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Tim Challies

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April 06, 2010

Last week I encouraged you to Read More and Read Better. Then I got both busy and distracted and didn’t give you the second part. So let me do that today. Let me tell you how I read a book.


Before I do anything else, I want to get an overview of the book. Very rarely will I read a book without really knowing what it is about. Here I learn about the reason it exists, whether it is attempting to make its mark in the world of ideas or the world of entertainment. Here I learn about its significance. And, most importantly, here I learn about its purpose. From the back cover, from the Foreword and Preface, I can learn what the book is trying to do, to teach. I may also turn to a review or two, though generally I prefer not to since I prefer to form my own opinion of it. (The less familiar I am with the topic, the more likely I am to read some reviews.) I also tend to read the Acknowledgements since this tends to help me understand the author a bit more.

April 05, 2010

So John Piper has asked Rick Warren to speak at this year’s Desiring God National Conference, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. You may have heard about this, either through buzz in the blogosphere or even from Piper himself in his recent Ask Pastor John session. I have known this for some time now as Warren told me himself when I visited Saddleback last September. So I have had a long time to reflect on it. And having done so, I am persuaded that it is not a good idea.

Before I explain myself, let me provide a bit of background on my relationship with Rick Warren and John Piper. I think people who read this site sometimes imagine that I am more connected with the big-name preachers or authors than is really the case. It’s only fair to point out that I do not have much of a personal relationship with either man. I have met both of them but have spent meaningful time with each of them just once, which means I know them best through their public ministries. I have read three books by Warren and perhaps a dozen by Piper. I have seen both of them preach and have met some of the people who minister alongside them. Perhaps mostly significantly, I have been a member of churches heavily influenced by each of them; the last church I attended was very much built around the Saddleback model while Grace Fellowship Church is very much in debt to Piper. Thus I have seen their churches, their ministries and the effects of their ministries on others.

April 04, 2010

Every Easter Saturday, that day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I find myself pondering what it must have been like for Jesus’ followers on that day. What did they do? What were they thinking? How did they spend their day? What thoughts were running through their heads? Their leader was dead; their Messiah had been arrested, beaten, crucified, killed, buried. Miracles had attended his suffering—darkness and earthquake—and yet still he was dead. Confusion must have reigned. Bewilderment.

It’s no wonder that Christians worship on Sunday. Muslims worship on Friday, Jews worship on Saturday, but Christians worship on Sunday because that is the day when Christ proved that he had conquered death. This is why we are Sunday Christians. We are not Friday Christians who serve a dead Savior, not Saturday Christians still waiting and wondering, but Sunday Christians who serve a living, breathing Savior—one who is alive and one who reigns. He died because he had to die. Our sin demanded blood and death. And yet he rose because he had to rise. He was the Son of God; how could death hold him? How could the Creator of all that exists be held down by death? It cannot happen and it did not happen. Christ is risen.

And for 2,000 years Christians have been celebrating Jesus’ conquest. I could turn to hundreds of books and songs and poems today. But allow me to turn to one of my all-time favorites, a poem that gives just a glimpse of the hope Christ offers through his resurrection. This is John Donne’s “Death, Be Not Proud.”

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

He is risen!

April 03, 2010

There are many who consider Janet Leigh’s murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to be the most terrifying scene in the history of film. The setting, the mood, the music and the camera work combine to create a scene of absolute terror. Her screams were impressed upon the memories of many who watched her macabre death on the silver screen. Since 1960, when the film was produced there have been tens of thousands of horror films made, but in the minds of many who enjoy such films, few of them have begun to approach the brutal genius of Hitchcock’s film.

The horror genre delights in the scream. Bloodcurdling screams are common in horror films, and filmmakers are constantly looking for ways of making them seem more genuine, more heartfelt, more terrifying. I remember reading of a film in which the director had the actors sprayed with the remains of a slaughtered pig during a particular scene in order to be able to capture real disgust and surprise. He wanted to evoke in his actors a pure terror and hoped that would translate to horror in the hearts of those who later watched.

March 30, 2010

More than any other question that comes in via email, I’m asked this one: “How do you read so much?” While granting that I do read a lot, I think it bears mention that there are lots of people who read as much as I do or a lot more. The difference is that I write about what I’m reading, so you’re more aware of it than you are with most of these voracious readers.

Every year or so I sit down to write out a few thoughts on reading. I’m doing so again today, offering a few thoughts on how you can read more and read better. This is adapted from a list I created a couple of years ago. Actually, what I’ll do is write today about how to read more and read more widely and then tomorrow we’ll work on reading better.

Read - Start with the obvious: you need to read. If you want to be a good painter, you’ve got to paint; if you want to be a good runner, you’ve got to run. So before anything else, you need to commit to the discipline. Unless reading is a genuine passion, you may need to be very deliberate about setting aside time to do it. You may need to force yourself into it. Set yourself some reasonable targets (“I’m going to read three books this year” or “I’m going to finish this book before the end of the month”) and work towards it. Set aside time every day or every week and make sure you pick up the book during those times. Start out by reading a book that deals with a subject of particular interest to you. You may even find it beneficial to find a book that looks interesting—a nice hardback volume with a beautiful, embossed cover, easy-to-read fonts and excellent typography. Reading is an experience and the experience begins with the look and feel of the book. So find a book that looks like one you’ll enjoy and commit to reading it. And when you’ve done that, find another one and do it again. And again.

Read Widely - I’m convinced that one reason people do not read more is that they do not vary their reading enough. Any subject, no matter how much you are interested in it, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. So be sure to read widely. Read fiction and non-fiction, theology and biography, current affairs and history. You will no doubt want to focus the majority of your reading in one broad area, and that is well and good. But be sure to vary your diet. I think it’s especially important to say to Christians that you are allowed to read mainstream books. Read a bit of Malcolm Gladwell or read Freakonomics or a title plucked from the bestseller’s list. Many of these books will enrich you in unexpected ways.

March 25, 2010

This morning I’ve got Whitefield and Wesley on my mind. This morning I was thinking about John Wesley’s infamous and divisive sermon called Free Grace and went looking for what I had written on it in the past. This was the sermon that began a significant rift between Whitefield and the Wesleys, for not only did it set them at theological odds, but it also betrayed Whitefield’s trust in Wesley. Though the men continued to love one other, this sermon was a very significant force in the eventual separation between them. Wesley’s sermon, though still highly regarded by some, is hardly a fair, biblical or thorough treatment of the subject of free will, free grace or predestination. It relies far more on shock, bold claims, and outrageous exaggerations than it does on Scripture.

One of Wesley’s biographers, Julia Wedgwood, was harsh but fair when considering this sermon. She says,

March 17, 2010

I am often asked for pointers on writing book reviews and recently realized that, to my recollection, I’ve never written on the topic. That may be because I consider myself quite a poor book reviewer. I got into writing reviews (over 500 book reviews ago now) by circumstance more than skill; I had a blog, I read a lot, and book reviews just started to happen. Yet I am aware that I am not a great reviewer. Read the Times or a theological journal and you will encounter a completely different skill level in reviewers.

Having said that, I think I am able to write reviews that appeal to a particular audience. And in that way at least, I’ve been successful. So today let me share just a few pointers for those who are considering writing reviews for a medium similar to this one.

Know Your Audience

As I said a moment ago, any success I’ve had owes more to writing for a defined audience than in great skill. I know who reads this site and I try to write about books that will be of interest to that kind of reader. If my IQ was about 100 points higher and if I wrote for Themelios I might read and review Revitalizing Theological Epistemology: Holistic Evangelical Approaches to the Knowledge of God. As it is, though, I know who I am and I know who reads this web site and I try to review books accordingly. Almost by definition, the people who read this site share at least some of my interests and so what is of interest to me is of interest to them. That’s part of the beauty of a blog.

So know your audience. Know the kind of book they will want to read and then anticipate the kind of questions they will want answered before they consider reading that book. Here are the types of questions I tend to answer:

March 12, 2010

This little reflection, which I wrote yesterday while researching my book, seemed appropriate to post this morning, one day after the 199th anniversary of the birth of Luddism and the very day that the next great technology, the iPad, goes on sale.


Luddites have gotten a bad rap. Synonymous with irrational suspicion toward technology, Luddites were, in reality, not nearly as concerned with technology as we might think. History has not been entirely fair to them.

Early in 1811, the owners of Nottinghamshire weaving mills began to receive angry and threatening letters from General Ned Ludd and his Army of Redressers. It’s unlikely that there ever was a Ned Ludd; historians believe that the name was a fictitious name fabricated by workers in the textile industry. And these workers, artisans mainly, had much to concern them. As the nation became increasingly industrialized, machines began to do the jobs previously done by men. The work of skilled craftsmen soon became the work of an apprentice or an unskilled woman operating a machine. Wages plummeted as did quality and even the demand for quality. The craftsmen were quickly becoming obsolete and impoverished. The new machines did inferior work, sure, but it was both fast and cheap—a trade-off most people were willing to make.

Under the banner of Ned Ludd, the old artisans plotted to thwart the factories that appeared bent on destroying them. They first wrote letters threatening harm to factories if they did not rid themselves of the machines. Not surprisingly, the factory owners refused to comply with the demands. And so the Luddites attacked. Within weeks factor raids were a nightly occurrence and hundreds of knitting machines had been destroyed.