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Tim Challies

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June 2008

June 30, 2008

A.W. Tozer has been in the news lately (or in the blogosphere at any rate) following the release of A Passion for God, a biography of the man written by Lyle Dorsett. Dorsett dealt honestly with some shortcomings in Tozer’s character and I, like many readers, was surprised (and perhaps even shocked) by some of what I learned. Yet even as I’ve thought about these things, I’ve found that my high respect for Tozer remains. Much of what he taught continues to resound in my mind. Here is just one example of this.

Tozer premises The Knowledge of the Holy, probably his best-loved book, on the now-famous statement that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” While he does not provide a Scripture reference to back this claim (I don’t recall a verse that states, “God spake thus: what thou believest about me is the most important thing about thee…”) I believe he is correct in this assertion. After all, “the history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.” If no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God, the same is true of individuals. We can never rise above our idea of God.

Why is this important? As Tozer says, “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God…Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.” And he is right, for once we have decided who God is, we chase after that image of God. It is, then, critically important that we learn about who God is through the Scripture, for this is His self-disclosure. Otherwise, we move towards a fabricated and false image of God. We put aside the real thing and chase after a mere shadow.

And here are words that gripped me and have long given me food for thought: “Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.” This is a sobering though, for when we survey the leaders of the church today we will find a vast variety of views on God, many of which are clearly unbiblical. We have “Christian” leaders who deny the Trinity and others who deny the atonement. We have leaders who, it seems, must never have stopped to seriously consider just what they think of God. There are many followers who have likewise never stopped to consider who God is, what He has done, and what He demands of us. And as we can see where the church will be led in the future, we can look at the leaders of families, men like myself, and understand where we will take our families. When I survey my heart and ask what comes to mind when I think about God, I will know where my family will stand tomorrow.

It is my opinion,” writes Tozer, “that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.” If this was true of the middle of the last century, how much more true is it in the early years of the current century? And yet, “All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.” But still many Christians do not think deeply about God, about what He is like, or about what we must do about Him. “I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

This is a serious matter. “Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.”

And here is Tozer’s charge: “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worth of Him—and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.”

Having read these words and having pondered them, I see, more clearly than ever, the importance of placing myself and my family under the leadership of spiritual leaders who have a high and biblical view of God. If nothing is more telling and more important than what comes into my mind when I think about God, it must also be critically important that I learn from men who think deeply about God and who humble themselves under His word. And I see the importance of being the kind of spiritual leader who has a conception of God that is worthy of God. This task of learning who God is through his self-revelation in Scripture, and honoring Him as He really is, is the greatest service I can do to my family and to its future generations.

June 30, 2008
Monday June 30, 2008 A Welcome Burden
Mike Delorenzo has an exceptional post about spending a day with his critically ill father. “I saw my father as never before. In his helplessness, I saw him strong. In his humiliation I saw him the most amazing person I have ever laid eyes on. In this, his most human of days, I saw him as almost more than human. ”
Knowledge Increases Mystery
John Piper posts about how increasing knowledge of God leads to increasing mystery.
22 Books for Pre-Schoolers
Abraham Piper shares a guest post from “Liz Holst, who would surely be a children’s librarian if she had another life to live.”
Anglican Conservatives
This brief article shares the news that “conservative Anglicans meeting in Jerusalem will create a global network to combat modern trends in the Church like the ordination of gay clergy.”
Choosing a New Church Home
This article from Pulpit Magazine shares some very good wisdom on how (and when) to choose a new church home.
Recommended Reading
At Ligonier Ministries’ site you’ll find a very thorough and very helpful list of recommended books.
An Interview with Tim Keller
Alex Chediak has a brief interview with Tim Keller about his forthcoming book.
June 29, 2008

Several times a day a train rumbles along the tracks that cross our street—Eureka Street—just a few houses up from our home at number thirty-eight. It is a passenger train, one made up of a long string of double-decker cars. In the morning it shuttles commuters from Markham and Unionville into downtown Toronto and in the evening it brings them home again. In the morning it drives with the engine at the front; in the evening the engine is at the back, pushing from behind. Occasionally a freight train comes through at night. Though visitors to our home insist it wakes them up and sounds as if a locomotive is driving right through the yard, I have long since grown accustomed to it and barely notice it anymore.

Beside the track is an old freight yard or something—I never really learn what it is. Giant oil tanks stand behind a beat-up old chain link fence. My friends and I have little trouble passing through the fence and there we find huge puddles, ponds almost, filled with frogs and tadpoles. We collect as many as we can and bring them home in pails, watching them sprout legs and eventually hop away. One day the old man next door, the grandfather to one of my friends, tells us that the puddles are filled with lime and that if we ever step in them we’ll need to have our legs cut off. We never go back there again and eventually the old tanks are torn down and carted away.

I find a way of making a little bit of money from the train. I get it in my head one day to put a quarter on the track and to let the train run over it. Sure enough the train’s wheels pass over that coin and leave it smashed flat. I take it to school and the kids are jealous. I tell them that I can do the same for them, but it will cost them. The next day I am back with a whole row of coins, but I’ve charged each of those kids for the privilege of having their coins pounded beneath the train. I’m seven years old and a budding entrepreneur. I use my windfall to buy gum, baseball cards and little styrofoam airplanes. I feel rich.

One day I am biking down the road and have to stop at the crossing as a train goes by. Another boy who looks about my age stops his bike beside me. I vaguely recognize his face, but cannot place him. He looks at me; I look at him. “Got a staring problem?” I jeer at him. He insists he doesn’t and we begin to talk. I soon recognize him from a local camp I went to. His name is Paul. He gives me his address and telephone number and I run home and write them down. A few days later I go to his house, which is only a short distance away, and a friendship is born. Though we do not go to the same school or the same church, Paul and I become the best of friends. At my wedding some fourteen years later, he serves as my best man. There is never any question.

Paul and I have the kind of friendship every boy should experience. Though we are very different in many ways, we have so many of the same interests. He and I both love anything that involves soldiers and guns and destruction. We pretend endlessly that we are soldiers, creeping through my big backyard with guns at the ready, taking fake potshots with fake guns at the real planes that fly over on their way to the nearby airport; we play baseball in the court outside his house, using tennis equipment to make the ball go further and tearing up his lawn as we slide hard into home plate; we build whole worlds out of Lego. We play mostly at his house because where I have three noisy younger sisters, he has only one quiet older brother. It’s an easy decision and we try as often as we can to get away from the little girls. I learn to love his family and they come to love me, referring to me affectionately as their “third son.”

Paul is a good friend, and a best friend, though eventually life begins to take us in different directions. I marry and become preoccupied with my family; Paul moves far away to Thunder Bay and begins life anew in the north. Though we see each other only rarely today, when we do meet up we never lack for things to talk about. There are just so many memories to recall and to relive together. I pray that my son is so blessed as to someday have a friend like Paul.

June 28, 2008

Heaven Without HerI came very close to tossing this book away. With so many books coming my way these days, I need to move assess them quickly, determining which are worth a closer look and which are not. I cannot read them all. In this case, I saw the cover, I saw the title, I skimmed the back and thought “not likely.” But then I noticed that the author had included a little note inside. There she drew my attention to a couple of the endorsements that she felt would be meaningful to me—namely, Nancy Pearcey and Mark Buchanan, both authors whose works I am fond of. As I looked further I saw that it is also endorsed by Ray Comfort. Based on all of this I decided I would read it. And I’m glad I did.

Heaven Without Her is a memoir. It is the life story of Kitty Foth-Regner, who, until the year 2000, was living exactly the life she wanted for herself as an ardent feminist. She owned her own business, and a rather successful one at that, had a live-in boyfriend whom she loved, and owned a house with a beautiful garden. It was all she had ever wanted. But when she learned that her mother had a terminal illness and as she watched her mother succumb to death, her heart was stirred with questions of eternity. Was there something to her mother’s Christian faith, or was that faith really nothing more than wistful delusions?

Kitty set out to determine what was true. Her searching took her through most of the world’s major religions (and a few more). She saw quickly how each of them failed to offer good answers and true comfort. All but one, that is. As she explored Christianity through the guidance of sound pastors and theologians, she found a faith that offered answers to the toughest questions. She found a God who loved her as He had loved her mother before.

In this book, Foth-Regner documents hear search. In a fun and narrative style, she describes how the Bible answered all of her questions and how her heart was first convicted, then convinced, and finally renewed. The unthinkable happened—she became a Christian, and this despite so many years of feminism and agnosticism. Her old passions and desires fell away and were replaced with new ones; holy ones.

Heaven Without Her is a valuable read and I think an important one. i consider it an important apologetic work. Sure it presents truths that have been written in other books over and over again, but rarely have they been written in so readable a style. The innovation here is not so much the content as the style and its readily accessible format. This is an ideal book to give to a person who may have questions about the Christian faith. For that person who seems to be seeking or searching, this is a book that can provide answers and can show how God has worked in the life of another of His children. Despite my initial apprehension, having read the book I now highly recommend it.

(Interestingly, Amazon shows that people who bought this book have also bought Same Kind of Different As Me, another fantastic memoir. I recommend them both!)

June 27, 2008
Friday June 27, 2008 Apologies
My apologies for not posting A La Carte yesterday. I had to fly to Vancouver and needed to leave the house at 4:40 AM to get here. A La Carte just didn’t happen…
Wright on Time
Paul compares Tim Keller’s recommendation of the new N.T. Wright book with Tom Schreiner’s review of it.
Ask Calvin’s Dad
I got a laugh from this collection of wisdom.
The Future of e-book Readers
Here is an interesting video showing what could be the future of e-book readers as companies continue to try to mimic the reading experience in an electronic device.
Expelled in Canada
Ben Stein’s Expelled opens today (finally!) in Canada. I know there are other Canadians who have been waiting for its appearance.
June 27, 2008

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing down some memories. It has been a fun process of just thinking about the past and recording some significant events and moments. While I’ll probably post them mostly on weekends, I thought it would be fun to post this one today. I see this as a testament to God’s grace in my life that so much as changed.


It is the worst day of my life. Today I will have to stand before my classmates and deliver a speech. I am shy—almost unbearably shy. I never, ever raise my hand in class to answer questions. When the teacher’s eyes roam the room looking for a person who can answer a question, I cringe and hide behind the person ahead of me, doing anything, anything, to avoid eye contact. When I know my turn is coming, I almost panic, sweat beading on my forehead and my face blushing crimson. And today I will be called upon to stand in front of my classmates and a panel of parents to give a speech. It’s almost more than I can bear.

I know my speech is good. I’ve chosen to discuss and to refute evolution, rather a safe topic in a Christian school. My mother pitched in to help me gather and organize my material and I am confident that the content is as good as anyone’s in the class. We’ve even consulted Nancy and Rick Pearcey, our good friends who are well-versed on the subject. I’ve got funny illustrations about millions of monkeys banging away at millions of typewriters; I’ve got fascinating facts about the absurdities of evolution and the truths of Scripture. I have memorized the speech so I will not be dependent upon my notes. If I can just deliver the content well, I am convinced that I am likely to win the competition (a mixed blessing, to be sure, since this would then earn me the dubious privilege of competing against the best of the other local Christian schools).

I watch as a couple of classmates deliver their speeches with mixed results. Some are disorganized while others have clearly neglected preparation. A couple stumble for words and repeat their speeches in voices that are only barely audible. My hearts beats faster as I realize that we are closer and closer to my time. Finally my name is called and I slip to the front of the class, my eyes firmly fixed on the carpet. I reach the front and look out at the rows of desks, and behind them, the panel of judges. My heart rate increases. I don’t know if I can do this.

Teachers, judges and classmates…” With my heart in my throat I begin my speech, stumbling a little at first but soon speaking a little more smoothly. I may have expected that it would get easier as I go, that I would stop noticing all of those eyes staring back at me. But it does not get any easier. Finally, finally, after what seems like hours, I make it to the end of my speech. I glance at the clock. Uh oh. When I timed my speech at home it had come in at around fifteen minutes; yet only five minutes have passed since I began. And already I am finished. Lots of people are smiling; a few are laughing. The Principal makes a crack that I do not hear and everyone laughs. I sit down, mortified, as one of my classmates says something about the “Micro Machine Man.”

My speech, my wonderful speech, is an absolute ruin. Because the content was sound, I still manage to pull of an acceptable mark. But the judges later tell me that if only I had slowed down and given the speech in an intelligible voice, I would have been a finalist. I would have had a good chance of winning.

I realize that day that I am not cut out for public speaking. It reaffirms that I will not answer questions in class and that I’ll continue to be the back-row guy that no one notices. I do not stand before a crowd or give another speech for fifteen years.

June 26, 2008

To this point the “Reading Classics Together” effort has gone very well, at least by my assessment. We’ve read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week. All along we’ve been reading some of the classics of the Christian faith—books many of us wish to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now it is time to decide on the next classic we’ll read together.

There are two names that were continually in my mind as I pondered where we should go next: John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. The potential trouble with both of these men is that their seminal works are, in a word, long. If we are to read a long work I wonder if I may just be reading alone by the end. Regardless, I have decided that works of this quality will be worth it. And so I am proposing that our next book be The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards (all 350+ pages of it).

Here is what the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University says about the work:

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections stands as Edwards’s most penetrating interpretation of the awakenings of his time, not to mention one of the most penetrating of any time. As in Some Thoughts, he argued against the extremes of emotionalism on the one hand and intellectualism on the other. Affections were essential to true religion, but they had to be tested. First, Edwards lays out his religious psychology of affections, which encompassed both understanding and will and involved the total range of human faculties. Answering critics of the revival, Edwards then discusses at length a series of “negative” signs, or unreliable criteria for judging the graciousness of affections. Finally, and most famously, he provided twelve “positive” signs for self-examination. The twelfth sign, which Edwards gave the fullest treatment, was the importance of Christian practice as evidence of the state of the heart. Here, for Edwards, was the ultimate standard for visible sainthood.

It is going to be a demanding read, and something of a long one, but I know the payoff will be worth every second spent in the book.

I will be reading from the Banner of Truth edition of the work, but you can follow along in any of the unabridged editions (of which there are many available). For technophiles, there is a Kindle edition available for only a couple of dollars. For those who are not interested in spending money, CCEL has the complete text available in HTML, PDF and other formats right here.

If you wish to purchase a printed copy of the book, you can do so from Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books or just about anywhere else good Christian books are sold.

We will target July 17 as our start date. That gives you three full weeks to secure a copy and to read the Introduction and Preface. Then, every Thursday following, we’ll read a portion of the text and discuss it together.

It would be a helpful gauge of participation if you’d post a comment on this post indicating that you’d like to read this book with us. So if you are going to read along, let me know, either with a comment or a quick email. I’m looking forward to reading this next classic with you!

June 25, 2008

Since last week’s little contests went over well, I thought I’d try another one. The style is similar—here we have a list of 21 quotes. Each of these quotes are endorsements for a book and each is written by J.I. Packer (quite the prolific reader and endorser!). As I am flying to Vancouver for a meeting tomorrow, it seemed to me that Packer would be an appropriate subject.

Your task is to send me a list of the titles and author(s) for each of these books. Send your list (partial or full if you can figure out all of them). Whoever gets the most right will win a $50 gift certificate for Westminster Books. Should two or more correctly identify all of the books, I will randomly select a winner from among them. Where the book’s author or title is explicitly mentioned in the endorsement, I have replaced them with [Author] or [Title].

Now I know that you can probably Google most or all of these—and that is not against the rules. By why not at least think about them first and see if you can figure them out. There is no advantage to being the first to submit your answers, so don’t feel you need to hurry. Just get your answers in before 12 PM Eastern tomorrow and I will announce a winner as soon as I can get to a computer and tally it all up.

Submit your answers here.

  1. The healthy biblical realism of this study in Christian motivation comes as a breath of fresh air. Jonathan Edwards, whose ghost walks through most of [Author]’s pages, would be delighted with his disciple.”

  2. This extended declaration and defence of the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s atoning death responds to a plethora of current criticisms, many of them in-house, with a thoroughness and effectiveness that is without parallel anywhere. The book’s existence shows that a British evangelical theology which exegetically, systematically, apologetically and pastorally can take on the world is in process of coming to birth. I hail this treatise as an epoch-making tour de force, and hopefully a sign of many more good things to come.”

  3. [Author]’s insight into human nature, divine grace, and Christian life yields a better blueprint for marriage than the self-absorbed rule-ridden role-play with which too many stop short. This is a wise and liberating book for struggling couples—and many others, too.”

  4. In this crowded world of Bible versions [Author]’s blend of accurate scholarship and vivid idiom make this rendering both distinctive and distinguished. [Title] catches the logical flow, personal energy, and imaginative overtones of the original very well indeed.”

  5. It is a privilege to commend so sensible, clear and fruitful an overview of basic Christian belief.”

  6. [Author]’s disarming introduction to personal faith is a modern classic. Long life to it!”

  7. Following in the footsteps of the late great Francis Schaeffer, two leading scholars here give wide-ranging guidance on how today we may show we are Christians by our love.”

  8. Brilliant [Author] is one of God’s best gifts to our decaying Western church, and would-be learners and teachers of the faith will gain hugely from these fascinating pages.”

  9. Clear, well informed, up to date, and firmly anchored in the mainstream of Christian wisdom. Oriented to the church, the Holy Spirit, and the future in a biblically proper way, this work transcends the rationalism and individualism that mar some of its predecessors…An outstanding achievement.”

  10. [Author] rises grandly to the challenge of the greatest of all themes. All the qualities that we expect of him—biblical precision, thoughtfulness and thoroughness, order and method, moral alertness and the measured tread, balanced judgment and practical passion—are here in fullest evidence. This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece.”

  11. [Author]’s offensive against Arminian-type views of election among evangelicals is a very solid piece of work. The thoroughness of its arguments gives it conclusive force.”

  12. Here is a modern reader’s edition of a classic Puritan work by a classic Puritan author. It is a powerful Trinitarian profiling from Scripture of the truth that fellowship with God is and must ever be the inside story of the real Christian’s life. The editing is excellent, and the twenty-seven-page introduction and the thirty-page analytical outline make the treatise accessible, even inviting, to any who, with Richard Baxter, see “heart-work” as the essence of Christianity. [Author] is a profound teacher on all aspects of spiritual life, and it is a joy to welcome this reappearance of one of his finest achievements.”

  13. Careful, thorough, wise, and to my mind, convincing.”

  14. Here is the quintessence of the gospel, the new wine of God’s kingdom at its purest for us today! Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest [title].”

  15. Thought is packed tight in this masterful survey of the covenantal frame of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture, and for serious students it is a winner.”

  16. This 25-year-old classic still makes one think, pray, get real with God, repent, and find joy in wise obedience more effectively than any other book I know. I cannot recommend it too highly.”

  17. [A] sober, encouraging book…The two sides of the author, the biblical scholar who reads, thinks, and misses no detail and the pastoral teacher who understands people, feels with them, and cares for them, combine here to give us a treatment of suffering under God’s sovereignty which is outstandingly accurate, wise, and helpful. All who follow the author’s fast-flowing argument will find their heads cleared and their hearts strengthened.”

  18. Honest historian [Author] informs us straightaway that he views the Christian story through the lenses of Protestant, Reformed, evangelical, baptistic, free-church spectacles. His telling of the tale, journalistic in style while scholarly in substance, then proves his point. You will find this book clarifying and invigorating.”

  19. [Author]’s exciting study…is a major step forward in the reappraisal of Puritanism…no student in the Puritan field can excuse themselves from reckoning with this important contribution.”

  20. I commend this eager and warm-hearted tour guide to the Book of Common Prayer with much enthusiasm …”

  21. This racy little book open up a far-reaching theme. With entertaining insight [Author] looks into the attitudes, alliances, and strategies that today’s state of affairs requires of believers. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike need to ponder [Author]’s vision of things—preferably, in discussion together. What if he is right?”