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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Ashley Madison and Who You Are Online
August 21, 2015

You have heard by now that the site AshleyMadison.com was hacked and that millions of users had their information made public. Ashley Madison is a company that exists to facilitate (and even guarantee) adulterous relationships, and now those people who wanted to be quietly unfaithful to their spouses have been suddenly outed. As I read the headlines and heard of some of those caught up in the scandal (including, sadly, Josh Duggar), I thought back to one of the first times in Internet history that we had to grapple with the power of the data we leave behind us every time we use the Web. For that we will need to go back to 2006.

In 2006, America Online made an epic misjudgment which taught us a valuable lesson: Who you are when you are alone and online, that is who you really are—no more, and no less. As part of a research project headed Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, AOL made available to the public a massive amount of data culled from their search engine — the search history of 650,000 users over a three-month period. This totaled some 21 million searches. Before releasing the data, they anonymized it, stripping away user names and replacing names with numbers, so that a user with a name like timc2000 simply became User #75636534. Yet because of the often-personal nature of the data, it did not take long before many of those abstract numbers were linked to real names, an obvious and serious violation of privacy and confidentiality. Within days, AOL realized its mistake and withdrew the data, but already it had been copied and uploaded elsewhere on the Internet, where today it lives on in infamy.

Some of the search histories were dark and disturbing, others unremarkable in every way. Still others were strangely amusing. It was often possible to reconstruct a person’s life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time. Consider this user:

  • shipping pets 2006-03-01 16:36:48
  • does ata ship pets 2006-03-01 17:10:35
  • continental.com 2006-03-01 21:34:53
  • pet shipping 2006-03-01 21:35:11
  • broken bones in cat 2006-03-04 03:31:53
  • cat has broken bones above base of tail vet said it will heal on its own
    2006-03-04 03:32:53
  • cat broken bones and diarreah 2006-03-04 03:58:24
  • cat health 2006-03-04 14:10:22
  • cat has broken bones wasn’t bleeding before but now is and now she
    can’t defecate too 2006-03-04 14:16:35
  • mucous blood diarreah in cat 2006-03-04 14:22:47

It is not too difficult to understand what transpired through this three-day history of searches. The search engine data tells a sad story about a person and his or her cat.

This glut of user data raised a nearly endless number of questions and concerns. Primarily, it brought awareness to the fact that search engines know you better than you may like. Actually, they probably know you better than you know yourself in some ways. You tend to forget what you have searched for in the past; they don’t. We may like to think that our searches are just quick queries, harmless and pointless inquiries known only to us.

Here is an AOL user whose searches tell a sad story (for sake of space, I have stripped out a large number of searches):

  • body fat calliper 2006-03-01 18:54:10
  • curb morning sickness 2006-03-05 08:53:23
  • get fit while pregnant 2006-03-09 18:49:37
  • he doesn’t want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:01
  • you’re pregnant he doesn’t want the baby 2006-03-11 03:52:49
  • online degrees theology 2006-03-11 04:05:24
  • online christian colleges 2006-03-11 04:13:33
  • foods to eat when pregnant 2006-03-12 09:38:02
  • baby names 2006-03-14 19:11:10
  • baby names and meanings 2006-03-14 20:01:27
  • physician search 2006-03-23 10:20:04
  • best spa vacation deals 2006-03-27 20:04:09
  • maternity clothes 2006-03-28 09:28:25
  • pregnancy workout videos 2006-03-29 10:01:39
  • buns of steel video 2006-03-29 10:12:38
  • what is yoga 2006-03-29 12:17:31
  • what is theism 2006-03-29 12:18:30
  • hindu religion 2006-03-29 12:18:56
  • yoga and hindu 2006-03-29 12:32:05
  • is yoga alligned with christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:18
  • yoga and christianity 2006-03-29 12:33:42
  • abortion clinics charlotte nc 2006-04-17 11:00:02
  • greater carolinas womens center 2006-04-17 11:40:22
  • can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
  • can christians be forgiven for abortion 2006-04-17 21:14:19
  • roe vs. wade 2006-04-17 22:22:07
  • effects of abortion on fibroids 2006-04-18 06:50:34
  • abortion clinic charlotte 2006-04-18 15:14:03
  • symptoms of miscarriage 2006-04-18 16:14:07
  • water aerobics charlotte nc 2006-04-18 19:41:27
  • abortion clinic chsrlotte nc 2006-04-18 21:45:39
  • total woman vitamins 2006-04-20 16:38:16
  • engagement rings 2006-04-20 16:58:37
  • high risk abortions 2006-04-20 17:53:49
  • abortion fibroid 2006-04-20 17:55:18
  • benefits of water aerobics 2006-04-20 23:25:50
  • wedding gown styles 2006-04-26 19:37:34
  • recover after miscarriage 2006-05-22 18:17:53
  • marry your live-in 2006-05-27 07:25:45

This woman goes from searching about pregnancy, to realizing that the father does not want to keep the baby, to researching abortion clinics, to researching whether she can, according to her faith, choose abortion, to dealing with a miscarriage. And at the end of it all, life goes on and she seems ready to be married.

What is so amazing about these searches is the way people transition seamlessly from the normal and mundane to the outrageous and perverse. They are, thus, an apt reflection of real life. The user who is in one moment searching for information about a computer game may in the next be looking for the most violent pornography he can imagine. Back and forth it goes, from information about becoming a foster parent to the search for incestual pornography. One user went from searching for preteen pornography to searching for games appropriate for a youth group. Others, spurned lovers, sought out ways of exacting revenge while still others grappled with the moral implications of cheating on their spouses. These searches are a glimpse into the hearts of the people who made them.

And now millions of Ashley Madison users have been outed in much the same way, except this time their actual names and personal information are sitting right there alongside their data. They have been exposed as people who went looking for adultery. And the whole world is sitting by, looking on with an amused eye. Spouses are searching through the data wondering if even their husband, their wife, may have been involved. Gossip blogs are combing the data looking for headlines.

One of the great deceptions of the Internet is that it allows us to think there are two parts to us, the part who exists in real time and space, and the part who exists in cyberspace. But events like this ought to make us realize that when you go online you display and expose who and what you really are. And who you really are will eventually find you out. God will not be mocked.

(Much of this article is excerpted from my book The Next Story. Image credit: Shutterstock)

August 21, 2015

New from GLH Publishing is a Kindle edition of Jonathan Edward’s must-read book Religious Affections at just $0.99. Also consider Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper ($0.99); Pleased to Dwell by Peter Mead ($5.64).

Planned Parenthood: Invitation, Explanation, Indignation

John Piper: “I am writing with an urgent invitation, a personal explanation, and renewed indignation.” He calls you to protest Planned Parenthood tomorrow.

Why I Am Going to Protest Planned Parenthood

In a similar vein, J.A. Medders explains why he will be participating in this weekend’s Planned Parenthood protests.

How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election

Here’s an interesting fact of the modern world: “Google has the ability to drive millions of votes to a candidate with no one the wiser.”

Is There Any Demand for Same-Sex Marriage?

Joe Carter: “One question the Court ignored—and which few people ever truly considered—was whether there is an actual demand for same-sex marriage.”

This Date in 1741: George Frideric Handel began to compose his great work Messiah. He would finish the work 23 days later. It would become his most famous composition and, as you know, is still treasured today. *

Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web

This article dives into the problem at the heart of the modern web: So many banner ads are ugly, evil, and intrusive, and yet they are also at the heart of the online economy.

Snake Island

Did you know that there’s an island off the coast of Brazil that has so many venomous snakes on it that people are forbidden from even docking there?


Holiness is not freedom from temptation, but power to overcome temptation. —G. Campbell Morgan

August 20, 2015

Theology is a dangerous subject. In fact, there may be no area of interest more perilous than theology. That is true if it is not pursued in the best way and for the highest purposes. In the opening chapter of Knowing God, J.I. Packer says that if we wish to avoid the perils, we need to always consider this question when we consider the study of God and his ways: What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it?

Any knowledge and any expertise can lead to pride, but theology is particularly dangerous this way. The reason is simple: Theology is such a great and high subject—the highest there is. Packer offers this warning: “If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens.”

I suspect you can identify this very tendency and perhaps this very pattern in your own life. Packer writes to you and me here, to people who are theologically-minded, and warns us that a little theology can do a lot of harm. “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach the Bible with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.”

But this does not mean we must avoid the study of God altogether. Far from it. We need to pursue God for the best reason: “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God.”

We also need to pursue God through the best methodology, and that involves meditation. “We turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.” He goes on to offer an excellent definition and description of the art of Christian meditation:

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.

The effect of such meditation is a gracious humbling, in which God shows us who we are and who he is by comparison. He reveals true knowledge of himself and ensures that our theology works itself out in genuine relationship with God. Theology is a dangerous study, but God redeems it for our good and his glory.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 3 and 4 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, why don’t you join us? We have only just begun, so you will not have a difficult time catching up.

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. Several hundred people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in.

August 20, 2015

Here are some Kindle deals: Hebrews in The New American Commentary series ($2.99); Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace ($0.99); One Race One Blood by Ken Ham ($2.99); Sermon on the Mount by Charles Quarles ($2.99); The Ten Commandments by Mark Rooker ($2.99).

What Are We to Make of Donald Trump?

Tom Ascol offers some thoughtful reflections on Donald Trump. “In some sense it is like a car accident—you just can’t look away no matter how hard you try.” Be sure to read the final lines before flaming Ascol (or me).

Guardian Angels?

Do we have guardian angels? “While many other objections may be raised … of this much we can be sure–God will not spare to send the entire host of heaven to the aid of His people if He so chooses.” 

The Everyday Question of Motherhood

I think Christine Hoover is bang-on here: “As a mother, there is a constant, uncomfortable battle that rages inside of me. It is not the big or dramatic…”

Tools for Evangelism

This week’s deals from Westminster Books will help equip your evangelistic efforts (as an individual or as a church).

This Day in 1920: Seven men, including the now-legendary Jim Thorpe, gathered to organize a professional football league. Has ever a sport had a greater impact on Christians and (American) Christianity than football with its Sunday schedule? *

God For Us, or God Against Us?

Is God for us or against us? Ray Ortlund says, “If we are in Christ, the answer is: maybe both. God is certainly for us, and God might also be against us.”

The Gruesome Reality of Fetal Organ Harvesting

Here’s WORLD’s recap of the new and 7th video in the series exposing Planned Parenthood. (Stand to Reason also has a good article on the matter.)

Finally, here is a challenging and encouraging word from Charles Spurgeon:


Sin is a sovereign till sovereign grace dethrones it.C.H. Spurgeon

There Is No Better Life
August 19, 2015

The old catechism says it well: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. You and I exist for God’s glory. In fact, all things exist for God’s glory. We get that. But how? How do we glorify God? I want to list 4 simple ways that you can glorify God today and every day.

Glorify God by Admiring God

You glorify God by admiring God, by simply appreciating him for who he is and for what he has done. Within the Bible we see plenty of examples of each.

Consider Paul admiring God at the end of Romans 11. Paul has spent all this time discussing man’s great need and God’s great provision in Jesus Christ, and then he just can’t help himself: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” He just has to break into this little song of worship, this little song that brings glory to God.

You can also admire God for who he is, pondering his character and attributes. We see this in the little doxology at the end of Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude considers who God is and then naturally glorifies him.

You glorify God through your admiration of his character and his ways. Do you make it your habit to admire God?

Glorify God by Worshipping God

You glorify God by worshipping God. Just think of Psalm 29 which begins like this:

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Worship is one of the great privileges of the Christian life (which is why I recently asked What Would I Lose if I Lost Worship?). Worship is ascribing to God his own worth. It is “the art of losing self in the adoration of another.” When we worship him we give him honor, we magnify him in the sight of those who join with us. We declare that he is the point and purpose of our entire world and our entire existence. God is glorified in this kind of self-forgetful worship.

Do you love to worship? Do you take every opportunity to worship? Do you worship for God’s sake and God’s glory?

Glorify God by Obeying God

You glorify God by obeying God. This is true whether that obedience is expressed through character or through action. You glorify God by living a life of obedience, by doing those things he says to do and by refusing to do those things he forbids. The New Testament tells us with crystal clarity that there is an old way of living that God tells us to turn away from and a new way of living that he tells us to embrace.

It makes God look great, it brings glory to his name, when you stop sinning, when you put to death those evil deeds and evil desires. It makes God look great when you begin living righteously and, even more, when you long to behave righteously. Why? Because you prove that the power of God is active in you.

God is glorified in your holiness, not in your sin. Do you grow in holiness so that God can be glorified? God is glorified in your selfless deeds, not your selfish ones. Do you love and serve others?

Glorify God by Delighting in God

Finally, you glorify God by delighting in God. To delight in God is to have great affection for him, to find your heart moved by him, to find ultimate joy in him. It is to love and long to do things that make him look great. It is to engage all you are and all you’ve got in the full-out pursuit of God. Like Jesus said, it is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” When you delight in God you express free and willing love toward him. You see God as a great treasure who is worthy of your pursuit, worthy of your affection.

I love how Thomas Watson says it: “True saints are seraphims, burning in holy love to God.” Could it be said of you that you are burning in love to God?

No Better Life

God does all things for his glory. If you can get this in your mind and into your heart, it will transform the way you look at the world and the way you live in the world. It will change everything. It will allow you to give up pride and position as long as God is glorified. It will allow you to give up lifelong dreams and treasured sins as long as God is glorified. It will even allow you to joyfully give up your life, firmly believing that God will be glorified. There is no better life than the life lived for the sake and the glory of God.

Note: These 4 points were drawn roughly and loosely from Thomas Watson’s commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

August 19, 2015

There are once again some good Kindle deals to be had: The Pastor’s Family and The Pastor’s Ministry by Brian Croft ($3.99 each); The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland ($1.99); Compelled by Ed Stetzer & Philip Nation ($2.99); Colossians & Philemon by Murray Harris ($0.99); Enthroned on Our Praise by Timothy Pierce ($0.99); Faithful Preaching by Tony Merida ($2.99); Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George ($2.99).

Little Screens and Corporate Worship

I’m not sure I agree with everything H.B. Charles Jr says here about corporate worship and digital devices, but I do think his article is worth reading and considering.

When Is Divorce a Sin?

Christianity Today interprets a recent study on Christian views of divorce. As is so often the case, it seems to me that the questions are too broad to be very helpful. Is divorce sinful when spousal abuse has occurred. How could people answer confidently without knowing other details like the kind of abuse and the extent of the abuse? Still, it’s worth looking at.

Credo Magazine

A new issue of Credo magazine is ready for free download or online reading. This issue “brings together some outstanding contributors to teach both parents and those in ministry alike how to better approach children so that they know God in a saving way.”

This Day in 1662: Blaise Pascal died at the age of 39. A French scientist by trade, he is remembered today primarily for his Pensées, an apologetic for Christianity. *

The Divisive Person

Jared Wilson on the true nature of division: “It isn’t those who believe the Bible when it says sin is sin that are being divisive; it is those who are introducing the idea that some sins aren’t.”

4 Principles for the Exercise of Christian Liberty

Sinclair Feruguson offers guidance on properly exercising Christian liberty.

When You Get the Raw End of the Deal

It happens to all of us at one time or another, doesn’t it? “You’ve been mistreated. Gotten the raw end of the deal. Unjustly overlooked in a promotion. Spent many hours trying to help someone only to be rejected…”


Hell is full of people who think they deserve heaven. Heaven is full of people who know they deserve hell. —Trevin Wax

Taking God at His Word
August 18, 2015

So much of the Christian life comes down to this simple discipline: Taking God at his word. God speaks to me through the Bible and makes so many precious promises. The question is, will I believe, and will I obey? Will I take God at his word?

If I take 1 day out of every 7 and dedicate to it rest and to worship, will you still provide? Can I have confidence that I don’t need to work 7 days out of the week in order to survive? God says, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! Take me at my word.”

Have my sins really been forgiven? Am I actually blameless before the righteous Judge of all the universe. God says, “I have delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of my beloved Son, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Take me at my word.”

If I refuse to succumb to this sexual temptation, if I walk away from the opportunity or refuse to give in to the desire, will you really satisfy? Can you actually satisfy? God says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from me, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Take me at my word.”

Can God really use this painful situation for my good? Can he really bring beauty from these ashes? God says, “I work together all things for good, for those who are called according to my purpose. Take me at my word.”

Is salvation really all of grace? Isn’t there at least something I still need to earn? Isn’t there at least something I need to contribute? God says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Take me at my word.”

Do I really need to stop this sin I enjoy so much? It’s such a little one and it brings me such joy. Does it really matter that much? God says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments. Take me at my word.”

Can I actually have confidence that I will not fall away from God? Can I have confidence that I will go to heaven? God says, “Be confident of this very thing, that I who have begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Take me at my word.”

The great enemy of the Christian is the sin of unbelief—the sin of refusing to accept what God says and the sin of refusing to do what God says. The great friend of the Christian is the joy of belief and the joy of obedience. Where is God asking you to simply take him at his word?

August 18, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Jesus, the Only Way to God by John Piper ($0.99); Reformed Means Missional by Samuel Logan ($4.99); Saving Grace by John Miller ($2.99); Running on Empty by Barbara Bancroft ($2.99); Preaching with a Plan by Scott Gibson ($2.99).

7 Signs You Were Raised as an Evangelical

I think you’ll probably get a chuckle out of this list. Like #3: “You know the chorus to the song “Friends Are Friends Forever” — even though it came out in 1983.” Yup.

The Way Is Hard, But He is Strong

“Devils know no chivalry. They are cruel, and conceal their cruelty in the Trojan horses of pleasure and comfort, ‘wisdom’ and ‘security,’ flattery and shame.”

What Happens to Your Luggage

They skipped the part about the guy rifling through it to steal your valuables, but other than that, this is a remarkable look at what happens to your baggage once you drop it at the airport.

Songs We’ve Been Trying To Tell You About

Jesusfreakhideout is quite a good Christian music site. They’re celebrating their 19th anniversary by offering a free downloadable compilation album full of indie artists you may enjoy.

This Day in 1917: Cameron Townsend set sail for the mission field. His career as a missionary would be difficult, but would eventually lead to the founding of Wycliffe Bible Translators, one of the foremost missions organizations in the world. *

A Legal History of Exposés

Later this week, a judge will hear arguments in a case against pro-life journalists brought by StemExpress. WORLD offers a history of this kind of exposé.

How Apps Make Money

This may be good to consider before you let your child download that next “free” app. Personally, I find most of the app gaming economy pretty gross.

Rats in the Toilet

I apologize in advance for sharing this video which shows just how easily rats can make their way into your toilet. For all our loathing of them, they are remarkable creatures. But now you’ll never sit down in the dark again…


They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves, cannot be proud. —John Flavel