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Tim Challies

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March 2008

March 27, 2008
Thursday March 27, 2008 Band of Bloggers Registration
Band of Bloggers registration closes in just one week. If you are a blogger and are going to be at Together for the Gospel…it’s time to register!
Is Belief a Natural Phenomenon?
Dr. Mohler writes about a new effort called “Explaining Religion” that will attempt to prove that belief is purely natural.
Mohler Clear of Cancer
Speaking of Mohler, he just received the good news that a tumor removed during recent surgery is not cancerous. Praise God!
Huffington Post on Shane Claiborne
The Huffington Post recently had an article about Shane Claiborne and his new book “Jesus for President.”
Greek N.T. Manuscripts in Albania
Daniel Wallace has the rather fascinating tale of discovering and photographing a large series of New Testament manuscripts in Albania.
March 26, 2008

Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck“What is this emerging church I keep hearing about?” If I had a dime for every time I have been asked that question or one like it, well, I’d be several dollars richer at least. Emerging is one of the buzzwords in the church these days and one that begs for greater explanation. Unfortunately it is not an easy term to define. To borrow a tired cliche, defining the emerging church is much like trying to nail Jello to the wall. It’s a near-impossible task, but one Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck attempt with great success in their new book Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). These are two young men who, if we were to look to demographics, would be top candidates for involvement in the emerging movement. Yet they’ve turned away from it, opting instead to commit to ministry and service within more traditional churches.

March 26, 2008
Wednesday March 26, 2008 My Book at Crosswalk
Crosswalk is currently featuring a chapter of my book at their site in case you’ve been interested in giving it a “trial run.”
R.C. Sproul and Ben Stein
Ligonier has posted video of R.C. Sproul interviewing Ben Stein about his new film dealing with Intelligent Design.
Monergism Books Free Gift
My friends at Monergism Books are offering a selection of free gifts with purchases this month (and decent gifts, at that).
Free Scripture Song
The Altrogges have posted another song to help you with Scripture memorization.
The Way of Wisdom
Alex Jordan, beginning with my review of John Eldredge’s book, has posted a good and concise overview of the “way of wisdom” approach to knowing and doing God’s will.
March 25, 2008

Walking with God by John EldredgeIf you have been in a Christian bookstore in the past six or seven years, you are undoubtedly family with John Eldredge. Beginning with The Sacred Romance (co-authored with the late Brent Curtis) and continuing with Wild at Heart, Captivating, The Way of the Wild Heart, and others, his books have been constant features on the Christian bestseller lists. His latest effort, Walking with God is poised to be another big seller.

March 25, 2008
Tuesday March 25, 2008 I apologize that I offered no A La Carte yesterday. I was in Atlanta on business and only returned late last night.
T4G Promos
In case you are still undecided about going to T4G, here are some promos to whet your appetite.
Fit 2 Read
Here’s a blog that offers “Trustworthy, non-commercial Christian reflections on healthy, quality kid’s books.”
6 Months Gone at Easter Time
Abraham Piper shares a beautiful little poem written about his daughter.
March 24, 2008

Do you know those times where you have a word or phrase bouncing around your mind for days or weeks at a time? I’ve had one of those recently and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. The phrase is this: “Give your best to your local church.” It is easy, I know, to offer our best to believers other than those in our local churches. There is often affirmation and excitement in ministering elsewhere. Sometimes the local church can seem so drab, so normal in comparison.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at Grace Fellowship Church (a.k.a. my church) as part of a series we’re doing on the book of Acts. It is a series that is a refresher course, of sorts, reminding us what the early church was all about. When we understand that Acts is meant to be more than mere history, we see that there is much we can and should learn from the example of the first Christians. I spoke on group evangelism in the early church and discussed the local church in Antioch and their example of sending men on foreign missions. I showed how these men were called by the Spirit, commissioned by the church, and then sent by the church and the Spirit. I focused on the fact that these men were not renegade missionaries, sending themselves to the mission field, but that they were men who were called through and on behalf of a local church.

I began my sermon by reflecting on something that had been of interest to me. The three days prior to preaching I had been in Orlando, Florida for the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. It was, by any measure, a fantastic conference. We were able to hear some exceptional messages by some great preachers. We heard from Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul. They brought us the Word and brought it with power. I truly enjoyed the conference and benefited from it. Yet even while I sat there with 5,000 other believers, I couldn’t help but note a tiny little voice in my brain (or was it in my heart?) saying, “I’d rather be at Grace.” It is not that there was anything wrong with the conference. Far from it! It’s just that God has built into me and into all believers a heart for the local church. God has done something amazing in building the local church and in grouping us together in these bodies. The longer I stay at Grace and the more I commit myself to her, the more it feels like home. I took just a moment to thank the people in that church for being that local church to me and to my family.

You know, the more I travel and the more I see of the church at large, the more I come to love her—but even stronger, the more I come to love my local church. These local churches, which can be found from one end of the world to the other, truly are the hope for the world. It is to these bodies, more than any other, that God has entrusted His message. And it is through these local bodies that He seems to do His greatest work. These bodies are the most natural context for all manner of Christian ministry.

Like you, I’ve seen pastors who have sacrificed their families and their churches to the altar of ministry. They travel the world speaking at ministry events, all the while missing the opportunities to minister in their community of faith. They become disconnected from the local church, opting instead to minister everywhere else. But I’m convinced that God calls us first to our local congregations and only then to wider ministry. As I’ve traveled and as I’ve seen churches all across North America, I’ve seen like never before the importance of a commitment to a local church. I enjoyed talking to Steve Lawson some time ago and hearing from him that travel and ministry has only caused him to miss preaching at his own church one Sunday in the past year or so. He speaks at many conferences, but always attempts to be home on Saturday so he can minister to his own congregation on Sunday morning. There are many like him—many men who love to minister elsewhere but who mostly love to minister closest to home.

In my younger days I used to go to many Christian concerts and I would often have opportunities to talk with band members. I often noted how many of these men would continually speak of their families. I took this as a good sign! These men had families they loved and it was clear that, though music was what they did for a living, their hearts were with their wives and children at home. They spoke this way deliberately, I’m sure, and did it to guard their hearts. They took every opportunity to share with others about the people they loved. Likewise, many ministers are thrilled by what God is doing in their local congregations. It is always exciting to hear a pastor share the things God has done and to share in his excitement.

Give your best to your local church.” I am still working out the details of all of this in my own life. I am still working on ensuring that my first commitment to Christians is to those within the community where God has placed me. I’ve begun to reevaluate how and when I travel; I’ve begun to reevaluate the things I write about; I’ve begun to ask how I can give my best to the community of faith closest to me. It’s an ongoing process and one I’ve really only just begun.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have the opportunity to preach once more at Grace. This time I will speak about the importance of prayer in the early church and I hope to take as my text the closing verses Acts 4:23-31—that passage that allows us a glimpse into an impromptu prayer meeting in the early days of the church. Peter and John have just been released after interrogation by a religious council and the very moment they are freed they “went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.” They went straight from the council to a gathering of the local church and there they prayed for boldness and for success in ministry. Something here caught my eye. Even with my rudimentary Greek I was able to see that the word “friends” was missing from the original text. This is a translation that takes just a little bit of liberty (which, of course, translations often have to do). Almost every translation offers something different here but what the text really seems to say is simply that upon their release “they went to their own.” And what a great phrase that is! No sooner had they been released than they went to their local church, the most natural context for them to minister and to be ministered to, and together they joined their voices in prayer to God. This passage shows the local church in action; the local church doing what they do best; the local church doing what God decreed that they should do.

It’s this kind of commitment I want to have for the local church—a commitment that considers that church my own. And it’s a commitment I’m sure we can learn from the book of Acts.

March 23, 2008

Yesterday I posted a short story by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock. Well, I thought it would be fun to post one more thing by him before turning to more important matters. The story by Leacock that is usually considered his most humorous is entitled “Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich.” As one commenter (who happens to be my mother) posted yesterday, some of the book is “devoted to contrasting an Anglican [Episcopalian] and Presbyterian church—and their respective ministers. Of course, it is a caricature, an absolutely brilliant one…A must- read for Reformed people wanting to laugh at themselves!” Here are two excerpts, one very short and the other a bit longer. If you are Reformed and/or Anglical and/or Presbyterian, you may recognize a caricature of yourself somewhere in here. Enjoy!

* * * * * *

Later on, when Spillikins went into business and into society, the same fate pursued him. He loved, for at least six months, Georgiana McTeague, the niece of the presbyterian minister of St. Osoph’s. He loved her so well that for her sake he temporarily abandoned his pew at St. Asaph’s, which was episcopalian, and listened to fourteen consecutive sermons on hell. But the affair got no further than that. Once or twice, indeed, Spillikins walked home with Georgiana from church and talked about hell with her; and once her uncle asked him into the manse for cold supper after evening service, and they had a long talk about hell all through the meal and upstairs in the sitting-room afterwards. But somehow Spillikins could get no further with it. He read up all he could about hell so as to be able to talk with Georgiana, but in the end it failed: a young minister fresh from college came and preached at St. Osoph’s six special sermons on the absolute certainty of eternal punishment, and he married Miss McTeague as a result of it.

* * * * * *

The church of St. Asaph, more properly call St. Asaph’s in the Fields, stands among the elm trees of Plutoria Avenue opposite the university, its tall spire pointing to the blue sky. Its rector is fond of saying that it seems to him to point, as it were, a warning against the sins of a commercial age. More particularly does he say this in his Lenten services at noonday, when the businessmen sit in front of him in rows, their bald heads uncovered and their faces stamped with contrition as they think of mergers that they should have made, and real estate that they failed to buy for lack of faith.

The ground on which St. Asaph’s stands is worth seven dollars and a half a foot. The mortgagees, as they kneel in prayer in their long frock-coats, feel that they have built upon a rock. It is a beautifully appointed church. There are windows with priceless stained glass that were imported from Normandy, the rector himself swearing out the invoices to save the congregation the grievous burden of the customs duty. There is a pipe organ in the transept that cost ten thousand dollars to install. The debenture-holders, as they join in the morning anthem, love to hear the dulcet notes of the great organ and to reflect that it is as good as new. Just behind the church is St. Asaph’s Sunday School, with a ten-thousand dollar mortgage of its own. And below that again on the side street, is the building of the Young Men’s Guild with a bowling-alley and a swimming-bath deep enough to drown two young men at a time, and a billiard-room with seven tables. It is the rector’s boast that with a Guild House such as that there is no need for any young man of the congregation to frequent a saloon. Nor is there.

And on Sunday mornings, when the great organ plays, and the mortgagees and the bond-holders and the debenture-holders and the Sunday school teachers and the billiard-markers all lift up their voices together, there is emitted from St. Asaph’s a volume of praise that is practically as fine and effective as paid professional work.

St. Asaph’s is episcopal. As a consequence it has in it and about it all those things which go to make up the episcopal church—brass tablets let into its walls, blackbirds singing in its elm trees, parishioners who dine at eight o’clock, and a rector who wears a little crucifix and dances the tango.

On the other hand, there stands upon the same street, not a hundred yards away, the rival church of St. Osoph—presbyterian down to its very foundations in bed-rock, thirty feet below the level of the avenue. It has a short, squat tower—and a low roof, and its narrow windows are glazed with frosted glass. It has dark spruce trees instead of elms, crows instead of blackbirds, and a gloomy minister with a shovel hat who lectures on philosophy on week-days at the university. He loves to think that his congregation are made of the lowly and the meek in spirit, and to reflect that, lowly and meek as they are, there are men among them that could buy out half the congregation of St. Asaph’s.

St. Osoph’s is only presbyterian in a special sense. It is, in fact, too presbyterian to be any longer connected with any other body whatsoever. It seceded some forty years ago from the original body to which it belonged, and later on, with three other churches, it seceded from the group of seceding congregations. Still later it fell into a difference with the three other churches on the question of eternal punishment, the word “eternal” not appearing to the elders of St. Osoph’s to designate a sufficiently long period. The dispute ended in a secession which left the church of St. Osoph practically isolated in a world of sin whose approaching fate it neither denied nor deplored.

In one respect the rival churches of Plutoria Avenue had had a similar history. Each of them had moved up by successive stages from the lower and poorer parts of the city. Forty years ago St. Asaph’s had been nothing more than a little frame church with a tin spire, away in the west of the slums, and St. Osoph’s a square, diminutive building away in the east. But the site of St. Asaph’s had been bought by a brewing company, and the trustees, shrewd men of business, themselves rising into wealth, had rebuilt it right in the track of the advancing tide of a real estate boom. The elders of St. Osoph, quiet men, but illumined by an inner light, had followed suit and moved their church right against the side of an expanding distillery. Thus both the churches, as decade followed decade, made their way up the slope of the City till St. Asaph’s was presently gloriously expropriated by the street railway company, and planted its spire in triumph on Plutoria Avenue itself. But St. Osoph’s followed. With each change of site it moved nearer and nearer to St. Asaph’s. Its elders were shrewd men. With each move of their church they took careful thought in the rebuilding. In the manufacturing district it was built with sixteen windows on each side and was converted at a huge profit into a bicycle factory. On the residential street it was made long and deep and was sold to a moving-picture company without the alteration of so much as a pew. As a last step a syndicate, formed among the members of the congregation themselves, bought ground on Plutoria Avenue, and sublet it to themselves as a site for the church, at a nominal interest of five per cent per annum, payable nominally every three months and secured by a nominal mortgage.

As the two churches moved, their congregations, or at least all that was best of them—such members as were sharing in the rising fortunes of the City—moved also, and now for some six or seven years the two churches and the two congregations had confronted one another among the elm trees of the Avenue opposite to the university.

But at this point the fortunes of the churches had diverged. St. Asaph’s was a brilliant success; St. Osoph’s was a failure. Even its own trustees couldn’t deny it. At a time when St. Asaph’s was not only paying its interest but showing a handsome surplus on everything it undertook, the church of St. Osoph was moving steadily backwards.

There was no doubt, of course, as to the cause. Everybody knew it. It was simply a question of men, and, as everybody said, one had only to compare the two men conducting the churches to see why one succeeded and the other failed.

The Reverend Edward Fareforth Furlong of St. Asaph’s was a man who threw his whole energy into his parish work. The subtleties of theological controversy he left to minds less active than his own. His creed was one of works rather than of words, and whatever he was doing he did it with his whole heart. Whether he was lunching at the Mausoleum Club with one of his church wardens, or playing the flute—which he played as only the episcopal clergy can play it—accompanied on the harp by one of the fairest of the ladies of his choir, or whether he was dancing the new episcopal tango with the younger daughters of the elder parishioners, he threw himself into it with all his might. He could drink tea more gracefully and play tennis better than any clergyman on this side of the Atlantic. He could stand beside the white stone font of St. Asaph’s in his long white surplice holding a white-robed infant, worth half a million dollars, looking as beautifully innocent as the child itself, and drawing from every matron of the congregation with unmarried daughters the despairing cry, “What a pity that he has no children of his own!”

Equally sound was his theology. No man was known to preach shorter sermons or to explain away the book of Genesis more agreeably than the rector of St. Asaph’s; and if he found it necessary to refer to the Deity he did so under the name of Jehovah or Jah, or even Yaweh in a manner calculated not to hurt the sensitiveness of any of the parishioners. People who would shudder at brutal talk of the older fashion about the wrath of God listened with well-bred interest to a sermon on the personal characteristics of Jah. In the same way Mr. Furlong always referred to the devil, not as Satan but as Su or Swa, which took all the sting out of him. Beelzebub he spoke of as Behel-Zawbab, which rendered him perfectly harmless. The Garden of Eden he spoke of as the Paradeisos, which explained it entirely; the flood as the Diluvium, which cleared it up completely; and Jonah he named, after the correct fashion Jon Nah, which put the whole situation (his being swallowed by Baloo or the Great Lizard) on a perfectly satisfactory footing. Hell itself was spoken of as She-ol, and it appeared that it was not a place of burning, but rather of what one might describe as moral torment. This settled She-ol once and for all: nobody minds moral torment. In short, there was nothing in the theological system of Mr. Furlong that need have occasioned in any of his congregation a moment’s discomfort.

There could be no greater contrast with Mr. Fareforth Furlong than the minister of St. Osoph’s, the Rev. Dr. McTeague, who was also honorary professor of philosophy at the university. The one was young, the other was old; the one could dance the other could not; the one moved about at church picnics and lawn teas among a bevy of disciples in pink and blue sashes; the other moped around under the trees of the university campus with blinking eyes that saw nothing and an abstracted mind that had spent fifty years in trying to reconcile Hegel with St. Paul, and was still busy with it. Mr. Furlong went forward with the times; Dr. McTeague slid quietly backwards with the centuries.

Dr. McTeague was a failure, and all his congregation knew it. “He is not up to date,” they said. That was his crowning sin. “He don’t go forward any,” said the business members of the congregation. “That old man believes just exactly the same sort of stuff now that he did forty years ago. What’s more, he preaches it. You can’t run a church that way, can you?”

His trustees had done their best to meet the difficulty. They had offered Dr. McTeague a two-years’ vacation to go and see the Holy Land. He refused; he said he could picture it. They reduced his salary by fifty per cent; he never noticed it. They offered him an assistant; but he shook his head, saying that he didn’t know where he could find a man to do just the work that he was doing. Meantime he mooned about among the trees concocting a mixture of St. Paul with Hegel, three parts to one, for his Sunday sermon, and one part to three for his Monday lecture.

No doubt it was his dual function that was to blame for his failure. And this, perhaps, was the fault of Dr. Boomer, the president of the university. Dr. Boomer, like all university presidents of today, belonged to the presbyterian church; or rather, to state it more correctly, he included presbyterianism within himself. He was of course, a member of the board of management of St. Osoph’s and it was he who had urged, very strongly, the appointment of Dr. McTeague, then senior professor of philosophy, as minister.

A saintly man,” he said, “the very man for the post. If you should ask me whether he is entirely at home as a professor of philosophy on our staff at the university, I should be compelled to say no. We are forced to admit that as a lecturer he does not meet our views. He appears to find it difficult to keep religion out of his teaching. In fact, his lectures are suffused with a rather dangerous attempt at moral teaching which is apt to contaminate our students. But in the Church I should imagine that would be, if anything, an advantage. Indeed, if you were to come to me and say, ‘Boomer, we wish to appoint Dr. McTeague as our minister,’ I should say, quite frankly, ‘Take him.’”

So Dr. McTeague had been appointed. Then, to the surprise of everybody he refused to give up his lectures in philosophy. He said he felt a call to give them. The salary, he said, was of no consequence. He wrote to Mr. Furlong senior (the father of the episcopal rector and honorary treasurer of the Plutoria University) and stated that he proposed to give his lectures for nothing. The trustees of the college protested; they urged that the case might set a dangerous precedent which other professors might follow. While fully admitting that Dr. McTeague’s lectures were well worth giving for nothing, they begged him to reconsider his offer. But he refused; and from that day on, in spite of all offers that he should retire on double his salary, that he should visit the Holy Land, or Syria, or Armenia, where the dreadful massacres of Christians were taking place, Dr. McTeague clung to his post with a tenacity worthy of the best traditions of Scotland. His only internal perplexity was that he didn’t see how, when the time came for him to die, twenty or thirty years hence, they would ever be able to replace him. Such was the situation of the two churches on a certain beautiful morning in June, when an unforeseen event altered entirely the current of their fortunes.

March 22, 2008

As I was writing yesterday’s article I kept thinking of a rather popular short story by Stephen Leacock, a Canadian writer who lived from 1869 to 1944. His most famous book is probably Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, though if you aren’t Canadian you probably haven’t heard of it. You should. Leacock was downright hilarious as evidenced by a few favorite quotes: “Many a man in love with a dimple makes a mistake of marrying the whole girl.” “Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn’t.” “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.” “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

Anyways, here is his story entitled “My Financial Career.” Chances are that if you went to grade school in Canada you’ve read it.


When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.

The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.

I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.

So I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. I had an idea that a person about to open an account must needs consult the manager.

I went up to a wicket marked “Accountant.” The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.

Can I see the manager?” I said, and added solemnly, “alone.” I don’t know why I said “alone.”

Certainly,” said the accountant, and fetched him.

The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.

Are you the manager?” I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it.

Yes,” he said.

Can I see you,” I asked, “alone?” I didn’t want to say “alone” again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.

The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.

Come in here,” he said, and led the way to a private room. He turned the key in the lock.

We are safe from interruption here,” he said; “sit down.” We both sat down and looked at each other. I found no voice to speak.

You are one of Pinkerton’s men, I presume,” he said.

He had gathered from my mysterious manner that I was a detective. I knew what he was thinking, and it made me worse.

No, not from Pinkerton’s,” I said, seeming to imply that I came from a rival agency.

To tell the truth,” I went on, as if I had been prompted to lie about it,” I am not a detective at all. I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank.”

The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.

A large account, I suppose,” he said.

Fairly large,” I whispered. “I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly.”

The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.

Mr. Montgomery,” he said unkindly loud, “this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning.”

I rose. A big iron door stood open at the side of the room. “Good morning,” I said, and stepped into the safe.

Come out,” said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.

I went up to the accountant’s wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.

My face was ghastly pale.

Here,” I said, “deposit it.” The tone of the words seemed to mean, “Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us.”

He took the money and gave it to another clerk. He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.

Is it deposited?” I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.

It is,” said the accountant.

Then I want to draw a cheque.”

My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a chequebook through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.

What! are you drawing it all out again?” he asked in surprise. Then I realized that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.

Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.

Yes, the whole thing.”

You withdraw your money from the bank?”

Every cent of it.”

Are you not going to deposit any more?” said the clerk, astonished.

Never.”

An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.

The clerk prepared to pay the money.

How will you have it?” he said.

What?”

How will you have it?”

Oh”—I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think—“in fifties.”

He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.

And the six?” he asked dryly.

In sixes,” I said.

He gave it to me and I rushed out.

As the big door swung behind me I caught the echo of a roar of laughter that went up to the ceiling of the bank. Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.