Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

February 05, 2016

Courses

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Zondervan Academic Online Courses, who was also the blog’s sponsor for the week. They have just one prize to offer this year, but it's a really good one.

In the past, going to school usually required a major life change—quitting your job, moving across the country, uprooting your family, and sometimes even significant financial difficulty. The decision to undertake theological and biblical education at a college or seminary is an important calling. Many are still called to make it. But the reality is, for many, the difficulty of going back to school has put theological education out of reach.

With the launch of Zondervan Academic Online Courses, you now have access to a quality theological education at an affordable price—from the comfort of your home or office.

This week, one person will win access to all Zondervan Academic Online Courses through the end of the year. This includes access to the seven courses available today, plus sixteen additional courses as they are released in the coming months, including two theology courses taught by Wayne Grudem. This is a great opportunity for you to learn and grow!

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.

The Hidden Beauty of a Bad Sermon
February 05, 2016

There have been times in the life of Grace Fellowship Church when we have endured some bad sermons. You could even say that in these seasons we purposely endured bad sermons. We heard men preach texts that were clearly beyond their ability to understand and explain. We heard men preach with all the fire of Paul Washer but with none of his depth or pastoral concern. We heard men preach who had neglected to ensure the sermon actually had a main point and an outline. There were other men we tried to hear while desperately fighting the distraction of their tics and idiosyncrasies. We sat through some pretty awful sermons, some of which were undoubtedly mine. But we considered it a privilege. We counted it joy.

We counted it joy because these bad sermons came from unseasoned men who were learning to preach. A man can read a hundred books on preaching and watch a thousand sermons on YouTube, but the only way he will really learn to preach is to preach. Sooner or later he will simply need to stand behind a pulpit, open his Bible, and launch into his introduction (assuming he remembers to actually prepare one). There are not many preachers who get away without preaching a few stinkers along the way. There are not many preachers who can become skilled without first being novices, who can grow into excellence without first being mediocre or average.

A little while ago I saw a video of young barnacle geese leaving their nests for the first time. This sounds simple enough except that to escape predators these geese nest along sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ground. The only way down is to take the plunge. Sure enough, these tiny three-day-old geese dutifully jump off the cliff and go plummeting, down, hitting every rock, branch, and outcropping along the way. They eventually crash to the ground stunned. Somehow, miraculously, most of them seem to survive. The jump actually contributes to the hardiness of the species since it ensures that only the strongest survive.

Sooner or later every aspiring preacher needs to take the plunge. Knowing he is inadequate to the task, knowing he is unseasoned, knowing that the congregation is accustomed to hearing a skillful preacher, he goes to the pulpit and preaches his very first sermon, and then his second and his third. He inevitably hits a few bumps and branches along the way. But he also learns the art, the craft, of preaching. He becomes confident, he becomes skilled.

Today, many of those young men who preached bad sermons at Grace Fellowship Church continue to minister in the Toronto area. They are among my favorite preachers and I eagerly anticipate every opportunity to hear them exposit Scripture. They survived and they thrived. We survived too and were able to gladly commend them to other churches as men who can skillfully handle the Word of God.

Young preachers, new preachers, preach bad sermons. They preach bad sermons as they learn to preach good sermons. And in some ways, those bad sermons serve as a mark of a church’s health and strength because they prove that the church is fulfilling its mandate to raise up the next generation of preachers and the one after that. They prove that the church refuses to be so driven by a desire to display excellence that they will not risk the occasional dud. They prove that the congregation is mature enough to endure and even appreciate these first, messy attempts. There is hidden beauty, hidden value, in these bad sermons.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 05, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Finding Truth by Nancy Pearcey ($0.99)—a great book that won’t get cheaper!; Becoming the Woman of His Dreams by Sharon Jaynes ($0.99); Islam and America by George Braswell ($1.99); The Homosexual Agenda by Alen Sears ($2.99). Remember that the whole Exalting Jesus commentary set is for sale at $2.99 each; these are reader-friendly commentaries suitable for anyone.

From Slum to Shining Sea

“Growing up in a solid, Christian, God-fearing home, at some indefinable point between child-like faith and adolescent angst, my two-dimensional version of God had become synonymous with rules, broken rules, and never-ending failure. So I left.”

Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer

Joel Beeke explains what Calvin believed about prayer. (Also, read his article My Indebtedness to the Puritans.)

Enjoy Your Prayer Life

In a similar vein, here’s Michael Reeves encouraging you to enjoy your prayer life. He says “I hope this article will be a refreshment and a tonic – maybe even a kick-start! – for our prayer lives.”

8 Ways to Order Your Marriage

Nick talks realistically about some of the ways you can order your marriage.

Dwelling Richly

You may want to bookmark this site where Christa is interviewing a series of women on their Bible study and devotional habits.

This Day in 1887. 129 years ago today at age 50, evangelist D.L. Moody organized the Chicago Evangelization Society. Two years later, the Society established the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions. Moody died in 1899, and in 1900 the school was renamed Moody Bible Institute. *

Absurd Creature of the Week

Wired’s absurd creature of the week isn’t as much absurd as horrific.

A 13-Year-Old’s Fantasies Turn Deadly

It is wise for parents to occasionally read an article like this and be reminded of the importance of knowing what your children are doing online.

Spurgeon

Believer, when you are on your knees, remember you are going to a king. Let your petitions be large. —C.H. Spurgeon

The Character of the Christian
February 04, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at a set of three traits that are closely related to one another.

First Timothy 3:2 (which is paralleled in Titus 1:8) says that elders must be “sober-minded, self-controlled, [and] respectable.” We can group these words together because of a shared emphasis on self-mastery that leads to sound judgment.

Sober-minded is a word that relates primarily to the mind. The sober-minded man is clear-headed and watchful, free from excesses and wild fluctuations in thinking and ideas. This trait allows him to keep alert so he can protect himself and others from any kind of spiritual danger. He is not rash, but thoughtful.

Where “sober-minded” relates to the mind, self-controlled relates to decisions that lead to action. The self-controlled elder is free from excesses and wild fluctuations in actions and behavior. He willingly submits his emotions and passions to the control of the Holy Spirit and, with his wisdom, makes wise, thoughtful judgments. He shows restraint and moderation in all areas of life. Thabiti Anyabwile says those who exhibit this trait are “sensible, discreet, and wise.” They do not live for the moment, but consider the future consequences of their actions.

Those who are sober-minded and self-controlled are also respectable. They live orderly lives and are wise and prudent in their dealings so that others have respect for them, both in their character and their behavior. They know how to make wise decisions and live out the kind of practical wisdom described in the book of Proverbs. They are people for whom others have high esteem.

When we put these traits together we see a person who has mastered his thinking and behavior so he is now capable of making wise judgments. His own life is a showcase of such wisdom. Anyabwile aptly summarizes the importance of this trait: “The ministry and the church are always being watched by people inside and outside, and the church’s enemies continually look for opportunities to condemn it and slander it. Churches are greatly helped to withstand this onslaught when its leaders are respectable in their conduct and are men of sound judgment.”

Of course, God does not call only elders or prospective elders to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”—He calls every Christian to pursue these traits. Let’s start with sober-minded. In Romans 12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Later, in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, he says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

When it comes to self-control, Solomon warns, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Paul lists self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and warns that those without self-control fall prey to Satan’s temptations (1 Corinthians 7:5). He explicitly commands it of all believers in Titus 2:2-6. What Alexander Strauch says of elders is true of every believer: He must be “characterized by self-control and self-discipline in every aspect of life, particularly in his physical desires (Acts 24:25; 1 Cor. 7:9; 9:25). An undisciplined man has little resistance to sexual lust, anger, slothfulness, a critical spirit, or other base desires. He is easy prey for the devil.”

As for respectability, Peter says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16). Paul writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7).

The Bible is clear that while these traits must be exemplified in elders, they are to be present in all believers. The character of the elder describes the character we should all pursue and exhibit.

Self-Evaluation

Would others say of you that you are “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”? I encourage you to evaluate yourself in light of questions like these:

  • When things do not go your way or when someone points out sin in your life, do you tend to respond with patient humility or with fits of anger? Would your spouse, children, or parents agree?
  • Do you have any unrestrained or unhealthy habits in what you eat or drink or in your entertainment? Or in all of these things are you joyfully submitted to the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you exhibit consistency and discipline in the spiritual, devotional, relational, and bodily aspects of your life?
  • Do you maintain a schedule? Do you generally bring your tasks to completion and do so with excellence?
  • Are you confident in what you believe, or are you easily swayed by new books, new teachers, or new ideas? Do people seek your counsel when they are uncertain or facing a difficult decision?

Prayer Points

Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), so we need his strength if we are to grow in holiness. Let me encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit so that self-control reigns in my heart and life. (Galatians 5:23)
  • I pray that you would help me to put others first so that I do not think of myself more highly than I ought to think. Help me to think with appropriately sober judgment. (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:3)
  • I pray that you would help me to be slow to anger so that I might have mastery over my temper. (Proverbs 16:32)
  • I pray that others would ask me about the hope within me because of my joyful, respectful life. (1 Peter 3:14–17)

Next week we will consider what it means to be hospitable.

February 04, 2016

True Reformation

You’ll enjoy Burk Parson’s short but powerful meditation on true reformation.

Counseling Wives of Addicts

The most recent episode of Mortification of Spin begins with a discussion of counseling women whose husbands are addicted to pornography, then goes on to discuss a host of other important areas. This is a very helpful discussion.

New Footage Shows Planned Parenthood Negotiating Organ Sales

That this happens is outrageous. That few people seem to care is even more outrageous.

Don’t Just Pray About It

“The same heart of faith that comes to God in prayer patiently waits and watches for God to answer his prayer.”

Church in Hard Places

Westminster Books has a couple of books on sale by Mez McConnell. Read the books, watch the video, and join them on a 20schemes vision trip. (I will be there in October!)

This Day in 1555. 461 years ago today, English Reformer John Rogers was burned at the stake at Smithfield, the first of many martyrs in the reign of Mary Tudor. *

They Know My Voice

We live in a noisy world and “the subtle danger of the unrelenting noise in our lives is that we may miss the voice of God.”

Evernote Resources

Here are some helpful resources for those who use Evernote.

Christian Bakers

Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Bakery are at the center of a storm in Ireland after refusing to make a cake celebrating gay marriage. (You can read the story here.) Daniel’s statement to the media is a joy to listen to.

Keller

If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself. —Tim Keller

Boys Need Their Moms
February 03, 2016

Thinking back, I wonder if people thought I was a bit of a mama’s boy. I grew up in a stable home and loved and respected both of my parents. I regularly spent time with each of them. But I was always closer to my mother. If this was true when I was young, it was even more pronounced when I was a teenager. In those years I was a boy, a young man, who needed his mom.

Boys need their dads, we know that. Boys need their dads to model masculinity, to model the love and affection they ought to have for a woman, to teach them the kind of life skills they will need. Girls need their dads too. They need their dads to protect them, to be affectionate with them and in that way to display healthy physical boundaries. They need their dads to hold the boys at bay and, eventually, to give their blessing to that special one. Girls need their moms. They need their moms to model femininity, to teach and train them to be women, to model patience and wisdom. Books, blogs, and sermon illustrations abound for each of these relationships. But what about boys and their moms?

Boys need their moms—I am convinced of it. Even teenaged boys, boys who are nearly men. I see this when I look back at my own life. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that my mother was my primary counselor and most trusted companion through those turbulent teenage years. It’s not that I didn’t have peer friendships, but that none of those friends influenced me as much as she did. I would often spend that time between school and dinner chatting with her while she prepared our meal. I would come along with her on errands just so we could talk. I confided in her and depended on her wisdom and her interpretation of my thoughts and feelings. We talked about girls and God and pretty well everything else I was thinking and experiencing. I relied on her for physical affection. In so many ways I wanted to be like her, to model much of my life and character after hers. It was really only when Aileen entered my life that this friendship, this dependency, began to diminish. The relationship I enjoyed with the most important woman in my childhood slowly declined as the relationship with the most important woman in my adulthood increased. The first had in some way prepared me for the second.

The relationship between a boy and his mother is a unique and precious one. Sadly, it is one we often look upon with suspicion, as if closeness between a boy and his mother is a warning sign, as if it may indicate a latent femininity or perhaps even homosexuality. We have names for boys who are close or too close to their moms—they are mama’s boys or sissies or pansies. A boy who is close to his mom is a boy we believe to be weak, not strong.

Yet James Dobson, in his book Bringing Up Boys, dedicates a whole chapter to mothers and sons and says this: “The quality of early relationships between boys and their mothers is a powerful predictor of lifelong psychological and physical health.” Writing to mothers, Kevin Leman says, “Although it might be natural to think that the man in your son’s life … would have the most influence on him since they’re both males, the opposite is true. You influence your son directly and have a much greater impact on the man he will become.” In the Bible we see Timothy mentored and discipled by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), we see Solomon warning his son not to depart from his mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8), we see Jacob’s closeness to Rebekah (Genesis 27). In history and church history we encounter many great men who were shaped by their mothers as much as by their fathers, many great men who ascribe who they became to the influence of their mothers.

And yet even in Christian circles there is little attention given to the relationship of boys and their mothers, at least once they pass the toddler stage. It is rarely mentioned and rarely celebrated. We still look askance at a boy who spends a lot of time with his mom or a mom who is close to her boy. There is still that suspicion—that irrational and unfair suspicion. There is still that fear that a boy necessarily ought to be closer to his father than his mother.

Today I have a teenaged boy of my own. He and I are close, but I suspect that he and Aileen are closer. I see and celebrate the unique relationship between them. He shares with her, he confides in her, he depends upon her, he receives affection from her. And this is good, this brings me joy. He is a boy who needs his mom, just like I was. I trust that she will help guide him through these formative years with a perspective I simply do not have. I trust that in some way the relationship he enjoys with his mother is in some way preparing him for the relationship he will someday enjoy with his wife. Perhaps, like me, he will be able to echo John Wesley and say, “I learned more about Christianity [and life] from my mother than from all the theologians of England.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 03, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include Sexual Fidelity by Mike Abendroth ($2.99); Burning Hearts by Josh Moody ($2.99); Uncensored by Brian Cosby ($1.99); Jesus On Every Page by David Murray ($1.99); The True Story of Noah’s Ark ($2.99).

Your 7 Job Responsibilities as a Church Member

Just imagine what a church can be when all the members are functioning like this.

5 Reasons You Should (Probably) Leave Your Attractional Church

Jared Wilson is a big believer in the local church, so he isn’t being flippant when he tells you to consider leaving your attractional church. Be sure to consider the article in light of the caveats he provides.

Being a Pastor Isn’t Fair

Mike Leake wants to tell you one way in which being a pastor isn’t fair at all…

Don’t Panic

This could be true: “With all due respect to baseball, panicking is America’s favorite public pasttime.”

Bad Homiletical Models of Expository Preaching

Derek Thomas has an article preachers would do well to read. Here’s just one quote: “Speaking generally is always dangerous, but it is probably true to say that few young preachers can sustain a lengthy (and slow) series of expositions on a particular book of the Bible.”

This Day in 1469. 547 years ago today, Johannes Gutenberg died. He was famous for developing movable type, which became a powerful tool in the spread of the Protestant Reformation. *

Meet the Puritans

This new site may be one to subscribe to.

Prioritizing Communication and Romance

This is short and sweet.

How To Pronounce ‘Newfoundland’

Sooner or later you’ll be thankful that you know how to pronounce it properly.

Dever

There are no closed countries. Only places where it’s more difficult to preach your second sermon. —Mark Dever

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.”