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Personal Reflections

January 18, 2008

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? Well, the first adult I ever witnessed getting baptized was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized. While it is not necessarily so, it seems that there is usually something amiss with the evangelistic focus of churches that never, ever see any outside converts through their ministry.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives be altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count - baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, hot tubs and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest events on any church’s calendar!

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. I have to be careful here because I know several people from the churches of my youth who read this site and I want to be careful that I accurately characterize these churches. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew a man who was an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were never, ever allowed to play with the other children in the area. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed badly. First, the church was not faithful to its calling to take the gospel throughout the world (the world that begins just outside the front door). They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, the children developed a fascination with the world simply because any access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable result of forsaking God. The world looks awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. We do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Rather, worldliness arises from within.

The attitude that was modeled by my parents was far different. My family took the opposite approach and we were always encouraged to make friends with the children in the neighborhoods we lived in. We saw many children and parents come to faith in this way. Many others may not have become believers, but they received a clear presentation of the gospel so that they are now without excuse. And regardless of whether or not these people came to faith, we gained many good and valuable friendships. Mom and dad did not do this because they regarded the folks in the neighborhood as a project, but out of a genuine love, concern and appreciation for these people. The person next door was not an enemy, but a person who was just as unsaved as my parents were not too many years before, and was thus someone in desperate need of a Savior. And they intended to give everyone the opportunity to meet the Savior through them.

Sometimes worlds clashed. There were a couple of times when my sisters brought friends to church, friends who were unsaved but were showing interest in the gospel, only to have them mocked or scorned. One little girl was scolded and had her ear “flicked” by the woman in the pew behind her because she was not able to sit still throughout the service. A friend my sister brought to church was openly mocked by the children in the church because he had dyed-blond hair and an earing. He never returned, and as far as I know, never expressed any openness to the gospel after that time.

I truly believe, after many years of reflection, that the real problem in these churches was in their attitude towards the unbeliever. The person next door was the enemy, a person to be feared for what he might do to the family, and the children in particular, and thus someone to be regarded with distrust and suspicion rather than with love.

Sometimes I think it is little wonder that many people in the Emergent camp rail against evangelism metaphors that make the unbeliever sound like an enemy. Perhaps these metaphors do cause us to regard unbelievers as a rebel army that we need to fear. It occurs to me that when we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” we are not singing a battle cry that will lead us out to battle against the unbeliever next door. No, we are not waging war “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The real enemy is not next door. The real enemy is our own sinfulness and the worldliness that continues to try to manifest itself in our lives. The enemy is within, not without.

January 16, 2008

Yesterday Andrew Sullivan saw fit to link to my article on Biblical Inerrancy. Sullivan writes The Daily Dish for The Atlantic and is one of the most widely-read bloggers out there with at least 150,000 daily readers. You will not be surprised to hear that he did not like my article and linked to it with just one word of description, and an inflammatory one at that. “One fundamentalist makes the case,” he said. There’s no name and no description. Just that: one fundamentalist.

It seems that Sullivan prefers an article Michael Spencer wrote in response to mine. Michael was afforded the dignity of a name rather than a mere one-word description. “To my mind, this is Biblical fetishism. And absurd on its face, since there are far too many direct factual internal contradictions in the Bible to uphold this standard. I agree with Michael Spencer.” Speaking candidly, I don’t see that Spencer said anything with enough clarity to know whether a person could agree with him. It seems to be something like “God got what he wanted without demanding perfection of Himself.”

But no matter. This little incident somehow seemed significant to me as I thought about it last night. In a sense, this is really where the rubber meets the road for me as a blogger. The majority of people who read this blog tend to agree with me on issues of theology. But then Andrew Sullivan links and brings in thousands of readers who know nothing about me except that I’m apparently a fundamentalist (and who no doubt suppose all kinds of things about me based on that term). Of course fundamentalist is such a lazy term to use. Most people just assume that if I believe something more strongly than you do or if I believe something deemed more conservative than you do, I must be a fundamentalist. Because I believe that God did not communicate anything contrary to fact when He gave the Bible to men, I must be a fundamentalist.

Here is what I had to ask myself last night. Do I believe what I do enough to be unashamed when people mock me? Am I afraid to be called a fool and to be looked down on for believing what the Bible says is true? Am I ashamed to have all these people show up who probably think I’m heading out today to picket the funeral of a homosexual or a solider killed overseas? Or can I be unashamed, undignified even, as I hear or read what people say about me? Here is a comment that showed up on one site: “Respectful of Mr. Challie’s passion, his reasoning is not of the level to pass a freshman philosophy class.” I suppose that may be true. I’ve never studied freshman philosophy nor, at this point in life, am I likely to. But it still digs just a little bit.

This morning I turned to Psalm 19 and drank in the words of the Lord:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

They were good words to hear and they refreshed my soul. It’s not philosophical arguments that make a man wise. Rather, it is the testimony of the Lord. It is not the praise of men that makes a man joyful, but the precepts of the Lord. It is the law of the Lord that revives the soul and the commandments of the Lord that enlighten the eyes. The rules of the Lord are true and righteous and are to be desired more than anything else, no matter how sweet, no matter how fulfilling they may seem. So laugh and mock if you must, I guess.

The link from Sullivan’s blog did not result in the veritable flood of traffic one might expect from the link from a superstar blogger. Then again, I suppose the majority of his readers would have no real interest in biblical inerrancy. But if you’ve come to this site through his, I welcome you, and hope you’ll look around a little bit. If you’ve come thinking I’m Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps, well, maybe you’ll even find something that surprises you.

January 04, 2008

On Wednesday, Justin Taylor posted the news that my book is now available and provided a list of the blurbs for it. This led to some interesting discussion in the comments section. It began with the entirely fair question of “Who is Tim Challies?” and soon turned to “I was just surprised that, as his website says, a web designing blogger now writes books on spiritual discernment. When did our pastors and bible teachers quit doing this and your laypeople assume the roll?” Another person replied with, “I like TC’s blog; but I guess if you live-blog at enough famous pastors Bible conferences then you can get endorsements from just about anyone.” This led to a bit of a screed penned by Steve Camp who said, among other things, that this book is my attempt to make a mark and gain my fifteen minutes of fame, that I am young, theologically immature, and untested in handling God’s Word, that I know little about discernment, that I’m insecure and lack credibility, and so on. The discussion has gone on, though some rather important comments have since been erased. All this by way of background.

Now I’m not in the habit of defending myself against specious claims. Truthfully, and thankfully, it is quite rare that these things happen, but even then I’m not often compelled to invest time and effort in my own defense. I’ve got more important things to do, and this is especially true today. But I do want to take a few moments to respond to something else Camp says about the book’s endorsements and endorsers. Here is what Camp says:

As to endorsements: very few of these guys actually sit down and read through an entire book of any author they are asked to review. Most give a thumbs up through staff recommendations or because of friendship.

In other words, Camp hints, these endorsements are utterly meaningless, or nearly so. These people endorsed the book only because they felt they needed to or because someone told them to. There are two reasons I would like to address this statement. First, because it is a common belief that endorsements are meaningless and second because it reflects negatively on the people who were kind enough to provide an endorsement for my book.

Now it is widely assumed that many of the people who write endorsements for books do so without actually reading the books. And certainly this does happen in the Christian world and beyond. More commonly, though, you would find that certain endorsers do not read a book thoroughly. They may skim through, take in the major points, and on the basis of what they know about the author, craft an endorsement. There are definitely some who have enough of an organization around them that they would have trusted men or women speaking for them, writing endorsements in their name even while they have never actually even heard of the book. But I am sure this is less common than people who simply do not read the book thoroughly. Far more common, though, are people who really do read the books and who read them carefully, knowing that an endorsement is serious business. This would be particularly true with mature, biblical Christians who truly value truth. Over the past few months I have endorsed a half a dozen books or so, and am constantly aware that adding my name to the back of a book is a reflection on the author, on me, and on God. Perhaps in time I will grow more jaded and provide endorsements with less care. I hope and pray I do not.

Enough then, on the first matter, and on to the second. My concern here, and I think the concern is validated by some of the comments following Camp’s, is that his statements will cause people to think negatively of the individuals who endorsed my book. I would not wish anyone to think that these people simply dashed off a blurb with little thought, concern or reflection. Neither do I believe that any of them accepted my request for an endorsement out of some sense of obligation that may have compelled them to rush a half-hearted endorsement.

I am not a peer to these people. With just one exception, I have spent very little time with any of them. I may have emailed back and forth with some of them a handful of times and have spent a few brief moments with them at conferences, but really I barely know them. All this to say that none of them owe me anything; none of them would be out to do me a favor out of obligation or out of a sense of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” After all, I have little to offer them by way of repayment and have done very little for them in the past! There well may be some trading of favors in the industry when it comes to endorsements, but you can rest assured that none of these people would have felt they owed me for whatever I may have done to somehow benefit them. Give them more credit than that.

Admittedly, I did not consider writing those who endorsed my book to ask, “Did you really read it?” as that would have been both rude and, I believe, unnecessary. However, several of them inadvertently furnished ample evidence that they really did read it and that they did so in some depth. For example, one of the people who endorsed the book called me several times as he read it, either to clarify certain statements or to challenge me on areas that were either overstated or that lacked clarity. He went so far as to even call other people to double check certain facts. This man takes clearly endorsements seriously. Read Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, and particularly the last few pages, and you’ll see that she is adamantly opposed to ghost writing as she finds it utterly inconsistent with a Christian worldview. Nancy has been a friend of my family’s for years and I know her well enough to understand that she would have read the book carefully and would not have written an endorsement had she not felt she could do so with clear conscience. In another case a third party told me of his discussions about the book with the person who endorsed it. In each of these cases it is clear to me that the person really did read the book. In fact, my confidence in endorsements has increased, rather than decreased, through this process.

There are some authors from whom an endorsement means very little to me. I have learned that they will endorse just about anything and after a while I feel they destroy their credibility. But in having even only brief interaction with the people who wrote a blurb for my book, I can vouch for them and am confident that an endorsement from their hand is meaningful. I look for their names on books, knowing that they take seriously the task of endorsing a book. I trust them and am grateful that they were willing to take the time to read even my book.

In a future article I’ll look at another question that has come up a few times both at Justin’s site and beyond—the question of why a person should read a book written by a lay-person or by someone with the less-than-impressive credentials I offer.

By way of update, I wanted the readers to know that Camp posted this:

*To All I want to publicly ask forgiveness for my initial comment concerning Tim and his book. My words could have been seasoned with more grace and chosen more carefully.

The main question here raised is worth discussing from a biblical worldview and should be considered with sobriety of heart and mind: What qualifies one to speak for God and His Word?

I pray that many here dedicated to biblical ministry will continue to provide helpful and biblical responses to this question as I hope to do in the coming days as well.

To those who sought to use excessive vitriol against me for sport, I hold no ought against you. You wouldn’t have been provoked to do so if my initial words were thought through more carefully.

HIs unworthy servant in His unfailing love,

Steve 2 Cor. 4:5-7 *

December 27, 2007

It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do my weekly John Owen “Reading the Classics Together” post today. And for that I apologize. Being away from home has completely disrupted my ability to keep this site operating as it usually does. I’m a routine-based person, it seems, and being away from my usual day-to-day life really changes my ability to do what I usually do. I woke up very early this morning and, with a touch of panic, my first thought was, “Today is John Owen day.” Yet I haven’t read the chapter carefully yet. In fact, I haven’t even thought of doing so. Most weeks I read it at least twice prior to Thursday morning and once more write before I write about it. This week I haven’t even thought about the book. I blame the disruption of my routine.

I’m a routine-driven guy. Case in point: my side of the bed. A few weeks before our youngest was born Aileen and I began planning how we would restructure certain parts of our lives to accommodate an entirely helpless infant. As we did with our first two children, and to the great chagrin of all the Ezzo followers out there, we decided to have the baby sleeping in our room for the first few weeks (or months, depending on how soon we would get tired of having a baby in such close proximity). Because the master bedroom in our new house was oriented differently than in our old house, we realized that, for sake of convenience, it might be easiest if Aileen and I changed sides of the bed. That way, when she needed to nurse the baby at night, she would not have to climb over or around me. So on Friday night we changed sides. I didn’t sleep. On Saturday night we tried again. I didn’t sleep. Finally, in the middle of the night, when my tossing and turning had woken her up, we switched back. I slept like a baby. My routine survived.

My ability to carry on normal operations on this site depends on routine, I guess. As soon as I travel, I find that the time I usually spend reading the Bible, praying, reading good books, reflecting on life, and so on, is very hard to come by. I stay up late yacking with my siblings and then sleep in late the next morning. When I’m usually writing, I’m now sleeping. When I’m usually sleeping I’m now talking. Of course it’s great to have some time off and time away from the day-to-day, but it certainly does impact my ability to keep this site going.

So please just hang on for a few more days as I continue to focus on lighter fare at this site. Beginning tomorrow I’ll be spending the weekend at the Reality Check Conference and look forward to bringing some good updates from what promises to be a really interesting event. Sunday evening I’ll be speaking at Lyndon Avenue Baptist Church in Chattanooga. Monday I’ll be driving home. Tuesday is New Years and then on Wednesday life returns to normal. As much as I love being away and love being with family, it will be good to be home and it will be good to be back to my beloved routine.

December 25, 2007

It has been a long but good day here in Woodstock, GA. We got up early and had the kids dig into their stockings. Then, once family had arrived from far and wide, we got busy opening what looked like just an obscene amount of gifts (there are, after all, eighteen people involved). After a great breakfast, a few of the menfolk (mostly) headed downstairs to package up copies of my book to be sent all around the world.


That’s my brother-in-law Rick checking labels against the spreadsheet, me stuffing books into envelopes, my brother-in-law Justin putting the 3 cent stamps on, my dad putting on the rest of the stamps, and my brother-in-law Pat writing “Media Mail” in hundreds of envelopes. It wasn’t fun work, but we had a good time. Or I did, anyways.

We got most of the tough work done and it remains just to take all of those books to the post office tomorrow.

Anyways, from my clan to yours, have a very Merry Christmas…


December 24, 2007

I’ve seen a few blogs where the authors are outlining their Christmas traditions. I’ve also been asked by some readers what my Christmas includes. So I thought I’d let you in on the Challies family Christmas. The way Aileen and I celebrate Christmas is a bit of a blend of two family traditions.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up as part of a tradition that celebrated Christmas but did not generally emphasize it as a day to remember the birth of Jesus. It was not quite a secular holiday, but neither was it a sacred one. Aileen’s family was actually quite similar. So our Christmas traditions include little by the way of reading nativity stories (though we did that on occasion) or lighting candles. It’s also worth mentioning that our Christmas traditions are evolving as time goes on. Now that my family has moved to the U.S., we spend every second Christmas in the south. My parents and all of my siblings gather (from Toronto, New York City, Atlanta and Chattanooga) and we celebrate Christmas together. That means we have (at the moment) 18 people gathering together. The off years, where we celebrate at our own at home, is a lot quieter but maybe not quite so much fun.

On Christmas Eve we usually just enjoy appetizers and snacks and try to get the children to bed at a good hour. And we tend to turn in fairly early as well as we know the next day will begin early. We might watch a movie or play a game or just hang out. Just before bed we lay out the stockings and make sure the gifts are where they need to be. There’s no mention of Santa.

Christmas morning we begin with stockings for the children and then eat a breakfast of croissants and bacon and egg rings (which my mom makes). Those bacon and egg rings are made in muffin tins and are really quite delicious—much better than standard bacon and eggs. That’s a tradition that goes back as far as I can remember. After breakfast we get to work and begin opening gifts, moving from youngest to oldest and going round after round. After a few rounds order inevitably gets thrown the wind and we just open whatever is left. Then we begin to look towards the afternoon and begin work on a turkey dinner (which we try to convince my brother-in-law to make since he cooks up a mean turkey). We tend to spend the day fairly quietly, just enjoying family and lots of good food. There’s inevitably a game or two going on and some music playing. We eat together and then head our separate ways. This year we’re beginning what we hope will be a new tradition by heading out the day after Christmas for a family outing (which, this year, will probably take us to the Chattanooga aquarium).

And that’s about all. We try to keep Christmas fairly simple and low-key. It’s usually just about the best day of the year.

December 21, 2007

Yesterday morning (shortly after posting my John Owen post, as it happens) we bundled the family into the car and began to drive south. Far south. We are on our way to Atlanta to spend some time with my family. Yesterday we made it from Toronto all the way to almost the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. I’m writing today from a hotel that I believe is in a town called Corbin or something like that. I must have had a little too much Coke yesterday (I’m not a coffee drinker so Coke gives me my caffeine for the highway) because I didn’t sleep very well and then woke up early. I thought I’d get some writing done while the family catches up on lost sleep.

As I lay in bed last night I was thinking about how long this drive is (16 hours each way, or so) and how easy it would be to waste that entire 16 hours. I determined before we left that I was going to try to take advantage of the time and to that end packed some good audio books—Max McLean’s recording of The Pilgrim’s Progress and an audio version of Desiring God. Aileen the supermom packed a great bag of goodies for the kids—coloring books and stories, stickers and stamps, and nearly everything else a kid could want to use up some of the long hours. The kids haven’t quite yet caught onto the joy of traveling games—counting out of state plates, etc. But they had a good time with their treat bags and with a couple of DVDs as well. I didn’t listen to as much as the audio books as I might have liked, but did make some progress through The Pilgrim’s Progress since I thought the children would be more likely to enjoy that than Desiring God.

I’m determined that we’ll make the most of these two drives and thought I would ask you what you do to keep from wasting your drives. Every family, I think, sooner or later does a ridiculously long drive. If you’ve done that, why not share what you do to redeem some of that time. I’d be eager to learn.

December 19, 2007

Rebel soldiers were starting at one end of a large room, taking women away one by one and bringing them back after they were finished with them. Helen’s first impulse was to hide and not have to bear this humiliation again. Then she thought of Jesus. He put himself forward as a substitute for us. The fellowship of his sufferings—she moved to the front, to try to protect some of the other women from undergoing a new trauma they might possibly have escaped so far.

She looked back later on this whole period and wrote: “We learned why God has given us His name as I AM (Exodus 3:14). His grace always proved itself sufficient in the moment of need, but never before the necessary time…As I anticipated suffering in my imagination and thought of what these cruel soldiers would do next, I quivered in fear…But when the moment came for action…he filled me with a peace and an assurance about what to say or do that amazed me and often defeated the immediate tactics of the enemy.”

She writes movingly of how abandoned she felt…”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His answer to her was a removal of the fear as if it had been rinsed out of her—and a strong sense of his arms around her, holding her and comforting her. She felt as if he were saying, “When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my suffering. They are not attacking you. They are attacking me. I’m just using your body to show myself to the people around you.”

Those paragraphs are taken from Noel Piper’s, Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God and the chapter providing a brief biography of Helen Roseveare. It’s a portion of the book that has stayed in my mind, even a couple of years after first reading the book. It moved me when I first read it and it moves me now. The account has been meaningful to me as I’ve begged God to show me where sin has taken a hold in my life—those hidden areas that far too often are difficult to see. There is some sin in my life that is so obvious that I simply cannot deny it. But there is some sin that is buried far beneath the surface and only God can call it to my attention. A sin God has revealed to me as I consider the deliberate hardship of this faithful woman is that of valuing my own comfort. Life in North America, even as a Christan, can be far too comfortable for my own good. A comfortable faith is, I believe, a dangerous faith.

This account has also been meaningful to me as I’ve pondered what it means to give everything—to lay it all on the line for the sake of my Savior. In some ways it seems that there would be a certain heroic quality in giving my life for my faith. We reserve a quiet awe for martyrs and justifiably so. But somehow it seems that what Roseveare offered was almost more than her life. She suffered in a way that surely affected the rest of her life. She was willing to give her life, but in a sense gave even more than that when she made her way to the front of that line. What an example of faith!

How many people would be willing to lay not just their lives, but their bodies and their dignity on the line, as she did? How many would be willing to be used as she was, believing all the while that what men were doing to “the least of these” they were in fact doing to her Savior? How many would be willing to do this knowing that they would have to live forever with the consequences? How many would be willing to do this out of love for women she did not even know?

I stand amazed at this story. Really, I do.

It was only later, when Roseveare had returned to her native England, that she discovered an amazing chapter of her own story and one that had been written at the same time. “It was the very night of Helen’s attack. [A] woman had been awakened with a strong sense to pray intensely for Helen, whom she only knew of. She prayed and didn’t feel free to stop until a certain time that she named to Helen. Given the difference in time zones, that was the same time that Helen had been washed through by the peace of God and known that she wasn’t abandoned by Him.”

As Helen Roseveare abandoned herself to men, she was in reality abandoning herself to God and to His promises. She was willing and able to trust that as she gave herself to God, He would be her strength. She knew that her body was but a vessel God was using to show Himself to the people around. She knew in her heart of hearts that the anger of the men was really an anger directed at God. And unbeknownst to her, while she went through her ordeal, other believers were holding her up before the throne of Grace. He did not forget her.

In 1989, 120 young people sat cross-legged in the Piper living room and dining room, covering nearly every square inch of floor space. They had accepted our open invitation to anyone who thought missions might be in his or her future.

As Helen Roseveare stood by our fireplace and looked into their faces, she reached backward toward the mantel and eased a long-stemmed rose bud from a tall vase. As she spoke, she broke off the thorns, the leaves, the petals, the green out layer of stem—every element that makes a rose and rose. All that was left was a lithe, straight shaft. The pieces that lay on the floor were not bad things. But, she explained, they had to be removed if she were going to make an arrow. God does this to us, she said. He removes everything—even innocent, good things—that hinders us from being the arrows that he will shoot for his purposes at his intended target.

And that is a lesson we can all draw from her story. We all need to abandon ourselves to God so that He can make us arrows fit to shoot for His purposes and at His intended targets. Like so many faithful men and women that God has used for His purposes, we need to allow Him to strip away layer after layer of ourselves, that we might be wholly and completely His.