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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

No Bible No Breakfast
July 11, 2016

No Bible, no breakfast. Have you ever heard this little phrase? Has anyone ever told you to obey it? It’s a mantra that I have bumped into a number of times in the past few weeks. In one recent case a popular Christian leader held it up as a necessary motto for the believer, a basic mark of Christian obedience. He seemed to imply that godly people don’t eat their breakfast until they’ve read the Bible. He told how he holds to this rule and insisted that his followers ought to do the same. I cringed when he said it. I cringe just about every time I hear “No Bible, no breakfast.”

ShirtAs I understand it, the phrase originated with the Chinese evangelist Leland Wang. He once wrote “I have lived by ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ for forty-four years.” He explained that he instituted this personal rule after being convicted that he was too often willing to skip his daily Bible reading in order to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I found an … effective means of ensuring my early reading. If I did not read at least one chapter to start the day, I did not eat my breakfast. ‘No Bible, No Breakfast’ became my motto.” It became his personal motto and was meant to ensure he would prioritize time in God’s Word. In this way the mantra is no different from any of the rules or principles you and I might implement to address our weaknesses and promote our sanctification. “No Bible, no breakfast” may be just the one you or I need to ensure God’s Word takes appropriate priority in our lives.

But like any other rule or any other principle, we need to be very careful how we apply it. We need to be cautious about how much weight we assign to it. The reason I so often cringe when I hear this motto is that some well-meaning Christians have made it a rule that begins to bind the conscience of other believers as if it is a sure mark of godliness. There is nowhere in the Bible where God insists that we must spend time reading his Word before we eat our first meal of the day. In fact, while we are told we must make the Bible a priority in our lives, there is not even a clear command to tell us that we must have a time of daily personal devotions. For this reason we have to speak cautiously and pastorally when using a phrase like “no Bible, no breakfast” lest we fall into the critique Jesus made of the religious authorities of his day: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). What the Bible does not demand of us may prove to be a heavy burden to others. We may also forget that the rule does not exist because we are godly but ungodly—Wang created the rule because he was otherwise neglectful toward an important responsibility. It’s as much a marker of ungodliness as it is of godliness.

Wang himself seems to have understood the potential danger of his rule. He insisted that he instituted it “not as a law to bind me, but as a motto to remind me. For ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’.” This was his rule to address his conscience and his weakness. He recommended it to others but seems to have understood that he would have been overstepping his authority to demand it of them. That is wise! We can all benefit from hearing how others apply God’s truth to their lives and the measures they take to promote personal godliness. But the benefit fades when we insist that others must take those same measures.

The biblical priority is not “reading before feeding,” but the primacy of God’s Word in the life of the Christian. For some people this priority is best expressed in reading the Bible before eating breakfast. For others, though, this is a difficulty or impossibility and for them the very same rule may bring unnecessary doubt or unfair shame. What represents freedom for some will represent captivity to others. So heed the rule if you can do so in freedom. Even recommend it to others if you think they would benefit from it. But, like Wang, ensure that it is not a law to bind you but a motto to remind you.

No Bible No Breakfast

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
July 10, 2016

This week I told Why I Am Not Continuationist (or charismatic) and, not surprisingly, that generated quite a number of letters to the editor. So, too, did an article on the marks of a godly husband’s love. Here are a few highlights.

Comments on Why I Am Not Continuationist

First, thank you for your blog and more specifically for the series of “Why I Am Not …”. I enjoyed and learned from every one of them. I anticipated your most recent article the most, because this is an area where I am the most conflicted.

I started attending church again in a word-of-faith church. I left for many reasons, but I left extremely confused. Flash-forward several years and I was saved in a reformed cessationist church. I was a content cessationist until I learned of Sovereign Grace Ministries. There I saw sound believers who seem to be able to balance the charismatic gifts while not forfeiting sound doctrine - maintaining high view of God. I spent some time studying the gifts and I am still a resolved cessationist - hopefully a humbler one.

I feel there is an inconsistency in my hermeneutic in one area though and I was curious if you felt the same way. Specifically with miracles and healing. In my meager studying of the scripture, I could not find good support for the cessation of those gifts. At the end of the day, the reason I would say they have ceased is because they do not happen in any way like they did. The healings of the gospels and acts were generally public, dramatic and verifiable. The modern day equivalent “healings” are nothing like that. Where I feel this conflicts is with my creationism. I too am a young-earth creationist. From my limited study in this area, I am a young-earth creationist because I believe it is what is most clearly laid out in scripture. I wouldn’t say that I ignore modern science, but I do believe that modern science points more closely to an old earth. So in one area, I choose not to believe modern evidence and in another, I choose to let it guide my doctrine. I do not intend this to be a stumper, but I was curious if you felt the same conflict at all.
—Geoff L, Lubbock, TX

Tim: Perhaps, to some degree. But when it comes to creationism my belief in a young earth is not founded on what I see in the world as much as what I see in the Word. I cannot read Genesis 1-2 and see anything other than a young earth. I then attempt to see the natural world through this lens.

***

I wanted to first thank you for all of your insight and willingness to be vulnerable as you share some of your beliefs and how you came to those convictions. In your article you discussed why you are a cessasionist instead of a continuationist. The majority of the article (and the debate for that matter) centers around the miraculous gifts and the believer. However, where do miraculous acts done by God (not by a gift of the believer) fit into this? For example, if I believed that God sometimes does miraculous acts or healings as a validation of the gospel among unreached people groups, would this make me a continuationist? Or can a cessassionist in regards to the spiritual gifts still believe that God performs the miraculous at times?

I struggle believing that believers today have the spiritual gift of healing or prophecy, but I also want to reconcile it with many of the stories I have heard from the field where it seems that God worked miraculously in a very specific and short time to validate the gospel. This is an area that I am trying to pray about and understand more so I appreciate any clarifications or wisdom that you can provide. Thanks!
—Aaron M, Abilene, TX

Tim: Cessationism does not state that miracles have ceased. It states that the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased. I believe God continues to perform miracles though, by definition, those miracles are rare. And, as I said in the article, those miracles tend to be somewhat less dramatic than the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. I have heard accounts of God working in miraculous ways in this modern world, but never of a limb regenerating or a person blind from birth instantaneously being given sight.

***

As someone who believes in the present usage of the gifts, and has experienced the frustration when it does not seem they have “happened” like I want; I simply feel as if these frustrations are not enough to get me to say “God doesn’t do these sorts of things anymore.” Especially, since there’s no clear word in the New Testament saying that they have ceased, or will cease. I have seen people who’ve been healed miraculously as a result of my prayers, I have given prophetic impressions to those I don’t know, and it’s been encouraging in the vein of 1 Cor 12. Regarding that last example, the person I encouraged was a guest pastor at a reformed (CRC) church I was attending at the time. During his sermon, I got the foggiest picture of a child being bounced on my lap, and decided I would share this with him afterwards. He and his wife were attempting to conceive, and he actually had me repeat my impression to her as well. This impression reminds me of the beginning of Jeremiah 1, where he is just beginning to prophesy (‘do you see this almond branch’ sort of stuff.) It was not a “thus saith the Lord” type of thing, but I don’t think it needed to be. I just honestly shared an impression I received, and the Lord used it to edify another believer with something I am pretty sure He wanted them to have (the blessing of children).

Now, like I said, I’m still frustrated by not seeing things I would like to see happen, happen. I have come down to this way of thinking about it: If we define the gifts to be a certain way, and then do not see them being expressed in that certain way, it doesn’t neccesarily mean that God does not want to work in us, nor does it mean that the gifts have ceased. All it means, is that things aren’t as we expect.

If I accept this, this truth that God doesn’t always do things the way I want Him to, then I can accept the foggy, blurry, black and white “vision” (which was little more than a strange daydream) and bless someone else through sharing it. I don’t need to chase after prophesy, or call myself a certain something, or even label it as a prophetic message. The fact remains, I had faith in God, and He used that faith, to bless His body. I feel like saying “the gifts have ceased”—prevents these sorts of encouraging situations, unnecessarily.
—Bryan R, Ottawa, ON

Tim: There is much that could be said here, but perhaps I’ll simply say again that whatever we make of such impressions we have to distinguish them from New Testament prophecy. New Testament prophecy as it has been recorded for us was clear, bold, and authoritative. So, again, it is difficult for me to strongly associate your impressions with New Testament prophecy, and I don’t think that’s unfair.

***

Thank you for your “Why I Am Not…” series. It has, in many respects, been very helpful. … Keener has published a monumental two volume series, which I am sure you are aware of, titled, “Miracles.” In the second volume, he lays out substantial amount of evidence that miracles occur in our own time by referencing case after case of medically documented situations where people have been healed. Furthermore, the testimony of countless people who would exhibit what is called “the gift of tongues,” an expression that is often described to be unintelligible, though edifying, grows one cautious of merely dismissing the testimonies out of hand. Thirdly, and once again, given the volume of prophetic utterances that are prevalent today, and the many testimonies of accurate prophetic insight, are we to consider these just pot luck or is there actually more?

My concern is this: as a cessationist myself, I have often argued against my charismatic friends that one cannot argue for the legitimacy of a movement from experience alone. However, my fear is that our arguments are arguments of experience. Was this not Hume’s problem: since Hume did not experience, for example, dead men rising from the grave, he concluded that such things cannot occur (very simplistically put, I know, but read Keener for a more detailed position). My second go to argument is church history, these things just seem to be absent from, especially, the apostolic fathers. However, once again, are their writings the only evidence we have, or is there at least scant evidence from supernatural occurrences in the early post-apostolic period?

My question now: (1) have we (ironically us cessationists) not constructed an argument from experience, rather than an argument from evidence; (2) is our exegetical analysis compatible with what we find in Scripture (eg. prophecy: what was Anna doing in the Temple at a time when God was silent, it does seem she had a known record of prophetic ability? What were Philip’s daughters doing? Does this not show that not ALL prophecy must necessarily be recorded, as some cessationists would tell those who hold to prophetic utterances?); (3) do we as cessationists not argue for a closed universe since the close of the canon (and I understand that the Spirit is operative through the Word, but as Dan Wallaces article asks, “Is there more?”

These are my wrestlings. I resonate with Wallace’s article, and I heed the caution of Piper’s article wanting to receive extra biblical revelations when we don’t even immerse ourselves in the revelation given to us through God’s Word. In other words, is there not more merit to the “cautious but open” camp (Carson, Piper, et al) rather than the strict old school cessationist camp? I’m certainly not jumping onto the Bill Johnson camp, not even Mahaney, but can cessationists hold to “there’s more” while still saying “but it’s very very rare?”
—Morne M, Cape Town, South Africa

Tim: Thank you for this excellent letter. I see it as an encouragement to continue to refine and deepen my convictions.

Comments on 4 Marks of a Godly Husband’s Love

I agree with your comments about husbands loving their wives in this sacrificial way. The entire matter is a picture of Christ and HIS church and where we as husbands get it wrong is that we make Christianity about everything else, even prioritizing our affections to the members of the church at the expense of loving our wives correctly. One can admire a diligence toward God by ignoring or shelving our wives for the sake of getting on with the job, but it really is putting the proverbial cart before the horse! If we don’t get this issue of loving our wives first and foremost, as Christ loves His church with absolute dedication and attention, we will not accomplish anything in the Lord. Thank you for your exhortation. Grace and peace be unto you by our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.
—Elandre’ D Kwazulu Natal, South Africa)

***

Tim, This post is exceptional in every way. As an expression of being my wife’s warrior, and without hesitation, I would swim through shark infested waters—both ways—to get my wife a lemonade. Yet despite understanding what you say, I manage to fail miserably far too often, so I thank you for the clear reminder of my greater role as a Christian husband. Well said, sir.
—Paul M, Virginia Dale, CO

Tim: Thank you. I’ll take the opportunity to remind everyone that the substance of the article was drawn from Richard Phillips’ excellent commentary!

The Bestsellers
July 08, 2016

Today I am continuing my series on bestselling Christian books. In this series I am taking a brief look at non-fiction Christian books that have sold at least a million copies—a rare and noteworthy feat in a relatively small market. Today we take a look at a surprise bestseller that was meant for children but which had every bit as big an impact on their parents.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Storybook BibleSally Lloyd-Jones (who, it must be said, is no relation to the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones) was born and raised in Africa, educated in England and France, and currently resides in Manhattan. Her earliest jobs were in the publishing industry and she often cast an envious eye at the children’s department, wondering if she could someday have the opportunity to write for children. That opportunity finally came after she moved to the United States and settled into a full-time writing career. Though she has never married and has no children, she quickly proved herself especially talented at writing for a young audience. She tells of meeting an editor who said, “there are two types of children’s books authors: the ones who are around children, and the ones who are children inside.” She counts herself the latter type and that childlike delight worked its way into her books.

Her first hit was How To Be A Baby By Me The Big Sister which was written for the general market and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. It was only later that she began working on what would become The Jesus Storybook Bible. For this work she determined that she would tell the grand drama of the Bible through a series of 44 stories drawn from its narratives. In each case she wanted to show how Jesus is the hero of the Bible and the center of the Christian faith—hence the subtitle “Every Story Whispers His Name.” The publisher says, “The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of all is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. From Noah, to Moses, to the great King David—every story points to him. He is the missing piece to the puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle.” She wrote these stories in the voice of a mother teaching her children and did this by continually keeping her nieces and nephews in mind. The children’s book illustrator Jago provided the colorful, imaginative artwork.

Sales & Lasting Impact

The Jesus Storybook Bible released in 2007 and sold briskly. By 2011 it had surpassed the half million mark and three years later sold its millionth copy, receiving the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association’s Platinum Book Award In 2014.

The book received wide praise for its deliberate and winsome focus on the person and work of Jesus and his centrality to the entire storyline of the Bible. Many parents reported that they enjoyed reading it every bit as much as their children enjoyed hearing it. At a time when many adults were early in their pursuit of Christ and just exploring the Bible on their own, they learned along with their children that the Bible is cohesive, that it has a consistent message and structure all held together by the theme of Jesus. The Jesus Storybook Bible taught the parents even as it taught their children. Together they learned that every story whispers his name.

The book received very little serious critique, something that is rather the exception for a bestselling book. Even then, those who critiqued it typically focused on minor matters and only after first expressing their general admiration for the book and its author.

Since the Award

The Jesus Storybook Bible quickly and inevitably spawned a number of related products. It is now available in 31 languages, 8 editions, an animated format, and a curriculum. Lloyd-Jones has continued to write children’s books for both the Christian and the general market. One particularly noteworthy product is The Story of God’s Love For You, a trade book adaptation of The Jesus Storybook Bible which maintained identical wording but was packaged up as a book for adults.

A Personal Perspective

Like most Christian families I know, we have one or two copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible. However, by the time we became aware of it, we had largely moved away from reading storybook Bibles and were instead reading the actual Bible as a family. In that way The Jesus Storybook Bible was just a little too late to impact my family the way it did so many others. Still, we gladly commend it to families with young children and have purchased the curriculum for use in some of our children’s programs at Grace Fellowship Church. It remains one of my top picks in its genre.

Jesus Storybook Bible

Sources: RNS, Christianity Today.

Why I Am Not Continuationist
July 07, 2016

Today I come to the end of the series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” The purpose of this series has been to take a look at the things I do not believe and all along it has been my desire to explain rather than persuade. So far I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, dispensational, or egalitarian. Today I want to explain why I am not continuationist or, if you prefer, charismatic.

Once again we need to begin with definitions. “Continuationism is the belief that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit taught in the Bible—such as prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and miracles—have not ceased and are available for the believer today. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism which teaches that supernatural gifts have ceased either when the canon of Scripture was completed or at the death of the last apostle.”* In other words, this is a matter of whether certain miraculous gifts that were active at one time are still active today. I believe those miraculous gifts have ceased.

Once again, my beliefs on this matter are not easily separated from my background. Growing up in conservative, Reformed churches I knew no continuationists. I knew that such people existed only when I heard my parents speak sheepishly about their early introduction to Pentecostalism. They told us of their attempts to receive the gift and their growing acknowledgement that their tongues-speaking friends were simply uttering repetitive, nonsensical phrases. It was not until I was in my mid-twenties and a baptist that I first encountered tongues. The band at a worship conference entered into a time of “spontaneous worship” and immediately many of the people around me began to make strange sounds. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening.

A more formal introduction to continuationism came when I encountered Sovereign Grace Ministries. I had first become aware of this ministry through online connections and then through C.J. Mahaney’s books. I attended one of their worship conferences and here I saw what they called prophecy—prophetic songs meant to communicate divine truth to people in the audience. (“The Holy Spirit is giving me a song. I believe this song is for all the people here named Katie. If your name is Katie, please come to the front as the Holy Spirit has something to say to you.”) What I found at that conference and in these churches were people who were godly and kind and committed to Reformed theology, yet also firmly charismatic. Though I was certainly underwhelmed by this example of prophecy, I was so taken by the people, by their love for the Lord, and by their excitement in worship that I returned home wondering whether my family should find a way of joining them. For the first time I saw that continuationism was not necessarily opposed to sound doctrine.

It was at this time and in this context that I began to read, that I began to ponder, and that I began to search the Bible to see what it says about the continuation or cessation of the miraculous gifts. I read defenses of continuationism written by the theologians of the charismatic movement: Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms come to mind. I saw leaders I admire profess their view that the gifts continue to be operative today. I also read MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos, interviewed Sam Waldron, and read a number of critiques of continuationism. Through it all I became increasingly convinced that the miraculous gifts have ceased. I could not be continuationist.

I am not continuationist because of my understanding of the Bible. I see that those miraculous gifts were given for a specific time and purpose—they were given to accredit the message of the gospel when it was first going forth and before the Bible had been completed. As that time and purpose drew to a close, so too did the gifts. This is easily seen when we read the New Testament with an eye to when the different books were written. While an early book like 1 Corinthians has a lot to say about miraculous gifts, later books have far less to say. In fact, by the time Paul is writing to Timothy he is not expecting that Timothy will experience a miracle and not instructing him to pursue one, but rather prescribing a very ordinary cure for an ailment—“have a little wine for the sake of your stomach.” Paul himself suffered with physical pain but was unable to receive a miraculous cure. As we read through the New Testament we see these gifts slow and cease over the course of decades.

First, then, I am not continuationist for biblical reasons. But second, I am not continuationist for reasons related to observation and experience. The miraculous gifts I see and hear in the charismatic movement have only the barest resemblance to the New Testament gifts. The miracles are internal and unverifiable, the tongues angelic rather than actual, the prophecy fallible. I know of no credible accounts of the kind of dramatic miracles we see described in the New Testament—a limb regenerating, a dead and decaying man being raised. Whatever “miracles” I hear of today are nowhere near as dramatic, visible, and instantaneous as the ones we see described in the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles. I know of no Christian who has been able to preach the gospel in a language he does not know. A number of times I have had well-meaning people prophecy to or about me but these have always been vague impressions more than authoritative words from God. Even as we discuss continuationism, we need to acknowledge that what has continued is, at best, a mere shadow of what the Bible describes.

I am not continuationist and do not believe that my experience of the Christian faith and life suffer on that basis. Instead of focusing on the drama of the miraculous I find joy in the beauty of God’s ordinary providence. The great drama unfolding in, through, and around us is foremost a story of God working through his careful, constant providence, his moment-by-moment means of bringing about his will.

I would like to direct you to two recent resources that have been helpful to me. The first is an exchange between Sam Storms and Thomas Schreiner. Schreiner explains Why I Am a Cessationist and Storms explains Why I Am a Continuationist. Both men explain their position and I suppose you can easily guess which I found more compelling. The second resource is this excellent lecture from Phil Johnson in which in his inimitable way he explains Why I Am Cessationist.

4 Marks of a Husbands Love
July 06, 2016

“Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25a). On the one hand it is such a simple statement, a simple command. Simply love. On the other hand there is not a husband in the world who would say that he has mastered it. Behind the simple command is a lifetime of effort, a lifetime of growth. How is a husband to love his wife? What is the kind of love that he owes her? I am tracking here with Richard Phillips as he explains in his new commentary on Ephesians.

A self-sacrificing love. A husband’s love is self-sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Every husband knows that he is called to love his wife to such a degree that he would willing to die for her. But God calls for far more than this. “It is easy for men to think of dying dramatically—and bloodily—for our wives in some grand gesture. But what Paul specifically has in mind is for husbands to live sacrificially for their wives. This means a dying to self-interest to place her needs before your own. It means a willingness to crucify your sins and selfish habits and unworthy character traits. I remember a husband who told me he had always thought that if a man came into the house with a knife to attack his wife, sure, he would be willing to die defending her. ‘Then I realized,’ he said, ‘that emotionally and spiritually, I am that man who assaults my wife and threatens her well-being. What God calls me to do is put my own sinful self to death’.” Exactly so. You would die for your wife, but will you live for her?

A redeeming love. A husband’s love is, like Christ’s love, redeeming. Christ “gave himself up for [the church], that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” “If we follow this progression we see the Christian gospel in terms of Christ’s preparation of a bride for himself.” Christ is actively sanctifying his people through the word to cleanse us from sin and make us holy. Paul now says that a husband is to see this as his model for the way he relates to his bride. “As Christ’s love redeems us for glory, a husband’s love ought to be directed toward the spiritual growth of his wife. Notice, too, that this ministry is associated with a husband’s words. The Greek word used here is thema, which signifies actual words, rather than the more common logos which speaks of a message in general. This makes the point of how important a husband’s words are to his wife. Far from badgering or tearing down his wife with his speech, loving husbands are to remind their wives of God’s love and minister for their blessing and increased spiritual maturity.”

A caring love. A husband’s love is also a caring love. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” A man’s care for his wife should be as careful and intimate as his care for his own body. Paul offers two key words to describe this: nourish and cherish. A husband cares for his wife by nourishing her heart much like a gardener nourishes his plants. “This requires him to pay attention to her, to talk with her in order to know what her hopes and fears are, what dreams she has for the future, where she feels vulnerable or ugly, and what makes her anxious or gives her joy.” A husband cherishes his wife “in the way he spends time with her and speaks about her, so that she feels safe and loved in his presence.” Phillips offers this warning: “In my experience, a husband’s caring love is one of the greatest needs in most marriages. [A] wife’s heart is dried up by a husband who pays her little attention, takes no interest in her emotional life, and does not connect with her heart.”

A committed love. Finally, a husband’s love is a committed love. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In the same way that Christ is utterly faithful to his church, a husband is to be completely faithful to his wife. This is signified in the one flesh union which is “the sharing of a whole life in the safe bounds of committed love.” One great barrier to this kind of love is when a husband does not transfer his allegiance from his parents to his wife, thus not fully leaving his father and mother. “A husband who shares marital secrets with his parents or who cannot break free from his family’s control is not able to offer his wife the devotion she needs.” Another great barrier is sexual sin. “Marriage involves forsaking all others in favor of an exclusive, intimate, and indivisible bond. … In Paul’s pagan world, as in our own, marriage was undermined by insecurity, as men and women exchanged partners the way they changed clothes. But a Christian husband offers his wife the security of a committed love, in which she can blossom emotionally and spiritually.” A husband commits to his wife to the exclusion of all others.

In all of these ways a Christian marriage is a portrait of Christ’s union with his church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When we see this intimate connection between marriage and the gospel, we understand that “There is nothing more profound in all this world than the sacred bond of marriage, and no more solemn duty than those owed by a wife to her husband and a husband to his wife.” So husband, do you love your wife? In what ways do you need to love her better, to love her just like Christ loves his church?

Image credit: Shutterstock

Daddy Needs a Vacation
July 05, 2016

I need a vacation. Over the years I’ve learned to identify the signs. I’ve learned to spot the difficulty in getting out of bed, the lack of creativity I bring to my vocation, the extra cup of coffee I find myself craving in mid-afternoon. I enjoy the blessing of being able to do what I love to do almost all day every day so when I get tired, when I get listless, when I find it almost impossible to sit down and write, it’s a sure sign that I need some time off.

Thankfully, vacation is fast approaching and in a few weeks I will be away from the every day. But before then I have a decision to make. I need to decide what this vacation will look like. When vacation approaches, I feel the need, I feel the self-imposed pressure, to make it all about my family. I have read a number of well-intentioned books and articles that tell me that the best dads are the ones who dedicate the entire vacation to their family, who transition from the busyness of every day life to the busyness of organizing family activities, of making sure that every moment is special for the children.

I love the idea of it, but panic at the reality because right now I crave rest. I crave quiet, low-key, relaxing days that allow me to lie still and read and pray and ponder. And I don’t think I need to feel guilty about this, either. My children may need a vacation, but I need it more. I work harder than they do. I have greater responsibilities. I carry more stress. I have accumulated a lot more mileage. This leaves me with a deep need for rest. I can’t live life well without these times of deliberately escaping normal responsibilities. My ability to provide for my family and to care for them depends upon it.

God did not apologize for resting on the seventh day of creation—the One who needed no rest took a day off to display a truth, to teach a lesson. Jesus did not apologize for escaping to the wilderness for times alone, even when there were a million-and-one great things he could have done back among the people. God himself shows us a pattern of rest. God himself shows that for some days or some weeks rest may be the most sacred thing we do.

So we will take our family vacation and for the first two days, or maybe even three or four, I will be still. I will be there, I will be available, but my deliberate focus will be on resting, relaxing, recharging. And then, when I have come back to life, we will go and have our fun together. And I think my kids will be just fine with this.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 03, 2016

It was a busy week (two weeks, actually, since I didn’t share any last Sunday) for letters to the editor. As I read through this week’s letters, I attempted to draw some out that reflected diversity of topic. Here is a selection of my favorites.

Letters about Why I Am Not Egalitarian

Just a note of thanks for your post on egalitarianism. I’m frustrated with those who mask their patriarchy with complementarian language. I appreciated your honest, fair handling of egalitarianism. As a follow-up, I would appreciate hearing why you’re not a patriarch, as archaic as that sounds. In my reading, I notice that leaders are quick to condemn egalitarianism at length, but don’t give patriarchy the same attention. This is unfortunate for Christians and the church. Your “Why I’m Not…” series has been wonderful, and I’ve especially appreciate how you’ve gently handled controversial topics (i.e., padeobaptism) where there are thoughtful, Biblical believers who disagree with you.
—Abigail M, Cincinnati, OH

***

I want to thank you for your post today on complementarianism, and in particular a point that I have not considered much: the idea of passive leadership. The “tie breaker” approach is what I’ve been told many times, but your post today is so helpful. What would we think of a pastor who only gave direction when there was a tie in the church? The pastor is called to shepherd and lead, not just to break ties. In the same way, surely God calls husbands to similar leadership in the family. First to repent? First to forgive? Oh the conviction!
—Stephen T, Auburn, ME

Letters about The 2016 Reading Challenge

Thank you so much for this reading challenge! I have really enjoyed trying to fill my boxes and expanding my literary horizons this year, even as a hands-full mom of a toddler and infant. I am sure people give you recommendations by the dozens, but I would like to recommend Robinson Crusoe to you if you have not yet read this classic novel. My husband recommended it to me for that check box (“You can’t get more classic than that” said he), and I was so glad I read it - the unabridged version is full of sound theology and encouraged me spiritually more than I would have imagined.
—Alyssa B, Ridgeway, WV
Tim: Wonderful! Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been reading Les Miserables and finding it both brilliant and a tough slog.

Letters about Mark Zuckerberg Covers His Webcam

Tim, the part of this article that hit me was the section on our own character as it relates to our online/technological activities. As a pastor I was amazed at how often the breakup of a marriage was about the man’s cell phone. More than one woman told me that the way he handled his phone changed. This change would correlate, as she would discover, with his getting a girlfriend. So, one test I have given is this: can you hand your phone to your spouse? Right now? Can you set it down and walk out of the room? If not, you have a problem.
—Darryl Y, Calgary, AB
Tim: Quite right! The cell phone, like all technology, can be a major blessing and a major curse. I have seen what you have seen—that it tends to accompany people in their sin.

Letters on Why I Am Not Dispensational

I have to say I am disappointed in your position regarding dispensationalism. Your argument is very weak when you say you adhere to amillennialism simply because that was how you were taught since youth. There is so much to be learned from a dispensational viewpoint and it would help you to discern much scripture that you may find puzzling. For example the many proclamations of the Old Testament prophets whose prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. Or John’s final letter to us, scribed from the Isle of Patmos , becomes a troubling book is avoided. The Church as being the bride of Christ and the time the Church began is so unclear in the eyes of most “Covenant theologians” that they stumble in their explanations. The book of Revelation is avoided by most and those that do attempt to “disclose” any truth simply spiritualize it into nonsense. Christ told us to be careful how we build our houses (1 Cor. 3:10) If your theology prevents you from understanding truth, perhaps the building process needs some tweaking. So, as a teacher I challenge you to do your due diligence and study the subject thoroughly.
—Ian C, Guelph, ON
Tim: One of the decisions I made when I began the series is that I would not pretend to have deeper convictions than I actually do, or that I would not take a strong stand where my convictions are not as developed as I wish they actually were. That is exactly the case when it comes to eschatology. So yes, a good, solid study of eschatology is on my list of things to do.

***

This was an affirming word to some changes I am currently undergoing theologically. I was raised on John MacArthur, my father is a minister and values MacArthur’s commentary over most, if not all, other preachers. So I was raised dispensational. But recently, at the encouragement of a friend, I began to study the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The principle stated near the end of the first chapter said that Scripture is the only infallible interpreter of Scripture. So I began to let later biblical writing inform/expound on earlier revelation. This began to undermine my dispensational premillennialism. I am now an amillenialist. I also think a more reformed hermeneutic allows us to see Christ in all of Scripture more effectively. Thanks for this.
—Greg H, Tallahassee, FL

***

I want to get started by saying how much I’ve been enjoying this “Why I’m Not…” series. The personality of it, rather than an apologetical nature, is engaging and I’ve been looking forward to each new article.

I’m currently a seminary student at Shepherds Theological Seminary near Raleigh, NC. It’s a somewhat unique school in that it is adamantly dispensational. Admittedly I did not know what the word meant at the time I enrolled, but I’ve been growing in my understanding of it lately. Dispensationalism and the other theological frameworks (covenant, progressive dispensationalism, etc.) are one of the more common conversation pieces among students at this school.

There are essentially two points I wanted to make about your enjoyable article. The first is the “authoritative” (I use that term loosely) handbook on dispensationalism is Charles Ryrie’s “Dispensationalism.” He makes the point, in the book, that the 3 primary distinctions of dispensationalism are: 1) The separation of the plans for the church and for the nation of Israel. 2) An ultimately doxological purpose for history. 3) The employment of a consistent, literal/normal hermeneutic.

It is, of course, the last point that leads dispensationalism to the premill/pretrib position that you posted on. I only wanted to point that out because dispensationalism’s defining characteristics are really not eschatological at all. The other point I wanted to make is to remark on how interesting and different our journeys have been. I was saved in 2010 and was subjected to mostly amillennial teaching through preachers and books and podcasts. It’s only been since attending seminary that I’ve started to see my views shift. I wouldn’t call myself a dispensationalist (which makes for some interesting conversations with my profs!) but I do think the premill/pretrib position isn’t at lacking as it is sometimes made out to be. Again, the hermeneutical method is critical in getting there. So thank you again for this piece and Lord-willing you’ll have some opportunities to jump into some deeper study on the topic, I’d love to see what the Lord reveals to you!
—Eric S, Raleigh, NC

***

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying your recent “Why I am not…” series, but I must confess I felt you missed the boat on the Dispensationalist article. Dispensationalism is a comprehensive approach to how to understand salvation history and God’s relationship to humanity that directly competes with Convenental Theology. Your article treats a very narrow consequence of Dispensationalism that manifests in some flavors of it. In my opinion, the title of your article appears misleading as it implies that you will discuss Dispensationalism in its full context, but you never really explain it. Full disclosure: I’m with Covenental Theology in this debate. Thanks again for all your great work!
—Jesse C, Yokosuka, Japan

Letters on The Bestsellers: Every Man’s Battle

I really appreciated your article on the popular book “Every Man’s Battle”. I agreed with everything you said about it and would like to share my own personal experience with the book. It was one of the first Christian books I ever read as a teenager and it really motivated me. I fought lust and “bounced my eyes” diligently for several months with decent success. I felt as though I was doing what the book suggested well and I just had to keep fighting and it would get easier. Despite my valiant effort to follow the books recommendations, it did not get easier, and I did not succeed. I actually fell into worse guilt and sin when my efforts were failing. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized that my own efforts were never going to succeed and I needed the delivering, redeeming power of Jesus and His gospel to save me from my sin. This is what the book failed to teach me. I will go as far as to say the book actually hindered my pursuit of holiness and missed an opportunity to share what I really needed: the gospel.
—Adam H, Toronto, ON
Tim: Well said, Adam. You helpfully display the book’s strength and weakness.

Why I Am Not Egalitarian
June 30, 2016

I’ve got just two articles remaining in this series I’ve titled “Why I Am Not…” Week by week I am describing why I have rejected some theological positions in favor of others and my purpose is not so much to persuade as it is to explain. There is a story behind every position I hold and each of these articles tells one of those stories. I have already told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, paedobaptist, or dispensational. Today I want to tell why I am not egalitarian.

I ought to begin with a couple of key definitions. Egalitarianism is “the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.” That position is contrasted by complementarianism “which holds the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church.”* Both positions affirm the absolute equality of men and women in their being, personhood, dignity, and worth but differ when it comes to whether there are distinct God-given roles and functions associated with each gender, especially as it pertains to home and church.

I am not egalitarian and never have been, but that is not to say that I have not been challenged by the strengths of the position or the excesses of some definitions of complementarianism. I have carefully examined what I believe about manhood and womanhood. I have read widely and, as much as possible, with an open mind and open Bible. I have worked carefully through the relevant biblical texts. As I have done all of this, I have become more and more persuaded by the complementarian position but also more and more concerned about those who misuse or full-out abuse it. In that way I have not only had to define myself as complementarian but to define what kind of complementarian I am.

Let me back up a little bit. Aileen and I both grew up in traditional middle-class Canadian homes where the dads provided for their families while the moms focused on caring for the home and raising their children. We did not often hear words like “leadership” and “submission” but saw them quietly and seamlessly lived out in a context of mutual love and respect. I grew up attending various churches and these were, likewise, always very traditional in their understanding of the complementary roles of men and women in home and church.

As Aileen and I began to consider our future together we assumed we would follow patterns similar to what we had experienced in our childhood. To my recollection, our first real discussion came when choosing our wedding vows. We wanted to use traditional Anglican vows, largely because of their proud tradition and beautiful wording. But we had to discuss the word “obey.” These vows would have me promise to “love and cherish” Aileen while she would promise to “love, cherish, and obey” me. While we did not love the word “obey,” neither did we have strong objections to it or wish to break with tradition. Those are the vows we made to one another.

Despite our vows, we did not get off to a great start as a complementarian couple, and I am convinced this was largely my fault. I was passive and immature and easily intimidated even by my sweet wife. An older couple had told us that the husband’s leadership role involves little more than exercising his authority as a tie-breaking measure. Since we rarely disagreed about anything consequential I saw no reason or opportunity to lead. It took me years to understand that passive leadership is an oxymoron. It took me longer still to understand that a husband’s leadership is not first a matter of breaking ties or solving impasses, but a matter of being the first to love, the first to serve, the first to repent, the first to forgive. The call to lead is the call to display Christ-like humility and Christ-like love. While I have too often failed at this, it has at least become my aim.

There were a few books that strengthened my convictions: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper & Wayne Grudem was one I referred to many times while Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt also proved especially helpful. There were others besides, though their titles now escape me. At the same time I was challenged by the growth of the biblical patriarchy movement and quickly came to see that in too many ways it goes beyond what the Bible teaches and dangerously disempowers women. While this did not shake my conviction in complementarianism, it did alert me to one of the ways even good theology can go bad when it extends beyond the Bible’s good boundaries. There are dangers on both sides of truth.

Why, then, am I not egalitarian?

The primary reason I am not egalitarian is because I believe the position fails to withstand serious biblical scrutiny. Certainly it can prevail on a popular or emotional level, but I see no way for it to overcome on a biblical level. The complexity of words like ezer and phrases like mutual submission are far more easily resolved by complementarians than “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” is for egalitarians. Paul’s appeals to Adam’s priority in the order of creation, the distinct male focus in the qualifications of an elder, the extended teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, the deep mystery and metaphor within marriage—all of these provide challenges to the egalitarian position that I consider insurmountable.

Second to that, I am not egalitarian because complementarianism has proven itself to me. In the context of Christian community both Aileen and I have been able to see and imitate godly couples and mentors. Theology that may be difficult to describe in the abstract is often beautifully displayed in the lives of other Christians. And in our own marriage we have seen that complementarianism works, that it brings order, that it brings consistency, that it frees each of us to serve the other in ways that appear for all the world to be so consistent with God’s design. It could be that I’ve learned more about complementarianism from Aileen than from anyone else simply by living these eighteen years alongside her.

I am complementarian but far better, we are complementarian. I rely on Aileen, I seek her wisdom, I heed her counsel. I am joyfully and unashamedly dependent upon her and wouldn’t want it any other way. All the while I seek to lead her by pursuing and imitating the One who leads me.