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August 08, 2011

I’ve got something a little bit different today. This is a kind of discussion or interview I had with my friend Julian, who was asking me about some of the questions and some of the complications related to having a popular blog. I thought it would be worth sharing since it addresses some of the criticisms people have lodged against me recently. And I hope it gives a little bit of perspective to the Christian blogosphere.

Here is Julian’s introduction follow by his questions and my answers.

In NHL hockey politics (which is big news here in Canada) there has been lots of talk over the last couple years about “the code.” Rumor has it that there is some moral code that guides how players hit each other or when they fight. Supposedly everyone knows it and it is universally seen as “dirty pool” when someone breaks this code. However, whether the code actually exists is a matter of debate.

It’s clear that for the average blogger with a readership of 20, anything is fair game. You can say whatever you want about whomever you want in whatever way you want whenever you want because only he and his mom will read it. But I think a lot of people suspect that there is a “code” in the evangelical blogging world. There are certain places you cannot go, certain things you cannot say, certain people or ministries that you cannot criticize.

I wanted to actually explore this a little bit, so I took the following questions to the biggest blogger I know, Tim Challies. I wanted to find out, “Is there a ‘code’ amongst big-name bloggers?”

To give some context to “big-name blogger,” how many people read your blog? 

I do not track statistics as much as I probably should (at least according to all the blogging experts) but I think if I were to add up people who visit the blog and who read it through other media (RSS, Facebook, etc.) it would be somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million reads per month. With all the different ways people can digest the content today, it’s increasingly hard to get an accurate measure.

And how long have you been blogging?

I’ve been blogging since late 2002 or so, and I’ve been blogging every day since late 2003. I’ve probably posted around 5,000 articles in that time.

What’s the purpose of your blog?

I think the purpose has evolved over the years, but as it has gained an audience, I think it’s become a place to discuss what is of particular interest to Christians, and especially those Young and/or Restless and/or Reformed Christians. I consider what I do thinking out loud about important issues and then allowing other people to help me think better. That is why I write about relevant topics, why I review books and why I try to draw attention to good resources.

I do not consider it my job to critique everyone or everything. Yes, there are times when I use the blog to critique, but largely I want the blog to be positive in tone. I have no interest in being one of those watch-bloggers who has a ministry of criticism.

Would you say there is a “code” in the Christian blogosphere?

February 10, 2011

Yesterday I shared the first part of a two-part interview with John MacArthur. Yesterday’s questions revolved around Dr. MacArthur’s new book Slave, the best Bible translations, avoiding scandal, the challenges he has faced in ministry, and the advice he would give himself if he could go back to the early days of his ministry.

Today the interview continues…

You are obviously a busy man. What advice would you give to pastors on loving their wives and children amidst the many demands of the pastoral ministry?

John MacArthurIt is critically important that the pastor give priority to his family. As Paul told Timothy regarding the qualification of an elder, “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” So, this is a priority that comes to us directly from the Scriptures.

The most important things a Christian father can do for his children are to love their mother in a Christ-like way (Ephesians 5) and to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6). And the most important thing he can do for his wife is to pursue Christ, and then to love and lead her out of the overflow of his devotion for the Savior. Thus, the fundamental key for being both a good husband and father is to be a godly man—one who fervently loves the Lord and is shepherding his own heart and mind with the Word of God. And that is intensely practical. To be an effective parent and a model husband, you must be faithful in your walk with Christ. Everything else in life flows out of that. Then your leadership in the home will be marked by an attitude of humble sacrifice and selfless service. As the Spirit uses His Word to sanctify your heart, you will be able to shepherd and care for your family.

There are other important things that fathers must do, of course—such as praying for their children, correcting them with patience and gentleness, instilling within them a love for the church, spending time with them, encouraging them, befriending them, and helping them make wise friendships of their own. But the heart of Christian parenting is being a faithful Christian.

That kind of genuine Christianity, daily lived out before those who know him best, brings great credibility to the pastor’s preaching and leadership in the church.

How can we best critique people who are “in our camp” and yet believe things different from us? Or behave in ways we do not appreciate? How can we know where to draw those lines?

February 09, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I asked the readers of this site to help me interview John MacArthur. I collected several of the best questions, added in a few of my own, and sent them off. Dr. MacArthur was kind enough not just to answer them, but to answer them very thoroughly.

I am posting the first 5 questions and answers today and will follow up with the next 5 tomorrow. Today the questions revolve around his new book Slave, the best Bible translations, avoiding scandal, the challenges he has faced in ministry, and the advice he would give himself if he could go back to the early days of his ministry. Tomorrow he talks about time management, about critiquing people “in our camp,” about theological crises, about the Reformed Charismatics and about Christians who deny a literal 6-day creation.

Without further ado, here is the interview with Dr. MacArthur:

Slave. What is it about this word that merits a whole book?

MacArthur SlaveSometimes one word can make an enormous difference. For example, the Latin Vulgate’s translation of metanoia (repentance) as paenitentia (penance) in places like Acts 2:38 led to all sorts of problems in the Roman Catholic Church.

The slave concept is a major theme in Scripture. In fact, believers are referred to as “slaves” hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments. Yet, the American church is blind to this critical theme because most English versions translate the word as “servant” instead.

While it is true that the duties of slave and servant may overlap to some degree, there is a key distinction between the two: servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing whom they work for and what they do. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property, to the point that, in the eyes of the law they were regarded as things rather than persons. To be someone’s slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument.

This reality has major implications for our understanding of the gospel. Christ’s call to follow Him is not simply an invitation to become His associate, but a mandate to become His slave. That message is especially needed in American culture, where a man-centered, feel-good, cheap-grace gospel has become so popular. But nothing could be farther from the biblical reality—a reality which is brought to the forefront by rightly translating that one word: “slave.”

In the past I’ve written many books that focus on a right understanding of the gospel—The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles, Hard to Believe, and so on. But, as I note in my preface to Slave, “I have no doubt that this perpetual hiding of an essential element of New Testament revelation has contributed to much of the confusion in evangelical teaching and practice. In fact, I wonder if it wasn’t the reason I felt the need to write so many books to clarify the gospel. If this one reality had been known, would any of those books have been necessary?”

So, I see this as a vitally-important issue with far-reaching implications for how the gospel ought to be understood, preached, and lived.

January 21, 2011

John MacArthurIn a week or so I am going to have an opportunity to interview John MacArthur. 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. MacArthur anything at all (anything at all within reason, of course). Let’s try to focus the questions on MacArthur, his books, his ministry and perhaps some contemporary events. Which is to say, 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.

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 Slave, that most recent book I just mentioned, for some of you whose questions end up being chosen.

Suggest a Question

January 12, 2011

A short time ago, while posting a poem titled “I Looked for Love in Your Eyes,” I lamented that while there are many, many books written to help men overcome an addiction to pornography, there is very little written to help the women who have been victims of a husband’s addiction. Shortly after I received an email from Vicki Tiede who has written just such a title. Her book, titled Mosaic Heart: Spiritual Healing in the Midst of a Husband’s Addiction to Pornography (Update: The book has been released as When Your Husband Is Addicted to Pornography) will be published by New Growth Press, probably about a year from now.

HeartI asked Vicki if, in the meanwhile, she’d be willing to do an interview to offer some words of help to women who are struggling with the effects of their husband’s sin. She was kind enough to do so. Here is what I asked her:

What is the scope of this problem? How many women are struggling with the effects of a husband’s addiction to pornography?

For nearly every man who regularly views pornography, there is likely a wife or girlfriend experiencing the fallout resulting from his choices. According to TopTenReviews.com, 28.8 million U.S. men regularly visit pornography websites. 50-60% of Christian men struggle with addiction.

From a wife’s perspective, is there a difference between an addict and a more casual user? Should there be?

This is a great question. First let me give you a technical response and then I’ll give you a heart response. The term “addiction” implies that there is a progression, tolerance, and an inability to stop the behavior even when there is a desire to stop. A single act of viewing pornography would not be an addiction. However, a “casual user,” indicates more than a single act and I would suggest that a “casual user” is already on the slippery slope of addiction. Pornography has a snowball effect; what may begin as seemingly “innocent,” occasional visits to a porn site often slowly increases to greater frequency of visits and for larger amounts of time.

Sadly, this increased exposure to porn results in desensitization and tolerance, so when free internet pornography no longer satisfies their supposed needs, some men expand their repertoire to include subscription pornography, massage parlors, strip clubs, prostitutes, hotel rooms, and travel expenses for clandestine affairs. So to answer your initial question - Is there a difference between a one-time exploration and an addiction? Yes. Is there a difference between an addict and a more casual user? No, there is not enough difference to suggest that we can dismiss casual use as harmless.

Now, here’s the heart response of a wife … I would ask the question, “Is the betrayal any less heartbreaking if a husband only has an extra-marital sexual affair ‘once in a while,’ and he insists he can ‘stop having affairs anytime he chooses to do so,’ than if he seeks sexual fulfillment from someone other than his wife several times a week and can’t stop himself?” It seems ridiculous to even answer such a question, doesn’t it? Whether a man claims to be a casual user of porn or is addicted, his wife still experiences the same feelings of rejection and loss.

To be honest, in my book I tell women that they should thank God if their husband is struggling with his addiction to pornography. That struggle is an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work. It’s when a husband feels no conviction for his sexual sin that hope seems harder to hold onto.

What is the struggle of women whose husbands are battling (or perhaps given over to) pornography? What do men need to know about the way a husband’s use of pornography tends to affect his wife?

December 21, 2010

Last year I posted a series of interviews under the banner of Meet the Ministries. It was a means of introducing you to some of the great ministries that serve the church today. You got to meet Grace to You, Desiring God, Acts 29, Peacemaker Ministries, CCEF and Truth for Life. I am continuing that series this fall with another set of interviews. It began with Eternal Perspective Ministries and now turns to Ligonier Ministries. I interviewed Chris Larson who serves as Ligonier’s Executive Vice President.

How and when did Ligonier Ministries begin?Ligonier
To answer these two questions well requires a little history. Ligonier Ministries began in the fall of 1971 (so in 2011 we turn 40). Dr. Sproul was approached by a group of Christians in the Pittsburgh area about starting a study center for Christian learning and discipleship in the hills of western PA. He consulted with Francis Schaeffer at the time about L’Abri, and Dr. Schaeffer encouraged RC to do it and believed it would be helpful for the church. This new outreach appealed to RC for a number of reasons, but largely because of his interest in communicating theology in practical terms to the layperson. After stints teaching in colleges and seminaries, he found the most joy in seeing the average churchgoer come alive when they grasped the things of God. Remember that the zeitgeist of the 1960s had introduced rampant relativism, in effect accelerating the secularization of culture and liberalism in the church. Thus, Ligonier Valley Study Center was born as a place to equip Christians to be articulate and effective in their defense of classical Christianity. And hundreds of students came to live and learn among the Sprouls and other teachers. It was there that the first talks on The Holiness of God were delivered.

I would call that Ligonier 1.0, because it quickly became apparent that the Lord had more in mind for the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. As he taught, new forms of media and communication were rapidly developing. While the ministry’s use of radio was still a few years away, the rise of “radical” new technologies such as audio cassettes and Beta/VHS presented the ministry with a whole new audience beyond the confines of the study center.

Students studied resources delivered by the mail, and the growth was explosive. Adding to the growing national following was the birth of Tabletalk magazine in 1977. The distance learning aspect of Ligonier quickly eclipsed the regional campus, so in the early ‘80s, Ligonier relocated to Orlando to accommodate the growth. We did this all while Dr. Sproul continued to pour his academic life into students through service at the seminary level. In 1985, The Holiness of God was published, followed by Chosen By God in 1986. Nineteen eighty-eight saw our first national Reformed theology conference. And the pace of growth kept going throughout the ‘90s into the present. In 1994, we began our international radio broadcast, Renewing Your Mind. In 1995, The Reformation Study Bible was first published, originally as the New Geneva Study Bible. Reformation Trust Publishing began in 2006 to maintain our focus to serve learners with trustworthy Christian books from contemporary authors. Much of our activity today focuses on strengthening the outreach of our core teaching ministries and harnessing new communication technology, while at the same time returning to our study-center roots with the new Ligonier Academy campus.


December 14, 2010

A few months ago I bought Pieces of a Real Heart the most recent album from the band Sanctus Real. I have listened to Sanctus Real since their debut album, but felt like there was a whole new depth of honesty and depth of theology in this new record. There were songs about failing as a leader in the home, about the meaning and beauty of forgiveness, about the questions that God seems unwilling to answer.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Matt Hammitt, who sings, plays guitars and writes most of the songs. I asked him him about life, family, music and ministry.

Q: Tell me a couple of the ways you and Sanctus Real have seen God’s grace evident in the past few months. How has he been blessing you and what has he been teaching you?

There are some things that I hadn’t expected to count as blessings this year that have taken me by surprise. My son, Bowen, was born last September with a rare heart defect, and has required a lot of special care. This experience has been our family’s greatest struggle, as well as the greatest blessing that God has delivered into our hands. “Grace” was once a word that could pass through my lips without much thought. I no longer use it lightly.

As for the band, four (out of five) of us have families that are growing. I believe we’d all consider our children to be our greatest blessings during this season of our lives. They’ve taught us innumerable lessons about grace, leadership, and tenderness, all of which have positively impacted our relationships with one another.

Matt Sarah Bowen


Q: In your song “Forgiven” you write “In this life, I know what I’ve been / But here in Your arms, I know what I am / I’m forgiven / And I don’t have to carry the weight of who I’ve been / ‘Cause I’m forgiven” Who and what have you been, Matt, what makes you cry and struggle and feel like you can’t fit in?

My struggles have never been as much with what I’ve considered to be the greater sins on the list, but with the very thing that causes me to make lists according to my own standards. Pride, disguising itself as insecurity, has been a major issue in my life. It has caused me to feel isolated and has hindered me from freely giving and receiving love. Thanks to the work of God in my life over the last year, justification by faith has become more than a good doctrine to me. It’s become my present reality. My life and ministry are much more fruitful these days.


Q: When the “Past is playing with my head” and “the Devil just won’t let me forget” how does the knowledge that I am “a treasure in the arms of Christ” make a difference?

I’m a people pleaser, so it’s a daily temptation to wrap my thoughts around getting others to think more of me. This goes hand in hand with the pride and insecurity I mentioned earlier. Over the past several months, I’ve been consumed with seeking the Lord, as well as studying the Bible and theology. Wrapping my heart and mind around the truth has been pure joy. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I’m finding a far greater sense of my freedom, worth, and identity in Christ.


Pieces of a Real HeartQ: In “These Things Take Time” you wrestle with the kinds of questions that most people, whether Christian or not, find themselves asking at one time or another—why do good people die? Why are we so drawn to sin and darkness? Why is it easier to doubt than to believe? In my experience such questions can drive people from God or closer to God. It seems that this song is a declaration of submission. How did you come to that place of letting God be God and realizing that “these things take time?”

When I wrote the lyrics that song (and others on our latest album) I was definitely beginning to submit to, and find great joy in, the sovereignty of God over all things. A month after the album released, when Bowen was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart defect, I began to dig much deeper into the harder questions about life and faith than I ever had before. Writing the lyrics to Pieces of a Real Heart and the events surrounding its release mark the beginning of a personal, spiritual reformation.


Q: The song “Lead Me” seems to come from a very private place in your own life and in your family life. Why did you determine to write and record a song about this?

My wife, Sarah, and I once heard that the gap between reality and expectations is disappointment. There was a time when we were living in disappointment with our marriage. Now, we can see that our conflict was the result of our greatest expectations being placed on each other as opposed to God. I wasn’t investing enough emotionally or spiritually into my family because my own well was dry. I wasn’t walking as closely with the Lord as I believed I was at the time.

I wrote the majority of the song “Lead Me” on the day that Sarah appealed to me to be a better leader. The cry of her heart also became mine. Her courage to lovingly challenge me as her leader not only led to a song that is encouraging men and marriages around the world, but also has led to the most satisfying season of our nine year marriage to date.

(Keep Reading - there’s more after the jump)

November 10, 2010

Last year I posted a series of interviews under the banner of Meet the Ministries. It was a means of introducing you to some of the great ministries that serve the church today. You got to meet Grace to You, Desiring God, Acts 29, Peacemaker Ministries, CCEF and Truth for Life. I am going to continue that series this fall with another set of interviews. And it begins today with Eternal Perspective Ministries.

How and when did Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) begin?

Randy AlcornRandy was a pastor for 13 years at a church he loved—and continues to be a part of—before he began participating in a number of peaceful nonviolent rescues (civil disobedience, blocking entry) at abortion clinics.  This decision to participate came after being involved  for years in many other aspects of prolife work and included much soul-searching, Scripture-searching, prayer and counsel.  As a result of his involvement in rescues, he was named in a lawsuit where the abortion clinic was awarded the largest judgment in history against peaceful protestors: $8.2 million. In order to avoid garnishment of his wages by the clinic, he was forced to resign as a pastor.

God, in his faithfulness, used what was intended for evil and turned it to good. Consequently, Randy founded EPM, which gave him the ability to devote much more of his time to writing.

The complete story of how EPM began may be found on Randy’s blog, in part 1 and part 2.

Why does EPM exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?

Eternal Perspective Ministries is a Bible-believing, Christ-centered nonprofit organization with two goals:

  • to teach the principles of God’s Word, emphasizing an eternal viewpoint;
  • to reach the needy in Christ’s name, calling attention to the needs of the:
    • unreached, who’ve never heard the gospel;
    • unfed, unclothed, unsheltered and poor due to circumstance (not choice);
    • unsupported, Christians suffering in hostile spiritual environments;
    • unborn, targeted for abortion, and their mothers deceived and exploited by the child-killing industry;
    • unreconciled, those of different races and cultures who are alienated, hostile, or suspicious of each other;
    • untrained, a generation growing up in a society without moral absolutes and eternal values, who need to hear God’s truth spoken in love, and whose parents need to be equipped to be their children’s educators and role models.

How can EPM serve the readers of this web site?

Our website, www.epm.org, is a wealth of free information, covering a wide range of subjects. There are over 2,000 articles, Q & A’s, etc., mostly written by Randy, as well as video and audio to draw from.

We have free resource packets for pastors and group leaders  that can be used to help their study and teaching on a variety of topics.

Follow and connect with Randy at his blog, Facebook and Twitter.

We have a free quarterly newsletter, Eternal Perspectives, which features many thought-provoking articles written by Randy as well as news about his latest books and resources. You can read a color copy of the newsletter at our website or sign up to receive a mailed copy at http://www.epm.org/newsletters/.
On the same page you can sign up to receive our  monthly ENews Update that shares current information about Randy’s speaking schedule and our book specials. It often highlights other worthy ministries and their current needs.

100% of designated giving is passed on to a worthy ministry within our EPM guidelines. So if someone wants to give to missions or famine relief or prolife work, etc. but isn’t familiar with a specific organization, the donor is free to give to EPM and that money will be sent on to one of the many we support and/or recommend. This method can be useful for people who do not want to be on the mailing list for several different organizations.