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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

The Bestsellers
August 25, 2016

I do believe that today’s entry in this series I’ve called “The Bestsellers” will be the final one for a time. “The Bestsellers,” as you know, takes a brief look at Christian books that have sold at least 1 million copies. I have now written about the majority of the books that fit the criteria and intend to circle back as more titles make the list. But before this hiatus, I want to provide an overview of one of the books that is conspicuous by its absence. After all, it is one of the very few that has exceeded not just 1 million copies sold, but 10 million (a feat matched by only 6 others, all of which I’ve covered in this series: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, Heaven Is For Real, Jesus Calling, and The Five Love Languages). It is Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic More Than a Carpenter.

More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell

Joslin McDowell was born in Union City, Michigan in 1939. He had a turbulent, traumatic, and abusive childhood and departed for college a convinced agnostic. However, he was soon challenged with Christianity’s claims and, as he examined them, became convinced of the reliability and truthfulness of the Christian faith. He professed faith in Jesus Christ. While he had planned to go to law school, his conversion reoriented his life, and he attended Wheaton College and then Talbot Theological Seminary, finishing with a Master of Divinity degree.

More Than a CarpenterIn 1961 McDowell joined the Campus Crusade team but soon began his own Josh McDowell Ministry as a ministry under Campus Crusade. Before long he was traveling the world as an apologist, speaking primarily to college students. In 1972 he published his first book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (which would sell over 1 million copies and which Christianity Today would later place 13th in their list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.”). In it he made a case for the Christian faith by accumulating evidence based on manuscripts, fulfillment of prophecy, evidence of the resurrection, and so on. He followed it in 1977 with More Than A Carpenter.

Part biography and part apologetic, More Than a Carpenter begins and ends with McDowell’s own story of going from skepticism to faith. The table of contents lays out his evangelistic technique while also displaying a classically modern approach to addressing questions of the faith: 1) My Story 2) What Makes Jesus So Different? 3) Lord, Liar, or Lunatic? 4) What About Science? 5) Are the Bible Records Reliable? 6) Who Would Die For a Lie? 7) What Good Is a Dead Messiah? 8) Did You Hear What Happened to Saul? 9) Can You Keep a Good Man Down? 10) Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up? 11) Isn’t There Some Other Way? 12) He Changed My Life. The book is short at just 128 pages and carefully prepared to appeal to a wide and general audience. It is just the kind of book many Christians eagerly handed their skeptical or unbelieving friends in the hope they would read it and be convinced.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Like Evidence That Demands a Verdict before it, More Than a Carpenter, was an immediate and long-lasting success. Unfortunately, its release predates the time when the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was maintaining records, so all I have learned about sales is that in 2013 it was awarded the Diamond Book Award for exceeding 10 million copies sold. The cover of the most recent (third) edition says it has now sold more than 15 million copies while McDowell’s website claims that 30 million copies have been distributed. I take that to mean that many copies have been given away freely.

More Than a Carpenter is a classically modernist approach to apologetics and it is clear that it played a significant role in its time. Many people were persuaded by its arguments and count the book as one of the reasons they professed faith in Christ. It raised McDowell’s status in the Christian world and gave him the opportunity to travel widely and speak to millions, pleading with them to answer the simple question, “Who is Jesus?” In its success it played a key role in popularizing what is known as the “classical” or “evidentialist” approach to apologetics. It was also just the kind of work that postmodern Christians and opponents of Christianity loved to hate, mocking it for laying out so straightforward a path from evidence to profession.

The book underwent a significant revision in 2009 when, joined by his son Sean, McDowell updated some content to reflect questions raised by the New Atheists. It currently has 540 reviews on Amazon where it averages 4.5 stars.

Since the Award

McDowell continues to write and continues to focus on apologetics as indicated by the titles of some of his most recent works: Evidence for the Resurrection (2009), The Unshakable Truth (2010), and Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011). Sean, also a graduate of Talbot and later of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appears to be following in his father’s footsteps in many ways and has joined him in several key writing projects.

Sean and Josh McDowell

A Personal Perspective

I first encountered McDowell through Christian music. In the 80s and 90s he was often associated with Christian acts, sometimes traveling with them to deliver a mid-concert devotional. His Why Wait? campaign (based on his 1987 book by the same title) was popularized by his association with a selection of Christian bands. In this video, for example, he introduces a song by Petra (always and forever my favorite band of the era):

At least in my life, that was how I encountered him and how I still know him—as the guy in the sweater who gets to hang out with the greatest Christian bands in the greatest (or was it the worst?) era of Christian music.

August 25, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg, Shaped by the Gospel by Tim Keller, God and the Nations by Henry Morris, and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane.

Purity Culture

Samuel James offers his take on a new article about Joshua Harris and his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. “It is often difficult for me to read a blog post that excoriates evangelical purity culture, and discern where the criticism of legalism ends and the criticism of the Bible’s teachings on sex begin.” That’s just so true.

One Empty Desk

I hope for the sake of your church and its health that you’ve had this painful experience! (And, as it happens, I remember seeing this author’s desk empty once upon a time.)

Remember Their Names

Here are a couple of quick tips about names.

7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness

I consider this an important and often-misunderstood topic. “I’ve held the position, for a while now, that there is a difference between the posture of forgiveness and actually living in reconciliation with someone.”

Sincerity Over Intensity

“Relax and be yourself, worship leader. Use your gifts, sing with your voice, and join together with your people, to glorify God together. You don’t need to worry and you don’t need to wear yourself out. Thank God!”

This Day in 1560. 456 years ago today Protestantism was formally adopted by the Church of Scotland. Scottish Parliament had earlier accepted a Calvinist confession of faith. *

…And Called It Macaroni

“Generations of American kids forced to sing ‘Yankee Doodle’ have grown up justifiably puzzled by its lyrics.” Here’s an explanation for that whole macaroni thing.

You Are Not the Bride of Christ

Ryan takes a look at the “bride of Christ” references in the Bible and points out an important fact about them.

Pastoral Ministry Does Not Have To Be Sedentary

You’ll benefit from this article if you’ve got one of those jobs that requires a lot of sitting.

Flashback: The 10 Greatest Hymns of All Time

I know you won’t agree with the entire list, but here are my picks for the ten greatest hymns of all-time.

Repentance: is a characteristic of the whole life, not the action of a single moment. —Sinclair Ferguson

One Very Good Reason to Read Your Bible
August 24, 2016

There are some proverbs that practically beg for personal application. Proverbs 3:27 is one of them: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” That little maxim resonates in a hundred other passages including, of course, the Golden Rule and the second Great Commandment: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Taken together, they reinforce the Bible’s clear emphasis on doing good to others, on living in such a way that we are constantly focused on how we can be a blessing to the people in our lives.

I thought of this proverb recently as I pondered personal devotions. I had been speaking to people who were struggling with their devotions, who were sporadic at their best and plain uninterested at their worst. Some had tried and failed, tried again and failed again, tried a third time and thrown in the towel. Others (by their own assessment) had grown lazy or weary, first skipping a day here and there, then skipping a week, then a month. And it was in this context that this little proverb came to my mind: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

One of the great benefits of having access to the Bible and to private spaces is that we have all we need to engage in this time of daily devotion. We can easily find a time and space to read the Bible, to ponder it, and to pray. But maybe this individual practice has spawned an individual spirit. Maybe we see devotions as something we do first for ourselves. In that way it is easy enough to let the practice go, like skipping a meal or missing that workout at the gym. It isn’t hard to take a pass if I’m the only one bearing the consequences.

But the benefit of personal devotions goes far beyond self. The benefit of knowledge of God and intimacy with God extends to your family, to your neighbors, to your church. If you can’t or won’t do devotions for your own sake, won’t you do it for the sake of others? Won’t you do it for their good, even if not for your own?

Husband or wife, make your personal devotions an expression of love for your spouse. Do it for his or her sake. You express love for your spouse when you draw close to God because your love for God will overflow into love for your spouse. You express love for your spouse when you realize your deep sinfulness and, therefore, your deep need for divine correction and instruction. You love your spouse best when you love God best.

Mom or dad, do your personal devotions for the sake of your children. Not reading and not praying is simply not loving. It is in your power to do good to your children by spending time with the Lord, for that time will grow you in mercy and patience and respect and a hundred other parenting virtues. You fail to show your children love when you fail to do them this good.

Christian, do your personal devotions for the sake of your neighbors. Your intimacy with God will generate in you a desire to see your neighbors enjoy the same intimacy. Are you lukewarm in your evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the state of their souls? Your apathy toward God is expressing itself in apathy toward your neighbor.

Church member, do your personal devotions for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Read the Word and speak to God so you can draw closer to God, so you can grow in conformity to Christ. Grow in knowledge to help protect your church from error, grow in character to help protect your church from ungodliness, grow in holiness to help protect your church from yourself and your own sin.

One of the great dangers in the Christian life is living first for self. One of the associated dangers, then, is seeing personal devotion as a practice that goes no further than my own mind, my own heart. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Your intimacy with God, your knowledge of God, your time with God, works its way outward to everyone around you. The good you can do them every day is the good of spending time with God.

August 24, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include 3 from Christian Focus: A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament by Alec Motyer, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Papacy by Leonardo De Chirico, and A Little Bird Told Me by Timothy Cross. Then there are several from Zondervan as well: How God Became Jesus by Michael Bird, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee, Visit the Sick by Brian Croft, and more. You can find them all here.

Westminster Books has a deal on The Biggest Story, a book (and now DVD) for kids by Kevin DeYoung. They’ve got several other great kids’ books marked down as well.

We Have Been Warned

Rod Dreher comments on “an extraordinarily important column laying out the future for Christians who reject the Sexual Revolution in its latest form.” He links to an article by Denny Burk that is also worth reading.

In Praise of Low-Budget, Non-Professional Music Ministries

Mark Dever describes the music ministry at his church and why they joyfully keep it low-budget and non-professional.

The Difference Between God’s Adoption and Ours

Here’s a brief, sweet article on the vast difference between God’s adoption and our own.

Ministry Is Discouragement

This is an honest and ultimately encouraging article from Guy Richard.

8K New York

Get thee to thy biggest and best screen to watch this phenomenal 8K (is that even a thing?) timelapse of New York City. You’ll want to full-screen and HD it.

This Day in 1456. 560 years ago today volume two of the Gutenberg Bible was bound, making it the first full-length book to be printed using movable type.

Wait to Date Until You Can Marry

We are beginning to have these conversations with our children.

13 Reasons You Are Precious To God

Mark Altrogge briefly rounds them up.

Legroom on Major Airlines

I suspect your interest in this graphic will vary proportionally with your height. It shows how much space you’re paying for when you book that airline ticket.

Flashback: Flipping God the Bird

I think we understand humanity best when we understand that human beings are born with our middle finger extended toward God. We grow up with our middle finger extended toward God. We die with our middle finger extended toward God. At least we do unless God intervenes and lowers it by his grace.

Byrd

We do not love to learn that we can do nothing without Christ.J.C. Ryle

Take a Course with R.C. and Me
August 23, 2016

This fall I am going to be taking a course taught by R.C. Sproul—a brand new course based on his most recent teaching series, “Justified by Faith Alone.” Even better, I’ll be moderating the course so you can take it with me, for free! With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation fast approaching, there is no better time to ensure you have a solid understanding of this key doctrine. And, at least as far as I’m concerned, there is no better guide to it than Dr. Sproul. To be clear, this is not vintage R.C. Sproul, but a brand new course he recently created and recorded. In it he explores the biblical, theological, and historical significance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

How It Works

The course will run for 8 weeks, beginning September 6 and continuing until November 1 (which, of course, ties in nicely with Reformation Day). The format is ultra simple: Each week you will watch a video, take a brief quiz to test your learning, and, if you like, engage in discussions with other people who are taking the course. You’ll also be able to ask questions and vote on other people’s questions to determine which will be addressed during the optional Google Hangouts.

Let me tell you about these video-based Hangouts. I will be hosting them weekly on Tuesdays from 5:30–6:00 pm ET. You’ll be able to watch and then jump in to ask questions. This will be a time to talk about what we’ve learned and to answer questions about it. Even better, every other week I will be joined by an expert on theology or church history to answer your questions and to dive deeper into that week’s topic.

Want to know a little bit more about the course? Here goes:

Faith alone is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The doctrine of justification by faith alone is at the center of Reformation theology, and remains critical for all believers today. This doctrine is continually under assault, yet without it, there is no gospel. In this course, Dr. Sproul explores the doctrine of justification historically, theologically, and biblically. He carefully defines each term in the phrase “justification by faith alone” while pointing to the imputation of a perfect righteousness found only in Jesus Christ.

And here is the course schedule:

  • Preview Week (Aug. 29–Sep. 4): “A Doctrine for Today”
  • Week 1 (Sep. 5–11): “Martin Luther”
  • Week 2 (Sep. 12–18): “The Ninety-Five Theses”
  • Week 3 (Sep. 19–25): “The Roman Catholic View”
  • Week 4 (Sep. 26–Oct. 2): “Defining Our Terms”
  • Week 5 (Oct. 3–9): “By Faith Alone”
  • Week 6 (Oct. 10–16): “Paul’s Letter to the Romans”
  • Week 7 (Oct. 17–23): “The Consequences of Justification”
  • Week 8 (Oct. 24–30): “Paul vs. James?”

Getting Started

Enrollment is open right now at connect.ligonier.org. You can access the course, preview the learning path, and, of course, register. Access to the course material will open on August 29 with a preview week titled “A Doctrine for Today.” The course will officially begin on Tuesday, September 6 when I host the first Hangout.

We have even arranged a nice little bonus for you: Everyone who completes the course will receive a hard copy of R.C. Sproul’s excellent book The Truth of the Cross. That will be sent your way once the course is complete.

I’d love for you to join in and take “Justified by Faith Alone” with me. Again, it is completely free and requires just an hour or two per week between now and November 1. I think you will find it both challenging and edifying. Why not take it with your spouse, with your family, with your small group? Get creative and get learning!

Click here to get started.

August 23, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: God’s Love by R.C. Sproul; 7 Truths that Changed the World by Kenneth Samples; Preparing Evangelistic Sermons by Ramesh Richard; and In Defense of the Bible by Terry Wilder.

Logos 7

I mentioned yesterday that Logos 7 has released. This article by Morris Proctor (a Logos guru) jumps into one of the 7 major new features. (Also, Andy Naselli shares a brief expression of confidence in the software and the people behind it.)

What Media Get Wrong About Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that they get nearly everything wrong. “A major new report, published today in the journal The New Atlantis, challenges the leading narratives that the media has pushed regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Pastoring People Who Are Smarter Than You

I think most pastors have dealt with this fear before. “I won’t feign humility by falsely degrading my own abilities (though to be honest, in my weaker and more insecure moments I have), but in a comparison of intellectual horsepower, I don’t measure up to the academic achievements of many of my parishioners.”

Thousands Leave Norwegian Church as Online Registration Backfires

Here’s a strange story: “The internet makes everything easier. Sit down at your computer for half an hour, and you can pay your bills, order dinner—and, now, leave the Lutheran Church of Norway, all in just a few clicks.”

Grateful for the Wait

Randy Alcorn: “Barbara Brown Taylor phrased it, ‘What kind of God allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked pop their champagne corks and sing loud songs?’ We may say, ‘Yes, Lord, we accept your wisdom in permitting evil and suffering for a season—but enough is enough. Why do you let it continue?’”

Does Your Pastor Love You?

Here’s a good way to tell.

This Day in 1828. 188 years ago today Carl Gutzlaff and Jacob Tomlin became the first Protestant missionaries to set foot in Thailand. *

Contentment and Providence

“How fragile is your contentment? How much of your life—or how little—would have to change for you to plunge into frustrated, joyless discontent?” John MacArthur offers encouragement.

The Optimal U.S. National Parks Centennial Road Trip

Some day I’ll do this, though I should probably work through the Canadian parks first.

Flashback: 9 Parenting Truths from John Piper

Here are some important parenting truths from John Piper.

In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. —C.H. Spurgeon

The Temple and the Tabernacle
August 22, 2016

If you are a committed reader, you know what it’s like when you get swept away by a book—where hours pass in what feels like minutes. You know the sheer pleasure of being drawn into a book that is unexpectedly interesting and intriguing. This was the case for me this weekend when I began to read The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation. Hidden behind that title is a brilliant and fascinating work that offers something to every Christian.

This book, as the title suggests, is a study of the Old Testament temple and tabernacle. Yet it is much more than that. So central are these buildings to Old Testament worship and New Testament symbolism that understanding them, understanding the roles they played, understanding the way they were made, understanding their function to Old Testament worship, and understanding the key differences between them illumines so much of the Christian faith. We better understand who we are when we understand these buildings.

Hays begins in the Garden of Eden which so many scholars understand as its own kind of temple. “The garden … is a place where God’s presence dwells in a special kind of way so that his people can be with him and worship him. This is precisely the function of a sanctuary or temple.” The garden, then, is a tabernacle before the tabernacle, a temple before the temple. It is here that we first encounter the notion of God dwelling among his people, of the symbolic trees that may have found their way into both the tabernacle and temple, of sin and the interruption of relationship between God and man, of the cherubim that were so prominent within the two buildings.

He then moves to the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan and describes the creation and the function of the tabernacle. “The tabernacle is the avenue through which God will encounter his people. It is the means to an end; it is not the end itself. The goal is for God’s people, the ones he has just delivered, to enter into relationship with him and experience his presence.” Each element of that tabernacle and each action carried out there is meant to permit and promote the relationship of God to his people. Of course he shows how the tabernacle prefigures Christ, but he offers an appropriate and much-needed caution: “Without doubt there is much about the tabernacle that points to Christ and finds ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Yet … Just because there is a central story-line theological connection between Christ and the ancient tabernacle, we do not have the liberty to let our imaginations run wild and dream up prophetic connections about every little detail of the tabernacle. This is not at all the kind of comparison the New Testament makes, and we should seek to follow the approach the New Testament takes in relating Christ to the tabernacle.”

With the Garden of Eden and tabernacle behind him, he moves to Solomon’s temple and carefully shows how this temple is different from the tabernacle, not only in its size, grandeur, and permanence, but also in its planning and building. “The clear and unmistakable focus throughout the tabernacle construction story in Exodus 25–31 and in Exodus 35–40 is on constructing the tabernacle exactly as God has explicitly and verbally commanded the Israelites to construct it. God initiates the construction of the tabernacle, he gives explicit instructions on how to construct it, he demands total obedience to the details he provides, and he empowers the workmen with the skill needed to carry out the work. From start to finish, it is a work conceived, designed, and superintended by God.” But then we see this important contrast: “Although it follows the same basic literary structural form, the account of the construction of the temple in 1 Kings 5–8 is dramatically different. The contrast is startling. God is not involved. He does not initiate the construction of the temple, give any design input, or superintend the construction. Indeed, instead of being dominated by God and his verbal directives, the temple construction story is dominated by King Solomon and two Canaanites from Tyre.” As the temple is completed, we see that God still comes to dwell within it, but in a less significant way than the temple.

Of course Solomon’s temple is destroyed after just a few hundred years, so Hays discusses the second temple, showing that while it eventually becomes one of the wonders of the ancient world, it is never God’s dwelling place in the same way as the first temple and tabernacle before it. Rather, the weight of Scripture turns to Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of the many promises that God will dwell with man. Then, of course, Hays has to look at Christians as those who today are called God’s temple. “It is rather sobering, then, and also a little frightening, to realize that if we are Christians and have accepted Jesus Christ by faith, this same holy, awesome, powerful King of the universe now resides right inside of us. This can only happen because Jesus Christ has made us holy. Because of what Jesus has done, the multiple layers of separation (courtyard, holy place, most holy place) have all been removed, and we are now allowed right into the presence of God. This is an incredible privilege, but it brings responsibility with it as well. Peter quotes from Leviticus (11:44, 45; 19:2), ‘Be holy, because I am holy,’ to challenge Christians to realize the amazing privilege they now have in Christ and thus to lead holy lives (1 Pet. 1:15–16).”

The Temple and the Tabernacle is as good a book as I’ve read in 2016 and it is one I gladly commend to you. While its focus is on ancient construction projects, ancient buildings, ancient rites, there is application for each of us today. You cannot read it without being impressed by the unity of Scripture. You cannot read it without being struck by the holiness, patience, and mercy of God. You cannot read it without seeing the insufficiency of the temple and the all-sufficiency of Christ, the one who would be the ultimate temple. Those ancient buildings were places of worship for the Israelites. Understanding them is an opportunity for worship for Christians today.