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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

November 2004

November 26, 2004

As Christians we have generally grown accustomed to the use of mainstream music in our faith and in our worship. Christian rock, once a fringe movement, has become widely-known and I suspect most Christians now listen to some form of contemporary Christian music. If you’ve ever spoken to unbelievers about this music, you know that the very mention of it tends to illicit giggles and raised eyebrows. Well, if you want to try to understand what they think about Christian music, try reading this article about Muslim rap music. It seems as foreign to me as Christian rock must seem to unbelievers.

I’m probably one of only a handful of people who reads the web sites of both James White and David Cloud, so hopefully not too many people are following their ongoing argument. It began a couple of weeks ago when Cloud wrote about White and Dave Hunt’s book Debating Calvinism and praised Hunt while subtly mocking White. White took offense, of course, and challenged Cloud to a debate on the issue. And they’ve now gone back and forth. Cloud recently published a rather lengthy article dealing with why he will not hold a debate. I hope the two of them can just lay this rather embarrassing conflict to rest. I’d love to see the debate, of course, but it clearly isn’t going to happen, so I would encourage the two of them to forgive each other, forget it, and move on.

A couple of weeks ago Billy Graham was honored with the Prince of Peace Award given by the Prince of Peace Foundation which “seeks to encourage and assist those who pray with Saint Francis “Make me an instrument of Thy peace” — something that Billy Graham has endeavored to do during his extraordinary life!” The award has previously been given to Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Graham accepted the award and donated the half million dollar prize to the Los Angeles Crusade held last weekend. Graham gave a short acceptance speech where he said ““I knew two of the recipients of this award. There have only been three. One was King Hussein and I knew him over a period years and about a week he left the Mayo Clinic to go back home for the last time and I talked to him on the phone for quite a while. I never knew a man I respected more than King Hussein and his wife Queen Noor. And then Mother Teresa — I remember we were in Calcutta and Calcutta is called a City of Joy because it is such a terrible place. We went to see Mother Teresa and when we got there at her House of Charity, she was holding a dying man in her arm and she could see us right then but about 15 or 20 minutes later she came in and she was so gracious and so spiritual that I felt like kneeling down in her presence. I was so overwhelmed…want to say in closing that all the glory goes to Christ. He is the Prince of Peace and there is not going to be any peace anywhere until he comes back and sets up his Kingdom. We see today that Mr. Arafat has now gone. Great turmoil is on in the thinking of all sides and the only one who can solve it is Jesus. He will be the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace, I want to lay whatever awards that I have received at His feet. Because it His doing, not mine.” Don’t make me comment on his desire to kneel in Mother Teresa’s presence. Read more here.

I’ll close today with a wonderful quote from John Bunyan as quoted in a biography of him. Bunyan speaks of the temptation to assume that a person who is less-than-perfect can preaching about offenses to God of which he is guilty himself. But he soon realizes that when he preaches he does so by the power of God and not by his own power. “The tempter tried to silence him by telling him that what he was going to say would condemn himself, and he would go “full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit door.” “ ‘What,’ the devil would say, ‘will you preach this? Of this your own soul is guilty. Preach not of it at all, or if you do, yet so mince it as to make way for your own escape.’” All, however, was in vain. Necessity was laid upon him. “Woe,” he cried, “is me, if I preach not the gospel.”

November 25, 2004

In Canada we celebrated Thanksgiving long ago, on October 11. At that time I wondered on this site just who it is that people offer their thanks to if they do not believe in God. The verb “thanks” without an appropriate number of prepositions makes little sense. While everyone likes to give thanks for things at Thanksgiving, what has often been lost is the fact that we do not merely give thanks, but give thanks to. Millions of Americans will say today that they are thankful for their families, for their jobs or for the freedoms they enjoy, but who are they thankful to? It seems to me that there is little purpose in being thankful if we do not acknowledge that there is to whom we owe this thanks! Do I thank fate? Do I thank circumstance? Do I thank myself?

I would imagine this poses a problem to those who do not honor God, for they are left thanking no one and nothing. While their thanks may be sincere, for they truly are thankful for their families and freedoms, it simply makes no sense without directing that thanks to God.

James White wrote about this today as well. He says “But the fact is that “thanksgiving” means “the giving of thanks” and when you “give” something you give it to someone identifiable… It is a time for giving thanks to God for His bountiful blessings. The giving of thanks is not only a hallmark of Christian character, but it is a duty incumbent upon all men.” He quotes Romans 1:20-21 which reads “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom. 1:20-21)” All men owe thanks to God.

He concludes with these words: “It is no wonder, then, that giving of thanks is one of the most commonly noted results of regeneration itself: if it is natural for the creature to give thanks (outside the twisted opposition of sin), then it follows when a God-hater is turned to a God-lover, thanksgiving will flow from that redeemed heart. As the Word reminds us:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with [an attitude of] thanksgiving; (Col. 4:2)

you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2Cor. 9:11)”

So when you take time to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for today, take time also to reflect on the One to whom you owe thanks. The blessings you enjoy, be they family, friends, freedom – all these things are given by God and He deserves your thanksgiving. Give Him what is due Him.

November 25, 2004

James White was on Issues, Etc (a radio show) last Sunday talking about his book Scripture Alone. The first hour he mostly talked with the host about various issues and the second hour he answered calls from listeners. If you have questions or concerns about the doctrine of sola scriptura I’m sure you would find this program helpful. Part one is here and part two here. Those links take you directly to a Windows Media File (wma). You can grab the MP3s here.

One of Christian music’s best and most popular bands, PFR, has released a new album. They seem to come and go, retire and unretire, so it is difficult to track what they are doing. But this week they have released The Bookhouse Recordings, which unfortunately is available only through Family Christian Stores (of which there are exactly 0 locations in Canada). The album contains mostly re-recorded hit songs from their previous albums, but also includes three new ones. Christianity Today has an interview with the band that is worth reading if you are a fan of their music. Now I just need to figure out how I can get one of those CDs up here!

While we’re on the subject of music, Switchfoot is coming back to Toronto for the third time this year (December 8). You can rest assured that I will be there. I just can’t get too much Switchfoot…

The New York Times has an op-ed column written by Nicholas D. Kristof that is sure to cause some controversy. Consider the following quote: “The “Left Behind” series, the best-selling novels for adults in the U.S., enthusiastically depict Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world’s Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: “Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and … they tumbled in, howling and screeching.”” Nice, isn’t it? Later he says “Silly me. I’d forgotten the passage in the Bible about how Jesus intends to roast everyone from the good Samaritan to Gandhi in everlasting fire, simply because they weren’t born-again Christians.” Clearly this is a man with an agenda! Of course I have no great affection for the Left Behind series, but this article is inflammatory simply for the sake of being inflammatory. You can read it here. (you will need to register)

And since it is Thanksgiving today for my neighbours to the north, I thought I would conclude with George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted’ for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789. (signed) G. Washington

November 24, 2004

Last weekend Billy Graham preached at what may be his final crusade, preaching before up to 82,000 people at a time. A headline at Pastors.com proclaimed the crusade a great success, indicating that some 12,000 people made decisions for Christ. In a previous article I expressed concerns with Graham’s ecumenism and the fact that Roman Catholic counselors would be present at the event and any people who made decisions and indicated they were from a Catholic background would be directed back to their Catholic churches. Today I’d like to examine the idea of the “decision” that weights so heavily at these crusades.

If you were to do a survey of church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ.” Similarly one would find no reference to the altar calls which are the culmination of every modern evangelistic crusade. Those elements, which are found in nearly every evangelical church today, were inventions generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.

We might wonder what the emphasis of preachers was in the time before altar calls. What was it that preachers asked of their flock before anyone had considered calling people to make decisions and then make a movement to the front of the church? One finds that preachers emphasized coming to Christ. Charles Spurgeon whose ministry was contemporary with Finney’s was converted by just such a call, a call to come to Christ, and later emphasized that same call in his messages. At the conclusion of one message he said “Go to your God at once, even where you now are. Cast yourself on Christ, at once, ere you stir an inch.” He made no call to come to the front of the room or to mark a decision on a piece of paper – he emphasized only the importance of casting oneself on Christ.

Clearly decisions for Christ are a late addition to Christian practice. To understand the issues at stake, let’s examine what regeneration is, what various traditions teach about regeneration and what the Bible teaches.

Before we begin I would like to indicate that I do not wish to discredit the 12,000 people who made decisions at the Billy Graham crusade or to cast doubt on their conversion, for that is a matter between them and the Lord. I also do not wish to vilify those who practice such forms of crusades. I wish merely to examine the concept of decision and altar calls in light of the Scripture.

We will first define regeneration. J.I. Packer thoroughly defines regeneration as “…the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It is an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8). This change is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. It originates not with man but with God (John 1:12, 13; 1 John 2:29; 5:1, 4). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.” Regeneration, said simply, is the Spirit’s act whereby He gives to man a new nature which frees his will and gives him a disposition towards God. This definition is wholly Reformed, and thus wholly Biblical.

A survey of Christian doctrine would find three predominant views on when regeneration occurs.

The first is known as baptismal regeneration. The Roman Catholic tradition, as well as that held by Anglican, and Lutheran groups, believe that regeneration occurs at the moment of baptism. When a child is baptized, the Holy Spirit immediately regenerates that person. The Catholic Catechism typifies this view: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Pg.354, #1265) This view has been deemed false by the vast majority of Protestants who believe it undermines what the Scriptures plainly teach.

The second view is that the Holy Spirit regenerates a person at a time of His choosing. I suppose we could call it monergistic regeneration to indicate that it depends solely on God. This regeneration does not depend on man or on any desire or decision on his part. The Spirit moves in the person, giving him a new nature and allowing him the capacity to express faith and a desire to know and trust God. This view is closely associated with Calvinism and the Reformed faith and its high view of God’s sovereignty.

The third view is the one we are concerned with and it emphasizes a decision, hence the term decisional regeneration. In this view man has been wooed by the Spirit to the point that is now able to have faith in God and he then expresses that faith in a decision to follow the Lord. When he makes this decision he is immediately regenerated. While the decision is internal, it is often expressed in a prayer, a physical action such as raising a hand or walking to an altar or even in something as simple as marking a decision card.

We now need to ask what the dangers are in a decisional form of regeneration, or is it merely a theological nuance that has no bearing on the Christian life?

The answer is clear – there is a significant danger in this theology. Finney departed radically from orthodox doctrine when in Lectures on Revivals of Religion he said “Religion is the work of man.” Jay Adams writes “The great theological difference between modern evangelism and biblical evangelism hinges on this basic question whether true religion is the work of God or of man. At best, the doctrine of ‘Decisional Regeneration’ attributes the new birth partly to man and partly to God.” When God and man cooperate in salvation, it becomes important to appeal to human emotion and desires and to secure a human response to what the Bible tells us is God’s work. We allow man to play the role of God and decide for his own salvation. Man allows the Spirit to enter his heart through an act of decision rather than believing that the Spirit does a work apart from the will of man. Decisional regeneration, then, suppresses the teaching that God alone is active in salvation, in giving life, and that man is utterly helpless apart from Him.

The risk we take in telling people that they have been saved after they have marked a card or raised their hand, is that we know only that they have made some type of decision. This decision may be sincere and well-intentioned, but it does not necessarily indicate that the Spirit has regenerated the person. Finney’s legacy in church history is largely one of failure, of creating masses of people who believed they were Christians, but most of whom showed no evidence. They were assured by their decision which they could always regard as a milestone in their lives, but while they had raised their hand, they had never turned to Christ. Why had they not done this? Because the Spirit had not done any work in them and they were, thus, unregenerate. They had attempted to make themselves believers, a task which can only be done by God. The same problem prevails today. When we tell people that their decision is indicative of their salvation, we may give them false hope. We may give them assurance that is not ours to give. The biblical reality is that God gives salvation to whom He wishes. “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:21)

What then should be our response? We must encourage people to turn to Christ, to repent of their sins and to beg Him for mercy. We must preach the gospel that they are sinners, but that Christ has come to save sinners just like them. We must not deviate from the Scriptures in order to win more bodies while we give false assurance to souls.

If you would like to study this issue in more depth, I recommend John Murray’s short book Redemption Accomplished and Applied as well as Jay Adam’s excellent article entitled Decisional Regeneration.

November 24, 2004

The owner of a grilled cheese sandwich that bears the image of the Virgin Mary sold it at auction yesterday, bringing in £15,000 (I had to work hard to find that £ symbol). The sandwich is ten years old but the former owner insists it has never produced even a single pore of mold. Apparently she decided that it was now time to share this wonderful culinary icon with the rest of the world. It was purchased by an online casino. Read about it and see a picture here.

By this time you have probably heard that Dan Rather has announced his retirement as anchor at CBS. Naturally we all assumed it was directly related to his shocking attempt to influence the election by using fictional documents related to George W Bush’s National Guard service. Of course the network is denying any connection while those who fought hardest to make sure he atoned for his misdeed are claiming that there is obviously a connection. Perhaps the greatest critique of his career comes from the San Franciso Chronicle which says “As much as Dan Rather prided himself on being a reporter, he sometimes missed one of the craft’s cardinal principles: You are not the story. Too often, he was.” I doubt anyone will miss his presence at the desk.

Could trouble be brewing for Hillary’s long-awaited Presidential campaign? Kathleen Willey, who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and who testified in the Paula Jones case, warned Hillary, “I have some words of advice for the former first lady. Remember the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” The Swift Boat Vets played a key role in discrediting John Kerry - could the same fate befall Hillary because of the perversions of her husband?

National Geographic recently asked on the its cover “Was Darwin Wrong?” It then answers with a resounding no, showcasing some terribly biased and poor research and documentation. Thomas Woodward, an expert in Intelligent Design, examines the article in Christianity Today, showing that in this magazine, Creationism never had a chance.

And finally, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you have likely heard that some of the greatest hymn-writers of the past, most notably the Wesleys, used bar tunes and drinking song tunes for their hymns. Dean McIntrye studied this and says he has thoroughly debunked it. While the Wesleys did occasionally make use of secular tunes, they never used drinking songs. Even when they chose a secular tune they always ensured it was of “recognizable beauty and excellence.” The author concludes: ” I feel quite comfortable casting my lot with Crueger, Bach and the Wesleys in this matter. I’m happy for us to “redeem” and use secular music in our worship if it is appropriate (and legal) and if the result is something we need not be ashamed of in offering back to God. Use of the music must not put us in association with activities, lifestyles and behaviors that are inconsistent with a life of love in Christ.” You can read the short but thorough article here.

November 23, 2004

I just received a letter from Sola Scriptura Publishing that contained joyous news. The Reformation Study Bible, previously known as The New Geneva Study Bible is back in print and will be available in English Standard Version as of March 2005. It was edited by R.C. Sproul and contributors included J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem and James Boice, some of the finest Reformed scholars around. It had been supplanted by the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, which while a great study tool, was available only in the NIV translation - something that was a bit odd for a Bible aimed specifically at Reformed people who generally prefer a more literal translation. I coveted the confessions and catechisms this version contrained but could not bring myself to spend the money on an NIV.

I have long treasured my New Geneva Study Bible which we received as a wedding present from our church, but lately have been intruiged by the ESV. A few weeks ago in home church I was shocked to find that my Bible contained a whole passage that was not in anyone else’s translation. While I do like the New King James, I really do want to move to the ESV, a translation I have come to respect very much. So now the question becomes do I want to spend $60 (Canadian) on the hardcover version of this new Bible? Fortunately my birthday is a few days away and Christmas follows soon after. And now I’ll have to wait until March to actually get it into my hands!

The Reformation Study Bible is already listed on Amazon and you can see it here. Don’t ask me how they have reviews for it already (or I’d have to guess they are based on the older, NKJV version…).

November 23, 2004

Every now and then it’s fun to look through my site stats and see how people found this site through search engines. In the past couple of months 3258 different keyphrases led to this site. Here are the top five with the percentage they constitute of searches leading to this site:

  1. 40 days of community constitutes 2%.
  2. Praise dancing weighs in second at 1.9%.
  3. Rick Warren comes in at 1.%.
  4. Duggar family at an even 1%.
  5. Plus ca change rounds out the top 5 at .8%.

Here are some random interesting ones:

  • innocent iii and romanization and power and pope and faith - Incredibly this somehow generated 28 searches. Your guess is as good as mine.
  • try to understand turn back tim - I do try to understand and turn back!
  • raspberries on her - No comment
  • challies.com - I’m glad to see this search leads to my site, though I wonder why one has to search for it
  • solid rock church statue - I had a reporter for a major American newspaper ask to interview me about this a few weeks ago. I declined.
  • happy is a yuppy word - I broke the news of this song to Switchfoot fans and it’s generated some visits.
  • man hands - Isn’t that a Seinfeld episode?
  • bar - Not too sure about this one.
  • wild at heart unbiblical - Yes, it is.
  • does my church family confirm it? is it consistent with my s.h.a.p.e.? - My guess would be no!
  • steve camp divorce wife - When did my site become People magazine?
  • why did pepsi change their colour - Sorry, but I can’t help you with that.

All this makes me realize that a lot of people must reach this site and be immediately disappointed that I can’t provide the answers they seek. I don’t know when Pepsi changes its color - after all, I’m a Coke drinker. I don’t know why Steve Camp got divorced and I won’t show you pictures of my man hands!

November 23, 2004

Almost a year ago I created a phrase to describe something I was going through. Being unable to come up with any new and exciting site designs, I found that the words Creativity Cramp described how I was feeling. It is a general inability to be creative. And that’s where I am today. I have attempted to write three different articles and all of them were just awful. I don’t often give up, but today I am doing just that. My ability to create has left me, hopefully just for today.

In the meantime, here is some interesting reading:

  • He Lives continues the series on church history. Unfortunately it has resulted in him posting nothing else over the past weeks.
  • Tim Irvin writes about the Masons. You can read part one and part two.
  • Ochuk writes about Billy Graham and Inclusivism and yours truly took the opportunity to open my mouth (probably a bit too wide)!
  • And finally, I’m sure I’ve said this before, but if you don’t read James White’s blog, you really need to begin. He seems to find trouble like I find candy bars (ie way too often). He deals with trouble better than I deal with the candy bars. You can read his blog here. I especially enjoyed his little tangle with David Cloud. Cloud wrote a nasty article about White but soon changed some of the text (I read the first version) but then refuses to talk to or debate White. While I appreciate aspects of Cloud’s ministry in that he does stand for truth, he certainly isn’t very good at choosing his battles, much like his friend Dave Hunt.

And that is all you will get out of me today, unless I am suddenly moved to write something fascinating.

I’ll give you a sneak peak at a quote I tried writing about today but will hopefully get to tomorrow:

And by the way, there’s truth in every religion. Christians believe that there’s truth in every religion. But we just believe that there’s one savior. We believe we can learn truth — I’ve learned a lot of truth from different religions. Because they all have a portion of the truth. I just believe there is one savior, Jesus Christ.

Any thoughts on that?