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

Tim Challies

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November 22, 2009

Jerry Bridges has long been a great gift to the church. His books, especially the classics like The Pursuit of Holiness and The Discipline of Grace, have impacted millions of Christians. His speaking ministry has taken him across the world, allowing him to bless countless thousands more. A couple of years ago I was privileged to spend a half hour or so with him backstage at a conference and enjoyed the opportunity to just sit and enjoy his company. He is just the kind of Christian I want to be when I grow up.

Next month Jerry will celebrate his 80th birthday. One of his friends contacted me recently to see if I would like to send along some form of congratulations and of course I wanted to. We then discussed how we could allow others to do the same and thought that it might work best to simply give you the ability to do so right here.

So if you would like to wish a happy birthday to Jerry Bridges and, even better, if you would like to encourage him in his ministry or thank him for it, you can do so by filling out the form below. All replies will be be kept confidential and given to him by his wife on his birthday.

November 02, 2009

Seven years into blogging and six years into daily blogging, I’ve decided to try something, well, completely different. Today I want to introduce to you a new blog I’ve begun. It is called 10MillionWords.


First, though, let me say that, as far as I see it, not much is going to change here at challies.com. I intend to continue to blog daily in much the same way I have been doing for all these years. I love what I do here and don’t intend to change things up anytime soon. This blog is still my priority when it comes to writing and, I hope, will always be so.

Having said all of that, let me tell you about my new project.

A few months ago I found a site that provides archived lists of all the New York Times bestselling books from 1950 to the present. I began browsing through the list and was struck by the great diversity in the books that make their way onto the list. They really do run the gamut, touching on every genre, covering the spectrum from left to right, from Christian to atheist, from one extreme to the other. I found myself wishing that I had been able to read more of these books over the years. What a well-rounded, interesting view of culture and worldview they would give me. To read these books from any given period, whether the 50’s or 60’s or today would be to learn something about the culture. It would be a snapshot of the people, of what they are thinking about, of what they are learning, of whom they are learning it from.

From there I began to wonder if it would be possible to read all of the bestsellers over the course of a period of time. I began to run through the archives, trying to figure out how the list works, how many books are added, how long they remain there, and so on. When I had done the quantifying and qualifying I realized that I could probably read all of the bestsellers for a year and do so without completely neglecting all of my other responsibilities in life. When I did the math I found that all of the words in all of those books would probably come in at somewhere around 10 Million Words.

You can see where this is going. In 2010 I intend to read all of the New York Times bestsellers. I will qualify this by saying that I’ll be reading all of the hardcover, non-fiction bestsellers. Fiction has little appeal to me and does not offer as valuable a snapshot of the culture as does non-fiction; the softcovers have generally already been released as hardcovers. So it made sense for me to focus on just that one list. There are fifteen books on the list and it is updated once weekly. On average there are three or four books added each week. Some weeks there are as few as one new one added or as many as seven. In any case, I am going to attempt to read them all. My intention in all of this is to find in those books lessons on culture and worldview.

Through the rest of 2009 I will be reading as many of the bestsellers as I can and trying to “find my voice.” I will be trying to find the best way to seek out and communicate the lessons about worldview and culture that will be the heart of this project. I may also try to focus some attention on books dealing with reading better, reading faster, increasing retention, and so on.

So I am going to encourage you to visit the new site, 10MillionWords.com. There are already quite a few reviews over there of some books you may enjoy. The site is hosted at Gospel Coalition. I mentioned the site to them and, for various reasons, we felt it would be a good idea to “park” the site for the year. You may like to subscribe via RSS or subscribe via email. You might also like to follow 10MillionWords via Twitter or join the Facebook group. At the very least, visit the site, bookmark it, and drop by a few times. I think (and hope!) you will find it an interesting and valuable stop on your online travels in the months to come.


March 16, 2009

Toronto PastorsI dedicate a fair amount of attention on this blog to conferences. This is the first time I’ve done so for a conference my church is hosting. We are thrilled to announce that registration for the 2009 edition of the Toronto Pastors Conference is now open!

If you are a pastor or a church leader-or just interested in knowing how to serve to build Christ’s church-we would love to have you join us on June 1-3, 2009 at Richview Baptist Church here in Toronto.

The speakers for our main sessions will be Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker. We anticipate a tremendous blessing as these two hugely gifted and qualified men come to share with us from God’s word how he would have us serve his church.

Make sure to register early! The earlybird registration cost is only $100 for the three days of the conference. Also, if you register early there is free billeting available through some of the families at our church-but space is limited and offered first come, first served. So register fast!

Want more information on speakers, schedule, location, topic, or anything else to do with the conference? Check out the TPF website for all the details!

August 06, 2008

Almost eight months after my review of The Shack I continue to get daily emails about it. This is proof, I suppose, of the book’s continued success. I do not know if the novel’s popularity has peaked yet but can see that it is still at the top of its category on many of the bestseller lists. The emails I receive typically fit into one of two categories: the “thanks for the review” category or the “how dare you?” category. Today I want to address just two of the more common critiques of my critique of the book.

Here is how one reader expressed herself: “Hello Tim. I read your review after I had already read The Shack and I think your review is ridiculous. Your review reminds me of exactly why ‘stodgy old religion’ is so unappealing to masses of people.William Young wrote a novel - a story that inspired me and thousands of others to want to have a closer, more intimate relationship with God. All your theological arguments can’t erase that.” Another concerned reader told me of a professor in a conservative seminary who was untroubled by much of the book’s poor theology. “I was surprised that he seemed not as concerned due to the fact that it is a novel and so some leeway should be allowed for ‘poetic license.’ He acknowledged my concerns and said he shared them as well but said the novel did not ‘intend to do theology.’” I have received these comments, or ones like them, time and time again.

There are two broad arguments used here.

The first is pure pragmatism, implying that the book should be judged not on theological arguments, not on the basis of comparing it to Scripture, but on the basis of how people have reacted to it. Because so many people are responding positively to this book in opposition to “stodgy old religion,” we must believe that it is good. “William Young wrote a novel - a story that inspired me and thousands of others to want to have a closer, more intimate relationship with God. All your theological arguments can’t erase that.” The danger of such an argument is that it effectively places us over the Bible and over God. No longer do we judge right and wrong by what God says, but we judge right and wrong by how we feel. If the book inspires people to be intimate with God, we must judge it to be good. If it stirs emotions we like, we judge it to be good.

There are profound implications here. Pragmatism necessarily causes us to lose our focus on the absolute standard God has given us in His Word to determine right from wrong. When we lose that focus the church is placed on the slippery slope to becoming like the world. When we discard God’s standards we must depend on our own deeply flawed standards. We begin to trust in ourselves and lose our trust in God. We lose our reliance on His Word as the tool for discernment.

The second argument is that The Shack is not a work of theology and, therefore, must not be treated as such. An article at Christianity Today makes this argument. “It’s tricky to speak definitively of The Shack’s theology. Young could have written a theological treatise, a spiritual memoir, or even a long poem. Instead, he wrote what he calls a “parable” (not an allegory). That should give readers pause about confidently reading off a systematic theology from the book.” And in their review of the book they say, “Readers are talking about The Shack for its theology and its storyline, not for its faulty mechanics. Reviewers have criticized the book for hinting at universalism, as well as for feminism and a lack of hierarchy in the Trinity. Rather than slicing and dicing the novel, looking for proof of theological missteps, a better approach might be to look at significant passages as springboards for deeper discussion. The Shack is a novel, after all, not a systematic theology.”

This is a convenient argument but one we need to guard against. It creates a false, unrealistic division between works that are theological and works that are not. Surely we will admit that there are works that call for great theological precision (such as a Systematic Theology) and works that call for a more general precision, but we cannot neatly divide areas that require correct theology and areas that do not. The Shack is, by the author’s own admission, a work that seeks to change the reader’s perception of God. It is deeply theological! Read the reviews of this book and you will find readers saying how much this book impacted their understanding of God’s person and nature.

Tom Neven, writing for Boundless Line, covers this well in an article titled “But It’s Only Fiction.”

If you’re going to ground your fiction in the real world, then it must conform to the rules of the real world we live in. No unicorns or magic squirrels allowed. Even one of my favorite literary genres, Magical Realism, adheres to certain basic rules.

So if you’re going to have God as a character in your real-world fiction, then you must deal with God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters in this story set in the real world, The Shack author William P. Young is clearly indicating that he’s supposedly talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about himself in Scripture, and much of what Young does in this novel contradicts that. I don’t care if he’s trying to make God more “accessible.” He’s violated the rules of fiction.

More important, why does Young feel the need to change the character of God in this story? In a way, he’s saying that the God who reveals himself to us in the Bible is insufficient. Young needs to “improve” the image to make it more palatable. But as I said in the original post, God never changes himself so that we can understand Him better. He changes us so that we can see Him as he truly is. If God changed his nature, He would cease to be God.

The Shack is theological fiction. If it talks about God, it must be so! While it may not require the kind of precision we would expect from a work of formal theology, we cannot deny that the author seeks to teach what he believes to be true about God. And we cannot then deny that it teaches theology that is, in a word, false. It is not an issue of precision but of right and wrong! Fiction is a powerful medium for communicating truth and the evidence of this is in every positive review of the book; the evidence is in the fact that Jesus Himself often communicated using fiction.

The reader who complained about “stodgy old religion” exhorted me to “try to re-read the Shack with a more open mind.” But from her email and the others like it, I can see that in this case an open mind would require a closed Bible. We cannot set aside Scripture even when we read fiction. There is no such thing as only fiction.

June 20, 2008

Earlier today Dennis Rainey sent the following email to some of his friends. I share this because it is just such a wonderful testament to God’s grace in the lives of these people. Only Christians can have such hope even in the face of devastating adversity.

On Thursday, Miss Molly made her way to her new home in heaven around 6:15 pm. Her last day with us began with a pretty average sunrise, but the sunset that closed out her Coronation Day was spectacular.

As we left the hospital, thunderstorms had blown up over the mountains resulting in a dazzling sunset splashing platinum gold shafts of light all over the Rockies. The light behind the clouds was brilliant. It was as though the sun was declaring, Magnificent Molly is home! What a homecoming it must have been…saying good bye and letting her leave this earthly home was one tough assignment for a young mother and father and a couple of families that had become hopelessly attached to this fragile little girl.

The Scriptures declare, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” That verse challenged our faith all day long, but it was nonetheless a day ordered by God’s sovereign hand of love and mercy.

Jake and Rebecca spent nearly all morning with Molly. As we arrived, Beth, Molly’s nurse and an angel herself, told us that Molly’s vital signs were slipping. Her little heart was racing at over 170 beats per minute and she was receiving 100 per cent pure oxygen, yet, her oxygen saturation level in her blood stream was down to 80. She was losing color. The nurse told us that it was Molly’s way of telling her parents, “it’s time for me to leave you and go home to heaven.” I am weeping as I write these words, none of us wanted Molly to leave.

Around noon, Rebecca and Jake honored all of us as grandparents by giving us the honor and privilege of holding Molly and gave us a moment to say good bye. None of us expected we’d get that treat. We didn’t want to rob them of one moment with their precious daughter.

Barbara got to be first. It was quite a maneuver to make sure all the wires and tubes that were supporting Molly’s life didn’t get tangled, but finally there she was in her arms, Mimi’s granddaughter. Barbara kept saying how much of an honor it was hold this little princess of the King. She held her close and cooed words of love and admiration over her beautiful face. Smiles and tears mingled.

Jake’s parents soaked all of her they could in and when it was Bill’s turn, he stroked her face, tenderly whispered his love for her and shared his favorite Scriptures with her. Pam beamed as she gently rocked Molly and sang “Jesus Loves Me” to her. Both Bill and Pam just held her, kissing her face, holding her little hands and weeping as they said good bye.

As Molly was placed in my arms she felt so warm, just like every other newborn. I tried to sing to her and I doubt that she recognized “Jesus Loves Me” as I choked out the words through tears.

Jake who was video-taping, asked me, “Papa, why don’t you tell Molly a story…one of your ‘Speck People’ stories?” I have to tell you that ‘speck stories’ are adventure stories of tiny little people and equally tiny little creatures who live in a make believe microscopic world, facing any number of challenges that demand courage and faith. Our kids were enthralled with these tiny people stories and now I am telling them to my grandkids. The stories always take the Speck People to the very edge of danger…and then I close, by saying, “And you’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to hear the rest of the story.” My grandkids love these ‘continue’ stories. (honestly, I’m not all that good at it…I just make it all up as I go.)

So here’s Jake asking me to tell a story…and I respond to Jake, “You aren’t going to ask me to do that, after I’ve just blubbered my way through a simple song like “Jesus Loves Me”, are you?” Jake was joined by Rebecca in saying a resounding yes—they wouldn’t let me off the hook.

So Rebecca and Barbara surround me as I held little Molly, looked into her face and began my story. A Speck grandfather and his Speck granddaughter went fishing for tiny speck fish. My story was less than 60 seconds long and I looked up into Rebecca’s face and she had the biggest grin, dimples and all. She was loving the moment. As I concluded my story, I told Molly, “the Speck grandfather and granddaughter took their fish and ate them, and then they encountered something that you would never expect or believe…and…you will have to wait until I get to heaven to hear the rest of the story!” At this point I was sobbing, but I got the words out…and Rebecca and Jake started laughing. I will never forget the look pure joy on this young mom’s face.

Rebecca’s laughter has always been contagious and I too began to really laugh. One other detail of importance is that all of us had been gingerly holding Molly, afraid that the stress of handling her might be more than her little body could handle. Jake and I looked at the heart and oxygen monitor to see if our hearty laughter had stressed her system, but the opposite was happening-they were going up! Her oxygen saturation which had been at 80 shot up to 92, then 94, 97, 98, 99…we just kept laughing and her oxygen level went to 100 per cent, which it hadn’t been in 24 hours. All four of us cheered with raised arms like at a football game. It was a moment of sheer delight and mystery. A small thing, perhaps? Yes, no doubt. But in the valley of the shadow of death, God gave us laughter.

Christians are the ONLY people who can laugh in the midst of such a crisis without despair-we KNOW where we are headed. Heaven is certain because of what Jesus Christ did for us through His death for our sins. Because He lives we who believe have the hope of life after death. If a person places faith in Christ for forgiveness of his sins, surrenders his life to Him, then he can be certain of heaven too. It’s the ultimate reason why death is different for a true follower of Christ. And it’s why we could laugh as our beloved Molly was about to leave us.

Laughter stopped and the tears flowed again as I was told it was time for me to say good bye. Rebecca was now holding Molly. Barbara and I knelt beside her as I read her my good bye letter:

Mighty Molly

I just met you-I feel cheated.
I don’t want to say good bye.

I know I’ll likely see you in a couple of decades or so-in light of eternity, it won’t be long, really.
Still I don’t want to say good bye.

You will always be My Molly, my granddaughter.
I’m really sad that I won’t be getting to spoil you
with a doll,
or go sneak chocolate,
or take you on ice cream dates,
and eat chocolate pie and pudding.
Laughing all the time at what your mommy and daddy would say if they knew what we were doing.
I don’t want to say good bye.

Your 7 days sure brought a lot of joy to your mom and dad’s face—
I’ve watched them drink you in with their eyes, kiss you from head to foot, stroke and caress you.
Your parents loved you well—God couldn’t have given you better parents. Courageous parents.
They have loved you with a sacrificial love that only a very few little girls like you ever get to experience.
Because it hurts their hearts so much,
Oh, how I really don’t want to say good bye.

And so, Sweet Molly until that day in heaven
When we will celebrate the Greatness of our God together,
(then we will go sneak chocolate and go on an ice cream date)
I MUST say good bye.

Good bye Molly Ann.

I love you,

Molly Ann Mutz
June 13, 2008-June 19, 2008

We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see
But all is well that’s done by Thee.

Psalm 112:1-2

May 31, 2008

My recent travels allowed me another opportunity to really put my Kindle to the test. (Because I live in Canada, several of its best features are only available to me when I head south of the border.) And having done so I can’t deny that I like it better than ever. Beyond the benefits I laid out in my recent review of the Kindle, here are five good reasons to own one.

Thousands of Free Books

Just about any book that is available in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) or in e-book format can be read on your Kindle. That gives you a vast library to build upon.

If you would like to build your library of Christian classics, visit CCEL. Browse through the library and download any of the books in PDF format. You can download books by Edwards, Bunyan, Augustine, Chesterton and just about any other classic author you can think of. There are literally thousands of titles there for the taking.

If you are a fan of John Piper, visit Desiring God and download any of Piper’s books for free in PDF format.

If you would like to catch up on classics or just browse other free e-books, visit Feedbooks. They have thousands of great titles available, all of them entirely free. Go there to download your fix of Orwell, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hawthorne…

How do you get these books to your Kindle? Easy. When you buy a Kindle, Amazon gives you an email address (your-username@kindle.com). Simply email the file to your address. Amazon will covert it and for $0.10 send it immediately and wirelessly to your Kindle. Want to save the dime? Then send the file to your-username@free.kindle.com. Amazon will convert the file (for free) and send it back to you via email (for free). You then simply copy it to your Kindle using the USB cable.

Buy Books Anywhere and Anytime

While enjoying a brief break at a recent conference, and while sitting in the back row of a university chapel, I felt the urge to buy a new book that I could enjoy while traveling home (and something that would be a little lighter to read than the Banner of Truth titles I had stuffed into my suitcase!). Within sixty seconds, using nothing but my Kindle, I had purchased a book and had begun reading it. Just like that. Using your Kindle you have access to well over 100,000 books at any time and any place.

You will also never have to worry about books going out of stock. When books run out of stock at Amazon or your local bookstore, they are always available on the Kindle. Anywhere, anytime. When the books go out of print, I suppose they’ll still be available for download to your Kindle.

Check Your Email Anywhere—For Free!

Many people pay a lot of money for the ability to check their email via their cell phone. With the Kindle you can actually check your email remotely and entirely free wherever you can get a Sprint cell phone connection. The same technology that allows you to purchase books anywhere allows you to check email anywhere. And it’s entirely free. You may wish to purchase the $3 e-book How to Use the Amazon Kindle for Email & Other Cool Tricks: Read and Answer Email Anywhere, Anytime on the Amazing Amazon Kindle… to read instructions on how to do this (and to learn some other interesting tips and tricks…like how to play Minesweeper on your Kindle).

Free Wireless Internet Everywhere

It’s true—you can use the Kindle to surf the web wirelessly…anywhere. Anywhere serviced by Sprint, at any rate. Granted it’s not going to look wonderful since the Kindle does not do color and isn’t meant to display pretty graphics, but it you want to visit sites you like to read (and remember, the Kindle is a reading device) you can do so from anywhere using the same cellular service for which everyone else pays $60/month.

Read the Bible

A quick search turned up at least eight different Bible translations already available for the Kindle (ESV, KJV, NIV, NASB, etc). They all cost less than $10. This article outlines some good suggestions for using the Kindle for Bible study. As with any other book, you can take notes, highlight passages, search for words and phrases and otherwise interact with the text of Scripture.

May 11, 2008

I went looking this morning for a prayer for Mother’s Day. I guess the Puritans didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day (wasn’t Hallmark around back then?) but I did find this prayer for the family in The Valley of Vision. It is called simply “Family.”

Thou art the Creator-Father of all men, for thou hast made and dost support them;
Thou art the special Father of those who know, love and honour thee,
who find thy yoke easy, and thy burden light,
thy work honourable,
thy commandments glorious.
But how little thy undeserved goodness has affected me!
how imperfectly have I improved my religious privileges!
how negligent have I been in doing good to others!
I am before thee in my trespasses and sins,
have mercy on me,
and may thy goodness bring me to repentance.
Help me to hate and forsake every false way,
to be attentive to my condition and character,
to bridle my tongue,
to keep my heart with all diligence,
to watch and pray against temptation,
to mortify sin,
to be concerned for the salvation of others.
O God, I cannot endure to see the destruction of my kindred.
Let those that are united to me in tender ties
be precious in thy sight and devoted to thy glory.
Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion,
instruction, discipline, example,
that my house may be a nursery for heaven,
my church the garden of the Lord,
enriched with trees of righteousness of thy planting,
for thy glory;
Let not those of my family who are amiable, moral, attractive,
fall short of heaven at last;
Grant that the promising appearances of a tender conscience,
soft heart, the alarms and delights of thy Word,
be not finally blotted out,
but bring forth judgment unto victory in all whom I love.

March 29, 2008

We are just a couple of weeks away from Together for the Gospel—undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated conferences of the year. I first mentioned a few weeks ago that at the conference there will be a small gathering geared specifically to Canadians and to people with an interest in ministry to Canada. This is a ministry of Grace Fellowship Church of Toronto and there are no expenses involved. It will be lead, at least initially, by my pastor Paul Martin and myself. We simply wish to invite all of the Canadians in attendance as well as anyone who has an interest in ministry in Canada, to meet with us for a short time after the day’s proceedings wrap up on the Wednesday of the conference.

We will be meeting in Room 112 at 9:30 PM on April 16 (or as soon as the day’s final session ends). This room is right within the convention center immediately below the main hall where the conference will be held. We know this will mark the end of a long day, so we will not keep you for long.

The purpose of this brief gathering will be to help network Canadian pastors and church leaders with a shared love of the Gospel as well to enable the flow of information on events and happenings between our churches. We do not wish to create another association or denomination or publication or anything of the sort and we are not formally associated with Together for the Gospel! Our goal is to help Canadian pastors network with each other at today’s event, as well as to begin a small website devoted to highlighting information of the Lord’s work that would be of interest across our country.

We will start by creating a database of names that will receive regular email updates as information is sent to us. We hope to allow your church to alert other like-minded Christians of events or needs as they arise.

If you are interested in attending, please mark the date and time on your calendar. If you’d like to ask questions, if you would like to let me know that you will be attending, or if you cannot attend but would like to be added to the email list, you can send me a note by clicking here. I have already received plenty of such notes and will be sending a brief email to everyone by way of reminder. Meanwhile, please spread the word to anyone you know who will be at the conference and who may be interested in attending.

We hope to see you there!