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

Tim Challies

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January 2004

January 27, 2004

I finished this book almost ten days ago and have not yet been able to write a satisfactory review of it. I began several times, but each time found I was missing some important aspect of it. I believe the source of my trouble is that I read this book only after reading many others that came after. If I had read this book when it was published (1986) I would seen it as groundbreaking. But today, when we are surrounded by books on the principles of church growth, this book does not seem to have much new to add.

One thing that is unique about this book is that it was written by a Presbyterian pastor who also taught at Westminster Theological Seminary. Though church growth and large churches are generally associated with evangelicalism, this book details the rise of a large Reformed church. Also, this book deals with outgrowing an existing church whereas many newer books that discuss church growth do so from a church-planting perspective.

January 26, 2004

I have a large collection of Christian music. I received my introduction to Christian music in 1990 when my friend had me listen to a Petra tape. Just for historical purposes, that album was Beyond Belief. I was intrigued by the music and shortly after purchased Beyond Belief and Petrafied (a Petra compilation). That was the beginning of something of an obsession with Christian music. Though I cannot afford to buy as much as I might like, I have managed to amass a decent collection over the past 13 years. I first posted the collection on the Internet as part of a learning project (teaching myself PHP and MYSQL). My friends soon found it handy so they could browse the collection and tell me which albums they wanted to borrow. And so I have continued to update the database for the past two years. As time goes on I try to add value to the collection by adding more information to the records. It is a slow and time-consuming process and on that is on-going.

Please contact me if you have any burning questions about any of this!

And so I present to you, the Music Collection.

January 26, 2004

Scouring the news sites I came up with some interesting links in regards to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Hollywood Jesus has a review. You may want to turn down your speakers because the movie’s trailer plays automatically when you go to the site. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the review.

The Washington Times has an article about Christian leaders as well as some Jewish leaders who saw the movie. The Christians loved it while the Jewish people found it to be anti-semitic.

Lifeway writes about a showing for many Christian leaders. Those who saw it confirm it was Biblical and powerful. One of them comments specifically on the Protestant view of the movie saying “As Protestants, we may think there’s a little bit greater emphasis on Mary,” referring to settings in the movie, such as the scourging of Jesus, in which Mary is depicted as being present when Scripture does not confirm her participation. But Denison said it did not raise an overarching concern about the film.

Misc Reviews of The Passion of the Christ

January 26, 2004

To study Abraham Lincoln is to study character. I would be hard-pressed to think of a person who lived since the time of Christ that so fully embodied the qualities and character of a Christian. He was a man who lived with humble faith and firm convictions and seemed always to direct himself by what was right.

Perhaps no other character in history other than Jesus has been written about as much as Abraham Lincoln. There are literally hundreds of books that trace his life, from its humble beginnings in the backwoods of Kentucky to its conclusion at the hands of an assassin. This book does not attempt to provide an exhaustive biography of his life. Rather, it traces the growth of Lincoln as a Christian. It traces the roots of his faith in the teachings of his mother and shows how his faith was tested and sharpened through his life. It shows how the wisdom which made him famous was godly wisdom, learned through a lifetime of humility and submission to God.

January 26, 2004

Christian Handbook is subtitled “A straightforward guide to the Bible, church history and Christian doctrine.” Written by Peter Jeffrey (a pastor in the United Kingdom) the book presents a wonderful introduction to the foundations and teachings of Reformed Christianity.

The book begins with an examination of the Bible. It first examines how the Bible was written and compiled and then moves to a short overview of each of the Testaments with their settings and teachings. Almost every page contains a quote by a great Christian teacher of the past.

The second section of the book examines the church, dedicating a chapter to the first 450 years, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Eighteenth-century revivals and finally the nineteenth and twentieth-century revivals.

The bulk of the book is contained in the third section which examines the Christian faith. It is a layman’s introduction to systematic theology, beginning with who God is and ending with the end times. There is a Reformed flavor throughout and the author quotes heavily from many Reformed pastors and theologians.

January 25, 2004

I wrote this article a few weeks ago, but have decided to repost it as part of the Blogger Idol competition being held by a fellow blogger. This week’s theme has to do with freedom and I thought this article fit the bill. Enjoy!

There is a misconception about Christianity whereby non-Christians seem to think that Christians live their lives burdened by myriads of unfair and outdated rules. Though some of these rules are perceived to be admirable and praiseworthy, many others, they think, are simply burdensome and unnecessary. Few would argue that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a bad one. But when it comes to the commandments regarding adultery and sexual relations people no longer consider them praiseworthy. Many people look at Christians and scoff that we would allow ourselves to be ruled by Biblical precepts which demand that sex is to be enjoyed only by a husband and wife within a marriage relationship. I would like to take just a short time to look at the relationship of rules to freedom.

America is a nation of freedom. Why is it that this nation is the “land of the free?” Quite simply, it is because the country is governed by a set of laws that guarantee freedom. America is not a nation that is unburdened by rules. Rather, it is a nation bound by strict rules which protect its citizen’s rights and freedoms. Consider a nation that had absolutely no laws; no governance; no constitution. Would that be a land where people would have true freedom? No! There would be terrible chaos and bloodshed and that nation would undoubtedly be a terrible place to live.

I am a Web designer by trade, and as such I need to be able to create. To be a successful Web designer and to create Web sites that are functional and attractive I need to operate within a set of rules. There is a governing body, the World Wide Web Consortium www.w3.org that oversees standards and governance for the Internet. These standards guarantee that every Web page that adheres to them will be visible by every Internet user. They ensure that a novice computer user operating a 4-year old computer will see a Web site identically to an expert using a brand-new computer.

For example, the rules dictate that every Web page needs to have a piece of code at the beginning that looks like this:

<body>

That small piece of code tells a Web browser that everything after that tag is HTML code (HTML is the programming language Web pages are written in) and should be displayed as such. Without that piece of code, the page would display only as a list of programming code. Similarly, at the end of the document there must be a piece of code that looks like this:

</body>

That “tag” tells the browser that the page has completed. Anything beyond that code will not be displayed in HTML formatting. There are hundreds of similar rules governing HTML coding. As a designer, I have the freedom to ignore those standards and write a Web page however I see fit. The problem, though, is that ignoring the rules will lead to any number of problems. The page may be formatted in a way that makes it very difficult to read. It may display as a combination of properly-formatted text and HTML code. It is even possible that the Web page will not display in any Web browser.

Imagine the headaches if every designer designed his sites to a different set of standards. One designer might create his sites to work only with a specific browser while another might make his work only if a computer is of a certain speed. Needless to say, browsing Web pages would be, at best, burdensome, and in many cases, impossible.

The alternative to operating outside the rules is to create Web pages within the necessary boundaries. When I learn of the rules and operate within the framework of those rules, I have total freedom to create a site that is functional, artistic and useful. I do not think anyone would consider that to be burdensome! On the contrary, it is necessary to have the Internet function with some semblance of order.

The analogy should be clear. God does not give us a list of rules so we can suffer and practice self-denial. God provides rules so that we can live within a good and necessary framework. Within this framework we can find true freedom to live as we were created to live. We see that rules and freedom are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Rules provide freedom.

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January 25, 2004

The following article, entitled Take Back Your Sabbath is taken from Christianity Today.

NORTH AMERICA’S largest purveyor of Christian merchandise recently began opening its 315 stores on Sunday afternoons. Family Christian Stores touted its decision as a way to expand ministry opportunity. According to a press release, the firm sees it as a way of fulfilling its “calling to provide … Bibles, books and other Christian resources to meet their [customers’] needs—when their needs arise” (italics supplied). That sense of urgency makes them sound more like a crisis hotline than a retail store.

The media were quick to make comparisons with other Christian-owned businesses that do not open on Sundays: Lifeway Christian Stores, Mardel Christian and Educational Supplies, Hobby Lobby stores, and Chik-fil-A restaurants. Family Christian Stores did not see the parallels. “No one is going to hell if they don’t eat a chicken sandwich on a Sunday,” FCS president David Browne told The Dallas Morning News—as if souls hang in the balance because they can’t buy Max Lucado or John Eldredge between noon and five on Sunday.

Hardly anybody thinks people are going to hell anymore if they do buy a chicken sandwich or go shopping on a Sunday. But The Charlotte Observer’s Ken Garfield thinks that maybe U.S. culture is going to hell because of its surrender to the rat race. He called the FCS announcement “another sign of the culture turning Sunday into one more day in the rat race—that no matter what your faith, or even if you have no faith, life is too demanding to allow anyone to take a step back and a day off.”

Garfield hinted at the spiritual dimension of a weekly day of rest: Faith is what allows people to emulate God and rest from their works. “Life is too demanding” for those of little faith, because the inability to rest is the incapacity to let go of the illusion of control. The constant need to work, shop, and meet demands can be a practical denial that God is in control. Conversely, a spiritual discipline of regular rest from the constant drive to check items off a to-do list can be a powerful symbol of our trust in God’s sufficiency.

From Labor Law to Worship Day

The biblical Sabbath was a blend of the practical and the spiritual—a labor law for the protection of workers and a symbolic participation in the life of God. In Exodus 20, the Sabbath commandment is addressed to people who have both servants and animals working for them so that all who labor will be given needed rest. Workers do this by imitating God, who rested.

In Deuteronomy 5, the Sabbath is connected to God’s delivering his people from bondage in Egypt. Work is good. Bondage is bad. But work easily becomes a form of bondage. The Sabbath is a sign that our work is not coerced, and regular rest allows us to experience our work as free people rather than as bondslaves.

Christians today tend to connect the Sabbath with corporate worship, although the Hebrew Bible did not treat the Sabbath that way. In the Christian church, the history of Sabbath (and Sunday) is complex, but eventually the principal Christian day of worship and the principle of Sabbath rest coalesced in the church’s thinking.

That was not without wisdom. As the 20th century Christian philosopher Josef Pieper argued, true rest is not possible apart from worship. The heart of divine worship is sacrifice, and sacrifice is the ultimate antithesis of utility. “The act of worship creates a store of real wealth which cannot be consumed by the workaday world. It sets up an area where calculation is thrown to the winds and goods are deliberately squandered, where usefulness is forgotten and generosity reigns.”

Sabbath Protest

Our churches and families need to return to a Sabbath consciousness that can provide a platform for countercultural witness. Without being legalistic about it, Christians have a duty to protest the oppressive tyranny of time and productivity and an economic order that tries to squeeze inordinate productivity out of people’s energies.

Such a witness will take varied shapes, but along with church worship it should be characterized by a cessation from paid employment, a respite from commercial activity, an investment in relationships, a receptivity to divine wisdom, a celebration of creation, and intentional acts of kindness.

Churches and small groups should experiment with mutual covenants to take back their Sabbath time. And in the course of experimentation and mutual feedback, they will find a blessing.

Such efforts will take mutual support and planning, because our lives are swept along by the currents of modern culture. Our culture fosters an ethic of accumulation, which teaches us to value ourselves primarily in economic terms. It even teaches us to rate our leisure by the number and the quality of our toys rather than by the restorative quality of our play. We are also shaped by a utilitarian ethos that teaches us to justify every activity in terms of its usefulness to us and others.

There is a gratuitous quality to Sabbath rest. It is antithetical to utility. The celebration of the goodness of God and of his creation needs no further justification.

The Charlotte Observer’s Garfield suggests that, “in a twist,” the largest Christian retail chain opening on Sundays may “stir some of us to take a stand against the routine of everyday life.”

“Sunday is ours,” he says. “You can’t have it.”

Rest and leisure are God’s, we say. And the world can’t take them away.

January 24, 2004

This week’s Blog of the Week is CoffeeSwirls owned and operated by Doug McHone. The site’s biggest feature is a daily devotional as Doug writes each day about his one-year journey through the Bible. He allows you to sign up for a newsletter to receive his Weekly Bible Readings via email. He also dedicates some time to writing about family and football.

Theology, the Bible and football. What more could a guy want?