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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Challies’


Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers is an attempt to present basic doctrine for the purpose of growth in godliness using not only the written word but also diagrams so people can see the connections that Challies and Byers want them to see.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive systematic theology. It is meant to help you “see and understand the truth about God”. They avoid academic issues but focus on the issues and doctrines that promote godliness.

I purchased the book for two reasons. These reasons direct my review of the book. The first was an interest in materials for discipleship, particularly of men. Many of the men I work with are very busy (and often have tons of books already in their queue). So the prospect of a relatively short book that has diagrams is appealing.

I also wanted access to the diagrams, or at least some of them, for SS lessons since I often use Power Point. Some of the diagrams are quite helpful. I found some of them to be “over-stimulating” or too busy. Some just didn’t connect with me. Overall the diagrams are a help to the book.

I don’t envy Challies & Byers, or their editor. I’m sure there were difficult questions about what doctrines to discuss, and which ones to leave out.  In the introduction they lay out the purpose and methodology. They offer the material in four sections: Grow Close to Christ, Understand the Work of Christ, Become Like Christ, and Live for Christ. Under the first they cover the Gospel, Identity and Relationship. The second covers the Drama, or Story of the Bible, and Doctrine. The third covers sanctification: putting off the old life and putting on the new life. The last section hits Vocation, Relationships and Stewardship.

What isn’t here is any meaningful discussion of doctrines like the incarnation and theories of the atonement, which I think would be considered central to “the work of Christ”. But there are topics often missing in discussions of discipleship,  like vocation and stewardship. This meant there were times I was frustrated, and times when I was grateful they addressed something. It is not meant to be a theology book so much as a book about how to grow which includes some theology. So, in a sense, the book’s title doesn’t really help you understand what the book is about.

Much of what is written is good, if perhaps too brief. Challies is part of the neo-Calvinist movement. He’s Calvinistic in his soteriology (doctrine of salvation), but baptistic in his understanding of ecclesiology and sacraments. I suspect he is also in the New Covenant Theology camp based on some recommended books, and from his blog. As a result, at times there were ideas I thought were incomplete, lacking or just too baptistic.  In terms of the latter, on the first page of chapter 1 in discussing our need for regular reminders of the gospel we see this:

“The reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to remind ourselves of what Christ has done and what he has promised to do.”

That is certain one of the reasons, but not the only reason (which is implied by the definite article). It communicates a memorial view of the sacrament that I find less than fully biblical. It is not less than that, but thankfully so much more. I found a similar sentiment later in the book as though “take and eat” and “take and drink” are unimportant. We need Christ like we need bread and wine. In his section on “ordinances” (pp. 25-26) this plays out in a focus on us, and then Christ in the sacraments. Historically, Reformed Theology has pointed to Christ and then us in the sacraments. The objective is the grounding the subjective elements. Instead They focused on the subjective elements first. The real issue in the sacraments is union with Christ, not the pledge of a good conscience. God’s work produces any work on my part, even in the sacraments. The section ends saying “In the celebration, Christ is present, you are present, and your shared relationship grows.” In the margin I wrote, “So, what does that mean?” It is a profound but largely unexplained statement.

In an otherwise very good chapter on identity, they discuss justification. They don’t do it justice: “You have been declared innocent.” Not less than that, but more. We have been declared righteous!! Innocent people still need positive righteousness. Merely innocent people aren’t accepted by God, righteous people are. I don’t think I’m nitpicking. This is something young Christians need to know precisely because it is intended to shape their life in the face of God. I am always and only acceptable because of Christ and His righteousness imputed to me. It is humbling and yet provides confidence. It frees me from my own paltry attempts at self-righteousness.

One disconcerting note was a relative absence of the Holy Spirit and His work, particularly in sanctification. This shows up in the chapter on the Bible, and the chapters on putting off and putting on. Their thesis on page 53 is “The Bible makes you godly.” To explain they say “To be godly is to be God-like in your character. The Bible enables you to live according to God’s standards and to reflect his character.” I wrote two things in the margin: “What does this mean?” and “Necessary but insufficient for sanctification.” The Holy Spirit makes us godly, and He uses the Bible to do it. The power (what I’d mean by “enables”) is the Spirit. He is the engine car to the Bible as tracks. This is fodder for the “radical grace” guys. Clarity matters, and sometimes the quest to be succinct means important distinctions are left out, distinctions that can create other big problems down the road.

Nothing downright heretical here. Just some troubling imprecision that would lead me to not accept these answers on an ordination exam. If given to a younger Christian, I would strongly suggest they read it with a more mature Christian who can fill in some of the gaps.

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I’ve decided to commit career suicide. Okay, that is a bit extreme. I’ve done a SS class on Revelation. There are just some books of the Bible that should be tackled in a Sunday School setting instead of a sermon series. I couldn’t imagine preaching on Revelation. There are some parts that I haven’t settled on in terms of their original meaning. A Sunday School course allows you to offer up various viewpoints and not necessarily commit to one. I did approach the course with a mix of partial preterism and idealism. I think both are far more helpful than the historicist and futurist views. But some passages just seem to defy all categories.

The Song of Songs is another one of those books that is best done in such a setting but for different reasons. The content is more appropriate for an adult audience. I’m amazed at how anachronistic some approaches to the book are. They despise a more literal approach. I think the book is a series of love poems (not a sex manual or relationship guide). They do have a typological function pointing us to our relationship with Christ, but we must be careful not to eroticize that. It does have plenty of references to sexual activities in veiled fashion. As a part of the canon, it points us to a redeemed, or holy, sexuality. Much of the Scriptures offer warnings about our disordered sexuality. This is largely a re-ordered sexuality. Not perfectly though.

Here is what I’m using:

Song of Songs by Tremper Longman III in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series. This is rated as one of the top commentaries by Keith Mathison and Tim Challies. The opening chapter, which focuses on a history of interpretation, is very helpful in setting the stage for the study.

The Message of the Song of Songs by Tom Gledhill in the Bible Speaks Today series. It also appears on Challies’ and Mathison’s lists. I wasn’t too impressed with the chapter covering introductory matters. It did make some good points about the danger of removing the veil so to speak. People will have to be careful with what they learn and hear lest they plunge themselves into sexual sin by obsessing on something. This is something Mark Driscoll should have paid attention to.

Song of Songs by Dennis Kinlaw in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. I bought the volume for the commentaries on Psalms and Proverbs by VanGemeren and Ross respectively. I have yet to begin reading this. I’d better get on that!

Solomon on Sex by Joseph Dillow. Yes, the Song is not a sex manual but there may be some helpful material in there. I know I liked during my counseling coursework. It has been hidden in notebooks for years and has finally been unearthed. This is out of print and difficult to find. We purchased a photocopied version for our coursework.

Communion with God by John Owen. I read this years ago and remember that he refers to the Song quite a bit. It is not a commentary on the Song. I’ll pretend it functions typologically for my purposes.

Discovering Christ in the Song of Solomon by Don Fortner. Don and I will not agree on much. He uses an allegorical interpretive method, making it about Christ and the Church directly. There is no “original meaning” and then seeing it through the lens of Christ. He jumps right to Jesus. I can tell there is much that is true, but that is not what the text (in my opinion) is saying. There are some statements that I would deem dangerous or controversial. For instance, he takes her statement “I am black and comely” to mean she is both sinner and saint. I find equating black with sin to be troubling. I don’t recall any other portion of Scripture doing this.

Perhaps I’ll be back to update this when I’m done. I can only read so many books to prepare for the lessons without driving myself insane. I read far too many on Revelation (lesson learned!).

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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There are few subjects guaranteed to raise a ruckus like that of modesty. This subject tends to bring out the worst in us. We often act immodestly when discussing modesty.

There have apparently been many books written on this subject. Many of them very bad. Or so I hear since I’ve only read one other book on the subject, Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. As a result, I am no expert on such books. I decided to read Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn’s book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel precisely because it seemed to take a gospel-centered approach (which it does).

What they have done is write short, but important, book on the subject at hand. They begin with the obvious, and the most common objection to such a book.

“Discussing modesty among Christians is challenging because the subject typically has not been handled well. … And when a man is the speaker or the author or the discussion leader, women brace themselves, fearing an assault on their fashion sense and wondering if they are about to be blamed for all male struggles with sexual lust. Does he think I have to be ugly to be godly?

This is not like many of the books I’ve heard about: there are no lists, calls for the ruler, blaming of women etc. They recognize that many calls for modesty are not motivated by the gospel, but legalism. This has led to, in many circles, a neglect of the subject. Or a very narrow view of the subject, making it all about women’s clothing when it encompasses far more than that.

“When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules. … Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel- a gospel of bondage rather than freedom. … Modesty without the gospel is prudishness.”

They then begin the hard task of defining modesty. They note the dictionary definitions. But they then do something that may surprise some people, they talk about one’s situational context. Modesty is partially a function of your circumstances. They give the illustration of a bathing suit. Appropriate by the pool or beach, but not appropriate for a worship service or funeral (and maybe even Wal-Mart). It would be modest in one context, but immodest in another. Your situation matters.

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"I'm so confused!"

We have addressed the pastor’s need to talk about sex, and the better ways for him to talk about sex. The third part is about developing a redeemed sexuality to communicate to our people. Or how not to.

Why do we need to talk about redeemed sexuality? This is because our people have often been instructed, explicitly or implicitly, in a very fallen sexuality, or Romans 1 kind of sexuality. I looked at this in Part 1, but here it is again.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

We really have to reckon with this text. Because of Adam’s sin, God gave humanity over to sin. Sin has affected, among other things, our minds, our passions and our sexuality. We are broken. This means we do not work right.

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Been looking at addictions lately.  As Calvin says, the human heart is a factory of idols.  We are a mass of addictions.  Some of our additions seem innocuous, like caffeine.  Others only seem troublesome when they are out of control- like when your shoe collection rivals Imelda Marcos (or you’re always broke because you feed that addiction.

Oddly enough, some addictions are becoming “mainstream”.  I am disheartened to see the popularity of pornography.  Looking at pornography used to be a shameful thing: dark, seedy theaters, brown covered magazines.  It was something you did alone, except for bachelor parties.  After all, no one looks at porn just to look at porn as if it is a work of art.  You look at it to stimulate and facilitate sexual release (either alone or with a partner).

But today porn is viewed differently.  It is apparently for women too.  There are porn parties- with both sexes watching.  I just can’t comprehend that.  Even as a young, sex-crazed heathen I couldn’t conceive of such a thing.  But I was “unliberated”, shackled by the smothering guilt of a Roman Catholic upbringing.  [Actually, I think my conscience was still functioning- barely- to restrain some sin in my life.]

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When you live in a place like Winter Haven you can easily lose track of what happens in the wider world.  When you are a conservative Presbyterian, this does not help either.  A book may be very popular in broader “evangelical” circles and not come to your attention for quite some time.

There has been one that has sold over 1 million copies but whose existence eluded me until recently.  A newsletter mentioned The Shack by William Young.  The person mentioning it really liked it, but noted some issues might be problematic.  “Oh, interesting,” I thought.  I did not yet know how popular this book was or how entralled some people are with it (479 Amazon reviews have an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars).

It is the story of a man whose child was killed by a serial killer some time earlier.  He has been unable to move on.  His seminary training is failing him.  God invites him to the shack where his daughter was murdered.  There he encounters the Godhead and his entire theology and experience are deconstructed and reconstructed.  The Father actually appears through much of the story as a tender woman (this is what my acquaintance mentioned as being problematic).

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