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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

July 2009

July 18, 2009

Just a few weeks ago Keith and Kristin Getty released Awaken the Dawn, a new album of contemporary hymns. As I understand it, the album will be available on iTunes and other stores in a couple of weeks. For now you’ll need to buy it direct. Many of the hymns are written by Stuart Townend, set to music by Keith and sung by Kristin (or that’s how I understand the workflow). There are quite a few excellent songs on the album and at least four or five I’d like us to add to the list of songs we sing at church (“Come People of the Risen King,” “Creation Sings the Father’s Song,” “By Faith,” etc).

Here is one that may be my favorite (and not just because of the amazing fiddle playing). It is called “When Trials Come.” It speaks of God’s presence, his comfort, his faithfulness, through times of trial and toil.

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in it’s shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

You can hear a clip of it here.

July 17, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It is time for another edition of Free Stuff Fridays.

This week’s sponsor is Reformation Art. “Reformation Art reproduces fine art photographic prints of the key figures and events of the Protestant Reformation, and the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition.” Here is a description of the process they use to ensure that these prints are of the highest possible quality. “We hold to high standards of excellence. We choose the highest quality of original work that we can find and scan them at a very high resolution. After optimizing the print and digitally retouching any imperfections, we are ready to create the print on our Epson Professional printer. We use only authentic Epson inks and papers that last for up to 100 years. You can be assured that we have taken every step to insure the best quality in every print we offer, from the initial selection to the final printing.” I have several of these prints and can testify to their quality.

Westminster Assembly

They are giving away four prizes. Each of the four winners will be able to choose one of the following:

1. A $25 gift certificate (coupon code to be used at checkout)
2. A Westminster Assembly Poster ($35 value)
3. A 16X20 Calvin Collage ($39.95 value - either collage 1 or 2)
4. A John Calvin T-shirt ($19.95 value).

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.


July 17, 2009

I do not intend to continue posting these “Books I Didn’t Review” article with the frequency I’ve been doing so lately. But this summer I’ve been enjoying reading books outside of the Christian genre and I’ve been read a lot of them. It has been a refreshing break for me. I’ve still been enjoying at least one Christian book per week, but my recreational reading has taken me far and wide. In Canada we have a bookstore chain called Indigo, headed by Heather Reisman. She offers lists of “Heather’s Picks” and the beauty of it is, if you buy the book and don’t like it, you can return it, no questions asked. So I have been gleaning from her list (skipping over the many novels she recommends), browsing through other lists, and reading a variety of books.

Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed:

Tears in the DarknessTears in the Darkness by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman. In the first four months of 1942 American and Filipino soldiers fought a long and brutal battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. The battle ended with the surrender of 76,000 Americans and Filipinos, the worst defeat in American history. After the battle these men were subjected to unbelievable cruelty that began with a long, forced march across Bataan to a prison camp. The soldiers who survived this march, ravaged by tropical diseases, were starved and beaten and worked to death as slave labor. Thousands died. Those who endured would never be the same. Tears in the Darkness, a current New York Times bestseller, focuses on the story of the Bataan Death March and its aftermath. It takes Ben Steele, a young American soldier, as its protagonist, and looks primarily through his eyes. The book is unique in that it does not end with the liberation of the prisoners but with the trial and conviction of the Japanese officer deemed responsible for much of the cruelty and deprivation. The authors have constructed an absolutely fascinating account of this part of the war and this is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Second World War. Because the book focuses on one central character, its appeal will go much further, though, to anyone who would want to marvel at the unimaginable torture a human can endure with nothing but the will to live to sustain him. This is one of this summer’s must-read books!

Prisoner of TehranPrisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat. This memoir comes from Marina Nemat, who was born and raised in Iran but, surprisingly, as a Roman Catholic. In 1982, at just sixteen years old, she was arrested on false charges by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and thrown into the notorious Evin prison. There she was tortured and condemned to die for her supposed acts of sedition. But in a rather remarkable twist, her life was spared by a prison guard and interrogator who pleaded for her life because he had fallen in love with her and desired to marry her. Nemat is a bold protagonist who refuses to sell out her mind by believing all the lies told to her, yet she is human enough to surrender when stubbornness might cost her life. The conflict that rages in her heart and mind throughout her imprisonment is fascinating. She also offers a insider’s perspective on the radical transformation that occurred within Iran before, during and after the Islamic revolution. This book has the kind of characters and plot twists that seem more at home in fiction than fact. Yet it is a true story, or so Nemat claims. It seemed to me that the story fit together just a little bit too well and I began to wonder if perhaps the author had taken some liberties with the facts. A search of the internet revealed some controversy to that end with accusations flying both ways. Regardless, whether it is read as fact or a blend of fact and fiction, this was a Heather’s Pick that I enjoyed thoroughly. It makes for an excellent “evening or two” kind of read.

The First TycoonThe First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles. This is a long and occasionally dense biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a character who continues to fascinate well over a century after his death. He is a character who is quite difficult to understand and, therefore, one who many biographers have portrayed unfairly as one dimensional. Stiles portrays him, accurately I think, as a brutal businessman but a man who had a tender heart toward those he loved and who did have some room in his heart (and his pocketbook) for acts of kindness and charity. Vanderbilt is a fascinating study of opposites, really, in his love-hate relationship with family members and business associates. For every noble character quality (which history has largely ignored) he has three or four ignoble. What interested me most of all, I think, was seeing how so much of what he did was motivated not by the desire to be wealthy, but by the desire to punish those who would dare to cross him. There were times when he risked the economy of the nation for reasons no more noble than personal vendetta. His pride seemed to know few bounds. Money was power and power was a game to see who could win the greatest, most resounding victories. If there was one thing I’d wish for this biography it would be that there be a little more of the man and a little bit less of his business transactions. However, Stiles would likely make the case that to know the man’s business is to know the man himself and he may well be right. While The First Tycoon can occasionally bog down in the details just a little bit, it remains a very readable biography of a character whose importance to America (as that first great business tycoon) is difficult to overstate.

The Victorian InternetThe Victorian Internet by Tom Standage. In this book Tom Standage writes of “The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-Line Pioneers.” He shows, quite well, how the invention and popularization of the telegraph in many ways foreshadowed the world wide web. In a matter of just years the world shrank through this amazing new communication medium that was almost infinitely faster than the train and steam boat which, until that time, were the fastest bearers of information. If the book has a downside, it would be where Standage seems to over-reach just a little bit, reading the telegraph through the lens of the internet instead of the other way around. Still, it is fascinating to learn of “online” communication that saw men and women meet and marry through the wires much as people do today through the web and to read of the way society struggled to adapt to a medium of communications that was light years ahead. There are some good lessons for us to learn here. This is a book that will appeal to anyone who is interested in technology or history or the confluence of the two.

Accidental BillionairesThe Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. I read this book because I wanted to understand the history of Facebook—a program (a site, a lifestyle) that is changing society. The book’s cover (a picture of a red, lacy bra and a couple of cocktail glasses) and subtitle (A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal) should have tipped me off that it was not going to be serious history. Mezrich writes the book in the style of dramatic narrative which apparently means “when I don’t have facts, I’ll just make ‘em up and when the story gets slow, I’ll fabricate a sex scene.” He does provide lots of interesting facts and shares the rather brutal history of Facebook (from Mark Zuckerberg essentially stealing the idea from people who had asked him to create a very similar social media site to the backhanded way that he forced his co-founder out of the company). I suppose it is a tale of money, genius and betrayal, though I don’t see how sex really enters into the true tale except as much as it would for any group of college students (except, of course, as a selling feature). So this is Mezrich’s take on the story, written in a tabloid fashion where what is true and what could be true blend together. The framework of the facts seems to line up with what I’ve read elsewhere but the very nature of the book makes it somewhat less than trustworthy. Still, if you want to know how Facebook came to be, how it evolved from a week’s worth of work for a college student to a company valued in the billions dollars, this seems to be the only show in town. Even then, read Wikipedia first to see if it offers enough to satisfy your curiosity before plunking down the money for this book. Even at just $16.50 it’s hard to believe that it’s worth the money.

MoneyballMoneyball by Michael Lewis. This was a book I read purely for pleasure. This was a #1 national bestseller and has been available since 2003, so I am guessing many of you have already read it. Somehow I only got around to it now. In this book Lewis went on a search for answers, seeking to find out how the Oakland A’s, one of Major League Baseball’s poorest teams, could keep competing against teams with payrolls two or three times higher. And, indeed, the A’s have been competitive year after year. The book focuses in predominantly on Billy Beane who has been General Manager since 1998. It’s a very interesting book, though some of Beane’s “genius” has been exposed by the light of history (some of those draft picks that everyone else laughed at have, indeed, been laughable). But it’s still a very enjoyable read and one any baseball fan will enjoy, even six years later.

Tiny DancerTiny Dancer by Anthony Flacco. You may remember this as one of the few “feel-good” stories to emerge shortly after the US went to war in Afghanistan. Anthony Flacco relates the story of Zubaida Hasan, a nine year-old girl from a tiny village in rural Afghanistan who had been terribly injured in a kerosene fire. Burned and disfigured beyond recognition, Zubaida was taken by her father to the city where an American Green Beret saw her and took pity on her. She was eventually flown to the United States where she received first-world medical care and had her disfigured body rebuilt by Dr. Peter Grossman, a famed burn surgeon. At the same time she became almost a surrogate daughter to Grossman and his wife, Rebecca, as she lived with them through the long year of surgery and recovery. You can read more about Zubaida and her rather remarkable story at zubaidatinydancer.com. At the very least look at the before and after pictures and marvel at the blessing of modern medicine. Though this book stumbles into one of my pet peeves, putting thoughts into the characters heads—thoughts the author could not possibly have known—it is still quite a good read and worth the evening or two it will take to get through it. Though the book is only a few years old, it seems to be out of print so you need to find it in the bargain area (as I did) or buy it used.

July 17, 2009
Former Drug Lord Finds the Lord
Here’s an interesting story from Christian Week. “The extravagant wealth and power former gang member Michael “Bull” Roberts had as one of Canada’s wealthiest drug lords reads likes a fantasy. But the road which led him there is the stuff of nightmares.”
Dug Down Deep
Josh Harris gives the title and topic of his forthcoming book.
Crocs on their Last Legs
The world’s ugliest shoes may soon be no more. “The company had expanded to meet demand, but financially pressed customers cut back. Last year the company lost $185.1 million, slashed roughly 2,000 jobs and scrambled to find money to pay down millions in debt. Now it’s stuck with a surplus of shoes, and its auditors have wondered if it can stay afloat. It has until the end of September to pay off its debt.”
Fabulous Fridays
CBD has a couple of noteworthy deals in their Fabulous Friday this week. Alistair Begg’s Pathway to Freedom is on sale for just $3.99, the collector’s edition of Fireproof is on for $14.99 and there is a book and CD gift set of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for just $4.99.
July 16, 2009

The more I read of this book the more comfortable I am declaring it one of the best books I’ve ever read. I hope that is no small praise as I’ve read an awful lot of books. But this, at least through the first half (or nearly half) is speaking to me in a way few books do. The teaching is powerful, the illustrations superb. I have read and enjoyed Burroughs in the past, but never as much as I am enjoying reading The Rare Jewel.

Summary

Having dedicated three chapters to “The Mystery of Contentment,” Burroughs turns now to two chapters that explain “How Christ Teaches Contentment.” I had taken this to be a look at Christ’s modeling of contentment through his life and ministry, but this is not quite it. Instead, he shows how Christ teaches contentment through the Word and through the Spirit. In the first of these chapters he offers six ways Christ does this:

The Lesson of Self-Denial. “Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment.” He looks at ways that Christ teaches self-denial and how each brings about contentment. 1) Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. 2) I deserve nothing. 3) I can do nothing. 4) I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. 5) We can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. 6) We are worse than nothing. 7) If we perish we will be no loss. 8) Through self-denial the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways. (Has anyone else noticed that he has a bad habit of flipping between the first person singular and the first person plural? Where was his editor?)

Here is one of my favorite quotes from this section: “Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: ‘Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?’ A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great.”

The Vanity of the Creature. Let me just quote Burroughs here as he uses one of his trademark illustrations: “Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach. Yet there is really the same madness in the world: the wind which a man takes in by gaping will as soon satisfy a craving stomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfy a soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature.”

To Know the One Thing Needful. Just as Jesus taught this lesson to Martha, he teaches it to us. “I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.”

To Know One’s Relation to the World. Through the Spirit Christ teaches the Christian in what relation his soul is to the world. He teaches that the Christian is just a pilgrim, a sojourner, on this earth. His true home is in heaven. “Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not think to satisfy yourselves here. When a man comes into an inn and sees there a fair cupboard of plate, he is not troubled that it is not his own.- Why? Because he is going away. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have great wealth, but we have not.-Why? We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour?”

Wherein the Good of the Creature Is. Christ teaches that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in anything, everything. “When a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God’s mercy conveyed to my soul through the creature, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good: in this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if he will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of himself some other way, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace of his Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be led to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.”

The Knowledge of One’s Own Heart. According to Burroughs, “a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways.” The three ways are: 1) By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. 2) This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition. 3) By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content. I particularly enjoyed this third point—that when we study our own hearts we will realize that some of what God takes from us, he takes because he knows we would not be able to manage it. He knows our limitations far better than we do. “We would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them.”

This is growing long so I will stop here! But suffice it to say that I consider this the best chapter and I am (literally) excited to get to next week’s reading.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 6, “How Christ Teaches Contentment (Concluded).”

Discussion

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
July 16, 2009
A Tech Bill of Rights
“Where is the line when it comes to appropriate cell phone behavior? Is it ok to talk in a crowded restaurant? An elevator? How about interrupting an actual, you know, face-to-face conversation to answer a call? Then there’s non-voice communications: Is it acceptable to walk while emailing, bumping into people on the sidewalk en route? Texting at the urinal: It’s potentially messy and definitely gross, but is it acceptable? Is it rude to keep reaching into your pocket whenever your BlackBerry buzzes?” There are some interesting stats here about how many of us feel others are being rude with their cell phone behavior but how few of us think we are being rude ourselves…
The Tribune on Christian Novels
The Chicago Tribune went to IRCS and has a story about Christian fiction. “The undisputed industry leader is so-called Amish fiction — typically, romances and family sagas set in contemporary Amish communities. They’re a surprise hit with evangelical women attracted by a simpler time, curiosity about cloistered communities and admiration for the strong, traditional faith of the Amish.”
Blessed Are the Green of Heart
Writing for First Things, Alan Jacobs has a review of The Green Bible.
God’s Will and Your Marriage
Over at the Ligonier Ministries blog we’re posting a series by R.C. Sproul on “God’s Will and Your Marriage.”
Deal of the Day: Assured by God
Reformation Heritage Books (on their brand new web site) are offering this book, edited by Burk Parsons, for just $10. Contributors include Joel R. Beeke, Jerry Bridges, John MacArthur, R. Albert Mohler Jr., and R. C. Sproul.
July 15, 2009

There's Treasure Everywhere

I’ve always loved Calvin & Hobbes. My friend Brian first introduced me to the comic strip back when I was a young teen and I immediately fell in love with it. (Here is a must-have for any true fan: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes). The strip works on at least two levels. There is the philosophical level where Calvin and his tiger discuss topics of science, philosophy and religion that are clearly far beyond the grasp of a six-year old mind. Yet they reflect the questions most people wrestle with during their lives. And then there is the more realistic level, where Calvin is just a young boy doing what boys do: learning to ride a bike, going to school, imaging himself as a superhero or astronaut, building snow forts, fighting with girls, and digging for treasure. Every young boy is convinced that there’s treasure everywhere. Any boy with a strong imagination will realize that there truly is treasure everywhere.

As you well know, I use this web site to discuss a wide variety of topics. I post personal reflections, book reviews and links to other sites I recommend. I write articles about theology, current issues, sexuality, philosophy and just about anything else that crosses my mind. I may not offer reflections that are particularly deep and original, but surely no one can complain about the variety!

One of the great benefits of having this site and of committing to contribute to it each day is that it has forced me to think a lot and to think widely. My wife will be the first to tell that she often has to snap me out of moments of thought where I am present in body but absent in mind. She will also have to testify that I often use her as an initial audience for what I am thinking about. I am quite convinced that my eclectic range of interests often frustrates and bewilders her. She is good to put up with me. Every day my mind wanders. Sooner or later it rests for a while on a particular subject—some news tidbit I’ve seen on the Internet or a word or phrase or idea I’ve read in a book. And then I just have to let my mind run for a while to see what I think about what I’ve discovered and to see how it relates to the Christian life. I often think best while writing, jotting down my thoughts as they come to me. I often turn to the Bible, allowing the thoughts to lead me through the Bible, helping me understand what God says about the issue.

The more I have thought about different topics, the more I’ve realized that there is theology everywhere. And this is what motivates me to write; it’s what motivates me to read and to think and to explore. Everywhere I turn I see theology, whether in a book about the atoning work of Jesus Christ or in a book about the future of business or in a biography of a man who lives half a world away. Sometimes the theology is lying on the surface, exposed and easy to see. Sometimes it is hidden within and just needs to be coaxed out. But always there is something to think about, something to wrestle with, something to help me think deeply about how Christians are to live in this world.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not one of these people who watches R-rated movies and tries to read into them some kind of redemptive theology that is simply not present. But it seems that every time I read the news and every book I read I find something that is profound, something that is or should be theological. Everything I read seems to provide some starting point for deeper reflection.

And I guess this is what this web site has become. It’s become a place where I try to unearth treasure. It’s a place where I write down and post my thoughts about a theology of, well, everything. When I read about technology I want to understand how this technology will impact the church. When I read about psychology or current events I want to learn how Christians need to respond. When I read about history or economics I want to see what the Bible has to say about these things. I want to know how they impact me as a Christian and how I should think about them and react to them to the glory of God.

As I continue to try to grapple with these things, I realize more and more my dependence on the Holy Spirit. He leads me into truth. He leads me into and through Scripture where the answers can be found. And ultimately he leads me to Jesus Christ who in turn points me to the Father, so I can bring the glory and the praise to Him. I can see that I need to improve in my ability to allow myself to be led to the cross and to share the shadow of the cross as it falls over all areas of theology. But I know, and am convinced, that there’s a theology of everything. There’s treasure everywhere. And I get such a thrill out of finding it.

July 15, 2009
Why Bus Stops?
My buddy PMac, summer evangelist at our church, explains why he likes to find people and talk with them as they wait at bus stops (as opposed to going door-to-door through the neighborhood).
The Day Facebook Changed
Here is a change to look out for and one with very far-reaching effects. In just a short while Facebook will make profiles public by default (instead of making them available only to friends as they are now). Just imagine all of the information about you that will now be available to the world…
Is Masturbation Sin?
Relevant has discussed this issue over the past couple of weeks. I found this article particularly compelling as it came from a person who once took the opposite stance. “If I could go back to the 23-year-old that wrote those words, I would first punch his throat because a dude trying to justify his own sin is a dangerous dude and deserves a good throat punch. Then, I would encourage him to not share his thoughts publicly yet.” You’ve got to give him points for style, anyway.
Michael Jackson’s Real Legacy
I think this article does a good job of tapping into Michael Jackson’s real legacy. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that it’s got little to do with fame, fortune, dancing or music.
The Master of Ancient and Modern Myth
Albert Shepherd provides a review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s latest posthumous release, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. “In these days when anyone can write a book and slap it together quickly to make some quick cash, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” rises as an instant classic. The shallow-minded may soak up the soft drink that is the “Twilight” series or the “Inheritance Cycle”, but Tolkien’s writing, like a fine wine, refreshes those looking for deeper, more meaningful fare.”