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Tim Challies

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April 2005

April 23, 2005

Too often, when Christians discuss worship, they go little further than arguments about styles of music. The “worship wars” that have plagued the modern church are a prime example of this. Many churches have fallen apart and many Christians have been deeply hurt over styles of music. Churches that have sought to be progressive and contemporary have often done away with hymns, throwing away hundreds of years of Christian tradition in the process. Other churches have refused to sing any song written in modern times, indicating an irrational bias towards days gone by. In the process worship has come to be nearly synonymous with music. Church services are often structured around a time of worship, led by a worship pastor, and this is followed by a time of apparently non-worshipful teaching led by a teaching pastor.

April 22, 2005

It has been a while since I have taken the opportunity to write a post of ramblings. Of course some might argue that all my posts are ramblings, and I could hardly argue against that.

Today is a significant way in the life of the Challies family. You see, five years ago we moved to our current home, which just so happens to be in the wealthiest town in Canada. We moved here to be in close proximity to the office where I worked at that time. Newly married, with an infant, and earning less than $30,000 per year, we knew we would not be able to afford living here, so we decided to take in a boarder. And so Kristin arrived in our lives. For five years she lived with us as she attended the local college. She has been part of my son’s life since he was less than a year old and has been part of my daughter’s life since she was born. We suffered with her through some tough times in her life and celebrated when she became a believer. We watched her profess her faith and be baptized. Today Kristin, having finished her program, moved out. While we have gained a bedroom and a cupboard in the kitchen, we have lost a friend. We’ll miss her. I expect my son to miss her most of all as they were great friends.

Moving on to happier matters, D.A. Carson’s new book, Becoming Conversant with Emergent released yesterday, well ahead of schedule. I am waiting for it to show up on this side of the border. I will be reading and reviewing it as soon as I can get my hands on it. Amazon.ca is still projecting a delivery date in early June. Al Mohler has promised a review sometime in the next few days.

I just did a quick count and found I have read 34 books so far this year and have reviewed 33 of them. The other I just finished this morning and will be reviewing, in all likelihood, over the weekend. I have many more than 34 awaiting my attention, so at this rate I could read full-time for about a year and still not run out of material. Every since daylight savings time I have been waking up at about 5 AM, and since I can’t get back to sleep I’ve been dragging myself out of bed and reading. This buys me at least another hour a day! Sooner or later, though, I suspect I’ll get into the law of diminishing returns whereby fatigue becomes a factor and lessens my ability to retain what I read.

I thought I would mention that some exciting things are happening behind-the-scenes at this site and at Diet of Bookworms. I will pass along more information as I am able to.

Anyways, my wife just drove off with a friend. They are heading to Niagara Falls for a weekend women’s conference so I am on my own with the kiddies. I suppose I had best get off the computer and start parenting! My daughter and I are going to head off to the church office and try to fix some broken computers.

April 22, 2005

When I read and review a book I attempt to do so as objectively as possible. After all, each book should be taken on its own merits. It is not entirely fair to cast presuppositions gained from previous books onto an author’s later works. It is not unusual for an author to come to better or worse understandings as his life progresses. A person whose theology once seemed rock-solid, could, unfortunately, write a book later in life that seemed to be anything but orthodox. I say this to preface my review to John Eldredge’s latest book, Captivating. I attempted to be as objective as possible when reading the book, but found it to be nearly impossible. The book was clearly designed to ride the wave of Eldredge’s previous success, and most notably his best-seller Wild at Heart. Wild at Heart is mentioned on the front cover (“Best-Selling Author of Wild at Heart”) and the back (“What Wild at Heart did for men Captivating will do for you”). It was mentioned again in the second sentence of the introduction and was often quoted, even at length, throughout the book (as was The Sacred Romance).

April 21, 2005

In the first article of this brief series we examined Total Depravity, as a prerequisite to evaluating the following statement: “Those who believe in total depravity have more confidence in the possibility of humans having divine knowledge- detailed, down to the footnotes knowledge- than many who don’t call themselves Calvinists.” I indicated that I did not wish to debate Total Depravity at that time, but instead merely wanted to define it. After ninety eight posts (and counting) in the forums I have to conclude that Total Depravity is quite the hotly-debated topic and is one I will have to return to in more detail in a later series. I do not think it is a topic that can be covered sufficiently in only a few paragraphs. With the promise to return to Total Depravity at a later date, let’s move on through this series and examine the clarity of Scripture.

The clarity of Scripture (also known as the perspicuity of Scripture) is a critical doctrine and one that was hotly debated at the time of the Reformation. During the Reformation the Protestant leaders affirmed their belief that the Bible was not a book that had to be kept only in the hands of the religious authorities, for with the Spirit’s guidance any Christian could read and understand it. They pointed to passages in the Bible that seemed to affirm this doctrine, insisting that Scripture testifies that it is clear.

Perhaps the best-known affirmation is in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, a passage that was of utmost importance to the Israelites. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” God expressly commanded that the Bible was to be taught to children and thus it was assumed that they could understand it. He expected that every person would know, discuss and understand His Word.

David, in Psalm 19, goes so far as to say that the Word of God will make the simple wise. “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). He expresses this again in Psalm 119. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). Surely David would not have suggested that the Scripture can make the simple wise if it was too difficult for them to understand!

Jesus never gave reason for us to believe that the Scriptures are too difficult to understand. He repeatedly expressed surprise and disgust that the religious authorities did not accept what was so obvious. He often chastised them with words similar to, “Have you not read…” The reason they did not understand the Scriptures was not due to any fault within the Word, but because of the hardness of their hearts which kept them from seeing what was so clear.

Before we proceed, let us clarify what we mean by the clarity of Scripture. Wayne Grudem defines it in this way: “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”

As is often the case, it is also useful to examine what we do not mean by the clarity of Scripture. The clarity of Scripture does not mean to say that all parts of Scripture are equally clear. There are some parts that are clearly more difficult to understand than others. Even the apostle Peter had to admit that “There are some things … that are hard to understand” within Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16). Anyone who has sought to understand the books of prophecy can also attest to the abundance of difficult passages. However, the basic message of Scripture is crystal clear within the Bible and can be known and understood by even a person with no prior religious knowledge. The Bible is sufficient, with the Spirit’s help, to bring a person to an understanding of the basic message and thus a saving knowledge of Christ.

Last year I attended a conference in Toronto that featured James White. He spoke of a man he met who had previously lived in Afghanistan. At one time this man had never met another Christian in his life, nor did he have access to any books or commentaries, yet had found a Bible and by reading it had become a believer, not knowing if he was the only Christian in the world. Clearly the Scriptures were sufficiently clear for this man.

It is important to note that it is precisely because of the Bible’s clarity and simplicity that many people find it offensive. The Bible teaches with great clarity that we are sinners and stand condemned before God. With equal clarity it teaches that only through Jesus can we have a restored relationship with the Father. This, the very heart of the message of Scripture, is offensive to unregenerate human beings, particularly those who suffer from what R.C. Sproul calls “intellectual arrogance.” In Knowing Scripture he relates an encounter he had with a young man who told him that Christianity is “primitive and obscene”. What this man meant as an insult was absolutely correct! Sproul asks rhetorically, “What kind of a God would reveal his love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound that only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them? (page 16).” Certainly not the God of the Bible, who revealed his love and redemption with the utmost of clarity.

What we learn from examining Scripture is that the qualifications for understanding the Bible are not primarily intellectual, but moral and spiritual. Though written simply, only those who are humble spiritually and morally can understand the deep things of God. Any unbeliever who opens the pages of Scripture earnestly seeking salvation will find it and any Christian who goes to the Word, seeking God’s help, will understand it, for this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He illumines the Scripture.

This doctrine is one of great encouragement to the believer, for we can have confidence that if we approach the Scriptures, the very Words of God, asking the Spirit for His help, we will be able to know and understand them. God has given His Word so that all might have access to Him through them.

So what of the correlation of Total Depravity and the revelation of truth? We will examine this in our next article.

April 20, 2005

This evening I began reading Worship by the Book which is edited by D.A. Carson. Just thirty pages in I found a great quote that I thought I would share. Carson is talking about (obviously) worship and expanding on a rather lengthy definition he provides of the term. I should point out that he is not condemning contemporary worship any more than he is questioning what is right and wrong in traditional worship. What follows is from Carson:

“In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things – whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God – not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God – his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Psalm 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.

We do not expect the garage mechanic to expatiate on the wonders of his tools we expect him to fix the car. He must know how to use his tools, but he must not lose sight of the goal. So we dare not focus on the mechanics of corporate worship and lose sight of the goal. We focus on God himself, and thus we become more godly and learn to worship – and collaterally we learn to edify one another, forbear with one another, challenge one another.”

Tim here again. What really jumped out at me was “worshipping worship.” Wow. I have to wonder, do I ever admire myself admiring the sunset? Carson has given me much to think about.

April 20, 2005

On Monday I announced “A Quick and Captivating Contest.” This was a short and silly contest to see who could correctly guess the number of movies mentioned in John and Stasi Eldredge’s new book Captivating. Eldredge’s love for movies and his reliance on them as a teaching tool is well-documented and is a critique often used against his books. Those who are troubled by his references to movies will find more grounds for concern in this book.

Many readers decided to take a guess at the number of movies referenced. Without actually doing the math, I would estimate the average guess was about 14. Oh ye of too-great-faith.

Let’s get to the results.

For this contest I was looking for the total number of movies mentioned, not the total number of references to movies. There were many times where a single movie was mentioned multiple times, but in such cases I counted the movie only once. There were several times where a book was mentioned that was later made into a movie (Sense and Sensibility, for example). In a couple of cases I was uncertain as to whether the authors were referring to the book or movie. In other cases still I knew it was a reference to a movie only because I recognized a name (ie Cruella DeVille was mentioned, but without explicitly referencing 101 Dalmations). So while it is was sometimes difficult to discern the exact number of movies, I believe this list is accurate. One quick note before we proceed: it is possible that the reference to Sarah, Plain and Tall refers to the book, but there is a movie of this story and it was mentioned in a list of other movies, so I will assume they were referring to the film.

It is important to realize that the authors did not explicitly recommend (or condemn) any of these films. Usually they were simply referred to like this one: “Isn’t something stirred in you when Edward, finally, returns at the end of Sense and Sensibility to proclaim his love for Elinor?” Here is another example. “Think of one of the most romantic scenes you can remember, scenes that made you sigh. Jack with Rose on the bow of the Titanic, his arms around her waist, their first kiss. Wallace speaking in French to Murron, then in Italian: “Not as beautiful as you.” Aragorn, standing with Arwen in the moonlight on the bridge in Rivendell, declaring his love for her. Edward returning for Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, and professor Behr returning for Jo at the end of Little Women. Now, put yourself in the scene as the Beauty, and Jesus as the Lover.”

So with no further blathering on my part, here are the movies referenced in Captivating. One person asked me to include the ratings with the movies, so I have provided that.

Sleeping Beauty - G
Snow White - G
101 Dalmations - G
The Little Mermaid - G
Beauty and the Beast - G
The Sound of Music - G
Gone With The Wind - G
Sense and Sensibility - PG
Little Women - PG
Top Gun - PG
Steel Magnolias - PG
Sarah, Plain and Tall - PG
The Terminal - PG
Rocky - PG
A Cinderella Story - PG
Enchanted April - PG
High Noon - PG
Ever After - PG
Strictly Ballroom - PG
Titanic - PG-13
Pearl Harbor - PG-13
Maid in Manhattan - PG-13
As Good As It Gets - PG-13
The Horse Whisperer - PG-13
Fried Green Tomatoes - PG-13
My Big Fat Greek Wedding - PG
Fellowship of the Ring - PG-13
The Last of the Mohicans - PG-13
The Two Towers - PG-13
Return of the King - PG-13
A Walk in the Clouds - PG-13
Beaches - PG-13
Anna and the King PG-13
Braveheart - R
Gladiator - R
Saving Private Ryan - R
Pretty Woman - R
Jerry Maguire - R

The total is 38. I was surprised at this and had made my own guess at 18. I suppose the average rating was PG-13. Our winner, then, who presumably had Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on his mind, is Gerard. Gerard guessed 42 with the next closest guess being 30 (and every other guess being lower than that). I’ll be sending him something nice from my stack-o-books.

April 19, 2005

In what is fast becoming a tradition around here, I thought I would introduce a few new web sites today. These are all sites that I have completed in the past week or so.

First up is my portfolio site. For those who do not already know, my company is called Websonix. I am self-employed and am the lone employee of this company, though I do outsource a fair amount of work. I took the old site down a few weeks ago because I felt it no longer represented the type of work I am doing these days. Just recently I relaunched it, basing the entire design around a rather bizarre-looking mad scientist. The site isn’t perfect, but I simply have not had time to clean up the last few details. So here it is, Websonix.com.

Moving right along, I was asked to build a web site for a reader who followed a link from Hugh Hewitt’s site last month after I posted my review of Blog. He and a partner run a law firm in Westfield, New York. I am quite pleased with this new design and feel that it worked very well for their purposes. So with no further ado, I present Beckmanandseachrist.com.

And finally for this week, Sal, over at Sal’s Journey asked me to design a template for Movabletype. The site needed to be feminine and incorporate sunflowers. No small order! But again, I am pleased with the final result, and more importantly, I believe Sal is too! You can see the site here.

If you are looking for web design, be it a corporate site, church site, blog or just about anything else, feel free to contact me! A new web site may be just a little bit less expensive than you thought…

April 19, 2005

Passion of Jesus ChristThe Passion of Jesus Christ was rushed to press in time to be available for the release of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. The book sold some two million copies, though many of these were through a promotion that provided the book at cost when purchased in bulk. Many churches gave the book to those who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus in the aftermath of the movie. Those who are familiar with my book reviews will know that I have struggled with Piper’s books in the past - not on the basis of content, but on the basis of Piper’s writing style. These people may be glad to know that this is the first book by Piper that I have enjoyed from cover-to-cover.