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Tim Challies

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September 2010

September 30, 2010

Stephen Hawkings’ The Grand Design has shot straight to the top of the New York Times list of bestsellers. The book is his atheistic answer to questions like these ones: Why is there a universe—why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why are the laws of nature what they are? Did the universe need a designer and creator? Edgar Andrews was kind enough to allow me to post his review of the book. Andrews is author of Who Made God?: Searching for a Theory of Everything, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and an international expert on the science of large molecules. Which is to say that he is well-suited to write a review of a book like this one. Here is what he says about The Grand Design:

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Cosmologist Stephen Hawking sold over nine million copies of his book A Brief History of Time. Now, 22 years later, he has co-authored The Grand Design which immediately hit the No.1 spot in the New York Times best-seller list. But the sequel is so inferior to the prequel in intellectual quality that a reviewer in The Times Saturday Review (London, 11 September 2010) writes: ‘It reads like a stretched magazine article … there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material… I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover’.

So why is the new book a runaway best-seller? Because it claims that science makes God redundant. Let’s take a closer look at the claims advanced in The Grand Design.

September 30, 2010

WikipediaGod is true. God is truth. God is entirely without error, entirely true in all he is, in all he knows, in all he commands. He is the source of all that is true and right. As beings made in his image, we are to reflect his truth, to value what is true and turn from what is error. Truth leads to God, error leads to Satan, for it is Satan who is the first liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Wayne Grudem offers this warning: “In a society that is exceedingly careless with the truthfulness of spoken words, we as God’s children are to imitate our Creator and take great care to be sure that our words are always truthful.” Lying is an abomination to God because it mocks his truth. And while factual errors may not carry the same level of moral culpability as outright lies, while they may be unintentional, they are still lies, still pointing to a false reality. They still dishonor God.

I thought about these things as I was working on the manuscript for my forthcoming book on technology. I thought about how we encounter truth in the world today, how we determine what is true and what is false. And naturally my thoughts led me to Wikipedia. It led me to pour a lot of thought into Wikipedia and into the reality that Wikipedia may well now be our culture’s primary arbiter of truth. What does this mean to the Christian? Is Wikipedia a source of truth? And what does it mean that as a society we now believe that a wiki model is the best way to determine what is true?

Today and tomorrow I want to write about Wikipedia a little bit, seeing it as a microcosm of the way our society determines truth—truth by consensus.

Because of its popularity and the way it takes advantage of the elements that cause web pages to be most noticeable to search engines, Wikipedia is very often the first or second search result returned by search engines. I recently glanced at the pages of the books spread out before me, chose some words and performed a Google search for each. Knowledge, authority, and affair all showed a page from Wikipedia as the very first result. Truth, history and power all had the entry appear as the second result. Turning to words of theological concern I found that Jesus, God, justification, Christianity and baptism also all lead first to Wikipedia. This shows that Wikipedia is now the first to answer many of our most important questions, questions about truth, authority, knowledge, wisdom, power, God and salvation. Its 15 million articles draw in 75 million visitors every month. Wikipedia tells the world what is true.

Wikipedia’s success has spawned a long list of imitators, other sites that maintain a similar look and feel but, more importantly, the same wiki format (a wiki is a type of site in which the users create and edit the content; it depends not on a few experts but on an army of amateurs and enthusiasts like you and me). Because Wikipedia has cornered the market as a general repository of information, most of the imitators are more narrow in scope, catering to just one discipline, whether science or theology. Even dictionaries have become open, with the definitions of words and phrases determined by the crowds (For example, Wiktionary is a lexical extension to Wikipedia while Urban Dictionary is a collection of slang and hip terms). The wiki model is increasingly regarded as the best means of arriving at truth, at building a repository of knowledge.

September 30, 2010

For those wondering about the next edition of the Connected Kingdom Podcast, well, David and I recorded one a few days ago but found later that technical issues had reared their ugly head. Unfortunately the recording quality was very low and the file was unusable. Ah well. We will be back next week with another podcast.

Repent of Pride - Rick Thomas offers an interesting take on pride, one that probably takes that specific sin a little bit further than most would. “Pride is a catch-all word for sin: pride is sin and sin is pride. Pride is a helpful word in that it accurately describes our fallenness. It is a word we know and a word we understand. When I say that I am proud, everyone immediately knows that it is not a good thing and that I need help. The word pride gets you thinking and moving in the right direction. Pride is like a warning alarm that calls the Gospel-centered man to action.”

Welcoming the Child Molester - Brian Croft answers a really tough question: “How do I and our church minister to a man who appears radically converted, desires to come to our church, but is an habitual child molester and long-time sex offender?”

Acts29 Bootcamp - If it is something that interests you, you can watch the Acts29 Bootcamp live on their web site.

Answering Abortion - Stand to Reason has a simple flowchart that offers ways of responding to pro-choice positions. “In other words, if you learn the three kinds of responses, then you’ll be prepared to respond to any defense for abortion. In my experience, 100% of the arguments I hear on the street fall into one of these three categories.”

The Crisis of Credit - This video offers a very helpful overview of the recent financial credit crisis—what caused it and why it’s just not going away. Note that there is a very short part 2 after you finish watching this one. All told you’re looking at 11 or 12 minutes.

Show me a man’s books and show me a man’s companions and I will tell you what sort of man he is. —William Tiptaft

September 29, 2010

Blogging

Admittedly, the title of this blog post is a bit of hyperbole. That’s probably not the best way to begin an article, but I know that far more people will read the first line of the article than the last one, so if I leave the punch line too long, most people will miss it. It’s just reality.

If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you know that I truly do enjoy blogging; I don’t hate it at all. Blogging is one of the genuine pleasures of my life. Rarely does a day come along when I just do not want to sit down and write something. Yet blogging is not without its challenges and frustrations. Today I want to let you in on just a few of the aspects of blogging I struggle with the most, things that occurred to me recently as I pondered what I do here and why.

The point of this is not to complain about you. I implicate myself as much as anyone here. Instead, the purpose is simply to express some of the difficulties and frustrations of blogging. I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek, I suppose, to see what I struggle with as I consider what to write here on the blog.

A Fickle Audience

Those of us who read blogs are a very fickle audience (and I include myself in this—I write 1 blog but read 100 or so). This is particularly true for those of us who rely on RSS readers or other means of organizing the content we read. These tools, necessary ones if we are to keep up with the content of more than just a few blogs, give us the ability to quickly filter out the good from the bad and the good from the average. They allow us to look very quickly at the articles generated by hundreds of blogs so we can focus in and actually engage with just the few articles that most appeal to us. So while I say that I read 100 blogs, I actually look briefly at the content of 100 blogs and on any given day read the content of only a few. I am fickle and will read only what stands out to me.

The fickle nature of we, the blog readers, have led to several adaptations by bloggers. In the first place, generating titles has become something of an art. When we look through the many articles in our RSS readers, we will be drawn primarily by a title. And for this reason there is a lot of skill in crafting just the right title (though this is a skill that has largely passed me by). This leads people to rely on this kind of a format: # adjective noun that [or from or with or by or…] noun (7 Awesome Books by John Piper, 5 Spectacular Sites for Web Designers, 144 Groovy Movies Starring Canadians, etc). This is also why many bloggers have a photo near the top of each blog post—the photos draw the eye and makes it more likely that a person will pause to read a little of the article.

The fickleness of blog readers is an ongoing frustration to me, even as I act just as fickle as everyone else. If a person really wants to succeed as a blogger, he will need to cater to some of these realities. Those of us who are stubborn and do not want to adapt, who do not want to stick an out-of-context photo at the top of each post and who don’t always want to rely on hyperbolic titles, will necessarily lose potential readers because of it. As you and I read blogs we want to be impressed, we want each article to wow us. Sadly no blogger can write a wow kind of post every time, any more than a pastor can preach a wow sermon every week or you can give your spouse a wow kiss every morning.

This puts a lot of pressure on the writer and especially so if he keeps his eye on site statistics. When he does, he can see immediately how the audience regarded his article—how they chose to read it or ignore it. Though the content may have been profound, biblical, wise, it will be missed because the audience did not make the effort to actually understand what it was.

September 29, 2010

On Friday evening I’ll be speaking at the 8th Letter Conference here in town. My task is to prepare a letter to the church in North America; this letter is to bring what I think is the message the church needs to hear. It is going to be a wide and diverse audience, I think, and I am looking forward to addressing it. Pray for me, won’t you, as I narrow in on exactly what I want to say?

The Gadarene - John Piper is about to release his first graphic novel (!) and Drew Blom has a couple of them he is going to give away. Here’s a video introduction to the book. You’ll have to visit the link above for your chance to win one.

The Ordinary Pastors Project - The Gospel Coalition is beginning what it’s calling The Ordinary Pastors Project. “The ordinary pastor is not alone in his discouragement. Overburdened and overworked, famous pastors must also deal with discouragement. But they have fans. And fan pages on Facebook. Their discouragement draws interviews and grabs the attention of book publishers. All this turns into an encouraging opportunity altogether foreign to the experience of the ordinary pastor.”

Fighting For Life - Here’s an interesting article by Lila Rose, the young woman who is waging war against Planned Parenthood.

Atheists Know Their Religion - This isn’t good. It also isn’t surprising. “A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.”

Why All Good Christians Should Celebrate Halloween - The title is a little bit overstated, but I do enjoy most of what this blogger has to say about Halloween.

When Do I Tell My Kids About Sex? - This is a very helpful response to a question every Christian parent asks at one time or another.

People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.R.C. Sproul

September 28, 2010

Last week I came to the point (and it happens at least once every year) that I just couldn’t face reading another book. At least I couldn’t face reading another non-fiction book. Usually this means that I take a break from reading for a while—I just find something else to do to bide my time. But this year, to my surprise, I kind of felt like reading a novel. I barely ever read novels—maybe one every two or three years; less, even. And yet here I was, suddenly craving some fiction.

While I keep up with the world of non-fiction, and especially Christian non-fiction, I have not kept up at all with fiction. So I wondered what I should read. I ended up looking up the list of recent winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and figured I’d read some of those. Though they may not be the most popular novels out there, they will at least be good, right? So I grabbed the winners for 2009, 2007 and 2005. And then I read ‘em. And now I want to offer just a short review of each, though as I write I find that I really do not even know how to review fiction. Nevertheless, let me give it a shot.

Olive Kitteredge

Olive KitteredgeFirst up was 2009’s winner Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. This is actually a collection of 13 short stories that read as if they exist in some nebulous space between short stories and a novel. What binds the stories together is the common setting of a small Maine town and the title character, Olive Kitteredge. Olive appears in each of the stories, sometimes as the protagonist and sometimes as a bit player. She is a complex and fascinating character—an elderly woman who is bitter, blunt and flawed. And yet she’s endearing in her own strange way. The stories follow her and her family and her town through the decades.

There is a bit of a soap opera quality to Olive Kitteredge, I suppose, something strangely voyeuristic. And yet Strout has created such complex and fascinating characters in Olive and the people around her that I could hardly look away. Even when the stories slow down, as they sometimes must, the writing is so good, the prose so wonderfully-written, that the book is a joy to read. “They had fun together these days, they really did. It was as if marriage had been a long, complicated meal, and now there was this lovely dessert.” That’s good stuff!

I suppose the morality of it all is just a little suspect at times. Strout’s characters are very human and yet perhaps just a little bit too complex for their own good. She continually explores love and the way it extends, or does not extend, to old age. She is gut-honest in doing so, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. One thing she does not find is a character who truly loves and honors his or her spouse through all of life, from the beginning of marriage to the end. In almost every case, the characters have fallen in love and are now on the edge of falling out, or they are in love but each has a skeleton hidden from the other. So perhaps the book’s primary theme is the disappointment life brings. That sounds a little bit depressing and yet, for too many people, that is the reality—that as life passes, it becomes ever more disappointing.

Here is just a short quote that stood out to me:

During Debussy he fell asleep, his arms folded across his chest. Glancing at her husband, Jane felt her heart swell with the music, and with love for him, this man next to her, this old (!) man, who had been followed through life by his own childhood troubles—a mother always, always mad at him. In his face right now she felt she could see the little boy, furtive, forever scared; even as he slept here at this very moment there was a tautness of anxiety on his face. A gift, she thought again, placing her mittened hand lightly on his leg, a gift to be able to know someone for so many years.

The Road

The RoadThe second book I read was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world (and yes, the book was recently made into a movie). As such it is very dark and dreary in its writing and in its setting. In fact, McCarthy does a remarkable job of making the prose match the setting. And I mean that as a good thing. As you read you’ll find that the language wonderfully suits the subject matter. And when something is meant to stand out from the dreariness it does so through the vibrancy of its language (which reminded me of the girl in the read coat in the otherwise black-and-white Schindler’s List). Here is the kind of prose he writes:

He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

We never do find out what happened to the world—just that some great woe befell it; the majority of humans were wiped out and those that remained were reduced to life without technology, without joy; they are battling one another and even eating one another. All the horror of humanity is revealed in this world, and yet one man is traveling with his son, trying desperately to keep him alive, trying to find some kind of peace and safety.

The book is deep and deeply stirring. There are a few swear words along the way and a few kind of gross but largely non-graphic scenes (mostly dealing with cannibalism). Though The Road is not for everyone, those who enjoy fiction that offers more than a light read will be drawn into it. I do not know much about McCarthy, about what he believes and why he believes it, but in this book he proves that he can look deep within humanity and see the ugliness that lurks there.

Gilead

GileadThe 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner was Marilynne Robinson for her novel Gilead. This one may be familiar to you since it deals with deeply spiritual themes. The central character in this book is John Ames, a preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. Married late in life and now facing an imminent death, he writes letters to his seven-year-old son. He tells of his life, trying to tell his son all those things that he will not be able to explain before death comes and takes him away.

I’m trying to tell you things I might never have thought to tell you if I had brought you up myself, father and son, in the usual companionable way. When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters. There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all.

Once again, the writing is beautifully crafted. It is a book to be savored. I began reading expecting that there would be a plot, a climax, narrative tension—all of those things that tend to advance a story from the first page to the last. But once I realized that Gilead is not that kind of book, I was able to stop looking for it. I was able to slow down and just savor the writing.

To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this place is, as little regarded. I can’t help imagining that you will leave sooner or later, and it’s fine if you have done that, or you mean to do it. This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope. I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love–I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence.

Of the three books here, this is probably the least exciting, but the one with the most to offer. It is a book that you may need to work at a little bit, but one that will reward a close reading.

*****

One quick thought before I close. An interesting benefit of reading books like these—the books that gain recognition—is that they provide a window into our culture, into what people believe, what they enjoy, what they want. But I have a question: I wonder, do we know more about culture from these books, largely written by intellectuals, or from the popular novels of Tom Clancy and Stephen King and the others who sell millions and millions of copies? Which one is the more accurate representation?

September 28, 2010

Al Mohler on Changing His Mind - Trevin has a transcription of an interesting talk from Al Mohler in which he discusses how he came to change his mind on the role of women in ministry.

An Open Letter - Nancy Guthrie has penned an open letter to her pastors addressing the recent Glenn Beck rally in Washington.

Fast Food - Your infographic du jour. This one tells the fatty truth about fast food.

The Myth of Short Web Content - This article tries to put to rest the old and common belief that content on the web must be kept very short in order for people to actually read it. I am a bit on the fence on this one. If you really want to have people read it, you’ll need to keep it short.

Greek Questions - I don’t even know why I enjoy Mondays with Mounce so much. But this week’s question was another interesting one: how do you know when a Greek sentence is meant to be a question?

Humility is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing done to us, to feel nothing against us. It is to be at rest when nobody praises us and when we are blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where we can go in and shut the door and kneel to our Father in secret, and be at peace when all around is trouble. —Andrew Murray

September 27, 2010

It’s one of the inevitabilities of parenting—the kids just keep getting older and older. And every now and again I pause and consider and realize that my time with the kids is running out. My son is now 10-and-a-half years old, and in just a few months he will be exactly half the age I was when I got married. It’s entirely possible that I’m coming up to the 50% mark of the time he will be living in my home, under my direct influence. Panic!

This can be a difficult thing to think about. I look back on the ten years of parenting and see so many missed opportunities, so many times that I was not available to the kids. I look at where they are now in their spiritual development, in my knowledge of who they are, and I wonder if I’ve already blown it, if it’s already too late.

But at my best I know better than this. I know it’s not too late and that the best years are ahead. So when I recover from my momentary panic, I look forward to what lies ahead, and I especially look forward to increasingly regarding my children as friends. That is something I’ve seen from my friends with older children—that as the children grow up, they make the slow transition from kid to friend. And already I’m starting to see how that is happening. I’ll always be dad to the kids, but I will also be able to regard them as friends.

In the past few months I have been trying to be a little bit more intentional about spending time with the children, trying to grab the moments that exist and trying to create memories. Mostly I’m just trying to know them and to be known by them. And I know that one of the best ways I can do this is by spending time individually with each one of them.

The first thing I started doing was being deliberate about “daddy dates,” taking my kids, one each week, out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Because the kids are in public schools we cannot do this on weekdays. But it’s a lot of fun to wake up early on Saturday and head to Denny’s (which, so far, is their breakfast joint of choice). So each Saturday I wake one of them and quietly head out for breakfast. The kids order something off the kids’ menu and I order the Grand Slam. We just sit and talk. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s a good time. It’s a time with no real agenda except to have the experience alone together. I don’t know how long they’ll continue to be impressed with Denny’s, but for now they think it’s awfully exciting.

I’ve also tried to find at least one more substantial thing I can do with each of the children once or twice in the year (outside of the fun things we do as a family). Last year I took my daughter to The Sound of Music (the musical, not the movie) when it was playing in Toronto, spending the money to make sure we could sit in great seats and see all that was going on. I take my son to a couple of baseball games each year, either just the two of us or with him and one of his friends. We try to time things in such a way that we hang out with a player after the game or find a way to get out onto the field or something else that’s kind of special.

As the children get just a little bit older I will begin to bring them with me to the occasional conference. I have seen lots of speakers do this and I’m looking forward to it as well—the travel and the experience will be very exciting for them, even if they get bored to death sitting in a convention center for 2 or 3 days.

One of the most ordinary things I’ve been doing lately is having one of the children help me with the after-dinner routine every night. Since my wife is generally the one who makes dinner, I’ve always taken it upon myself to clean up after we finish eating. And now that the school year has begun, I usually put together the next day’s bagged lunches at the same time. So what I have been doing is having one of the children join me in this each night. We will do dishes together, make the lunches together, and then do whatever that kid wants to do that night. Sometimes we will go for a walk together, sometimes we’ll read a story, sometimes we’ll play a computer game or turn on the Wii. But in any case, we do the work and then spend some time together doing something fun. This has quickly become a tradition that the kids love. Though they probably wouldn’t complain if we were to scratch the bits that demand work, they are so eager to spend time with me that even doing dishes suddenly seems like fun rather than work. (Similar to this but perhaps geared primarily to slightly older children, Brian Croft tells how he individually shepherds each of his children in this very helpful blog post)

So there we have just a few of the ways that I try to make sure I am being deliberate in spending time individually with each of my children. But I know that I’ve got a lot to learn. I’d love to hear from you about some of the things you do, or perhaps some of the things your parents did long ago, as they sought to love you and be loved by you. How do you ensure you are investing personally in each of your children?