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Tim Challies

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commentary

4 years 9 months ago
I love the book of Proverbs and often feel bewilderment when I think of how few Christians, and Christian parents in particular, rely on the wisdom it contains—knowledge that is at once deep and wide. Proverbs is, in so many ways, a manual for raising wise, discerning, godly children. Why then don’t we turn to it more often?

Perhaps it is because mining the wisdom of Proverbs involves concerted effort. Not only do many of the jewels, by their very nature, reveal themselves only upon deep reflection, but the seemingly hodgepodge nature of their arrangement can make it difficult to find the themes, the common threads that wind their way through the text. It is helpful, then, to read a book in which much of that difficult work has already been done. In A Father’s Gift Ken Wingate has sought out and compiled many of the most common themes: wealth, relationships, purity, work, self-control, health, pride and so on. He has taken these themes and applied them to life in the twenty-first century, showing how the challenges of Solomon’s day are the same challenges we face today.

Wingate is a lawyer by trade, practicing in Columbia, South Carolina. Within the book the reader will find many references to the author’s vocation. This adds an interesting element as he shares how he has seen the truth behind many of the proverbs through his clients and through people he has encountered in the courtroom. His perspective as a lawyer (rather than a pastor as we might expect) is refreshing.

In his foreword to the book Sinclair Ferguson says this: “Proverbs—and Ken Wingate following it—shows us the way to possess the jewel of all jewels in a well-adorned life: wisdom that is rooted in the knowledge of, and reverential love for, God. Here is true wisdom that will prove to be worth its weight in gold in every age and culture. Ken Wingate now brings it into our needy culture, and I for one am grateful to him for sharing his gift as a father with other fathers—and mothers, and sons and daughters too.”

In this book, written for his children but given now to anyone who cares to read it, Wingate has done us a great service. He has collected much of the wisdom of proverbs under suitable headings and has shown how these proverbs, these principles, are absolutely timeless, as important to us today as they were to the young men they were written for so many centuries ago. I benefited from reading it and am sure you will too

5 years 4 months ago

Yesterday I described the book as The Perfect Technology. There was perhaps a little bit of hyperbole involved, but I think the point was well-taken. I was actually surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Maybe as Christians we are unusual in this regard; maybe Christians are, almost by definition, readers and, thus, people who will toss away their books only with great caution. This is good, I think, as Christians tend to be too pragmatic, prone to believe that any innovation that claims to make life immediately easier or more convenient (without violating any clear teaching of Scripture) must be good.

Today I want to carry on with a few more thoughts about reading in a digital world and I want to focus in on one issue in particular.

I have witnessed recently what I consider a disturbing trend—Christians coming to church armed not with a Bible but with an iPod or an iPhone or another hand held device. With many versions of the Bible available in electronic formats and with the widespread popularity of MP3 players, cell phones and other digital devices, I guess it just makes sense to some people to bring Scripture in that electronic format. Pragmatists that we are, I believe many Christians have done this without thinking at all about the implications.

I want to encourage you not to bring an electronic Bible to church. I want to encourage you today to bring to church a Bible—an old fashioned kind of Bible, with ink printed on paper and slapped between two covers made of cardboard or leather or pleather. I also want to encourage you not to get into the habit of doing your daily Bible reading using an electronic device. I think we stand to lose far more than we gain.

In the past couple of months I have spent a fair bit of time reading the works of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman—gurus of the technological age. I tend to prefer Postman as I find him not only more accessible but also more accurate and more realistic. McLuhan is prone to hyperbole, excessive hyperbole even, and I find that this detracts from his effectiveness as a communicator (though I know that many would disagree with me on this point).

McLuhan is undoubtedly best-known for his catchy little phrase, “the medium is the message.” It sometimes helps to emphasize that little word is as if to stress that the the medium and the message carried by that medium cannot be neatly separated. This is exactly what McLuhan emphasized time and time again—we cannot afford to fall into the trap of believing that media are neutral, simple bearers of a message. “The medium is the message.” In a classic case of McLuhian hyperbole, he would say that the content of a particular medium “has about as much importance as the stencilling on the casing of an atomic bomb.” He turns the equation right around, saying that the content is nothing, the medium is everything.

I think McLuhan makes an important point and one that we discount at our folly, though he overstates his case here and elsewhere. Still, where McLuhan is so important is in understanding that every medium carries with it a message that necessarily impacts the content. We like to think that we are smart enough, holy enough, to draw complete and utter separation between medium and content. Christians do this all the time when we assume that there is no difference between singing songs from a hymn book and singing songs via a projector and Powerpoint. We do this when we listen to sermons online instead of listening while seated in a pew. But what if we are fooling ourselves? What if the medium really does radically shape our perception, our understanding, of the content it carries? What then?

This is where Neil Postman comes in. In Technopoly Postman says that, when two technologies come into competition or conflict (two technologies such as the Bible printed on paper and the Bible on an iPod), it is more than technologies that are squaring off, but rather, entire worldviews. Every medium, he says, carries with it some kind of an ideological bias, “a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing more than another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.” Thus, again, the method we use to convey information is inseparable from the content of that information. And even more so, every medium carries with it both content but also a worldview. When we read the Bible electronically, we read the very same words, but in a way that influences us toward a different worldview, a different way of understanding the reality of those words.

Postman also adds to this discussion a phrase that is so simple but so important: a technology does what it was created to do. Over time, a technology will play out its hand, to to speak, and it may do so in ways we would not expect. Had Gutenberg known what would happen through the invention of the printing press, do we believe that he still would have invented it? That printing press was instrumental in forever changing the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a faithful son). How many other technologies have played out their hands in completely unexpected ways? Should we not be on our guard, then, when considering such new innovations?

So where does this leave us? It leaves us wondering what ideological bias, what predisposition, is carried in the book and in the electronic book. It causes us to wonder what skill or attitude is amplified in the book and what skill or attitude is amplified in the iPod.

But I will have to take this up in another article. Check in next week for that.

7 years 3 months ago
 

Don’t be scared away by the title. After all, commentaries are not only for pastors. So read on!

I do not have an extensive collection of commentaries (though, for a guy who has only preached once, I’m doing alright, thanks primarily to my father trimming down his library). But of the volumes I do have, among the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are titles in the Reformed Expository Commentary series. These are not the kind of commentary that rely on extremely thorough and scholarly treatments of the passages. Rather, they are pastoral (though still scholarly) in their tone and read much like application-heavy expositional sermons (which, I suspect, is where many of them had their origins).

The co-editors of the series are Philip Ryken and Richard Phillips. In the Series Introduction they make it clear that these commentaries were written for pastors, lay teachers and all other lay persons. “We hope that the devotional quality of these studies of Scripture will instruct and inspire each Christian who reads them in joyful, obedient discipleship to Jesus Christ.” I think they’ve written the commentaries in such a way that this goal is attainable. As you may have discerning from the title, the commentaries are consistent with the Reformed creeds and confessions. They are biblical (committed to comprehensive exposition of the text), doctrinal (committed to the Westminster Standards), redemptive-historical (committed to a Christ-centered view of the Old Testament), and practical (committed to applying the text to people today). Individual volumes are endorsed by a wide variety of Reformed pastors and theologians (Baptist and Presbyterian alike—don’t be scared off by the word “Westminster.”).

I have found the commentaries very useful in my personal devotions. I read a chapter or two from the Bible, spend a bit of time meditating upon it, and then turn to the commentary. It has been a wonderful way of reaching into the depths of these books of the Bible. The commentaries are certainly easy to read, even for a guy with no formal theological training and very little knowledge of the original languages.

If you have been looking for a guide to going deeper into the text of the Bible, these commentaries may be just the key. Unlike many commentaries, they are very reasonably priced and, since the series is still in its infancy, you can jump in now and build the series as they are released in the coming years. While I’m sure this series will prove valuable to pastors and teachers, it is the kind of commentary series that anyone can purchase and benefit from.

To this point the following volumes are available:

I have worked my way through James and am currently well into Hebrews (and have referenced the others in writing and research). I’m probably going to head to 1 Timothy next and then detour into one of the Old Testament books. I can certainly vouch for James and Hebrews. Both have been very well written and very easy to understand and apply. While I have not read much written by Richard Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist and now his commentary on Hebrews are quickly making me realize that he has been blessed with a great gift for teaching. And his volume seems typical of this series.

So take a look and consider adding this commentary series to your library. And then be sure to read them. I’m convinced you’ll find that they will prove beneficial to your faith.

7 years 9 months ago
Buying commentaries is often a difficult proposition. There are so many available and yet so few that are really solid. A good commentary is an invaluable aid in leading the reader to the cross; a poor commentary tends to lead anywhere but. With commentary prices being what they are, it hurts to purchase one only to find that it is a poor choice. New Testament Commentary Survey, edited by D.A. Carson and now in its sixth edition, seeks to provide guidance on the best options available.

Originally written by Anthony C. Thiselton under the title Personal Suggestions About a Minister’s Library, the book was revised in 1973 and renamed to New Testament Commentary Survey. In 1976 D.A. Carson assumed authorship and updated it in 1976, 1984, 2001. “They years fly by,” writes Carson, “and new commentaries keep appearing—and so we have arrived at the sixth edition” published in 2007 by Baker Academic.

The purpose of this book is “to provide theological students and ministers with a handy survey of the resources, especially commentaries, that are available in English to facilitate an understanding of the NT. The mature scholar is not in view.” When writing a book such as this one, it would be easy to give a blanket endorsement of titles written by authors whose theology closely aligns with your own, but I was glad to see that Carson is able to look beyond this. “Theologically I am an evangelical, but many of the positive assessments offered in these notes are in connection with books written from the vantage point of some other theological tradition: the usefulness of a commentary sometimes turns on something other than the theological stance of its author—assuming, of course, that commentaries are read critically, as they should be whatever one’s theological heritage. Conversely, just because a commentary stands within the evangelical tradition does not necessarily mean that it is a good book. It may be thoroughly orthodox but poorly written, uninformed, or quick to import from other biblical passages meanings that cannot rightly be found in the texts on which comment is being offered.” This book, then, is a guide to commentaries and not necessarily to orthodoxy. Carson offers brief assessments of many works, including comments on “the work’s level, general competence, and so forth.” He points out the theological slant of a book when he feels this is important.

While the majority of the book deals with suggestions for individual books of the Bible, Carson does spend some time dealing with commentary series, both “series worth noting but not pursuing” and “more substantial series.” He also glances at one-volume multi-author commentaries, one-author sets, and older commentaries. A complete chapter is dedicated to “Supplements to Commentaries” and covers resources such as New Testament introductions and New Testament theologies. These sections are followed by suggestions for each book of the Bible.

Because of the vast number of resources available, and because this book is meant to be only a survey, many commentaries receive only a brief paragraph. For example, when discussing MacArthur’s commentary on Matthew, Carson writes, “A hybrid difficult to classify—part commentary, part expository sermon—is the work of John MacArthur in 4 vols (/Moody 1985-89, $21.99 per vol.). These books are wordy and often betray too little time and care taken with the text, so that they cannot be read as reliable commentary; but the amount of information goes beyond that of most expositions. Doubtless they will well serve the well-read layperson and the poorly trained preacher.” When discussing further commentaries written by MacArthur, Carson tends to provide only a few words and then direct the reader back to these comments for an overview of the series. Some commentaries receive only a few words, such as these dealing with Ryken’s commentary on Galatians: “The volume by Phillip Graham Ryken is solid Reformed exposition (/Presbyterian & Reformed 2005, $24.95).” An author index in the back is helpful to lead directly to Carson’s assessment of the work of any particular author.

The book concludes with a list of “best buys,” which does not necessarily list the best commentary for each of the books of the Bible, but serves as a subjective list that “identifies commentaries that are a good value for the money for the theological student or well-trained preacher who is interested in understanding the Scriptures and who is willing to read commentaries critically.” It is a cheat-sheet of sorts, pointing to good books that can be had at a reasonable price.

While the reader’s experience with this book will vary depending upon his agreement with Carson and Carson’s theology, this volume is a helpful companion to those who wish to have some guidance in the commentaries they purchase. It is a resource that can benefit any pastor, student of theology, or anyone else who cares to purchase commentaries.

8 years 5 months ago
My wife has a bad habit of forgetting what she has requested for her birthday and Christmas. We celebrated her birthday just a few weeks ago and, upon opening a study guide for the book of Ephesians she looked a little bit surprised. I had to remind her that she had asked for just such a guide. Unfortunately, as with so many similar books, it proved to be a little bit disappointing. It went through the book of Ephesians, but seemed to ask many disjointed and nearly irrelevant questions. It did teach many of the major themes of the book, but it was not a very satisfying or edifying experience.

I have learned to expect to be underwhelmed with study guides. Sadly, it was with this expectation that I began to read The Story of Joseph and Judah, a guide written by Warren Gage, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary and Christopher Barber, a lawyer who is also a graduate of Know Theological Seminary. I am glad to say that this guide, which promises to provide a “fresh look at Genesis 37-50,” does just that and does it very well.

The book begins with a metaphor of sorts. Gage and Barber describe a story of two men, both of whom have travelled to Milan to gaze upon Da Vinci’s masterpiece the “Last Supper.” The first, a scientist, studies the work with a magnifying glass, moving slowly and methodically from top to bottom, left to right. He takes in the delicate brush strokes and the subtle use of color. And then, having studied every inch of the work, he turns his back and leaves, feeling satisfied that he now knows the painting. The second man stands as far away as possible and tries to understand how Da Vinci has captured a moment of Jesus’ life. He takes in the big picture, observing how each segment fits with the others. He notices that all the lines in the painting carry the eye directory towards Jesus. And then he too leaves, satisfied that he knows the painting. How is this relevant to The Story of Joseph and Judah? “Our portrayal of the difference between the scientist and the art lover allows us to more easily explain the difference between the book you’re now reading and almost any other study of Scripture. Most books examining Genesis (or any other book of the Bible) follow, for the most part, the style of the scientist who stayed very close to the painting. Such studies begin with chapter 1, verse 1, and move line upon line, precept upon precept, breaking down each verse into individual phrases, words, even syllables. Like the scientist, it is as if we have a magnifying glass in our hands, and our noses only inches from the wall” (5). The authors do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with such inductive study, but have decided to provide a different methodology in this study guide. They seek to give attention to the inductive study while doing so within the scope of the big picture. It is a unique concept for such study guides and one that proved itself to be very helpful in understanding the passage.

Another unique aspect of this guide is that it begins at the end of a book rather than the beginning. One would expect a study of Genesis to begin with the first chapter. The Story of Joseph and Judah, only the first of a series of guides planned by the authors, begins with the story of Joseph, which they point it comprises seven times more space than the account of creation. “If our goal were simply to read and examine the book as a book, the beginning would be the appropriate starting point. However, we are suggesting that Genesis (and the Bible as a whole) is more than just “a book,” but is ultimately a work of art in itself, a masterpiece with a Creator behind it” (8).

And so, over the course of 12 lessons, the authors walk the reader through the fourteen chapters of Genesis that tell the story of Joseph. Yet, as you may have surmised from the title of this book, the authors feel that the true center of this story is none other than Joseph’s older brother, Judah. The story of Judah’s coversion is the pin in the center of this wheel. They show that this story is a work of art, divinely woven together to bring glory to God.

I found the structure of this study guide as satisfying as any I’ve ever worked through. The questions are consistently relevant to the passage and there is a good mix of teaching and application. The authors use three icons to guide the reader: an artist’s palette points to broad themes and patterns; a magnifying glass points to areas that focus upon a specific word or detail; and a cross brings out the themes, patterns and symbols that appear to reference Christ. Perhaps best of all, the authors do not only ask questions, but they also answer them. Far too often when using study guides I have been unsure of the intent of a question and, since answers were not provided, have had to simply skip over these ones.

The Story of Joseph and Judah is a fresh and biblically-sound examination of this passage of Scripture. I enjoyed it tremendously and am glad to recommend it. I am looking forward to the subsequent volumes in this series and the opportunities these books will surely provide for me to learn more about the story of redemption. If you are interested in a guide for personal or group Bible study, you likely won’t do much better than this.

The guide is available directly from the authors’ website. I would recommend purchasing it directly from the authors as there is little price difference and doing so will leave more of your dollars in the pockets of the men who brought it to us.

8 years 5 months ago

Tuesday May 30, 2006

Emergent: Steve Camp chimes in on the Mark Driscoll controversy. His comments and critiques are measured and biblical.

LiveBlog: Carolyn McCulley is doing a great job of liveblogging the New Attitude Conference. She is apparently learning a new respect for the art of live-blogging.

Quote: “Advice is like castor oil, easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take.” (Josh Billings)

Outrageous: A high school in Texas, after deciding to use a picture of a nickel on the yearbook cover, removed the words “In God We Trust,” lest it prove offensive to any unbelievers. FoxNews reports. “The intention, according to a school spokesman, was to ‘make sure all faiths were respected.’”

8 years 6 months ago
It was only through the providence of God that Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Faithful God came to be. The chapters of the book were originally written as a series of messages delivered at the conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales in Aberystwyth in August 1996. But the spoken word and the written word are sufficiently different that, when asked if he would consider turning the messages into a book, Ferguson, who serves as Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Dallas, was not optimistic, for the amount of work in converting the spoken word to the written is at least as great as preparing a book from scratch. Years later the rediscovery of a computer disk marked “Ruth—Aberyswyth 1996” compelled Ferguson to finally commit the messages to book format. God was good to allow him the opportunity.

Faithful God is an exposition of the book of Ruth. It is short, as expositions go, totalling only 157 fairly small pages. But while the book may be short in length, it contains a message that is both compelling and timeless. Much like the book of Ruth, it is multum in parvo—much in little.

The format of the book is simple. After an introductory chapter which discusses the themes that we will encounter within this book of the Bible, Ferguson dedicates one chapter of his book to each chapter of Ruth. He shows that, as we read Ruth, we will discover that it is a type of mirror in which we will see four reflections: the first is that of the various characters who appear on the stage of the narrative; the second is the reflection of God himself; the third reflection is that of Jesus, who, though not to be born for many years, is clearly present; the final reflection is that of our own lives. By seeing how God has worked in the lives of others, we will know and understand how He works in our lives and be both blessed and encouraged.

One aspect of the story of Ruth to which Ferguson opened my eyes was the godly character of Boaz. I had always seen Boaz as only a minor character in a story about a faithful woman. Yet this book shows that Boaz was a godly man, one who in so many ways exemplified how Christians are called to act and what Christians are called to be. He was a man who loved the Lord and was willing and eager to be used by and for the Lord. And in the end, Boaz and Ruth were both used in a way they would not know until they had left this world for the next, for from them came Obed, Jesse and the great King David. And from the line of David came the Lord and Savior of both Boaz and Ruth.

Ruth, in so many ways, is a lesson about God’s providence. It is a story that teaches us that we simply cannot know all that is happening to and around us. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways that we can only trust and believe that His good purposes are being accomplished even in the midst of great pain and sorrow. It is a story that has aptly been described as one of the greatest short stories of all times. Its lessons are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago when it was first told.

Faithful God is a book that touched me deeply and one I recommend without reservation to all Christians. It is a small book and one which is unlikely to be promoted or even to catch your eye. But do not let its small size and relative obscurity fool you. This is a wonderful book and one that I trust can and will bless you as it has blessed me. There is much wisdom in its pages. There is much to ponder, to reflect upon, and to prayerfully integrate into a life. It can be read in only a few hours but will bring benefit to any believer’s life. Read it and reap!

9 years 2 weeks ago

I am exceptionally busy today (again). I have, quite literally, ten or twelve different web design projects underway. One of them is particularly massive and has a deadline of October 31, so the rest of the month is likely to be just as busy. So rather than try to focus my mind on one topic for any length of time this morning, I though I’d post about a variety of things that have been bouncing around my brain.

Halloween and Homeschooling: Yesterday’s inevitable discussion on Halloween has generated some interesting discussion on this site and others. On question in the comments section caught my attention. Mark wondered “if there’s a linkage to being okay with ‘Harry Potter’ books and being okay with halloween participation, and vise versa?” I am generally anti-Harry and at least somewhat pro-Halloween, so in my case there is no link. What would interest me, though, is if there is a connection between home schooling and Halloween participation. I realize this will probably offend many homeschoolers, and I am certainly not trying to be offensive, but would be interested in knowing if there is a connection between a refusal to participate in Halloween and a committment to homeschooling. I would imagine there is a connection and will provide two reasons why I believe this. The first is that some people seem to be naturally a little bit more isolationist or independent than others. It is likely easier for such people to remove themselves from activities such as Halloween as they have already practiced this type of seperation. Secondly, I would guess that many Christian parents who, either reluctantly or enthusiastically allow their children to trick-or-treat do so because they do not want their children to feel different than the other children in school. Obviously this is not an issue for homeschoolers. I should also add that all of the home schooling parents I know of in this area do not participate in Halloween. Of course this may be mere happenstance.

While we are on the subject of homeschooling, I’m also wondering what the connection is, if any, between those who home school and those who home church. In recent weeks I have learned of several people who worship in the home on Sundays, either as a family or with the participation of another family or two. While I know that not all (or even most) homeschoolers home church, all of the people I know of who home church also home school. Did you get all that?

And before I move on, I would like to reaffirm my respect for families that choose to home school.

Grammar and Homeschooling: All of this writing about homeschooling has made me realize that I am unsure of whether homeschooling should be one word (homeschooling) or two (home schooling). Same is true for homeschoolers, homeschool, homeschooling, etc. Can someone fill me in on the accepted grammatical standard?

Sports: In the past few days I’ve been thinking a little bit about Christians and sports. Now I believe Christians can participate in and watch sports, but I’ve been wondering about sports fans. A couple of years ago I went to a Buffalo Bills preseason game where the Bills took on the Rams. Just as I entered the stadium, near field level, Kurt Warner came jogging out of the tunnel leading from the locker rooms to the field. As he passed the crowd one man yelled out, “You’re going down, Warner. Number 95 is going to kill you!” Of course I have been to my share of hockey games and have grown accustomed to such threats and remarks, but I kind of like Warner and was a little surprised to hear such harsh words. When I watch the Atlanta Falcons play, I am always secretly hoping Michael Vick gets crushed by a big defensive lineman so we can finally watch a quarterback who can actually throw the ball instead of just dancing around with it like an inebriated ballerina. When I sit in the stands at a Bluejay’s game, I cheer for the home team and boo the opposing team, just as is expected from me as a Toronto fan. The question I have is whether this is just an acceptable part of sport or whether Christians should somehow hold themselves to a higher standard. Should we be always encouraging or can we accept jeers as just one aspect of what sports are all about?

Doug & Tim At long last Doug sent through a picture he took of the two of us in Minneapolis. This was actually taken at Minnehaha Falls. The bemused look on my face was my reaction to being dragged into some type of immature photo-fight between Doug and his sister. The two of them seem to have an ongoing disagreement who takes the best self-portraits (where the photographer holds the camera with his or her arm outstretched and takes a photo of him or herself). Doug wanted to prove that he could do better than his sister. Somehow this photo makes my head look like it is detached from my body. I am the least-photogenic person I know and absolutely despise having my picture taken so it is quite a big step for me to post a picture of myself here. In fact, in the years I’ve had this site, this is only the second such picture.

Incidentally, if it looks like everyone else in the photo is having more fun than I am, it is probably because my plane was leaving in about an hour, and as much as I enjoyed seeing Minnehaha Falls, I was fretting about missing my flight. So anyways, here we are. That’s Doug on the right and I’m on the left with my hair looking really spikey. Must be that hard Minnesota water. Doug and I have agreed that the prospect of a long, cold winter hibernation has encouraged us to pack on a few extra pounds.

Tim and Doug