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Tim Challies

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September 2009

September 30, 2009

Last week I reviewed Bill Farley’s new book Gospel-Powered Parenting. I recommended it highly, saying it had “just the right combination of affirmation (your struggles are universal struggles, your joys are universal joys) and exhortation to both encourage and challenge me in all the right ways.” After I reviewed it, I found there were a few things I wanted to ask the author. I went ahead and asked if he would be willing to do a brief interview about the book and he was kind enough to do so. I trust you’ll enjoy his answers as I did.

1. Why the gospel? Why is the gospel the key to empowering parenting? What is the connection between the words “gospel” and “powered?”
Paul tells us that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). We hear this verse and think the pulpit or witnessing, but parents should hear this and think family devotions. Parents convinced that God’s power is latent in the gospel center their families around the gospel. They are convinced that it provokes new birth, that it will knit their children’s hearts to God, and motivate godly behavior. Our children receive the “imperishable seed” of new birth through the message of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23). Often parents don’t center their parenting in the gospel because either they don’t really understand the gospel, or they don’t believe that God’s power is latent in the gospel.

The gospel also protects parents from “moralism,” the idea that well-behaved children are the main thing. New Birth is the main thing. The morality of Christ imputed to your children is the main thing. It is not what our children do for Christ but what Christ has done for our children that is the main thing. Ironically, without aiming at it, gospel centered parents get godly behavior from their children.

In addition, the fear of God is the key to attracting God’s favor upon our parenting. Many think that the fear of God is an Old Testament concept. But the main place we get the fear of God is at the cross of Christ—the heart of the gospel.

2. Today we are hearing the word “gospel” everywhere (at least, those of us within a certain subset of the Christian world). Do you think there’s a danger that it could become cliche? Could gospel begin to lose its meaning when it’s applied to everything?
When the gospel becomes “cliché” Christianity has become irrelevant. The center has been displaced. That is because the gospel is the main thing. It is the center of the Bible. The Old Testament predicts it. The gospels recount it, and the epistles look back to explain and apply it. I think the recent surge of Gospel-centeredness is really just a resurgence of biblical Christianity.

This may sound strange to many Christians. To many the gospel is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” But the gospel is deep. It is a well with no bottom. The more we understand it the less apt we are to stray from it. It starts by assuming the bad news. We are in trouble. Our default condition is Hell. God owes us nothing but justice. We are all running pell mell toward damnation. We cannot solve this problem by being good. We are in profound trouble.

The gospel is the “good news” that solves this problem. It reconciles enemies—God and man—and makes them friends. It opens the gate of Heaven to all who believe. It infuses Christians with an indomitable hope. It motivates love, grace, and forgiveness.

In my view, this new Gospel-centeredness is a profound deepening of the faith. It is what really matters. I believe there will be tremendous long-term fruit from the recovery of this emphasis.

Those who understand the gospel never get tired of hearing it. I watched my son preach on penal substitution last Sunday, and even though I covered the same ground ten weeks ago, the congregation was transfixed. Despite the fact that this message is the ABC of the gospel, my congregation would listen to it every week and keep coming back for more. What I am trying to say is that the gospel is not something we start with so that we can pass on to the deeper truths. It is the deeper truth.

The thesis of my previous book, Outrageous Mercy, is that the gospel teaches us everything we need to know about God, man, eternity, Hell, Heaven, how to get into Heaven, what God loves, and what he hates. In addition, it teaches us everything we need to know about how to live. If all of this is true, it must also teach us about parenting. The point of Gospel Powered Parenting is that it does.

3. We want to affirm, of course, that it is well within the rights of any Christian parents to homeschool their children. We want to affirm that this is often a wise decision for parents. Yet in Gospel-Powered Parenting you explicitly mention that your five children, all of whom are believers, went to public schools and state colleges. You emphasize the importance of an offensive mind-set. Do you find that, at least for some Christian parents, homeschooling is really just one aspect of a larger defensive mind-set?
Many things motivate home-schooling—a desire for a better education, the longing to mingle the gospel with academic subjects, the desire to cast our children in a biblical mold, and a longing to protect them from evil influence. What I am saying is that if protection is the main thing, or the only thing, we might be in trouble.

Let me be clear. I am all for home-schooling and/or private Christian education. Although my children all graduated from public High School, my two oldest daughters went to a private Christian school for several years, and we home-schooled my youngest during his Junior High years. None of my fourteen grandchildren are in public education today. My oldest daughter taught in a classical Christian school for twelve years. I am not against home-schooling: I am against a fear-oriented, defensive mindset. Home schooling does not necessarily presume this mentality.

4. What are the potential dangers in this?
The potential dangers are primarily reactionary. You could take this idea to an extreme and fail to protect children when you should. That would not be helpful. I am not saying that you shouldn’t protect your children from some influences. I am just saying that “protection” should never be our primary strategy. Isolating them from worldly influence by itself is seldom productive.

5. What does an offensive mind-set look like in parenting?
An offensive mindset targets the child’s heart not the child’s external environment (friends, music, school, etc.). In order to reach their child’s heart effective parents focus on their relationship with the child. Rather than fearing the world’s negative influence, they focus on the gospel’s power to influence their child. This parent worries more about their example to their child rather than the world’s example. This parent waits patiently for New Birth rather than assuming it because a child was baptized, or made a confession of faith at a summer camp.

6. Why is it such a temptation to try to control, or over-control, our children’s’ environment? Why do parents need to guard against this?
I think it is a temptation because our default condition is independence from God. We think our influence is the deciding factor in our child’s character development. It isn’t. Ultimately, the influence of God trumps all of our efforts. God gives New Birth. We can’t give it to our children. Our children can’t take it. It is God’s gracious gift (Mt 13:11, Mt 16:17, Luke 19:42; 24:16, 24:31, 24:45; Jn 1:12,13; Jn 5:21; Jn 9:39; Jn 6:39, Rm 9:10-24; Eph 1:1-6; 1Pe 2:9). Therefore, and this is crucial, pleasing God is the most important thing a parent can do to move God to regenerate their child. This means that effective parents are God-centered not child-centered. Their focus is always on God, not their children. Fearing God is one crucial way that parents can please God. We learn this fear at the cross. That is why I call it gospel powered parenting.

7. Do you feel that some Christian parents allow fear to be a motivating factor in the education of their children?
Yes, this is sometimes true. I am a pastor. I have watched parents try to protect their children into God’s kingdom. Fear of worldly influence is often their motive. Sometimes they are home-schooling families, but not always. When a parent thinks “protecting” their child from the outside world is the main thing, they are saying something. They are saying that Christianity equals “moralism,” (pleasing God through outward behavior), that obedient children are the main thing, that the child’s problem is “out there” rather than within his own fallen nature. Sometimes they assume that their child is basically good. Negative influence will corrupt that goodness. Therefore, protecting their child will enable that goodness to flourish. This mentality also assumes that New Birth has little power to equip a child to conquer temptation.

8. How can a parent guard against moralism? Isn’t there huge temptation, perhaps especially when we are within view of other Christians, to judge parenting by the outward shows of immediate obedience and other potentially-moralistic standards?
Moralism is the assumption that we make ourselves acceptable to God with good behavior. It is the deadly enemy of Christianity. It is the one thing that all non-Christian religions share in common, and the rejection of moralism is one crucial doctrine that sets Christianity apart. The Bible says God accepts us because we believe, not because we perform.

Moral behavior is important, however it is not the ultimate goal of parenting. New Birth is the final goal. Morality matters because it glorifies God. Our children will never be moral in a pleasing way to God until their hearts are changed through the miracle of New Birth, and even then, their morality will never makes them ultimately acceptable to God.

So, to answer you question, the only way to guard against moralism is to understand the nature of New Birth, to understand justification by faith alone, and to aim all of your parenting efforts at these targets. Parents that center their families around the gospel tend to get these results.

9. Why did you and your wife make decisions about educating your children?
Our children were in public schools during the years 1980 to 2000. We put them in public school because of the convictions mentioned above. There was a Christian sub-culture at their High School. They made their friends there. Generally, they prospered spiritually.

However, I must make some caveats. First, public education has degenerated since our kids were in school. We might do differently today. Second, we made some mistakes. We were not flexible enough. Some of our children easily withstood peer pressure. Others struggled. Looking back, we probably should have put the children that struggled in private school or home-schooled them. In short, I am not making any rules about where your children should be educated. The Bible takes a different tack. It stresses the role of the father, the importance of parental example, and the fear of God taught by the gospel.

10. How will you know if this book has been a success? What do you hope for it?
I will not know if this book has been successful until I am with God in eternity. I will feel successful if I meet saints who came to New Birth because their parents read this book and changed their approach to parenting.

September 30, 2009
Reel Discernment
I’m really enjoying Focus on the Family’s new feature “Reel Discernment. This week “hosts Bob Waliszewski and Cheryl Wilhelmi discuss new releases Fame, Surrogates, and Bright Star, as well as new DVD release X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Dan Brown’s Errors
“Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, says that his books, while fictional, are grounded in fact. We look at 50 of his claims. ”
U2’s Tour
This article about U2’s current world tour has some incredible information in it. “Whether we’re playing or not, the overhead is about $750,000 daily. That’s just to have the crew on payroll, to rent the trucks, all that. There’s about 200 trucks. Each stage is 37 trucks, so you’re up to nearly 120 there. And then the universal production is another 50-odd trucks, and there are merchandise trucks and catering trucks.”
September 29, 2009

Understanding English Bible TranslationWhen it comes to the Bible, we, in the English-speaking world, are profoundly blessed for we have at our disposal scores of translations of Scripture. While they range from excellent to abysmal, in many cases even the worst of them is far superior to the best available in any number of other languages. And, of course, we acknowledge that multitudes of languages remain which still have no access at all to God’s Word. Certainly we have little cause to complain and every cause to express gratitude to God. We have the luxury and responsibility even, of not just studying the Bible, but of first seeking out the best translation available. And that is increasingly becoming a daunting task as each seems to have its strengths and its weaknesses. Meanwhile, the translation philosophies that bring about such strengths and weaknesses remain hidden to most readers who prefer to leave such discussions in the hands of the academics.

September 28, 2009

There are a vast number of ministries serving the church today. Though I am familiar with many of them (by name at least) I have often wondered what each of them offer to us, and what we can offer to them. I thought it might be useful to offer a series of interviews with some prominent ministries to ask just this kind of question—who are you?, what do you do?, why do you exist?, and so on. It is useful, I think, even to know the size of the budgets of these organizations and the number of people they employ. You may be surprised at how big (or how small) some of these organizations really are. So over the next few weeks I will be interviewing representatives from many of these ministries. I trust you will find the interviews interesting and hope they will show you how different organizations are seeking to serve the Lord in such different ways.

First up in the series is Grace to You, a ministry that I am sure is familiar to most of us as the teaching ministry of John MacArthur. In this interview Grace to You is represented by Phil Johnson, the original Pyromaniac. Kudos to Phil who (remarkably) typed this whole interview on his iPhone while flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Those thumbs must be throbbing.

How and when did GTY begin?
This year marks the ministry’s 40th anniversary. We technically started with a handful of volunteers on John MacArthur’s first Sunday as pastor of Grace Community Church. There was a man in the church who coordinated the recording of those earliest sermons on reel-to-reel tape. His plan was to make a few copies to send to missionaries. He would make the copies by daisy-chaining tape recorders together in his living room and duplicating tapes in real time. He was doing this on the first Sunday John began pastoring the church, and that first Sunday’s sermon is still in the GTY catalog. It’s titled “How to Play Church.”

Right away, people began to request copies to send to friends and relatives. The guy who was doing the recordings kept having to recruit volunteers to meet the demand for tapes. That was the genesis of Grace to You (known as the Word of Grace Tape ministry in those days).

John’s first Sunday at Grace was in February of 1969. By the end of ‘69 the ministry had outgrown that living room and was moved to the church and placed under the oversight of the elders.

Cassette tapes were fairly new and unknown in 1969, but the need for a more efficient way to duplicate and distribute recordings drove the elders to the new technology. The cassette format made it possible for tapes to be duplicated at high speed and distributed by the thousands.

Tapes were cheap: $1 apiece. And within 5 years the ministry was distributing a million tapes a year. (We get that many downloads in a typical month today.)

In 1978, because of the persistence of one volunteer (named Norm Sper), a daily radio broadcast featuring John MacArthur’s teaching began airing in three cities (Baltimore, Tampa, and Tulsa). Known as “Grace to You,” the program was 30 minutes long, meaning only half a sermon could air each day. Industry experts insisted the format would not work; sermons should be aired on weekends in an hour-long format. Daily programs needed to be live talk or studio-based teaching, they said. Sermons were too impersonal.

John Macarthur himself was skeptical of the format and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of radio at first. But Norm and a staff of enthusiastic recruits worked tirelessly to get the broadcast on the air, and it was immediately successful.

I was living in the Tampa Bay area when “Grace to You” debuted in the autumn of ‘78, and I was a devoted listener from day one.

I came to work for the ministry in 1983, and in 1985 we formally merged the Word of Grace tape ministry with “Grace to You” radio. The resulting organization became a standalone, nonprofit parachurch ministry under an independent board, and we soon adopted “Grace to You” as the name of the consolidated ministry.

Why does GTY exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
Our purpose statement speaks to that very point:

As believers committed to God and walking in obedience to Him, we affirm the purpose of Grace to You, which is to teach biblical truth with clarity, taking advantage of various means of mass communications to expand the sphere of John MacArthur’s teaching ministry.

We use mass communications media to expose John’s teaching to as wide an audience as possible “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

One of our principal tasks is to protect believers from being “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (v. 14). We accept the God-given responsibility of “speaking the truth in love” (v. 15) and strive for the growth of the church and glory of the Lord, rather than the praise and honor of men.

Our role is not to supplant the local church’s ministry, but to support it by providing additional resources for those hungering for the truth of God’s Word. Media ministries can never substitute for involvement in a biblical church, group Bible study, or interaction with a teacher. Yet we sense the need for more in-depth resources, evidenced by the many Christians and Christian leaders worldwide who depend on our ministry to supplement their own study.

Our desire is that God be glorified through Grace to You’s resources. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of this ministry, and we desire to perform our work as unto Him, to reflect Him to all those we encounter, and to operate not in our own strength but through His power (Philippians 4:13).

How can GTY serve the readers of this web site?
We aim to supplement, not supplant, the ministries of local churches by providing resources for in-depth Bible teaching. Our most important ministries have pastors and church leaders in view. We also have a vital ministry to lay people who (for various reasons) aren’t finding adequate spiritual nourishment from the weekly teaching in whatever church they attend.

Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
John MacArthur, of course, and our board of directors. We also have a 6-man management team who oversee our staff on a day-to-day basis, I lead them, and Don Green (managing director) handles most of the hands-on administration. All our staff, starting with the management team, are supremely gifted. The second-newest guy on the management team has been there more than 10 years, so it’s a very stable ministry.

How many employees does GTY have?
Around 50 full time plus 175 volunteers who donate time and energy every week.

What is GTY’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our annual budget today is about $17.9 million. GTY is funded about 85 percent by donations from our listeners; 15 percent by sales of materials. We manage costs and expenditures carefully. We have been members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountavility (ECFA) since its inception. We follow standard accounting and reporting procedures, and we are audited annually by a large, independent accounting firm.

How do you expect GTY will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
I expect we’ll have some younger staff members and lots of new media. But we want to be faithful to our purpose statement, and to our doctrinal position. Both of those have remained unchanged for 40+ years.

J. Vernon McGee’s ministry is the model for our future plans. We intend to keep broadcasting John MacArthur’s timeless Bible teaching as long as people will listen—hopefully my successors will still be doing that even long after we’re all gone.

How does GTY work with other Christian ministries?
We obviously maintain an ongoing, informal partnership with our sister ministries, The Master’s College & Seminary and Grace Community Church. That’s a fairly close relationship, even though we are not organizationally connected in any way. It’s based on common ministry goals and strengthened by the fact that we affirm the same doctrinal statement.

We also enjoy friendly relations with a host of other ministries, such as T4G, ACE, Ligonier, Desiring God, etc. Our involvement with these other ministries ranges from conferences in which we are joint participants to staff relationships in which we often compare notes, share ideas, discuss common goals, and seek solutions to common problems.

Speaking personally, what are some of the things you’ve learned from John MacArthur while working closely with him in this ministry?
I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of diligent study, courage in the face of opposition to the truth, and various helps for better discernment. Also, I was pretty much an Arminian until I heard John MacArthur’s teaching on Ephesians 1-2, and that series convinced me that God is sovereign in election.

What are some of the ways GTY has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
The long-term, steady growth of the ministry has been remarkable. No matter what crisis or financial collapse threatens the national economy, it seems God always supplies our needs. The only significant downturn our ministry has ever experienced was owing to bad decisions involving subtle compromises in our development philosophy. We have seen God supply our needs again and again, in miraculous ways, and as long as we have kept our focus on doing ministry rather than getting diverted by fundraising campaigns, every need we have is always abundantly supplied.

How can the readers of this web site serve and support GTY?
Pray for us, partner with us, and use the resources we provide to help spread God’s Word in an increasingly ungodly culture.

September 28, 2009
The Universe of Electronic Books
E-books are all the rage today. The people at Techflash have “mapped out the known universe of e-books — spanning content, devices, mobile apps, wireless providers, acquisitions, and more.”
Through the Gyre
You may have heard of the massive patch of plastic floating around in the Pacific Ocean. Here’s an interesting infographic telling what it is, how it got to be there, and the potential danger it poses.
Desiring God Conference Audio
The annual Desiring God National Conference has wrapped up. Lots of audio resources are available at the DG site.
Deal of the Day: Gospel Driven Life
Today only you can get 50% off the retail price of Michael Horton’s brand new book The Gospel-Driven Life. Use the coupon - gospeldriven - at checkout. Limit one per customer.
September 27, 2009

I have (slowly) been reading Bruce Gordon’s new biography of Calvin (titled simply Calvin) and recently came to a chapter describing the situation in France during Calvin’s ministry in Geneva. As a Frenchman, Calvin’s influence spread beyond Geneva and into his native land. There Protestants, some connected to Calvin and others not, were being killed as part of a systematic effort to root out the seditious faith. Many were hunted down, tortured and executed.

This short description of such an occasion comes from the pen of Eustache Knobelsdorf, a Catholic German who was studying in Paris. He witnessed the execution of a Protestant in 1542 and wrote out an account. I reproduce it here because it stands as a testimony of God’s truthfulness when he says that he will care for his own, not necessarily by avoiding the fire, but sometimes through the fire.


I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates. … The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard, he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pinchers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast. … When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.

September 26, 2009

Here’s a thought-provoking quote from Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited. In just a few words he shows the emptiness of the pursuit of more and the emptiness of the promise of consumerism.


[T]he Great Depression was a turning point, frightening workers with the burden of an impoverished free time. After World War II, pent-up consumer demand for a high-consumption way of life was boosted by government subsidies (via the low-interest mortgages and expensive highways that helped suburbanize the country). The die was cast: the public would choose money over time, preferring to seek its pleasures and comforts in the purchase of goods guaranteed to grow ever more swiftly obsolescent rather than in the search for collective leisure—or civic virtue…

Of course, the curious thing about consumer pleasures is that they don’t last. The essence of consumerism is broken promises ever renewed. The modern consumer is a hedonist doomed to economically productive disappointment, experiencing, as sociologist Colin Campbell writes, “a state of enjoyable discomfort.” You propel your daydreams forward, each time attaching them to some longed-for object, a sofa, CD player, kitchen, sports car, only to unhook the desires from the objects once they are in hand. Even high-end durable goods quickly outwear the thrill of their early arrival, leaving consumers bored—and available. After each conquest comes a sense of only limited satisfaction—and the question, what next?