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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


August 24, 2010

The Archer and the ArrowThe Trellis and the Vine was 2009’s surprise hit (read my review). Written by Collin Marshall and Tony Payne, the book described a ministry mind-shift that the authors assured the reader could change everything—everything related to ministry, that is. The book stood upon its simple metaphor of a trellis, an apparatus used to support something, and of a vine, the object that is supported by that trellis. The trellis referred to the administrative work within a church, those tasks that, though important, are not actually directly related to discipling people. Vine work, on the other hand, is those tasks of working with the vine, drawing people into the kingdom through evangelism and then training them to grow in their knowledge of God and their obedience to him. Though the book may not have been groundbreaking, it somehow managed to pull together a lot of ideas and collect them all within this simple metaphor. It was a powerful and effective combination and it sold very well. Even better, it impacted pastors and those engaged in gospel work, helping them better understand the task the Lord has given them.

The follow-up to The Trellis and the Vine is called The Archer and the Arrow. While it comes from Matthias Media, the same publisher, it is written by different authors: Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond. Though the volume is co-authored, its purpose is primarily to make Jensen’s “wisdom about preaching available to a wider audience—wisdom acquired over almost four decades of faithful biblical ministry.” I do not know if the book was conceived as a follow-up to The Trellis and the Vine or not, but regardless, it works as a sequel. Where the first book focused on ministry through a wide lens, the second focuses on the essential heart of ministry—the preaching of the gospel.

The book is framed around what the authors describe as the preacher’s mission statement: “My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.” They break this statement into its component parts and expound it over the course of several chapters. This takes them from the theoretical to the practical, from the purpose of preaching a sermon to the actual delivery of it.

Let me say a word about the book’s title. The metaphor speaks of the archer (the preacher) and the arrow, which is the sermon. Firing the arrow corresponds to the act of preaching. The arrow itself is formed by three parts—the head, the shaft and the feathers. “At the point of the arrowhead is the gospel, the declaration that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour. The cutting edges of the arrowhead are the implications of that reality. This can include things like ethics, philosophy, apologetics, personal godliness and kategoria.” The shaft corresponds to the exegesis of the passage around which a sermon is formed. And the feathers “correspond to issues like systematic theology, biblical theology, church history, philosophy and the like. The feathers are like the big categories of thought that tie the whole message of the Bible together.”

August 02, 2010

It is my habit to post some kind of an original article on Monday and then a book review on Tuesday. This week I am going to reverse the order since the book review in some ways feeds into what I would like to say tomorrow. So bear with me.

The Radical DiscipleI have not read too many of John Stott’s books over the years. Still, in writing sermons and writing my own books there have been several times that I’ve relied on his commentaries and have always found them very useful—biblically accurate and full of wise points of application. Of course, I’ve often referred to what may well prove his greatest book, The Cross of Christ and I know of people who were saved after reading his book Basic Christianity (among whom are Derek Thomas). Though Stott had a couple of unfortunate aspects to his ministry (the most notable of which was some sympathy for the doctrine of annihilationism) he is a man who remained faithful to his calling and who served the church well. He is also a man who served the church in what was often a background role, which is to say that time may prove that he had a measure of importance that few people noticed at the time. Then again, in 2005 TIME declared him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, so I suppose someone has noticed.

Just a short time ago Stott announced his retirement from active public ministry. But before he retired he penned a final book, the final of more than 50 he penned in his lifetime. The Radical Disciple draws attention to what he considers to be some of the neglected aspects of our calling as Christians. Why this title? “There are different levels of commitment in the Christian community. Jesus himself illustrated this in what happened to the seeds he describes the parable of the sower. The difference between the seeds lay in the kind of soil which received them. Of the seed sown on rocky soil Jesus said, ‘It had no root.’ … Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective: choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.” And so in this book he seeks to consider eight characteristics of Christian discipleship that, though they deserve to be taken seriously, are too often neglected.

July 27, 2010

Stonewall JacksonI love biography. That’s probably the tenth time I’ve begun a review with those words, yet it’s no less true now than the first time I penned them. The more I read of biography, the more I am enamored with it and the more I see just how valuable it is to my life and faith.

I was in Virginia recently, spending a week on vacation. I decided the occasion merited a biography of a Virginian. That led me to choose between Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In the end Jackson won in a shootout. I turned to the epic work by James Robertson. Written in 1997, this biography remains the definitive word on Jackson. I can’t imagine how it will ever be equaled.

Over the years Jackson has been variously portrayed as a great general and a great Christian. It seems that few biographers have managed to do equal justice to the two most notable emphases of this extraordinary man. On the one hand he was a brilliant military strategist who time and again relied on speed and surprise to catch his enemy off-guard. On the other hand, he was a man who deeply loved the Lord and who cherished his relationship with the Savior. He was a man who suffered much from his earliest days to his final days. Fatherless at two, orphaned at seven, he also witnessed the death of two of his siblings, two of his children and his first wife. Some of his closest friends died and he was estranged from others by the war that devastated his nation. Yet through it all Jackson remained absolutely fixed upon the firm foundation of God’s sovereignty. Always he placed his trust in God and always he sought to submit himself to God’s will and to delight in God’s providence.

The facts of Jackson’s life are well-known so I will forego those to comment instead on the lessons I’ve learned from Jackson and to comment on what makes this biography so sublime.

July 20, 2010

Hello I Love YouI have just one memory that involves Ted Kluck. A year ago, maybe a little bit less, he and I were together in Chicago at a small gathering of young(ish) Christian authors. Ten or fifteen of us were gathered there, sitting around a group of tables in a hotel conference room. We had the opportunity to spend an evening with D.A. Carson, the D.A. Carson, to ask him any question we wanted. It’s no small thing to have open access, even for an hour or two, to one of the world’s greatest theologians. The questions were flying fast and furious. Unfortunately for Ted and for me, we were the only two there who weren’t involved in some level of graduate degree in theology. I was rooming with a guy who, if I have it right, is significantly younger than me but the owner of two PhD’s. Meanwhile, I have a three-year degree in history and Ted, well, he’s a former football player who undoubtedly took a few knocks on the head along the way. Ted and I sat opposite one another at this table, both feeling like the dumb guys. We didn’t understand the questions and we sure as shootin’ didn’t understand the answers. Later we commiserated, celebrating being the dumb guys. It’s a good memory.

But really, that memory has very little to do with this book review, a review of a book dealing with adoption.

Adoption is all the rage today. Is that an obnoxious thing to say? I simply mean that lots of Christians, and Reformed Christians in particular, are talking about adoption and, even better, getting involved in adoption. In recent years we’ve seen the birth of a great organization and conference dedicated to it and we’ve seen the release of a couple of excellent books on the topic. Best of all, we’ve seen more and more people actually adopt children, welcoming them to their homes, to their churches. Like many of you, I’m excited for this trend and hope it continues.

June 09, 2010

The Search for God and GuinnessNow that I pause to think about it, I don’t know that I’ve ever blogged about the always-contentious issue of the consumption of alcohol. If you must know, I don’t touch the stuff but that is more out of preference than conviction. I just can’t stand the taste of alcohol in general and beer in particular. But I have no moral qualms with those who drink in moderation and am actually quite pleased to see a general drift in that direction amongst evangelical Christians. It is a sign of the times, I think, that a Christian publisher would print a book about beer.

In The Search for God and Guinness author Stephen Mansfield offers “A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World.” If there is hyperbole in that subtitle, it is only slightly so. One of the world’s most successful brands of beer for almost 250 years now, Guinness has a long and dignified history as both a product and as a company. Today more than 10 million pints are consumed every day. What many people do not know is that the company has long been a force for social good and that the Guinness name has created a long line of faithful men who have served the Lord even while brewing their beer.

June 02, 2010

Humanitarian JesusThere are few issues of theology that confuse me more than issues related to social justice. Those who advocate Christian humanitarianism, those who tell Christians that they are responsible before God to fight injustice, to feed the hungry, to free the oppressed, are able to provide a compelling case and they are able to tap into a deep vein of guilt. It is difficult to hear of poor and hungry children and not feel that the primary mission of Christians must be to feed such people. And yet when we look around we see that ministries or organizations that make such a task their primary calling so quickly fade into theological obscurity. The social gospel so often trumps the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Into the fray step Christian Buckley and Ryan Dobson with their book Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross. They want to find that sweet spot between justice and gospel, that place where we can hold tightly to the gospel of Jesus Christ while still emphasizing the importance of social action.

May 29, 2010

As a book reviewer I am constantly receiving new books in the mail, the majority of which are unsolicited (which is to say that they just show up). Sometimes publishers send them, sometimes authors or publicists, sometimes just people who really want to see a review of a book they’ve enjoyed.

For sake of interest (and maybe in the hopes that you’ll be able to sympathize with my plight in choosing which to review) I thought I’d let you see the list of books that showed up this week and then do a little poll, letting you have your say. As you can well imagine, choosing which to review is quite difficult. Most of them look good, but I’ll only have time to read and review a couple before the next batch shows up. Over the past few weeks I’ve done two of these polls and have been glad to be able to start reading the books you want to see reviewed. Rather than make this post really long with descriptions of the books, I’ve just added links to Amazon if you want to read more about any of them.

Do note that Doctrine by Driscoll and Breshears and Humanitarian Jesus by Buckley and Dobson are already on my reading list based on previous polls. Both should get a review in the next couple of weeks. For that reason I’ve left them off of the poll.

So here are the books that showed up this week:

Beyond all the books, I also received a CD, My Cry Ascends: New Parish Psalms by Gregory Wilbur (produced by Ligonier Ministries) and two DVDs, Speaking the Truth in Love to Muslims from Vision Video and then the DVD version of Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad. And finally, I received Soul, which I understand to be a young adult adaptation of Christianity Explored. It is a DVD and comes with a leader’s guide and a study guide.

Vote For a Review

  • “Mere Churchianity” by Michael Spencer
  • “Before God” by Mike Sarkissian
  • “What Is Vocation?” by Stephen Nichols
  • “The Prism and the Rainbow” by Joel Martin
  • “Spiritual Parenting” by Michelle Anthony
  • “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr
  • “What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert
  • “What Did You Expect?” by Paul Tripp
  • “It Is Well” by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence
  • “God’s Lyrics” by Douglas O’Donnell
  • “Tributes to John Calvin” by David Hall
  • “Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church” by Michael Lawrence
  • “Burning Down The Shack” by James DeYoung
  • “The Sword” by Bryan Litfin

May 25, 2010

Bonhoeffer by Eric MetaxasIt was several years ago now that I began meeting regularly with a few Christian guys who live in this area. We would read through good books and then get together once a week to discuss them. Every Friday morning at 6(!) AM, we would meet in a local coffee shop and spend time dissecting and digesting classic books. It was in this effort, in this precursor to Reading Classics Together, that I first encountered Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship was the second book we read together, moving through it week by week, chapter by chapter. Like so many people before and since, I was introduced to the man by what most people consider his greatest work.