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Tim Challies

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July 29, 2013

Paul WasherYou probably know Paul Washer as the man who preached the infamous “Shocking Youth Message,” a sermon that has tallied over one million views on YouTube. But there is far more to the man than that one sermon. For ten years he was a missionary in Peru and in that time he founded the HeartCry Missionary Society to support Peruvian church planters. He is also a pastor, an author, a conference speaker and now serves full-time with the HeartCry Missionary Society. I recently asked you to help me interview him and today and tomorrow I will share what turned out to be a fascinating interview. (Note: Reformation Heritage Books has dropped the prices on the Kindle editions of the first two volumes in Washer’s “Recovering the Gospel” series. The Gospel’s Power and Message is $2.99. The brand new The Gospel Call and True Conversion is down to $4.99).

MeCan you tell me the five people who have most influenced your faith and the five books that have most influenced your faith?

Paul WasherThe person that I most admire is Jesus Christ. He is the only perfect Person. There is simply no comparison. The difference between Him and all other men is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. He is in a category all to Himself. The most precise and thoughtful scholar is limited in what he knows and wrong in some things that he affirms; the most devoted saint is stained with sin and full of error; the bravest heart among us will fail and break; but Christ is altogether lovely, holy, and unfailing. With regard to saints in history, I have gained the greatest benefit from George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Whitefield, and John Calvin. But these are only a few. To borrow a phrase from the author of Hebrews, “What more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of…” all the Reformers and Puritans from whom I have benefited: Bunyan, Boston, Brooks, Edwards, Flavel, Goodwin, Murray, Newton, Owen, Ryle, Sibbes, etc.

The book that has had the most influence on my life is the Bible. This goes without saying for every genuine Christian, but it should always be emphasized, even at the risk of redundancy or cliche. It is the Book of books, the very Word of God, and the only written document that possesses the power to save and transform lives. Other than the Scriptures, the most important book in my life has been The Autobiography of George Muller. It sits on the right-hand corner of my desk; its cover is worn, and its pages are yellow and torn from much use. It has been a great help to my faith throughout nearly thirty years of ministry. The second most important book to me is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This book sets forth the doctrine of salvation with amazing clarity and insight. The third book is Today’s Evangelism by Ernest Reisinger. As a young man, I always knew there was something wrong with the way I was doing evangelism. God used Reisinger’s book to expose the superficiality of my message and methodology. Halfway through the book, I was full of fear because of the way I had been preaching the Gospel. That day, I promised God that if He would let me live, I would never preach the Gospel in a superficial manner again. The fourth book is actually a collection of books entitled, The Complete Collection of E.M. Bounds on Prayer. The fifth book is Pentecost Today? by Iain Murray, which is one of the best treatments of revival and the power of the Holy Spirit I have ever come across. It most closely resembles my beliefs with regard to this doctrine. Finally, I must also mention a video series that greatly impacted my life when I was a young missionary in Peru — The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. I watched portions of that series on my knees. At times, I would have to pause the tape and simply lie prostrate on the floor. It was a pivotal moment in my life.

MeMany people first learn about you through YouTube and the “Shocking Youth Message.” Can you tell how that message came about, and how it came to be a YouTube hit? What has the message meant to your life and ministry?

Paul WasherAs I walked up to the pulpit, I was unusually burdened and was unsure about what to preach. It seemed that there were thousands before me who were resting in a false assurance. There was a message burning in my heart, but I knew that it would be offensive. As I began to speak about the influence of culture on the church, the people in the auditorium broke forth in applause. They had no idea that I was speaking about them. At that moment, I took up my text in Matthew 7 and began to preach. It was as though I was being carried and pushed along by strong wind that I could not resist. I felt broken into a million pieces, and yet I was fearless about the consequences. Immediately afterwards, I thought I would collapse, and I was full of fear. Many people were angry with me that day. I remained troubled about the sermon for the next few weeks. While I was preaching, I had no doubts; but afterwards, I was besieged by doubt. Had I done the right thing? Several months passed, and I eventually put the whole thing out of my mind. I never saw a copy of the video, nor did HeartCry put it online.

After several months, we began to receive emails from all over the world. People were sending in testimonies of how they had been saved through “The Shocking Youth Message.” All of us at HeartCry were bewildered. We had no idea what message the people were writing about or if I was the one who had preached it. Finally, one of my fellow staff members went online and found it. I was shocked probably more than anyone. Radio stations began calling and asking for interviews, and debates were going on all over the Internet either for or against what I had preached. Even after all these years, we still receive testimonies from around the world of people who have been converted through that sermon.

The message has affected my life in many ways. Positively, it has allowed me to preach and write about the Gospel and the nature of genuine conversion. Also, it has opened the door for people to see the work that God is doing through the HeartCry Missionary Society and indigenous missions. Negatively, it has led some young reformers to hold an unbalanced view of the kind of preaching that is needed for true revival. The message I preached was hard, very hard, but it was the exception and not the norm of my preaching. There are times when a “hard word” must be preached, even to God’s people. However, the church and the individual believer do not grow by daily helpings of “hard words,” but by being nourished and encouraged by the full counsel of God. The greatest catalyst for spiritual maturity in the truly converted is a greater revelation of the love of God in Christ. Another thing that “budding prophets” need to understand is that a preacher carries a Sword, a basin, and a towel. He is quick to use the basin and towel with great joy. But he is slow to use the sword, and he always does so with tears and fear and scarred knees.

January 25, 2013

It was a week or two ago that I came across a band called The Gray Havens. I listened to a few clips and decided to pre-order their first album, an EP that releases today. It turns out that they are readers of this site. I thought it would be fun to do an interview and they thought it would be fun to give you a copy of their album. So here goes!

Tim ChalliesWhy don’t you start by telling me a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from—you know, all of those details!

Dave RadfordI am twenty four years old. I am recently married to my beautiful wife, Licia, who is a part of The Gray Havens as well. We live in Crystal Lake, IL, a Northwest Suburb of Chicago where we attend the Evangelical Free Church of Crystal Lake. Licia spends her week working part time for the church youth ministry and part time for Starbucks. I typically spend my week teaching voice lessons at two local High Schools (one of them being my Alma Mater), as well as performing dueling pianos in a group called Felix and Fingers. It can all seem a bit discombobulating and chaotic at times, especially in recent weeks, but it’s been a great learning sesaon for both of us leading up to the EP’s release.

Tim ChalliesA few years ago you were in the top-24 of American Idol (season 5). Tell me about that experience. What were some of the highlights of being on the show? What were some of the surprises? Any regrets?

Dave RadfordThe Gray HavensAmerican Idol was a whirlwind. I have catalogued the full narrative in a 5 part series of blog posts elsewhere, but here are some brief thoughts. The audition process was certainly interesting. You basically have to go through two rounds of audtions before you can stand in front of the actual judges (Paula, Simon, and Randy at the time). Interestingly enough, what actually landed me in front of them was a Louis Armstrong impersonation that I offhandedly mentioned I could pull off in a preliminary interview. In response to the question, “do you have any hidden talents,” I told an AI staff member I could pull off the impersonation fairly well. I ended up being asked to prove it in my executive producer audition. They laughed and sent me through just because of that (they did actually ask me to sing for real though). I think what put me in the top 24 after being able to sing well was the fact that I could diversify their contestant roster as a young guy singing big band and jazz. The greatest part of the whole show was the relationships I made with the other contestants. I grew pretty close with some of them, especially the other minors (we all had to go to “school” during the day). Also, having no idea what each day would be like when I woke up and sharing that experience with my friends was amazing. I loved it. My greatest regret is that I did an awful job of keeping in touch with those on the show, and have virtually lost contact with all of them. Maybe one day I’ll be able to start reconnecting again.

August 07, 2012

This morning I posted a review of Shon Hopwood’s new memoir Law Man. After reading the book I tracked down the author and did an interview with him. Give it a read, as I think you’ll enjoy it.

Law Man Cover

If you had to give a short summary of the theme of your book, what would it be? I don’t mean an outline of the contents as much as an underlying theme. What will the reader take away from it?
I think different people will find different themes, depending on their worldview. Some are going to come away from the book and say, “Why does a former bank robber deserve forgiveness, his wife, law school, and to tell his story in a book?” Others will see redemption through hard work and dedication—your typical pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps story. But the real crux of the story is God’s grace. He poured out his grace not only through my salvation, of course, but also through the help of others. I would love to sit here and tell everyone that I’m super smart and that it was my legal ability and hard work which resulted in the Supreme Court granting two of my cases. But that simply isn’t true.

You are a professing Christian and outline the story of your conversion in the story, yet this isn’t a “Christian book” per se. Why did you choose to for the mainstream instead of a book that would be sold in the Christian market?
I really struggled with that decision. At one point, Crown Publishing and I talked about writing two books: one mainstream book and one Christian book. It never materialized. And, after praying about it for a long time, I realized that there was a reason God had given me a book deal. It wasn’t just to tell my story of sin and grace to believers; it was to show unbelievers that, through Jesus, even those who committed crimes can be redeemed. I also knew that if the publisher labeled the book Christian and if it was segregated to the Christian section of bookstores or Amazon, very few unbelievers would read it. So, I decided to write a mainstream book that contains a Jesus story with the hope that those who don’t or won’t normally read a Jesus story, will still read this book and hear the good news.

Can you tell me about your local church and how you and your family are involved in it?
My wife, Annie, and our two children attend Mars Hill Church U-District in Seattle, Washington. We chose to accept a scholarship at the University of Washington School of Law, in part, because we found Mars Hill online, and we wanted to land in a Bible-based church. We love Mars Hill and our church family, especially our bible study leaders who have lovingly served us with friendship and leadership in community. And Pastor Justin Holcomb has gone out of his way to make us a part of the church’s future. Our faith has grown by leaps and bounds in the short time we’ve been at Mars Hill. In a few short weeks, Annie and I will, for the very first time in our lives, become members of a church. We are excited about that.

July 24, 2012

Yesterday I shared the first part of my recent interview with Dr. R.C. Sproul. We discussed his new book, his teaching style, his view on Creation, how he determines where to place boundaries in cooperating with other Christians, and a few other topics. Today the interview continues…

This matter of “Christian celebrity” has come up in the past few years. How have you dealt with the pull toward pride and ego-inflation, and has this been a particular challenge for you?

RC SproulWell, everybody has to fight the sin of pride. I remember reading Benjamin Franklin’s resolutions when I was in college, where he, at one point in his life, was very committed to improving his moral conduct. He wrote a big list of virtues, and every day he checked off the virtues as to whether he achieved them or not. One of the things that he considered a great virtue was humility. He said he was careful to maintain a humble attitude toward things, so at the end of the day, he would write a check for humility, and then the next day, write a check for humility, and the next day write a check for humility. He said after a while he realized he was getting proud of his humility. Pride can come at you from so many different ways, and get you just when you think you’ve overcome it. It’s always there. 

This business about Christian celebrity, I don’t know what that means, really. If you talk about celebrities, you’re talking about people who are extremely well known, usually through national media such as television, movies, or professional sports. Everybody’s heard of Arnold Palmer and Elizabeth Taylor or people in the political arena. 

But to be a minister and to have a certain visibility because of lesser media such as radio and book writing, these are two different worlds. There’s the Christian publishing world and then there’s the New York Times bestseller world, and those two hardly ever cross over. So when you talk about Christian celebrity, you’re talking about a very small universe. I’ve had people introduce me to their friends and say: “This is R.C. Sproul. He’s famous.” I laugh because I say, “If I’m famous, you don’t have to tell people that.” So this whole celebrity thing is really overblown, I think. I don’t pay much attention to it.

Looking back over your life so far, and I emphasize “so far,” what are some of your personal regrets? What do the words “well done, good and faithful servant” mean to you at this time in your life?

I can remember—I’m going to take the second part first—that when my mentor, Dr. Gerstner, was getting older, into his later 70s and into his 80s, he seemed to take a second wind. He took on more and more and more labor when most men were retired at that age. I asked him about it, and he said he knew that he didn’t have much time left. He wanted to fill his days with as much productivity for the sake of Christ as could muster. That left a profound impact on me. 

July 23, 2012

I’ve often spoken of my love and respect for Dr. R.C. Sproul and the ministry he founded. I was recently given the opportunity to interview Dr. Sproul and turned to the readers of this site to see what they would like to ask him. Over the next two days I will share a transcript of the interview I conducted. In today’s installment I ask Dr. Sproul about his new book, his teaching style, his view on Creation, how he determines where to place boundaries in cooperating with other Christians, and a lot more.

What motivated you to write The Work of Christ? Was it an area in which you perceived a lack of theological understanding among Christians? Was it motivated by pastoral concern?

The Work of ChristWell, the very first series that I did in the field of adult education was in 1969 at a church in Philadelphia, and the series was on the work of Christ. That was such an exciting time for me. It really was pivotal because I acquired a taste, indeed a passion, for adult education as a result of that experience of working with the laity in the church. I saw how they responded when they gained a deeper understanding of all the things that Jesus did in His ministry. So that passion was born in 1969. It’s never really left me.

Recently we did that series in a new setting with a new audience, and out of that grew the inspiration for this book. I think it’s extremely important, because at the heart of the Christian faith is Christ—who He is and what He has done. This is so often overlooked in the church. It’s amazing to me, but yet it’s of critical importance for us as Christians to come to a deeper understanding of what Jesus has done.

[You can read my review of The Work of Christ here]

From the beginning of your ministry, your teaching style has always included pacing around the lectern and across the platform, as well as regularly writing key terms on a chalkboard. Can you tell us how your teaching style developed and share your insights on the nature of presentation in teaching others?

When we talk about teaching style, I guess some people think about a carefully choreographed style for communication. I’ve never done that. My teaching style is just an expression of who I am. My concern is always to get my message across. The idea of walking around and using a blackboard started in my teaching of philosophy and Bible as a professor in a college.

July 19, 2012

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview John Piper. I promptly solicited questions from you, the readers of this site, and Pastor John was kind enough to answer them. Because the focus of this year’s Desiring God National Conference is sanctification, I asked him questions related to that subject. In this interview he discusses why sanctification is not an instantaneous act, how we can emphasize personal toil in holiness without diminishing the goodness and sovereignty of God, why we need to continue to confess our sins to God, and how we can know if we are growing in sanctification. If you read only one of the answers, be sure it is the final one!

What is God’s purpose in making sanctification a lifelong pursuit rather than an instantaneous act at the moment of conversion?

John PiperFirst, I agree with the assumption that this is true. God does do this. That is, he intentionally does not conquer all our sins in an instant, though he could. He could perfect us now. We know this because he is going to do it when we die. We will not sin in heaven. We will be among “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23).

And we know that God will finally throw Satan into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10) and take away his influence in the new world entirely. If he will do it then, he could do it now. But he doesn’t. He gives Satan leash. So why is Satan allowed to rage, and why does God let us go on stumbling toward holiness?

I am not aware of any text in the Bible that answers this question explicitly. So we answer with inferences from God’s broader statements of purpose. The largest answer is that God does all things for the greater display of his glory, and so this too must be for his glory.

One clue to make this more specific comes from Romans 9:22–23. Paul asks rhetorically, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy?”

June 25, 2012

John PiperJohn Piper does not do a lot of interviews, so it’s rather a thrill for me to be able to do just that. Since I have this opportunity, I thought it might be fun to open it up to the readers of this site (as I did recently with R.C. Sproul—that interview will be ready to go shortly). Here’s your opportunity to ask John Piper a question.

Obviously there are millions of things we could ask him, so before I solicit your questions, I want to put a boundary in place: Let’s keep the questions focused on the subject of sanctification. This year’s Desiring God National Conference is titled “Act the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification.” Let’s anticipate that conference by confining ourselves to that subject. There should be lots we can learn!

With that stipulation in place, go ahead and leave a comment with your question about sanctification. I’ll choose some of the best ones and send them through to pastor John.

May 29, 2012

RC SproulIn a couple of weeks I am going to have an opportunity to interview R.C. Sproul. This isn’t something that comes along every day! I thought it would be interesting to have an open mic, so to speak, allowing those of you who read this site to suggest questions I may like to ask him.

So here is your chance to ask Dr. Sproul anything at all (anything at all within reason, of course). Let’s try to focus the questions on Sproul, his books, his ministry and perhaps some contemporary events. I don’t see this as an opportunity to ask him the general theological questions that have been bothering you. Let’s talk about him, his years of ministry, the books he has written, and maybe especially his most recent book, The Work of Christ, which I reviewed this morning. So go ahead and leave a comment with your question. To make things just a bit more interesting, I’ll try to find some copies of The Work of Christ for some of you whose questions end up being chosen.

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