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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


October 11, 2009

I found myself reminiscing this afternoon about old Mr. Tweedle—a man I hadn’t thought about in ages. Years ago, when we were members at a Reformed church in Hamilton, Mr. Tweedle had shown up at the church. He was an elderly man already, probably well into his seventies. He was a refugee from Canada’s United Church, a denomination that had slid from liberal to liberaler to liberalerst. When he found out from a neighbor that most people in our church believed in the validity of capital punishment (not that it matters in Canada, really, since we have no capital punishment) he decided to come to the church. I don’t think he was a believer—at least, I don’t think he had ever placed his faith in Christ. Yes, he believed in the existence of God and yes he felt it was important to attend church. But I don’t know that I ever understood him to truly believe.

When Mr. Tweedle was a young man, he had loved riding motorcycles. He was even a motorcycle courier for the Canadian army during the Second World War, first spending time in England and then, after the invasion, zipping around the continent. When the war was over, he returned to Hamilton and married. But his wife told him she did not want him to ride motorcycles anymore—they were too dangerous. So he put the bike away and lived life without.

When we knew him he was recently widowed. Just about the first thing he did after his wife died was go out and buy a new motorbike along with a $700 leather jacket. The church had pretty much adopted him by then and behind the scenes the deacons ensured that every week he was invited into someone’s home. Being a traditionalist when it comes to the etiquette of hospitality, he knew he would have to bring something with him as a little “thank you” gift. He was able to cook a mean pecan pie, so went ahead and built a specially-designed little box for the back of his motorbike, just the right size to hold a single pie. Every Sunday, at least when the weather was good, he would drive his motorcycle to church with a pecan pie tucked safely into that box. After the service he would head to the home of someone in the church. He would eat lunch with the family and then find a quiet place to lie down. He would sleep until mid-afternoon when the second service was set to begin. Then he would wake up, head for church, and sleep through the afternoon service. When I picture him in my mind, I mostly picture him with his head nodding almost to his chest during those long, afternoon services.

One day Mr. Tweedle decided that he would like to go and visit some of the sights he had seen in Europe decades before. He wanted to take his motorcycle with him, so drove it all the way from Hamilton, Ontario to Savannah, Georgia from where he caught a ship that carried him across the Atlantic. For weeks he traveled around Europe, by himself, on his bike all the while. Then he came home the way he returned. The only detail I remember from his description of his trip was that at one point he had come across a bike gang—a chapter of Hell’s Angels, I believe. They got a kick out of this old guy, alone in the world with his bike, so rode with him for some time. It’s a picture that still makes me laugh—old Mr. Tweedle, frail and tiny, riding his little old motorcycle while around him cruise huge biker dudes on their massive Harleys. I bet Mr. Tweedle loved every minute of it.

I don’t know what became of Mr. Tweedle. I don’t know if he ever truly loved the Lord or if he was just attached to the idea of God. I sure hope he turned to the Lord, even in his old age. Today he makes me think how people come and go in life, how God brings people in who for a year or two are there, week after week, and who are then gone, never to be seen again. With so many others like him, Mr. Tweedle has become just a distant memory to me.

October 10, 2009

It is Thanksgiving Weekend here in Canada—about as early a Thanksgiving as we ever have, I think. It comes a long time before the American equivalent, at any rate. The Canadian Thanksgiving is a fair bit like its American counterpart, though without the storied history. Where Americans have great stories about Pilgrims and the Indians who saved their lives, Canadians just know that we get the day off and that it’s a good day to spend with family. It is, I think, my favorite holiday of the year. The weather is usually beautiful, cool and crisp just like autumn should be. The leaves are changing color and beginning to fall.

For many Canadians the day includes parades and festive meals, often including turkey with all the “fixins.” We eat pumpkin and apple pies and squash and whatever other vegetables are available that go well with turkey. Many Canadians regard the American celebration of Thanksgiving to be almost vulgar for its excesses. We tend not to make it a day for huge quantities of food and loud football games. We certainly do not gear up for a “Black Friday” shopping experience the next day where financial excess follows closely behind caloric excess. Thanksgiving is usually a quiet day of hiking, enjoying nature, and enjoying fellowship with family and friends. It is not nearly as significant day as Thanksgiving is in America. Yet there is still something magical about it.

This year my parents are visiting, so my dad and I have been hard at work. My dad relaxes by working, so he and I have torn up and replaced our front walkway and I think this afternoon or Monday we’ll do a bit of plumbing work. And then we’ll sit back and relax and enjoy the time together as family. It sounds like the makings of a pretty good weekend. Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to it. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

October 02, 2009

I went for a walk this morning, and pretty much had the town to myself, it seemed. Few people were out and about at 5:30 in the cold, dark, pre-dawn. This was the first time this year I’ve had to wear a coat while walking and the first time I’ve been able to see my breath misting the air around me. Winter is fast approaching.

I was thinking, as I walked, about Proverbs 11:1. It is one of my favorite Proverbs, for reasons I’ll explain at another time. It says simply, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” As I thought about it I began to wonder what else Proverbs has to say about “delight.” Delight is something I think about often. I find myself increasingly wanting to delight in what delights God. I find myself increasingly want to move from being a dutiful Christian to being a delighting Christian. Yet delight often comes slowly; it often comes only with great difficulty. Duty is simple enough; delight is a battle.

When I got home I searched through Proverbs and found all that it has to say about delight. I haven’t quite decided what to do with all of this, so for today I simply list it for you. Here is what God tells us in Proverbs about delight:

Foolish people delight in their folly. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”

Foolish people delight in evil. “…who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil…”

God disciplines us because he delights in us. “…for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

The adulteress seduces with false delight. “Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.”

A man is to delight in the wife of his youth and, further, to delight in her beauty and in his desire for her. “…a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”

God delights in wisdom: “then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”

God delights in those who conduct business morally. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.”

God delights in those who live upright lives. “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those of blameless ways are his delight.”

God delights in those who are truthful in word and deed. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”

God delights in those who are pure and true. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.”

God delights in truth and uprightness. “…but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”

Discipline makes for delight. “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.”

September 16, 2009

Last week I met Rick Warren. I was in Los Angeles to speak at the Christian Web Conference (where my topic was “Tweeting Truth With Love: Grace in an Age of Instant Communication”) and at the conference I bumped into David Chrzan, Warren’s Chief of Staff. He and I spoke for quite some time—an hour at least—and chatted about some of the critiques I’ve made in the past regarding Warren and his books. With ministries as expansive and important as Saddleback and Purpose Driven, these people are accustomed to dealing with detractors and over the years some of my critiques have reached their ears.

The irony of my talk with David is that I had come all the way to California to speak about the importance of communicating truth with love and there I was, being challenged on doing just that. It was not David challenging me as much as my own conscience. I wondered, had I always been fair to Warren? As David and I spoke it suddenly dawned on me that Rick Warren is a real person. He isn’t a robot or a really clever computer who spits out books and sermons, but a real guy. And as a real guy, he is aware of some of the controversy that surrounds him—including reviews and articles written by the likes of me. And as I’ve often had to do in the past, I had to pause to consider whether I would say to Warren face-to-face what I’ve said about him in my reviews and articles. This is not to say that I’ve ever accused Warren of heresy or torturing kittens. But I have commented on the nature, the completeness of the gospel he preaches—surely a topic that is close to his heart.

Later that day I received a “tweet” (it’s a Twitter thing) from Warren inviting me to come and check out Saddleback. Every time I am in California I think of doing so, but it has never quite worked out. This time, though, it fit my schedule perfectly. So I set out for Saddleback with a couple of friends.

Before I got to Saddleback, I went back and read through some of what I’ve written about Warren over the years, focusing on what have undoubtedly been the three most-read articles: my reviews of The Purpose Driven Church, The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose of Christmas. As I read them, I was actually pleased to see that I was, at least in my opinion, quite level-headed in these reviews. I think they were generally kind and rational, even while disagreeing with some of what Warren communicated. What I have not done is critique Warren to the extent that others have done. I’ve never considered him a pawn of the United Nations who is attempting to bring about one-world government and the downfall of all society. I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of deliberately trying to push a pro-New Age agenda on his readers. I have sought to focus on the message and method he advocates in his books.

My main critiques of Warren and his ministry have been:

His use of Scripture. Most notably, this involves using many translations based, at least from an outside perspective, more on what the translations say than on their faithfulness to the original text.

The completeness of the gospel. In The Purpose Driven Life he says, “Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ” but really goes no further than that in explaining the gospel. And this in one of the best-selling books of all-time. I have often found that the gospel he preaches stops just a little bit short. It is just a little too easy.

His view of conversion. In The Purpose Driven Life he encourages readers to pray this prayer: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you” and then welcomes them into the family of God. His view of conversion and his haste to baptize people and welcome them into church membership (you can do all of these in a single day at Saddleback) have often caused alarm.

The role of pragmatism. In The Purpose Driven Church he makes a blanket statement that is really startling when you pause to consider it: “never criticize what God is blessing.” This kind of pragmatism in which faithfulness is judged by our perceived results is a hallmark of the Purpose Driven model of church.

So these critiques were in the back of my mind as I headed to Saddleback, as David kindly gave us a thorough tour of the facilities and as I attended the Saturday evening worship service. And I suppose they were just in the back of my mind as I spent perhaps a half hour with Warren after the service.

A few people have since asked me to describe my meeting with Warren. I don’t really know how or why I would do that. How or why would I evaluate and analyze a half-hour of mostly-random conversation? We sat down with no agenda and mostly just chatted. But what I will say is this: having met Warren and having spent a few hours at Saddleback I was at once impressed with his giftedness and confirmed in some of my concerns about his ministry. As an example of the former, he reads hundreds of books per year and just this year has already completed 18 of 26 volumes of the complete works of Jonathan Edwards (whom he regards as his hero). As an example of the latter, his sermon on Sunday used at least 6 Bible translations, some of which seemed to be chosen at the expense of the true meaning. So I guess I was confirmed in seeing that Warren is a pretty normal guy in most ways and an above average guy in other ways. I can see his passion for what he does—his passion for sharing Christ with the world. At the same time, I walked away realizing that many of my concerns are fair ones.

I want to affirm here, though, that I am allowed by Scripture to disagree with him. None of my critiques or concerns indicate that I think he is unsaved or deliberately doing things contrary to Scripture. Rather, I believe it is primarily that he and I read Scripture differently at certain points. We read the same words and come to different conclusions. If I did not believe my conclusions were the proper ones and if I did not believe they were important, I would have no reason to raise my concerns. Honestly, I feel that Warren is, in a sense, better than his theology—that with his intellect and knowledge of Scripture and expansive knowledge of what others have written, he ought to see a kind of disconnect between some of what he must believe and how this theology works itself out through his church. I wonder if he has paused to ask what Jonathan Edwards would have to say about his church, his books, his methods. So having spent time with the man and his ministry, and while granting that I saw just a brief glimpse of each, I want to affirm that there is much that seems sound but much else that bears a kind of iron-sharpening-iron kind of critique. Warren has thrust himself onto an international stage and therefore he cannot be surprised when he receives critique. If he were a small-town pastor in middle America, no one would be noticing and critiquing him. But as a pastor who prays at Presidential inaugurations and who has the ear of many world leaders, he has to expect that people will dissect his words. After all, as a Christian leader there are times when he represents all of us and there are times when hundreds of thousands of people are listening to his every word.

Somehow just meeting Warren reinforced in my mind the challenge we face as we reconcile ourselves to a fast-paced, digital world in which a person can quickly dash off a missive that can severely impact another person on the other side of the continent. It seems that ethics and morality have been a bit slow to catch up to ability in this new digital world. As I read those three reviews I realized that in each case there would be things I might say just a little differently. I am too often prone to forget that the authors whose books I review are real people and I am too quick to ignore my conscience when I consider whether the things I write and post online for all the world to read are things I would also say face-to-face. I hope this will help me in the future as I seek to be fair and godly in all that I write.

In November Zondervan will release The Hope You Need, the long-awaited follow-up to The Purpose Driven Life and one that is based on the Lord’s Prayer (which, in turn, was the subject of an eight-part sermon series). I intend to review this book as I’ve reviewed each of his other titles. But I think, having met Warren and having met the people who work with him, I can honestly say that this review will be a little bit different. It will come from a new perspective and, I hope, be as fair as I know how to Warren, to Saddleback and to Scripture.

August 19, 2009

A couple of years ago I decided that I’d try to read through the works of historian David McCullough (a project that continues). I eventually came to Brave Companions, a book that offers “Portraits in History”—brief glimpses of people and incidents that helped make America what she is today. One of the chapters deals with “The American Adventure of Louis Agassiz.” Agassiz was a French zoologist and geologist who settled in the United States in the mid nineteenth century. He began a distinguished career as a professor at Harvard. He revolutionized the way this field was taught, focusing far more on observation than rote learning. Agassiz utterly rejected Darwinism, believing to his dying day that to study nature was to study the works of God. He worked tirelessly to see a zoological museum built at Harvard and when it was finally opened in 1860, Harvard’s President declared it was appropriate that the museum stood face-to-face with the theological school, “God’s word and God’s works mutually illustrating each other.” Now I posted this about a year ago, I believe, but was reflecting on it again recently and felt it would be worth sharing again. It is, I think, a very powerful illustration.

Here is how McCullough describes the Agassiz teaching style.

Most unorthodox of all, and crucial as time would tell, was his manner of teaching. He intended, he said, to teach students to see—to observe and compare—and he intended to put the burden of study on them. Probably he never said what he is best known for, “Study nature, not books,” or not in those exact words. But such certainly was the essence of his creed, and for his students the idea was firmly planted by what they would afterward refer to as “the incident of the fish.”

His initial interview at an end, Agassiz would ask the student when he would like to begin. If the answer was now, the student was immediately presented with a dead fish—usually a very long dead, pickled, evil-smelling specimen—personally selected by “the master” from one of the wide-mouthed jars that lined his shelves. The fish was placed before the student in a tin pan. He was to look at the fish, the student was told, whereupon Agassiz would leave, not to return until later in the day, if at all.

Samuel Scudder, one of the many from the school who would go on to do important work of their own (his in entomology), described the experience as one of life’s turning points.

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish. … Half an hour passed—an hour—another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at three-quarters view—just as ghastly. I was in despair.

I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish: it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows, until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish, and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature.

When Agassiz returned later and listened to Scudder recount what he had observed, his only comment was that the young man must look again.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now I set myself to my task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another. … The afternoon passed quickly; and when, towards its close, the professor inquired: “Do you see it yet?”

No,” I replied, “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

The day following, having thought of the fish through most of the night, Scudder had a brainstorm. The fish, he announced to Agassiz, had symmetrical sides with paired organs.

Of course, of course!” Agassiz said, obviously pleased. Scudder asked what he might do next, and Agassiz replied, “Oh, look at your fish!”

In Scudder’s case the lesson lasted a full three days. “Look, look, look” was the repeated injunction and the best lesson he ever had, Scudder recalled, “a legacy the professor has left to me, as he has left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part.”

The incident of the fish marked the end of the student’s novitiate. At once Agassiz became more communicative, his manner that of a friend or colleague, now that the real work could begin.

The way to all learning, “the backbone of education,” was to know something well. “A smattering of everything is worth little,” he would insist in the heavy French accent that he was never to lose. “Facts are stupid things, until brought into conjunction with some general law.” It was a great and common fallacy to suppose that an encyclopedic mind is desirable. The mind was made strong not through much learning but by “the thorough possession of something.” In other words, “Look at your fish.”

There were so many lessons I drew from this as I thought of my own attempts to understand God through His Word. The parallels are uncanny (but for the injunction to “study nature, not books.”) Lately, in my times of personal devotion, I’ve been studying the Minor Prophets. Admittedly I am going more for an overview than for an in-depth study, but even as I’ve been doing this, I’ve been craving some deeper study. The primary lesson for me in the Agassiz teaching style is this: like Scudder I tend to consider myself ready to move on too quickly. I move quickly from the Bible to resources that help explain them to me. I skim the Bible and then turn to commentaries and sermons to do the hard work for me. I skim the Bible and then study the supplementary material. But all the while I know I would be better off if I would just heed Agassiz and “look at your fish.”

July 22, 2009

A couple of summers ago my parents paid us a rare summer visit. Usually they come to visit in fall or winter, but this year they came in summer. Because my dad is only truly resting when he is hard at work, I asked him to help me with several projects around the house. These were either projects that I had not had time to attend to, or projects for which I would have to rely upon his expertise. As always, dad was glad to pitch in and to do what needed to be done. So while my mother spent as much time as she could with Aileen and the kids, dad and I got to work. On Saturday we installed a new air conditioner, something that turned out to be far easier said than done and that quickly consumed much of the day. The end result, though, was just what we had hoped for and was just in time to carry us through a couple of days of uncomfortable heat and humidity. Having taken care of this, we decided to attack the lawns and gardens. We laid sod in the backyard and planted perennials in the flower beds. We transformed the outside of our home.

Dad is a career landscaper and has a great love for rocks, trees, plants and flowers. I have spent countless hours with my father, and used to work with him quite often when I was younger. He must have given up on me eventually because I would do a half-baked job of nearly everything he asked of me. When plants needed a soaking, I’d give them only a quick shower before finding something more interesting to do. When plants needed to be buried deep in the ground, I would leave their roots exposed to the elements. I am sure it was on a scalding hot Ontario summer day, when I was covered in dirt and dust and manure, that I resolved that I would work a desk job when I was older.

Though I had worked with dad so often, it was only recently that I realized something fundamental to his choice of vocation. We were driving along Highway 5, a highway that represents the northern border of the town of Oakville. On the south side of the highway is a bustling suburban environment. Houses reach almost to the side of the road and there are newly-built gas stations on almost every corner. There are enough restaurants, Wal-Marts and big box stores to support a thriving community. In true Canadian style, the neighborhoods are predominantly flat and boring. The trees have been torn down, the valleys have been filled in, and the houses are often so close that a person could easily leap from roof-to-roof. Sometimes a single majestic, lonely tree stands at the entrance to a neighborhood with a sign underneath reading “Oak Trails.”

That is the south side of Highway 5. The opposite side, the north side, is everything that the south is not. Fields of corn and wheat border the highway. Many fields that have long laid fallow, stretch as far as the eye can see, passing into the distance. There are rolling hills and small forests. The occasional valley, with a stream running through it, cuts across the landscape. Cows graze and horses run.

On one side of Highway 5 is progress. A city thrives there, a city filled with men and women who commute into Toronto, the nerve center of Canada. These people choose to live in Oakville, the wealthiest city in Canada. They run the banks and own the businesses that drive our economy. Their demand for more houses, bigger houses, push the borders of Oakville ever further north. They push the borders toward the other side of Highway 5, the side that is nothing. Or that is what most of us see. Where we see nothing, dad sees beauty.

As we were driving along the highway, making our way to an eclectic, disorganized but well-stocked garden center that you would not notice unless you where it was, I heard dad cry, “Oh, look at that beautiful chestnut! Wow! Look at it!” I turned my head and saw a tree, standing tall and proud, rising above a field of grass. I’d like to describe it in more detail, but that is all I saw. A tree. But where I saw only a tree, I knew that dad saw something so much more. A few minutes later he pointed towards the urban sprawl and said, “Right down that road there used to be the biggest poplar in all of Ontario. It was six feet across at its base. I bet it’s long gone by now.”

For dad this is a tragedy. For many of us, a huge poplar tree is an annoyance. Its roots lift our sidewalks, disturb our gardens and tear into our foundations. Its massive trunk and swaying branches block our review or shade too much of our backyard. And so we cut it down and tear it apart. After all, it’s only a tree. But to dad it is more. It is an object of tremendous beauty.

I wish that I could see beauty the way dad does. I wish that I could delight in the simple, natural beauty of a chestnut tree. But all I see, even when I look closely, is a tree. I can describe it using adjectives—big, thick, leafy, round—but not in any adjectives that really capture the essence of its beauty. And that’s because I see only a tree.

I think that when dad sees a tree, he must see the tree’s Creator. He must see something more than the color and the shape. Maybe he sees God’s providence in a tree that has stood for fifty years. A hundred years. A tree that has offered shelter to generation after generation. Or maybe that tree is simply a beautiful work of art. Maybe that tree is a manifestation of the Artist who sculpted it in such a way to tell us something about Himself. That tree stands as a reminder of the great Creator. I don’t really know what dad sees in those trees. I never thought to ask him. But I wish I could see whatever he sees.

Highway 5 seems almost a parable to me. On one side is progress and on the other is nature. On one side is ugliness and on the other is beauty. I tend towards what is ugly but progressive. I tend to see urban sprawl as a sign of Canada’s progress as our population grows and our economy strengthens. But dad prefers natural beauty, even at the expense of progress. He sees the tragedy of a great tree falling and the tragedy of beauty being torn away only to be replaced by ugliness.

There is a reason that many of the fields north of Highway 5 lie fallow. Many of those fields, perhaps even all of them, have been purchased by developers. Oakville will soon have reached the limits of its growth. With Lake Ontario removing the possibility of southward growth, and with other cities to the east and the west, there is only one way for the city to move. Already the city is beginning to leap across the highway and this “progress” will continue for the foreseeable future. Trees will be cut down and trucked away to nearby mills. Hills will be flattened and the soil will be poured into the valleys. Sewers will cut into the fields and roads will be laid. Houses, schools and stores will spring up.

That chestnut tree is going to be a casualty of progress. Perhaps it will be left standing at the entrance to a neighborhood of million dollar houses where it will languish in the hard clay. Eventually it will die. I won’t even notice. Dad will lament the loss of such beauty. I’ll wish that I could too.

I’m on vacation so you’re getting a repeat today. I first posted this back in ‘06, I believe.

July 15, 2009

There's Treasure Everywhere

I’ve always loved Calvin & Hobbes. My friend Brian first introduced me to the comic strip back when I was a young teen and I immediately fell in love with it. (Here is a must-have for any true fan: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes). The strip works on at least two levels. There is the philosophical level where Calvin and his tiger discuss topics of science, philosophy and religion that are clearly far beyond the grasp of a six-year old mind. Yet they reflect the questions most people wrestle with during their lives. And then there is the more realistic level, where Calvin is just a young boy doing what boys do: learning to ride a bike, going to school, imaging himself as a superhero or astronaut, building snow forts, fighting with girls, and digging for treasure. Every young boy is convinced that there’s treasure everywhere. Any boy with a strong imagination will realize that there truly is treasure everywhere.

As you well know, I use this web site to discuss a wide variety of topics. I post personal reflections, book reviews and links to other sites I recommend. I write articles about theology, current issues, sexuality, philosophy and just about anything else that crosses my mind. I may not offer reflections that are particularly deep and original, but surely no one can complain about the variety!

One of the great benefits of having this site and of committing to contribute to it each day is that it has forced me to think a lot and to think widely. My wife will be the first to tell that she often has to snap me out of moments of thought where I am present in body but absent in mind. She will also have to testify that I often use her as an initial audience for what I am thinking about. I am quite convinced that my eclectic range of interests often frustrates and bewilders her. She is good to put up with me. Every day my mind wanders. Sooner or later it rests for a while on a particular subject—some news tidbit I’ve seen on the Internet or a word or phrase or idea I’ve read in a book. And then I just have to let my mind run for a while to see what I think about what I’ve discovered and to see how it relates to the Christian life. I often think best while writing, jotting down my thoughts as they come to me. I often turn to the Bible, allowing the thoughts to lead me through the Bible, helping me understand what God says about the issue.

The more I have thought about different topics, the more I’ve realized that there is theology everywhere. And this is what motivates me to write; it’s what motivates me to read and to think and to explore. Everywhere I turn I see theology, whether in a book about the atoning work of Jesus Christ or in a book about the future of business or in a biography of a man who lives half a world away. Sometimes the theology is lying on the surface, exposed and easy to see. Sometimes it is hidden within and just needs to be coaxed out. But always there is something to think about, something to wrestle with, something to help me think deeply about how Christians are to live in this world.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not one of these people who watches R-rated movies and tries to read into them some kind of redemptive theology that is simply not present. But it seems that every time I read the news and every book I read I find something that is profound, something that is or should be theological. Everything I read seems to provide some starting point for deeper reflection.

And I guess this is what this web site has become. It’s become a place where I try to unearth treasure. It’s a place where I write down and post my thoughts about a theology of, well, everything. When I read about technology I want to understand how this technology will impact the church. When I read about psychology or current events I want to learn how Christians need to respond. When I read about history or economics I want to see what the Bible has to say about these things. I want to know how they impact me as a Christian and how I should think about them and react to them to the glory of God.

As I continue to try to grapple with these things, I realize more and more my dependence on the Holy Spirit. He leads me into truth. He leads me into and through Scripture where the answers can be found. And ultimately he leads me to Jesus Christ who in turn points me to the Father, so I can bring the glory and the praise to Him. I can see that I need to improve in my ability to allow myself to be led to the cross and to share the shadow of the cross as it falls over all areas of theology. But I know, and am convinced, that there’s a theology of everything. There’s treasure everywhere. And I get such a thrill out of finding it.

July 01, 2009

It is Canada Day today and I’m taking the day off. My kids have been begging go to a ball game so a bit later on I’ll be taking them to see the Jays play the Rays. It seemed that on Canada Day it would make sense to write a little bit about Canada’s national anthem.

Canada may be unique as a nation that has two official national anthems. I was too lazy to do the legwork to find if there are any other nations with two, but I suspect there are not. To add to the strangeness, both of Canada’s anthems are entitled “O Canada.” Many people erroneously spell “O” as “Oh.” In reality the “O” is used as a vocative to apostrophize Canada and rather than as an exclamation. But most people prefer it as an exclamation.

O Canada was proclaimed to be Canada’s official anthem on July 1, 1980 (July 1 being Canada Day). Yet it was first sung almost exactly 100 years earlier. The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée who at that time was a well-known composer. But, as we know, popularity is fleeting and I’d guess you do not have any of his albums in your collection. The lyrics were written in French. Though it was well received on the occasion it was first performed, it had little immediate impact beyond that evening. Here is the song as it was first composed. For those who do not speak French, I’ve included a rough English translation:

Ô Canada  Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux 
Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix;
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur de foi trempée
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits;
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

O Canada! Home of our ancestors,
Your brow is wreathed with glorious garlands!
Just as your arm knows how to wield the sword,
It also knows how to bear the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats.
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights;
Will protect our homes and our rights.

In 1908, Dr. Thomas Bedford Richardson, a Toronto doctor, completed a translation into English. A quick look at the lyrics will show why we no longer use this particular version.

O Canada! Our fathers’ land of old
Thy brow is crown’d with leaves of red and gold.
Beneath the shade of the Holy Cross
Thy children own their birth
No stains thy glorious annals gloss
Since valour shield thy hearth.
Almighty God! On thee we call
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall,
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall.

“Forfend this nation’s thrall?” I’m sure God is eager and willing to do that, but I can’t recall the last time I used either “forfend” or “thrall”, which incidentally mean “ward off” and “slavery” or “bondage.”

That same year Robert Stanley Weir, a lawyer living in Montreal, penned another adaptation that eventually formed the basis for the song as we know it today.

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love thou dost in us command.
We see thee rising fair, dear land,
The True North, strong and free;
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada! O Canada!
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.

The version that was official adopted in 1980 is quite similar.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Thus we have two official national anthems, one written in French and one in English. It must be noted that the lyrics of these songs, even when translated to the same language, bear little resemblance to each other. Beyond the first two words there is little correlation in language or underlying themes. It is also interesting to note that while the songs are written in different languages, they were also written by men of different theological backgrounds. The English version is Protestant and emphasizes hard work and duty. The French version, written by a Roman Catholic, emphasizes history and national glory.

Today it is common for performances of the anthem to mix the French and English versions of the song. This leads to a rather interesting mixture of thoughts that actually makes the song seem quite militaristic.

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
Just as your arm knows how to wield the sword,
It also knows how to bear the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

In recent years the song has come under attack from various parties who claim that the anthem is either sexist or too religious. Some have suggested removing the words “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Others have suggested ways of removing the references to God. So far these suggestions have met with resistance, but it is likely only a matter of time before the changes are made. After all, this is the nation that has legalized homosexual marriage and has decriminalized marijuana. We’re on the forefront of political correctness.

In How To Be A Canadian, Will and Ian Ferguson suggest that a defining characteristic of Canadians is that they do not know their own anthem. Certainly they do not loudly sing it with pride as do our American neighbours (as I noted last night when I was at the ball game—barely a person there bothered to sing along). “First lesson as a newcomer to Canada: Whatever you do, do not learn the words to ‘O Canada’! Nothing will mark you as an outsider more quickly. Canadians don’t know the words to their national anthem, and neither should you.”