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Tim Challies

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Why I Am Not Continuationist
July 07, 2016

Today I come to the end of the series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” The purpose of this series has been to take a look at the things I do not believe and all along it has been my desire to explain rather than persuade. So far I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, dispensational, or egalitarian. Today I want to explain why I am not continuationist or, if you prefer, charismatic.

Once again we need to begin with definitions. “Continuationism is the belief that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit taught in the Bible—such as prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and miracles—have not ceased and are available for the believer today. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism which teaches that supernatural gifts have ceased either when the canon of Scripture was completed or at the death of the last apostle.”* In other words, this is a matter of whether certain miraculous gifts that were active at one time are still active today. I believe those miraculous gifts have ceased.

Once again, my beliefs on this matter are not easily separated from my background. Growing up in conservative, Reformed churches I knew no continuationists. I knew that such people existed only when I heard my parents speak sheepishly about their early introduction to Pentecostalism. They told us of their attempts to receive the gift and their growing acknowledgement that their tongues-speaking friends were simply uttering repetitive, nonsensical phrases. It was not until I was in my mid-twenties and a baptist that I first encountered tongues. The band at a worship conference entered into a time of “spontaneous worship” and immediately many of the people around me began to make strange sounds. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening.

A more formal introduction to continuationism came when I encountered Sovereign Grace Ministries. I had first become aware of this ministry through online connections and then through C.J. Mahaney’s books. I attended one of their worship conferences and here I saw what they called prophecy—prophetic songs meant to communicate divine truth to people in the audience. (“The Holy Spirit is giving me a song. I believe this song is for all the people here named Katie. If your name is Katie, please come to the front as the Holy Spirit has something to say to you.”) What I found at that conference and in these churches were people who were godly and kind and committed to Reformed theology, yet also firmly charismatic. Though I was certainly underwhelmed by this example of prophecy, I was so taken by the people, by their love for the Lord, and by their excitement in worship that I returned home wondering whether my family should find a way of joining them. For the first time I saw that continuationism was not necessarily opposed to sound doctrine.

It was at this time and in this context that I began to read, that I began to ponder, and that I began to search the Bible to see what it says about the continuation or cessation of the miraculous gifts. I read defenses of continuationism written by the theologians of the charismatic movement: Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms come to mind. I saw leaders I admire profess their view that the gifts continue to be operative today. I also read MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos, interviewed Sam Waldron, and read a number of critiques of continuationism. Through it all I became increasingly convinced that the miraculous gifts have ceased. I could not be continuationist.

I am not continuationist because of my understanding of the Bible. I see that those miraculous gifts were given for a specific time and purpose—they were given to accredit the message of the gospel when it was first going forth and before the Bible had been completed. As that time and purpose drew to a close, so too did the gifts. This is easily seen when we read the New Testament with an eye to when the different books were written. While an early book like 1 Corinthians has a lot to say about miraculous gifts, later books have far less to say. In fact, by the time Paul is writing to Timothy he is not expecting that Timothy will experience a miracle and not instructing him to pursue one, but rather prescribing a very ordinary cure for an ailment—“have a little wine for the sake of your stomach.” Paul himself suffered with physical pain but was unable to receive a miraculous cure. As we read through the New Testament we see these gifts slow and cease over the course of decades.

First, then, I am not continuationist for biblical reasons. But second, I am not continuationist for reasons related to observation and experience. The miraculous gifts I see and hear in the charismatic movement have only the barest resemblance to the New Testament gifts. The miracles are internal and unverifiable, the tongues angelic rather than actual, the prophecy fallible. I know of no credible accounts of the kind of dramatic miracles we see described in the New Testament—a limb regenerating, a dead and decaying man being raised. Whatever “miracles” I hear of today are nowhere near as dramatic, visible, and instantaneous as the ones we see described in the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles. I know of no Christian who has been able to preach the gospel in a language he does not know. A number of times I have had well-meaning people prophecy to or about me but these have always been vague impressions more than authoritative words from God. Even as we discuss continuationism, we need to acknowledge that what has continued is, at best, a mere shadow of what the Bible describes.

I am not continuationist and do not believe that my experience of the Christian faith and life suffer on that basis. Instead of focusing on the drama of the miraculous I find joy in the beauty of God’s ordinary providence. The great drama unfolding in, through, and around us is foremost a story of God working through his careful, constant providence, his moment-by-moment means of bringing about his will.

I would like to direct you to two recent resources that have been helpful to me. The first is an exchange between Sam Storms and Thomas Schreiner. Schreiner explains Why I Am a Cessationist and Storms explains Why I Am a Continuationist. Both men explain their position and I suppose you can easily guess which I found more compelling. The second resource is this excellent lecture from Phil Johnson in which in his inimitable way he explains Why I Am Cessationist.

4 Marks of a Husbands Love
July 06, 2016

“Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25a). On the one hand it is such a simple statement, a simple command. Simply love. On the other hand there is not a husband in the world who would say that he has mastered it. Behind the simple command is a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of growth. How is a husband to love his wife? What is the kind of love that he owes her? I am tracking here with Richard Phillips as he explains in his new commentary on Ephesians.

A self-sacrificing love. A husband’s love is self-sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Every husband knows that he is called to love his wife to such a degree that he would willing to die for her. But God calls for far more than this. “It is easy for men to think of dying dramatically—and bloodily—for our wives in some grand gesture. But what Paul specifically has in mind is for husbands to live sacrificially for their wives. This means a dying to self-interest to place her needs before your own. It means a willingness to crucify your sins and selfish habits and unworthy character traits. I remember a husband who told me he had always thought that if a man came into the house with a knife to attack his wife, sure, he would be willing to die defending her. ‘Then I realized,’ he said, ‘that emotionally and spiritually, I am that man who assaults my wife and threatens her well-being. What God calls me to do is put my own sinful self to death’.” Exactly so. You would die for your wife, but will you live for her?

A redeeming love. A husband’s love is, like Christ’s love, redeeming. Christ “gave himself up for [the church], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” “If we follow this progression we see the Christian gospel in terms of Christ’s preparation of a bride for himself.” Christ is actively sanctifying his people through the word to cleanse us from sin and make us holy. Paul now says that a husband is to see this as his model for the way he relates to his bride. “As Christ’s love redeems us for glory, a husband’s love ought to be directed toward the spiritual growth of his wife. Notice, too, that this ministry is associated with a husband’s words. The Greek word used here is thema, which signifies actual words, rather than the more common logos which speaks of a message in general. This makes the point of how important a husband’s words are to his wife. Far from badgering or tearing down his wife with his speech, loving husbands are to remind their wives of God’s love and minister for their blessing and increased spiritual maturity.”

A caring love. A husband’s love is also a caring love. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” A man’s care for his wife should be as careful and intimate as his care for his own body. Paul offers two key words to describe this: nourish and cherish. A husband cares for his wife by nourishing her heart much like a gardener nourishes his plants. “This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her in order to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” A husband cherishes his wife “in the way he spends time with her and speaks about her, so that she feels safe and loved in his presence.” Phillips offers this warning: “In my experience, a husband’s caring love is one of the greatest needs in most marriages. [A] wife’s heart is dried up by a husband who pays her little attention, takes no interest in her emotional life, and does not connect with her heart.”

A committed love. Finally, a husband’s love is a committed love. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In the same way that Christ is utterly faithful to his church, a husband is to be completely faithful to his wife. This is signified in the one flesh union which is “the sharing of a whole life in the safe bounds of committed love.” One great barrier to this kind of love is when a husband does not transfer his allegiance from his parents to his wife, thus not fully leaving his father and mother. “A husband who shares marital secrets with his parents or who cannot break free from his family’s control is not able to offer his wife the devotion she needs.” Another great barrier is sexual sin. “Marriage involves forsaking all others in favor of an exclusive, intimate, and indivisible bond. … In Paul’s pagan world, as in our own, marriage was undermined by insecurity, as men and women exchanged partners the way they changed clothes. But a Christian husband offers his wife the security of a committed love, in which she can blossom emotionally and spiritually.” A husband commits to his wife to the exclusion of all others.

In all of these ways a Christian marriage is a portrait of Christ’s union with his church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When we see this intimate connection between marriage and the gospel, we understand that “There is nothing more profound in all this world than the sacred bond of marriage, and no more solemn duty than those owed by a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife.” So husband, do you love your wife? In what ways do you need to love her better, to love her just like Christ loves his church?

Image credit: Shutterstock

Daddy Needs a Vacation
July 05, 2016

I need a vacation. Over the years I’ve learned to identify the signs. I’ve learned to spot the difficulty in getting out of bed, the lack of creativity I bring to my vocation, the extra cup of coffee I find myself craving in mid-afternoon. I enjoy the blessing of being able to do what I love to do almost all day every day so when I get tired, when I get listless, when I find it almost impossible to sit down and write, it’s a sure sign that I need some time off.

Thankfully, vacation is fast approaching and in a few weeks I will be away from the every day. But before then I have a decision to make. I need to decide what this vacation will look like. When vacation approaches, I feel the need, I feel the self-imposed pressure, to make it all about my family. I have read a number of well-intentioned books and articles that tell me that the best dads are the ones who dedicate the entire vacation to their family, who transition from the busyness of every day life to the busyness of organizing family activities, of making sure that every moment is special for the children.

I love the idea of it, but panic at the reality because right now I crave rest. I crave quiet, low-key, relaxing days that allow me to lie still and read and pray and ponder. And I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this, either. My children may need a vacation, but I need it more. I work harder than they do. I have greater responsibilities. I carry more stress. I have accumulated a lot more mileage. This leaves me with a deep need for rest. I can’t live life well without these times of deliberately escaping normal responsibilities. My ability to provide for my family and to care for them depends upon it.

God did not apologize for resting on the seventh day of creation—the One who needed no rest took a day off to display a truth, to teach a lesson. Jesus did not apologize for escaping to the wilderness for times alone, even when there were a million-and-one great things he could have done back among the people. God himself shows us a pattern of rest. God himself shows that for some days or some weeks rest may be the most sacred thing we do.

So we will take our family vacation and for the first two days, or maybe even three or four, I will be still. I will be there, I will be available, but my deliberate focus will be on resting, relaxing, recharging. And then, when I have come back to life, we will go and have our fun together. And I think my kids will be just fine with this.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 03, 2016

It was a busy week (two weeks, actually, since I didn’t share any last Sunday) for letters to the editor. As I read through this week’s letters, I attempted to draw some out that reflected diversity of topic. Here is a selection of my favorites.

Letters about Why I Am Not Egalitarian

Just a note of thanks for your post on egalitarianism. I’m frustrated with those who mask their patriarchy with complementarian language. I appreciated your honest, fair handling of egalitarianism. As a follow-up, I would appreciate hearing why you’re not a patriarch, as archaic as that sounds. In my reading, I notice that leaders are quick to condemn egalitarianism at length, but don’t give patriarchy the same attention. This is unfortunate for Christians and the church. Your “Why I’m Not…” series has been wonderful, and I’ve especially appreciate how you’ve gently handled controversial topics (i.e., padeobaptism) where there are thoughtful, Biblical believers who disagree with you.
—Abigail M, Cincinnati, OH


I want to thank you for your post today on complementarianism, and in particular a point that I have not considered much: the idea of passive leadership. The “tie breaker” approach is what I’ve been told many times, but your post today is so helpful. What would we think of a pastor who only gave direction when there was a tie in the church? The pastor is called to shepherd and lead, not just to break ties. In the same way, surely God calls husbands to similar leadership in the family. First to repent? First to forgive? Oh the conviction!
—Stephen T, Auburn, ME

Letters about The 2016 Reading Challenge

Thank you so much for this reading challenge! I have really enjoyed trying to fill my boxes and expanding my literary horizons this year, even as a hands-full mom of a toddler and infant. I am sure people give you recommendations by the dozens, but I would like to recommend Robinson Crusoe to you if you have not yet read this classic novel. My husband recommended it to me for that check box (“You can’t get more classic than that” said he), and I was so glad I read it - the unabridged version is full of sound theology and encouraged me spiritually more than I would have imagined.
—Alyssa B, Ridgeway, WV
Tim: Wonderful! Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been reading Les Miserables and finding it both brilliant and a tough slog.

Letters about Mark Zuckerberg Covers His Webcam

Tim, the part of this article that hit me was the section on our own character as it relates to our online/technological activities. As a pastor I was amazed at how often the breakup of a marriage was about the man’s cell phone. More than one woman told me that the way he handled his phone changed. This change would correlate, as she would discover, with his getting a girlfriend. So, one test I have given is this: can you hand your phone to your spouse? Right now? Can you set it down and walk out of the room? If not, you have a problem.
—Darryl Y, Calgary, AB
Tim: Quite right! The cell phone, like all technology, can be a major blessing and a major curse. I have seen what you have seen—that it tends to accompany people in their sin.

Letters on Why I Am Not Dispensational

I have to say I am disappointed in your position regarding dispensationalism. Your argument is very weak when you say you adhere to amillennialism simply because that was how you were taught since youth. There is so much to be learned from a dispensational viewpoint and it would help you to discern much scripture that you may find puzzling. For example the many proclamations of the Old Testament prophets whose prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Or John’s final letter to us, scribed from the Isle of Patmos , becomes a troubling book is avoided. The Church as being the bride of Christ and the time the Church began is so unclear in the eyes of most “Covenant theologians” that they stumble in their explanations. The book of Revelation is avoided by most and those that do attempt to “disclose” any truth simply spiritualize it into nonsense. Christ told us to be careful how we build our houses (1 Cor. 3:10) If your theology prevents you from understanding truth, perhaps the building process needs some tweaking. So, as a teacher I challenge you to do your due diligence and study the subject thoroughly.
—Ian C, Guelph, ON
Tim: One of the decisions I made when I began the series is that I would not pretend to have deeper convictions than I actually do, or that I would not take a strong stand where my convictions are not as developed as I wish they actually were. That is exactly the case when it comes to eschatology. So yes, a good, solid study of eschatology is on my list of things to do.


This was an affirming word to some changes I am currently undergoing theologically. I was raised on John MacArthur, my father is a minister and values MacArthur’s commentary over most, if not all, other preachers. So I was raised dispensational. But recently, at the encouragement of a friend, I began to study the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The principle stated near the end of the first chapter said that Scripture is the only infallible interpreter of Scripture. So I began to let later biblical writing inform/expound on earlier revelation. This began to undermine my dispensational premillennialism. I am now an amillenialist. I also think a more reformed hermeneutic allows us to see Christ in all of Scripture more effectively. Thanks for this.
—Greg H, Tallahassee, FL


I want to get started by saying how much I’ve been enjoying this “Why I’m Not…” series. The personality of it, rather than an apologetical nature, is engaging and I’ve been looking forward to each new article.

I’m currently a seminary student at Shepherds Theological Seminary near Raleigh, NC. It’s a somewhat unique school in that it is adamantly dispensational. Admittedly I did not know what the word meant at the time I enrolled, but I’ve been growing in my understanding of it lately. Dispensationalism and the other theological frameworks (covenant, progressive dispensationalism, etc.) are one of the more common conversation pieces among students at this school.

There are essentially two points I wanted to make about your enjoyable article. The first is the “authoritative” (I use that term loosely) handbook on dispensationalism is Charles Ryrie’s “Dispensationalism.” He makes the point, in the book, that the 3 primary distinctions of dispensationalism are: 1) The separation of the plans for the church and for the nation of Israel. 2) An ultimately doxological purpose for history. 3) The employment of a consistent, literal/normal hermeneutic.

It is, of course, the last point that leads dispensationalism to the premill/pretrib position that you posted on. I only wanted to point that out because dispensationalism’s defining characteristics are really not eschatological at all. The other point I wanted to make is to remark on how interesting and different our journeys have been. I was saved in 2010 and was subjected to mostly amillennial teaching through preachers and books and podcasts. It’s only been since attending seminary that I’ve started to see my views shift. I wouldn’t call myself a dispensationalist (which makes for some interesting conversations with my profs!) but I do think the premill/pretrib position isn’t at lacking as it is sometimes made out to be. Again, the hermeneutical method is critical in getting there. So thank you again for this piece and Lord-willing you’ll have some opportunities to jump into some deeper study on the topic, I’d love to see what the Lord reveals to you!
—Eric S, Raleigh, NC


I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your recent “Why I am not…” series, but I must confess I felt you missed the boat on the Dispensationalist article. Dispensationalism is a comprehensive approach to how to understand salvation history and God’s relationship to humanity that directly competes with Convenental Theology. Your article treats a very narrow consequence of Dispensationalism that manifests in some flavors of it. In my opinion, the title of your article appears misleading as it implies that you will discuss Dispensationalism in its full context, but you never really explain it. Full disclosure: I’m with Covenental Theology in this debate. Thanks again for all your great work!
—Jesse C, Yokosuka, Japan

Letters on The Bestsellers: Every Man’s Battle

I really appreciated your article on the popular book “Every Man’s Battle”. I agreed with everything you said about it and would like to share my own personal experience with the book. It was one of the first Christian books I ever read as a teenager and it really motivated me. I fought lust and “bounced my eyes” diligently for several months with decent success. I felt as though I was doing what the book suggested well and I just had to keep fighting and it would get easier. Despite my valiant effort to follow the books recommendations, it did not get easier, and I did not succeed. I actually fell into worse guilt and sin when my efforts were failing. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized that my own efforts were never going to succeed and I needed the delivering, redeeming power of Jesus and His gospel to save me from my sin. This is what the book failed to teach me. I will go as far as to say the book actually hindered my pursuit of holiness and missed an opportunity to share what I really needed: the gospel.
—Adam H, Toronto, ON
Tim: Well said, Adam. You helpfully display the book’s strength and weakness.

Why I Am Not Egalitarian
June 30, 2016

I’ve got just two articles remaining in this series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” Week by week I am describing why I have rejected some theological positions in favor of others and my purpose is not so much to persuade as it is to explain. There is a story behind every position I hold and each of these articles tells one of those stories. I have already told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, or dispensational. Today I want to tell why I am not egalitarian.

I ought to begin with a couple of key definitions. Egalitarianism is “the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.” That position is contrasted by complementarianism “which holds the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church.”* Both positions affirm the absolute equality of men and women in their being, personhood, dignity, and worth but differ when it comes to whether there are distinct God-given roles and functions associated with each gender, especially as it pertains to home and church.

I am not egalitarian and never have been, but that is not to say that I have not been challenged by the strengths of the position or the excesses of some definitions of complementarianism. I have carefully examined what I believe about manhood and womanhood. I have read widely and, as much as possible, with an open mind and open Bible. I have worked carefully through the relevant biblical texts. As I have done all of this, I have become more and more persuaded by the complementarian position but also more and more concerned about those who misuse or full-out abuse it. In that way I have not only had to define myself as complementarian but to define what kind of complementarian I am.

Let me back up a little bit. Aileen and I both grew up in traditional middle-class Canadian homes where the dads provided for their families while the moms focused on caring for the home and raising their children. We did not often hear words like “leadership” and “submission” but saw them quietly and seamlessly lived out in a context of mutual love and respect. I grew up attending various churches and these were, likewise, always very traditional in their understanding of the complementary roles of men and women in home and church.

As Aileen and I began to consider our future together we assumed we would follow patterns similar to what we had experienced in our childhood. To my recollection, our first real discussion came when choosing our wedding vows. We wanted to use traditional Anglican vows, largely because of their proud tradition and beautiful wording. But we had to discuss the word “obey.” These vows would have me promise to “love and cherish” Aileen while she would promise to “love, cherish, and obey” me. While we did not love the word “obey,” neither did we have strong objections to it or wish to break with tradition. Those are the vows we made to one another.

Despite our vows, we did not get off to a great start as a complementarian couple, and I am convinced this was largely my fault. I was passive and immature and easily intimidated even by my sweet wife. An older couple had told us that the husband’s leadership role involves little more than exercising his authority as a tie-breaking measure. Since we rarely disagreed about anything consequential I saw no reason or opportunity to lead. It took me years to understand that passive leadership is an oxymoron. It took me longer still to understand that a husband’s leadership is not first a matter of breaking ties or solving impasses, but a matter of being the first to love, the first to serve, the first to repent, the first to forgive. The call to lead is the call to display Christ-like humility and Christ-like love. While I have too often failed at this, it has at least become my aim.

There were a few books that strengthened my convictions: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper & Wayne Grudem was one I referred to many times while Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt also proved especially helpful. There were others besides, though their titles now escape me. At the same time I was challenged by the growth of the biblical patriarchy movement and quickly came to see that in too many ways it goes beyond what the Bible teaches and dangerously disempowers women. While this did not shake my conviction in complementarianism, it did alert me to one of the ways even good theology can go bad when it extends beyond the Bible’s good boundaries. There are dangers on both sides of truth.

Why, then, am I not egalitarian?

The primary reason I am not egalitarian is because I believe the position fails to withstand serious biblical scrutiny. Certainly it can prevail on a popular or emotional level, but I see no way for it to overcome on a biblical level. The complexity of words like ezer and phrases like mutual submission are far more easily resolved by complementarians than “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” is for egalitarians. Paul’s appeals to Adam’s priority in the order of creation, the distinct male focus in the qualifications of an elder, the extended teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, the deep mystery and metaphor within marriage—all of these provide challenges to the egalitarian position that I consider insurmountable.

Second to that, I am not egalitarian because complementarianism has proven itself to me. In the context of Christian community both Aileen and I have been able to see and imitate godly couples and mentors. Theology that may be difficult to describe in the abstract is often beautifully displayed in the lives of other Christians. And in our own marriage we have seen that complementarianism works, that it brings order, that it brings consistency, that it frees each of us to serve the other in ways that appear for all the world to be so consistent with God’s design. It could be that I’ve learned more about complementarianism from Aileen than from anyone else simply by living these eighteen years alongside her.

I am complementarian but far better, we are complementarian. I rely on Aileen, I seek her wisdom, I heed her counsel. I am joyfully and unashamedly dependent upon her and wouldn’t want it any other way. All the while I seek to lead her by pursuing and imitating the One who leads me.

How Much Television Do You Watch
June 29, 2016

How much television do you think you watch? No, honestly, how much? And how much time do you give to other screens—your mobile phone, your tablet, and whatever it is you use to watch Netflix? A brand new study from Nielsen suggests that it is a lot. A heap. A ton. Way more than you would guess, I’m sure. Let me walk through some of the most interesting findings.

First, this:

Nielsen Report

Even while we hear so much about Netflix and podcasting and other new forms of media consumption, radio and television remain dominant. That said, smartphones and PCs are racing up behind them and, presumably, will someday displace them.

Nielsen 2

Next we see how adults spend their time today. Tally it up and you see that the average American adult (and I’ll presume Canadians are not too different) currently spends 10 hours and 39 minutes each day consuming media. This represents an amazing 1-hour jump from just a year ago. Television consumes the biggest portion of the day at 4 hours and 31 minutes. Radio is just behind it at nearly 2 hours and coming in third is the smartphone with a showing of 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Mark Zuckerberg Covers His Laptop Camera
June 28, 2016

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently shared a picture of himself celebrating a milestone: Instagram now has five hundred million active users each month. There was Zuckerberg in his office holding an Instagram-like frame in front of himself. The picture would have been unremarkable and quickly forgotten but for this: Astute observers noticed that his laptop was on the desk behind him and that he had placed tape over the camera and the microphone. Those are small but significant details.

There was a time, and it was not so long ago, when we laughed at people who said things like, “The government can control your computer” or “the government can tap into your webcam.” Then Edward Snowden proved that this is actually being done. The unnerving reality is that governmental bodies and skillful hackers actually do have the ability to turn on your webcam without your knowledge and without triggering the indicator light. They actually do have the ability to turn on the microphone and listen in without your knowledge. Conspiracy theory has given way to reality. Mark Zuckerberg would make an especially high-profile target for hackers and for that reason has taken basic but effective measures to protect himself.

Zuckerberg While I try to avoid operating by fear and fringe, I’m not convinced that he is over-reacting. I’m not convinced that his response is irrational or alarmist even for those of us with much less to lose. There are some things every one of us can and ought to do to protect ourselves in this digital world. But my foremost concern is for Christian leaders—from pastors with a voice to their community to denominational figures with a voice to their nation. There are some measures such people should at least consider as a means of protecting themselves, their ministries, and the gospel. Here are a few of them.

Use Good Passwords & Two-Factor Authentication

The most simple and obvious measures of protection are using good passwords and two-factor authentication. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll direct you to an article I’ve written about this very thing: 5 Things You Must Do to Protect Yourself Online. That article explains how to create a great password and why it is so important (and so simple!) to activate two-factor authentication. Seriously, do these things. Lock down your services and lock down your devices.

Address Your Character

Before we talk about technological solutions, let’s talk about character. We tend to believe that problems created by technology can best be addressed by more technology. As we discuss things we can do to protect ourselves from electronic snooping and data gathering, our tendency will be to look for software and devices that can help us. That’s a good idea, but it comes second in order of priority. First we need to understand that the first and most important measure of protection is to avoid whatever is sinful. Having nothing to hide is the absolute best protection for yourself and your ministry. Think honestly about what you do, access, and search for online. If there are unwise patterns or inappropriate habits, take action against those things today. Don’t leave sin unaddressed.

Choose Your Medium Carefully

There are conversations we have via email, text, or other electronic media that may be better had face-to-face. Conversations that are had with formality and gravity in the real-world are often marked by informality and thoughtlessness when conducted electronically. Not only that, but these conversations are recorded and preserved in their every detail. They are just the kind of conversations that can be dug up and used against us later on. Email conversations on confidential topics that are torn out of context, posted publicly, and interpreted by the person who shares them—we have already seen the damage these can do. It is far better to have such conversations face-to-face and, if necessary, to record formal minutes. Choose the medium that is most appropriate for a conversation. Do not assume that electronic conversations will remain forever confidential.

Check Data Policies

Our devices and services leave behind a constant trail of data. Your email, your web browser, your mobile phone, your social networks, your accountability software—they generate lists of sites you have visited, locations you have been, searches you have made, and so much more. This data could prove devastating if it falls into the wrong hands. This is true even if you live by very high moral standards. Just think of the searches you have made to address medical concerns or the pictures that have popped up even when you haven’t wanted to see them. All of this exists in your data trail. Many Christian leaders would have their ministries seriously compromised if such data were to become public.

(Note: Google CEO Eric Schmidt is among others who has made the argument that the best protection is having nothing to hide. I agree as it pertains to the individual. But as it pertains to those who offer services, they need to take every possible measure to protect our data, knowing that even completely moral things can bring great embarrassment or be terribly misinterpreted.)

You owe it to yourself to research the policies of any company that has access to this trail. I have asked companies questions like these: How and where do you store my data? How long do you store my data and what do you do with it after that? Do you have a system that reports when employees are looking at my data for no good reason? I have immediately stopped using certain services because their answers have been so unsatisfactory There are many companies that make every effort to collect information about you but almost no effort to protect it. You have to assume that unless a company has a very strict data-destruction policy, they will keep your data forever. You have to assume that unless a company has a very strict data-protection policy, they may at some point allow it to be compromised.

Consider the Zuckerberg Approach

Finally, some people may need to consider the Zuckerberg approach. For most people in most situations there is probably no good reason to cover your webcam and microphone. If the computer sits in your office facing a wall and if your conversations are non-confidential, there is not much to gain or lose. But consider the computer that sits in your bedroom with a camera facing the bed. Knowing what you know, might it be a good idea to cover it up? Perhaps so. Even while it’s very unlikely that anyone will ever access it, there is still some measure of risk. If you keep your phone on a bedside table, at least angle the camera away from your bed. For leaders who have a particularly high profile, I would think even more carefully about such precautions in your home and workplace. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Do a bit of research online and see what the experts are saying.

The thing is, we really don’t know who is collecting information about us and what they are doing with it. But we do know that bodies like the NSA are collecting massive amounts of it and storing it all away. If they are, so too are others who may have even more dangerous designs. Though your data may not be used against you today and though it may not come to light tomorrow, it is still there. In an age of ubiquitous data collection, there is wisdom in taking some basic measures of self-protection and self-preservation. I saw many articles from tech-savvy writers remarking on Zuckerberg’s laptop; I didn’t see one that was mocking him or accusing him of over-reacting.

Look Into the Mirror
June 27, 2016

There is something comforting about peering into a mirror every now and then. It’s not so much a matter of gazing into your own reflection as it is looking for those things that are out of place, those things that don’t belong, those things you don’t want to see reflected back—the parsley between your teeth, the chocolate smeared on your chin, the hairs pointing in all the wrong directions. You don’t have to be image-obsessed to grasp the importance of the occasional glance in the mirror as a means of protecting yourself from awkwardness and embarrassment.

The mirror is probably one of my favorite biblical metaphors—the Bible as a mirror. I’ve reflected and written many times about the value and purpose of that mirror as we see it described by James.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James portrays the Bible as a kind of mirror that reflects back the heart. As the mirror hanging on the wall reflects the outer man, the mirror of God’s Word reflects the inner man. For this reason every Christian needs to gaze into the mirror of the Word to assess the state of his heart. This is not a one-time glance but a regular stare. We need to study the image reflected back to understand who and what we really are. God’s Word has the unique ability to give clarity to what God demands and expects of us. It unmasks our sin, our rebellion, our foolishness, our immaturity, our idolatry. It displays the sin that remains, the sin that needs to be rooted out so we can be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. We are fools if we do not make it a daily habit to gaze into this mirror.

What has been dawning on me over the past months is not just the value of gazing into this mirror, but the value and the challenge of believing what I see there. It is so easy to look and doubt, to look and deny. But if God’s Word is good and pure and holy and perfect, if God’s Word really is God’s, then it is absolutely trustworthy. This means that it’s not simply a matter of looking, but a matter of looking and believing. I need to trust what I see there. I need to trust this mirror more than I trust my own eyes, my own assessment. I may not like what I see there, I may not agree with what I see there, but I need to believe it. I need to believe that as the mirror hanging on the wall is an accurate portrayal of the outside, the mirror of the Word is an accurate portrayal of the inside. I need to believe that the Bible more accurately reflects the state of my heart than the mirror in my bathroom reflects the state of my body.

It is a privilege to have God’s Word, to have God’s mirror. It is a joyful responsibility to gaze into it, to study the reflection, to believe what I see, and to take action. It is a joyful responsibility to thank God for what I see there of the image of Christ and an equal responsibility to seek his forgiveness and to pursue repentance in all those areas where I do not see the image of Christ. The mirror is an opportunity to gaze and thank, gaze and repent, gaze and change.

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