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

Tim Challies

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August 2008

August 31, 2008

In the past months the server that hosts this site has been dragging a little bit. It has gone down a few times and has begin consuming too many resources. And so I’ve decided to move to a new server with a host that is dedicated to supporting Movabletype, the software that runs behind the scenes here. While I was going through all the trouble of moving to the new server, I decided to rebuild the site’s templates from the ground-up (or nearly so) and to tinker just a little bit with the site’s features and design. I also upgraded to the latest version of the software.

And so by this morning most of you should be seeing the site on its new server. I, on the other hand, am still waiting for the changes to “take” and continue to see the old site.

There are a few new features on this site you may like to know about:

At long last I changed around the top banner. Gone is the lonely winter tree. As much as I love the image, I think a year was long enough for it to be there. In its place is a chair. Yup, a chair. This will, of course, be utterly irrelevant to those of you who read via RSS!

You can now create an account on the site. This will be useful to those of you who comment regularly. The account will mean you can sign in and not have to continually enter your username, email address, and so on. It also gives you the ability to track your old comments, to track other people’s comments, etc. The page where you do all of this is still be perfected, so you’ll have to give me some time in that regard.

The front page has been simplified a little bit (since it was getting a bit cluttered). I removed much of what was there and replaced it with a poll/survey and ActionStream (which tracks what I do in other places on the web—Digg, Twitter, and so on). I removed A La Carte from the sidebar and it is now in the same time line as the other posts.

There are quite a few other changes that are sufficiently insignificant that they are probably not worth mentioning.

Beyond these changes, I expect things to continue here pretty much as they have for the past six years.

August 30, 2008

I don’t know what the Catalyst Conference is and I don’t know how they know who I am. A few days ago I went to my post office box and found there are a rather large package. I do not receive a lot of large boxes at the post office—it is usually either books or mysterious letters from conspiracy theorists who just *have* to let me know who is taking over the world and why (no joke). The rather large box contained a strangely-shaped triangular box which, it turns out, was an advertisement for this upcoming Catalyst Conference. Because of the sheer originality of the package, I snapped a few photos and figured I could post them here.



So here is the funky triangular box that was inside the rather plain brown shipping box.



And here is a close-up of one of the sides of the box.



Cracking the box open, I found all kinds of interesting things.



And here they are. A basketball and hoop, magnets, fliers, temporary tattoos, paper footballs, some kind of weird foam stuff, a deck of triangular cards and so on. Almost all of it was branded with the Catalyst name and logo.

I don’t think I’m going to be heading to this conference. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m too old to do so. But at the very least, I’ve got to give them kudos for the originality of their advertising…

August 29, 2008

Prophecy Today“This book deals with a question that no twenty-first-century Christian can afford to ignore: does God-given prophecy continue in today’s church, or doesn’t it? And, if it does, can those who announce such prophecies sometimes get things wrong?” So says Stuart Olyott in his Foreword to Prophecy Today. In this brief book, Jim Thompson lays out his argument against contemporary prophecy. He does so in three chapters, presenting a logical argument that is both simple to understand and easy to follow.

August 29, 2008
Friday August 29, 2008 Defend the Orphan
WSJ has an article about the evangelical emphasis on adoption. “One thing that distinguished early Christians from their pagan neighbors was their treatment of unwanted children. And adoption is also the literal manifestation of a metaphor that Christians use to describe themselves all the time.”
The PCA and Deaconesses
Ron Gleason, a PCA pastor, is writing about his denomination and the discussion about female deacons.
MP3 Library
Monergism.com has just overhauled their expansive MP3 library.
Answered Prayers
“An anonymous member donated the entire jackpot prize of a Ba-Da Bling scratch-off lottery ticket, worth $3 million, the New York Lottery announced yesterday at Eldorado Southern Grille in Port Jefferson Station. The church will receive $150,000 a year, minus taxes, for 20 years.”
New at Discerning Reader
There are lots of new reviews at Discerning Reader.
Save the Planet
Like we didn’t see this one coming: “There are plenty of ways to cut your carbon footprint, whether it’s driving less or buying an energy-efficient refrigerator. But the British Medical Journal, in an editorial last month, urged a more controversial one: having fewer children.”
August 28, 2008

This morning brings us to our seventh reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we looked to the second sign of authentic affections.

Summary

We continue to progress through the twelve signs of truly gracious and holy affections. So far we’ve seen:

  1. They are from a divine influence.
  2. Their object is the excellence of divine things.

Discussion

After being maybe a little bit confused or disappointed with last week’s reading, I found that this one smacked me right between the eyes. Edwards discusses something I’ve thought about before and a subject for which John Piper obviously (and by his own admission) owes much to Edwards. “The primary ground of gracious affections is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.” In other words, “the supremely excellent nature of divine things is the first, or primary and original, objective foundation of the spiritual affections of true saints.” All this to say that the greatest benefit we receive as Christians is Christ himself. Forgiveness of sins is an incredible gift; sanctification is something for which we give thanks to God; a better understanding of the world is a great benefit; but the best thing Christians receive is Christ. Edwards makes this point time and time again through the section—he will not let the reader escape without understanding this one thing. “The first foundation of a true love to God is that whereby He is in Himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of His nature.”

There are many applications of this teaching. I thought immediately of evangelism and how we tend to make much of people when we share the gospel with them instead of making much of God. Even if we are not fans of Joel Osteen, we may still try to woo people towards God by promising a kind of “Best Life Now” if only they will become Christians. But rarely do we tell them that the best gift of all is Christ. I thought of the megachurch movement, the church growth movement, and how those churches sometimes seem to offer everything but God. But as Edwards says, “If men’s affection to God is founded first on His profitableness to them, their affection begins at the wrong end; they regard God only for the utmost limit of the stream of divine good, where it touches them and reaches their interest, and have no respect to that infinite glory of God’s nature which is the original good, and the true foundation of all good, the first foundation of all loveliness of every kind, and so the first foundation of all true love.” Such a hypocrite “lays himself at the bottom of all, as the first foundation, and lays on God as the superstructure.” Rather than having a faith that begins with God, they have a faith that begins with self and adds God only as an afterthought.

When Edwards wrote about the “natural principle of self-love,” there were a couple of lines that stood out to me. “A dog will love his master that is kind to him,” and “Saul was once and again greatly affected, and even dissolved with gratitude towards David, for sparing his life, and yet remained an habitual enemy to him.” He uses these examples to teach that men may express gratitude toward someone without truly loving him. People can love what another person does for them, and even by affected by it, while never loving that person. And so unbelievers can seem to enjoy the benefits that come to those who know Christ even while hating Him. We are prone to loving God’s gifts more than God Himself. And so we must examine our hearts to determine whether we love God for what He is in Himself or if the foundation of our love is what He can do for us. “True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God.”

A final great quote: “A true saint, when in the enjoyment of true discoveries of the sweet glory of God and Christ, has his mind too much captivated and engaged by what he views without himself, to stand at that time to view himself, and his own attainments. It would be a diversion and loss which he could not bear, to take his eye off from the ravishing object of his contemplation, to survey his own experience, and to spend time in thinking with himself. What a high attainment this is, and what a good story I now have to tell others!”

Next Time

For next week we will read the third distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. It is another section that should be quite manageable as it’s about the same size as this week’s reading.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

August 28, 2008
Thursday August 28, 2008 The Grace to Help Others
Carolyn McCulley shares the interesting testimony of Elaini Garfield. “A few weeks ago, I met a remarkable young woman who lives with multiple health challenges, and yet with a glowing smile told me all about how God had used her to encourage two other ill girls her age.”
TheResurgence Redesign
TheResurgence’s site has been newly redesigned.
Without Walls Making a Comeback
Here is an article detailing how Without Walls Church is making a comeback. After its founders (Randy and Paula White) announced they were to divorce, around 50% of the congregation left. “We’re coming back stronger,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s not rhetoric, but it’s reality. The God we serve is the God of a second chance.”
Fireproof Storytelling
At The Point they write about Fireproof. “I went to the film with a popcorn bag full of prejudices, fully expecting to witness the cheesiest, low-budget Christian flick, and come away patting myself on the back for my high taste in quality film. I left with my fair share of tears, and more questions than I had answers.”
August 27, 2008

As I read my way through the works of David McCullough, I have come to Brave Companions, a book that offers “Portraits in History”—brief glimpses of people and incidents that helped make America what she is today. One of the chapters deals with “The American Adventure of Louis Agassiz.” Agassiz was a French zoologist and geologist who settled in the United States in the mid nineteenth century. He began a distinguished career as a professor at Harvard. He revolutionized the way this field was taught, focusing far more on observation than rote learning. Agassiz utterly rejected Darwinism, believing to his dying day that to study nature was to study the works of God. He worked tirelessly to see a zoological museum built at Harvard and when it was finally opened in 1860, Harvard’s President declared it was appropriate that the museum stood face-to-face with the theological school, “God’s word and God’s works mutually illustrating each other.”

Here is how McCullough describes the Agassiz teaching style.


Most unorthodox of all, and crucial as time would tell, was his manner of teaching. He intended, he said, to teach students to see—to observe and compare—and he intended to put the burden of study on them. Probably he never said what he is best known for, “Study nature, not books,” or not in those exact words. But such certainly was the essence of his creed, and for his students the idea was firmly planted by what they would afterward refer to as “the incident of the fish.”

His initial interview at an end, Agassiz would ask the student when he would like to begin. If the answer was now, the student was immediately presented with a dead fish—usually a very long dead, pickled, evil-smelling specimen—personally selected by “the master” from one of the wide-mouthed jars that lined his shelves. The fish was placed before the student in a tin pan. He was to look at the fish, the student was told, whereupon Agassiz would leave, not to return until later in the day, if at all.

Samuel Scudder, one of the many from the school who would go on to do important work of their own (his in entomology), described the experience as one of life’s turning points.

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish. … Half an hour passed—an hour—another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at three-quarters view—just as ghastly. I was in despair. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish: it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows, until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish, and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature.

When Agassiz returned later and listened to Scudder recount what he had observed, his only comment was that the young man must look again.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now I set myself to my task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another. … The afternoon passed quickly; and when, towards its close, the professor inquired: “Do you see it yet?” “No,” I replied, “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

The day following, having thought of the fish through most of the night, Scudder had a brainstorm. The fish, he announced to Agassiz, had symmetrical sides with paired organs.

Of course, of course!” Agassiz said, obviously pleased. Scudder asked what he might do next, and Agassiz replied, “Oh, look at your fish!”

In Scudder’s case the lesson lasted a full three days. “Look, look, look” was the repeated injunction and the best lesson he ever had, Scudder recalled, “a legacy the professor has left to me, as he has left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part.”

The incident of the fish marked the end of the student’s novitiate. At once Agassiz became more communicative, his manner that of a friend or colleague, now that the real work could begin.

The way to all learning, “the backbone of education,” was to know something well. “A smattering of everything is worth little,” he would insist in the heavy French accent that he was never to lose. “Facts are stupid things, until brought into conjunction with some general law.” It was a great and common fallacy to suppose that an encyclopedic mind is desirable. The mind was made strong not through much learning but by “the thorough possession of something.” In other words, “Look at your fish.”


There were so many lessons I drew from this as I thought of my own attempts to understand God through His Word. The parallels are uncanny (but for the injunction to “study nature, not books.”) The primary lesson for me is this: like Scudder I tend to consider myself ready to move on too quickly. I move quickly from the Bible to resources that help explain them to me. I skim the Bible and then turn to commentaries and sermons to do the hard work for me. But how much better would I be if I would just heed Agassiz and “look at your fish.”

August 27, 2008
Wednesday August 27, 2008 From the DNC
For a unique spin on the DNC, be sure to read Dave Barry’s columns. The first one is at the link above and the others can be accessed from the left column of the Miami Herald’s site.
Go Outside and Play
This columnist laments the end of “Go outside and play!” “”Play,” incidentally, is a mysterious activity children engage in when not compelled to spend every hour under adult supervision, taking soccer or piano lessons or practicing vocabulary words with computerized flashcards.”
Free Commentary
Logos is offering a free commentary on Matthew and Mark for Logos users. No strings attached. Even people without the software can access this commentary.
Christians and the Lottery
John MacArthur addresses this issue. “The Bible advocates gaining money by inheritance, by hard work, and by wise investment, but it never advocates getting rich by gambling or fast money.”
Charles Wesley’s Secret Diary
“An Anglican priest has unlocked the 270-year-old secrets of Charles Wesley’s coded diary, throwing light on the turbulent relationship that he had with his brother John in the early years of the Methodist movement they founded.”