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Tim Challies

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October 03, 2013

Sometimes I wish we were all just a little simpler, a little bit closer to the extremes of black and white. It would be a lot easier if there were only good guys and bad guys, the fully orthodox and the outright heretic, with no overlap, no shades of gray, nothing in between.

But we are not so simple. They say that a broken clock gets it right twice a day—that is what we say about them, no matter who we and who they are. But then even the best of men are but men at best. We are all deeply flawed. Even our Christian heroes are full of shortcomings and blind spots. I am often amazed at how inconsistent other people are. I shake my head when I see the things they do, when I hear the things they believe—things that are otherwise so at odds with all they hold dear. Why can’t they see it? How can’t they see it? Yet in moments of honest clarity I know that I must be equally inconsistent and that I must be equally blind to my own peculiarities.

I could make a long list of reasons I so value biography, and if I did so this would be right near the top: Biography wrecks the easy categories of all-good and all-bad. A good biography displays its subject in his strengths and his weaknesses, and it does not minimize the tension of paradox. Our heroes have flaws and our villains have virtues.

A recent biography of A.W. Tozer exposed some of his unusual inconsistencies. Tozer saw his wife’s gifts for hospitality and encouraged her in them; yet he disliked having visitors in his home. He preached about the necessity of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ, yet refused to allow his family or his wife’s family to visit their home. He loved to challenge others with the gospel, yet woefully neglected the mission field of his own family. For every laudable area of his life there seemed to exist an equal and opposite error. No one can doubt his salvation or his love for the Lord, but neither can we or should we overlook such serious sin.

October 02, 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to participate with a group of pastors in a round-table discussion. The topic was corporate prayer (i.e. prayer meetings), and each of the pastors spoke of his church’s practice of prayer. It was a fascinating discussion and I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my takeaways.

Prayer Is Difficult. We all know this theoretically and we all know it experientially. It was both encouraging and discouraging to see it and own it together. It was encouraging to know this is a shared battle and discouraging to know that real victory will be elusive. I don’t think there was one pastor there who believed his church was excelling in prayer and who was really comfortable with his leadership and the church’s participation in this area. We should not be surprised. If prayer is the means through which God works, Satan will inevitably make it an area of concentrated attack.

Many Have Given Up. While every church has had a weekly or otherwise regular prayer meeting at one time, many have since abandoned it. Usually this is a result of the church losing its enthusiasm for prayer and their belief in its necessity. Many have made prayer supplemental instead of instrumental in the life of the church. Some have replaced the prayer meeting with programs or small groups, and some have not replaced it with anything. It seems clear that the pastor needs to show leadership here; it is unlikely a church will be more enthusiastic about prayer than its pastor is.

September 30, 2013

We all know, we all love, we all quote, and at some point we all rely on Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is a powerfully encouraging verse, a powerfully encouraging promise from God. In the middle of hardship, at the moment of crisis, it is sweet comfort to know that God is at work and that in some way he is bringing good from what seems so bad, and bringing joy from what feels so painful.

The verse comes to us in the context of suffering. Paul explains that the ways we suffer here and now are real and painful, but that they simply do not and will not compare to the eternal weight of glory that is being prepared for us. And even as we endure these times, looking ahead, we can believe and trust that our suffering is not wasted or purposeless. God is at work in our pain, and he speaks comforting words to us through the Bible.

We need to be reassured and comforted that difficult circumstances work for good, but what about the rest of life? Have you paused to think about that little word all before? All things work together for good. If we take that word seriously, we need to extend it beyond the difficult times and allow it to touch the good and even the mundane.

All joyful things work for good. We do not have much trouble accepting this one. But then again, we sometimes enjoy joyful circumstances without pausing to reflect on what God may be accomplishing through them. We take our joys for granted. We may not know God’s purposes in the good moments, but we can and must believe that he is at work, that these too are working for our good.

September 29, 2013

Today I am beginning a series of short biographies of great Christian philanthropists—men and women who used their God-given wealth and privilege to advance his work. We begin with a woman who was the “Queen of Methodism,” an influential leader in the 18th century revival movement, and a great philanthropist.

Selina Hastings was born on August 24, 1707, the daughter of Lord Washington Shirley and Lady Mary Shirley. A child of privilege, she spent her childhood in Leicestershire and her family’s Irish estates. In 1728 she married Theophilus Hastings, the ninth Earl of Huntingdon, and this marriage gave her the title Countess of Huntingdon.

In his biography of George Whitefield, Arnold Dallimore notes “the remarkable Christian witness that [Lady Huntingdon] maintained among Britain’s nobility.” In fact, as one of her own biographers tells us, “Lord and Lady Huntingdon constantly attended wherever [Whitefield] preached.” As a result, she grew to be a devout Christian, passionate about inviting others of British nobility to hear this remarkable preacher and the gospel he preached. Or, as another Whitefield biographer, Luke Tyerman, wrote, “Wherever she went she took her religion with her, for her religion was a part of herself.”

Her Conversion

How did Lady Huntingdon come to trust in Christ? Here’s a lengthier excerpt from Dallimore’s biography:

Since her earliest days Lady Huntingdon had lived an exemplary life, remaining aloof from the coarse pleasures of high society and conducting herself in a highly virtuous and religious manner. In turn she rested in the assurance that her personal righteousness was sufficient for the saving of her soul.

But this assurance was shaken under the hearing of the Gospel. This was first as she listened to the twenty-two-year-old Whitefield in 1737 and then in 1739 when her sister-in-law, Lady Margaret Hastings, who had been converted under the ministry of Benjamin Ingham, testified to an experience of “the new birth” and to a peace and certainty that “the Christianity of creed and ritual” could not provide.

But it was as she lay on a sick-bed and seemed near to death that she especially felt the worthlessness of her self-trust.

Helen Knight continues the narrative:

Then … from her bed she lifted up her heart to God for pardon and mercy through the blood of his Son. With streaming eyes she cast herself on her Saviour: “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” Immediately the scales fell from her eyes; doubt and distress vanished; joy and peace filled her bosom, and with appropriating faith she cried, “My Lord and my God!”

Her Contributions

After her conversion, Lady Huntingdon founded dozens of chapels and funded many of them. Using her right as a peeress, she appointed evangelical clergymen to each. She also supported missionary work in America, and even contributed to the first Methodist theological college, Trevecca College (later Cheshunt College, now part of Westminster College in Cambridge). After embracing Whitefield’s Calvinism (instead of John Wesley’s Arminianism), she founded “The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion” in 1783, a society of English preachers and churches that continues to this day.

In fact, Whitefield acted as one of Lady Huntingdon’s chaplains and, because she built chapels for some of his followers, they too joined her Connexion. Here, a form of Calvinistic Methodism similar to Whitefield’s was taught. As Tyerman writes, “The services had been attended by considerable numbers of the aristocracy, who would have declined to enter an ordinary Methodist meeting-house.”

Why did she give so much? After her husband died in 1746, she decided to live her life, as Dallimore says, “labouring in prayer, exercising her personal witness and using her wealth and influence to the fullest extent possible in the furtherance of the Gospel.” Or, in her own words, “None know how to prize the Saviour, but such as are zealous in pious works for others.” As Paul says in Romans 1:14–15, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Likewise, the love of Christ constrained Lady Huntingdon to worship God and give to others so that more might trust in Him.

She died on June 17, 1791, and left behind a wish that no one would write a biography of her. It would be 90 years before someone finally wrote an account of her life. In death, as in life, she had no desire to be recognized, so God might receive all the glory.

September 26, 2013

It’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? We can’t all be right and we can’t both be right. Sooner or later we have to have a discussion about charismatic (continuationist) theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit remain in operation in the church today (or, if you prefer, about cessationist theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased in the church today). We have wanted to make sure New Calvinism is large enough for both, that it will not fracture along this particular line, and this has delayed the conversation. But at some point we just have to talk about it.

John MacArthur is forcing the issue with a book and a conference titled Strange Fire. The conference is still several weeks away and the book will not be widely available until a few weeks after that. However, I recently received an advance copy of the book and have read it a couple of times now. I want to begin a conversation today, and my purpose is really to get an idea of how people feel about the whole issue.

I am going to make just a few observations about the book and what I think MacArthur is attempting to accomplish. First though, some terminology.

  • Continuationism is “the teaching that (at least some of) the miraculous gifts assumed and described in the Bible ought to continue in the church and, in fact, do continue to be given to the church.” When we think of miraculous gifts, we typically refer to prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miracles.
  • Cessationism is the opposite and “teaches that all the miraculous gifts have ceased to be given to the church today.” (Both definitions are taken from Sam Waldron’s To Be Continued?)
  • Continuationism is a subset of charismatic theology, and generally refers to more moderate and theologically-minded charismatics who are attempting to distance themselves from a wider and more distressing movement that includes all of your least-favorite prosperity preachers, miracle crusaders, and anointed prayer cloth hawkers.

By way of context, John MacArthur is a cessationist while leading continuationists include men like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson.

And now, here are a few observations to get us started.

Observations

Self Examination. I want to begin with this: We will learn a lot about ourselves in this conversation, about the maturity of whatever this theological movement is. This is going to be a difficult conversation because for each of us to explain what we believe is to state that others are wrong, to explain how they are wrong, and to suggest why it matters. Here’s the thing: If the continuationists are right, cessationists are calling good evil, ascribing to Satan what is of God if the cessationists are right, the continuationists are calling evil good, ascribing to God what is of Satan. We all love to be outraged, to react indignantly, and a conversation like this one may push our buttons and cause us to lash out with anger or self-pity. We are about to learn if we can have a conversation like this with maturity.

September 23, 2013

We have just witnessed the greatest entertainment launch in human history, though I suspect few of us noticed. We remember the buzz around James Cameron’s Avatar which quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time, raking in over $2 billion since its 2009 debut. Well, last week Grand Theft Auto V, a video game, put it to shame, raking in $800 million on launch day, and surpassing the $1 billion mark on its second day.

To put this in perspective, the previous entertainment launch record was $500 million in one day, set by another video game: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It crossed the $1 billion mark 14 days after it was released. The Avengers holds the record for the fastest movie to gross $1 billion, a feat that took 19 days. And now GTA V has smashed all previous records; it is not implausible that it will surpass Avatar in earnings.

We are accustomed to looking to the movies or to television to take the pulse of the culture around us, to see what people believe, and to see what they deem important. But this week proves we should be looking to video games as well. GTA V is a cultural phenomenon. Smashing those records must mean something. And as it smashes those records, it is piling up rave reviews, currently holding down a 97% at Metacritic, a site that collects reviews and offers an average score.

There are important differences between movies and games. It is easier to gross $1 billion in games when a game costs five times more than a movie. This means that $1 billion in film revenue indicates that more people have seen it than have played the game that gains $1 billion. Then again, where a movie will last for two or three hours, a game offers deeper immersion as it will often take forty or fifty hours to complete and many people will play it repeatedly. Not only that, but a game typically appeals to a narrower demographic than a movie, which means a narrow slice of the population may be heavily impacted by it. This game is making a huge mark in a relatively small crowd—men in their teens, twenties and thirties.

September 18, 2013

LogosWe are not yet at the point of demise for the printed book. Not yet. Not imminently. However, we do now have a viable and attractive challenger in the electronic book. While we think little of dropping the occasional $2.99 on a discounted Kindle edition of a Christian living title, more serious libraries merit more serious consideration. You will gain or lose little by reading my most recent book in print or on your Kindle, but what about those serious works—the commentaries, the church histories, the dictionaries and encyclopedias and concordances? Should you buy those in print or in bits and bytes? Many pastors, many scholars, many students, many people who just plain love to read and research are asking the question.

Many of them are asking about Logos in particular. Logos is near the cutting edge when it comes to a Christian reference library. They are at every major conference, they put a lot of time and attention into attracting pastors, scholars, and anyone else who is interested in serious theological works. They offer a great product. Many people I know are considering trying Logos, or are dabbling in it and are thinking about jumping in with both feet. I even know a few people who have sold their entire print libraries in favor of electronic-only. I know many others who are suspicious of the whole idea.

In this article I want to examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of Logos compared to old fashioned print books. My purpose is to help you think through the options.

Apples & Oranges

It is important from the outset that we do not make too rigid a comparison between a printed library and an electronic library—between your father’s library and your son’s library. While a printed book and a Logos book may contain the same words, they are different media and each has strengths and weaknesses. We need to resist making a 1:1 comparison between the two.

The greatest strength of Logos is in its wider system. What a Logos book offers that a printed book does not is integration into that system. When you add a new book to your Logos library, you increase the power and usefulness of the entire system. It is less like adding a printed book to a bookcase and more like adding memory to a computer or a new Christian with his spiritual gifts to your congregation—it improves and strengthens the entire system.

The most important part of the system is in its power to find and relate information across an entire library. With a print library, it may take me hours of searching bookcases, looking for Scripture indexes, and referencing endnotes to find all my library has to tell me about a particular verse or subject. Logos makes it as easy as typing in a keyword or clicking a Scripture verse. Within seconds it will search an entire library, organize the results, and show the best ones; one more click will begin a deeper search. Logos also makes it easy to do word studies and to find information about the Greek and Hebrew. It allows notes and easily formats footnotes. It is feature-rich.

Apples 2.0 & Oranges 2.0

We cannot make too strict a comparison between Logos and a printed book. We should also be careful not to make too strict a comparison between Logos and a Kindle book or another ebook format. Here is the difference: Kindle is primarily for reading; Logos is primarily for researching. You may notice that a Logos book tend to be more expensive than the same book in those other formats. We see lots of $2.99 sales for Kindle books but not many at all for Logos. This is because Logos books are specially prepared so their Scripture references can be clicked to immediately display the appropriate passage, so their prominent headings will appear in searches, and so on. This extra preparation carries an extra cost. Again, you are not simply adding a book to your library; you are strengthening a system.

On Building a Library

Here are several principles to consider when it comes to building a Logos library.

September 15, 2013

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and undoubtedly the most famous of all Puritans, was born on November 28, 1628 in Bedfordshire, England. His father was a brazier (a brass worker) and it was intention that his son would take over the family business. But in 1644, when he was 16, both his mother and sister passed away. Within two months his father remarried, and Bunyan soon left to join the Parliamentary Army.

After two and a half years in the army, Bunyan returned home to take up the work of a tinker (an itinerant metalworker). Before long he was married, and his new wife brought into the relationship two books God used to convict him of his sin: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven by Arthur Dent and The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly. Bunyan stopped his swearing, which must have been a particular vice of his, and took up regular attendance at a church.

Through the influence of some godly women in the church, the preaching of pastor John Gifford, and the writing of Martin Luther (especially his commentary on Galatians), Bunyan came to a real and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and was baptized in 1653.

Before long Bunyan began preaching in small circles and discovered his gift for teaching. Soon he was formally appointed as a lay preacher and began preaching more regularly. Around the same time he published his first work, Some Gospel Truths Opened, written in opposition to the teaching of the Quakers, and thus began what would become his most fruitful and enduring ministry: writing books.

His first wife passed away in 1655 leaving him four children, the oldest of whom, Mary, was blind from birth. Bunyan married again in 1659 to Elizabeth who would bear him two more children.

Bunyan was arrested in 1660 for preaching without a license. As the story goes, when told that he would be freed if he stopped preaching, he responded, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” Bunyan would spend the next twelve and a half years behind bars for this conviction, supporting his family by making countless shoelaces for them to sell.

After his release from jail in 1672, Bunyan became pastor of the nonconformist congregation of Bedford from which he staged a wider ministry throughout England. During this time he earned the playful title “Bishop Bunyan.” During another brief stint in jail in 1675 Bunyan wrote his most remembered title, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he then published in 1678.

In 1688, while in London on a preaching trip, Bunyan was overtaken with fever and died on August 31. He was 59.

Unique Contribution

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about John Bunyan was his unusual ability to preach and teach. It is recorded that King Charles II once asked John Owen why he listened to Bunyan, an uneducated tinker, to which Owen replied, “Could I possess the tinker’s abilities for preaching, please your Majesty, I would gladly relinquish all my learning.”

However, his abilities were not limited to the spoken word, but instead were perhaps all the more effective in what he wrote. J. I. Packer notes that over the course of his 30 year writing career Bunyan published a total of 60 works, and he adds, “they are all worth reading still,” though none of them are as accessible as The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The incredible success of The Pilgrim’s Progress is a testimony to Bunyan’s ability to teach, in this case through an allegorical narrative. Beeke & Pederson observe that, as some scholars have asserted, “with the exception of the Bible and perhaps Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, this Bunyan classic has sold more copies than any other book ever written.”

Most Important Works

Obviously his most important work, and the one every Christian should at least try to read, is The Pilgrim’s Progress. In Meet the Puritans Beeke and Pederson say it is The best of Bunyan and a perfect pictorial index to the Puritan understanding of the Christian life.”

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - “An indispensable source for Bunyan’s early life and conversion, this autobiographical classic chronicles his life from infancy to his imprisonment in 1660.”

The Holy War - Another allegory by Bunyan, considered second only in quality to The Pilgrim’s Progress. It “is more difficult to read but is also more profound in places … because it involves several levels of allegory.”

September 11, 2013

It is not quite time to return home from Scotland; Aileen and I are first spending a couple of days together in the Highlands. We spent much of yesterday exploring the area, driving the narrow country lanes, visiting churches, graveyards, memorial markers and artifacts, each one somehow significant to the history of the church.

At one point we came across an old church building that is barely still standing. The roof has long since collapsed and even the walls are now tottering. Signs warn that the building is derelict; to enter is to risk your life. The graveyard is overgrown with tomb stones broken and toppled. Lying flat on the ground, just beside one of the church’s walls, is the tombstone of the church’s founding pastor, Thomas Hog, who lived from 1628 - 1692. The words on his tombstone are very nearly worn away through the passage of time, but in 1940, someone had a new stone made to ensure those words would not be lost.

Be Warned
“This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring ane ungodly minister in here.” Over time the church did bring ungodly ministers into their association and into their pulpit. And today that stone, better preserved than anything else on the whole property, bears witness against them. It seems an apt illustration of what has happened to so many churches in Scotland, the UK, and across the world.

Yet hope remains. Congregations have come and gone, buildings have risen and fallen, but the Word of God endures forever. The gospel remains the power of God for salvation.

I have spoken a lot about 20schemes over the past few days. I have seen the ministry up-close now. Obviously I got only a glimpse of it and there was only so much I could see and do in 4 days. But from what I observed I was greatly encouraged and came to believe even more in what they are doing and in what they are seeking to accomplish. I want to leave you with a few calls to action—things you may wish to consider exploring.

  1. Take the 10-4-20 pledge. A donation of $10 per month helps fund their training programs for indigenous workers.
  2. Consider going on their next vision trip. It will take place March 7-12, 2014. You can email 20schemes@gmail.com to get more information.
  3. Become a church partner. They are seeking 100 church partners to give, to go and to send.  Again, email 20schemes@gmail.com and visit 20schemes.com to get more information.
  4. Join 20Schemes in Calgary at their Workshop on Oct 26th or keep an eye out for other events at 20schemes.com/events. If you are in Toronto, you can get in touch with me about a 20schemes event we will be hosting in October.
  5. Best of all, go. They are looking for church planters, female outreach workers, and ministry apprentices who will go there, settle into a scheme, and tell people about Jesus.

September 10, 2013

I think I saw about half of Scotland yesterday. I am here to see the work of 20schemes, an organization dedicated to providing gospel churches for Scotland’s poorest. Scotland’s poorest tend to live in schemes, government housing that is free for the destitute or subsidized for the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Scots live in such housing and these neighborhoods extend through every Scottish city. Very few of them have churches where the gospel is believed, honored and preached.

We began our day in a scheme on the outskirts of Edinburgh. For ten years one young lady and her brother have been working with the young people in this scheme, even moving in to be a part of the community. She befriends the children, organizes sports and activities for them, and tells them about Jesus. Just a couple of days ago one of the children saw her mother die of a drug overdose; her care will now pass to her grandmother. Around 150 children attend the programs every week. There is no church in this scheme and no nearby church to send children to when they profess faith in Christ. She has a growing number of children asking about the gospel and showing interest in it, but no church there and no pastor. It was a joy to see her joy, it was a blessing to see her serving, but sad to know that there is no church nearby.

From Edinburgh we headed to the city of Dundee, a working-class town traditionally built around the textile industry. It has a significant Roman Catholic population that came in a wave of Irish immigration. There in the heart of a great neighborhood is a church building that has not housed a congregation for over 20 years. The building could easily house 100 or 200 people, just as it did in its glory days. Today it provides a location for some clubs and activities, but there have not been worship services there for many years. A nearby gospel-loving church has made a commitment to continue to support the building, to pay for its maintenance, to keep it open, even to provide some funding for a plant. But again, there is no pastor. 20schemes is partnering with this church to look for a team of people who will settle in the scheme, who will become part of the community, and who will preach the gospel. In Toronto and so many other places we have planters with no buildings; in the schemes there are buildings with no planters.

We left Dundee and drove to Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and the city with the highest population settled in schemes. And here we met two young men who, along with their wives, are caring for the kids in one of these schemes. Just like that young lady in Edinburgh, they lead the children in games and activities and they tell them about Jesus. And just like her, they do not have a solid church to direct the children to. A Church of Scotland building houses the activities; its sanctuary has seating for 600 or 700 people, but today only 40 or 50 attend on a Sunday. There is no pastor and if one is ever assigned, it is unlikely, based on the condition of the Church of Scotland, that he will know or preach the gospel.

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