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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

The Bestsellers
April 06, 2014

Last week I began a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at one of the bestselling Christian books of all-time: Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Purpose Driven LifeRick Warren was born in 1954 in San Jose, California, the son of Jimmy and Dot Warren. Jimmy was a Baptist minister and from a young age Rick determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. He received an undergraduate degree from California Baptist University before going to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to receive his pastoral training.

In 1980, Warren founded Saddleback Church in Laguna Hills, California. The church’s inaugural service was held on Easter Sunday in Laguna Hills High School with nearly 200 people in attendance. Under Warren’s leadership and winsome personality, the church grew rapidly, outgrowing facility after facility until they finally purchased land in Lake Forest and began construction there in the early 1990’s. By the time the church settled in the Lake Forest campus, they already had 10,000 people attending their services each week.

In 1995, Zondervan published the semi-autobiographical The Purpose Driven Church, a book that soon proved popular and influential in teaching the principles of church growth. While the book was targeted squarely at pastors and church leaders, it introduced Warren to the leaders who would be key to the success of his next work.

In 2002 Zondervan released The Purpose Driven Life, a forty-day devotional meant to lead the reader on a spiritual journey. Warren considered it an anti-self-help book, a manifesto for Christian living in the twenty-first century. It famously begins with the words, “It’s not about you.” Instead, Warren shows that we exist for the glory of God and that our innate desire for fulfillment can be found only in Him. The forty devotional readings are divided into five themes:

  • You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure (Worship)
  • You Were Formed for God’s Family (Fellowship)
  • You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • You Were Shaped for Serving God (Ministry)
  • You Were Made for a Mission (Mission)

Each chapter contains a short devotional several pages in length followed by a section titled “Thinking About My Purpose” which offers a Point to Ponder, a Verse to Remember, and a Question to Consider.

The book was released hand-in-hand with a substantial viral marketing campaign meant to take advantage of the Internet and to encourage word-of-mouth and bulk sales. The 40 Days of Purpose campaign invited pastors to lead their entire churches through the book, reading it day-by-day and even preaching sermons provided by Warren. This campaign was launched with 1,5000 participating churches and that led to the book’s first print run of 500,000 copies selling out very quickly. Some 20,000 churches eventually took advantage of the program.

The book received a substantial and unexpected boost in March 2005 when Brian Nichols, a man wanted for a series of shootings in Atlanta, took Ashley Smith hostage in her apartment. During the seven hours he held her captive, she read chapter 32 aloud and later suggested that this helped in his decision to release her.

April 05, 2014

Do We Want Christ? Or To Be Wonderful Christians? - I appreciate what Elisha asks in this article: “Do I want to be a wonderful Christian, or do I want Christ? Does my soul long to be a better Christian or does my soul long for the living God? Do I simply want to grow in Christlike character or do I want deeper intimacy with the Person of Christ.”

Board Games - Once a year or so Amazon puts a lot of board games on sale. Today’s the day! Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Axis and Allies, Forbidden Island, etc, are all heavily discounted.

The New Calvinism - PBS did a feature on the New Calvinism, focusing on the SBC. It’s not like they discovered anything we didn’t already know, but it’s still interesting enough, I guess.

Young, Restless, Reformed - While we’re on the subject of the New Calvinism, Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed is on sale for Kindle ($3.99).

The British Isles in Accents - This is pretty neat: A tour of the British Isles through its accents.

Distracted from Shepherding a Child’s Heart - There is food for thought in this article, though I’m not convinced the problem is quite as bad as he makes it out to be.

The NSA Spying Machine - Here’s an interactive graphic meant to show what we know that NSA is able to do.

Reporting Abuse - Here’s an important article on pastoral wisdom and the mandate to report abuse.

Do you know who you need to be saved from? You need to be saved from God. —Voddie Baucham

Baucham

April 04, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by ChristianAudio. They are giving away 5 great prize packages today, and each of those prizes contains 4 excellent audio books. I’ve read them all and highly recommend them all. The 5 winners will all receive:

  • Taking God at His WordTaking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. “Can we trust the Bible completely? Is it sufficient for our complicated lives? Can we really know what it teaches? With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance. Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s word.”
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. “Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department’s curriculum. Then, in her late 30’s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down—the idea that Christianity, a religion she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was…”
  • Double Play by Ben & Julianna Zobrist. “All-Star player Ben Zobrist (Tampa Bay Rays), considered one of the best all-around players in baseball, writes about the importance of his faith, life, and athletic career in Double Play. Written with his wife, Christian singer Julianna Zobrist, and Mike Yorkey, the book gives fans a first look into the heart of an athlete whose talent and devotion to God, family, and baseball make him one of the most loveable figures in the Major League today.”
  • Wherever I Wind UpWherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey. “An English Lit major at the University of Tennessee, Dickey is as articulate and thoughtful as any professional athlete in any sport-and proves it page after page, as he provides fresh and honest insight into baseball and a career unlike any other. Sustained by his profound Christian faith, the love of his wife and children, and a relentless quest for self-awareness and authenticity, the immensely likable Dickey details his transformation from a reckless, risk-taking loner to a grounded, life-affirming big leaguer. He emerged as one of the premier pitchers in the National League in 2010-and the knuckleballing embodiment of the wonders that perseverance and human wisdom can produce.”

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below.

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.

April 04, 2014

Like so many others, I will be heading to Louisville, Kentucky next week, to take in the Together for the Gospel conference. What catnip is to your cat, T4G is for a New Calvinist, and, like so many others, I am looking forward not only to the conference, but to meeting people, spending time with friends, and taking in the wider conference atmosphere. I’ll be honest: My favorite part of the conference is spending time with people. For me, this ranks at least as high as taking in the sessions and the singing.

What I am about to say should not be taken as a rebuke of Together for the Gospel or any other conference. Rather, it is something I have been considering lately as I’ve thought about the conference culture that pervades the church today. (Or, at least, the conference culture that pervades the New Calvinism today.) I think it is clear that this conference culture is directly related to the celebrity culture we have fostered.

The conference culture revolves around celebrity speakers so that the biggest conferences are the ones with the greatest number of the most popular celebrity preachers. In many cases conference planners choose a theme and then bring in as many of our favorite preachers as they can to speak on that theme. The more of these speakers they can get, the greater the attendance. The math is simple.

This is important to consider: These men are not necessarily the authorities on that theme. Rather, they are solid preachers and godly men who can take any text and make something good come from it. John Piper is such a gifted preacher and powerful communicator that his worst sermon on a given text is better than my best sermon on my best day on that same text. But he is not necessarily an authority on that book or on the theme of that conference.

These conferences are good and helpful. Listening to these big-name preachers will almost certainly never be a waste of time. I’ve never heard Piper speak at a conference and grumbled, “That was a waste of time!” In many cases, though, the draw of the conference is not growing in knowledge of a theme or a book of the Bible, but hearing celebrity preachers speak on that theme or that book of the Bible. When it comes right down to it, the celebrity, not the theme, is the draw. Quick, without looking: What is the theme of this year’s Together for the Gospel conference? You probably don’t know. And really, it probably doesn’t matter to you a whole lot, because the bigness of the event and the bigness of the speakers are the draw.

Could we consider it a sign of health and growth in the New Calvinism if we had the same level of excitement to learn a book of the Bible from a no-name authority on that book, or to learn about a topic of great theological importance from a no-name authority on that topic? Wouldn’t it be interesting if the situation was reversed? “I don’t know who is speaking, but I am excited to learn about this book or this theme!” This would show that our foremost desire is not to see and hear celebrity preachers, but to have the best opportunity to see and hear God speak to us through his Word.

I am going to enjoy Together for the Gospel completely guilt-free. I will enjoy the bigness of the event and am still looking forward to being blessed by those godly men who will be preaching God’s Word there. But let’s continue to think about this one…

April 04, 2014

There are a couple of new Kindle deals for you: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor is one of my favorite books from D.A. Carson ($3.99); The Most Misused Verses in the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff is well worth the reading as well (free!). You’ll have to get it from the IVP site, but John Stott’s commentary on 2 Timothy is free. And here are a few deals from earlier in the week: United by Trillia Newbell ($2.99); Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur ($0.99); Alone with God by John MacArthur ($0.99); Rid of My Disgrace by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb ($1.99); Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan & Susan Hunt ($3.99); The Scriptures Testify About Me edited by D.A. Carson ($2.99); 12 Challenges Churches Face by Mark Dever ($1.99).

God’s Pursuit of a Bank Robber - Shon Hopwood: “It didn’t take a moment of genius introspection to realize that doing life my way had led to nothing but disaster and destruction. It was the summer of 2009, and I had just completed an almost 11-year sentence in federal prison for my role in five bank robberies I had committed as a foolish young man.”

World Vision’s Flawed Vision - Jesse Johnson says “last weeks gay-marriage flop-flip with World Vision did not come out of left field. But this was a schism that was a long time coming, and illustrates a profound danger inherent in mercy ministries that are not built upon a theological foundation.”

6 Lessons in Good Listening - “Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and one of the hardest.” Yup. Here are some good tips on doing it better.

Till Conscious Uncoupling do us Part - Mary Kassian takes on the new term “conscious uncoupling” which is Newspeak for “divorce.”

Logos March Madness - Logos users will want to check out their March Madness sale where you can get 75% off books by D.A. Carson. There are lots of other good deals. All readers will want to consider Kevin DeYoung’s new book Taking God at His Word which is on sale at Westminster Books.

Noah: A No Holds Barred Review - If you want to know what the Noah movie is really all about, here’s a long, no holds barred review.

If you will bear the cross, it will bear you. —Robert Murray M’Cheyne

MCheyne

April 03, 2014

If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you that I’ve always got five or ten different projects on the go. I’ve got a short attention span, so I do best and get more done when I can work on something for a couple of hours and then switch my mind to a completely different task. Switching to something new is often as good as taking a break!

Lately a lot of my tasks and projects have converged at the point of the Bible and, more precisely, the nature of God’s Word. I have been thinking about the sheer otherness of the Bible, the fact that it is so different from every other book. And I got to thinking, What if I had written my own bible? How would it be different? How would a simple, sinful person like myself approach the task of writing a standard of faith and practice that was meant to transcend all times, contexts and cultures?

If I wrote the Bible…

…There would be more rules. A lot more. In those times when I want to have my way, or those times when I know the right thing to do, I naturally gravitate straight to rules. Because there’s no easier way to get people to obey my will than to give them rules, my bible would undoubtedly be dominated by lists of rules to govern just about every possible circumstance. I expect this would make for a much longer book, but that would just have to be the cost.

…There would be much less grace. There would be a lot less room for freedom. Where God gives us so much room for our personal preferences, I would elevate my preferences and negate diversity in favor of clear uniformity. I would see less beauty in diversity and a lot more beauty in conformity.

…There would be fewer genres. One thing I continue to find surprising about the Bible is how it shifts so often between genres, going from histories to prophecies to poetry to apocalypse to epistles. I would be unlikely to consider something like the poetry of Song of Solomon or the personal appeal of Philemon. Again, my bible would be dominated by the new genre “Lists of Rules.”

…There would be much more explanation. One of the things most people find perplexing as they read the Bible are those areas in which God chooses not to explain himself. How could he sanction massacres of entire cities? How could he allow Satan to do what he did to Job? How could he have allowed the serpent into the garden all those years ago? And just how do human responsibility and divine sovereignty work together? For the sake of my own reputation, and fearing the frustration or even the mockery of the reader, I’d feel it necessary to give those answers.

…There would be much less uncomfortable stuff. If I wrote a bible, I think I would leave out a lot of stuff God saw fit to include. I’d definitely leave out that brutally tragic story in Judges 19 where a woman is gang raped and dismembered. I’d probably leave out the bit about David dropping a pile of Philistine foreskins at the feet of Saul. Out of concern for my own reputation, and out of fear of man, I would sanitize my bible.

April 03, 2014

When Scripture Is the Controversy - “If we learned anything from last week, maybe it’s that the real controversy among evangelicals in the coming days will be about the Bible, not homosexuality.” Exactly so.

Where Everyone in the World is Migrating - This fascinating and beautiful chart shows the mass migration of people today.

Good Friday in Toronto - If you live in or near Toronto, you may want to consider coming to the Toronto Gospel Alliance Good Friday service at U of T. 

Late Night @ T4G - And if you’re planning to be at Together for the Gospel next week, why don’t you consider this late-night event with 20Schemes. 

The Tongues of Angels - Nathan Busenitz continues to write about the gift of tongues and to offer a cessationist perspective. I’ve found the series both helpful and clarifying.

Extra Special Revelation - In this podcast Carl Trueman and the rest of his Mortification of Spin crew have a discussion about Sarah Young’s mega-selling, mega-problematic Jesus Calling.

Do Your Duty - Gene Veith: “Duty is one of those words that used to carry great weight but really doesn’t anymore. It is still an important concept in military circles, but elsewhere doing something because it’s your duty has acquired a negative connotation. ‘You just say you love me because you think it’s your duty.’ ‘They just go to church out of a sense of duty.’”

Village Hub - This is a fascinating video. “An easy to copy but patented sugar palm factory Smits has developed, demonstrates how community capacity-building and community empowerment can promote economic development while conserving the natural environment.”

God gives the grace of forgiveness in order to receive the glory of worship. —Rhett Dodson

Dodson

The False Teachers
April 02, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Joseph Smith, and Ellen G. White. Today we will look at the life and legacy of a man who prepared the way for Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and so many others.

Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale was born on May 31, 1898, in Bowersville, Ohio, the first child of Charles and Anna Peale. Charles was a Methodist minister who served a variety of churches in Ohio, and before long Norman, too, began to consider ministry as his vocation. When he was a boy, one of his teachers accused him of being “a weak willy-nilly” and he soon realized the teacher’s assessment was correct. He saw that he would need to push himself past a deep-rooted inferiority complex and crippling self-doubt. 

As a young man Peale attended Ohio Wesleyan University and Boston University School of Theology. During his first summer break he returned home and was asked to fill a nearby pulpit. He dutifully prepared a sermon and showed it to his father. His father read it and promptly advised burning it, telling his son “the way to the human heart is through simplicity.” These are words the young man took to heart.

In 1922 he was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was assigned a small congregation in Berkeley, Rhode Island. Two years later he moved to Brooklyn, New York where he established himself as a gifted communicator so that in only three years he grew a church from 40 to 900 members. He spent a few years at another Methodist congregation in Syracuse, New York, before changing his affiliation to the Reformed Church in America so he could pastor Marble Collegiate Church, one of the oldest Protestant congregations in America. When he arrived, this church had around 600 members; upon his departure 52 years later it had 5,000. It was here that he would gain worldwide acclaim and notoriety as a teacher of positive thinking.

Peale developed a fascination with psychiatry as an answer, or partial answer, to his congregant’s problems. While he was at Marble, he teamed up with a Freud-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Smiley Blanton, to begin a religious-psychiatric clinic in the church basement. They wanted to respond to the psychological needs of their congregation and especially the deep-rooted effects of the Great Depression. In 1951 this clinic was organized into the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, with Peale as president and Blanton as executive director.

Peale spread his teaching through a variety of media. While serving the church in Syracuse he founded a radio program called “The Art of Living,” and it would broadcast his sermons for 54 years. By 1952 he and his wife were also on the new medium of television, featured on the show “What’s Your Trouble?.” In 1945, along with his wife Ruth, and Raymond Thornburg, a local businessman, he founded Guideposts. What was at first a weekly four-page leaflet evolved to a monthly inspirational magazine that would soon have 2 million subscribers.

During his lifetime, Peale authored 46 books, and the most successful by far was The Power of Positive Thinking. Published in 1952, it stayed on the New York Times list of bestsellers for 186 consecutive weeks and sold 5 million copies, making it one of the bestselling religious books of all-time. It began with these words:

This book is written to suggest techniques and to give examples which demonstrate that you do not need to be defeated by anything, that you can have peace of mind, improved health, and a never-ceasing flow of energy. In short, that your life can be fully of joy and satisfaction.

The book had chapters with titles such as “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” “How to Have Faith in Healing” and “Power to Solve Personal Problems.” Each chapter contained sections titled “energy-producing thoughts,” “spirit-lifters” or “faith attitudes.” Much of his teaching was distilled to lists of eight practical formulas or seven simple steps. This book rocketed Peale to new levels of fame and acclaim, and elevated his message with him. He became one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world, gaining a voice into business and politics, even officiating at the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon. On March 26, 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded him the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his contributions to theology.