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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

January 21, 2008

Today marks the end of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour. This was meant to be only a two week tour, but events conspired to keep me from visiting SharperIron on the scheduled date. We decided we would add one date to the tour so I could make that stop.

The guys at SharperIron focused on the common belief that discernment is intuitive rather than something that requires dedicated thought and practice. How does Scripture tell us to view discernment as a step of rational thought guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than a supra-rational sixth sense? After that opening question, they asked several questions that furthered application. For example, If I use my knowledge of Scripture to judge some action as evil, and this discernment seems clear, how should I view my brother who does not make the same discernment? These were surprisingly difficult questions that I struggled with for quite some time.

Read my answers here.

I am grateful for all of the bloggers who chose to participate in this tour:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 19, 2008

I have no memory of reading (or having read to me) C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (though I’ve been assured that my parents did read them to me at least once). On the other hand, I remember reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit many times. I read Tolkien for the joy of reading his stories. I love the world he created and I love the epic scope of the adventures. But for some reason Narnia has never appealed to me in the same way. Over the past months I’ve been reading the Chronicles with my children and have been experiencing them for the first time. I’ve enjoyed them and have enjoyed drawing comparisons and contrasts with The Lord of the Rings.

It may be unfair to compare the two series but really comparisons are inevitable. After all, the books were written by close friends and were written near the same time. The authors often compared notes and there are quite a few shared elements between them. After recently completing Prince Caspian, and in anticipation of the forthcoming film, I have been reading Devin Brown’s new book Inside Prince Caspian. I previously read Inside Narnia and found that it greatly enhanced my enjoyment of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Brown is a C.S. Lewis enthusiast (or scholar, perhaps) and uses these books to provide literary analysis of the Chronicles. He often refers to Tolkien and I found this short passage helpful as I’ve considered why I prefer Middle-earth to Narnia.

Tolkien more frequently not only gives the impression of depth but also provides actual depth. For example, if Tolkien had placed a Stone Table with letters in Middle-earth, he might very well have included a rendition of the letters themselves, a history of the language they were written in, and not only the names of the people who had originally carved them but also the names of their parents and grandparents. When we come to an open door on the backdrop of Tolkien’s stage, he will often open it for us. In contrast, as Doris Myers rightly asserts, the doors in Narnia typically “do not open unless the story requires that someone go through them.”

This observation about Lewis’s technique of suggesting more than is stated and not answering every question extends beyond historic details. Thus, as Myers points out, with Lewis there is no point in asking questions like, “Since there were no other humans, who ruled Narnia after the Pevensies returned to our world?” or “Since Caspian the First gained Narnia through conquest and unjustly destroyed Nature, under what law is Prince Caspian the rightful king?” Myers’s answer to closed doors like these is that Lewis’s stories are “sufficiently powerful” so that we do not question or perhaps even notice any lack of of more adequate explanations.

And I think this explains why I prefer Middle-earth. Middle-earth, as a world, and The Lord of the Rings as a story, are far more developed than Narnia and The Chronicles. I haven’t ever bothered to read Tolkien’s long, dense and boring histories of his world, evolutions of the language, and so on. But his attention to the smallest detail of his world is obvious through his stories. But with Lewis there are many unanswered questions and many doors that seem to lead nowhere. The world does not seem to have the internal consistency of Tolkien’s. The stories are good, but the world is not so immersive.

Yet I think the simplicity of Lewis’s world may be part of its appeal to some people, and to younger people in particular. Never are there long, dry explanations of fictitious history. Lewis tends to stay closer to the narrative without having to dedicate so much time to the back story. Also, Lewis provides interesting moral lessons and life lessons that are easier to find and more naturally read out of the story than what is found in Tolkien. These lessons are easily found and easily applicable, even to young readers.

But still I prefer Middle-earth. It has been good to read The Chronicles but even while I do so, I look forward to eventually reading through The Lord of the Rings with the family. It will be a long haul, but it is a challenge I am eager to take on.

Which of the worlds or the stories do you prefer (and why)?

January 18, 2008

Today is the second to last day of the blog tour for my new book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. For the past two weeks I’ve been answering questions that have been asked by a variety of bloggers. Though something neither I nor Crossway had tried before, this blog tour has been fun, I think, and I’ve been pleased to receive quite a lot of positive feedback. Today the tour moves to Church Matters, the blog of 9Marks Ministries. They asked the following two questions: Tim, from your perspective as a layperson, what steps would you like to see more pastors taking to grow in discernment? And, Are there specific areas of church life and pastoring in which you find yourself wishing pastors would exercise greater discernment?

Read my answers here

Here is a list of the blog tour stops:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 17, 2008

We are nearing the end of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour and today the tour takes me to Michael Spencer’s blog. I appreciated these words from Michael: “Those of you looking for an argument can move along. I’m sure Tim and I disagree on many things, but scripture tells us that it’s a good thing when brothers dwell together in unity. Our agreement on the Good News of Jesus outweighs our disagreements.” He asked questions about what happens to churches and Christians who refuse to practice discernment, about freelance discernment ministries, about a Protestant magisterial and about Tim Horton’s (along with a few other topics).

Read my answers here

Once more, here is where the tour has gone and where it will go for its last two stops:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 16, 2008

Today brings us to the eighth day of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour. For those who were concerned about the fact that we missed the planned stop at SharperIron, you’ll notice in the schedule below that we’ve added one more date to the tour and we’ll finish up at SharperIron on Monday.

Today I stop by for a visit with the Pyromaniacs. I’ve been reading this blog since it first came into existence—back when Phil Johnson was the only contributor. But, as you may know, Phil eventually decided to rename the blog and to take on a team of people to blog with him. Thus Dan Phillips, Frank Turk and Pecadillo came on the scene. Earlier this week Frank Turk took the opportunity to ask me quite a few questions about the sources I relied on, about my hermeneutic, about the use of humor and levity in discussing serious topics, and about which of the Pyro team is my favorite.

Read my answers here

And here, once again, is where the tour has gone and where it will go in the days ahead…

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 15, 2008

The blog tour for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment marches on and today makes a stop at Between Two Worlds, the blog of Justin Taylor. Chances are that if you read my blog, you also read Justin’s or are, at the very least, familiar with it. Justin’s site is an indispensable source for news and good links to other resources and it’s a blog I recommend above just about any other.

Here is what Justin asked me:

As the World’s Most Famous Canadian Reformed Blogger, you seek to practice discernment as you critically engage culture and review books. Having now extensively studied the concept of biblical discernment, I wonder what implications you think this has for “discernment blogging”? In part, I’m thinking of “watchdog” blogs and bloggers that have “discernment” as their primary focus. Speaking generally, what are they doing right, and where do they need correction?

Read my answer here

Here again is the schedule for this tour.

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 14, 2008

This is the third and final article in this short series dealing with inerrancy and with the Bible’s supposed errors and contradictions. In the last article we defined what inerrancy is not and then attempted to adequately define the term. I suggested the following definition: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Today we will look at some common objections to this doctrine as well as some problems that may arise if we deny it. Here are links to the first two articles: Are There Errors in the Bible? and What Does “Inerrant” Mean?

Problems With Denying Inerrancy

We turn first to problems that may arise when we tacitly or expressly deny inerrancy.

First, if we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar. If there are errors in the original manuscripts, manuscripts that testify they were breathed out by God, one of two things must be true: either God purposely lied or he mistakenly lied. Either way this would indicate that God is capable of making or of producing errors. Needless to say, this would destroy our ability to trust any of God’s revelation and cause us to doubt God Himself.

Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God. If there are errors in Scripture, even if in the smallest detail, and these were placed there intentionally by God, how are we to maintain trust that He did not lie in other matters? When we lose trust in the Scriptures, we lose trust in God Himself and we may consequently lose our desire to be obedient to Him.

Third, if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. At the outset of this series I indicated a concern I felt towards those who deny inerrancy is when they indicate that the doctrine does not “feel right.” But nowhere does the Bible appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority or inerrancy. We must submit to the Word, for it will not submit to us. We must give to the Bible the place it claims for itself. We cannot stand in judgment over it.

Fourth, if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct. Admitting error in even the smallest historical detail is only the thin edge of the wedge, for we then allow the possibility that there may be error in doctrine as well. And when we allow this possibility, the Christian faith soon crumbles into a mess of subjectivity and personal preference.

So inerrancy is not an optional doctrine—one we can take or leave. Rather, it is a doctrine at the very heart of the faith and without it we impoverish our faith and destroy our ability to trust and honor God.

Objections

There are many objections that are commonly raised against inerrancy. For the sake of brevity I will address only the most common objections, and the ones I have encountered in recent discussions on this topic.

We Do Not Have The Original Manuscripts - The first objection has to do with the transmission of Scripture. Many people argue that since we no longer possess any of the original manuscripts, it is irresponsible to speak of inerrancy. What is the purpose in affirming an important doctrine based on documents we no longer have? I answered this, in part, in the first article of this series, when I quoted John MacArthur. “We possess a wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. John MacArthur writes, “With this wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages and with the disciplined activity of textual critics to establish with almost perfect accuracy the content of the autographs, any errors which have been introduced and/or perpetuated by the thousands of translations over the centuries can be identified and corrected by comparing the translation or copy with the reassembled original. By this providential means, God has made good His promise to preserve the Scriptures. We can rest assured that there are translations available today which indeed are worthy of the title, The Word of God.” We can be certain that we have accurate copies of over 99% of the inerrant words as they were first transcribed. When we focus on the less than 1% of the text that contains errors, we must realize that these are human errors and that God is in no way responsible for them. The fact that there are some errors in Scripture as we have it today, does not negate inerrancy which speaks only of the original documents. The Bible as we have it today is worth of our confidence.

Inerrancy is a Poor Term - Generally people who make this objection believe that inerrancy is too strong a term. They believe that such a word demands a type of scientific precision. And furthermore, they may claim that this term is not used in the Bible and was unknown through much of the history of the church.

To the first objection, I point again to the definition of inerrancy, and that it refers to truthfulness and not precision. The Bible claims to be perfectly true, but nowhere does it claim to contain perfect precision. As we saw in the second article, the Bible may round numbers, speak in human terms and contain odd grammatical constructions and still be inerrant. In response to the second objection I would point to any number of terms we use that are foreign to Scripture. The word “Trinity” does not appear within the pages of Scripture, yet the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly affirmed in the Bible and the term is very useful in summarizing the doctrines of the persons of the Godhead. The doctrine of inerrancy is taught within the pages of the Bible as clearly as if the word “inerrancy” was used.

Proving Inerrancy is a Circular Argument - The fourth objection is that we can only prove Scripture’s inerrancy by circular argumentation. After all, we say that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible tells us it is inerrant. This poses a problem for some. In Reason to Believe R.C. Sproul addresses circular argumentation in proving the Bible’s infallibility and we can extend this line of reasoning to inerrancy. Consider the following premises and the subsequent conclusion:

  • Premise A—The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  • Premise B—On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • Premise C—Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an inerrant authority.
  • Premise D—Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
  • Premise E—The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  • Conclusion—On the basis of the inerrant authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy; i.e., inerrant.

Where this model of linear reasoning may break down, is that some of what we accept about the Bible we accept by faith. Faith does not render reason invalid, but the Holy Spirit helps us believe in what our sinful, human minds will not accept. Therefore, I do not believe that an unbeliever—one who does not have the Spirit’s help—can accept the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. But this line of reasoning ought to be sufficient for the believer. I trust that all Christians believe in the first premise, as even most non-Christians, who have made the effort, can see that the Bible is basically reliable and trustworthy. But what the unbeliever cannot do is accept that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is thus an inerrant authority.

The Bible is Full of Errors and Contradictions - This is a common objection that has been leveled at the Bible too many times to count. It has been answered just as often. It is the question that motivated me to post this series.

As often as not, this objection is made by people who really have no clear idea of where these errors can be found, as they are merely passing along what they have heard from others. They read a web site with a long list of contradictions and allow that to feed their disgust for the things of God. For those who are honestly seeking information on the alleged contradictions, there is a wealth of resources available to prove that there are no errors or contradictions within the text of the Bible. For example, Answers in Genesis answers many of these objections. So many of the objections can be answered so easily. For example, here is one I have seen on some sites:

[The Bible claims that] one day can last 930 years.

  • “And YHWH God commanded the human, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” [Genesis 2:16-17]. The original text makes it clear that God is not speaking metaphorically or spiritually. Isn’t it lucky that since death hadn’t been invented yet, the human (“ha’adam,” pronounced “ha ah DAHM”) had no idea what God was talking about! “When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years.”— Gen. 5:3-4

This, of course, ignores the obvious—that humans really did die on the day they ate of the fruit. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they died spiritually and made physical death a horrible reality. They did not drop dead at that very moment, but already, at that very moment, death had begun to stalk them. And their perfect communion with God had been killed. When we see that inerrancy allows for normal human speech and that it relates to truthfulness more than precision, we see that it can easily account for such “errors.”

Many of the alleged errors within the Bible have to do with historical facts. Allow me to provide one example. Only a couple of generations ago, scholars pointed to the Bible’s claim that there was a king of Assyria named Tiglath-Pileser as an obvious error, for archaeological evidence had not proven that any such king existed. But a few years later, archaeologists excavated Tiglath-Pileser’s capital city and found his name carved into bricks which read, “I, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria…” It is a fact that “the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems…Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace). R.C. Sproul writes, “The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain” (Reason to Believe, page 27).

Consider the following quote from Dr. William Foxwell Albright. “For much too long a time the course of New Testament scholarship has been dictated by theological, quasitheological, and philosophical presupposition. In far too many cases commentaries on New Testament books have neglected such basic requirements as up-to-date historical and philological analysis of the text itself…The result has often been steadfast refusal to take seriously the findings of archaeological and linguistic research. We believe that there is less and less excuse for the resulting confusion in this latter half of the twentieth century. Closely allied with these presuppositions is the ever-present fog of existentialism, casting ghostly shadows over an already confused landscape. Existentialism as a method of interpreting the New Testament is based upon a whole series of undemonstrable postulates of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, leftwing scholastic, and relativistic origins. So anti-historical is this approach that it fascinates speculative minds which prefer cliches to factual data, and shifting ideology to empirical research and logical demonstrations” (emphasis mine). The Christian has nothing to fear from scholarship, science or archeology.

Truly, in my experience, the vast majority of supposed errors and contradictions fall into the realm of what we saw in “What Inerrancy is Not.” They point to a lack of precision that may be found in ordinary language or in a language that had no capacity to provide verbatim quotes. Those that do not fall into this category, most often simply reflect a misunderstanding of the Bible’s historical context or language. There are some that really are difficult and for which there are no easy answers. But even then, they have been dealt with by scholars and have been answered well.

So how do we answer charges of error and contradiction? First, I think we assure ourselves that the Bible is inerrant and then we ensure that what we believe about inerrancy is correct. We read what the Bible says about itself and express faith that what God says in Scripture is true. Having done that, it is often valuable to turn to the many resources available for those wrestling with apparent errors or contradictions. Most of these questions have been dealt with very well in the past—well enough to give you assurance that they reflect contemporary arrogance or misunderstanding more than error. When challenged with a list of contradictions I believe there is often little value in answering the charges of error point-by-point and engaging in lengthy dialog about each of them. Anyone who is really seeking the truth will find not only the contradictions but the many answers to them. Rather, it is better, I think, to point people to what is true. Point people to the Bible’s claims of truth—what it claims about us, as humans, and what it claims about God. Point people to the gospel and ask God to do His work in them.

Conclusion

My intent for this series was to do two things. First, I wanted to define inerrancy and separate it from the other doctrines of Scripture such as authority, inspiration and transmission. While the basic sense of the word “inerrancy” is clear, the theological meaning is not always so easy to grasp. Second, I wanted to answer some objections to inerrancy and show why this is a critical doctrine and why it is important that the church continues to affirm it.

Ultimately, inerrancy is true because perfection is consistent with God’s character and because He has told us it is true. We must be careful with any objections to this doctrine, for if we indicate that we believe there are errors with the original manuscripts, we strike at the very character of God. The Bible is inerrant because it was breathed out by an inerrant God. Because of this we can have full confidence, today and always, that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.

January 14, 2008

The blog tour for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment continues today with a visit to Jollyblogger. If my memory serves me well (never something I can take for granted), Jollyblogger is one of the first blogs I began to read on a regular basis. David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, doesn’t blog quite often enough, but when he does, his articles and reflections are always worth reading.

Reflecting his vocation, David asked the following:

In our denomination we ask those seeking to join our church to take five vows, the last of which reads:

Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?

As discernment is a discipline most often associated with protecting the purity of the church, how might this discipline be used to protect the peace of the church? Along with that it might be helpful to note whether you see peace as a subordinate attribute to purity, and therefore contingent on purity, or vice versa, or whether you see these as separate attributes which are equal in importance, or if the two have some other type of relationship I haven’t thought of.

Read my answer here

Here is a list of the tour stops from last week and those still to come:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters