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Tim Challies

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May 19, 2010

The Good News We Almost ForgotWhen I was a teenager, growing up within Canada’s Dutch Reformed tradition (despite not being Dutch—long story), Tuesday nights were Catechism nights. My parents would drive me to the church where the pastor, or occasionally one of the elders, would teach us the Heidelberg Catechism. Every class would begin the same way—with reciting the questions and answers we had been told to memorize the week before. I would always sit my friend Brian so we could whisper hints to one another when we got stuck. Actually, he and I continually found new and inventive ways of cheating, of making the pastor believe that we had done our work even when we hadn’t. Nevertheless, over the years I did press that catechism into my mind and at one point probably could have recited almost all of it. Many years have gone by and most of it has faded, though interestingly I can still recite the first and the last of the 129 questions; I still know what is my only comfort in life and death and what ‘amen’ means.

April 27, 2010

Expository ListeningAs Christians we (rightly!) have high expectations of our pastors as they preach the Word of God. We expect that that they will dedicate themselves to studying and understanding the Bible, that they will live lives marked by their commitment to holiness, that they will expend the effort necessary to craft Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered sermons. In short, we expect that they will come to the pulpit prepared, having dedicated themselves to the task they’ve been called to. How odd it is, then, that we are content to have such low standards for our own preparation and our own diligence in listening. We expect to turn up at church and be blessed by the preaching of the Word, even while we have expended no effort in seeking to prepare ourselves to hear it and even while we sit passively throughout.

Having read many books dealing with the preaching of sermons, it was a blessing to me to read a book on listening to sermons. After all, I spend just a handful of Sundays each year preaching and all the rest listening. And I know I need to be a much better listener. Ken Ramey addresses just this in his new book Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word.

April 21, 2010

It is time for another of these irregular roundups of books that I didn’t review. It’s not that these are bad books or ones I purposely chose not to read and review. It’s just that, life being what it is, I cannot read them all. So here are a few that I wish I could have read but which I just did not have time for.

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims - Daniel Hyde seeks to explain what Reformed churches believe and why they structure life and worship as they do. Written for laymen rather than scholars, the book sketches the roots of these churches, looks at their basis in Scripture and confession, examines their key beliefs and shows how these beliefs work themselves out in practice. Written by a pastor from the URC and endorsed by quite a long list of Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed pastors and professors, the book is clearly tipped toward Presbyterianism and away from Reformed Baptists. Nevertheless, there is a lot to glean from it for those in either camp.

Introducing the New Testament - Based on the textbook written by D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, this is a simple reference guide geared primarily towards laymen. It essentially introduces each of the books of the New Testament, answering questions about theme, authorship and its contribution to our faith. It is a faithful condensation of the larger book it’s based on.

A Sweet & Bitter Providence - I have grown accustomed to reading every new John Piper book, but I’ve had to let this one go. In A Sweet & Bitter Providence Piper examines the book of Ruth and looks at its relevant, unchanging themes along with its “dangerous ability” to inspire twenty-first-century readers in the cause of love.

Holy Subversion - Trevin Wax writes about “Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals.” He challenges Christians to stop privatizing their faith and begin undermining the cultural “Caesars” of our time by reclaiming the early church’s radical proclamation: “Jesus is Lord.”

The Trials of Theology: A Reader - Edited by Andrew Cameron and Brian Rosner, this book includes essay from voices past (Spurgeon, Warfield, Lewis, etc) and voices present (Woodhouse, Carson, Trueman, etc). The book helps students of theology navigate the trials of faith that can come while studying theology. John Piper says “Without the ‘trials of theology’ we remain on the surface of the statutes of God. May the Spirit of truth make this book a means of true thinking about God, deep affections for God, and beautiful obedience to God, through Jesus Christ who is God.”

April 07, 2010

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can in no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love lets so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

I have always loved that poem. It conveys such sweet and pure and simple love. In contrast to our day—a day when husbands and wives are encouraged to be assertive and scornful toward one another—it conveys a passion and intensity that is charming and endearing. Anne Bradstreet loved her husband and she was not afraid to tell the world.

March 31, 2010

I have been waiting a long time for this book. Published last year by Intervarsity Press, The Unquenchable Flame was initially released only in Europe. It has taken until now for it to make its way to North America, courtesy of Broadman & Holman who secured the rights for this side of the ocean. The book is, quite simply, an introduction to the Reformation. That puts it in the company of plenty of similar titles, but this one is unique in its accessibility and its liveliness. Michael Reeves tells the story of the Reformation and he does so in a way that is really and truly enjoyable.

So what is there to say about the book’s content? It is, after all, a 180-page account of a well-known period of history. There are no great surprises here—no new theories, no new facts that have been recently uncovered. It is just a straightforward telling of the Reformation. Reeves begins by setting the stage in the medieval era, telling of the state of the medieval church and introducing the pre-Reformers Wycliffe and Hus. He also introduces Erasmus and discusses that man’s unique contribution to all that would follow.

March 17, 2010

I am often asked for pointers on writing book reviews and recently realized that, to my recollection, I’ve never written on the topic. That may be because I consider myself quite a poor book reviewer. I got into writing reviews (over 500 book reviews ago now) by circumstance more than skill; I had a blog, I read a lot, and book reviews just started to happen. Yet I am aware that I am not a great reviewer. Read the Times or a theological journal and you will encounter a completely different skill level in reviewers.

Having said that, I think I am able to write reviews that appeal to a particular audience. And in that way at least, I’ve been successful. So today let me share just a few pointers for those who are considering writing reviews for a medium similar to this one.

Know Your Audience

As I said a moment ago, any success I’ve had owes more to writing for a defined audience than in great skill. I know who reads this site and I try to write about books that will be of interest to that kind of reader. If my IQ was about 100 points higher and if I wrote for Themelios I might read and review Revitalizing Theological Epistemology: Holistic Evangelical Approaches to the Knowledge of God. As it is, though, I know who I am and I know who reads this web site and I try to review books accordingly. Almost by definition, the people who read this site share at least some of my interests and so what is of interest to me is of interest to them. That’s part of the beauty of a blog.

So know your audience. Know the kind of book they will want to read and then anticipate the kind of questions they will want answered before they consider reading that book. Here are the types of questions I tend to answer:

March 16, 2010

Son of HamasFrom his earliest days, Mosab Hasson Yousef had a view of the inner workings of Hamas. The son of one its founders, from childhood he was immersed in the shadowy world of Middle Eastern terror and politics. Arrested time and again by the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal intelligence service, he eventually made the decision to become a double agent, working for Israel instead of against her. For ten years, from 1997 to 2007, he lived like this, deeply embedded within Hamas, suspected by no one, yet passing vast amounts of information to Israel. In this way he prevented assassinations, stopped suicide attacks and provided information leading to the arrests or killings of many terrorists. He was Shin Bet’s most valuable source of information about Hamas.

In 1999 he had a chance encounter with a British visitor who invited Yousef to learn about the Christian faith. Curious and intelligent, Yousef took this opportunity and was immediately struck by the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed, between the Christian faith and the Islam he had inherited from his fathers. In the months that followed he made a slow conversion to Christianity and was quietly baptized.

Eventually Yousef grew tired of his double life and convinced the Israelis to release him from his position with them. With some reluctence they agreed and allowed him to move to the United States where he continues to live today. Son of Hamas is the story of his life, “A gripping account of terror, betrayal, political intrigue, and unthinkable choices,” according to the rather verbose subtitle.

March 09, 2010

In 2006 Americans spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion on short-term missions. Some 2.2 million Americans were involved in one of these trips, up from just 120,000 two decades before. Such misson work has very nearly become a rite of passage for young American Christians. Many years ago I spoke to a missionary who was often asked if teams could come and visit his work in South America so they could help build a home or rebuild a church. He told me then that such trips often do more harm than good; that he actually dreads having yet another team show up, trying to help. I did not have time to ask him much more that day, but his words have long shaped my view of short-term missions. But now, having read Steve Corbett’s and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts I understand more. Too often our well-intentioned efforts to help actually hinder the work of alleviating poverty.

The title and subtitle of this book are deliberately provocative: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. It is difficult for us to imagine how our efforts to help can actually harm both ourselves and the people to whom we extend a hand. And yet those who work with the poor can testify to a great deal of harm done to both.