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December 2011

December 31, 2011

This may be one of those articles that is far more interesting to me than to anyone else, so you may need to bear with me. But at the end of the year it is always interesting to me to see which articles gained the most attention in the year that was. There are always a couple of surprises. Here, then, are the top 10 articles from 2011.

The Driscolls and Real Marriage - This article was a late-comer, being published in December, but it quickly gained enough attention that it made it to the #10 spot. This was not a review of the Driscoll’s book Real Marriage, but an assessment of the grid they use to evaluate the “Can We _______?” questions that may arise in the marriage bed. A review of the book will be the first real article I publish in 2012.

Divided The Movie - This documentary, pushing the Family Integrated Church movement, made a lot of waves in 2011 and I decided to go ahead and review it. I found it offensive and unbiblical on many levels and this ignited some controversy. But I stand by what I said: If you think Family Integration is best for your church, by all means, do it. But it’s impossible to sustain a sound biblical argument that this is the way a church has to be in order to be faithful to Scripture.

Why John Piper Should Not Have Invited Rick Warren - I wrote this article in 2010 after hearing that John Piper had invited Rick Warren to speak at the annual Desiring God conference. This follow-up reflected on what had happened there and what it meant.

The Secret - This is a book review for a book that came out a long time ago. The Secret was published in 2007 but continues to sell, which is remarkable for a book that is just so utterly ridiculous. This is a classic example of a book that strikes right at the depraved human heart, making us believe that we are godlike and that we can have all the things we want (since that will always make us happy, right?).

Facebook Makes Us Miserable - This article simply looked at the way that Facebook makes us compare ourselves to others. In doing that it exposes a deep-seated discontentment or envy. When we look at other people on Facebook, we naturally assume that their lives are better than ours and we then feel miserable about ourselves. 

December 30, 2011

Lots of 2011 “best of” or “top ten” lists are coming out these days; it’s kind of a year-end tradition in the Internet age. I’ve already posted my top books of the year, but I thought it would be helpful or at least interesting to list some of these other lists—a top ten of top tens, if you will.

The lists I mention below come from a Christian perspective when possible and fall into three major categories: books, news stories, and tech. I’ve grouped them by category, but otherwise in no particular order.

Books

  1. 2012 Christianity Today Book Awards - Don’t be deceived by the title: this is, in fact, a list about the best books published in 2011. Out of the 390 titles that were submitted to them, CT’s judges chose what they think is the best book in each of ten categories. (They end up with two ties and eleven honorable mentions, but I’m still counting it as a top ten).
  2. The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 Staff Recommendations - Collin Hansen, Kathleen Nielson, John Starke, and Andy Naselli each give you their three favorite titles from 2011. They also give you a mini-review of each book or at least explain why it made their list.

News Stories

  1. Albert Mohler’s Ten Leading News Stories of 2011 - Mohler compiles and recaps, in no particular order, the year’s biggest news stories as he sees them.
  2. Christianity Today’s Top 10 News Stories of 2011 - This list is specific to the Christian world. It’s brief and quick to read, but includes plenty of links for more information.
  3. Collin Hansen’s Top 10 Theology Stories of 2011 - Hansen’s list, like CT’s, sticks with stories that pertain to the church or are from the church’s perspective. He offers something unique and helpful, though, in the way he looks at the theology that relates to each of these stories. He includes lots of links to his and others’ related material.
  4. Brainstorm’s Top Ten Religion and Politics Stories of 2011 - This list is a look back that tries to look forward. The author asks, “What were the biggest American politics and religion stories of 2011 and how might they play out in the presidential campaign of 2012?”
  5. Associated Press Top Stories of 2011 - Every year Associated Press polls their editors to find their top news stories of the year. Their picks range from the death of Bin Laden to the beginning of the Occupy movement.

Tech

  1. Technolog’s Top 10 tech stories of 2011 - Technolog highlights and gives a good summary of the 10 technological happenings that affected the world this year. Lots of links for further reading.
  2. Washington Post’s Top tech stories of 2011 - This list is similar to Technolog’s but covers 30 rather than 10 stories (I know, I know—this is supposed to be a top ten of top tens). The summaries are concise, though, and presented in a slideshow format, which makes them a good way to just give them all a skim.
  3. Google’s Zeitgeist 2011 and Yahoo’s Top 10 Searches in 2011 - OK, so I’m really squeezing two into one here. Both of these are lists of the top ten terms searched on their respective search engine, so it seemed doable. On both sites they give more of the story behind each of the terms, as well as other “year in review” content.

December 30, 2011

Free Stuff Fridays
This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by CBD Reformed, a regular sponsor of these giveaways. Today they are offering 5 prizes, each of which will contain the following 3 books:

  • The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller - Retail Price $25.95 (My favorite book of 2011—a review is coming on Monday)
  • The Action Bible - Retail Price $24.99 (Andy Naselli has reviewed this one)
  • 50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren Wiersbe - Retail Price $17.99

In addition, CBD Reformed is offering a 4-day sale (December 30 – January 2) on the following three products:

Giveaway 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.

Note: If you are reading via RSS, you may need to click through to my blog to see the form.

December 30, 2011

How Do You Begin Your Day? - Rick Holland reflects on how he begins his day. “So what is the first thing you do when you wake up? Here’s my problem. I find it easy to grab my iPhone and check my email, glace at social media notifications, see if there are any texts awaiting a response, and look at look at the news and sports feed. There is certainly nothing with doing these things. But my problem is that this is much easier and feels more urgent when I awake than addressing the thirst of my soul for God.”

6 New Year Resolution Questions - David found 6 questions you will want to ask about any New Year resolutions you happen to make.

Completely and Unreservedly - Derek Thomas writes about how the Lord saved him on this, the 40th anniversary of that day. “My conversion was Saul-like: sudden, unexpected, and decisive. I was eighteen, a freshman at university studying physics and math at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth…”

Eschatology: The Basics - In January Sam Waldron is teaching a course on eschatology. Though it doesn’t say so at the page I’ve linked to, the course is open to people who would like to take it via the Internet. If interested you can send an email to the address on the page and get further details.

Job - Here’s a Kickstarter project I’m excited about—a movie version of John Piper’s poem of the book of Job. Though as of yesterday it’s fully-funded, you can still pledge an amount and receive the Job movie when it releases in January.

Free Music - CCM has a few free MP3s for you to download.

Audible - Audible has quite a few good deals in their “Holiday Relief Sale.” I think you need to be an Audible subscriber to take advantage (so maybe this is a good time to try their trial offer—you can sign up, get a free book, buy some discounted books, and if you’re not interested, cancel your membership and keep that free book). Deals include The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, and Drive by Daniel Pink.

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority. —R.C. Sproul

December 29, 2011

I have been reading (and listening to) Tim Keller’s new book The Meaning of Marriage, easily my favorite book of 2011. One of the subjects Keller covers is the lost sense of duty in love. We have come to think that if there is any duty in love it must not be genuine. Biblically, of course, love is shown not in what you receive, but in how much you are willing to give; often you give out of a sense of duty. I’d like to share a quote in which he applies this to the marriage bed. I share this simply because I know what a struggle this is in so many marriages and I am sure that these words can help.


Modern people think of love in such subjective terms that if there is any duty involved it is considered unhealthy. Over the years, I have often counseled with people who were quite locked into this conviction. This is particularly true when it comes to sex. Many people believe that if you have sex with your spouse just to please him or her though you are not interested in sex yourself, it would be inauthentic or even oppressive. This is the thoroughly subjective understanding of love-as-passionate-feeling. And often this quickly leads into a vicious cycle. If you won’t make love unless you are in a romantic mood at the very same time as your spouse, then sex will not happen that often. This can dampen and quench your partner’s interest in sex, which means there will be even fewer opportunities. Therefore, if you never have sex unless there is great mutual passion, there will be fewer and fewer times of mutual passion.

One of the reasons we believe in our culture that sex should always and only be the result of great passion is that so many people today have learned how to have sex outside of marriage, and this is a very different experience than having sex inside it. Outside of marriage, sex is accompanied by a desire to impress or entice someone. It is something like the thrill of the hunt. When you are seeking to draw in someone you don’t know, it injects risk, uncertainty, and pressure to the lovemaking that quickens the heartbeat and stirs the emotions. If “great sex” is defined in this way, then marriage—the “piece of paper”—will indeed stifle that particular kind of thrill. But this defines sexual sizzle in terms that would be impossible to maintain in any case. The fact is that “the thrill of the hunt” is not the only kind of thrill or passion available, nor is it the best.

Kathy and I were virgins when we married. Even in our day, that may have been the minority experience, but that meant that on our wedding night we were not in any position to try to impress or entice one another. All we were trying to do was to tenderly express with our bodies the oneness we had first begun feeling as friends and which had then had grown stronger and deeper as we fell in love. Frankly, that night I was clumsy and awkward and fell asleep anxious and discouraged. Sex was frustrating at first. It was the frustration of an artist who has in his head a picture or a story but lacks the skills to express it.

However, we had fortunately not learned to use sex to impress, nor to mix the thrill of the dangerous and the forbidden with sexual stimulation and mistake it for love. With sex, we were trying to be vulnerable to each other, to give each other the gift of bare-faced rejoicing in one another, and to know the pleasure of giving one another pleasure. And as the weeks went by, and then the years, we did it better and better. Yes, it means making love sometimes when one or even both of you are not “in the mood.” But sex in a marriage, done to give joy rather than to impress, can change your mood on the spot. The best sex makes you want to weep tears of joy, not bask in the glow of a good performance.

December 29, 2011

2011 was a great year for books. While I did not read as many books in 2011 as I have in previous years, I still read quite a few. Today I want to share some of my top picks from the year that was. Let me offer the usual caveats that these are almost certainly not the 10 best books of 2010 in any objective sense—but they are my favorites. Also, these are not necessarily books written in 2011, but books I read in 2011.

Here they are, in no particular order (except for the final one which is my top pick for 2011):

A Meal With JesusA Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester - This book shares a compact biblical theology of hospitality, focusing on meals. Chester makes the compelling argument that we would do well to view our meals through a biblical lens and to see each one as an opportunity to discover grace, community and mission. Since most of us eat 3 meals per day, we have endless opportunities to put into practice what we discover. This is a book that celebrates something many of us consider mundane and unremarkable, and I always find myself drawn to books that sanctify the ordinary. [my review]

Going PublicGoing Public by David & Kelli Pritchard - As a dad who has chosen to place his children in public schools, I have found very few resources to help me as I seek to lead them well. This book was just what I needed. The most valuable lesson of all, at least in my view, is that public schooling is a family affair. The decision to place children in the public education system is a decision to have the whole family involved in this system. They say, “We should not think in terms of sending our child off by himself to ‘the mission field.’ We go there together. This is a family expedition. When we show up each August to enroll our kids for another school year, we are enrolling our family into the life of this institution. This is a joint venture.” This means that mom and dad are involved not just with the children, but with the school and teachers and leaders. This book has been an invaluable help to my family as we seek to public school to the glory of God. [my review]

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - This is one of the bestselling books of 2011 and for good reason—it’s a well-written biography of a fascinatingly odious individual. Jobs is one of those people who is admired just as much as he is reviled, and both are well-earned. Jobs was a very complex individual and Isaacson has succeeded in creating a fascinating character study. He doesn’t shy away from what made Jobs so hated. Yet the strange paradox is that even though he was so hated by many of those who were closest to him, it seems that history will remember him as a hero. [my review]

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur by Iain Murray - I am accustomed to waiting many years after the death of one of my heroes to read an account of his life. It was a real joy to be able to read of the life of John MacArthur while he is still here and still ministering to us. It was with some trepidation that Murray prepared this biography but in doing so he has done a service to the church. The book moved me to praise and gratitude—gratitude to God for blessing the church with this man whose ministry has so powerfully impacted not only the thousands who call him pastor, but the millions who have encountered him largely or exclusively through his books, his sermons or his radio program. Murray makes it clear that all that MacArthur is, all that he has accomplished, is due to the One he serves. [my review]

Tempted and TriedTempted and Tried by Russell Moore - This book taught me that Russell Moore can flat out write. What Moore seeks to do in this book is demonstrate how the ways in which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness reveal strategies he will use to tempt all of us. He applies these lessons to contemporary situations, showing that Satan’s designs have not changed much and, in fact, have not had to change much. He and his minions have made a long and thorough study of human nature and are well-versed in our weaknesses. And so they continue to attack through temptation. This book arms the Christian to identify and overcome that temptation. I enjoyed it every page of it. [my review]

Written in TearsWritten in Tears by Luke Veldt - Several years ago Luke Veldt suffered the unexpected and devastating loss of his thirteen-year-old daughter. After Allison’s death, Veldt turned to Psalm 103 and he read it again and again. He read it every day for more than a year, and through that psalm he experienced God’s presence. This book, a short but powerful little volume, shares many of the lessons the Lord taught him through his grief. It makes for valuable reading for those who have suffered loss or those who are seeking to help others who have experienced loss. It’s profoundly moving and deeply biblical. [my review]

The Meaning of MarriageThe Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller - I have not yet reviewed this book. You will need to check in next week to read a full review, but for now, suffice it to say that this is my favorite book of 2011. It was the last one I read and without much doubt, the best of the best. The book is drenched in the gospel and it powerfully elevates marriage to something sacred and holy and beautiful. Of all the books I’ve read on marriage and of all the books I read in 2011, this is the best!

December 29, 2011

Bible Reading Plans - If you aren’t planning on joining in The 3650 Challenge with me, here are some other Bible reading plans that may help you read the Bible in 2012.

Nuclear Exclusion Zone - A Big Picture photo gallery of Japan’s nuclear exclusion zone. It’s always fascinating to see areas like this where time just stopped. And you wonder how long it will be before it begins again.

The Smartphone of the Soul - “Apple used to use that catchy phrase ‘there’s an app for that.’ Need to send flowers to mom? there’s an app for that. Need to know the name of the constellation of stars in the sky overhead? There’s an app for that. Need supper? There’s an app for that. Well, whatever your circumstance of life, there’s a Psalm for that…”

Double Surgery - David has some good thoughts on medical humiliation, medical glory, and the ever-present pride.

The Book of Books - Marilynne Robinson writes about what literature owes the Bible. “The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know.”

My Song is Love Unknown - A beautiful song.

The chief purpose of prayer is that God may be glorified in the answer. —R.A. Torrey

December 28, 2011

At this year’s Expositor’s Conference there was a Q&A session in which a concerned pastor asked Al Mohler about the influence of Mark Driscoll. Mohler’s answer was winsome and helpful. He helpfully balanced being encouraged that Driscoll is preaching the gospel while at the same time expressing concern at some of his emphases. As he says, we ought to be able to be grown ups about this issue and other similar ones. There is no good reason that we can’t discuss this winsomely and with discernment.

Here is a transcription of that part of the Q&A; if you’d rather listen, click here. (Note: This happened in October, long before the book Real Marriage, so do not take this as Mohler’s reaction to that book)


Question: I work with college students, mostly leading them to Christ and discipling them, and one of the big influences they have in their life right now is pastor Mark Driscoll and the ministry that he’s doing. I’d just like to hear from you just what you feel like to be some effects of sitting under him on YouTube or from his website, what kind of things that I need to be prepared for just ministering to young college students just listening to his teaching?

Mohler: You had a better question? [laughs] I told you it’s dangerous to turn left. It never works, just take that as a parable. Now I appreciate the question and I’m not going to dodge it. Here’s the thing—we ought to be grown ups, we can talk about these things, we want, together, to be a company of discerning men and we want to think about these things. 

One of the things that we need to say, first of all, is that, wherever the gospel is to be found we need to be happy about that. And I’m thankful that Mark Driscoll believes in, teaches and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. I appreciate and admire his boldness and his tenacity, being in a very secular place for a long period of years to preach with such boldness the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The Gospel has implications. Pastor Driscoll and I would not agree on all those implications. I have great concerns about what I would consider to be excessive contextualization. Now I do think we need to acknowledge that all of us contextualize. I’m not here in pajamas. There’s a certain contextualization that is taking place here. I’m using the English language; if I came here speaking German, Helmut and Helga in the back would appreciate that greatly but the rest of you would probably be left out of the conversation. So, in other words, we’re always about some kind of contextualization and actually the most dangerous contextualization are things we do not think about. It’s the subconscious contextualization.

I am concerned about contextualization when it comes to, say, to reach a secular society you have to be crude, you have to be, because there’s a difference between being crude and being simple, okay. There’s also a difference between being crude and being candid. I think there’s some things, gospel ministers, actually don’t ever have to talk about, ever, because they’re simply not on the screen of a gospel application. That means an application of the gospel, not an application to be a Christian. I have to watch what I’m saying here. They’re simply not there. I think there are other things that should never be talked about in the full congregation. There are times when the men in the church need to get aside and talk about certain things that only men need to talk about and likewise women, talk about only things women need to talk about. There is a respect for modesty of gender in the New Testament that has to do with leadership, it has to do with older women counseling and teaching younger women. There is also a need in the church at times for there to be an age discrimination. There are things adults need to talk about that parents need to talk about, that children, and for that matter middle schoolers and teenagers don’t need to be a part of. There’s a matter of discernment there.