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Tim Challies

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Ten Years Ago Today

It’s funny how life works, isn’t it? It is so often the little decisions—the decisions that at the time seem so inconsequential—that have such far-reaching impact. Exactly ten years ago today, rather on a whim, I paid a few dollars to register the domain www.challies.com. A few hours and a few clicks later I had launched a new web site. It was just one of many things I did that day I’m sure, but it was one that, in time, changed my life.

I can barely remember who and what I was ten years ago. Using a bit of math I can reliably say that I was twenty-five years old, I had been married for four years, I was the father of a two-year-old son and I had a daughter due in just a few weeks. I lived in a rented a stone’s throw from where I live now, had just been laid off from my position as a senior network administrator at a high-tech firm, and had recently founded my own web design business. I was a member of a nearby church founded upon the principles of church growth, and, to my recollection, owned exactly one Christian book (It was R.C. Sproul’s Following Christ, a gift from my parents that I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading). Only once or twice since escaping college had I written anything more than a birthday card. I was very, very shy and in front of a crowd could do little more than blush and sweat and stammer.

I had no great plans for the domain and I intended only to use it as a place to share family news. My parents and siblings had all moved down to the United States just a couple of years before. The reason I registered Challies.com is that this was to be the place where the Challies family would exchange news and photographs; it would be a site by and for Challies’.

Within days of beginning the site I had uploaded several sets of photographs, mostly of the children. Then it happened: Sitting in church a week or two later I heard the pastor praise Mother Teresa as the very paragon of Christian virtue. I went home and researched what I knew and what I suspected of Mother Teresa and wrote an article titled “The Myth of Mother Teresa.” It was an inauspicious beginning to what would soon become an extensive list of articles.

The early days of the site reflected several realities in my life at the time: I was a father of young children who was eager to share news and information about them (and who lived in a pre-Facebook world); I was an entrepreneur who was working long hours to put food on the table; and I was a Christian who had left behind the Reformed tradition but who was now forced to face my roots in the unexpected context of a church founded upon all the pragmatic principles of church growth. I had been content to leave behind the Reformed theology I had learned as a child, but in the context of this professedly non-Reformed church I found that my conscience screaming at me to examine what I really believed. I was beginning to see, even if in a very hazy way, that good theology really does matter and that a faulty root system will produce faulty fruit.

This church was blown by every wind of Christian marketing: The Purpose Driven Life and 40 Days of Purpose and The Passion of the Christ and everything else that promised great results and was endorsed by Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. Almost without my knowing it, my web site evolved into a place where I wrestled with these things, not in the abstract, but in the context of my own life. As the church led us through The Purpose Driven Life, I wrote a reflection every day, becoming increasingly concerned and perturbed, primarily by the misuse of Scripture. When the church leaders determined that The Passion of the Christ was, to use Rick Warren’s endorsement, “the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years,” they dug deep and spent tens of thousands of dollars on tickets that they distributed through the community. I made my way to the theater on opening day and wrote a long review.

In these early days I wrestled through the five points of Calvinism, through what it means to evangelize, and through so much of what was popular in Evangelicalism simply because that was what was popular in my church. When I go back and read these early articles I can sense authenticity and urgency. While I had a measure of loyalty for that church, while I wanted to write off Reformed theology as old-fashioned and unnecessary, I was coming to see that the foundation was awfully shaky.

What I could only see later on, once my perspective had widened, is that the very same questions I was asking were the ones so many others were asking. Maybe you were asking them. As my church embraced The Purpose Driven Life, so did hundreds or thousands of others; as The Passion of the Christ became all the rage with Christians in Oakville, it became equally popular all across the world. Christians everywhere were asking very similar questions and growing in very similar directions. Many others were discovering or perhaps rediscovering Reformed Theology in this movement that would soon be labeled “New Calvinism.” This new medium of the blogosphere allowed me to ask and to attempt to answer these questions out loud and in public. It allowed others to follow along.

It was ten years ago that this all began. I never could have guessed at the time that I would follow “The Myth of Mother Teresa” with more than six thousand other articles and that the blog would some day see over ten million visits a year. I certainly never could have guessed that it would be such a formative influence in my own life, the place where I would work through so many issues, where I would rediscover Reformed theology, and where I would find that I just plain love to write. It would disrupt my plans to grow my business from a one-man operation to a full design studio. Instead it would open up opportunities to attend conferences and to write books and even to discover that I am capable of public speaking. Best of all, it would introduce me to Grace Fellowship Church where I would first meet the pastors, then become a member, then, several years later, be called to the ministry.

Registering a domain name, such a simple and insignificant thing, was one of those little acts that set my life on an entirely unexpected trajectory. I wouldn’t know how to think about this, how to interpret it, if I didn’t believe in the quiet hand of Providence that continually directs events, that knows the end (and the middle) long before the beginning. I look back on these ten years with quiet wonder and profound gratitude. At times I wish I could project what the next ten years might hold, but if I’ve learned anything, it is that I ought to know better than to make predictions.

I felt like this deserved a celebration of some sort, so I’ve gone ahead and put together a giveaway. Check in a bit later today and it should be ready to go. There will be some fun prizes to win.