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

Tim Challies

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May 08, 2012

Wherever I Wind UpI guess I’ve made my love of baseball well-known around these parts. Just as a sampler, I’ve reviewed a biography of Albert Pujols, I’ve interviewed Ben Zobrist, and a long time ago, back when the site was in its infancy, I gave a short example of why I love the game. Baseball remains the best sport around and watching it is one of my favorite pasttimes. This weekend a reader of the site mentioned that R.A. Dickey, a ballplayer and Christian to boot, had released a memoir. I picked it up and read it over the weekend. I’m glad I did.

Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball is one of the most gut-honest sports memoirs I’ve read. Dickey’s life has been anything but easy, both on the field and off. Born into a turbulent home, he tumbled up more than he grew up, enduring divorce and excruciating sexual abuse. A high school friend shared the gospel with him and from a young age he professed faith in Jesus Christ. Here is how he describes this experience:

So on a fall Friday in an upstairs bedroom on Walnut Drive in Nashville, Tennessee, I get on my knees with Bo and his mom and ask Christ to come into my life. I tell Him that I believe He is the son of God, and I want to trust Him with my life. I secretly ask for forgiveness for what seems like a galaxy of sins and guilt and shame. When I am done speaking, the room is completely still. I feel relief. A lightness. It’s not the sky opening up, or angels singing, or lightning bolts striking the big magnolia in the front yard. Nothing grand and God-like. It’s much more subtle, like the best deep breath you could ever take.

Dickey began to show great promise in two areas—his proficiency with the English language and his athletic ability. These twin strengths took him to the University of Tennessee where he played baseball for the Volunteers and majored in English literature.

August 30, 2011

Going PublicThere was a time when homeschooling was a very lonely place to be. Perhaps in some contexts it still is. In today’s Christian circles though, at least the circles I’ve been exposed to locally and across the continent, it seems that homeschooling has entered the mainstream and for many families is now the default option. Speaking from experience, as the father of 3 children who all attend local public schools, I can attest that public schooling can be a very lonely place as well. Not only that, but there is little guidance for those of us who have chosen to educate our children in this way.

I recently came across a book titled Going Public, written by David and Kelli Pritchard, who together have raised 8 children, all of whom attended public schools. This is not a book that is anti-homeschool or anti-Christian school. The purpose is not to convince you that you ought to place your children in the local public school. Instead it seeks first, to show that your children can thrive at public school and second, to provide a parent’s field guide for helping them do just that. In this way it fills an important niche.

What the Pritchards do is simple: they allow us into their home and family, telling us why they made the decision to public school and then showing us how they have gone about it. It’s not like they public school out of ignorance. To the contrary, they do what they do out of conviction that this is the way they can best raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. That word “fear” is important to them. Following Proverbs, they say that the fear of the Lord “is the foundation on which all learning, all knowledge-gathering, all schooling should be built.” To do that, they focus on instructing their children from their earliest days in loving the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength; on learning unconditional obedience to their parents; and on attaining self-control. With these values being instilled in their children, they are ready to guide them through their education. 

August 16, 2011

Christians Get Depressed TooOne of my favorite conference moments to date has been an interaction between John MacArthur and John Piper. The details are a bit hazy, but if memory serves me correct, they were participating in a panel discussion and the moderator asked them about depression. Piper described some of the darkest hours of his life and ministry, saying that for a long period of time—months or years—he wept every day. Then it was MacArthur’s turn to speak and he said, “I’ve never been depressed for a day in my life.” It was a practical statement, I think, devoid of any kind of judgment. It was simply the truth. I may not remember it perfectly, but it happened something like that. And it set in stark contrast how two men, both used mightily by the Lord, can have such different experiences and such different dispositions.

Christians get depressed too. This statement may seem a wee bit trite, but it’s an important message and one Christians need to hear. Too many people have been taught that Christians—true Christians, good Christians, real Christians—don’t get depressed or that depression is always the outworking of serious sin. This heaps guilt and anguish upon those who are already suffering mental or emotional pain. Is my depression a result of a sin I’ve committed against God? Is there a sin I need to confess to make it all go away? Am I even a Christian? With the anguish comes stigma so that those who suffer so often suffer in silence, afraid and ashamed to admit what they are going through. Many Christians sympathize with physical pain but roll their eyes at emotional pain.

August 01, 2011

I receive far more books than I could ever read and review. Even when I toss the ones that are very obviously not worth anyone’s time, a lot remain that I would like to read but simply cannot; this is especially true now that I am preaching and teaching a fair bit, meaning that more of my reading must be directed in specific directions. What I have been trying to do lately is select the ones that look good and get as much as I can from them in just 30 minutes. And here is the result: a few 30-minute reviews:

Feminine ThreadsFeminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance. “From commoner to queen, the women in this book embraced the freedom and the power of the Gospel in making their unique contributions to the unfolding of history. Wherever possible, the women here speak for themselves, from their letters, diaries or published works. The true story of women in Christian history inspires, challenges and demonstrates the grace of God producing much fruit throughout time.” From Blandina and Perpetua all the way to Edith Schaeffer and Joni Eareckson Tada, this book spans the history of the church, showing how godly women have contributed to the Christian faith. Carolyn McCulley has a good overview of the book at her blog.

The HeavensThe Heavens: Intimate Moments With Your Majestic God by Kevin Hartnett. This is a devotional book written by NASA’s Deputy Science Operations Manager for the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the publisher, “The Heavens provides a unique and extraordinary opportunity to soar above the distractions and burdens of life as one meets with, and worships the Creator of the universe.  Over 100 fascinating devotions with stunning images, insightful and Biblical commentary, stirring poetry, and perfectly chosen scriptures are integrated around clearly presented topics in astronomy.  A toolbox and jewel box combined, The Heavens both equips and inspires the soul to know and love God.” I posted a sample devotional here: The Heavens Declare. This book makes a sound devotional for anyone who finds his eyes drawn to the night skies.

July 19, 2011

Should Christians Embrace EvolutionShould Christians embrace evolution? It is an increasingly urgent question and one that seems increasingly difficult to answer. Like you, I have grown accustomed to hearing Christians declare that, in the end, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what you believe about creation, whether you embrace a literal six-day creation or a version that allows for some kind of evolution. If only it was that simple. The fact is that there are many other doctrines that lean heavily upon the doctrine of creation. As this one topples and falls, many other crumble along side it.

Just a couple of weeks ago WORLD magazine declared Should Christians Embrace Evolution? their book of the year for 2011. I received the book just days after and eagerly opened it up to see what the fuss was all about. What I found is a book that offers a series of biblical and scientific responses to the question of evolution. Edited by Norman Nevin, the chapters are written by a list of distinguished scientists and theologians. 

What the book demonstrates above all, and what it demonstrates especially in the first half, is that there is far more to the issue of creation than merely whether the world was created in six days or six billion years. This doctrine of creation provides a foundation for many others. As we let go of a literal six-day creation, we find many other critical doctrines are in danger of falling with it. For example:

  • Was Adam truly a historical person who truly fathered the entire human race?
  • Did death exist before man’s fall into sin? What kind of death came with the Fall?
  • Did God create a world in which death was, in fact, a necessary (and good!) part of the created order?
  • Can one join Darwinianism and the Bible without inadvertently (but necessarily) slipping into Gnostic errors which downplay the physical in favor of the spiritual?

This is merely a sampling. The fact is that creation does not stand alone within the Bible; there is much that hinges upon it.

July 13, 2011

RadicalWhatever David Platt is selling, people are buying it. At last count 750,000 copies of Radical were in print and it had been on the New York Times list of bestsellers (paperback advice) for 52 weeks. That is no small achievement! To be frank, it is the kind of achievement every author dreams of.

Radical is a book about escaping the doldrums of the American dream. The American dream (which is a dream shared by pretty much all of the western, developed world and, hence, equally applicable to this Canadian) calls us to complacency, to a life of comfort and ease. We live in big houses and drive nice cars and worship in multi-million dollar churches custom built around all of our favorite programs. We give away a bit of our wealth—the kind of wealth that much of the world can only dream of—but largely live in great comfort. Occasionally we are stirred my images of starving children or by tales of God’s work in foreign lands. But quickly we forget and we go on with our lives, growing our portfolios and filling our homes with stuff.

It’s all very boring. We are born into wealth (at least when compared to the rest of the world), we live wealthy lives, and then die, leaving our wealth to another generation.

Against this backdrop it is not too hard to get us stirred, to get Christians to want to wake up and to do something better, something that seems to count for more. Something radical, even. This is where David Platt comes in and this is where hundreds of thousands are eagerly drinking in his message.

Before I began reading Radical I assumed it was just another of a long list of books that would build upon a shaky theological foundation. I was delighted to find that one of Radical’s great strengths is that it is firmly grounded in the gospel. Platt spends a good bit of time discussing the gospel, the real gospel, and calling the reader to embrace it and live as if it is true. And then, on the basis of that gospel, he calls the reader to do what is radical, to let go of the American dream, a dream that is as alive within the church as it is outside of it. It’s a powerful message that falls on eager ears.

Throughout the book Platt seeks to show how Christians have been drawn in by that American dream and how that dream has influenced our theology and practice. “We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel [Jesus] taught.” He admits that he has more questions than answers and that he sees many disconnects in his own life, a humility that serves him well. It is not lost on the author or the reader that Platt is a megachurch pastor who lives in the same comparative luxury that most of us enjoy.

By the time you finish Radical you’ll be charged up. You’ll be ready to sell your home, to give up your car, to move across the world, to ditch the American dream in favor of moving across the world to do mission work. But here’s the thing: You’d better do it quickly because a couple of weeks later you’ll probably be back to normal, back to ordinary.

June 28, 2011

Counterfeit GospelsAnother book about the gospel. We have seen the release of all kinds of books about the gospel lately—books defining the gospel, books preaching the gospel, books sharing how to live with the gospel at the center of life. Is there any room for another one? Absolutely there is, and Trevin Wax has delivered it in the form of Counterfeit Gospels: Discovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.

Wax is convinced there is crisis in the church today, a crisis created by counterfeit gospels—gospels that appear to have elements of the real thing, but which are, at heart, fraudulent. This crisis has 3 elements:

  • A lack of gospel confidence - we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change life.
  • A lack of gospel clarity - we are unsure of what the gospel message truly is.
  • A lack of gospel community - devoid of confidence and clarity, our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness. We’ve lost what makes the church the church.

Against this crisis Wax proposes that the gospel is like a three-legged stool with each leg absolutely critical to a proper understanding of the message; without each of the 3 legs, the stool cannot stand. First, there is the gospel story, which is the overarching grand narrative we find in the Scriptures. Second, there is the gospel announcement, which is that Christ died for our sins and was raised. And third, there is the gospel community, the people who herald the grace of God and spread the good news of what Christ has done.

June 21, 2011

A Meal with JesusI didn’t mean to read A Meal with Jesus. I receive enough books to review that I cannot possibly read them all. Last week I decided I would grab a selection of them and spend half an hour with each—not enough to read them through, but enough to get a bit of a feel for each. It didn’t work too well. A Meal with Jesus was the first book I picked up and once I began reading it I couldn’t stop. It turns out that this is a really good book.

According to its subtitle, A Meal With Jesus is a book about “discovering grace, community and mission around the table.” Tim Chester seeks to show God’s purposes in the sublimely ordinary act of sharing a meal. He shows that this most ordinary of ordinary events offers unique opportunities for grace, community and mission. Can a book about something so ordinary really be compelling and worth the read? Absolutely. And this is particularly true when the book comes from the capable hands of an excellent author.

Chester structures the book around the meals of Jesus as described in the gospel of Luke. It was Luke who quoted Jesus as saying, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Jesus was into eating and drinking and he was into it enough that people accused him of doing it to excess. Meals are a constant theme in this gospel. According to another author, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.” Chester says that to Jesus meals “represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’ meals are not just symbols; they’re also application. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories.” Without simplistically reducing all of church and mission to meals, Chester manages to show that meals can and should be an integral part of our shared life.

June 08, 2011

Hudson TaylorDear God, if you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China.” That was the prayer of James and Amelia Taylor as they consecrated their first child to the Lord, months before he was even born. That child entered the world on May 21, 1832. His parents named him James Hudson Taylor, but called him by his middle name. Hudson Taylor would, indeed, grow up to work for the Lord in China. Not only that, but he would be used mightily by God and he would transform the way missionaries worked among the people they ministered to. In his own way he would change the world.

Taylor became a Christian as a teen and was immediately drawn to China, deciding that the Lord was calling him to serve as a missionary. He spent several years studying medicine and the Mandarin language before departing on the long and perilous journey to the Far East. Very quickly he made the radical decision to adopt Chinese dress and hairstyles, understanding that such things could increase his credibility in the eyes of those he loved (even if they would make him a laughing stock among his fellow missionaries). He went on to found China Inland Mission, an organization that continues to exist today (though under a new name). The story of his life deserves a lot more attention than I could give it in just a few short paragraphs, so I will hold off and point you to Christianity Today’s brief biographical sketch.

Hudson Taylor is the subject of Vance Christie’s biography Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China. I love missionary biographies, so I suppose I was predisposed to enjoy this book. Sure enough, I enjoyed it a lot. Christie is a talented biographer and in this book he works with a fascinating subject. In place of sharing the details of Taylor’s life, let me tell you a few of my takeaways from this biography, a few of the things I’ve had to ponder as I’ve been given just a glimpse into the life of a great man.

June 02, 2011

John MacArthur Biography by Iain MurrayI have a deep respect for John MacArthur. I admire the man himself, having met him several times; I admire the teacher, having had many opportunities to sit under his teaching; I admire the writer, having had his books (literally) change my life; I admire the leader, having spent a lot of time with the people he surrounds himself with—always an interesting means of finding the measure of a man. MacArthur is a man who has been used by God in amazing and unexpected ways. He is the subject of a new biography penned by Iain Murray whose previous subjects include Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Pink and Jonathan Edwards.

Writing this biography did not occur to Murray until he was asked to preach at Grace Community Church on the fortieth anniversary of MacArthur’s ministry at that church. He says, “I sensed that some comment by me on the ministry we were commemorating would be appropriate, but how to address that subject was not at first clear to me.” Wanting to use the pulpit to preach, Murray settled for writing a 60-page biographical sketch. However, he knew that 60 pages could not do justice to the man, so he went ahead and followed it with this full-length biography.

He admits that even now this biography is little more than a start. “It is not the time for a full biography while a person’s life is still in progress. John’s ambition is to minister the Word of God to the end of his life.” A full evaluation of his life will have to wait until all of the evidence is in. But for now, Murray has written an engaging and informative biography. Though it may not tell the full story, it certainly tells a fascinating one.

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