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Tim Challies

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christian living

6 years 6 months ago
There are many voices critiquing the North American church today. The voices come from both within and without; from those who love the church and those who hate it. We all know that there is something wrong. But what? In many cases the prescription is the same while the cure varies widely. In his new book Crazy Love, first-time author Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, regular speaker at Passion conferences and other events, and the guy who recorded that “Just Stop and Think” evangelistic video where he walks for miles holding a surfboard, takes his opportunity to challenge the church. “This book,” he says, “is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do.” It is a book that is meant to change the way Christians live their lives.

There are two ways of critiquing the church. We can critique out of love or out of disgust. Chan is committed to critiquing the church as an act of love. In a recent interview, when asked about the emergent church, he said this: “As a pastor I hear a lot of emergent leaders talk about what is wrong with the church. It comes across as someone who doesn’t love the church. I’m a pastor first and foremost, and I’m trying to offer a solution or a model of what church should look like. I’m going back to scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate that in my own church. I’m not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people to go back to the way it was. I’m not bashing the church. I’m loving it.” And his love for the church is obvious throughout this book.

The format of Crazy Love is straightforward and effective. Chan dedicates three chapters to renewing our understanding of the character of God and seven chapters calling Christians to examine themselves. Within the book are two ongoing themes that are going to get people talking.

The first theme is that we must painstakingly examine ourselves. We cannot assume we are saved, or to use the biblical metaphor, we cannot assume that we are the good soil. Chan calls the reader to a serious self-inventory through a chapter that provides a profile of the lukewarm. He concludes, “a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” God wants all or nothing.

The second theme is deeply counter-cultural, going against the stream of both Christian and secular culture. It is this: live your best life later. Chan wants to see Christians living differently—living in a way that is markedly different from those around them. He wants to see Christians forgoing much of what we consider necessary, what we consider our due, in order to focus on treasures that are eternal. He wants us to get outside the realm of what is comfortable to us and focus instead on radical obedience. “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

These two themes and a focus on the Scriptures serve to create a powerful and deeply challenging book. There is a very obvious commitment here to teach Scriptural principles from the Scriptures and to invite the reader to verify what he is writing from those same Scriptures. Not surprisingly, the book’s weakest chapter is the one that depends least on the Bible. It is a chapter providing examples of men and women who have made radical choices to live radically different. At least a couple of examples are of people who are probably not the best examples overall because as they’ve jettisoned their old lives, they’ve also jettisoned too much good theology.

That small critique aside, I found that this is a paradigm-shaking book with a message that Christians desperately need to hear. Too many of us are living too safely and too easily. But for the brief moments we spend at church each week, we are practically indistinguishable from the unbelievers around us. This is not the way it is meant to be. The church could use a loving exhortation and Chan delivers well.

 

6 years 7 months ago
I’ve often reflected on an experience I had when I was studying in college. With a busy semester ahead of me, I decided to take “Death and Dying,” an elective that had the reputation of being an exceptionally easy course (a “bird course” we called it back then). On the first day we arrived in the lecture hall, the professor handed out a reading list and what he assured us were the lecture notes for the entire course. With these in hand, we were told, there was little use in showing up for the rest of the year unless we were really and truly interested in the subject matter. It was not a difficult course, he said, and we could probably do fine if we just turned in the assignments and showed up to write the exam. Needless to say, most of us took this as an opportunity to have an evening to ourselves each week rather than actually sitting through long and boring lectures on a subject that was of little interest. Also needless to say, most of us earned very poor grades. I’ve contrasted this in my mind to courses where the professor challenged us on the first day that his would be an exceedingly difficult course and one that would require the best we had. With such a challenge, many students rose to the challenge. Knowing that expectations were high and knowing that we faced a long and difficult fight, we reacted by putting out more effort and ultimately by doing better.

High expectations, it seems, often results in greater performance. Tragically, we live at a time where we expect very little of teenagers. The teen years, we seem to think, are a time where we can and must expect little. If our teenagers manage to avoid dangerous drugs, manage to avoid pregnancy and manage to avoid completely derailing their lives, we consider these years a success. We maintain low expectations and are not surprised when teenagers deliver very little.

Do Hard Things is a book for teens—and a distinctly different kind of book for teens. “Check online or walk through your local bookstore. You’ll find plenty of books written by fortysomethings who, like, totally understand what it’s like being a teenager. You’ll find a lot of cheap, throwaway books for teens, because young people today aren’t supposed to care about books, or to see any reason to keep them around. And you’ll find a wide selection of books where you never have to read anything twice—because the message is dumbed down. Like, just for you.” But this book is a challenging book, and one written by teens and for teens. It is written by Brett and Alex Harris, whose greatest claim to fame (other than being the younger brothers of Joshua Harris) is being the minds behind The Rebelution—one of the internet’s most popular sites for teens and now a series of conferences. This book continues the message they’ve been communicating in every other forum.

That message is simple but far too often overlooked in society today: rebel against low expectations. They cast a vision of a better way of doing the teen years in which so many teens have been “conditioned to believe what is false, to stop when things feel hard, and to miss out on God’s incredible purpose for [the] teen years.” They look at five kinds of hard—five different kinds of hard things that can challenge the expectations of those around them: things that are outside of your comfort zone, things that are beyond what is expected or required, things that are too big to accomplish alone, things that don’t earn an immediate pay off and things that challenge the cultural norm. They describe each of these through stories and examples drawn primarily from their lives and from the lives of other “rebelutionaries” who have shared their stories with the authors.

Though this book is targeted squarely at teens, I can’t deny that the message rubbed off even on this reader whose teen years are far behind. There is something inspiring in watching teens shake off the low expectations that plague their lives and there is something in it that makes me want to examine where I may also have fallen prey to low expectations. Writing as the proud older brother of these authors, Joshua Harris says “Every former teen needs this book, too. I know I do. There’s no age-limit on the Rebelution. It’s never to late to do hard things.”

For too long our expectations of teens, and their expectations of themselves, have been far too low. In Do Hard Things Alex and Brett Harris rebel against low expectations and encourage their peers to meet the challenge of doing tough things for God’s sake and for God’s glory. I wish I could have read this book when I was a teen. I’m glad that my children will have the opportunity. I pray it will stir them and stir a whole generation of young people, to use their teen years to do the hard things God calls them to do. And I pray that the teen years are only the beginning, only the foundation, of lives lived to the glory of God.

6 years 8 months ago
Instructing a Child’s Heart has been a long time coming. It was thirteen years ago that its predecessor, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, was published. It was thirteen years ago that Tedd Tripp published his last book. It was no lost on me that many of the book’s lessons and anecdotes now focus on the author’s grandchildren. Thirteen years is a long time by any measure!

Instructing a Child’s Heart is a book that focuses on “formative instruction,” a term that begs further definition. Tripp describes it most simply as “teaching that ‘forms’ our children.” It is teaching that “enables them to root life in God’s revelation in the Bible. It provides a culture for our children, a culture that is distinctly Christian. It shows our children the glory and dignity of mankind as God’s image bearers. It provides a way of interpreting life through the redemptive story of God, who reconciles people to himself.” Formative instruction is instruction that comes before problems arise and in that way is different from corrective discipline which follows problems. We form our children by interpreting life for them and responding to its challenges in biblical ways. We form them through the daily discipline of family worship and through spending time deliberately together, but also through reacting properly to the situations life brings unexpectedly. The goal of this formative instruction is, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6, “so that we and our children and our grandchildren may fair the Lord and walk in his ways, enjoying a long life.” We help our children construct a worldview that allows them to properly see God for who he is and to properly see them as His creation.

The book falls into three sections. In the first Tripp introduces the reader to formative instruction, looking at the concept through a wide lens. In the second section he zeros in on the more specific topics that form the true substance of formative instruction. And in the third section he focuses on applying formative instruction in very practical ways.

It is the second section that is the heart of the book. Here, over the course of eight chapters, Tripp describes several essential building blocks of a biblical worldview. He dedicates attention to the heart, the principle of sowing and reaping, God’s plan for authority, the glory of God, wisdom and foolishness, how we are complete in Christ, and the importance of the church. Each of these receives a chapter, or close to a chapter, in which he describes the principle and how it is foundational to building a biblical worldview. Having done that, he turns his attention to four of these, giving practical pointers on how to get from behavior to the heart, how to apply the sowing and reaping principle of Scripture to corrective discipline, communication with children and the centrality of the gospel.

The strength of this book, like Shepherding a Child’s Heart before it, and the message I need to hear again and again, is Tripp’s insistence, his constant exhortation, that parents must look beyond behavior and look primarily to the heart. It is far too simple to create little legalists, children who adhere to the letter of law, all the while defying the spirit of the law and the One who gives us laws in the first place. It is more difficult but far more profitable to look to the heart for it is the heart that is the wellspring of all behavior. The heart is the heart of all effective instruction. But where the focus of Shepherding was turning the emphasis from outward obedience to matters of the heart, the focus of Instructing is on building into a child’s heart a worldview that is biblical enough and sufficiently robust to stand up to their questioning and to the culture’s skepticism. The task of parenting, after all, involves showing our children “the vital connection between the powerful story of redemption in the Scriptures and their daily experience. The instruction we give them will only make sense in the context of the story of the Scriptures that tells them who they are and about the God who made them and offers them redemption.”

Like most books on parenting, this one is filled with moments that are at the same time obvious and profound. You will encounter statements that are so obvious you wonder if they really needed to be said, only to realize that you could have used that bit of wisdom only moments ago. While muttering, “Well, duh!” you’ll also feel twinges of shame and regret. This is a book that is immediately applicable both to parents and to their children. It is a book that turns to the Bible to provide God’s wisdom on how we can be effective parents. “Your greatest need,” says Tripp, “is to understand deep truths from the Bible. Solid parenting skills are built on solid truth.”

This is not a book that tells you how to control or manipulate your children so that they will spend their lives living in an irrational fear of a domineering parent or a hostile deity. Instead, it is a book that teaches parents to gently but consistently build into children a worldview that begins with the heart and that focuses on God and on His glory. “We should impress truth of the hearts of our children, not to control or manage them, but to point them to the greatest joy and happiness that they can experience—delighting in God and the goodness of his ways.”

We’ve waited a long time for the follow-up to Shepherding a Child’s Heart. I believe most parents will feel the wait has been well worth it.

 

6 years 8 months ago
If you have been in a Christian bookstore in the past six or seven years, you are undoubtedly family with John Eldredge. Beginning with The Sacred Romance (co-authored with the late Brent Curtis) and continuing with Wild at Heart, Captivating, The Way of the Wild Heart, and others, his books have been constant features on the Christian bestseller lists. His latest effort, Walking with God is poised to be another big seller.

In this book Eldredge seeks to teach Christians what it means to live in intimate relationship with God. To this end, he opens up his journals, using himself and his life as examples of how to do this. He says simply, “This is a series of stories of what it looks like to walk with God over the course of about a year.” But even more than a tale of walking with God, this is a book about talking with God. Eldredge wants his readers to enjoy conversational intimacy with God. “Really now, if you knew you had the opportunity to develop a conversational intimacy with the wisest, kindest, most generous and seasoned person in the world, wouldn’t it make sense to spend your time with them, as opposed to, say, slogging your way through on your own?” Eldredge offers his own growing ability to hear from God as a guide.

The book follows a unique format in that it does not have traditional chapters. Four broad divisions in the book follow the seasons but there are no chapter divisions. There is also little by way of deliberate teaching or by way of carefully building a case. In fact, this book reads more like a blog than a typical Eldredge book. The “sections” vary in length between a few pages and a few paragraphs and they tend to be written from a very personal perspective. If Eldredge had a blog I suspect it would read much like this book. This format may well appeal to people who are looking for an easy read and one that is directly applicable.

Walking with God is predicated on the assumption that God has a personalized will for each of us and that it is our job to remain in constant communication with Him so He can reveal this will for us. In the very first section, titled “Listening to God,” Eldredge shares a story about cutting down a Christmas tree. He and his wife had both felt that God had told them to cut down a tree on Saturday but they went on Friday instead. By ignoring God’s voice they put their lives in danger as their car suffered a breakdown and flat tires. The winter temperatures plunged precipitously while they were stranded. It was a serious situation, though thankfully one they escaped unscathed. From this story and many like it, we learn the importance of listening to God, even in the minutiae of life. There is, it seems, a “center of God’s will.” It seems that God’s will must be kind of like a level—there is a little bubble that is continually tipping to the left or to the right. Our task is to be constantly asking God for guidance and listening to Him in order to keep that bubble right in the middle. When it strays to the side, we fall outside God’s will and begin to live a life that no longer pleases or honors Him. Hence we must listen carefully and constantly. Only when we do this can we live the life God wants us to live and only then can we experience all of the blessings He has for us.

Knowing that many Christians do not believe that God communicates to us in this way, Eldredge makes a brief attempt to persuade in a section titled “Does God Still Speak?” His argument, it must be admitted even by his supporters, is hardly likely to convince those who have strong convictions on the matter. He primarily looks to the examples of God speaking to people in Scripture and concludes that this proves such communication is normative. Though he does acknowledge Scripture to be the first and foremost means of God’s revelation to us, and though he looks often to Scripture, he still insists that all Christians should expect to hear God speak to them personally. Nowhere does he interact with thoughtful objections to such communication. He essentially takes it as a given that God will offer fresh revelation today.

Though there is little formal guidance on how to hear God’s voice, Eldredge does suggest a process that goes something like this: Ask simple questions; remain in a posture of quiet surrender; sit quietly before God and repeat the question; try one answer and then the other in your heart and gauge how you feel about each. Carrying over from his previous books is the assumption that the human heart is inherently good and trustworthy. We can listen to our hearts and allow it to discern for us what is good and bad, right and wrong. Though God may speak in an audible voice, primarily we “hear” him in our hearts.

What are we to ask of God? Everything, it seems. Here are just a few of the things Eldredge teaches we should ask God about. “Do you want me to paint the bathroom?” “Do you want us to adopt a puppy?” “Should I stay late at work?” “Should we go to the ranch this weekend?” “What dates should we set aside to go hunting?” “God, where is my watch?” “Jesus, should I go fishing today?” “Jesus, do you want to heal Scout?” He also suggests that we ask God what Scripture passage He would have us read each day. We are to involve God’s direct guidance in every area of life.

As the book goes on and as the seasons pass the tales begin to grow just a little bit stranger. “God has been speaking to me through hawks,” says Eldredge at one point. He then describes watching a hawk through a telescope. “There was a moment when he looked straight down at me, and his eyes almost seemed as if they were the eyes of God. God looking down on me. I asked him what it meant. My love [replied God].” The story of the death of Scout, the family dog, while sad, is also quite unexpected. Eldredge spends a couple of paragraphs applying the promises of Romans 4 to his dog and then, when Scout actually dies, writes, “I heard him bark. Not in my memory, not in the past, but in that moment. In the kingdom of God.” He then asked Jesus what dogs do in the kingdom and God replied that They run. “And then I saw Scout, with the eyes of my heart, running with a whole pack of very happy dogs, near the feet of Jesus.” Meanwhile his son heard Jesus say, “He won’t give me the ball.” “To hear that from Jesus was more precious to us than I can say.”

A secondary theme of this book, which comes to the surface as we watch Eldredge live his life, is spiritual warfare. Eldredge has adopted the understanding that Satan and his evil spirits operate in domains and that as Christians we are tasked with protecting the domains God has assigned to us. He teaches that we are to be constantly binding the spirits that come against us, naming them and casting them out in the name of Jesus. He often models prayers like this one: “I bring the kingdom of God and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ over my home, my bedroom, my sleeping, all through the hours of this night and the new day. I bring the full work of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout my home tonight—the atmosphere in every room, over every object and furnishing, all media, throughout the ceilings, walls, and floors and all places in them, from the land beneath to the roof above and to the borders of my domain.” An Appendix shares “A Daily Prayer” which, at several pages, is too long to describe, but which continues at great length with exactly this type of prayer.

And so it goes. As a glimpse into the life of John Eldredge this book may have some appeal. But as a guide to hearing from God, it has little value. What the author teaches is fraught with peril. Feeling that we need to hear direct and fresh revelation from God in every matter is a prescription for paralysis. Though such a discussion is beyond the scope of this short review, it is far better and far more consistent with Scripture to see that there is no such thing as the center of God’s will. God gives us the Bible to guide us to what He expressly commands and forbids. Beyond those black and white commands, He gives us great freedom to live our lives. He does not expect or demand that we will stop to demand answers from a “still small voice” for every situation we face. Instead, we fill our minds with Scripture, we study His commands, and we live life in the freedom He offers. Walking with God offers confusion rather than clarity. Take a pass on this one.


If you are interested in the subject of divine guidance, here are a handful of recommendations:

6 years 8 months ago
The story of the Prodigal Son is undoubtedly among the best-known and most highly-favored tales of all time. Even those who do not know the story itself are familiar with its outline or some of the words and phrases that arose from its King James translation. A powerful and heart-rending story, it is unforgettable to all who hear it. John MacArthur, with no hyperbole, says it is “hands down, the greatest five minutes of storytelling ever.” His most recent book, A Tale of Two Sons, is an examination of this, Jesus’ most memorable and most powerful parable.

Though most people know something of this parable, very few really understand it. We see this even in the name assigned to it—the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The story, after all, was not meant to be primarily a feel-good tale of a father’s love for his son, though certainly it is that, too. Rather, “it is a powerful wake-up call with a very earnest warning.” The purpose of the parable, as Jesus delivered it, centered on the elder brother—the very character who is so often overlooked in popular re-tellings of the tale.

In the book’s opening chapter MacArthur makes clear the central and culminating lesson of the parable: “Jesus is pointing out the stark contrast between God’s own delight in the redemption of sinners and the Pharisees’ inflexible hostility toward those same sinners.” Though the younger son is important to the story, his redemption is not the main point. Rather, this parable is to serve as “a mirror for every human heart and conscience” that will reflect either God’s love for fallen sinners or a human hardness and arrogance that would deny that such hardened sinners could ever know His love.

A Tale of Two Sons is classic John MacArthur. If you have read his other books, you’ll know what to expect here. It is consistent, methodical exposition of the passage and one that never misses an opportunity to provoke application. It looks to the past to provide historical context and setting that explain many of the story’s elements that would otherwise be obscure to people reading 2,000 years later. The book looks first at the parable in its context and then at the story through a wide lens. It then turns to the younger brother, to the father, and finally to the elder brother. It concludes with an Epilogue that describes the shocking real-life ending to this parable—the very conclusion that is so often overlooked in modern adaptations and explanations of the story. Though the story itself has an open ending and Jesus never told whether or not the elder brother repented and discovered the joy of his father, the wider biblical context makes the ending clear. The elder brother, represented by the Pharisees, was hardened in his sin and turned on his father (who represents Christ). The son, in his unrepentant hardness, put the father to death. It is a tragic and sobering ending.

This book is a fine examination of the tale and an powerful explanation of its importance to each of us today. It is suitable for any reader—believer or skeptic, laity or clergy. Read it and you will be blessed!

I am not certain when this book will be widely available. It has been printed, though, and is now being shipped. So it should be available in the very near future.

 

6 years 9 months ago
Perhaps no area of discernment is more difficult and more controversial than the Christian’s engagement with culture. Are we to be cultural gluttons, immersing ourselves in the culture around us so we can speak to it from the perspective of first-hand experience? Are we to be cultural anorexics, avoiding culture altogether lest it corrupt us? Or are we to take some middle ground where we appreciate aspects of it while rejecting others? In Hollywood Worldviews, filmmaker and screenwriter Brian Godawa (To End All Wars) weighs in on the task of “Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment.” While looking at movies he seeks to “help the viewer discern those ideas that drive the story to its destination and how they influence us to live our lives—to understand the story behind the story.”

Godawa takes the position that movies both reflect and influence society. Not only do they reflect the worldview and the values of people within society but they also seek to teach others to embrace these values and worldviews. Thus by studying film we can understand cultural trends. We can understand what people believe and what people are going to believe. This arms us as we seek to reach out to this world with the good news of the gospel. “My goal in this book,” he says, “is to increase art appreciation. I want to inform the reader of the nature of storytelling and analyze how worldviews are communicated through most Hollywood movies, in order to aid the viewer’s ability to discern the ideas being communicated.” So his purpose is to reveal to the reader the worldviews underlying film.

After two chapters of introduction to storytelling, Godawa looks to worldviews in the movies, showing through example after example how every movie communicates something of a worldview. The most common worldviews communicated today are existentialism and postmodernism, though others are certainly present to varying degrees. Having discussed worldview, he turns to spirituality and shows how Hollywood has portrayed Christianity, angels and demons, heaven and hell, and faith. A final chapter is titled “Watching Movies with Eyes Wide Open.” Here he warns that “not all movies are worthy of our time or attention, because all stories are not created equal” and he provides several warnings and encouragements for watching movies.

I enjoyed Godawa’s approach to worldview in film and learned a great deal about movies in general and about movies I’ve already seen. I was able to see how I have not been sufficiently discerning in understanding what movies are attempting to communicate. Where I’ve often seen only a nice story, Godawa makes it clear that there is an agenda behind the story—an agenda that I’ve missed completely. I will be watching movies more carefully in the future and will be seeking to discern what lies behind the story. This was a good lesson for me, I’m sure, and one I am glad to learn.

It seemed strange to me, as I read the book, that one of the topics that is likely to be most important to Christians as they consider movies is relegated to an appendix. In the appendix we find “Sex, Violence & Profanity in the Bible.” Here Godawa provides some justification for watching sex and violence in film and for listening to the inevitable profanity. His justification is one I’ve seen countless times—that the Bible contains these themes as well. “The depiction of evil and its destructive ends can be just as true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, worthy of praise and profitable as can the depiction of righteousness and its glorious ends.” He points to the importance of context as we wrestle with with these issues. In many films these acts happen within an ungodly worldview and in a way that is never redemptive. “Context makes all the difference between moral exhortation and immoral exploitation of sin.”

If the book has a failing, it is right here. Godawa simply does not provide a satisfactory rationale for watching movies in the first place—or at least movies that include sex, violence and profanity. He does warn that “we must be careful to draw personal lines that we will not cross, based upon what particular things affect us negatively when we are exposed to them in movies.” But he gives little by way of universal negatives—things that would (and maybe should!) negatively affect everyone. He seems usually to draw the line not with certain acts or with a certain level of immortality, but rather with good or bad filmmaking and storytelling.

Godawa seems to fall into a trap of equating words and pictures. In so doing he ignores the power of pictures and the fact that pictures and words communicate in different ways. It is for good reason, I am sure, that God chose to communicate through a written rather than a visual Scripture. Equating “he knew her and she conceived and bore a son” with a steamy and passionate scene on the big screen is irrational. Simply because God saw fit to include an element in Scripture does not give us license to portray it visually. It is also important to note that the descriptions of sexuality and violence with the Bible typically arise in historical descriptions. And there is a difference between describing history and fabricating a story. A description of the horrors of the holocaust may be necessary in describing and hence in understanding history. Fabricating a story describing those same stories is not in the same category.

So though I appreciated Godawa’s instruction in discerning the worldviews inherent in film, I was less convinced that this is something we should or need to do. What Godawa set out to do, he did well. He showed that every film communicates a worldview and he gave tools to help discern those worldviews. Perhaps he should have just left the appendix out of the book. Now it would be too simple to say “Godawa is wrong” in teaching that we can watch films laden with negative elements. Rather, he left me unconvinced. I suspect the same will be true of many readers. This oversight aside, I found Hollywood Worldviews, with the exception of that appendix, a good and valuable read.

7 years 2 weeks ago
I do not generally consider myself a worrier. I am more the easy-going type—the kind who is generally carefree and and does not succumb to fear. Or so I like to think. But even then I have to admit that I can be fearful—I can give in to the temptation to worry. Even if I worry about the things I consider “big,” I prove to myself that I am still a worrier at heart. And to tell the truth, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t worry about something at sometime. We all tend to feel fear at one time or another; we all tend to be afraid of life, of what it brings, or of what we think it might bring in the future.

Running Scared is a book for fearful people, which is to say that it is a book for everybody. It is notable not only for its subject matter, but for its author—Edward Welch who has written, among other highly regarded titles When People Are Big and God Is Small. The book is divided into thirty chapters and Welch encourages the reader to tackle one chapter per day and to not return to the next until he has taken the time to discuss each one with another person. The chapters fall into two uneven parts, one with four and the other with twenty six chapters.

Welch begins with some initial observations, perhaps the most important of which is in the third chapter. It is here that he reveals that “fear speaks.” This is to say that fear tells us about…us. It tells us about how we understand ourselves, about how we understand God and how we understand the world around. Fear is “a door to spiritual reality.” “There is a close connection,” Welch says, “between what we fear and what we think we need. … Whatever you need is a mere stone’s throw from what you fear.” That statement is profound and well worth further consideration. It is little wonder that Welch suggests pausing often to ponder. Another point that I found worth of extra attention was this one: “Worriers live in the future.” Worriers are constantly looking into the future and using their imaginations to construct their own version of what the future will look like—what it must look like based on their understanding of what has happened, what will happen, and how God works.

Here is where adult imaginations show their mettle. Imaginations are our ability to consider things that don’t presently exist. Sometimes we call it vision. A visionary is one who looks ahead and envisions the trajectory of a church, business, or individual life. A talented visionary is one who can see future possibilities and persuade others of that future. Visionaries are rarely right (at least in the details), tend to be optimistic, and are always confident.

What does this have to do with worry? “Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.” Ouch. Worriers construct worse case scenario futures for themselves and begin to believe that these futures must be theirs. In this way they take on the role of prophets, but only of false prophets. And we all know what the Bible prescribes for false prophets…

Having shared his initial observations, Welch turns to the voice of God, providing a series of chapters in which “God speaks.” God first speaks about some general principles related to fear and worry and then to more specific matters—money and possessions; people and their judgments; death, pain and punishment; and then peace. Each chapter turns to Scripture for its authority and each concludes with a point or two of a personal response of application or reflection.

With surprise I admit that this is my first foray into the books of Edward Welch (though it certainly will not be my last). He has quite a unique writing style, one that made me think of Mark Buchanan with maybe a few shades of Max Lucado or Phillip Yancey (which in this case I mean to be a compliment). He writes conversationally, almost poetically, but also exegetically, drawing what he teaches primarily from the Bible. It is clear that He relies on Scripture as his authority and his source.

For someone who does not consider himself much of a worrier, I was surprised to find that this book offered me a lot to think about; it offered me a challenge to see where (not if) I worry. And as it offered the biblical diagnosis, it offered also the biblical cure. It showed me that worry, though usually a hidden sin and perhaps even a sin that most often seems harmless, is a sin that impacts my life and serves to distance me from the God who says time and time again, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. The Lord give you peace.” It showed me most clearly of all that the way I feel about fear and worry is a sure indication of what I believe about God.

Running Scared is a book I highly recommend. I think you’ll want to add it to your library as well.

7 years 1 month ago

Confronting the Sins We Tolerate

A new book from the pen of Jerry Bridges is always a noteworthy event and this month we’re blessed to see not one, but two new books bearing his name. The first of these, published by NavPress, is titled Respectable Sins. “The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more ‘refined’ or subtle sins.” And in the book Bridges addresses these “respectable sins”—sins, that though they bring dishonor to God, are too often overlooked among Christians. We are apt to focus on the obvious ills of society and our attention to those seemingly great sins somehow convinces us that our small sins are acceptable.

Bridges begins this book, as he usually does, by laying the foundation of the gospel. He addresses the Bible’s continual exhortations that we are to “be what we are.” We are called saints and are expected by God to act like those who have been set apart to be holy. We are to act like a people who have been separated unto God. While the Bible makes it clear that any conduct unbecoming a saint is sin, and while all Christians acknowledge that we do sin, we are still prone to ignoring certain transgressions that simply do not seem that serious. “We can readily identify sin in the immoral or unethical conduct of people in society at large. But we often fail to see it in what I call the ‘acceptable sins of the saints.’ In effect, we, like society at large, live in denial of our sin.”

All sin, no matter how subtle it may seem to us, is malignant. It “wages war against our souls.” Some subtle sins we commit without really thinking about them, either at the time or afterward. “We often live in unconscious denial of our ‘acceptable sins.’” But even these sins are “an assault on the majesty and sovereign rule of God. It is indeed cosmic treason.” But, in His sovereign good pleasure, God has graciously provided a remedy for sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After discussing the ramifications of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, Bridges transitions to a word about the power of the Holy Spirit, teaching how He works in and with us to cleanse us from our sin.

And here, after about fifty pages of important introductory material, Bridges begins to discuss individual sins he has identified in his own life and in the lives of other believers. Here is the list:

  • Ungodliness
  • Anxiety and Frustration
  • Discontentment
  • Unthankfulness
  • Pride
  • Selfishness
  • Lack of Self-Control
  • Impatience and Irritability
  • Anger
  • The Weeds of Anger
  • Judgmentalism
  • Envy, Jealousy, and Related Sins
  • Sins of the Tongue
  • Worldliness

Each one of these is discussed in some detail: how the sin can be identified, how it dishonors God, how it affects a Christian’s life, and what Scriptures we can use to overcome it. He encourages the reader to go slowly from chapter-to-chapter, pausing to meditate on the Scriptures he provides and seeking to allow them to challenge and, if necessary, to convict. The person who reads the book quickly will be rewarded, but the one who reads it slowly and meditatively will surely be rewarded more.

Jerry Bridges has long served the church in the area of applying the gospel to personal holiness, using the Word to convict of sin and the gospel to restore hope. This book is a welcome addition to his already powerful list of books. The respectable sins he outlines I could often identify in my own life as ones that I have been willing to overlook. I suspect the same will be true of any Christian who takes the time to read it. This book is built upon a simple premise and Bridges executes it powerfully. I don’t know of any Christian would not benefit from reading it and from considering those subtle, dangerous, respectable sins.

7 years 2 months ago

Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children

In recent weeks I have been attempting to make my way through some of the Shepherd Press catalog of books. Many of the titles and some of the authors were unfamiliar to me. Yet it seems that every time I read one of these titles I unearth some new treasure. Books like Polishing God’s Monuments and When Sinners Say “I Do” have blessed me greatly, have stirred my heart and have strengthened my faith. So it was with some expectation that I turned to Everyday Talk by John Younts, another selection from the Shepherd Press catalog.

Everyday Talk is, according to the subtitle, a book about “Talking Freely and Naturally about God with Your Children. With my children often asking about God and with my wife and I trusting that God will, in time, lead them to Himself, I was eager to receive guidance on how I can speak to them in spiritually meaningful ways.

While many books focus in on the few moments in life where you can make a deep and immediate impact on your children—those moments when they come to you broken and hurt and questioning life—this book focuses instead on the other moments. It focuses on the myriad moments and the millions of words that are doubtlessly among the primary influences on your children. As the author says, “The most powerful personal influence in your child’s life is everyday talk.” Reflecting on Deuteronomy 6 he writes, “Your everyday comments are the ones that teach your children most profoundly about your view of God. Your interaction with God in everyday, ordinary, non-church life is the most powerful tool of influence that you have with your children. It communicates what you really believe.”

Younts discusses the importance of talking to children about God everyday and in every way, offering practical ways of doing that. Though certainly not a how-to book, it is practical and creative. As the back cover states, the reader will “learn how to use ordinary conversations to show your kids the goodness and wisdom of God. With clear biblical teaching, John Younts illustrates how to lead your children into a greater awareness of the presence and glory of God.”

Reflecting on the book a week or so after finish it, I think I found it most helpful in dealing with the subject of obedience. As the parents of three young children, my wife and I often struggle with this issue. We want our children to obey us and to do so with joy rather than anger or unwillingness. We want to teach them the importance of obedience. We know that we have sometimes done very well with this and at other times have done poorly and are seeking to do better—to be more consistent. Younts teaches that “the goal of your instruction is not only to [for example] have the garbage taken out, but also, primarily, to teach your children the joy of obeying God.” It is pleasant words that promote instruction, and not angry or undignified ones. Looking at the example of God’s patience with the people of Israel, I learned that I need to stay the course, remaining kind and pleasant even while demanding obedience from my children. And when my children do refuse to obey, or refuse to obey willingly and with a joyful heart, my job is “to recognize their sin for what it is and teach them how to deal with it God’s way.” I can only do this when I understand that their sin is primarily an offense against God rather than being against me. I need to help them understand that though they may have sinned against their parents, the greater sin was against God and they must be reconciled to Him.

Parents, when you give in to anger, resentment or self-pity at your children’s bad behavior, you make yourself the center of the problem. You are loving yourself first and most. You must love your kids enough to show them the danger of their behavior. They need to see that their first problem is with God, and only secondarily with you. … You must be more concerned for them than for yourself, and you must be concerned most of all for God. By modeling patience, love, self-control—and all the fruit of the Spirit—you teach your children how extraordinary God is.

In the book’s opening pages Younts says, “My prayer is that this book will help you learn how God wants you to talk about Him every day.” And later he writes, “the purpose of this book is to help you, parent, to reflect the power of gospel grace in your everyday talk.” While God certainly has a lot of work to do in helping me consistently reflect the power of gospel grace in my everyday talk, this book has already helped me see the importance of considering the words I use and the attitudes I convey through all of life’s moments. Already it has given me new ears to hear my words and my wife’s words to ensure they communicate the fruit of the Spirit and it has given us new ways of considering how we can ensure that our everyday words impact our children for their good and for God’s glory. I’m glad to recommend this book to you!

You can purchase it from Westminster Books (and, of course, from Amazon). And since Westminster offers flat rate shipping, why not stock up on all three of the aforementioned Shepherd Press titles. You’re not going to regret buying any of them!

7 years 2 months ago

Mark Dever takes the 9 Marks from the pulpit to the pews.

I spoke to Mark Dever just about a year ago and asked him if there were any books in his future. At that time he mentioned that he’d soon have a book out dealing with personal evangelism but that he had nothing planned after that. It seems that his plans changed! The book on evangelism is due for release in just a few days (September 11). It has been preceded by What is a Healthy Church and will be followed by The Church and Her Challenges. What is a Healthy Church? is a shortened, introductory version of Dever’s previous book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church written primarily for people in the pews rather than the men in the pulpits. After all, church health is not the sole responsibility of a local church’s leadership. “If you call yourself a Christian but you think a book about healthy churches is a book for church leaders or maybe for those ‘theological types,’ while you would rather read books about the church life, it may be time to stop and consider again exactly what the Bible says a Christian is.” Said even more forcefully, “you and all the members of your church, Christian, are finally responsible before God for what your church becomes, not your pastors and other leaders—you.” Despite this, we might rightly ask, How many Christians have ever read a book about church health?

If you are familiar with Mark Dever’s ministry you know that he can be provocative, though always in a sanctified way. This book is no exception. Consider this, a portion of a short anecdote he shares: “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.” Why would Dever extend such a warning and do so at the beginning of the book? “I want [the reader] to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian’s life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers.” Church health and church membership really are that important.

The book falls into three parts. In the first, Dever answers the question of “What is a healthy church,” ultimately defining it as “a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word.” In the second part he looks at the first few of the nine marks of a healthy church, defining three of them as essential: expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the Good News. In the final part he looks at the remaining six “important” marks, which are: a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of membership, biblical church discipline, biblical discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. Those who have read 9 Marks of a Healthy Church will recognize parts two and three as a summary of nine chapters of that earlier book.

My wife and I have been members of an unhealthy church in the past (though, thankfully, we are now privileged to be members of a distinctly healthy church) and I suppose the one thing I would wonder about a book like this is how likely it is to make its way into churches that may need it most! After all, pastors of unhealthy churches will certainly not be likely to commend it to the members. In a few locations, and most notably at the end, Dever urges caution to those who are members of unhealthy churches, urging them to proceed carefully and biblically in trying to bring about change. “Pray, serve, encourage, set a good example in your own life, and be patient. A healthy church is less about a place that looks a certain way, and more about a people who love in the right way.” This is a valuable charge and one that clearly proceeds from a pastor’s heart.

What is a Healthy Church? is a valuable little book and one I hope is widely distributed and widely read. Churches that truly seek to be healthy should be glad to distribute this among its members and to discuss it. I think it could make a valuable title for study and it will be at home in any personal or church library. Those who truly desire church health have nothing to fear from it, and certainly a lot to gain.

 

Choice Quotes

“It’s impossible to answer the question what is a Christian? without ending up in a conversation about the church; at least in the Bible it is.”

“When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn’t just join a local church because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. He joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ.”

“If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all!”

“A healthy church is not a church that’s perfect and without sin. It has not figured everything out. Rather, it’s a church that continually strives to take God’s side in the battle against the ungodly desires and deceits of the world, our flesh, and the devil. It’s a church that continually seeks to conform itself to God’s Word.”

“Friend, the church finds its life as it listens to the Word of God. It finds its purpose as it lives out and displays the Word of God. The church’s job is to listen and then to echo.”

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