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Tim Challies

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December 2006

December 27, 2006

Wednesday December 27, 2006

Du Jour: Justin Taylor links to John Piper’s concluding sermon in his study of Romans (a series that began on April 26, 1998).

People: Billy Graham’s grandson, William Franklin Graham IV seems to be following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Technology: Search Wikia is an attempt to make the world’s best search engine (and an open source one at that). Ironically, it is running Google AdWords to make some money…

Music: It is a little late for Christmas music, but if you’re interested you can find links to a couple of free downloads at Christianity Today’s site.

December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.

December 26, 2006

Tuesday December 26, 2006

Entertainment: This is just terrible news. The comic strip Foxtrot is switching to a Sunday-only format. I’ve been reading it daily for years and years now. The days just won’t be the same…

Books: It’s too late for Christmas, but maybe someone in your life would still appreciate this, a Bruce Wilkinson surprise pack. Or not.

Shopping: Last week Amazon was offering this million dollar bracelet at 50% off. You do the math. The customer reviews are hilarious and well worth reading.

Weird: Too lazy to bend over to make snowballs? Why not try this little gadget.

Weird: This is a strange one. A British woman with two wombs gave birth to triplets, two from one womb and one from the other.

Blogs: Clearly burdened by guilt at having one of the least updated blogs in the blogosphere, the men of Together for the Gospel promise great things in ‘07. Sounds good to me!

December 25, 2006

It is Christmas. Our day began a little bit earlier than I would have liked, but also a little bit later than I had expected. With our children growing older, we are finally able to celebrate Christmas the way I remember it as a child - a day of rising early and trembling with anticipation, hoping, just hoping, that the toy you wanted most is there, waiting under the tree. Christmas is a great time to be a father, to enjoy the children squealing with excitement, joy and gratitude. I was thrilled to hear my children suggest that “mommy and daddy should open presents first this year since they take such good care of us.”

Because the children are only now coming to that age where they really appreciate Christmas, we are only just beginning to create some family Christmas traditions. To this point our traditions have been derived from a combination of how my family celebrated and how Aileen’s family celebrated. Neither family made Christmas into a distinctly religious occasion, so such an emphasis does not come naturally to either one of us. We are still not sure how much we will emphasize Christmas as Jesus’ birthday and how much we’ll just emphasize family, giving, gratitude, and so on. We’re uncertain if the day will revolve around the birth of Jesus or around Christian virtues. I suppose we’ll just have to see how the day evolves as time goes on.

After spending a good bit of my morning building Lego spaceships, assembling Playmobil garden centers, and cleaning up scattered bits of plastic and wrapping paper, Aileen and I were able to turn our attention to dinner. We got our Presbyterian Turkey all prepped and ready to go (we consider it Presbyterian and certainly not Baptist after we poured a half a bottle of sherry into its body cavity), the potatoes peeled and the table set. Now we’re just waiting for my in-laws to arrive in an hour or two. Already it has been a wonderful Christmas. I suspect it will get better still.

So from me to you, and from my family to yours, have a safe and wonderful and blessed Christmas Day.

December 24, 2006

There are some books I can read in an evening or two and feel like I have a good grasp of what the book is all about. There are others that I can pour over hour after hour and still feel like I am only scratching the surface of the book. Evangelical Hermeneutics falls into the latter category. Though not an easy read, this book is rewarding.

Hermeneutics is one of the steps used in interpreting and studying the Bible. Specifically, the author defines it as “a set of principles for interpreting the Bible.” Once a passage has been properly interpreted, meaning and application can be drawn from it. It stands to reason that if the principles of interpretation are wrong, the meaning and application are likely to be wrong as well. What the author seeks to show is how these principles have changed over the past decades and the effect that is having on Christianity today.

The author’s goal for this book is fourfold:

December 23, 2006

The Original Love SongChurchMerch is a new feature here at Challies Dot Com. Under this heading I intend to examine some of the merchandise that is being and will be marketed to Christians. I will expand a little bit beyond merchandise and may also examine movies, television shows and other media targeted at the “faith and values” crowd. As this audience grows, so too does the amount of material intended for it and we will no doubt see the good, the bad and the ugly of ChurchMerch.

Today I will take a brief look at The Original Love Song, a CD recording of the Song of Solomon.

The Original Love Song brings The Song of Solomon to life with a masterful blend of sensuous dialogue and musical imagery… tastefully weaving the most famous love poems of all time into a compelling theatrical style story with an enchanting score by Academy and Golden Reel Award winning film composer, Alan Howarth… Each line of The Original Love Song was hand-picked, word-for-word from six different translations of the Bible, retaining the charm and poetic flow of the old-world vernacular. Every verse is then complimented with its own enchanting musical composition; capturing the message and essence of the spoken word with compelling aural imagery… The Original Love Song makes a perfect wedding gift, a thoughtful anniversary gift, and a wonderful Valentines Day gift… as well as a way to help rekindle romance, share your feelings, or get couples communicating in your marriage ministry.

In other words, The Original Love Song is a recording that attempts to capture a sensuous, erotic feel with both the spoken word and the background music. According to the producers, “The Original Love Song is a moving and sensual interpretation that deals with intimacy and virtue… [that] literally whisks the listener off to a very special place of sensual innocence and spiritual passion; a place so deep and so real, that many come away deeply moved, yet spiritually and romantically invigorated.” The Tampa Tribune says “Couples who want to put a little spiritual spice in the bedroom can get it from a breathy recitation of Song of Solomon, accompanied by mood-setting soundtrack.” The words are spoken in a sultry tone clearly intended to convey sexual desire. The music contributes to this atmosphere.

The CD booklet contains a separate section for men and women, each offering gender-specific advice. For example, for women it suggests “Compliment him often. In tracks 3 and 11 in The Original Love Song, the Shulammite calls Solomon a ‘stag or hart.’ In today’s language, stag means stud. So once or twice a week when your husband comes home from work, say: ‘How are you, Stud?’ He is a stud! He’s the only stud you’ve got. I guarantee you, he’ll like it.”

Like any good ChurchMerch, The Original Love Song is available in multiple versions and with multiple options. The CD is available with two different covers, there is a Wedding Bundle (which includes “an excellent book on spiritual bonding entitled ‘A Marriage After God’s Own Heart’ by noted Christian author Dr. David Clarke” and comes bundled in a royal blue velvet pouch, de-bossed with the ‘One Flesh’ male / female symbol. There are also gift pouches that can be purchased separately.

You can learn all about it www.originallovesong.com. You can read descriptions and reviews, meet the contributors and listen to audio samples. And, of course, you can buy it for yourself.

My opinion of this piece of ChurchMerch is that there is really nothing inherently wrong with it. The Song of Solomon is clearly intended to be a book about love and sexual desire. I don’t see anything unbiblical about setting it to a bit of music and reciting it in a tone that would convey much of the book’s intent. This is not to say that I enjoyed it. The fact is that I found it more than a little corny and certainly could never use it the way it is intended. If you can listen to this without rolling your eyes or giggling with embarrassment, you’re a better man than me. I give it points for originality and for quality of presentation, but little more than that.

If you know of some ChurchMerch I absolutely need to examine, feel free to drop me a note.

December 22, 2006

As I began to review Speaking the Truth in Love, a biography of Roger Nicole, I felt uncertain how to introduce the subject. Nicole is a theologian whose impact is felt widely in the church, and yet one whose name is largely unknown. It occurred that David Bailey, the author of the biography, must have felt the same uncertainty. Here is how he chose to introduce Nicole:

December 22, 2006

Amazon likes to send me recommendations for books I may enjoy. They obviously check my account to see what I have purchased recently and run some kind of a script to determine what other books I may like based on what I have bought in the past. A couple of days ago I received a tremendously helpful recommendation.

“We’ve noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Bible or the Axe: One Man’s Dramatic Escape From Persecution in the Sudan by William Levi have also ordered Happy Princess (Carmen Browne) by Stephanie Perry-Moore. For this reason, you might like to know that Stephanie Perry-Moore’s Happy Princess (Carmen Browne) will be released on January 1, 2007. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.” I appreciate the tip, but frankly, this doesn’t really sound like the kind of book that would appeal to people who read about persecution in the church.

Energetic pre-teen, Carmen Browne is determined to live her life to please God as she faces life issues such as an unexpected family move, her big brother’s search for his birth family, and the tragedy of domestic violence. Carmen’s learned a lot about herself, too: being popular doesn’t guarantee you true friends, honesty up front saves a lot of hurt, and sometimes self-confidence is just bossiness in disguise. In the fifth and final volume of the popular series, Carmen enters the uncharted waters of adolescence,discovering that her changing moods and growing body bring new challenges to her life.

Nice try, Amazon. Better luck next time.

The Way of the Wild Heart

Back in October I reviewed John Eldredge’s The Way of the Wild Heart and posted the review on Amazon. I just happened to make my way by that page yesterday and noticed that, since I posted the review, it has gotten pretty badly beat up in the “helpful” voting (only 23 of the 80 people who chose to cast a vote have found the review helpful). I was surprised to find that one subsequent review is titled “Don’t Believe Challies” with the first line reading “If you want him running your life, don’t read ‘Way of the Wild Heart.’” So there you have it. If you don’t read the book, I am running your life. I’m probably ruining it too. Don’t believe me! Another reviewer did a point-by-point review of my review under the heading “You can tell a lot by the enemy’s [sic] a book or author makes.” I stand by the words I used to conclude my review: “This book is a complete mess and it was a trial to read. At three hundred pages Eldredge says a lot, and yet it seems like he doesn’t say much of anything. It is puff; it is filler; it is a near-complete waste of time. Avoid it.”

Looking Pastoral

Last week my son had his Christmas holiday concert at school. He wanted to dress up, so hauled out the hair gel and tried to “look like daddy.” He came downstairs with his hair pretty well plastered to his head. “Look, dad! I used gel!,” he said. He then went over to the mirror and, seeing his new look, exclaimed in a disgusted voice, “Oh man, I look like a pastor!”

Amazing Grace

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is the trailer for Amazing Grace: