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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

October 2005

October 27, 2005

My friend Bill has been on the lookout for the 1000th registered user of the forums here at Challies Dot Com. Just a few minutes ago he let me know that we have reached that lofty goal. A user registered as N_student replied with a comment about book suggestions for college students. He indicated his appreciation for the list and said that of those books I suggested, “some i have already read, and some are going on my list. ” To celebrate the 1000th visitor I think it only appropriate that I treat him to one of those that are on his list. So if he replies to this post (thus showing that he isn’t just a one-time reader and one-time poster), I’ll buy him any one of the titles on my list that he added to his.

The rest of you get nothing. Actually, maybe I’ll…no, forget it. You get nothing.

October 27, 2005

OneTrueGodBlog is, at least in theory, a great idea. The format is simple and unique. Hugh Hewitt asks a weekly question and encourages a panel of prominent Christian bloggers to post a response. Unfortunately there are often few responses given.

Last week Hewitt asked the following question: “Please recommend the five books you would have a Christian college student read who was interested in deepening his or her faith but who also had all the time constraints and background education of most college kids today. (In other words, no Summa Theologica or Institutes.)” There was only one reply to the question. David Allen White suggested the following: Plato’s “Phaedo” Dialogue (“On the Immortality of the Soul”) and Aristotle’s “De Anima” (“On the Soul”); Thomas a Kempis’s IMITATION OF CHRIST, Dante Aligheri’s THE DIVINE COMEDY, KING LEAR and Dostoevsky’s THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. Those are definitely interesting choices, but, with all due respect, I’m not sure it is an awfully effective list. Perhaps the occasional student who fancies himself a real intellectual and has a full scholarship would have time and inclination to read those titles. I would suggest, though, that very few students would make it through that list of books.

I would like to propose what I consider a more realistic list of five books. These are more realistic because the average college student, whether studying engineering or philosophy, would be able to read and enjoy them. Consider this a list for the average guy like myself. Set aside Wild at Heart, Blue Like Jazz, The Purpose Driven Life and read on.

Most students would benefit from a book written specifically to address issues of maintaining faith through the college experience. A book like University of Destruction (review) or How to Stay Christian in College (which I know only by reputation) might prove invaluable in forewarning young people of the difficulties they are bound to face in college. After all, as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. These books will prepare kids to deal with the temptations that will be offered to them and provide practical guidance for studies, relationships and the pursuit of truth.

Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (review) by Michael Horton is an examination of the doctrines of grace that is entirely accessible to teenagers or adults. It will prepare a student to come face-to-face with God’s amazing grace in saving a people for Himself. It is challenging, devotional and utterly biblical. I can think of few books I have recommended more often or more highly than this one.

Decisions, Decisions (review) by Dave Swavely, which makes similar arguments to those made by Gary Friesen in the classic Decision Making and the Will of God is a valuable study on how to make decisions that honor God and are consistent with His Word. During these formative years students will be faced by many difficult decisions regarding moral choices, career choices and spiritual choices. A book that addresses how to make decisions in a biblical manner will help students rely more on the Word of God and less on their feelings or subjective “leadings.”

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. This may not be the type of book people read from cover-to-cover, but it is an invaluable reference tool in matters of theology. Other than the Bible, this is the one book that never leaves my desk and I turn to it constantly. It makes for great devotional reading and is also always available for reference on almost any topic. Every Christian can benefit from it.

At this point I began to have trouble. Do I recommend a devotional work as the final title? A great theological work? A book that will prepare students to evangelize their friends? Perhaps a title like Prophetic Untimeliness (review by Os Guinness would be a good suggestion as it will help students overcome the bias towards the modern over the ancient and help them see the fallacies of relevance. Or maybe a practical reference book like Now That’s A Good Question (review) by R.C. Sproul. But in the end I think any student would do well to read Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (review). It is another modern day classic that will help students learn and appreciate the disciplines that build strong Christian committment and character.

While I do not consider it part of this list, I would also recommend every student have access to a good study Bible based upon a solid translation of the Scriptures. My first choice is the Reformation Study Bible, available in the English Standard Version. A student will benefit far more from immersing himself in this book - God’s book - than in any other.

So there we have it. University of Destruction, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Decisions, Decisions , Systematic Theology and Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. A Christian college student could do far worse than to have those titles on his bookshelf and that collective wisdom in his heart.

October 27, 2005
Thursday October 27, 2005
  • Humor: Ochuk applies for Sovereign Grace Singles.
  • Du Jour: Rebecca wrestles with a question of physiology versus personhood. She requests input on a difficult subject.
  • Politics: In yesterday’s issue of USA Today altered Condoleezza Rice’s photograph to make her appear more menacing. FromthePem reports.
  • Theology: Garry Gilley continues his series on knowing, finding and discerning God’s Will with an article entitled God’s Will, Lost or Found?
  • October 26, 2005

    I left the house this morning at 9:20 to attend to two small jobs. Neither was supposed to take more than a few minutes. Yet somehow it is now four hours later and I have just gotten home. The work took a little bit longer than expected and I got called into various meetings. So here it is at 1:30 which is far too late in the day for me to write anything encouraging or even interesting. Instead I thought I would relay a discussion I had this morning.

    I just lied. I am going to relay a discussion I had this morning and seamlessly blend it with a discussion I had with the same person just a few days ago. I consider this artistic license and since prose is a form of art I am entitled to use it. The story requires less explanation this way. So just bear with me.

    Just around the corner from us is a gas station, that until a few weeks ago was staffed entirely by twenty-something caucasian men and women who must have spent most of the money they earned from tending the till on tattoos. Their dress, demeanour and topics of conversation seemed to show that they had little ambition and certainly little concern for customer service. They seemed to believe that weekend antics, party behavior and, well, just about everything else, was appropriate for discussion while in the presence of customers. Then, quite suddenly, the entire staff was replaced with middle-aged East Indians whom I assume, judging by their accents and grasp of the English language, are probably recent immigrants (as indeed are 50% of the people who live in the Toronto area). I am guessing that the franchise for this particular gas station was sold and the new owner elected to bring in his own staff. I am quite certain that is in violation of Canadian labor laws.

    Allow me now to relate a conversation (or two) I had with one of the new staff members at this station. I had just walked into the little store at the gas station to pay for my gas and a bottle of Coke Zero (which is chemically delicious).

    Attendant: What pump?

    Me: Two. Twenty dollars.

    Attendant (holding out a basket of miscellaneous snacks): You like one of these?

    Me: No thanks.

    Attendant: Free!

    Me: Okay then. (Tim selects a package of Skittles from the basket)

    Attendant: No, not those. Those not included.

    Me: Alright, how about these? (Tim selects a small bag of candy from the basket)

    Attendant: No. Not those. These. (Attendant digs under the Skittles and selects a bag of trail mix that looks like it might be left over from the Second World War)

    Me: Oh, no thanks. I won’t eat that. (Attendant disregards my polite refusal and puts the bag beside the bottle of Coke. Tim resigns himself to accepting the snack)

    Attendant: Lotto 6/49 ticket?

    Me: No thanks.

    Attendant: Prize is up to forty million dollars.

    Me: No thanks. I’m really not interested.

    Attendant: It just takes one to win! It’s only two dollars. Two dollars to win forty million.

    Me: I don’t play the lottery.

    Attendant: Forty million dollars!

    Me: Listen, sir, I don’t play the lottery. The lottery is really nothing but a tax on stupidity and I don’t know about you but I already pay enough taxes!

    Attendant: You can’t win if you don’t play!

    Me: Tell you what. If I walk out of this building and get struck by lightning I will crawl back in here and buy a lottery ticket. Because my chances of getting hit by lightning today are far better than of winning forty million dollars.

    Attendant: What’s this (gestures towards my debit card)

    Me: That’s a debit card.

    Attendant: Oh.

    And finally he let me go. I got away without a lottery ticket. I sampled the trail mix just long enough to confirm that it was really quite disgusting.

    Anyways, it is now almost 2 o’clock and I really need to get some work done!

    October 26, 2005
    Wednesday October 26, 2005
  • Humor: I love the comic strip Foxtrot. Yesterday’s was just hilarious.
  • Site: I broke my site yesterday. I was doing various little upgrades as part of the larger upgrade program and I think I knocked out my database. So sorry to those who were unable to get on the site yesterday afternoon. It was all my fault.
  • Theology: Dr. Michael Haykin quotes B.B. Warfield on the atonement.
  • Du Jour: Charles Biggs at Reformation Theology offers thoughts on Reformation Day.
  • October 25, 2005

    Humility True GreatnessThere is a certain irony in the pursuit of humility. We see a glimpse of that in the title of this book, Humility: True Greatness. Humility is true greatness. The pursuit of humility and the pursuit of greatness are one and the same, provided that we seek greatness as defined by the Creator. I have never met C.J. Mahaney (though hope to some day), but from all accounts he is well-qualified to write a book on such a difficult subject. And this is a difficult topic. After all, how can a person write a book on humility without sounding like he feels he is most qualified? The truth is he can, provided he uses the Scripture as the foundation for his teaching. And that is exactly what Mahaney does.

    The book is divided into three sections. Part one deals with the battle of humility versus pride, part two with our Savior and the secret of true greatness and part three with the practice of true humility.

    October 25, 2005

    Over the past few days I have been reading The Benefits of Providence, a newly-published book written by James Spiegel. It is a deeply challenging book that is filled with weighty subject matter. It has given me a lot to think about and meditate upon. I look forward to attempting to summarize this book in a meaningful in an upcoming review. I am sure it will be quite a challenge.

    The book is, of course, an examination of divine providence with corresponding application to the life of the believer. It is far more than “mere theology,” but is filled with useful application. Today I would like to discuss one small section of the book. In the second chapter the author compares and contrasts two views of providence, the high and the low. He defines the high view as the Augustinian (which most of us would recognize and apply to our lives) and the low view as the Open Theistic view. At one point, while discussing the hermeneutics of providence, he makes a distinction between two understandings of divine action. The first is the phenomenology of divine action which refers to the way God’s activity appears to human beings. The second is the metaphysics of divine action. This refers to the way God actually works within and behind the world.

    These are, of course, both important aspects of what the Bible teaches about God. Even if you have never stopped to consider the difference between these it will become immediately apparent that there must be a difference between the reality of God’s actions and how we perceive them. It is important that we focus some attention on each one of these without allowing a focus on one of them to blind us to the other. Spiegel provides a brief example of what can happen when there is too great a focus on either one of them. It is this I would like to discuss and expand upon today.

    Phenomenology at the Expense of Metaphysics

    Open Theists provide a clear example of a group of people who have allowed their focus on phenomenology of divine action to blind them to the metaphysics of divine providence. In an earlier article I defined Open Theism in this way. “Open theism is a sub-Christian theological construct which claims that God’s highest goal is to enter into a reciprocal relationship with man. In this scheme, the Bible is interpreted without any anthropomorphisms - that is, all references to God’s feelings, surprise and lack of knowledge are literal and the result of His choice to create a world where He can be affected by man’s choices. God’s exhaustive knowledge does not include future free will choices by mankind because they have not yet occurred.” Here are some characteristics of this teaching:

    1. Man has libertarian free will. Man’s will has not been so affected by the Fall that he is unable to make a choice to follow God. God respects man’s freedom of choice and would not infringe upon it.
    2. God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. Indeed, He cannot know certain future events because the future exists only as possibility. God is unable to see what depends on the choices of free will agents simply because this future does not yet exist, so it unknowable. In this way open theists attempt to reconcile this doctrine with God’s omniscience.
    3. God takes risks. Because God cannot know the future, He takes risks in many ways - creating people, giving them gifts and abilities, and so on. Where possibilities exist, so does risk.
    4. God learns. Because God does not know the future exhaustively, He learns, just as we do.
    5. God is reactive. Because He is learning, God is constantly reacting to the decisions we make.
    6. God makes mistakes. Because He is learning and reacting, always dealing with limited information, God can and does make errors in judgment which later require re-evaluation.
    7. God can change His mind. When God realizes He has made an error in judgment or that things did not unfold as He supposed, He can change His mind.

    Open Theists, to their credit, have invested extensive effort in attempting to understand the personal relationship between God and His creatures. They have studied the passages in the Bible about God’s interaction with the world and have formed what they feel are biblical understandings of the freedom God extends to humans. But where Open Theists have gone wrong is in downplaying the way God actually works behind the scenes. Their emphasis on the way things appear to humans has blinded them to the metaphysics of divine providence. When they encounter what believers have historically considered anthropomorphisms, for example, they interpret these literally rather than figuratively. When they see that God extends freedom of choice to human beings, they understand this as being libertarian free will. And so they interpret the metaphysical through the phenomenological rather than alongside it. Spiegel says, “They commit the egregious mistake of using biblical phenomenological data as evidence for metaphysical claims about God. Consequently, their doctrine of providence is fundamentally unbiblical, and their portrait of God is woefully incomplete.”

    Metaphysics at the Expense of Phenomenology

    At the opposite end of the spectrum to Open Theists we might find hyper-Calvinists. Hyper-Calvinists, who in reality are anti-Calvinists since they deny many of the crucial teachings of historical Calvinism, overemphasize the metaphysics of divine providence and this blinds them to the realities of human freedom and responsibility. Many Christians have struggled to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility and have often done so with results that are far from satisfying or convincing. But hyper-Calvinists have done the church a great disservice by removing almost all emphasis from the phenomenological.

    A popular definition of hyper-Calvinism, adapted from an article written by Phil Johnson, is as follows:

    1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners … It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect… .
    2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect. [Peter Toon, “Hyper-Calvinism,” New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988), 324.]

    Phil Johnson provides the following five characteristics of this aberrant theology:

    1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
    2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
    3. Denies that the gospel makes any “offer” of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
    4. Denies that there is such a thing as “common grace,” OR
    5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

    Calvinists, and indeed most evangelicals, affirm that the offer of the gospel is given in sincerity to the non-elect and the elect. Calvinists believe, though, that only the elect are able to respond to this call. Hyper-Calvinists, in stressing the metaphysical, deny either that the offer is truly given or that it is given in sincerity. They stress the secret will of God at the expense of the revealed will, which is to say they stress metaphysics at the expense of phenomenology. Similar to Open Theists, then, they commit an egregious mistake. But in this case the mistake is in using biblical metaphysical data as evidence for phenomenological claims about God. Like Open Theists, their portrait of God is woefully incomplete.

    Conclusion

    Charles Spurgeon, when asked about the seeming contradiction between human freedom and divine sovereignty replied famously, “I do not try to reconcile friends.” It seems to me that the same is true when we discuss divine action. The way God actually works and the way it appears He works do not stand at odds with each other. We do not need to reconcile these as if they are enemies for which we need to make an uneasy peace. We can affirm both of them while trusting and believing that God has been good to us in revealing only as much as we can know and understand. It is only when we place appropriate emphasis on both the metaphysical claims and the phenomenological that we can be confident we have a biblical portrait of God.

    October 25, 2005
    Tuesday October 25, 2005
  • Theology: David Heddle, still and always one of my blogging heroes, discusses hypercalvinism, always an interesting topic. He is disappointed in Phil Johnson and Michael Horton.
  • Contest: The horizontally-challenged trio are having the first annual pumpkin carving contest. Charge up your Dremel and read more here.
  • Found: Another great entry from Found Magazine. This one is also great (make sure you read the accompanying text).
  • Liveblogging: Steve Weaver is doing some liveblogging at the Ligonier Ministries National Pastors Conference.