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

Tim Challies

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August 29, 2016

“In hindsight, the signs were everywhere that Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was going to be an epic disappointment.”

So wrote Rolling Stone when reporting on its readers’ poll of the twenty most disappointing movie sequels. The Phantom Menace came in top of the list.

So with epic disappointment a possibility even for the likes of George Lucas, why would anyone ever do a sequel? Of course the answer is often: money. Simply cashing in on the success of the original. 

 Order The Vine Project direct from Matthias Media in print or as an ebook. BONUS: Until September 30, Challies.com readers can use the coupon code ‘TVPCC’ in the Matthias Media shopping cart to receive a 15% discount off the price of this book.

In 2009, Tony Payne, Colin Marshall and Matthias Media had their own Star Wars moment. It was called The Trellis and the Vine, and for this little DownUnder publishing house it was what we’d call a ‘blockbuster’. It sold more copies than we ever dreamed. It also received a host of positive reviews from the likes of Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan and many others. 

Now we can’t honestly say a sequel never crossed our minds (“The Trellis Strikes Back”?). The lure of another sales boost was certainly there. 

But we had said what we wanted to say, and people seemed to be taking the ideas on board with a hearty ‘amen’. Job done.

Or so we thought. 

In the seven years since The Trellis and the Vine was published, a key issue has cropped up again and again. It goes something like this:

Look, I’ve read your book, and it expresses what I have always thought about Christian ministry. But as I kept reading, I had this sinking feeling that what actually happens in our church is still a long way from the kind of disciple-making ministry vision you outline and that I believe in. So my question is this: What can we do about it? How can we shape the whole culture of our church around disciple-making?

So in fact job not done. Ministry leaders wanted more help in making the principles of The Trellis and the Vine a living reality in a context where the culture of their ministry had drifted some way from the disciple-making goal.

That’s why we produced the sequel we didn’t expect to produce: The Vine Project.

The Vine ProjectThe Vine Project is a new resource that guides your ministry leadership team through a five-phase process for growth and change. Under God, this process will:

  • clarify and sharpen your convictions (Phase 1)
  • reform your own personal life to express these convictions (Phase 2)
  • honestly evaluate every aspect of your current church (or ministry) culture (Phase 3)
  • devise some key plans for change and put them into effect (Phase 4)
  • keep the momentum going and overcome obstacles (Phase 5).

So, having had our Star Wars moment, is this sequel our Phantom Menace? Not according to the recent 9Marks review

Sequels that don’t disappoint are few and far between, which makes The Vine Project something of a rarity… I hope that The Vine Project is read widely by churches, planters, pastors, and ministry leaders alike.

Like the 9Marks reviewer, we hope many will use The Vine Project to help shape their ministry culture around disciple-making, and we’re praying this sequel does even more good for the Kingdom of God than the original. 

Order The Vine Project direct from Matthias Media in print or as an ebook. BONUS: Until September 30, Challies.com readers can use the coupon code ‘TVPCC’ in the Matthias Media shopping cart to receive a 15% discount.

August 22, 2016

This sponsored post is provided by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

If you’ve been in church ministry for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that one of the persistent challenges of your role is the apparent need to treat it like ten roles. While nearly every pastor is exceptionally gifted in one particular area or another, it is rare that our ministry context allows us to camp out in that one area. As churches grow in scale, it may become more necessary for pastors to serve as specialists, but in most churches, the pastor as “general practitioner” is still the order of the day.

In some evangelical corners, the pastor as generalist may not seem like a particularly cool concept, or even a particularly efficient one, but it certainly has biblical precedent. We have, of course, the various qualifications listed (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4). These passages show us what every elder must be, but they shouldn’t be taken as a description of the ideal pastoral personality. Instead, they may show us, alongside the requisite gifting, the requisite pastoral persona—or personas, plural. For instance, in Paul’s letters, we learn that the pastor should be a faithful family man, a gracious host, a disciplined student, and a respected community member. Peter’s list adds the more general descriptor of shepherd. Both apostles of course emphasize that the pastor must be a faithful preacher of the word of truth.

But there’s more. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul holds himself up as an example of pastoral versatility in reaching the lost for Christ. As our own cultural landscape continues to change, the faithful local church pastor will also find himself continually renewing his foundational commitment to the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ while at the same time reevaluating his missional strategy for preaching and applying that gospel. Doing the work of an evangelist, Paul tells the young pastor in 2 Timothy 4:5, is one way to “fulfill your ministry.” In 1 Corinthians 9, then, he’s fleshing out what that might look like. It would seem that even in evangelism and mission, the pastor must “wear many hats.”

Of course, there is a fleshly way many pastors go about trying to “be all things to all people.” This is why the Mayo Clinic warns that those in “helping professions” are at high risk for burnout, because they “identify so strongly with their work that they lack a reasonable balance between work life and personal life and try to be everything to everyone.” Biblically speaking, we’d call this idolatry. 

And yet, there is a healthy, God-honoring way for ministers to embrace the call to be “all things to all people.” We could call this more formally the inter-disciplinary work of pastoral ministry. Or we could call it being a renaissance man! A renaissance man is of course, a man of multiple talents. He accesses a wider breadth of knowledge. The pastoral renaissance man, then, is one who gives his whole self to the whole word that he may be of whole use to the whole church.

Not to be confused with a dilettante, who simply dabbles in this and that according to personal whim and cultural fancy, the pastoral renaissance man is a committed exegete, a prayerful missiologist, and a longsuffering shepherd. While the dilettante is outsourcing his study, the renaissance man is a theologian. While the dilettante is scouring the blogs for the latest church growth techniques, the renaissance man is having coffee with his lost neighbor. While the dilettante is delegating away messy ministry to focus more on “vision,” the renaissance man is feeding the sheep.

Pastoral ministry is not theoretical. It’s not even something you can halfway do. 

How in the world can we pull all this off? Well, we can’t really. That’s one of the other lessons you learn from spending any length of time in ministry. None of us are Prophet, Priest, and King enough to “be Jesus” to our church and our neighborhood. The challenges of ministry are many and the bar is set high, but our capacities are limited and our reach is short..

All the more reason to lean into the fullness of Christ. Pursuit of him will improve our gifts, adoration of him will increase our holiness, and preaching of him will mitigate our weakness. It is a good to know as we fail constantly at “pastoral versatility” just how versatile the gospel of Jesus really is.

With this in mind, Midwestern Seminary has been laboring to meet the growing need for pastoral versatility. To this end, we have reevaluated and restructured our Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree to better equip church leaders for our rapidly changing ministry landscape. We’ve made the M.Div degree program leaner (81 hours), competitive in cost, and – with both residential and online options – more accessible than ever. M.Div students at Midwestern receive excellent equipping in courses like:

  • Pastoral Care and Counseling taught by Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen
  • History of Christianity taught by Christian George
  • Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards taught by Owen Strachan
  • Principles of Leadership taught by Midwestern Seminary Vice President Charles Smith
  • Cross-Cultural Communication taught by missiologist Robin Hadaway

Our M.Div program also offers multiple concentrations to suit your particular calling and context, including Preaching and Pastoral Ministry, Biblical Languages, Counseling, Church Planting, Leadership, Worship Ministries, and more.

We take our vision to be For The Church seriously, and it’s this vision that drives our commitment to training the next generation of ministers in the robust truth of the gospel. Get more details about the M.Div program and discover more about the fastest-growing seminary in North America at mbts.edu/mdiv.

August 15, 2016

Join us for the 2017 G3 Conference | Reserve your seat(s) | Prices increase August 22nd

In 1521, just a few years after nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg, Martin Luther was called to assemble before the Diet of Worms in the city of Worms, Germany.  Luther arrived in a covered wagon, and the city was pulsating with intensity over the controversy.  Thousands of people were crowding the streets passionately trying to get a glimpse of the Augustinian monk.  No matter the cost, Luther was determined to enter the city of Worms and give a defense of the gospel.

The following day, the imperial herald led Luther to the place where he would stand trial before the leaders of the world.  The crowds were so large that he was led through a back alley to the bishop’s palace.  As Martin Luther stood before the royal leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and Europe, he was dressed in a humble monk’s attire.  When given an opportunity to speak, the emperor’s spokesman pointed to a collection of Luther’s books and asked if he would acknowledge his writings or would he be willing to recant of everything.

Luther spoke up with a soft voice and asked for additional time to consider his answer.  He was given until the following day to provide his decision publicly.  On the following day, when he was once again led to the bishop’s palace and asked to recant of everything he had written, Luther spoke up and said the following:

I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.  I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.

After being escorted to his quarters, Luther turned to a friend and said, “If I had a thousand heads, I would rather have them all lopped off than abandon my gospel.”  The Reformation had begun, and the stakes could not have been higher.  It was a matter of life and death.  It was more than standing against the Roman Catholic Church.  It was about standing for the gospel of Christ.  Luther made his stand for the glory of God.

As we look back at Luther and the Reformers, we must be reminded that the Reformation continues in our day.  With the perversion of justification by faith alone still continuing to thunder from Rome and from liberal denominations, we must continue to stand.  Today the church in America is being tested in ways that she has never experienced.  With the recent LGBTQ decisions that continue to morph along with other cultural hurdles, we as Christians are faced with a Luther moment.  Will we continue to stand today?

Join us in January for the 2017 G3 Conference:  This will be more than a celebration of Martin Luther’s stand.  We will look at the importance of biblical preaching, prayer, and church leadership in a day of compromise.  If you want important updates from the G3 Conference, subscribe to our VIP list here.


Date:  January 19-21, 2017

Location:  Georgia International Convention Center — Atlanta, GA (see travel page for details)

Registration:  $179 (price increases August 22)

Ready to reserve your seat?  Register here.  *Discounts available for families and groups.

Breakout Sessions:  Customize your own conference experience.

Plenary Sessions:  Through singing and preaching – we will worship God together for three days as we commemorate the historic Reformation and prepare to stand firm as the Reformation continues.

Speakers:  20 speakers — 3 days — 1 location.

  • Paul Washer
  • Steven Lawson
  • D.A. Carson
  • Voddie Baucham
  • James White
  • Tim Challies
  • Conrad Mbewe
  • Phil Johnson
  • Josh Buice
  • David Miller
  • Rosaria Butterfield
  • David Hall
  • Todd Friel
  • John Crotts
  • Nathan Busenitz
  • Chip Thornton
  • Chris King
  • Anthony Mathenia
  • Scott Klusendorf

August 08, 2016

This sponsored post is provided by Zondervan and Nabeel Qureshi.

Islam is the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing religion, putting it on pace to surpass Christianity in its number of followers by the end of the century. Millions of our American neighbors are Muslim, yet the average American Christian knows little about Islam’s claims and the key differences between Islam and Christianity.

Those differences make all the difference in explaining the Christian faith in a relevant and persuasive way to Muslim believers.

How well do you know Islamic beliefs about Jesus and the countering evidence for Christianity? Could you explain your faith effectively to a Muslim? We teamed up with Nabeel Qureshi, author of the new book No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, to prepare a quiz that asks 10 important questions at the conflicted intersection between Islam and Christianity.

(Can't see the quiz? Click here.)

Additional Resources


August 01, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by SmallGroup.com who invites you to sign up for a free trial.

Every time Jesus makes someone more like Himself, it is a miracle. If we are honest about our own hearts we will admit that discipleship is truly miraculous. If your church has decided that discipleship occurs best within a small community of believers, then your goal should be to develop leaders to lead those communities toward the miracle of looking like Christ. Finding already miraculous leaders is almost impossible, which is why they have to be developed.  Jesus  changed the world with twelve very ordinary men. It was only through intentional time and development were they capable of doing extraordinary things. Even the best leaders in history were not always amazing. If you study their lives, each one had someone that took the time to mentor them to greatness.

If you expect your small group leaders to do the amazing and be miraculous, here are three things that they will need from the leadership of the church:

Soul Support

Discipling a group of people is not a trivial assignment. When we ask people in our church to take on the leadership of a biblical small group, we are asking them to shepherd a segment of our congregation. These newly minted leaders need to know that the church leadership will walk alongside them as they take this significant spiritual step. We too often focus on launching small groups, but leave them to fend for themselves after the launch.  A soul-care system of coaches is mandatory for the future health of your small group leaders. A coach is simply a seasoned leader who is available for new leaders to lean on.

Ongoing Training

Just like we expect the staff of a church to be well-trained for their jobs, our small group leaders  need to be equipped for their role. There are basic leadership skills  they  need to understand from the beginning, but most of their knowledge will be needed as they begin to face issues within the group. This is where as-needed, ongoing training from your experienced coaches is so valuable. Your new leaders will have someone to turn to when the inevitable questions start coming up during the small groups semester.

Biblical Content

Curriculum in and of itself does not lead to discipleship, but it does help set the stage for the needed discipleship conversations to take place. We cannot assume that our group leaders will automatically know what their group should be studying next, so that’s why it’s critical that they have a curriculum map to follow. That is one of the reasons we created smallgroup.com. Smallgroup.com is an online library of discussion-driven and video-enhanced studies that you can customize for any small group to have a consistent and transformational discipleship experience. You can quickly build series of studies for your sermon-based groups, or you can allow group leaders to pick from over 400 video-enhanced studies from teachers like Beth Moore, Matt Chandler and Tony Evans. You can try it free for two weeks by going to smallgroup.com and signing up.

If we provide our group leaders with adequate support, ongoing training, and biblical content, there is a good chance they will have the opportunity to do miraculous ministry in our churches.

July 25, 2016

This sponsored post was provided by Jonathan Morrow, impact360.org ||

Is it OK to disagree with other peoples’ deeply held beliefs anymore? You’ve heard the buzzwords: Coexist. Hate speech. Discrimination. Micro-aggressions. Trigger warnings. Speech codes. It’s becoming obvious to anyone paying attention to the media these days that certain moral and religious viewpoints are simply no longer allowed in our classrooms or broader culture. They are either dismissed without argument as “irrational” or the people who hold these views are publically shamed or even shouted down. I call this new cultural reality the Tyranny of Tolerance.

As Christians who care about truth and want to love our neighbors well as people made in the image of God, what are we to do? Here are three practical steps you can take to resist the Tyranny of Tolerance.

1. Recognize the new moral code being imposed in our culture today. Denial is not a strategy; we must live in reality. According to a recent Barna study, 91% of Americans agreed with the statement “To find yourself you must look within yourself.” What this shows is that selective relativism is alive and well and has become the dominant view in our culture. In other words, truth depends on what the individual comes to believe. But our radically individualistic culture has also agreed upon some new moral absolutes—namely “People should not criticize someone else’s life’s choices” (89% of Americans affirm this). These two beliefs are obviously in competition with each other and form the basis of the Tyranny of Tolerance we are experiencing today. The rules of the game have changed and if we fail to recognize this fact then we will not engage well.

2. Prepare today for the conversations that are coming tomorrow. It’s not a matter of if, but when the challenges will come. As Christians we are committed to certain truths that flow from our worldview grounded in the Bible. Here are just a few of the culturally controversial beliefs we hold:

  • that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and is the only way to God,
  • that objective right and wrong exist,
  • that unborn human beings are worthy of life and protection,
  • that all people regardless of their ethnicity should be treated with dignity, respect, and justice,
  • and that God, as the personal creator of the universe, has designed sex to be experienced only within the context of one man and one woman in marriage.

Peter reminds us to always be ready to give a reason for the hope within us and to do so with gentleness and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). Are you ready? The questions are coming: How can Jesus be the only way to God when so many sincere people disagree? Are you saying that what I feel in my heart is right is actually wrong in God’s eyes? Who are you to say that someone can’t marry the person they love regardless of their gender? What will you say when you experience the Tyranny of Tolerance? There are reasonable answers to these questions. As an easy first step, I encourage you to watch this free video I made to help you begin preparing for the challenges coming your way.

3. Stand up when you have the opportunity to graciously push back when your Christian convictions are challenged. First, when what you believe is challenged, don’t get defensive. Stay calm and ask questions to clarify where the disagreement really is. Next, resist being dismissed by slogans and be careful to define your terms (by the way, this is a lot easier to do if you have already spent time thinking about and preparing what you might say when challenged). Be encouraged, the truth is on our side and we can trust that God is at work in our conversations. But make no mistake, other people are looking to you to see if you will stand or crumble. Will you show conviction and compassion? Or will you cave and accommodate? Have the courage to as Chuck Colson used to say Break the Spiral of Silence. When I see you standing for the truth I will be encouraged to do the same.

Our culture desperately needs to hit the reset button when it comes to larger conversation about truth and tolerance. If we will recognize our new cultural reality, prepare ourselves for the conversations that are certainly coming, and stand up when we have the opportunity to graciously push back when our Christian convictions are challenged, then we will be well on our way to resisting the tyranny of tolerance.


Jonathan Morrow (D.Min, M.Div., M.A.) is a popular speaker and author of several books including Questioning the Bible and the new online study Explore Truth. He is currently the Director of Cultural Engagement and Immersion at Impact 360 Institute where he trains high school and college students in Christian worldview, apologetics and leadership, and serves as an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University. Jonathan is passionate about seeing a new generation of Christ-followers understand why they believe, what they believe. Follow him on twitter .

July 11, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by Dr. Joel Beeke of Reformation Heritage Books.

Pulpit AflameI have been an avid reader since childhood, and I invest many hours in the writing, editing, and publication of books—both print and electronic. God Himself has chosen to give us His heavenly communication as a Book. However, in that holy Book, the Lord revealed that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Really? Shouldn’t that say “by reading”? No, it’s hearing, hearing the word preached. If there were any doubt, we find just a bit earlier, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Preaching the word is the primary means by which God creates and nurtures saving faith.

Some people would say that preaching is obsolete in our dynamic age. They tell us that preaching’s emphasis on words has been put out of business by a culture of visual images. Its authoritative proclamation grates on the ears of free-thinking post-moderns. Its one-directional verbal communication fails to address our learning styles or allow for peer dialogue. Its mentally demanding expositions of the sentences and doctrines of the Bible go way over the character limit of the Twitter generation. And so it goes.

Such objections fail to recognize the spiritual dynamic of God’s preached word. Preachers follow Christ, who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18; cf. Isa. 61:1). In God’s purposes, there is simply no substitute for a Spirit-filled man speaking the word of Christ.

You might say, “That was then, and this is now.” However, Christ continues to speak through His anointed servants. Consider Steven Lawson (you can listen to his sermons here). Dr. Lawson has given his life to preaching and training preachers. It was my pleasure at the Ligonier conference to present to Dr. Lawson a book in his honor: Pulpit Aflame

The book was a collaborative project by some of Dr. Lawson’s dearest friends: Dustin Benge, Iain Campbell, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Michael Haykin, John MacArthur, Conrad Mbewe, Al Mohler, John J. Murray, R. C. Sproul, Derek Thomas, Geoff Thomas, and myself. Here is a sampling of chapter titles:

  • A Biblical Priority: Preach the Word
  • A Historical Pedigree: Sixteenth-Century Reformed Preaching
  • Preaching as Transformation
  • Preaching as Worship
  • The Foundation of Preaching: The Cross of Christ
  • The Power of Preaching: The Presence of the Holy Spirit

Whether you are a Christian who would like to renew your appreciation for preaching, a pastor in need of encouragement and fresh pointers to sharpen your preaching, or a theological student preparing for ministry, this book reminds us that “God works through the faithful preaching of His Word, no less in the twenty-first century than in the first.”

—Joel Beeke

July 04, 2016

Christian History

This sponsored post was prepared by Christian History Magazine who invites you to try a free subscription.

All I wanted to do was share stories about my experiences as a kid with my four children while we drove home from church. Maybe, I thought, they would identify with my struggles and glean some wisdom from my childish, foolish mistakes—and in turn not repeat them.  After several weeks of story telling, I began to dread story time as my children clamored for another “Daddy was sooo stupid story” (title credit go to my son, Dylan).  

The more I told my stories the more embarrassed I became. It was time to re-evaluate my story-telling model. After all, isn’t it better for kids to have a view of their father as Captain America and not some overweight guy falling through the barn floor? To my chagrin, the tales where daddy was the hero were also (apparently) the most boring, and my children quickly lost interest in story time.  

It seems there is something inherent in the human condition that we learn much better from failures than we do from victories.  Even so, we all desire to isolate ourselves from those painful stories of our own defeats—seriously, who wants to relive the pain, humiliation, and embarrassment of our worst moments? Instead, we curate our images, prune and pick our best snapshots, and incessantly manage how others view us. It’s no surprise we tend to do the same with our heroes.  

I remember as a child hearing stories of William Carey in VBS, Sunday School and various Children’s Church settings and being challenged to “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God”.  I remember thoughts of parachuting into the 10/40 window with nothing but my Bible, a Strong’s concordance, and the clothes on my back. The story had immediately stirred a response in me but when the emotion of the moment passed, so did my missionary zeal.

Years later, I learned about William Carey’s familial struggles - his wife’s mental breakdown on the mission field and allegations of Carey’s overlooking of his familial responsibilities while attempting great things for God.   I remember thinking, “If William Carey could put the needs of the ministry before his family, what makes me think that I am immune to such decisions?”  I decided that day to take constant inventory of my priorities in order to not follow in Carey’s negative familial shadow. 

You see, if I only knew of William Carey’s victories, I would just have learned an important but fleeting lesson. Yet in learning of his failures, God used William Carey’s story to influence my family and my ministry on a virtually daily basis.  The truth is we must learn from the entirety of the story. Only then can we embrace the whole of their journey, viewing and admiring our heroes as imitable men and not demi-gods.  

We at Christian History magazine know that fidelity to history and our heroes often does not curate a pretty picture, but it does display the whole of the person, movement, or issue. And through it, we learn from all of our vulnerabilities that not only is no person, institution, or idea perfect, but also that God uses our entire story to teach the lessons He has for us along our journey from faith to sight.

Matthew Oser
Christian History Magazine

Christian History Magazine is a donor-supported quarterly print publication. Subscriptions to the magazine are available for free at ChristianHistoryMagazine.org.