded the moral ground to the ladies of The Wartburg Watch and Julie Anne Smith. Those who decry the power of the Roman church wield its echo.

Is there no man with a ready hammer and nail willing to heave his weight and influence into the silence? All of the gospel-hyphenated books may become millstones before all is said and done.

What if it was you?

Or worse. Your child.

They will not list away from Orthodoxy because of Rob Bell so much as a lack of love.

And silence. So much silence."

Bill Kinnon chimed in with this comment on Matt's post:

"The silence is deafening. Those who’ve pontificated on every jot and tittle of Christendom (used intentionally) are strangely silent on this.

Or they are attempting to distance themselves from Mr. Mahaney whilst suggesting the rest of us should simply shut up.

It is disgusting hypocrisy, in my never humble opinion."

I find the Calvinista clamor and shameless self-promotion too much to bear.  It reminds me of the moneychangers in the temple when Jesus walked on earth and the indulgence preachers in Luther's day.  They wag their tongues about doctrine, yet show no love for the wounded and downtrodden.  

When the final chapter is penned about The Gospel Coalition, what will it say?  I fear that tome will end on a very bad note…

Lydia's Corner:    Joshua 16:1-18:28    Luke 19:1-27    Psalm 87:1-7    Proverbs 13:11

 

Comments

The Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, and Cruciform Press – Backscratching at its Finest! — 41 Comments

  1. Regarding the “Sexual Detox” book page that is mentioned and linked to in the original post.

    I note with some irony that the “Sexual Detox” book has, as mentioned on the review page, received a thumb’s up from obsessed- by- all- things sexual preacher, Mark Driscoll:

    (“‘In an age when sex is worshiped as a god, a little book like this can go a long way to helping men overcome sexual addiction.’ (Mark Driscoll”).

    I don’t think Driscoll is the best choice to have review or endorse your book about Christian men who are struggling with porn.

    Speaking of which, porn addiction has been on the rise among women lately, according to news resources I’ve seen on television and online, including Christian women, but it seems like a lot of conservative Christians don’t like to acknowledge this.

    And that is due, I am guessing, to the fact that a “Christian- women- addicted- to- porn” issue flies in the face of the sexist / gender complementarian perspectives that (Christian) women don’t want sex, don’t enjoy it, or women only want / prefer cuddling over sex all the time, women aren’t visually stimulated, etc.

  2. I still don’t know how he got to be a pastor! He has zero qualifications, just exemplary self-marketing skills.And I’m still mystified as to how he wears so many hats at once ..

    Re: the women and porn thing — I don’t get it personally (no one’s written a book about Christian duty to de-tox from chocolate? not yet?)You have to wonder how much is the result of being taught all their lives that sex was for their husband’s needs, not theirs?

  3. “I haven’t quite figured out how to express enthusiasm for a book I was involved in publishing but truly believe in.” – Tim Challies

    Then don’t.

  4. @ Daisy:

    “Speaking of which, porn addiction has been on the rise among women lately, according to news resources I’ve seen on television and online, including Christian women, but it seems like a lot of conservative Christians don’t like to acknowledge this.”

    Like the fact that lots of Christian women are reading 50 Shades of Gray? (Which is available at my local grocery store in the magazine aisle as if it was just another ordinary romance novel…)

  5. Clay Crouch wrote:

    “I haven’t quite figured out how to express enthusiasm for a book I was involved in publishing but truly believe in.” – Tim Challies
    Then don’t.

    Wouldn’t it be more normal to say that he published the book because he really liked it (does he publish books he doesn’t believe in?) and then admit frankly that he has a financial interest as well?

  6. @ Lynne T:

    That’s basically what I commented on Challies’ blog (still there last I checked). If he likes the book and wants to promote it, that’s his prerogative. But it needs to be very upfront, and it needs to be a promotion, not a review. Just say that your publishing company has put out this book, this is what it’s about, this is where I was involved in getting it written/published, and this is what I think is great about it. He can give pretty much the exact same content – just frame it in a way that makes his connections absolutely clear.

  7. Pam, totally agree. Out in the world it’s considered normal decent practice. I know plenty of secular blogs of all kinds who are completely transparent about which things they get paid for. It’s called honesty, and it used to be considered a basic Christian virtue.

  8. I was thinking about how inbred the ads for Calvinista books are – the same people writing pretty much the same thing about each others’ books. So here’s a little parody of a typical ad:

    THE GOSPEL IS THE GOSPEL

    How The Gospel Itself Is The Gospel

    By Reformed Big Dog

    Published By Crossway

    $30.00

    John Piper: What a joy this book is! In a gospel-saturated way, Big Dog shows us how the gospel itself IS the gospel. He clears up all of the confusion which has unfortunately clouded this important subject.

    Ligon Duncan: Nourishing and robust. This may be Big Dog’s finest work this month.

    Albert Mohler: I’m already on my tenth reading. This book can change an entire culture. In an age when there is so much confusion about what the gospel is, Big Dog goes right to the heart of it: The gospel itself is the gospel. He takes a complex subject and simplifies it without losing any of its nuance.

    C.J. Mahaney: This book isn’t hard and it’s only 20 pages, so I really enjoyed it. Nothing is more important than the gospel, so it’s a relief to know that the gospel is the gospel. Hits a home run!

    J.I. Packer: After writing blurbs for over 50,000 books, I’m gratified that Big Dog has written such a short one. Though I didn’t get through all of it, I can recommend it unreservedly.

    Mark Driscoll: Incisive, concentrated, and subtly sexy. This book is like a roundhouse punch to the solar plexus, which is what I’ll do to yours if you don’t like it.

    Mark Dever: Soaked in the gospel. This book is all wet, but in a good way.

  9. JeffB,

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in quite a while. You’ve got the lingo for those guys down pat.

  10. Tim Challies was obviously mentored by “Big Dan” Teague:

    “What do I sell? The truth, every blessed word of it, from Genesis on down to Revelations. That’s right, the word of God, which let me tell you there is damn good money in during these times of woe and want. People are looking for answers, and Big Dan sells the only book that’s got ‘em.”

  11. JeffB,

    Brill! You have really nailed it.

    Now, my question is this: Do they really read ALL those books? I ask this because I am aware of some celebrity pastors who had research assistants read them, do a synopsis and help them write the blurb.

    And this book of the month thing is bizarre. Would you really trust someone that much to choose your reading material for you each month and pay them to do that for you? But it fits right into the doctrine: foreordained/chosen reading and you had no input at all.

  12. Anon 1,

    That’s how they plan to control the mind of the sycophants.  Everyone is on the same page so to speak.  

    Where are the independent thinkers in the Calvinista crowd?  

  13. I think there's a huge ethical problem with reviewing or recommending (or condemning, for that matter) a book that you haven't read; unless what you say is "Sounds great," or "Anything Stephanie Meyers writes has to be good," or even "I'm not interested in reading Harry Potter and I don't think you should either." I know people do it all the time in the publishing world, but that doesn't make it right.

    I am a lifelong passionate reader and am in love with my Kindle. My insistence on freedom in my reading life has protected me from a lot of legalism. I've shared before that I never chose to pursue sharing a household (read, living in someone's basement) while I was part of SGM Fairfax. I've always been grateful, because that would have been a miserable situation for me and my girls. Heck, they could easily have been molested.

    One of the reasons I never wanted to try that was because I knew my books and my reading would be scrutinized and judged. (Actually, I thought people might have a right to input regarding what books I brought into their home.) Interestingly, CJ’s public ignorance on a matter that I was well-read about was an early red flag for me.

    He was speaking about the movie Shadowlands (about the relationship of CS Lewis and Joy Davidman) and made some broad statements about how the movie was inaccurate. He wasn’t referring to factual matters (such as the fact that Joy had two sons, not one) but to the emphasis on emotion.

    As I recall, he said that Jack and Joy’s marriage was not “all about feelings.” Well, that is just baloney; as anyone who has read CS Lewis’ own writings would know. In any case, I’m thoroughly skeptical about whether CJ is the voracious reader of theological works that he claims to be.

  14. Eagle wrote:

    I wonder if Tim Challies also believes in the Biblical basis for blow jobs. If he gives a thumbs up to Driscoll it does make you wonder! ;-)

    Don’t forget the other end of the alimentary canal a la Real Marriage

  15. Daisy wrote:

    (“‘In an age when sex is worshiped as a god, a little book like this can go a long way to helping men overcome sexual addiction.’ (Mark Driscoll”).

    I don’t think Driscoll is the best choice to have review or endorse your book about Christian men who are struggling with porn.

    Why not? Guy’s obviously a horndog, and all those Visions(TM) give him lotsa experience.
    “I *SEE* THINGS…”

    Speaking of which, porn addiction has been on the rise among women lately, according to news resources I’ve seen on television and online, including Christian women, but it seems like a lot of conservative Christians don’t like to acknowledge this.

    I know 50 Shades of Grey is credited with launching the genre “Mommy Porn”, and there seems to be a progression from Harlequin bodice-rippers through Twilight (sparkle sparkle) to 50 Shades, each going farther and farther like an addiction/tolerance response.

    Has anyone done any research on whether porn addiction in women differs in preferred subject/kink and details from porn addiction in men? And whether Sparkling Eddie and the 50 Shades of Grey Guy are becoming the Ideal Male Archetype for women? And how Christian women match or differ from the mainstream? (The latter, probably not much. Christianese bubble culture has been “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM) Bowdlerized knockoffs of everything in pop culture; why should porn be any different? Everybody on the Christianese bandwagon, “Just like 50 Shades of Grey, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

  16. JeffB wrote:

    J.I. Packer: After writing blurbs for over 50,000 books

    LOL! I once heard an evangelical scholar say that he didn’t think there was a J.I. Packer, there was an entire community called “J.I. Packer” that wrote reviews under that name.

  17. Jeff B: that was totally marvellous…I’m sure there could be ghost-reviewing position for you in this!

    Plus – did you see that one of those book is called Killing Calvinism?(Possibly my favourite book title of all time). Let me just enjoy that phrase for a second….It is a Calvinist telling himself & others off for loving Calvinism more than Christianity. I had NO idea they had noticed…it is at least a step in the right direction, hmm could we be seeing the start of a new movement: Young, Restless & Reflective…

  18. @ Beakerj:

    No, I only wish it were so. I believe it’s just another Calvinist basically saying: yes, our theology is an exercise in rational larceny and contradiction-as-sound-doctrine, but as long as we don’t think about that and don’t actually try to convince people that our ideas really are not insane with scary draconian consequences, we’ll sell more books and collect more tithes. And, we will sort if pull the wool over our own eyes, too. Win-win.

    It’s the usual “Calvinism is senseless, so let’s focus on other things to take our mind off it”. Demagoging masked “acceptance” and “focusing on love”. BS

  19. @ Phoenix: You’re absolutely right about the ethical problems, though back when I was writing CD reviews, there *were* people who tried to get me to write about their bf’s/gf’s/wife’s/husband’s/good friend’s CD because they thought it deserved a glowing review from some professional.

    The thing is, some of them *were* professionals themselves.

    It happens in the publishing industry, too, and not just among the calvinista set.

    Nobody ever offered me a bribe or kickbacks, but that sometimes happens too. (cf. the “Payola” scandal re. radio djs being bribed, back in the 50s – though I’m sure it still goes on, but equally, that the parties in question have found legal loopholes.)

    Signed,
    numo aka “slitherings of Satan” (heehee – and you guys thought “Wartburg Witches” was hilarious!)

  20. Thanks for the comments on my parody. Obviously I’ve read way too many of those ads, but I’m kind of compulsive in that way.

    Anon 1 – From what I’ve read about Mohler, I can believe that he’d read all of them. The others, not so much. But they know they’re going to write that they love it, so why read it? And the books are so similar that they probably won’t learn anything they don’t know. With the exception of Mahaney, of course.

    Beakerj – Yes, I read about that book, Killing Calvinism. The title reminds me of a story a Jewish believer told me. He gave a lecture called “How To Destroy The Jews.” At the end, he said that the Bible tells how to do that. Citing Jer. 31:35-37, he said that you’d have to destroy the sun, moon, and stars in order to destroy the Jews. After the lecture, two disappointed Arabs came up to him and asked if there weren’t an easier way.

  21. I agree that the silence regarding the SGM debacle is pretty glaring, considering how much those within the Reformed movement discuss each other all the time :)

    On another note, I want to offer a humble word of caution regarding how we view self-promotion among these folks. I think posts like this are important to, for example, show us where allegiances lie within different church movements (i.e. it would be kinda hard for Challies to claim that he didn’t have any ties to TGC, since they promote so many of his books). But is self-promotion itself a sign of impure motives as a Christian speaker and writer?

    Anyone inside or outside Christendom who goes the speaking/publishing route has to do shameless self-promotion all the time. It is publishing 101. Rachel Held Evans and many other honest Christian writers I admire do it all the time. So let’s be fair and give Challies the ability to do what authors and speakers need to do to promote their work.

    I am more interested in how he got so popular with no credentials than I am interested in what the state of the publishing industry promotion machine has to say about his heart.

  22. sad observer wrote:

    Anyone inside or outside Christendom who goes the speaking/publishing route has to do shameless self-promotion all the time. It is publishing 101. Rachel Held Evans and many other honest Christian writers I admire do it all the time. So let’s be fair and give Challies the ability to do what authors and speakers need to do to promote their work.

    I agree with this, but the fact that it’s a promotion rather than a review (i.e. there’s self-interest rather than being ‘unbiased’) should be very clear and very upfront. The disclosure should be at the start, not at the end.

  23. Re my Book Ad Parody above, I just found out that, oddly enough (or maybe not so), Tim Challies yesterday posted an article called “Gospel-Centered Everything,” about all the books that have titles that say “gospel-centered” or its equivalent. Even he admits that it is sometimes nothing more than a “sales strategy,” but most of the article is about how great all of this is. Then, at the end, not surprisingly, he lists all the books he could find on the subject, with links to Amazon.

    I realize that there are some who have no interest in going to his site, but the link is below. Here are a few titles that I found amusing – only because “gospel” is attached to them:

    “Gospel-Powered Humility,” by William Farley (I guess Mahaney missed out by not adding “gospel” to the title of his book on the subject.)

    “Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals,” by Brian Croft

    “Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care,” by Tony Merida & Rick Morton

    http://www.challies.com/articles/the-gospel-centered-everything#more

  24. That video – if you were to talk about 40 years of faithful service to the Gospel what would be the two things you mention

    – preaching salvation
    – loving the outsider
    – modelling Christ’s love to everyone
    – ministering to the poor
    – building up young Christians
    – supporting overseas mission?

    But to mention as the two exemplars of gospel faithfulness complementarianism (hotly disputed between faithful Christians) and Church discipline (well yeah not unimportant but a means not an end at best) is, at the very least a distortion of priorities, and given the power dynamic temptations implicit in both of these a little disturbing. Or am I missing something?

  25. Pam wrote:

    I agree with this, but the fact that it’s a promotion rather than a review (i.e. there’s self-interest rather than being ‘unbiased’) should be very clear and very upfront. The disclosure should be at the start, not at the end.

    Heh heh, true!

  26. Richard, Bingo. It shows where their priorities are. They mention the two things that give them power.

  27. @ JeffB:
    So, basically, ‘Gospel’ has become no more and no less than a buzzword. It’s fashionable within the Neo-Calvinist environment and you need to use it for you and your work to sound ‘right’. Actually, it’s not surprising. I’ve seen in very frequently used that way too many times, added to some other word to make it sound ‘holier’… But, at the same time, I can’t avoid feeling it’s sad and disappointing it’s done.

  28. Was there a point to this rambling nonsense post?

    Challies is in sin because he runs a publishing company and likes the books they publish?

    Conferences appealing to a certain audience welcome similar speakers on a regular basis?

    This sounds an awful lot like the kids who didn’t get invited to a birthday party talking trash about how dumb the party sounded.

  29. Bob wrote:

    Challies is in sin because he runs a publishing company and likes the books they publish?

    I am wondering if you read the purpose for this post. We did not say he was in sin because he likes his own books. We said he appeared deceptive when he said he had no connection to SGM and was therefore “objective” about the situation. We disagreed and proved why we felt he was not objective.

    And what is the party to which you are referring? His publishing company? If you read our blog regularly you would learn that such a thing is not an emphasis for us.

  30. @ Martos / @ Richard:

    I just made some really Gospel chocolate brownies. Fortunately for the cause of the Gospel, I didn’t let my wife tell me how to make them and lovingly threw my children out of the house, to preserve the testimony of the Gospel, when they objected.

    Right – I’m off to kill some puppies and close down an orphanage. These are just hallmarks of my godly anointing because I wholeheartedly declare that Rob Bell smells and God sent his Sonjesus to die on the cross for my sins.

  31. Please note that I am not suggesting every Gospel anointed man of God kills puppies and closes down orphanages. (Though it they did, it would be OK because the puppies and the orphans weren’t on mission.) My point is simply that, even though some enemies of the Gospel would criticise me for being too tough on sin for their liking, I preach PSA and TULIP, so anything I do is OK.

    And don’t you ever call Judge Cal insane! He’s just… strange, that’s all. Like all great men.

  32. @ JeffB:

    That was spot on, but- some of them are very, very obsessed with sin, as in, we are all sinners.

    They’re more into notifying people they are sinners than they are in the Good News side of the story, that Christ came to save you from your sins.

  33. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    but it seems like a lot of conservative Christians don’t like to acknowledge this.

    When they do, they go into shock.

    Women wanting sex or enjoying it does not fit into their complementarian (rigid gender role stereotypes) of men and women.

    In the comp world, men want, need, and enjoy sex, while women, supposedly, are emotional and prefer to knit tea cozies or get satisfaction from vacuuming carpets. Women are not supposed to want or enjoy sex in comp world.

    Video: Evangelical Pat Robertson shocked that women use and enjoy dirty magazines