Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


December 14, 2007

Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, we have my son and daughter compile a list of the gifts they most desired. Topping my son’s list a couple of years ago was a Playmobil castle—a huge, grey castle that looks like the kind of toy every boy dreams about. He asked for this with some hesitation, though, because he knew that it was expensive. We told him several times leading up to Christmas that we did not think we would be able to afford such a toy. Neither Aileen or I were raised in families that celebrated Christmas or birthdays with hundreds of dollars worth of presents, so the price tag of the castle would be quite a stretch for us. In the end, we settled on a smaller castle, still Playmobil, but one that was the “bad guy” castle instead of the “good guy” castle.

When my son opened this gift on Christmas morning we could tell that he was both thrilled and disappointed. He had so badly wanted that big castle but knew it was unlikely that he would receive it. When he saw a big box on Christmas morning he thought that maybe, just maybe, we had splurged and bought it for him. But when he opened it, he saw that it was almost what he had wanted, but not quite. Still, he was happy with the gift and put a brave face on it. If he was exceedingly disappointed, he masked it well for a young boy. We were proud of him.

When his birthday rolled around in March, the Playmobil castle was still at the top of his list. Knowing now that his desire for this castle was not just a passing fancy, we decided that we would break form and buy it for him. We shopped around a little bit, found the best price, and bought it. When the day of his birthday arrived we hid the box and had him open all his other gifts first. When he had opened a couple of gifts from us, and gifts from other family members, he seemed truly pleased. It was then that I went downstairs and returned with that huge box. His eyes went wide and he exclaimed, “You didn’t! No, you didn’t!” We put the box before him and he made short work of the wrapping paper. His eyes lit up and I think I saw a tear in his eye as he saw that long-awaited castle. I think it was made sweeter by the waiting. We built the castle for him that afternoon and it has given him countless hours of pleasure since then. It remains a favored toy.

One little event struck me later that afternoon. The castle had been built and my son had already been playing with it for a few hours. I went downstairs to watch him enjoying his toy. When he saw me watching him, he ran up to his room and returned clutching something in his hand. He walked up to me and handed me a loonie, a one dollar coin. He explained that he knew the castle was very expensive and that we could not really afford it. He wanted to give me a dollar to help with the expense. It was a touching moment, really, and one that showed a sweet innocence, for of course his one dollar coin could hardly repay the castle. I explained to him that it was my privilege to give him the castle as a gift and that he could show me gratitude not by attempting to pay me back, something he could not do despite his best efforts, but by playing with the castle and receiving from it a great deal of joy. That seemed to satisfy him, so he put his money in his pocket and continued to play with his new toys.

I think there is a lesson in my son’s behavior and it’s one I see time and time again. It’s a lesson about grace—free grace. As sinful humans grace is so foreign to us that we so often get it wrong. So often, I realize, I have been just like my son, attempting to repay God for His gifts. I attempt to provide good works as repayment for mercy. God gives us grace as a gift and does not expect us to repay Him for it. As with myself when looking at my son, God’s satisfaction is not in our attempts to repay Him, but in seeing our heartfelt delight as we rejoice in His free gift. The gift is cheapened when we attempt to repay it. In The Great Work of the Gospel John Ensor writes, “His reward as a gift giver is in the gladness of heart that we experience in receiving his gift as a gift.” Ensor points out another reason we cannot pay for our sins by doing good works as a trade off for God’s mercy. “Anything we do with a motive of adding to the work of Christ so as to win the forgiveness of God becomes the ground of self-satisfaction in our own goodness, rather than trust in God’s grace.” In receiving this gift from me, my son was unable to boast. Had he saved his money and paid me back, he could have led his friends to the playroom and said, “Here is a castle I earned.” But with the gift I gave him, all he can boast in is in having a father who loves him and who knows how to give him good gifts.

My son’s motives were pure, I’m sure. He felt some measure of guilt in receiving a gift he felt we could not afford. And so he tried to repay me, but in a way that was inadequate, impossible and in denial of the very fact that what I gave him was intended to be a gift. I expected no repayment and took my joy in my son’s delight. His delight was my reward. And there is the lesson for me. God wants me to receive mercy and grace as a gift. Even my best efforts at repaying Him merit me nothing. What God desires is that I receive His gift as a gift and that I return to Him all the praise and the glory through enjoying what He has so graciously given me. He delights in my delight.

December 12, 2007

Over the past few years, Aileen and I have continually returned to the question of why so many young people these days seem unwilling or unable to grow up. It is a question that has confused us, especially as we look to many of the young people we know. There was a time when young people seemed eager to grow up, to mature, and to head out into the world to make their mark on it. Or that is how we remember it (we were, after all, married at 21 and parents by 23). But those people now seem to be the exception more than the rule. More and more, it seems, young people (and increasingly older young people) are choosing to stay home, to stay in colleges, to earn a second or third or fourth degree. They are, it seems, refusing to grow up.

To help our thinking on this issue, I’ve been reading The Death of the Grown-up, a fascinating book by Diana West and one that seeks to answer the question of “Where have all the grown-ups gone?” The book’s subtitle is “How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.” I suppose that says it all. West has studied this phenomenon and has determined that it is one that is going to have serious repercussions. The lines between child and adult are growing increasingly blurry. I hope to write a review of the book next week.

One section of the book that has caught my attention deals with the notion of “shame.” Shame is a bit of a tricky concept, I think, as it seems to me to be both negative and positive. The Bible makes it clear that, in their innocence, before they invited sin into the world, Adam and Eve were “naked and unashamed.” Written after the fact and written at a time when people could hardly conceive of nakedness as being anything but shameful, these words are clearly meant to make people think and to consider a world without shame. Shame, after all, in at least one of its forms, is product of guilt. Shame comes about as we realize our guilt or our inadequacy. Shame comes as we compare ourselves to a better standard or even as we compare ourselves to another standard (which is, more often than not, other people). So while it is a product of sin and a necessity only in an imperfect world, it is also a gift, of sorts. Shame is an aspect of God’s common grace that keeps us from expressing ourselves in ways that would otherwise result in serious consequences.

But shame is becoming increasingly foreign in our culture. We hear of the way teens act these days—with 13 year old girls propositioning their male friends and dispensing sexual favors on the school bus; with men and boys alike proudly discussing just how much pornography they consume; with the sexual preferences of movie stars being discussed in the evening news; with commercials for sexual enhancers constantly playing on television. Where has shame gone?

West traces the decline of shame to the death of the notion of obscenity, especially in the world of art. “By the time the courts, in effect, declared obscenity was dead, they had killed something vital to a healthy society: the faculty of judgment that attempts to distinguish between what is obscene and what is not obscene—the avowedly ‘grown-up’ sensibility of an outmoded authority figure who had long relied on a proven hierarchy of taste and knowledge until it was quite suddenly leveled. From this leveling came another casualty: society’s capacity, society’s willingness, to make even basic distinctions between trash and art.”

This has led to all manner of offensive, vulgar art being paraded in front of us, even if that art is just plain bad. The question is not, as it should be, “is it good art?” Rather, people simply cry “censorship” and allow anything to be displayed, no matter how vulgar, no matter how devoid of artistic merit. We can no longer distinguish between trash and art. Exempting art from censorship laws, effectively concluding that there is no such thing as obscenity, has had consequences.

Once the law balked at recognizing obscenity, the populace began to doubt the very basis for shame. With no legal, institutional support for consensus, little wonder the bottom fell out from under morality.” As obscenity became a thing of the past, so too did it’s necessary consequence: shame. Shame is increasingly missing from our culture. We do things, watch things, enjoy things, participate in things that at any other time and in any other place would be considered shameful. Politicians show little remorse, little shame, when their dirty sexual deeds are exposed. Parents cavort with children, acting like children. “Shamelessness sheds light on why it is that American matrons are more likely to host sex-toy parties than Tupperware parties; why the Major Leagues showcase Viagra ads at home plate; why a presidential fund-raiser for GOP candidates includes a well-endowing—that is, contributing—porn star and pornographer; and why at grocery store checkouts shoppers can check out “hot sex tips” along with a loaf of bread. We have all learned—or at least we have all been taught—that the mental blush is superceded by the genital tingle.”

The paradox is something Christians know well. “Less restraint doesn’t necessarily deliver greater freedom.” It should be not surprising that the “land of the free” is also the land with more laws than just about any other nation in the world. With rules comes freedom—not with a lack of restraint. Humans being what we are, we rely on rules to keep us acting within the bounds of morality and within the bounds of shame. When these rules are tossed out and when shame disappears, so too does our willingness to restrain ourselves. With no concept of obscenity there is no shame; with no shame, anything goes. “In a shameless culture…self restraint is continually undermined.”

By the twenty-first century, shame and embarrassment have zero association with sexuality—or so we are endlessly, numbingly instructed—and, correspondingly, an infantile lack of behavioral restraint may be observed in everything from freak dancing, to ‘super-size’ eating, to McMansion-building. Without the concept of obscenity, without reason for shame, the ‘self’ in self-control sees no greater, larger, socially significant point in holding back.”

What has happened to shame? Well, it appears that shame has been put to death. “Culturally speaking, obscenity is all but legally obsolete, and shame is a kind of secular sin—a symptom of ‘hang-ups,’ of repression, of inhibition, of liberty lost.”

The only thing our society tells us to be ashamed of, it seems, is shame itself.

December 11, 2007

PrudeI almost gave up reading Prude. I have read other books like this and have found they follow a fairly consistent pattern. The first few chapters are always the hardest to get through. Where my interest in this kind of book is in its cultural commentary and analysis, the initial chapters seem always to be filled with examples of sexual transgression. I suppose this is necessary to build the author’s case that “our sex-obsessed cultural damages girls (and America too).” And so the first half of the book tells story after story and provides example after example of the moral decline of America. The author moves through web sites, magazines, television shows, popular music and fashion, showing how in each of these areas, girls are receiving damaging messages about their bodies and about sexuality. Television shows model sexual perversion as freedom and popular music objectifies both sex and sexuality. Web sites provide lurid details of base sexuality and consider it normal while the latest fashions seek to bare bodies for all to see. We know all of this, though there is still room to be shocked and disgusted. This continues for nearly 150 pages and by the end of the seventh chapter I had just about had enough. I put the book down.

But I picked it up again after seeing advertising for this book in Christian magazines and publications. It seems clear that, though this book is not published by a Christian imprint or by a Christian author (as far as I know), it is being marketed to Christians. And for that reason I thought I would read the second part and seek to understand how the author, Carol Liebau, analyzes all of these forces—what they mean and how they are affecting American girls.

Liebau does this over about 100 pages. In chapter 8 she discusses “Paying the Piper: The Toll on Young Girls and the Cost to America.” Strangely, for a book being marketed to Christians, though she covers the physical toll, the economic toll and the emotional toll, she neglects the spiritual. While certainly the factors she outlines in this book may have serious consequences to girls emotions and bodies and to the nation’s economy, they also impact a person’s ability to know and to honor God and the way a person understands God. This is a serious consequence of our culture’s perverse view of sexuality but one that is, unfortunately, neglected in this book.

In subsequent chapters she proposes a new sexual feminism that will once again celebrate sexual restraint rather than promiscuity, suggesting that this will allow women to reclaim their true power—“the power to hold men to standards of behavior that honor the differences between the sexes, even as it recognizes their intrinsic equality.” She writes of the rise of moral relativism and the dire consequences of that major transformation and then of examples of hope—organizations that have arisen to challenge the status quo. And finally, she seeks to reclaim the concept and the word “Prude” so it is no longer a mark of shame, but of pride.

In a sense the book’s power is not in the analysis but in the descriptions; not in the latter half of the book, but in the first half. Reading the awful details of moral decline is not easy, but it does allow us to get a glimpse into the unique challenges girls face today. Gone are the days when fathers would protect their daughters and when mothers would seek to ensure their daughters were chaste. Gone are the days when sexual restraint was a virtue. Instead, girls, often from their earliest days, are sexualized—taught that they are little more than the sum of their [private] parts. This hypersexualization harms girls and, as the author shows, harms nations. I would argue, though, that the harm to America goes far beyond economics and outbreaks of new and ugly sexually transmitted diseases. The harm goes as deep as the soul, scarring girls who will soon be women, searing consciences and keeping women (and men!) from understanding the true power and beauty of sexuality.

If we wish to get sexuality right and if we wish to temper the decline of sexual morals, we’ll need more than prudes. We’ll need men who act like real men, protecting women rather than taking advantage of them; we’ll need fathers who love their daughters enough to protect them; we’ll need mothers who are deeply involved in their daughter’s lives; but mostly we’ll need to return to the Source, to the One who created sex, who gave it to us as a gift, and who desires that we use it for His glory.

Notable Quotes

Sometimes it seems that sexiness has become the most important measuring stick for determining what is worthy of public interest; being ‘sexy,’ as most celebrities would attest, has become the ultimate accolade.”

Ironically, many of the [dating] customs that today are dismissed as limiting were actually empowering, because they offered young women a way to resist unwelcome sexual activity without themselves being labeled as cruel, frigid, or uninviting.”

Every time looser standards for dress or behavior become socially sanctioned, it becomes more difficult to retrench—and twice as difficult to resist the next step toward the vulgar or extreme on the cultural continuum.”

December 11, 2007

This is a public service announcement to let you know that this is the last day you’ll be able to pre-order a signed copy of my book. As of tomorrow I need to get final numbers in to the publisher so they can get the books shipped to Chattanooga where I’ll be signing and sending them about two weeks from now.

If you are interested, you can order it right here…but only until the end of the day!

December 07, 2007

It has been a while since I cracked open the Feedback Files. While I receive a lot of questions through this site, probably the most common have to do with blogging. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve made several promises that I would soon write an article suggesting some things to consider when beginning a blog. Today I’ll keep those promises. I’m going to offer six tips for new or prospective bloggers. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Question Everything

For people who are considering beginning a blog, I think the best place to begin is with your motives. It is worth asking yourself, I believe, why you wish to blog. And more so, it is worth considering why you want to have other people read your blog. I receive lots of questions from prospective bloggers and can often detect an underlying attitude that seems to say, “I have something to say that the world needs to hear.” That may well be the case, but I wouldn’t take it for granted. Some people truly do have good reason to desire that a lot of people read their blogs; others do not. There are some who wish to gain an audience more for their own sense of pride or accomplishment than to truly bless those people.

So before you begin your blog, ask why you should want to blog. Ask what you can contribute to the blogosphere. And once you begin the blog, ask why you want other people to read it. Question your motives and do not take for granted that other people will or should read your site.

Grow Up

Most people blog what they know (the exception being a handful of “professional” bloggers-for-hire to write about anything that will pay a few bills). If you write frequently, you’ll soon exhaust all that you know. After all, you have a limited number of stories to tell, a limited store of knowledge to share. So if you want to blog, make sure you are continually challenging yourself in the area you write about. As a Christian, this means that I dedicate myself to the Christian disciplines to ensure that I am continually growing in my knowledge of God as revealed in His Word. It also means that I constantly read good books (and some not-so-good books). These two disciplines provide me with the food for thought that keeps me writing and, most of the time, provides me with topics to write about. I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again: if I stopped reading the Bible and stopped reading good books, I’d have nothing to say. I’d have to pack it up and move on.

I have found blogging a wonderful way of ensuring that I continue to grow and mature as a Christian. It has forced me to dedicate myself to learning and has really become one of my spiritual disciplines, as strange as that may sound. It has caused me to have to grow up. I know of many bloggers who would say the same.


The blogosphere has rightly been compared to a network or an organism. Blogs are best seen in this way—as a kind of social network where one blog is connected to another. Those who do best in this community are those who participate in it. So do not see your blog as being isolated from all other blogs. Instead, see it as part of this community and see yourself as a participant. This means that you will want to read blogs that deal with similar topics as yours and that you will want to see these blogs not as competition but as friends.

Here are just a few tips:

  1. Link often to other blogs. Do not allow pride to keep you from linking to great content on other sites.
  2. Comment on other sites and participate in discussion at other blogs.
  3. Carry on conversation begun on other blogs by writing about similar topics on your own.

One of the best ways of getting your blog noticed, is to be recognized by one of the more popular bloggers in whatever area you choose to write about. Many blogs “arrive on the scene” after being linked to by a very popular blog. There is a temptation, then, to send everything you write to these bloggers hoping that they will link to you. While there is nothing wrong with sending a link to a blogger if you feel you’ve written something particularly good and relevant, do so with some caution. It is better, I think, to simply link to their articles, knowing that most bloggers keep tabs on who is linking to their blog. Write great content relevant to discussions on the more popular blogs and hope that your articles are noticed and linked.


If you are going to go through all the trouble of creating and writing a blog, you may as well optimize its exposure to the rest of the world. There are a lot of great blogs out there that deal with blogging. They tell you how to use the tools available to you in order to optimize your blog’s exposure to your target audience and to the search engines. I will largely leave you to explore those blogs. But here are just a few tips:

  1. Submit your blog to Technorati and learn what Technorati is all about.
  2. Ping Google’s blog search every time you post (your blogging software may do this automatically.
  3. Ensure your blog is using search engine friendly URLs.
  4. Subscribe to Google or Technorati Alerts for your blog or your name or any topics you cover extensively.
  5. Keep tabs on what others are saying about your blog through Google Blog Search (click here to see an example of what this looks like for my blog).
  6. Consider reading a few of the blogs about blogging, such as ProBlogger or Performancing.

Write Right

Though the last point encouraged you to optimize your blog, I would do so cautiously. Here’s why: Blog optimization may inadvertently lead to a dangerous amount of navel gazing. I have seen far too many bloggers do all they can to optimize their blog at the expense of making their site worth reading. They dedicate endless amounts of time to following all the rules and will do almost anything to get readers to their blogs. But they forget that a reader will only stick around if the content is worth reading. In many cases it is not.

If you want to be successful at blogging, make sure that your first priority is writing good content. I tell this time and time again to people who ask me for blogging tips. Worry first and foremost about writing good content. Don’t expect people to read your site unless the content is good. Write right, and eventually the readers are likely to follow. If your content is good and compelling and well-written, people will find it. So write well and write a lot. Then worry about having people read it.


Let me close with the importance of discipline in blogging. I’m going to suggest three different ways in which you should exercise discipline as you blog.

First, there is good reason that writing and journaling have long been considered important spiritual disciplines. I have found often that I do not really know what I believe about something until I have written about it. Only in writing down my thoughts am I able to press to the furthest extent to learn what I really believe. Writing has become a critical discipline for me and one that tells me much about myself and the state of my heart.

Second, writing does not come naturally to very many people. And even the most natural writer will find his skill increasing with practice. Anyone who wishes to be a good writer will need practice. So if you want to blog and want to make your writing available to the public, be sure to discipline yourself to write often. Not everything you write needs to appear on your blog. But discipline yourself to write so that you can get better at it.

Third, people who read blogs tend to get into patterns. If they know a person updates a site daily, they may well make that site a daily stop. If they know that a person blogs only every Wednesday, they may make that blog a weekly stop. So try to form patterns with your blogging so your readers know what to expect. Try to blog consistently, whether consistency means once per day or once per week. Discipline yourself to write consistently.

I hope these tips help a little bit. If you’ve been blogging for a while, feel free to add any tips you’ve found particularly helpful.

December 05, 2007

Last week I wrote a brief article about apostasy and heresy and concluded with a portion that dealt with the difference between dialog and controversy. I quoted an article written by David Samuel. He dealt with this same subject and said

I think this explains the ease with which many in recent years have been able to enter into dialogue with Roman Catholics and even Muslims and Hindus. It demands a certain detachment from the truth to be able to do that. You are obliged to put a question mark over it, otherwise you are not genuinely engaging in dialogue, which means, at least in principle, you are prepared to change and qualify your beliefs. I think we must be very careful to distinguish between dialogue and controversy. Dialogue carries with it implicitly this assumption, that you will be prepared to modify and change your position, in the light of the debate, if it so requires you. But controversy, in which all the Reformers engaged, is quite a different thing. You start from what you know and believe to be the truth, and your object is to expose the error and confusion of the opponent’s position and, if possible, persuade him of the truth. It was dialogue in which Satan engaged Eve in the garden. She would have been safe if she had insisted on controversy. When men have not a fervent love of the truth and no sense of abhorrence of error they are in the anteroom of apostasy. It is said that the apostle John fled from the public baths, where Cerinthus the heretic appeared, lest they should fall on him. Today some evangelicals would be glad to stay and engage in friendly dialogue.

He is correct that dialogue carries with it the assumption that there is a question mark hovering over my beliefs. It is consistent with a postmodern mindset, in that I acknowledge that though I believe what I believe quite strongly, it might just be all wrong. Certainty is sin. Those who dialogue enter into their dialogue with that attitude and it is no wonder that they are often persuaded that they are indeed wrong. As Christians we have no need, no right, to dialogue about our faith. We are not on equal footing with others when it comes to the fundamental doctrines.

In October of this year 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter to Christian leaders and teachers around the world. “A Common Word between Us and You” was their call for these two faiths, which claim billions of adherents from across the globe, to peacefully co-exist. It was a call to base all future interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims to be built upon what these Muslim clerics believe is the common ground between the faiths. “The basis for this peace and understanding already exists,” they say. “It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.” And our common ground should lead to this:

Thus in obedience to the Holy Qur’an, we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love.

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.

Their rationale is based in part on their Scripture and in part on matters perhaps more practical:

Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.

And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony.

Four scholars at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture chose to respond to this with a full-page advertisements in the New York Times (that was published on November 18). They titled this response “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.” It was endorsed by over 100 Christian theologians, pastors and scholars, among whom were Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, Leith Anderson, Timothy George, Richard Mouw, Robert Schuller and John Stott. It has long been an observation that efforts of this kind create strange bedfellows. This is no exception.

The letter was one of penitence and delight—penitence for wrongs committed by Christians against Muslims, and delight for the efforts of the Islamic scholars to find this common ground between the faiths. Some might even see a tone of pandering. “As members of the worldwide Christian community, we were deeply encouraged and challenged by the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world.” These Christian leaders agree with the common ground between these two faiths.

What is so extraordinary about A Common Word Between Us and You is not that its signatories recognize the critical character of the present moment in relations between Muslims and Christians. It is rather a deep insight and courage with which they have identified the common ground between the Muslim and Christian religious communities. What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and love of neighbor. Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well. That so much common ground exists—common ground in some of the fundamentals of faith—gives hope that undeniable differences and even the very real external pressures that bear down upon us can not overshadow the common ground upon which we stand together. That this common ground consists in love of God and of neighbor gives hope that deep cooperation between us can be a hallmark of the relations between our two communities.

The letter concludes with further agreement that this common ground ought to be the basis for further interfaith dialogue. It concludes with the promise that these leaders will continue to labor towards the goal set by these Muslim clerics.

Let this common ground”—the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbor—”be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us,” your courageous letter urges. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. Abandoning all “hatred and strife,” we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other’s good, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good. Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond “a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders” and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.

Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well.

We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose.

So here is an example of dialogue. This is not controversy such as the controversy carried on by the Reformers during the time of the Reformation. It is not controversy like the controversy generated by Jesus’ Apostles as they took the gospel to the nations following the Lord’s death. Rather, it is dialogue, the likes of which we saw when Evangelicals and Catholics attempted to get Together. It is dialogue that, by all appearances, places Christians and Muslims on equal footing as they attempt to work together to arrive at some kind of agreement. Perhaps most shockingly, the documents takes for granted that the God of Christianity is the god of Islam. Nowhere in this document would one come to believe that the God of the Bible is different than Allah of Islam.

Nowhere in the Bible do I find Jesus telling us to find common ground with other faiths—with people who chase false gods and who are wholly committed to the downfall of the Christian faith. Nowhere do I see the Apostles, as Christ’s representatives, engaging in dialogue or seeking common ground in which to pursue God together. Rather, I see the promise of division and hatred. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, “says Jesus.” “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Robert Munday read the document and the reply and offers six questions, all of which are worth considering. Essentially he asks, “Do the men and women who signed this document really understand what they have signed?” Do they understand that Islam always has been and always will be fundamentally opposed to the foundational beliefs of Christianity? Do these people not realize that Muslims will and must reject the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, the existence of the Trinity, the atoning death and the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ?

In a follow-up article Munday says, “There is much that is commendable in interfaith dialogue [He and I would feel differently on this point]. But if it is to have any real significance for Christian believers, those who engage in it must start with what Scripture teaches regarding the essential nature of the Gospel. Many of those who claim to represent Christianity in interfaith dialogue have already succumbed to a relativism that lacks such a foundation. And, increasingly, Christian respondents are so eager to find common ground, in light of the terrors that have occurred and fears regarding the future, that they are taking the course of appeasement in the face of Islam, eager to find “Peace for our time”—peace at any cost. It will not serve Christians well if they underestimate the true distinctiveness of the Gospel. And it will not serve anyone well if we underestimate the challenges that the world faces from the religion known as Islam.”

He touches on something important here. As Christians we have the Bible and within its pages we have the gospel. This is something that is distinctive to Christianity and something that has been given to us by God as a sacred trust. This is where we must begin. We cannot downplay or ignore the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we lose the gospel, we lose everything. There is no need, no call, to dialogue about the gospel. And there is no reason to dialogue with people who have and will and must reject it.

If you are interested, here are the documents (in PDF format): A Common Word and the Christian Reply.

What do you think? Do Christians have any business being engaged in dialogue with Muslims? If so, what would we hope to accomplish? What would our goal be? How can we defend this from the Bible?

December 01, 2007

Yesterday I posted a brief reflection on the nineteenth chapter of Acts—a portion of Scripture that has often struck me as a hilarious commentary on human nature. Earlier this week, as I was reading through Phillip Ryken’s commentary on 1 Timothy, I found some thoughts he wrote about this portion of Scripture and immediately marked it as something worth sharing. Today seemed a logical time to do so.

Demetrius was right to be worried. The Ephesian silversmith made shrines for the goddess Artemis, and what kept him up at night—worrying about his job security—was the rapid growth of Christianity in his city.

Up until a missionary named Paul arrived, the silver trade in Ephesus had been rather lucrative. The worship of Artemis “brought no little business to the craftsmen” (Acts 19:24). But Christianity meant the end of the idolatry, and this posed a real threat to their livelihood. So Demetrius called the silversmiths together and said:

These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:25-27)

The silversmiths wanted to defend the honor and majesty of their queen. More importantly, they wanted to keep their jobs. So “when they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ So the city was filled with the confusion” (Acts 19:28-29). A massive protest was held in the giant theater of Ephesus. For two straight hours, as many as twenty thousand people shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:34).

Eventually the city clerk was able to quiet the crowd. He said: “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?” (Acts 19:35). Yes, the whole world did know this, for the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was 425 feet long and 220 feet broad, with 127 columns of white marble, each 60 feet high. It took two centuries to build it. Edwin Yamauchi calls it “the largest structure in the Hellenistic world, and the first of such monumental proportions to be build entirely of marble.” Inside stood the ancient and enormous statue of Artemis herself.

The goddess seemed immortal, but Demetrius was right to be worried. The coming of Christ meant the end of Artemis. She has now been tossed on the scrap heap of history. With the exception of a few scattered columns on a plain near ancient Ephesus, the last fragments of her temple—a handful of coins and a few broken columns—are now on display in the basement of the British Museum of London.

Ironically, Artemis is now known to most people only through the Bible, which contains little more about her than the description of her vast popularity and supposed immortality. The broken, decrepit bits of her temple, a wonder of the ancient world, are relegated to the basement of a museum.

November 27, 2007

Last Monday I announced that anyone who pre-ordered my book over the next week would be eligible to win a $100 gift certificate to Westminster Books or, as a consolation prize, a copy of the Literary Study Bible. Thanks to all of you who took the opportunity to buy the book. I ran the numbers and randomly selected the winners. And here they are. The first place prize goes to Ryan Higginbottom and the Bible goes to Debora Todd. Congratulations to the two of you. As for everyone else, well, at least you got a book out of the deal!

For anyone who has not yet ordered the book, you can do so right here.