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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

book

March 28, 2008

It’s Friday and there are a few things I’ve been saving in my Favorites folder that I’d like to mention today.

The Internet Effect on News

I say, without any hyperbole, that this article from TIME may be the most important you read today. In it Michael Scherer explains how news has become commoditized through the internet.

Here is a basic shift that has occurred in the news business: Because of the Internet, you, the reader, no longer have to buy information in pre-fabricated packages like “newspapers.” You can just go online and individually select the articles you want to read. And there are lots of websites and blogs to help you out. Every day, Matt Drudge, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, Google, Swampland, or a hundred other different bloggers, will pre-select articles for you and provide links. You choose your own adventure.

There is a corollary effect here: As the value of the package declines, the value of the individual article increases. Online, news organizations charge advertisers based on the number of hits they can get on a site. And since the hits are often coming for specific stories, and not the entire site, a blockbuster story that gets linked to, say, Drudge, is money in the bank.

This means that the competition on the level of the individual story is more intense than ever before, and there is enormous pressure to distinguish yourself from the pack. Assume, for instance, that 12 news organizations do the same story on the same day about how Hillary Clinton has a tough road ahead of her to get the nomination. Which story is going to get the most links and therefore the most readers? Is it the one that cautiously weighs the pros and cons, and presents a nuanced view of her chances? Or is it the one that says she is toast, and anyone who thinks different is living on another planet?

The author explains that, as we rely more on isolated headlines and less on the total package, we become enamored with flashy headlines and stories that are fast and provocative rather than methodical and accurate. “This trend towards story-by-story competition, and away from package-by-package competition, is a blessing and a curse. It is forcing better writing, quicker responsiveness, and it is increasing the value of actual news-making and clear-eyed thinking. But it is also increasing pressure on reporters to push the boundaries of provocation. I am not sure that the Politico story crossed any boundaries, or distorted the truth. I do believe that what Allen and VandeHei did is very much the future of news.”

This is something that we, as Christians, need to consider and consider well. Of all people we are the ones who should value truth above speed or controversy. We should be people who do not allow what’s controversial and provocative to titillate us, even while many of the facts may be wrong. I’ve seen this tendency in my own heart and at times even on my own blog.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

I just found out yesterday that my book, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, has gone into a second printing. I’m not too familiar with the whole publishing industry and associated terminology but what I do know is that this means the book has sold most or all of the copies Crossway printed. I’m guessing their sales forecasts were for the book to sell fewer copies than it has. So I suppose that’s a good thing.

Thanks again to all of those who purchased it. Since the book’s release I’ve been blessed with many kind and encouraging emails. Several people have written to say that they are using the book with youth groups, Bible studies, and so on. That is both humbling and gratifying.

The Atonement

Some time ago Shai Linne was kind enough to send me a copy of his new album The Atonement. I can’t say that I listen to a lot of rap music so I’m not the kind of person who can adequately evaluate the album from a musical standpoint. However, I can say that it is very strong lyrically. The only real parallel I can draw is to Voice and his albums. The songs deal with real and deep theology. The music is interspersed with snippets of sermons by John Piper and C.J. Mahaney.

Here is a brief biography:

shai linne is living proof that God has a wonderful sense of humor. He once told his mom that he would never, ever become a Christian, completely oblivious to the fact that God had chosen him to be a Christian before time began. He doesn’t like the spotlight, so God gave him natural gifts that put him on stage as an actor. He doesn’t like to be in front of people, so God gave him spiritual gifts that are mostly public in nature. shai has appeared on numerous independent and national Christian Hip-hop releases, including his 2005 full-length debut, The Solus Christus Project. All this from someone who doesn’t like hip-hop and never pursued a career in music. Someone in heaven is having a big laugh at his expense. After all this time, shai still doesn’t get the joke.

For more information and to listen to song samples, check out his MySpace page.

Earth Hour

Tomorrow is Earth Hour. People around the world (but mostly around North America) will be turning off their lights for one hour at 8 PM. “Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change. Don’t forget to sign up and let us know you want to join Earth Hour.” Toronto is a flagship city and many people here will be participating (though surely far less than the organizers would like). I noticed that even the Toronto airport will be dimming the lights for that hour. The management of a local mall just held a contest to seek ways to save energy. The prize was a trip for two to Australia. I couldn’t help but wonder…wouldn’t that trip to Australia cause more pollution than anything they might hope to save by turning down the lights? But I digress. I don’t think I’ll be participating (though it’s possible I’ll change my mind if we’re the only family in the neighborhood with lights on). How about you?

January 25, 2008

Since my book was released I’ve had a few requests to share what I’ve learned about the book-writing process. Friday seemed like a good day to do that. On the whole I found writing the book to be an overwhelmingly positive experience and one I hope to enjoy again. There are currently no plans for a second book but I do hope to begin again before too long.

What I’d like to do today is share just a few entirely subjective thoughts on my experience in the hope that it will prove useful or interesting to you.

Writing the Proposal

I was blessed to be able to avoid much of the thankless chore of submitting the book (unsolicited) to all kinds of different publishers and just hoping against hope that it would stand out above some of the rest. But usually there is no way of avoiding this. I do not have much wisdom to share when it comes to actually finding a publisher. One thing I can attest to, though, is the value of having a blog. More and more I think we’re going to see the blogosphere serving as a kind of minor leagues where writers can establish first that they can write well and second that other people will be interested in reading what they write. It is a proving ground, of sorts. In the coming months and years you are going to see more and more books written by people who came to the attention of publishers through their blogs. Get used to it.

Publishers differ on how much input they wish to have when it comes to the actual writing process. Some involve themselves in each word of each sentence while others prefer that you simply submit a manuscript to them when it is complete. In either case, it is usually best not to write a complete book before shopping it to publishers. Instead, write a complete outline and submit that with two very good sample chapters. Make these your two best, strongest, most complete, most biblical, most amazing chapters. Edit and proof-read them thoroughly and get others to do the same. Here are the areas you’ll likely wish to cover in a proposal: A Brief Introduction to the Book, The Need for This Book, Competition or Similar Books, The Audience for This Book, Biography, Promotion (ways you will be able to promote your book), and Endorsements (people who are likely to endorse the book).

In your proposal outline every single way you may be able to sell the book through your own channels. As the publishing industry changes, it is becoming increasingly important that you prove able to assist in selling the books. This is particularly true with smaller publishers.

If all goes well, your proposal will be accepted and you’ll be offered a contract. This contract will help you understand that, unless you end up selling books like Don Miller or John Eldredge, you won’t be wanting to quit your day job anytime soon!

Writing the Manuscript

When you begin to write the book you’ll probably learn how silly your initial proposal was. The outline will morph and evolve until it’s scarcely recognizable. It’s all part of the game, I guess. Just yesterday I had a friend, who is also writing a book, remark on the strange nature of writing. You hole yourself up for days researching a subject and writing down what you need to communicate about it. And then you emerge into the sun again, asking people to read it over and critique it. You’ll do this time and again as you move through the book. Because I’ve only written one book I haven’t really established a system, but I did find it best to try to set aside at least one or two days for writing. I got more accomplished this way than if I only worked for an hour or two at a time. As the book grew in length, it took longer and longer to find my context. I would often have to read the entire book before I could continue from where I left off writing. And as the book grew, this would take several hours out of my first day of writing.

I had intended to write the book in order from chapter 1 to chapter 10, but soon found this wasn’t as easy or as logical as it at first seemed. Instead I wrote the book thematically. As I searched the Bible and other resources I would find topics that seemed to fit well under a particular category. I would then try to write about those topics, regardless of the chapter they fit into. This system (or lack thereof) may not work for everyone, but it worked well for me. It also made things less rigid, I think, as it meant I could hold off writing about subjects that I had not adequately researched. It meant that I did not have to write chapter six if there was still research to do on that chapter.

Prayer support was indispensable at this time. I had asked many friends to pray for me as I wrote the book, and particularly on Fridays which I tried to set aside for research and writing. This prayers, I am convinced, made all the difference.

Your contract will specify how long you will have to write the book. In all likelihood you’ll require six months or a year to complete it. From the time you submit a proposal to the time the book actually hits store shelves can easily be two years. Patience will prove a virtue.

A Published Author

Seeing the book in print was not nearly the experience I had thought it might be. No angels sang and no trumpets blew. It was, of course, good to see the book in print, but I don’t think it registers up there with marriage and the birth of my children. Nor should it, I guess. Since the book’s release I’ve done all kinds of interviews (both radio and print) with many more to come. If you write a book you’ll want to prepare yourself to talk about it. This can be a little more difficult than it sounds since it will probably be at least six months between the time you complete the book and the time everyone wants to talk about it. So you’ll want to spend some time re-reading the book to make sure that all of its content is fresh in your mind. Make sure you write out a good list of “Questions about the Book” and be prepared with good answers to them. Your publisher will probably help you with this.

And then prepare for the unexpected. Lots of strange and interesting and uncomfortable opportunities are likely to arise as the book begins to make its way into the world. Pray a lot and ask others to pray for you during this time. You’ll need it.

Top 40

Top 40I thought you might get a laugh out of this and figured I’d just add it in here. In the most recent issue of Christian Retailing magazine is the first half of an article called “40 Under 40” (the second half will be published in the next issue). It is a listing of people they consider influential future leaders in the publishing industry. “The future direction and health of the Christian retail channel depends much on the next generation of leaders emerging to shape the publishing and selling of Christian resources in a world very different from its formative years. Christian Retailing identified 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are widely considered to be influential figures for the days ahead. Young leaders in eight categories are profiled, beginning in this issue, by Natalie Nichols Gillespie.” The list includes lots of people I haven’t heard of (primarily industry insiders) and a few I have (e.g. Rob Bell, Matt Bronleewe, David Crowder, Kirk Franklin, etc). Somehow they saw fit to include me in this list. It’s an honor of course. But just in case it was going to give me a big head, they declared me the least recognizable on the list. Those who know me will know that I’m just fine with that status. Click on the picture to see an excerpt from the article.

January 21, 2008

Today marks the end of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour. This was meant to be only a two week tour, but events conspired to keep me from visiting SharperIron on the scheduled date. We decided we would add one date to the tour so I could make that stop.

The guys at SharperIron focused on the common belief that discernment is intuitive rather than something that requires dedicated thought and practice. How does Scripture tell us to view discernment as a step of rational thought guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than a supra-rational sixth sense? After that opening question, they asked several questions that furthered application. For example, If I use my knowledge of Scripture to judge some action as evil, and this discernment seems clear, how should I view my brother who does not make the same discernment? These were surprisingly difficult questions that I struggled with for quite some time.

Read my answers here.

I am grateful for all of the bloggers who chose to participate in this tour:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 18, 2008

Today is the second to last day of the blog tour for my new book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. For the past two weeks I’ve been answering questions that have been asked by a variety of bloggers. Though something neither I nor Crossway had tried before, this blog tour has been fun, I think, and I’ve been pleased to receive quite a lot of positive feedback. Today the tour moves to Church Matters, the blog of 9Marks Ministries. They asked the following two questions: Tim, from your perspective as a layperson, what steps would you like to see more pastors taking to grow in discernment? And, Are there specific areas of church life and pastoring in which you find yourself wishing pastors would exercise greater discernment?

Read my answers here

Here is a list of the blog tour stops:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 17, 2008

We are nearing the end of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour and today the tour takes me to Michael Spencer’s blog. I appreciated these words from Michael: “Those of you looking for an argument can move along. I’m sure Tim and I disagree on many things, but scripture tells us that it’s a good thing when brothers dwell together in unity. Our agreement on the Good News of Jesus outweighs our disagreements.” He asked questions about what happens to churches and Christians who refuse to practice discernment, about freelance discernment ministries, about a Protestant magisterial and about Tim Horton’s (along with a few other topics).

Read my answers here

Once more, here is where the tour has gone and where it will go for its last two stops:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 16, 2008

Today brings us to the eighth day of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour. For those who were concerned about the fact that we missed the planned stop at SharperIron, you’ll notice in the schedule below that we’ve added one more date to the tour and we’ll finish up at SharperIron on Monday.

Today I stop by for a visit with the Pyromaniacs. I’ve been reading this blog since it first came into existence—back when Phil Johnson was the only contributor. But, as you may know, Phil eventually decided to rename the blog and to take on a team of people to blog with him. Thus Dan Phillips, Frank Turk and Pecadillo came on the scene. Earlier this week Frank Turk took the opportunity to ask me quite a few questions about the sources I relied on, about my hermeneutic, about the use of humor and levity in discussing serious topics, and about which of the Pyro team is my favorite.

Read my answers here

And here, once again, is where the tour has gone and where it will go in the days ahead…

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 15, 2008

The blog tour for The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment marches on and today makes a stop at Between Two Worlds, the blog of Justin Taylor. Chances are that if you read my blog, you also read Justin’s or are, at the very least, familiar with it. Justin’s site is an indispensable source for news and good links to other resources and it’s a blog I recommend above just about any other.

Here is what Justin asked me:

As the World’s Most Famous Canadian Reformed Blogger, you seek to practice discernment as you critically engage culture and review books. Having now extensively studied the concept of biblical discernment, I wonder what implications you think this has for “discernment blogging”? In part, I’m thinking of “watchdog” blogs and bloggers that have “discernment” as their primary focus. Speaking generally, what are they doing right, and where do they need correction?

Read my answer here

Here again is the schedule for this tour.

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters
January 21SharperIron
January 11, 2008

This morning I continue with The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment blog tour by answering a question at Gender Blog, the official blog of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The question is one that is important, interesting and, I found, quite difficult to answer adequately and sensitively. Here is what they asked:

It is not an uncommon experience reported by female pastors today that they believe they have received an actual call from God to become a pastor. Here are two recent examples from the newspaper:

  • Jacci is not a rebel. She didn’t want to break new ground for those “crazy feminists.” She only wanted to follow God’s leading. After much study and soul-searching, Jacci’s thoughts became clear during a college trip to the Holy Land. “It was a call,” she stated. “It was quite amazing. I turned to a friend and said - I think God is calling me to be a minister. I was waiting for God to strike me dead. It was a huge shift in my thinking. That was not in the realm of possibility for my life the way I had grown up and had been taught.”

  • There was no writing in the sky, no voice from heaven. “I would have loved that,” said the Reverend Keri, “but that doesn’t happen. At least, it didn’t happen to me.” Nevertheless a bolt of some sort caused Pastor Keri to suddenly quit her job and go to seminary. She is now the new shepherdess of a 266 member church..

How would you help a woman discern whether or not she is receiving an actual “call from God” to become a church pastor?

Read my answer here

The tour will go on a weekend hiatus before continuing next Monday with visits to Jollyblogger, Justin Taylor, the Pyromaniacs, the Internet Monk and 9 Marks Ministries. And the questions just keep getting tougher! Here is the schedule:

January 7Evangelical Outpost
January 8Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9A-Team
January 10Adrian Warnock
January 11Gender Blog
January 14Jollyblogger
January 15Between Two Worlds
January 16TeamPyro
January 17Michael Spencer
January 18Church Matters