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The Whole Christ
February 02, 2016

If you keep up with Christian publishing for any length of time, you will eventually spot a curious phenomenon. Every now and again a scholarly book will show up and a lot of people will get really excited about it. It will be a book that, under normal circumstances, would be known among only the scholars. And yet this one will be released with accolades assuring the non-scholarly readers (like me!) that they, too, can benefit from it. This year’s first such book is Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. It has received those accolades and, just like they say, it is definitely worth the read.

The Whole Christ begins more than 250 years ago with a theological controversy that erupted in a small Scottish town—hardly the stuff of your average Christian book. The Marrow Controversy centered on Edward Fisher’s book The Marrow of Modern Divinity and pitted two groups of theologians against one another. The core issue was whether or not a person must first forsake his sins in order to come to Christ. The Marrow Men, those who agreed with Fisher’s book, believed that this demanded works as a precursor to faith and was, in that way, opposed to the free offer of the gospel. Their opponents taught that the gospel should only be offered to those who were beginning to show evidence of being among God’s elect. This syllogism describing their view may bring clarity: “Major premise: The saving grace of God in Christ is given to the elect alone. Minor premise: The elect are known by the forsaking of sin. Conclusion: Therefore forsaking sin is a prerequisite for saving grace.” Ferguson points to “The subtle movement from seeing forsaking sin as the fruit of grace that is rooted in election, to making the forsaking of sin the necessary precursor for experiencing that grace.” But here’s the problem: “Repentance, which is the fruit of grace, thus becomes a qualification for grace. This puts the cart before the horse. It stands the gospel on its head so that the proclamation of the gospel, with the call to faith in Christ, becomes conditional on something in the hearer. The gospel thus became a message of grace for the credentialed, not an offer of Christ to all with the promise of justification to the ungodly who believes.”

This was the starting place for the Marrow Controversy, but as the controversy unfolded it unearthed a whole host of related issues. The Whole Christ navigates them through “an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, viewed from the framework of the present day.” In other words, Ferguson looks at this controversy, dissects it, and then applies it to our day. And, as it happens, we, too, are struggling with issues related to legalism and antinomianism. That makes his book perfectly timed and a valuable contribution to the discussion about the role of the law, the role of obedience, in the Christian life.

And this is where his book takes off. Now Ferguson is going far beyond church history and bringing clarity to the way we are to live the Christian life. He is moving beyond history to do the work of a pastor. He carefully discusses how we become Christians, how we live as Christians, and how we can have assurance that we are Christians. With great precision he describes legalism and antinomianism, bringing clarity to their definitions and showing that they are not so much opposites of one another as they are “nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.” Antinomianism is, in its own way, an expression of legalism. “The antinomian is by nature a person with a legalistic heart. He or she becomes an antinomian in reaction. But this implies only a different view of law, not a more biblical one.”

This is a book full of treasures. Some of the treasures are on the surface waiting to be picked up, among them Ferguson’s one-line summaries of great truths: “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are” and “antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace.” Many of the other treasures yield only to care and effort, and in this way the book demands a fair bit from the reader. I suspect I would need to read it through once or twice more to have an advanced grasp of its subject matter. I would like to go back and do that very thing.

Ordinarily, we might assign a book like this to the bookshelves of the scholars and enthusiasts of church history. But The Whole Christ has too much to say to us to allow that to happen. It speaks too clearly and too urgently to issues that are every bit important to us as they were in the seventeenth century. I don’t think Derek Thomas is exaggerating when he says, “For my part, this is one of the most important and definitive books I have read in over four decades.”

February 02, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Walking As He Walked by Joel Beeke ($0.99); Night of Weeping and Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar ($2.99); Faithful to the End by Terry Wilder ($2.99). The whole Exalting Jesus commentary set is for sale at $2.99 each; these are reader-friendly commentaries suitable to anyone.

The 2016 Reading Challenge is well underway and it has been fun to see people doing their own roundups. Here are a few: Nate Claiborne, Eric Dodson, Julie Thompson. There are way more at Goodreads.

Facing a Task Unfinished

This is a great idea: “Getty Music is inviting thousands of churches around the globe to sing the new hymn Facing a Task Unfinished together on Sunday, February 21st, 2016! We will provide you with the sheet music and demonstration, all you need to do is register!”

The Popularity of Donald Trump

This is a fantastic article about why Donald Trump is seeing such success and popularity. (If time is short, breeze down to the conclusion where the author nicely summarizes it all.)

Why Christian Women Need to Talk about Sex

Christianity Today: “Amid all this cultural baggage, being able to open up about sex with close female friends can be wonderfully freeing, encouraging, and healthy. Women can assure their friends that they are not the only ones. They can validate each other’s feelings and offer advice. These conversations about sex are valuable for us personally, our marriages, our friendships, and our communities.”

Understanding Toronto

Darryl explains Toronto, a unique and amazing city that is in need of more churches. “I want you care about Toronto. The reason? There’s a great need. It’s one of the largest cities in North America, and it’s one of the least churched.”

This Day in 1738. 278 years ago today, a “young George Whitefield departs for Georgia, intending to become a permanent missionary to the American colony.” *

John MacArthur’s Top 5 Books On a Deserted Island

Here’s John MacArthur answering everyone’s favorite question.

Confessions of a Former Date-Night Legalist

I’m not eager to stir up this controversy again, but I did enjoy Courtney Reissig’s article on date nights. (And remember, all I said was that you don’t need a date night.)

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord

Justin Taylor asks whether C.S. Lewis’ infamous Liar, Lunatic, or Lord argument is sound or unsound.

Moody

The nearer men are to being sinless, the less they talk about it. —D.L. Moody

Run! Run Away!
February 01, 2016

Maybe you’ve seen that hilarious news footage of a man unexpectedly coming face to face with a bear. He is on his own property, distracted by his phone, when he looks up right into the face of a marauding bear. The man’s reaction is exactly what we would expect—he turns tail and runs away as quickly as he can. A news helicopter captured it all for our amusement.

There are several places in the Bible where you, Christian, are commanded to flee, to turn tail and run from an enemy far more vicious than any bear. You are told to flee from sin. Some sins are so strong and so dangerous that you simply cannot mess around with them. Just like you can’t fight a bear and expect to win, you can’t tangle with these sins and hope to emerge unscathed. Yes, you are to put sin to death and yes, you can have confidence in the inward work of the Holy Spirit. But you always need to respect the power and deceptiveness of sin, and you always need to acknowledge your weakness and proneness to depravity. For your soul to survive and thrive in this world, you need to learn to flee.

“Flee” is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat—a threat like a bear. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril. What are we to flee? George Knight points out that “Paul always uses ‘flee’ in relation to particular sins, not sins in general.” His concern, then, is to warn you about those sins that are especially attractive and deadly.

“Flee from sexual immorality,” he says to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:18). You are to flee at the first hint of sexual sin. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). You are to flee idolatry too, which is so often expressed in the kind of sexual immorality that plagued the church in Corinth, but which may appear in other forms.

He returns to this theme in his letters to young Timothy. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:9–11). You are to flee materialism, the desire to be rich and to be known and respected for what you have accumulated. And, more generally, “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul warns Timothy of the danger of self-indulgence and selfish ambition and the other passions and excesses of youth.

Stott provides crucial application: “True, we are also told to withstand the devil, so that he may flee from us. But we are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom. On the contrary we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible. Like Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, we are to take to our heels and run.” This kind of fleeing is not a mark of weakness, but of strength, not of spiritual infancy but maturity. The mature Christian knows when to turn tail and run.

Interestingly, the command to flee is sometimes accompanied by an opposite command—the command to pursue. This, too, is a word that implies effort. If fleeing is fast and purposeful, so is pursuing—it is moving quickly and purposefully toward instead of away from. If fleeing involves determination and effort in sprinting away from a vice, pursuing involves determination and effort in racing toward a virtue.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). These are four crucial marks of every true Christian. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Here, too, Paul tells you, through Timothy, to strive for the key Christian virtues. “Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1), that greatest of all virtues. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). Peace and mutual upbuilding come through the very virtues Paul elsewhere commands you to pursue.

Because I can say it no better than Stott, I will give him the concluding remarks:

So, then … we are both to run away from spiritual danger and to run after spiritual good, both to flee from the one in order to escape it and to pursue the other in order to attain it. This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 01, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson ($2.99); Finishing Our Course with Joy ($2.99) and Rediscovering Holiness ($2.51) by J.I. Packer; Finishing Well to the Glory of God by John Dunlop ($2.99); Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias ($3.99); Yawning at Tigers by Drew Dyck ($2.99); The Call by Os Guinness ($3.99); No Compromise by Melody Green ($2.99); God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace ($3.99). Also check out Amazon’s general market monthly deals.

Logo users can check out the free book of the month (which is actually a journal) while those who are into audiobooks can download I Don’t Have the Faith to Be an Atheist for free from Christian Audio.

Patient Parenting

Sometimes parenting is really, really hard. We’ve been experiencing some of those times lately, so this article was a joy to read.

You Can Trust God with Your Kids

Speaking of parenting, here is encouragement that you can trust God with your kids.

Ten Biblical Truths on the Obedience of Children

Sticking with the theme of parenting, read John Piper’s ten biblical truths on the obedience of children.

When Will It End?

And then one more—a mother’s reflection on just how quickly it all goes by.

How ‘Church Relevance’ Is Boring

It’s so true—all of this relevance stuff gets so boring.

Helping One Another Forsake Sin and Follow Jesus

Randy Alcorn tells how and when to help others forsake sin in order to follow Jesus.

New from Crossway: Crossway just released numerous books at the end of January, and they look excellent. I specifically recommend you check out these: The Miracles of Jesus by Vern Poythress, The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson, Family Worship by Donald Whitney, Christ or Chaos by Dan Dewitt, and Church in Hard Places by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley.

The Secret to a Happy Life

R.C. Sproul: “The world is marked by warfare. There’s global war and national conflict; there’s warfare in the church; there’s warfare in the community; there’s warfare in the home—there’s conflict all around us.” What’s the key to happiness in a world like this?

How R.C. Sproul’s Words Changed My Life

Speaking of R.C. Sproul, I enjoyed this. “I asked a question about pride and success. Sure, I could have struck a nerve with double predestination or eschatology or whatever. But I can find those answers on my own. I wanted to ask a question that only Sproul could answer, so I asked this…”

Carson

If you want to see what judgment looks like, go to the cross. If you want to see what love looks like, go to the cross. —D.A. Carson

Letters to the Editor
January 31, 2016

With another Sunday, we have another batch of letters to the editor. I received plenty of comments on my article about preaching the gospel to Mormons. Several of them were from practicing Mormons who, not surprisingly, strongly disagreed with what I said. Here are some of the other responses I received.

Comments on When the Mormons Come Calling

I have both Mormon and JW family members and have studied apologetics in that area for decades now. I appreciate that you try to reach them with the gospel and that you understand the JW’s are more likely to have a chip on their shoulder. I would say that with JW’s you must change your strategy. Trying to prove the trinity or divinity of Christ is a dead-end with the JW’s and it is the area they train for. Worst is that it doesn’t really get you to the gospel. Go for an area where they are less prepared and is essential to the gospel. They deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Push them to tell you their position that Jesus’ body was dissolved into gases and God recreated the archangel Michael again from His memories. Then get them to read through John 2:18-22. This outright contradicts their beliefs. Then go to the gospel definition in 1 Corinthians 15 and go through that slowly with lots of questions. Their rejection of Jesus’ resurrection is a rejection of a key and essential part of the gospel. Your time will be much more well spent there.
—Greg H, Columbia, MO

*****

Speaking as a former Mormon, I can tell you that it can be very difficult to get through the hard veneer of Mormon doctrine - especially since most of these young men have grown up in the Mormon faith and have been indoctrinated since birth with the false gospel of Mormonism. I’m sure you know that they do not hold a view of the Bible as inerrant and that their founder Joseph Smith re-translated many verses of the Bible to fit the doctrine they teach. They hold the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants in much higher esteem and authority than the true Word of God and, for this reason, it can be difficult to point them to errors in their doctrine using the Bible alone. This is why praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them is so key. Also, it is important to know that terms we use and take for granted have very different meanings in the world of Mormonism (such as Jesus, salvation, & hell) so you can’t assume that you are all on the same page just because you are using the same terms.

When they arrive on Saturday, you can expect them to be prepared to present to you an overview of the gospel as they understand it. They have been trained to basically ignore any objections and deflect any questions you might have. It is an excellent move to request that they listen to what you have to say in exchange for listening to their message but don’t expect too much. As I said, these are young men who have been heavily indoctrinated, have never seriously investigated the claims of their church, and rely heavily on well-practiced, canned presentations to make their point. Any veering off-script tends to be met with a deer-in-the-headlights look and an exhortation to read a highlighted passage in the Book of Mormon they will leave with you and to be on the watch for a “burning in your bosom” that will testify of the “truth” they are sharing. I pray, Tim, that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom, discernment, and the right words to say that will at least get them questioning their beliefs and set them on a journey of discovery that will set them free from the falsehoods and imprisonment they are living under.
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR

*****

Appreciated your recent article on Mormonism and agree with what you say. One thought, though: I have shared the gospel with Mormons, and they will agree with everything I say. This is because of the language barrier. Every important word has been redefined by the LDS church such that you must slowly define every term carefully or else what you’re saying and what they’re hearing are two different things. I try to be intentional about defining my terms so that they will know that terms like “God”, “Jesus”, and “grace” mean something different than what the LDS church has taught them. Blessings to you.
—Jeffrey S, Central City, NE

*****

There is also a practical reason for being polite and listening to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who may knock at your door: for every minute they are spending with you, they are not next door or down the street spreading their false teachings to another person who may be more inclined to accept it.
—Paul M, St. Thomas, ON

Comments on Going All-in With Ebooks

And then, of course, there were plenty of letters about my decision to go all-in with ebooks. (See last week’s letters for more of them.)

Although not written specifically to Bible readers, I think Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” and Naomi Baron’s “Words Onscreen” both effectively raise the issue that reading eBooks could be changing the way we read. In my own journey into reading Scripture well, I continue to find people who are re-awakening to the possibility that reading Scripture on an e-device really does effect the way they read, how they attend to the text, and what they end up taking away from their reading. It’s easy to eRead. What might escape notice is the real possibility that reading eTexts could be changing how we read and understand Scripture.
—Brian O, Greenville, SC

*****

I’ve enjoyed reading all about your decision to go all-in with e-book reading. And I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. My Kindle bit the dust about a year ago (it refuses to re-charge and I am hesitant to purchase another.) I went through terrible withdrawal! Which only served to show me that I was relying way too much on it. So now I’ve retreated back to the printed page. It’s been a good journey. I’m sticking here.
—Pamela N, Hudson, OH

*****

Thank you for your article on committing to E-books. I made the same decision years ago and here is why:

  1. Like you, space was an issue with printed books for me. I learned this lesson eight years ago when I moved from Massachusetts to Wyoming after nine years of Bible college and pastoral ministry. In those nine years I amassed a library of nearly 2500 volumes, saturated with large commentary sets and weighty (in both thought and actual weight!) reference works. The book boxes took up the most space in our moving truck, dwarfing the upright piano and couch. After some time in Wyoming we returned to Massachusetts to plant a church, yet some of the books have yet to make the trip!
  2. The ability to bookmark, or copy and paste directly into documents is invaluable. I spent hours as a pastor and seminary student meticulously handwriting quotes and references into sermon notes or notecards, tasks that take no time with e-books. Insisting on printed books means considerable more time in sermon prep or academic research, and makes me think of a person that would insist on performing a lexical search through different Greek reference works that would take hours, rather than using Logos or Bibleworks, which would only take seconds. I do think a refusal to use e-books when they could save significant time is a stewardship issue that deserves consideration.
  3. In our digital age, e-books easily go anywhere with me. Time spent waiting while my wife shops or in an airport terminal can be used to maintain my reading plan, do research, or continue sermon prep. Many commentaries and reference works are just not mobile in their paper form, but e-books allow me to make the most of downtime that might otherwise be wasted.
  4. While authors might lament this, the reality is that e-books are usually much more inexpensive than printed versions and allow me to stretch my book budget much further than if I purchase paper versions. E-books seem to go on sale within months of their initial release, and I have gotten many books for a fraction of the cost of the paper version.

Thank you again for the article. No doubt there were those that had trouble adjusting to printed, bound books when they replaced scrolls hundreds of years ago!
—Mark R, Middleborough, MA

January 30, 2016

This weekend’s Kindle deals include The Religions Next Door by Marvin Olasky ($0.99); Beginning at Moses by Michael Barrett ($0.99); Prayers of an Excellent Wife by Andrew Case ($0.99); Preaching with Passion by James Draper ($0.99); The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing by Don Aycock ($0.99).

Don’t Theologize or Spiritualize Ministry Mediocrity

This is an important challenge to churches that love good preaching. “Why is it that so many churches that profess a commitment to the primacy of expository preaching, settle for mediocrity in so many other facets of the church’s ministry?”

The Most Dangerous Place On Earth

And speaking of preaching, read this one by Steve Lawson. “Satan has no greater strongholds than houses of worship where the truth is suppressed. Nowhere is he more deeply entrenched in the lives of people than among those who are religious but who have no supernatural light of holiness and truth.”

The Deep Space of Digital Reading

This is a good article to read if you are concerned about what digital reading is doing to us. “The history of reading suggests that what we’re presently experiencing is probably not the end times of human thought. It’s more like an interregnum, or the crouch before a leap.”

75 Hobby Ideas for Men

Yes, 75 of them. I approve of reading being at the top.

Why the iPad Is Going Extinct

Here’s why the iPad and other tablets are slowly going extinct. I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon, but they do seem to be in decline. I don’t want to go back to preaching off of paper!

The Blessing of Visiting the Sick

Nick Batzig tells of the unexpected blessing of visiting the sick.

Tomorrow in 1892. 124 years ago tomorrow, extraordinary Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon died. *

Hearse

I enjoyed this short video on the word “hearse.” It fascinates me to learn how words transform in meaning over time.

Family Worship 101

Westminster Books is offering a deal on Donald Whitney’s book on family worship. It’s a good one to buy in bulk and distribute in your church.

iPhones, Androids, and Your Church

My gratitude goes to Finalweb for sponsoring the blog this week with an article titled “iPhones, Androids, and Your Church.”

Sanders

We are saved by the gospel of God to worship the God of the gospel. —Fred Sanders

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
January 29, 2016

This week's Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Finalweb who was also the blog's sponsor for the week. Finalweb creates excellent websites for Christian ministries and churches, while seamlessly integrating advanced features like livestreaming and mobile apps. Their unique system allows your church to create its own site without the need for any programming knowledge or experience. That site can be updated as often as necessary using nothing more than a web browser. This makes it more than a website but a powerful management tool to help your organization thrive. You can learn more here.

FireAs for the giveaway, there will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive a Kindle Fire tablet. This device is designed for both reading and entertainment and does each of them well. They are giving away the 7" model. One interesting feature of this new model is called "Blue Shade." It works behind the scenes to automatically adjust and optimize the backlight for a more comfortable nighttime reading experience. Simply tap Blue Shade on the quick actions menu to turn on this feature and enjoy your favorite book, news article, app, or any other nighttime activity without straining your eyes. This also reduces the blue light that has been associated with insomnia. 

Please note that this prize can only be shipped to North American addresses.

There are 5 prizes to win, so sign up now!

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.