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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


By the Skin of My Teeth
September 11, 2016

William Shakespeare wrote some pretty mean plays and poetry in his day. Along the way he inadvertently helped form the English language, coining hundreds of words and expressions that have entered into common parlance. Second only to Shakespeare in this regard is the Bible, and especially the King James Version. My love of language, my love of words, and my love of the Bible beautifully intersect in these expressions, idioms like “By the skin of my teeth.”

The Expression

We use the expression “by the skin of my teeth” as a synonym for “barely” or “narrowly.” It is most commonly used to describe a closely-fought but narrow victory or a close but ultimately harmless encounter with danger. An article in Slate suggests that if Donald Trump wins the presidency, he will do so only by the skin of his teeth, which, they say, “is pretty much the only conceivable way he could best Clinton.” An article in the sports pages of the Toronto Star says that NASCAR driver James Hinchcliffe “won last Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway by the skin of his teeth.”

The Origin

The phrase is drawn from the King James rendering of Job 19:20: “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” Almost all modern translations maintain the idiom, though “with” has been changed to “by”: “My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth” (ESV). This expression is a case of an ancient Hebrew idiom that has been transported into English and become commonly known and widely used. Yet no one knows exactly what the idiom means in its source language. Old Testament scholar John Hartley says, “The explanations for the metaphor are multiple and unconvincing. Its meaning eludes us.” The Oxford Dictionary blog provides the most common and compelling explanation when it points out that it probably “refers to the thin porcelain exterior of the tooth (rather than the gums). In other words, Job escaped with his teeth, but just barely. Job is comparing the narrow margin of his escape with the shallow ‘skin’ or porcelain of a tooth: the equivalent, in fact, of a ‘hair’s breadth’.”

The Application

The twentieth chapter of Job finds him replying to his “Job’s friends,” (another common expression, as it happens). His friends have each accused him of sinning, suggesting that his past sins are the cause of his current suffering. But Job knows better. While he does not declare his utter innocence before God, he also knows that his suffering is not God’s punishment for past misdeeds. He maintains his innocence even though his suffering has been deep and dark—so terrible that he has escaped death only by the skin of his teeth. Yet his faith is intact. Just moments later he says,

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

For Job, circumstances would not define him. They would not be the cause of ultimate confidence or despair. Rather, he relied on his knowledge of the character of God and on his existing relationship with God. He knew his God, therefore he knew that God was working good even through the most troubling of circumstances. And this is undoubtedly the foremost application for most of us. Even if we suffer so deeply that we escape with our lives by little more than the skin on our teeth, God remains God and he remains good.

Job’s words served as the basis for Samuel Medley’s great hymn, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” My favorite rendition, which we sing often at Grace Fellowship Church, is this one from Redeemer Church of Knoxville.

Job’s words are also prominently and beautifully featured in Handel’s Messiah, as demonstrated here by Sylvia McNair.

Six Reasons Why Adultery Is Very Serious
September 10, 2016

Adultery is a serious matter. At least, it is a serious matter in the mind and heart of the God who created sex and marriage and who put wise boundaries on them both. But why? Why is adultery such a serious matter. Christopher Ash provides six reasons in his book Married for God and I am going to track with him as we go.

Adultery is a turning away from a promise. In the mind of the adulterer, the pursuit of another person is not first a turning away but a turning toward—a turning toward someone who is desirable and lovely. “I deserve him.” “She meets my needs.” “He understands me.” “She does the things my wife won’t.” But at heart, adultery is first and most significantly a turning away. It is a turning away from one to whom promises were made in the presence of witnesses. Most importantly, it is a forsaking of promises made in the presence of God and, in that way, a turning away from God himself.

Adultery leads the adulterer from security to chaos. Because the adulterer has turned away, he or she enters into a life of torn loyalties. “Once the promise is broken, the barrier is breached, the secure wall of marriage is torn down, all hell breaks loose. And an adulterer finds he or she has not after all exchanged one secure place (his marriage) for another secure place (the new home with the new partner). That is the illusion, but the reality is much different. Adulterers soon find they’ve entered a world in which unfaithfulness is the norm—after all, if one set of vows can be broken, why not another?” Even when the adulterer remains loyal to that new partner, there is still the divided life, the divided family, the divided memories. “To the adulterer, the grass seems so much greener the other side of the fence, but it isn’t nearly as green as it looks.” The adulterer’s actions lead away from the security of stability and into disorder.

Adultery is secretive and dishonest. Adultery is inherently secretive, inherently dishonest. It has to be because no one wants to trumpet that they are breaking a promise. Adultery loves the darkness and flees the light and for as long as it can it tries to remain a secret. “Whereas news of a marriage is broadcast by joyful announcement and invitations, news of adultery leaks out by rumor and under pressure.” Ouch. That alone should tell us what is at the heart of adultery, for sin loves to remain in the darkness while righteousness loves the light. Adultery depends upon a dishonest secrecy.

Adultery destroys the adulterer. Adultery does no favors to the adulterer. To the contrary, it undermines and erodes character and integrity. “Like all secret sin, it eats away like some noxious chemical at the integrity of the one who commits it. The moment any of us drive a wedge between what we say we are publicly and what we actually are privately, we injure ourselves at the deepest possible level.” Isn’t that always the way with sin? It promises so much but delivers so little. It promises freedom and delivers captivity. It promises fulfillment and delivers emptiness. Adultery destroys the adulterer even as it promises joy and life.

Adultery damages society. We can widen the scope from the individual to the society around him and see that the damage continues there, too. Adultery does harm to the very fabric of society. “Each act of adultery is like a wrecker’s ball taking a swing at the secure walls of the social fabric of society. It stirs up hatred and enmity. It encourages a culture which reckons marriage boundaries needn’t really be quite so rigid.” We love to think our sins are our own, that they concern only us. But no, our sin goes far beyond ourselves and impacts others. With adultery we see this even in the ways friends or colleagues are uncertain how to speak, how to react when they learn of adultery. We see the damage it does if and when they say “At least he’s happier now.” The adulterer removes one more brick from the foundation of marriage.

Adultery hurts children. Adultery does grievous harm to an innocent party—children. “Because children are right in the thick of it, in the intimacy of the family home broken by cheating on promises, darkened by secrecy and lies, riven with conflict and hatreds.” Children thrive when there is structure, when there is stability, when there is peace and order. Children are harmed when adultery brings chaos and conflict and disunity. Children are innocent parties who are terribly harmed when adultery separates their parents.

In these ways and many more, adultery is a matter of the utmost seriousness. No wonder, then, that the Bible contains such serious, repeated warnings against it: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29). “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

The Good Work of Bringing Order From Chaos
September 09, 2016

There are many things we do in this world that grow wearisome over the course of a lifetime. Near the top of the heap may just be the constant battle to bring order from chaos. This world and everything in it are constantly drifting toward chaos, maybe even full-out hurtling toward chaos. And a million times in a million ways we take little actions to hold it back, to restore just a modicum of order.

God knows all about order and chaos. Whatever God created in the very first moments of creation was “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). We may not know all that is caught up in that little phrase, but it is clear that whatever was there was incomplete, unformed. As God began to move in his week of creation, he brought order from that initial disorder. He organized, he formed, he made, he filled. From that unformed substance emerged the beauty, the order, of this world. But it emerged only by his effort, his will, his handiwork.

Then God created people. God created people in his image and assigned them God-like work: They, too, were to bring order from chaos. God created man and placed him in the garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Man was to serve God and to serve like God by tending this garden. This garden was beautiful and perfect, but it, too, needed handiwork. It was, after all, a garden. It was full of plants that would sprout and need to be tended, of hedges that would grow and need to be trimmed. God meant for his people to make this garden a place of obvious and visible order that would stand apart from the world outside the garden. And as man obeyed God’s instruction to spread out over the rest of the earth, he would extend this order outward, through the region, the continent, the world. This was man’s exercise of dominion, his work of subduing the earth and all that is in it.

This work of bringing order from chaos is dignified work. It is God-like work, God-assigned work. Victor Hamilton says it well: “The point is made clear here that physical labor is not a consequence of sin. Work enters the picture before sin does, and if man had never sinned he still would be working. Eden certainly is not a paradise in which man passes his time in idyllic and uninterrupted bliss with absolutely no demands on his daily schedule.” Man was created to work, to work within God’s good creation. And it is not only work that has dignity, but the specific work of bringing order from chaos, of bringing what is unformed into the state of being formed. That work would become even more important as sin entered the world and with it the consequences of sin—the thorns and thistles that would combat (literally) the work of the farmer and combat (figuratively) every other manner of work.

And even today, so much of the work we do in life is of this nature. So much of the work we do in our families, in our homes, in our churches, in our vocations, is the work of bringing order from chaos. And this is good work.

As parents we soon learn that our children come into this world in a state of utter chaos and anarchy, screaming when they want to eat, filling their diapers whenever and wherever they feel the urge. They grow into willful toddlers who want to rule the home, who want to exercise authority over their parents and siblings, who already show startling signs of rebellion against both God and man. Our task is to love them, to teach them, to discipline them, to urge them, to form them. We form them into people of order, of self-control, of self-respect, of selflessness, of godliness. Chaos gives way to order.

As church members we see the Lord save his people and they come into our churches with barely a shred of Christian character. They are addicted to sex or substances, they use their words to harm rather than help, they have only the smallest knowledge of God and his ways. So we disciple them, we teach, reprove, correct, and train them, we display Christ-like love to them, and eventually, inevitably, we see chaos replaced by order. We do this again and again as God saves more and more of his people. Chaos is chased away by order.

As people working in our vocations we do this same kind of work. We sweep and wax the hallways for the thousandth time, we edit the messy manuscripts, we train more inert people to drop 20 pounds and run 5 kilometers, we write traffic tickets for the people who insist on parking in fire lanes, we teach another class of ignorant students, we weed another bed of flowers. It goes on and on, day after day and year after year. But all the while it goes from chaos to order.

And then there are our homes, our homes which in mid-afternoon are clean and orderly and by early evening are little short of a disaster area. We take little actions and big ones: We sweep the floors, we empty the sink to fill the dishwasher, we replace empty lunch bags with full ones, we replenish the toilet paper, we shovel the toys back into their bins and boxes. Messiness departs and order arrives for another day or another hour.

This is so much of our work as long as we are here—the work of bringing order from the chaos that is always so close at hand. This work is good. It may be frustrating, repetitive, endless. But it is good. This work is good enough for God and good enough for God to assign to the very crown of his creation. It is certainly good enough for the likes of you and me.

Is It Right Deliberately Not To Have Children
September 07, 2016

Here’s a question I’ve heard a number of times in a number of different contexts: Is it okay deliberately not to have children? Is it okay for a married couple to deliberately determine that they will not at least attempt to have biological children? My immediate response has always been no, it is not okay. But I have never put a lot of thought into why or whether this response is correct. Thankfully, I got an assist from Christopher Ash in his book Married for God. He teaches, as Christians have always done, that one of the foremost purposes of marriage is procreation, then provides his answer to the common question.

While he admits that some Christians align a little differently on the subject, he says, “I think the deliberate choice not to have children is nearly always wrong.” While non-Christians tend to make the argument based on their rights—“I have the right not to have children!”—he points out that Christians tend to frame it in terms of “serving God rather than having children.” But this is a false choice and one God does not call us to make. “Having children and giving years of life to costly prayerful nurture of them is precisely the distinctive means by which most married people do serve God. We do not serve God rather than having children; we serve God by having children.

There is a temptation to downplay the significance of parenthood when compared to the significance of, for example, foreign missions in the world’s outermost or most dangerous reaches—anyone can have kids but not everyone is willing to go to those distant places. Or perhaps we can downplay parenting when comparing it to a great career in an important field—law, medicine, politics. But, he says, “Never despise the significance of parenthood in the service of God! For many, especially (dare I say it?) mothers, what they do as parents will prove more significant in eternity than the most glittering career in the eyes of the world. This is a question of lining up our values with God’s values.”

Here is what all Christians need to ask: “Do we agree with the Bible and face children with arms open in gratitude for the blessing of God, or do we turn our face away from children and count as a curse what God calls a blessing?” There is the reality that “a child may be an inconvenient blessing. A child will usually be an expensive blessing. A child may and often will be a blessing that takes us well outside our comfort zones and into the arms of grace. A child is usually a blessing that will be accompanied by sleepless nights and many tears. But he or she is a blessing, and we must not forget this. Parents struggling with a demanding or wayward child need to remember to thank God for that son or daughter, even as they pray urgently for grace to care for them faithfully.”

But why? Why are children such a blessing? One unique blessing is that, “they force us to welcome into our circle strangers we have not chosen. Husband and wife have chosen one another. But, however much they may have wanted a baby, they did not choose this baby with these particular characteristics! This baby comes into the family circle as a stranger, to be welcomed whatever his or her character and future. And therefore in parenting we learn to welcome the stranger, the one chosen by God for us to love. And we learn to love these children out of love for the God who has entrusted them to us.” While we may choose to have a child, ultimately conception, birth, and the unique characteristics of a particular child are exclusively in the hands of God. As parents, we have the challenge and the honor of loving the little stranger God has given us, of extending godly hospitality to him or her. “Someone has commented that the only home it is safe to be born into is a hospitable home that welcomes outsiders into its circle. Children challenge our self-centeredness and do us good.”

This is not the only reason not to deliberately avoid having children. A simple, honest reading of the Bible will show how God so commonly associates children with blessing and childlessness with curses or punishment (e.g. Psalm 127:3-5). That same reading will show that children are fundamental to God’s mandate to human beings that we “be fruitful and multiply” so we can “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). It will show that of all God has created, none has greater significance or worth than human beings (Genesis 1:26-27). Together they build a solid case that those who marry ought to attempt to fulfill all of God’s purposes for marriage. That includes having children.

Are there exceptions? Certainly there may be medical exceptions that would need to be approached carefully and prayerfully, yet also confidently, knowing that our status with God is not dependent upon our ability to bear children. As Ash puts it, “there may … be rare exceptions on medical grounds, where a couple would welcome children if they could, but recognize that it would be irresponsible to do so.”

Finally, here is how Ash concludes his case: “It seems to me that the lifestyle choice of never having children is generally not open to a Christian couple.” Having read his case, and having considered it, I think I’m largely in agreement.

On this subject, consider reading Al Mohler on Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face (“Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design”) and Russell Moore on Should We Stop Having Children to Save the Earth? (“When we welcome children among us, we are reminded that we are not self-creating gods, and that our generation is not the only one that matters.”). For a slightly different perspective, consider reading John Piper on Is It Okay to Not Have Children for the Sake of Ministry? (“I don’t think the Bible mandates having children” but “you should consider that, though it may be not multiplied in effectiveness on the same pattern, your ministry could be multiplied in effectiveness in a different way if you were to have children.”).

Simple Ways to Spark a Lukewarm Devotional Life
September 06, 2016

It happens to all of us at one time or another. There are times when we wake up eager to get into God’s Word, when our times in the Bible are an absolute joy and thrill. We hope, we wish, we pray that these times will never end. But they do. At times we wake up with no desire to open the Word. We find to our sorrow that the joy and thrill have given way to cold duty. I know this all too well. With September here and fall and winter laid out before us, perhaps this is the time to spark that lukewarm devotional life. Here are a few suggestions.

Ditch Your Plan

Bible-reading plans can be a tremendous aid in telling us what to read each day and in keeping us on track in actually reading it. The desire to finish the plan combined with the sense of personal failure that comes with abandoning it can be enough to keep us going. Yet often we fall behind in those plans and the discouragement of being a day, then a week, then a month behind paralyzes us into inaction. If that’s the case for you, why don’t you ditch your plan? Ditch it without shame, without that sense of failure, and do something different instead. Why not begin to read a Psalm a day, or a chapter of one of the gospels? Find a list of 100 key Scripture passages and focus on them. Pick a short book like Colossians or Titus and read it every day for a month. What and how much you read matters a lot less than the simple fact that you read something and meditate on it.

Start a Plan

Sometimes a plan is the problem and sometimes a plan is the solution. If your reading is infrequent and unstructured, why don’t you think about finding and following a plan? While we typically think of annual plans that begin in January, there are also great plans that run for weeks or months. A three- or four-month plan may be just the thing to get you through to the end of the year. If Bible-reading is an especially big struggle for you, try a 5-day-per-week plan that allows you a couple of catch-up days each week. Bible.com can get you started with a whole list of options. The ReadingPlan app has been my companion all year long and I’ve grown to love it!

Change the Medium

Sometimes a change of medium is in order. If you have been struggling to pick up the Bible and read it each day, why don’t you think about switching to an audio Bible. Bible.com will read you any passage you want in a variety of translations. ESVbible.org and the ESV app will read it for you as well. Get some headphones and go for a walk while you listen. On the other hand, if you have been listening and struggling to keep up, maybe you should switch back to reading. If you’ve been struggling to read your printed Bible, maybe try an app to see if that sparks some more interest: Logos handles daily reading beautifully, as do apps like Olive Tree and Accordance. If your app has made reading difficult, go back to the printed Bible, perhaps grabbing a reader’s edition that focuses on making the Bible look simple and typographically beautiful.

Get in Community

The phenomenon of daily, private devotions is relatively new to church history and there is something to be said for reading the Bible in community, perhaps as a married couple or as a group of friends. If you are struggling to read the Bible, why not allow yourself to feed off the habits and self-discipline of someone else? Ask your husband or wife if you can join in their devotions or ask your friends if you can get together with them to read and to pray. The biblical mandate is not to have a daily, personal quiet time, but to be steadily, consistently taking in the Word.

Find a Devotional

If getting in community won’t work or isn’t of interest, why don’t you consider allowing your devotions to be guided by a trusted daily devotional? Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening is a classic that just never grows old. You can find other great devotionals by Paul Tripp, John Piper, Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Randy Alcorn, and a host of others. Just be sure that the devotionals are focused on the Word of God and that you don’t rush over the Scripture readings. See how these authors love and trust God’s Word and allow that to feed your soul and elevate your enthusiasm.

Read a Good Book

One great way to spark greater interest in personal devotions is to read a good book on the spiritual disciplines: Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a classic that will gently show you the joy and necessity of being disciplined in your pursuit of God and godliness. David Mathis’s Habits of Grace is another excellent choice that focuses on the importance of developing good habits in reading the Word, praying, and participating in Christian fellowship. Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ A Place of Quiet Rest is a good pick that is geared specifically for women.

Read & Pray

I leave this one for last even though it is of utmost importance. When your devotional life has grown cold you can do nothing better than pushing through it by not allowing yourself to stop. Reading and praying have their own way of sparking greater joy in reading and praying. Don’t allow your lack of interest to keep you from doing what you know is so good for your soul. Read and pray and trust that the warm desire will return.

Thank God For Your Job
September 05, 2016

Labor Day is one of only a few non-religious holidays that is celebrated on the same day in both Canada and the United States. Today all across North America we are taking a break from our normal labors in order to rest. And as we rest, we do well to remember and to thank. More than anyone else, John Flavel has taught me why and how I ought to express gratitude to God. Today I’m following in his footsteps as I explain why you ought to thank God for your job, whatever your job is.

It is God’s grace that you can be industrious instead of idle. Flavel says, “Sin brought in sweat, but now not to sweat increases sin. He that lives idly cannot live honestly.” The Bible’s warnings about laziness and idleness are many and stern. So when God puts you into a vocation that is legal and moral, he has done you a great benefit. He has given you the blessing of allowing you to earn your own living. Your hard work allows you to avoid the temptations of idleness and to care for your own needs rather than having to rely upon others. Further, through God’s provision to you, you have enough to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive.

It is God’s grace that you have a job that is lawful before God and men and especially suited to you. There are many people who are employed in jobs that are sinful or even illegal. “They do not only sin in their employments, but their very employments are sinful.” To have a job that dishonors neither God nor men is no small mercy. To have a job suited to your passions and skills is a double mercy. Then, if your job allows you to provide for yourself and others without working you to the bone, without consuming all of your waking hours, you have more reasons still to thank God for what he has given you.

It is God’s grace that he has directed you into the kind of job that neither you nor your parents may ever have expected. You may well be involved in a job that your parents did not plan for you to do, and perhaps one that even you did not plan to do. Just like a compass needle turns this way and that before settling on true north, so “a child is designed for this, then for that, but at last settles in that way of employment to which Providence designed him.” Many of us can attest that “Not what we or our parents, but what God designed shall take place.” This is certainly the case with me and I owe God great thanks and praise for his kindness and his wisdom in giving me a passion for writing and then allowing me to do it.

It is God’s grace that he secures what you have earned. God’s favor toward you is what has allowed you to earn what you have. That same favor is what has allowed you to keep what you have earned.

It is God’s grace that your vocation is sufficient for you. Some people have work, but not enough strength to complete it. Some have strength, but no work to commit it to. Some have both strength and work but even then not sufficient to provide for themselves or others. If God blesses your labors to give you enough or even more than enough to meet your needs, you ought to give him praise and thanks.

Are you still now discontent?

If any that fear God shall complain that, although they have a calling, yet it is a hard and laborious one, which takes up too much of their time which they would gladly employ in other and better work, I answer that it is likely that the wisdom of Providence foresaw this to be the most suitable and proper employment for you; and if you had more ease and rest, you might have more temptations than now you have. The strength and time which is now taken up in your daily labors, in which you serve God, might otherwise have been spent upon such [sins] in which you might have served the devil.

As you enjoy rest from your labors, why don’t you take a bit of time to thank God for your labors. No matter what they are, they are evidence of his kindness and mercy toward you.

Inspired by The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel. If you’d like to read more, try Timeless Cautions For Your Day-to-Day Work.

September 04, 2016

This was a banner week when it came to letters to the editor. I had a lot of letters to choose from on a lot of different subjects—something I found rather a joy. Here are some of the best of them.

Comments on War, Women, and Wealth

Thank you for your article on War, Women, and Wealth. That passage in Deuteronomy 17 is a nugget that can get lost. I have heard it preached several times, referring to the three things as money, sex, and power. It is interesting to see what follows the warning—while verses 16 and 17 give three things to avoid, verse 18 gives one thing to do as an act of protection—copy out Scripture. Verses 19 and 20 talk about using that copy with obedience to fear the Lord and not have his heart lifted up above his countrymen, pride certainly a huge component of abusing money, sex, and power. That has motivated and inspired many I know, including myself. Copying Scripture is now an appreciated tool that I use to slow down to meditate on and look at the text from more angles. My father is a pastor (he’s the one I’ve most often heard preach this), and he loves to do this; over several years he finished copying out his whole Bible.
—Katie S, Bozeman, MT
Tim: Quite right! I hope to return to those verses in a future article. We can look at the life of Solomon to see someone who violated all of God’s prohibitions about war, women, and wealth (or, if you prefer, military power). What would have protected him? Writing out the law (which we have no record of him doing) and keeping it with him all the days of his life. That is no less true of us.

Comments on Married for God

This is just a short comment to say that I’m delighted to see you recommend Christopher Ash’s book ‘Married for God’, and that it has made it’s way to your side of the Atlantic. For many years it has been our wedding gift of choice for couple’s getting married, and is now the textbook we use when giving pre-marital counselling. It is, quite simply, the most God-centred book on the subject I have ever read.
—Pete K, Woking, UK

Comments on How Petra Rocked My Soul

It was a joy to receive so many reminisces about Petra. Petra fans may enjoy this Facebook comment from Ronny Cates (bass player in the “Beyond Belief” era).

It’s really strange to see you write this article, as I have had “Beyond Belief” running through my head for the past two weeks. I used to listen only to Christian music in the 1990s, went to Christian school, youth group, and so forth—I remember seeing the music video for “Beyond Belief” at school. In my young zeal for God, I suppose I thought I would “optimize” my life so that everything had to do with Him. I’m not quite certain what to make of those days now. So many of those kids I grew up with have left the church in spite of the Christian sub-culture. I wonder to myself what went wrong—did the Baby Boomers fail to pray, did the subculture drown out the gospel, or something else?

Petra remains a great band and I love their music even more now that I am older. But I still feel a sadness listening to it because so many of my erstwhile companions seem to have abandoned the gospel (which they must have never held to in the first place). It’s difficult not to wish for a return to those days for they often seem brighter than the present.
—Matt R, Wilmington, DE


I couldn’t help but reminisce as I read your recent article about Petra. Growing up in the 80s, Christian music had a profound impact on the development of my faith—especially Petra. Looking back, I realize how much I appreciated that they always included Scripture in the liner notes. I remember looking up the references and learning to understand the biblical basis for the songs I loved and the truth I believed. Because of that biblical underpinning, I have often referred to Petra’s music as the hymnal of my teen years (I guess that was OK in an Assemblies of God church). Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.
—Rob C, Frostburg, MD


Thanks for the post! Me? 9th grade. Song? “It is Finished.” I still have the lyrics on a sheet of paper in my Bible. Between Mrs. Graham, my Sunday School teacher, and this weird Christian Rock band, the Almighty Creator of the Universe captured my soul.
—Sheila H, Spokane, WA


Thank you for highlighting Petra’s excellent witness. I took some women from our neighborhood Bible study to their On Fire concert in Greenville, SC in 1989 (or thereabouts). Bob Hartman said something that night I have never forgotten. He was speaking to those who believe but are complacent in sharing their faith or living openly for Christ. He said, “Being on fire for Christ is not a feeling you get; it is a decision you make.” It has been a good reminder over the years to believe and act on the truth in God’s Word, regardless of what I am feeling at the time.
—Eileen G, Albuquerque, NM

Comments on On “Stranger Things” and Being a Big Prude

You are going to find that all of these responses are in general agreement with what I wrote about sex in movies. That’s simply reflects the fact that I got all kinds of letters agreeing with me and not a single one disagreeing.

Tim, thank you so much for walking through some of your thoughts, temptations, and sins which give background and support for your visual entertainment standards which have been discussed on your blog before. I tend to think that many of the folks with ‘stronger’ (weaker?) consciences that you reference may have a similar path of thoughts and conviction when they watch scenes with some level of nudity or sex, but have seared their consciences over time and have adapted to our current North American culture. I’m grateful that you have been vulnerable to share your approach, and I think it is helpful and sets a strong example for your readers. May we all seek to honor God with what we set in front of our eyes!
—Bethany M, Denver, CO


I want to thank you and commend you for your article on Stranger Things. You were able to describe in great detail the battle you experienced with your conscience. I have very similar convictions about entertainment and have learned to be extremely careful in previewing movie or TV content. When I have not been careful, that content almost always gets stuck in my brain and I can’t keep it from polluting my thoughts and relationships in some way. Where I struggle and fall into pride is in thinking about how to react to Christians who feel free to watch this content. Doesn’t Ephesians 5 talk about this when it says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them.” Should we be entertained by something for which Christ died? Would we watch it in person in our living rooms? These are the questions I have and more often than not I am guilty of a critical and prideful spirit. But is it ever ok to approach someone about their entertainment choices?
—Meredith B, Marietta, GA


Thanks for the article—I’m always glad for another Christian reminding us of how obscene the entertainment world is, and pricking my conscience to re-evaluate what I’m watching. It’s too easy to lapse into a state of ambivalence that leads to major judgment errors and sin. It can be hard to always be the one saying ‘no, I haven’t seen that show/movie,’ etc, and I needed the reminder that my entertainment and ‘cultural savvy’ are never worth the sacrifice of a good conscience.
—Emilie L, Tacoma, WA


I wanted to express my deep appreciation for your article about “Stranger Things” and, more specifically, its relationship to one’s conscience. As a young pastor with a degree in video production and a love for all things cinematic, I have had a hard time balancing my love for quality production quality and storyline with a deep desire to not intentionally put any unclean thing before my eyes.

When I read your article, I felt as if I were reading my own thoughts. As you stated, I found the overall premise of the show to be fascinating. The characters were well-rounded, and the 80s intro had me hooked from the start. However, I soon found myself in a moral crisis. By the time the scene you mentioned in your article appeared on-screen, I was already hooked on the show.

I soon found myself in a moral crisis. I wanted to see what happened to the characters. I wanted to soak in more of the 80s-fest. And seriously, who is this creepy little girl? However, my conscience kept pulling on my heart. To my shame, I finished the episode. For the last two weeks, I have been struggling on whether or not to finish the series. The more I see my Christian friends posting about how incredible the season is and how excited they are for season two, the more I think to myself, “Am I too sensitive? Maybe I don’t understand my liberty in Christ.”

As you wrote in your piece, I am not yet decided on whether or not it is sinful for all Christians to watch the series. However, I do know that it would be sin for me to watch it. Thank you for stating this so clearly in your article. Thank you for giving a voice to my inward struggle.

This may very well be a “meat sacrificed to idols” issue in my life. This may very well be a sign of me misunderstanding my freedom in Christ. Nevertheless, I would rather never eat meat and lay down my freedom than risk sinning against the Lord who was wounded for my sins.
—Hayden H, Oklahoma City, OK

Why Marriage Is Better Than Cohabitation
September 03, 2016

Though Christians continue to affirm the uniqueness, the goodness, and the necessity of marriage, our society continues to legitimize cohabitation as either a common precursor to marriage or a complete alternative. This slide is troubling, for marriage offers a number of important benefits that are absent from cohabitation—benefits that extend to couples, to their children, to their families, and to society as a whole. Christopher Ash helpfully outlines these in his book Married for God.

1. Marriage Is Unambiguous

Unlike cohabitation, marriage is unambiguous. In fact, in most cases cohabitation is deliberately in its ambiguity. “When a man and woman begin sleeping together and perhaps move in together, the rest of us are left guessing as to what exactly is the basis of their relationship. Clearly they have agreed to sleep together, as otherwise it would be rape. But what have they promised one another, if anything? On what basis or shared understanding are they together?” The answers will vary from couple to couple and may range from a very minimal level of commitment to a very significant one. But there always remains a measure of uncertainty. Often each of the partners will have different levels of commitment or expectation—one thinking that moving in together marks the beginning of something permanent while the other regards it as a mere trial period. All the while the rest of us are uncertain how to relate to them as they live together and if and when they dissolve their relationship. The relational ambiguity is especially apparent when one of them dies. “Who is the next of kin? With whom should we grieve most deeply? The parents, or the live-in partner?” Marriage helpfully resolves this lack of clarity.

2. Marriage Is a Union of Families; Cohabitation Is Free-Floating

Marriage is a union of families rather than just of two free-floating individuals. Cohabitation is an attempt to keep a relationship private, not in the sense of secret, but “in the sense of an arrangement agreed to and confined to the two of them, with families only rather awkwardly and ambiguously involved.” But marriage joins together two families in a connection that is meant to be a responsibility and blessing to both. “It is better to be connected than to float ‘free’ but disconnected from wider family and society,” for biblically this kind of scattered freedom is regarded as a curse while gathering into a people and family is regarded as a blessing. “This is because God wants his world governed in an ordered way by connected people.” Marriage serves as a small but foundational expression of bringing order through connection.

3. Marriage Provides Protection for the Vulnerable at the Start

The public nature of marriage provides an important protection for the vulnerable at the start of the sexual relationship. “We sometimes think that we are autonomous free-floating individuals who make decisions for ourselves. The reality is that we are influenced in many ways in every decision we make. And in the area of sex, above all, we are open to manipulation and exploitation, even unwittingly, by passions that rage and desires that can overwhelm us.” We are all prone to making poor decisions that we will later regret, and this is especially true in those areas where we can be unduly influenced by strong passions and desires. The public and family aspects of marriage serve as a kind of protection against this. “Because marriage is a public union in which the families ought to be involved, and not just the two individuals, it offers the protection and wisdom of families in a way that can protect the vulnerable from being exploited or making foolish decisions under the pressure of passion.” Many couples resent the involvement of family; many families are sinfully manipulative and overbearing. But more often than not (and certainly when families are behaving according to God’s pattern), they provide an important measure of protection and affirmation.

4. Marriage Offers Some Hope of Justice to Those Wronged When It Ends

Marriage offers important measures of protection and justice for the one who is wronged when a marriage breaks up. “When a man or woman walks out of a sexual relationship, the other partner always suffers. In marriage, however, society recognizes that the abandoned party has rights that the other needs to honor. And in a healthy society the one who walks out is forced to honor these rights and is not able to walk away irresponsibly.” While these protective measures may be imperfect, they are at least designed to ensure that there is a framework to promote and ensure justice. Of course many countries are now acting to enforce similar obligations with cohabitation, but there is a strange irony here. “Perhaps before long no one will be able to walk out of a cohabitation without some obligation to fulfill responsibilities to the other (especially if there are children). We must welcome this. But we must also note that every move in this direction makes unmarried cohabitation less attractive to those who entered it precisely in order to avoid the obligations of marriage. Indeed, we could make a case for saying that society ought to treat cohabiting partners as if they were married, with all the obligations that entails. This would mean that to break a cohabitation, one party would have to sue for what would effectively be divorce! If that were to happen, then the mere action of moving in together would come to signify the commitment verbalized in the marriage vows, and then cohabitation would mean marriage.” Wouldn’t that be something.

5. Marriage Strengthens Private Intentions with Public Promises

The public promises of marriage are necessary because when we make public promises, we lay our reputation and integrity on the line behind those promises. While couples often make private promises to one another, there is a world of difference between those made in private and those declared in public before witnesses. “Private assurances are terribly easy to break; they evaporate like the morning dew. … But when all my wider family, my friends, my work colleagues, and my neighbors know I have publicly made this pledge, then I am much more inclined to keep it. I do not want them thinking I am a liar. And marriage begins precisely with those public promises.” Those public promises are made before witnesses—many or few—who stand in the place of the rest of society to affirm them and call upon a couple to honor them. “Our capacity for faithfulness makes marriage possible, but our capacity for unfaithfulness makes marriage necessary. We need the public promises to hold us to the faithfulness we pledge. When we struggle in difficult marriages, it is a great help to know that we have publicly promised to be faithful for life, and that everybody else expects us to keep that promise, and that if we don’t then we must expect to experience shame. All this strengthens and supports marriage, and helps us keep to the end the promises we made at the start.”

In each of these ways—and many more could be listed, marriage is far better than cohabitation.

For an alternate, entirely secular, but still interesting view, you may enjoy watching this video from The School of Life: Why Bother With Marriage?