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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Quotes

September 04, 2010

I have been reading a lot of R.C. Sproul lately, partly for work and partly for pleasure. This week I made my way through Reason to Believe, “a response to common objections to Christianity.” One of the common objections to the faith is that Christians are a bunch of lousy hypocrites, people who call out other people for being sinners, but who still sin themselves. Here is how Sproul answers this:

What happens is that people observe church members sinning. They reason within themselves, “That person professes to be a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to sin. That person is sinning; therefore, he is a hypocrite.” The unspoken assumption is that a Christian is one who claims he does not sin. It reality just the opposite is the case. For a Christian to be a Christian, he must first be a sinner. Being a sinner is a prerequisite for being a church member. The Christian church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgement of sin as a condition for membership. In one sense the church has fewer hypocrites than any institution because by definition the church is a haven for sinners. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people then her claim would be hypocritical. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement would only compliment the church for fulfilling her divinely appointed task.

August 29, 2010

This week I came upon a prayer written by the Puritan Matthew Henry. This prayer comes from his book A Method for Prayer and is meant to be used “At the entrance upon the public worship on the Lord’s day, by the master of the assemblies.” What is most notable to me is how the prayer is almost entirely Scripture; it moves from one verse to the next, all the while seeking God’s blessing upon the worshipers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Thou, O God, art greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about thee. O give us grace to worship thee with reverence and godly fear, because thou our God art a consuming fire.

This is that which thou hast said, That thou wilt be sanctified in them which come nigh unto thee; and before all the people thou wilt be glorified. Thou art the Lord that sanctifiest us, sanctify us by thy truth, that we may sanctify thee in our hearts, and make thee our fear and our dread.

August 28, 2010

I have been reading Nancy Pearcey’s new book Saving Leonardo, something about which I’ll have a lot more to say next week. But for now I wanted to share with you a quote from one of the early chapters which deals with Sex, Lies and Secularism. Here she writes about liberal and Christian views of sex, showing how the Bible elevates sex to the position God wishes it to have while Liberalism lowers it to something so much less than God wants it to be. Though Christians are often denigrated as being prudes, in reality Christians have a high view of sex.

The irony is that Christians are often accused of being prudes and Puritans who hold a negative view of the body and its functions, such as sex. During one college debate over abortion, the pro-choice students shouted to the pro-life students, “You’re just anti-sex.” But the truth is that Christianity has a much more respectful view of our psycho-sexual identity.

August 22, 2010

Andrew Keen is a bit of a curmudgeon. It’s hard to know how much of his own words he actually believes and how much of it he writes simply because it has become his niche, what people expect of him. But he’s still a lot of fun to read. Here’s a brief excerpt from his book The Cult of the Amateur. While it’s a little bit one-sided in its attack on bloggers and musicians and YouTubers and everyone else who creates content on the web today, I think we can all identify to some extent, with his frustrations. It begins with a conversation he had with a San Francisco software producer who was describing his new product.

“It’s MySpace meets YouTube meets Wikipedia meets Google,” he said. “On steroids.”

In reply, I explained I was working on a polemic about the destructive impact of the digital revolution on our culture, economy, and values.

“It’s ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule,” I said, unable to resist a smile. “On steroids.”

He smiled uneasily in return. “So it’s Huxley meets the digital age,” he said. “You’re rewriting Huxley for the twenty first century.” He raised his wine glass in my honor. “To Brave New World 2.0!”

We clinked wine glasses. But I knew we were toasting the wrong Huxley. Rather than Aldous, the inspiration behind this book comes from his grandfather, T.H. Huxley, the nineteenth-century evolutionary biologist and author of the “infinite monkey theorem.” Huxley’s theory says that if you provide infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters, some monkey somewhere will eventually create a masterpiece—a play by Shakespeare [An editorial addition I can’t resist—“It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times!? You stupid money!”], a Platonic dialogue, or an economics treatise by Adam Smith.

In the pre-Internet age, T.H. Huxley’s scenario of infinite monkeys empowered with infinite technology seemed more like a mathematical jest than a dystopian vision. But what had once appeared as a joke now seems to foretell the consequences of a flattening of culture that is blurring the lines between traditional audience and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur. This is no laughing matter.

Today’s technology hooks all those monkeys up to all those typewriters. Except in our Web 2.0 world, the typewriters aren’t quite typewriters, but rather networked personal computers, and the monkeys aren’t quite monkeys, but rather Internet users. And instead of creating masterpieces, these millions and millions of exuberant monkeys—many with no more talent in the creative arts than our primate cousins—are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity. For today’s amateur monkeys can use their networked computers to publish everything from uninformed political commentary, to unseemly home videos, to embarrassingly amateurish music, to unreadable poems, reviews, essays and novels.

August 15, 2010

Every now and again I like to post a favorite song that we sing at Grace Fellowship Church. In worship this morning we sang an old Newton hymn that has become a favorite. It’s a hymn you may well know, one titled “Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat.” It is one of Newton’s Olney Hymns. We use the third stanza as a chorus, singing in that chorus that though we are bowed down beneath a load of sin, we find rest in Christ.

I particularly love the final stanza which says “ ‘Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still; My promised grace receive’; ’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will, I can, I do believe.” Isn’t that a great progression? I must, I will, I can, I do believe. Brilliant.

Here are the words to the song.

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still;
My promised grace receive”;
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

August 14, 2010

A couple of days ago I sat down and made my way through R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. This is one of those books that, if I was more organized, I would schedule to read every year or so. Maybe we ought to make it one of the volumes we read in a forthcoming Reading Classics Together. Though Dr. Sproul has written some great books in this life, I do think this is the best of them.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes, just a few of many (many!) I highlighted along the way:

We tend to have mixed feelings about the holy. There is a sense in which we are at the same time attracted to it and repulsed by it. Something draws us toward it, while at the same time we want to run away from it. We can’t seem to decide which way we want it. Part of us yearns for the holy, while part of us despises it. We can’t live with it, and we can’t live without it.

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.

If ever there was a man of integrity, it was Isaiah ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of a fellow.  He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

It’s dangerous to assume that because a person is drawn to holiness in his study that he is thereby a holy man. There is irony here. I am sure that the reason I have a deep hunger to learn of the holiness of God is precisely because I am not holy. I am a profane man—a man who spends more time out of the temple than in it. But I have had just enough of a taste of the majesty of God to want more. I know what it means to be a forgiven man and what it means to be sent on a mission. My soul cries for more. My soul needs more.

August 11, 2010

Not too long ago I reviewed the book The Trellis and the Vine and said that it is a book to which I give my highest recommendation. Since I wrote that review I’ve turned to the book often and have continued to find it very, very useful. I was glad to learn just recently that there will soon be a sequel to it titled The Archer and the Arrow (which I believe is due out a little bit later in the year).

As I was reading the endorsements for the book, I noticed that Mark Dever says this: “Phillip Jensen has been both faithfully and provocatively preaching God’s word for decades. Here he tells us how. His observations are keen, his suggestions convicting, his speaking plain. (And he also finally explains for us why most commentaries are so useless to the preacher!).” I was naturally a little bit intruiged by this, so went searching for Jensen’s explanation of why commentaries can be so useless. I quite liked what I read and got permission from Matthias Media to share it with you. Here it is, drawn from a chapter titled “Preaching the gospel by expounding the Bible” and a heading titled “Use your external sources wisely.”

The second thing to point out is the place of external aids in the process of preparation. It is very easy, particularly after spending years in seminary or Bible college, to assume that the answers we need will be found in the finest writers of the day. And so in order to find out what the text says we spend more time in the biggest, fattest, most up-to-date commentaries than we do in the Bible itself. But even the writers of the very best commentaries don’t know more about God’s will than the apostles who penned God’s word. And God’s revelation is not in their commentary but in the original text.

Part of the problem arises from the process by which commentaries come to be written these days. It starts with university staff and postgraduate scholars producing mono- graphs, theses and journal articles, usually about a small point in the text or an obscure matter of current debate. The pressure on these scholars (in respect of their jobs and careers) is to say something new, and this tends to push them towards historical background research—an area in which it is easier to come up with new discoveries and to contribute to the ongoing academic conversation. The commentary writers then gather up these various articles and theses into a book that is really a compendium of recent research organized by the text of a Bible book. The commentators will usually try to add something to the research by giving an overall argument to the book, but frequently they do no more than arbitrate among the various articles and debates, very often losing sight of the message and emphasis of the biblical text as they do so.

The result is that the agenda for the conversation has been set by someone apart from God. And in modern theological writing, it has often been set by someone who has no idea at all about who God is, but who has been asked to write the commentary because of their status or experience within the academic community.

It’s not that we should ignore the commentaries. They can be very useful tools, especially in pointing out interesting things in the text that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if they have theological biases and commitments different from our own, they can lead us to ask questions that we would never have asked. But never read commentaries until you have wrestled with the text for yourself, and come to some conclusions about what you think and why. Otherwise you will just lap up whatever they feed you.

Commentaries, Bible dictionaries and the like are great servants but lousy masters.

And to that I think we can anticipate hearing a loud chorus of “Amen!”

August 01, 2010

In the past few years I’ve often been asked to speak or write on the topics of discernment and Christian maturity. I’ve also been asked to discuss the ways Christian communicate using all of these amazing new media available to us. In both cases I’ve found myself drawn to a quote by John Stott. This comes from his excellent commentary on Ephesians and here he discusses the well-known words of Ephesians 4:15 where the apostle calls us to speak truth in love. Stott aptly describes two different kinds of people.

Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold God’s revealed truth. But sometimes they are conspicuously lacking in love. When they think they smell heresy, their nose begins to twitch, their muscles ripple, and the light of battle enters their eye. They seem to enjoy nothing more than a fight. Others make the opposite mistake. They are determined at all costs to maintain and exhibit brotherly love, but in order to do so are prepared even to sacrifice the central truths of revelation. Both these tendences are unbalanced and unbiblical. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together, which should not be difficult for Spirit-filled believers, since the Holy Spirit is himself ‘the spirit of truth,’ and his first fruit is ‘love.” There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity.