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October 2010

October 27, 2010

Letters to a Young CalvinistThere are many books out there that describe Reformed theology and that invite people to become part of the Reformed tradition. However, most of these books are a product of the years before the advent of this young, restless, Reformed reality that is all the rage today. Most such books predate the New Calvinism.

New to the field, and largely distinct from the rest, is Letters to a Young Calvinist by James K.A. Smith. This is one of the few books to speak directly to this new young, restless, Reformed movement. Written in the form of letters from a mentor to a young man who is investigating Reformed theology, the book offers a winsome 125-page introduction to the tradition and to the way it works out in real life. The author says “These letters don’t offer an apologetic defense of Calvinism, trying to defend it against all comers; rather, I envision the addressee of these letters as someone who has already become interested in this tradition and is looking for a guide into unfamiliar territory.”

Smith leads the young recipient of these letters into the tradition in a systematic way. He begins with words of welcome, expressing the way that Reformed theology leads us to seek out and discover deep wells of the Scripture. For example, “I think it is one of the hallmarks of the Reformed tradition that it has a long history of encouraging curiosity about creation. Unlike some of the places you and I have been, which really discourage questioning in order to get people to toe the party line, the Reformed tradition has long encourages a kind of holy intellectual riskiness.”

He warns of one of the most perilous sins of the Reformed: “Now is as good a time as any to warn you about one of the foremost temptations that accompanies Reformed theology: pride. And the worst kind of pride: religious pride (one of Screwtape’s letters speaks quite eloquently about this). This is an infection that often quickly contaminates those who discover the Reformed tradition, and it can be deadly: a kind of West Nile virus.”

Smith suggests that the best one-word summary of Reformed theology is grace. He speaks of grace going “all the way down,” by which he means that grace infuses every part of Reformed theology. And, indeed, Reformed theology is a theology of grace—grace in every part. He says (rightly!) that Reformed theology is not all about election and predestination; they are components of the theology but they are not all there is to it. “I often feel that Reformed theology is ill served by a myopic focus on these things, as legitimate as they are.” And he emphasizes that Reformed theology is inherently unfinished. “It seems to me very un-Reformed to prop up Reformed theology as a timeless ideal, a consummated achievement, when one of the Reformers’ mantras was semper reformanda—always reforming. You shouldn’t expect a lifetime of pursuing the truth to result in constant entrenchment into what you thought when you were twenty.”

October 27, 2010

Yesterday the meteorologists around these parts were talking about a “weather bomb.” In the end we didn’t see anything even close to resembling such a phenomenon. I wouldn’t say we’re disappointed, but, well, maybe we are just a little bit. It sounded exciting.

A Detox Review - Here’s a very encouraging review of Sexual Detox. “I highly recommend Sexual Detox to any Christian man. If you’ve personally struggled with porn and you are a married man, I commission you to read Sexual Detox aloud with your wife in the room (after you confess and repent with her about your issues). If you’re a single dude, I commission you to saturate your mind with good Scripture until you fall asleep.”

Corruption - This rather interesting page shows the countries that experience the most corruption. “The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem.”

Digital or Paper Textbooks? - “They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.” Give e-book technology a few years to mature and I wouldn’t be surprised to see digital dominance. But we’re not quite there yet.

The Undistracted Widow - The Undistracted Widow is a book I’m hearing good things about.

I Am Second - Josh Hamilton will soon be playing in the World Series (and may well soon have a MVP award). Here he talks about his life and faith.

One of the highest and noblest functions of man’s mind is to listen to God’s Word, and so to read his mind and think his thoughts after him. —John Stott

October 26, 2010

I love Bible commentaries and must own a couple hundred of them by now. This may be a bit of an irrational love since I am not a preacher and am only rarely asked to preach. Still, while growing a collection has involved some effort and some expense, there have been many occasions when I’ve been grateful to have them available to me whether that’s in preparing a conference talk or in writing a book or even in preparing the occasional sermon. It’s also been great to be able to loan them to people who have needed them. OK, and I won’t deny that I also get a strange satisfaction from watching a series grow across a bookcase. As I said, it may be a bit irrational.

The fact is, though, that many commentaries are a little bit too advanced (and others are far too advanced) for someone like me—someone without formal theological education and especially without training in the original biblical languages. Also, many commentaries are suited for sermon preparation but not for personal study or Bible study.

And yet there are a few good series that are intended for the rest of us. Opening UpThe Opening Up series of commentaries from DayOne is just such a set, one targeted at the lay person. They are described as “simple but not simplistic tools to help individuals and groups to understand the Bible.” Thus they are ideal for personal study or for preparing small group Bible studies.

The series offers a few compelling features:

  • They are priced right, with most of them being in the $10-$12 range.
  • Each chapter offers two levels of questions: questions for study and questions for personal application.
  • They include resources for further, deeper study.
  • They are easy on the eye—easy to read and easy to engage with. And trust me, if you’ve read a lot of serious commentaries, you know that this is a noteworthy feature.
  • They are written by competent preachers including men like Roger Ellsworth and Iain Campbell.

October 26, 2010

BalanceThis blog is full of false starts and dead ends—series I decided to write and gave up on or articles I meant to continue and just plain forgot about. A friend recently pointed out that just about a year ago I discussed Chasing Delight and in that post wrote about Proverbs 11:1: “It is one of my favorite Proverbs, for reasons I’ll explain at another time. It says simply, ‘A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.’” As you may have guessed by now, I never did return to that verse. So, to close out that loop, let me write about it today.

Proverbs 11:1 must be one of the most mundane of all of Solomon’s proverbs. It deals with something that hardly seems at all significant—weights and measures. It tells us that a false weight is an abomination to God. According to Tremper Longman, the first phrase is used “to indicate the utmost divine censure against something. It offends Yahweh’s ritual or moral order.” The KJV captures a bit of this when it says “The Lord abhors dishonest scales.” The English language does not offer too many words stronger than “abhor” and “abomination.” So this is serious stuff.

God abhors a false or fraudulent scale. The scale that is described here is exactly the kind we’d imagine—two plates that would be suspended from a bar. Weights would be added to one side in order to measure what was in the other. When the scale was properly balanced, you would know the weight of your goods and, on that basis, the amount you would need to pay for them. You can imagine that there would be many ways that someone could manipulate the results: he could mislabel the weights, perhaps, or he could try to add extra ones without the customer noticing.

October 26, 2010

Rarely do I see a clearer manifestation of the pathetic nature of our culture than at Halloween. I’m all for having the kids dress up to go and collect candy. But yesterday I stepped into a store and noticed that the section for adult costumes was bigger than the section for kid’s costumes. Two words: grow up! The men’s costumes had some variety; the women’s costumes appeared to come in two varieties, witch and prostitute (and, of course, the ever-popular witch-prostitute). Again, it’s time to grow up. Let the kids have their fun and leave the adults out of it.

Contend for the Faith - Mounce talks about what it means for Jude to contend for the faith. “Jude is telling the church that it is time to take the kids’ gloves off and duke it out. This is not the time for caution and reserve. It is war. Whenever I read Jude I think of John Piper’s admonitions to accept a war-time life style. It is war, and the battle is both within and without the church. For Jude and many churches, the fieriest battle lie within.”

In Christ Alone - The mega-popular band Owl City has recorded a rendition of “In Christ Alone.” (Owl City is a band that gets a lot of mainstream play) This must be the 300th cover of that song, at least. I’m a bit bummed that he left out the second verse, without which the song is quite a lot weaker. Still, check the comments on his blog and you can see the kind of ministry this guy has.

A Lost Loved One - Randy Alcorn gives a wise answer to this question: “How would you respond and minister to unsaved friends or family (or even strangers) who have lost a loved one and assume their lost loved one is in Heaven, even though that person clearly did not have a relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Gay-Friendly Sesame Street - Here’s yet another controversy about Sesame Street (I find it hard to believe that the show still exists). “Sesame Workshop says it’s not out to appeal to a gay audience but with such recent actions as a ‘True Blood’ parody, inviting openly gay guests like Wanda Sykes, and an interesting tweet by Bert, some are feeling the love.”

Same Sex Relationships - Speaking of which, a new study finds that 9.3% of teens has had a sexual experience with a member of the same sex. “Carlat said the increase in teens with same-sex partners can be explained in part by cultural shifts in the last decade, including the legalization of same-sex marriages and unions in some states and the spike in celebrities talking about same-sex encounters. He pointed to Katy Perry’s hit song ‘I Kissed a Girl’ as being a ‘watershed moment.’”

O Church Arise - I enjoyed this rendition of Getty/Townend’s “O Church Arise”:

A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. —C.H. Spurgeon

October 25, 2010

One of the happier musical developments in the Christian world over the past few years has been the resurgence of hymns. Though there are many contemporary worship songs that have excellent content and are ideal for congregational worship, we just can’t afford to lose the hymn.

There are two different kinds of contemporary hymn. In the first place, we have artists writing new hymns that come complete with new tunes. Alongside that we have artists who are finding old hymns and setting them to new music—either completely new melodies or contemporary adaptations of the traditional ones. In the list I’ve offered below, the first two seem to specialize in new hymns and new music while the others focus on the new music.

(Yes, there are many, many other artists writing new hymns or adapting old ones. I am focusing here on artists whose albums are predominantly composed of contemporary hymns)

Getty Music

Awaken the DawnKeith Getty grew frustrated with the songs his church was singing. He met up with Stuart Townend and together they decided to try to write something better. They ended up with “In Christ Alone.” The rest, as they say, is history. Keith got married to Kristyn, moved to America (he’s Irish by birth), toured the world, wrote many more great hymns, and recorded a handful of albums, most of which have a distinctly Irish feel. And the Christian world has been so much better for it. The most recent collection of hymns is titled Awaken the Dawn. Many of these songs are perfectly suited to congregational worship (already at Grace Fellowship Church we sing “By Faith,” “Creation Sings the Father’s Song” and “Communion Hymn.”).

If you want to learn more, it may be worth beginning with their YouTube channel. There you’ll be able to hear some of their best songs and hear them at their best through videos of their live performances. And trust me when I say it’s absolutely worth trying to catch their shows—their band is amazingly talented and they put on a very enjoyable, worshipful show (though somehow show doesn’t seem like the proper descriptor). If you want to learn about their tour schedule (try to catch one of their Christmas shows!) or buy one of their albums, visit gettymusic.com. I suggest you begin with Awaken the Dawn if you like albums, and each of the songs I’ve already mentioned if you prefer individual tracks.


Stuart Townend

Creation SingsStuart Townend is the other half of the writing duo that has produced some of Keith Getty’s most popular hymns (including “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross”) but he has also written many without Keith’s help, including “How Deep the Father’s Love” and “Beautiful Savior.” Keith releases albums under his own name but also appears on other albums (such as Keswick Live, one I quite enjoy).

To learn more about Townend, it’s probably best to visit his web site (stuarttownend.co.uk). The site remains just a little bit underdeveloped, but still has lots of useful information, including a tour schedule and a blog. I’d recommend buying Keswick Live (if you can find it and if you enjoy live worship music) or Creation Sings if you prefer a studio album. If you prefer to just buy songs, go with “In Christ Alone,” “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “Speak, O Lord” and “The Power of the Cross.”

October 25, 2010

I’ve now written two articles about how I got here (part one and part two). I sat down to write about the background to this site—the events that led to its beginning—and got a little distracted along the way. Today I’ll actually get to the heart of the story.

I ended the last article in September 2000, at the point where Aileen and I (and our baby son) moved to Oakville. As we did so, we left behind the Dutch Reformed tradition—the only tradition we had really known. We had a few weeks’ worth of experience in the Baptist world but no more. I had never read a Christian book, at least to my memory, but had a background of strong, Reformational theology.

For almost a year we bounced from church-to-church in the Oakville area. We attended a couple of them for an extended period of time (a few months) but in both cases found the churches hopelessly shallow and largely disinterested. We did not have the vocabulary to describe them beyond just being shallow. The sermons were short and topical, the services focused on things other than the Bible. We made no friendships and found no fellowship, even after attending one of these churches for four or five months (literally, we didn’t have anyone show even the least bit of interest in us).

It was just about a year later that we received a card in the mail announcing the start of a new church, a Baptist church, that would meet in a high school near our home. We liked the idea of being involved in something new and exciting and decided we would check it out. It was a Southern Baptist church and one that was meant to be the starting point of a whole church planting movement that would blanket the Toronto area and, eventually, all of Canada. We went to their very first service and were immediately intrigued. The theology seemed sound enough but what really drew us was the emphasis on mission, on being part of a movement that would be dedicated to spreading the gospel. We had never heard of anything like it. But as soon as we did, we were hooked. We were very eager to take an emphasis on mission over an emphasis on theology. In fact, we now believed that Reformed theology was inherently anti-evangelistic.

This was a church we could get behind and we soon settled in and became members. We joined a small group and found deep, meaningful, lasting friendships there. These were exciting times. The church grew quickly, soon passing the 100 mark and then reaching toward 150 (which is amazing growth in a Canadian context). The church soon planted several others, beginning this movement that would transform Canada.

It was around this time, late 2002, that I registered the domain challies.com. My parents had recently moved to the U.S. and I wanted to have a family site through which I could share photographs of the kids. And so I grabbed the family name and set up a site. Being a budding web designer, I used it as a test ground to try out some new designs and new methods. At one point I decided to write an article or two. In one of his sermons, our pastor mentioned Mother Teresa in a positive sense, using her as an example of true Christian virtue. I looked into her and wrote an article I titled The Myth of Mother Teresa. I enjoyed doing that writing and eventually wrote another article or two. The search engines worked their magic and soon people were reading these articles. About a year after the site started, I pulled down the photographs of the kids and decided to focus on writing. It was at the end of 2003 that I made the commitment to blog every day, a habit I’ve maintained to the present day.

But. You knew a but was going to come in sooner or later, right? The first couple of years were a honeymoon time. Two things combined to bring the honeymoon to an end.

October 25, 2010

I was sitting in Grand Rapids airport on Saturday morning, about to catch a flight to Cleveland (and from Cleveland I’d catch a second flight to Toronto). It struck me as a little bit cruel that at the time there were two flights leaving from my gate—one going to Cleveland (for which I had a ticket) and one leaving for Toronto (for which I did not have a ticket). Ah well. I got there eventually (two or three hours after I could have).

Train Wreck - You may have heard of the train wreck R.C. Sproul was involved in many years ago (it was the deadliest crash in Amtrak history). In today’s blog post at Ligonier you can read all about it and see the meaning of providence through it.

Analog Rituals - This is a good little article on productivity. One thing I’ve learned in my studies on technology is that we tend to look for digital solutions to digital problems. But as this article shows, sometimes the best solutions are analog. Sometimes we just complicate things as we try to fix them.

Sale @ Monergism Books - Monergism Books is having a sale for the next few days. Place a copy of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God (DVD) and its Discussion Guide in your cart and receive 10 percent off any additional book (including everything in your cart) until November 1st. Simply type reasonforgod in the coupon code box at check out.

America: Land of Loners? - This article from The Wilson Quarterly, while written from quite a liberal perspective (with several obvious mis-steps along the way) does a good job of exhorting men to form friendships. It is ironic that when we are so connected online, we are less connected than ever in real life. This is a real “chew the meat, spit out the fat” kind of article.

Bankruptcy - Dr. Mohler lands another blow on the Crystal Cathedral. “In his 1986 book, Your Church Has a Fantastic Future, Schuller provided what he called ‘A Possibility Thinker’s Guide to a Successful Church.’ The book is a manual for a ministry built on pure pragmatism, sensationalistic promotion, a therapeutic message, and a constant and incessant focus on thinking positively. His message about money was simple: ‘No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems,’ he asserted.”

Piper on Memorizing Scripture:

The thirteen inches from our child’s head to his or her heart is the longest distance in the world. —William Farley