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May 01, 2015

How Carl Trueman Changed My Mind About Luther - “An understanding of Luther’s approach to the Christian life is fundamental to understanding the varieties of practical Western Christianity over the last five hundred years”

The World Map of Christian Apps - Here’s a roundup of some Christian apps that may interest you.

Mother’s Day @ WTS - Westminster Books has a whole section of deals for Mother’s Day. Note that some of the items will have price drops when you buy 3 or more copies (e.g. Glimpses of Grace or Women of the Word). 

Gnostic Sex - Michael Wittmer considers the two main catalysts that got our culture to where it is at the moment.

Top 10 Questions - Russell Moore and Andrew Walker provide the top ten most important questions that Supreme Court justices asked lawyers from each side of the case that was before them earlier this week.

Connect Spirit with Truth - Don Whitney has been sharing some highlights from one of his older books Simplify Your Spiritual Life.

The Word of God is clear; it is not that we have accepted God; rather, He has accepted us into His family. —Burk Parsons

Parsons

April 30, 2015

When it comes to writing, my most common struggle is not one of increasing inspiration but of decreasing friction. Sure, on some occasions the problem is one of inspiration, of coming up with the fresh and interesting ideas. But more often the problem is one of friction, of getting those ideas out of my mind and onto the page. For that reason I, like many other writing enthusiasts, value any tool that reduces friction, that makes it easier and smoother to transfer words and ideas from my brain to my screen.

I do almost all of my writing on a computer these days, mostly because I can type much faster than I can write; a pen just slows me down in those times when the words are flowing. Plus, in most cases, that ink will still need to be transferred to bits and bytes eventually. Today I am going to tell you about 3 software tools that are extremely valuable to me precisely because of the way they reduce friction. Writing is like just about every other area in life in that the writer is dependent upon his tools and will generally find that better tools lead to more satisfying results.

Ulysses

For shorter projects, I have found no better writing tool than Ulysses. It has been around for a few years and I have used it from the outset; the most recent version is, by far, the most powerful yet. I suppose I need to say from the get-go that Ulysses is available only for the Mac and the iPad, so it won’t help a whole lot if you are committed to your PC (though I suspect there must be a similar tool for you). Ulysses has several features that make it very powerful for creative writing projects, but I will focus on just two.

The best thing about Ulysses is its utter simplicity. It reduces the screen and the text to its barest elements by using something called Markdown—a kind of syntax that is easy to understand and easier still to use. Gone is the obscene clutter of Microsoft Word and the buttons and switches of Apple’s Pages. Gone is the need to click a button whenever you want to apply simple formatting to your text. Instead Ulysses presents a clean and bare screen. An asterisk before a word marks it as italics; two asterisks before a word marks it as bold; and, you guessed it, three asterisks marks it as bold italics. Headings are marked with nothing more than a # (for a first-level heading), ## for a second-level heading, and so on. It makes for an ultra-simple and ultra-clean writing experience that remains uncluttered by extraneous formatting.

Ulysses

A close second is the way Ulysses completely separates the formatting of what you see on your screen from what you will see later on the printed page. Again, when you open Ulysses to write, you can just write. You don’t need to concern yourself about how it will look later when it comes time to save it as a PDF or when it comes time to print it. Just write. There is no higher compliment I can pay to the software than this: It simply allows me to write.

Scrivener

Ulysses is my preferred software for writing blogs, articles, and even sermons. While it is possible to use Ulysses for book-length projects, and while I intend to try it this way soon, I usually find myself gravitating instead to Scrivener. Now for every way Ulysses is simple, Srivener is complex. Yet Scrivener is also very helpful and very powerful when it comes to long projects and when it comes to projects that depend upon a significant amount of research.

Scrivener is similar to Ulysses in the way it separates the content as you write it from the content as you will later print it. There are, essentially, two very different templates: One for the way the book looks when you write it and one for the way the book looks when you print it. That is a good thing as it nicely reduces the kind of clutter that appears on the screen in Word or Pages. Scrivener also has some very helpful tools that make it simple to do the kinds of things you so often need to do when writing a book: Keeping track of the progress of various chapters and sections, moving entire chapters from one place in the manuscript to another, and even accessing short but helpful summaries of every section. It is not a multi-purpose tool like Word, but one created specifically for writing books, and that single-mindedness displays itself in many ways.

While I often wish that Scrivener was a little simpler to use, I have invested time in learning it (thanks to many instructional YouTube videos) and have come to appreciate many of the capabilities it provides. When I use the full-screen writing function, most of the program’s complexity is hidden and, again, I can just plain write.

Evernote

There is one other tool I depend upon, though in a different way: Evernote. Any writer knows that creative ideas can appear at any time and in any context and that when inspiration strikes we simply cannot wait—we’ve got to write them down or they will be gone. I rely on Evernote as my omnipresent note-taking tool. When I have an idea and need to capture it, Evernote is always available on my phone or computer. Sometimes I write it, sometimes I narrate it, sometimes I photograph it, sometimes I highlight it. But whatever I need, Evernote is there. Once I have captured those words or that idea, I know that I will remember it in the future.

And those are the 3 tools I use because they reduce the ever-present friction that keeps ideas locked in my brain. Are there tools you prefer?

April 30, 2015

Here is a handful of new Kindle deals; I expect there will be more tomorrow. Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer ($2.99); Tear Down This Wall of Silence by Dale Ingraham ($2.99); Paul Meets Muhammad by Michael Licona ($2.99).

Embers to Flames - George is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and is the Pastor-Teacher of Baltimore Bible Church; he reflects on the recent events in his city.

Apologetics Canada - If you’re in the Toronto area and have an interest in apologetics, you may want to consider this event in June. And if you’re in Vancouver, I’d like to see you at Men for God earlier in the month.

Ligonier and YouTube - Ligonier Ministries has just added some of their best teaching series to YouTube (The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, etc).

What Should America Expect? - Aaron Armstrong looks at same-sex marriage from a Canadian perspective (where it has been legal since 2005). “This probably is no shock to the Americans reading this, but Canadians don’t really get you.”

Fetal Homicide Laws - It is amazing when ideology gets in the way of morality, as is the case with fetal homicide laws.

God Owes Me Nothing - This is such an important truth. “I owe him everything; he owes me nothing.”

Take away the cross of Christ, and the Bible is a dark book. —J.C. Ryle

Ryle

April 29, 2015

Sometimes I read a book and think, “If we all just got this, the church would be so much stronger. If we all just did these things, the church would be so much better.” And Ed Welch’s new book Side by Side is exactly that kind of book. If we could all just agree to do these things, the church would be immeasurably blessed.

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love is practical advice for Christians on how they can live lives of love for others. Welch begins with the observation and assumption that “God is pleased to use ordinary people, ordinary conversations, and extraordinary and wise love to do the heavy lifting in his kingdom.” In an age of experts and specialization, we need to remember and believe that the work of the ministry is still assigned to all of us—to ordinary Christians. “We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. This is how life in the church works.”

What keeps us from doing this with joy and confidence? At least two things: the idea that such work is best left to experts, and our own pride. But in most cases simple friendship trumps expertise. “In our era we consult experts, professionals, and specialists, but when you look at your own history of having been helped, it’s likely that you’ll notice very few experts among those who have helped you. Who were your helpers? Were they professional counselors or specialists? Probably not. More often they were friends—the regular, everyday people in your life. Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love. All they need is wisdom, and that is available to everyone.” This is not to say that there is no room for specialized pastors or counselors (since Ed Welch is, himself, a counselor), but that we are not dependent upon such people. Far more of the help we receive in love comes through ordinary Christians than through trained experts.

If the first hindrance to this kind of life is a misplaced emphasis on expertise, the second is pride. Pride convinces us that we need to be strong, that we cannot ask for help from others. “Yet weakness—or neediness—is a valuable asset in God’s community. Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength. Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow. We need help, and God has given us his Spirit and each other to provide it.”

When we let go of pride we invite others into our struggles; when we let go of the idolatry of expertise, we allow ourselves into other people’s struggles. And this is exactly what God wants us to be—ordinary people who minister his extraordinary Word to others. Welch says he has written this book “for people like me, who are willing to move toward other struggling people but are not confident that they can say or do anything very helpful. If you feel quite weak and ordinary—if you feel like a mess but have the Spirit—you have the right credentials. You are one of the ordinary people God uses to help others.” Not only that, but your neediness is the very thing that qualifies you to help others. “Your neediness, offered well to someone else, can even be one of the great gifts you give your church. You will inspire others to ask for help.”

Side by Side is simply a collection of practical instructions on extending and inviting the kind of help we all need as we live lives like these in a world like this. It is ultra-practical and ultra-biblical, and, as I said at the outset, if we just chose to do these things, our churches would be better and stronger for it. I appreciate what Heath Lambert says in his commendation: “This book will help you to know what the love of Christ looks like, how to extend it to others, and how to accept it from others as you live in relationship together.” What could be better than that?

Note: Side by Side happens to be on sale today at Westminster Books; it is discounted for individual copies and discounted further still for multiple copies.

April 29, 2015

I Can Do All Things - Nathan Busenitz takes a look at an oft-misused passage. “But the irony is that, by taking this verse out of context, many people have actually turned it on its head—making it mean the opposite of what it actually means.”

It is Going to Be an Issue - Al Mohler offers some reflections on yesterday’s Supreme Court proceedings.

Side by Side - Westminster Books has some good deals this week, including one on Ed Welch’s excellent new book. Or, if you’re into Bible software you may want to check out the NIVAC Software Super Sale from Zondervan.

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church - Justin Taylor summarizes an important sermon by Jason Meyer.

TGC Media Now Available - If you missed The Gospel Coalition conference, you can now at least catch up on all the content.

How Many Children Should I Have? - This is always a difficult question to answer, but Amanda Peacock has taken it on and done quite a good job.

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. —A.W. Tozer

Tozer

 

April 28, 2015

A friend of mine expects that she will soon be engaged to be married, and finds herself wondering about the nature of engagement. We assume it: We must get engaged to be married before we actually get married. But what is engagement? Is it an inviolable agreement with all the significance of marriage? Is it a tentative agreement that can be broken off on a whim? What exactly is this thing we call engagement?

The first thing we must admit is that there is no New Testament command that a couple must be engaged before they are married, and no New Testament edict about what an engagement looks like. We see a description of betrothal—something similar to engagement—in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but no prescription that we are to imitate this exact form of it. We see glimpses of similar traditions in the Old Testament but, again, nothing that binds us today.

Whatever engagement is, we need to admit that it is a cultural, not a biblical, construct. Like the white dress at the wedding or the black suit at the funeral, engagement is a construct that varies significantly from culture to culture. We see this when we can look past our own traditions.

My church has a significant Ghanian population and I have learned that the West African view of engagement is very different from the Canadian and American view; I have learned as well that many first- or second-generation immigrants practice a kind of hybrid engagement that combines elements of Ghana and Canada. As I travel to the southern United States I see that engagement there is a little bit different from engagement here in the Great White North. When I was in India I met a wonderful Christian couple who had been introduced to one another at their engagement ceremony, and who were still strangers on their wedding day. Each of these cultures has a form of engagement, but there are significant differences between them.

So what is true of engagement here in twenty-first century Western culture? And how can we do engagement well?

I understand engagement as a relationship where a couple deliberately increases the intimacy of their relationship as a prelude to marriage. The primary business of engagement is increasing relational intimacy to ensure compatibility. The couple makes their agreement (or engagement) with one another before their friends, family, and church, making it not only a personal agreement, but a community one. Engagement is a formal agreement that these two people are serious about pursuing the lifelong commitment of marriage and that, though they are not yet fully committed to marrying one another, they are escalating their intimacy to ensure that they can be suitable for one another.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about sexual intimacy. I am not even necessarily talking about physical intimacy. I am talking primarily about relational intimacy. While a man and woman are dating they may discuss previous relationships or past traumas, but when they are engaged they must begin to discuss these things—at least they must if they are wise. Their engagement gives them the structure, the urgency, and the end-goal that allows them to pursue topics that are too intimate for those who are dating, but too serious to leave until after wedding rings have been exchanged.

How does a couple do this? Primarily by both deliberate and casual communication. They talk together on their own, and tell one another about their joys, their fears, their strengths, and their weaknesses. They open up about their family backgrounds, their sexual history, their traumas, and their triumphs. They talk openly, honestly, exhaustively, and intimately.

But there is more. They take pre-marriage counseling together under the guidance of a godly pastor and his wife, or under the guidance of an experienced Christian couple. They read the Bible, pray, and worship together both together and corporately. They spend time with godly couples they admire, peppering them with questions and simply observing how different marriages works. They read books together—books on marriage, of course—but also perhaps books on money or sex or any other area that tends to cause difficulty in young marriages. They ramp up their relational intimacy toward what they will experience as husband and wife, while carefully holding off the sexual intimacy that will eventually seal their relationship.

Can an engagement be broken off? Yes, I believe that it can. After all, the couple has not yet taken their vows and has not yet experienced sexual union. And there is a sense in which this kind of engagement only makes sense if it can be broken. The increase in relational intimacy may expose certain sins or character traits or past traumas that one of them simply cannot tolerate. This makes the modern Western engagement somewhat different from ancient betrothal, and perhaps different from contemporary engagement in other parts of the world. Engagements can be broken off, but the tacit agreement is that this will happen only under the saddest or most serious circumstances.

That is engagement as I understand it at this time and in this place.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 28, 2015

Pray for Nepal - Desiring God once called Suraj Kasula Nepal’s most unlikely church planter. He provides an important update on his country after the earthquake.

Second Edition - Zondervan has released a new second edition of my book The Next Story and Books at a Glance kindly wrote a review.

In Defense of the Sermon - This is an interesting and somewhat unconventional defense of the sermon. A key sentence: “It’s a fallacy to assume that the primary purpose of preaching is teaching.”

Antarctica - This video moves at a plodding pace, but it aptly displays the cold beauty of Antarctica.

Why Not Gay Marriage? - Kevin DeYoung makes the argument against gay marriage. “I’m concerned that many younger Christians—ironically, often those passionate about societal transformation and social justice—do not see the connection between a traditional view of marriage and human flourishing.”

Five Questions with Gary Thomas - Gary Thomas answers some good questions about marriage, dating, and pornography.

Those Who Think Read - “If we are too busy to think, then we are too busy. And if we are too busy to read, then we are too busy.”

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. —C.S. Lewis

Lewis