BOOK REVIEWS

Set An Example – Tim Challies

exampleTim Challies, Set An Example Cruciform, Quick, 2017, 49 pp. $3.99

Tim Challies has established himself as a faithful Christian and writer who seeks to serve and encourage the church. For several years, Challies has made many significant contributions on his popular blog encouraged many through his writing ministry. His latest project features a series of booklets which address foundational matters of Christian living.

Set An Example is a short but powerful exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12 – “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” What makes this book especially meaningful is that the author targets Christian young people in particular.

Challies compares the Christian life to a canvas: “God means for your life to be a canvas, the setting for a beautiful work of art. And he also expects this work of art will be seen, admired, imitated.”

The booklet is arranged in six chapters that follow the basic pattern in 1 Timothy 4:12. As such, readers are encouraged to set an example in:

  • Speech
  • Conduct
  • Love
  • Faith
  • Purity

Challies admonishes young believers, “The biggest way, the best way, the primary way to serve your church is to pursue godliness, to grow in wisdom and knowledge, in character and obedience. Set an example, be an example. Make your life a beautiful work of art.” Each of the external and internal qualities that Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 4:12 are explored, explained, and illustrated in a way that young people can understand.

It is difficult in such a short review to articulate how powerful this little booklet really is. The writing is direct and challenges readers without being overbearing. A major benefit of this work is Challies’ emphasis on the local church. Young readers will quickly see the importance and benefit of plugging into their respective churches and serving with zeal and faithfulness. Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter which challenges readers to apply what they have learned.

“This is your challenge as a young person in the church today. You are to have faith, faith that is rooted and grounded in God as he reveals himself through the Word … Be a man or woman of the Word. Devote yourself to Scripture. As you do this, your faith will grow, and as your faith grows, so will your faithfulness,” writes Tim Challies. Set An Example is the kind of material that should be absorbed by youth groups and utilized by fathers who seek to disciple their children. I recommend it highly!

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

Visual Theology

challiesTim Challies and Josh Byers. Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, 2016. 155 pp. $10.60

Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God is the highly anticipated book by Tim Challies and Josh Byers. This is an absolutely beautiful book! The larger than life cover welcomes readers to dive headlong into the journey of grace. A quick glance through the book will reveal colorful infographics that attract the eye and lead the heart in a Godward direction. It truly is a stunning display of graphics that will no doubt, receives rave reviews.

The book is arranged in four sections:

  1. Grow Close to Christ
  2. Understand the Work of Christ
  3. Become Like Christ
  4. Live for Christ

Visual Theology attempts to communicate the basics of biblical doctrine. It provides readers with a stunning visual introduction to the Christian faith. It is an invaluable aid to Christians who are beginning their journey into grace. But it will benefit longtime believers as well. Readers will receive encouragement that will serve them well as they are nurtured and strengthened, all for the purpose of Christian health, growth, and maturity.

The Importance of Theology

One of the great strengths of Visual Theology is the stress that Challies and Byers place on theology. Challies adds, “Doctrine is never meant to be a cold pursuit of the facts, but a red-hot pursuit of the living God that leads to joyful obedience.” Doctrine should captivate Christ-followers, not make them weary:

Doctrine is meant to amaze you as you encounter the sheer power and magnitude of God.  It will astonish you with the awful sinfulness of mankind.  It will humble you with your own insignificance apart from God and yet your sheer significance in his plan of redemption.  It will move you with the incredible mercy of God as expressed in sending his Son to die for you and with the amazing grace of God as expressed in sending his Spirit to dwell within you.  It will swell your heart with hope for Christ’s coming return.

Visual Theology reaffirms the central role that theology should have in the life of every believer. But the authors rightly stress the need for the application of theology, as well. The final two sections of the book are a vivid reminder that theology is meant to be lived.

Chapters 6 and 7 describe the essential activity of “putting off” and “putting on.” Indeed, these chapters are worth the price of the book as Challies and Byers alert readers to the contribution of the great Puritan, John Owen. In the matter of sanctification, this work mirrors what John Owen proposes in his massive work, Sin and Temptation (Volume 6). This book brings Owen’s treatment of sin and sanctification to a level that any Christian can understand and immediately make use of the material in the Christian life. Owen famously says, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” These authors help readers actually do it!

The strengths of Visual Theology are wide and varied. This work is intensely gospel-centered, Christ-saturated, and Bible-based. It is practical. The infographics catapult this book into the stratosphere – blending the best of systematic theology with the artistic genius of Josh Byers. The best gospel resources are commended along the way, giving readers a helpful tool to continue the process of Christian growth.

I commend Visual Theology which is the perfect blend of truth and beauty.  May God use this creative work to strengthen and edify many people in the days ahead. Well done, Tim and Josh!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Leadership · Personal Productivity

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies (2015)

challiesHere’s a lofty claim: “I believe this book can improve your life.” This is a claim we’ve all heard before. Infomercials, hucksters, and television preachers make similar claims. The net result is generally less than satisfying. The consumer usually walks away from such a claim with a lighter wallet, a bruised ego, and more skepticism to boot.

Tim Challies is hedging his bets in his new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. He believes that lives will be changed if readers will invest a bit of time in his book.

Do More Better (DMB) is a fitting title as the author sets out to help readers lead more productive lives. But DMB should not be confused with the typical self-help books that saturate most book stores. It should not even be compared to some of the most popular books on the discipline of productivity. Works like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, What’s Best Next by Matthew Perman, or Getting Things Done by David Allen made their respective contributions in the field of productivity.

But DMB truly stands alone in a sea of books that promise productivity. The author argues that our lives must begin with a solid foundation. Ultimately, this foundation must rest on a commitment to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Glorifying God involves doing good works and making God look good. In typical Reformation fashion, the author reminds readers that good works are only possible because of Christ’s completed work on the cross.

So the author encourages readers to establish productivity on the solid rock of the gospel. Indeed, this is the highest form of productivity, namely, a life that “glorifies God by doing good to others.” This lofty aim is what sets DMB apart from other books on productivity.

Challies highlights several barriers to productivity, what he calls “productivity thieves.” Readers are encouraged to structure and organize their lives so they can do “maximum good for others,” which in turn brings maximum glory to God. The call to Christian character is a dominant theme here. The author argues, “No amount of organization and time management will compensate for lack of Christian character, not when it comes to this great calling of glory through good – bringing glory to God by doing good to others.”

Next, DMB urges readers to define their responsibilities and their roles. Responsibilities are general items such as personal, family, and church. Roles are more specific. For example, personal roles may include spiritual fitness, physical fitness, administration, etc.

Readers are then encouraged to write a purpose statement for each area of responsibility. Challies gives helpful examples to help assure success in this area.

Three tools are recommended for maximum productivity: a task management tool, scheduling tool, and information tool. Challies points readers to digital tools that will help and encourage personal productivity. Specific action steps are spelled out for each tool. Ultimately, readers are challenged to “live the system” that is presented in the book.

I have been reading about personal productivity for nearly twenty-five years. I have benefited from some of the works mentioned earlier. But once again, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, by Tim Challies truly stands alone. Three features set this book apart. This work is God-centered, practical, and offers users immediate help that is sure to boost personal productivity. I commend this excellent work and trust that God will use it to encourage many people!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship

THE NEXT STORY: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion – Tim Challies (2011)

Tim Challies is an author who needs no introduction.  His blog, Informing the Reforming (www.challies.com) boasts thousands of readers, most of whom appreciate Challies’ thoughtful posts, penetrating book reviews, and his heart for the things of God.  Challies not only has a deep understanding of God’s Word and culture; he has an ability to communicate truth in a witty, yet serious way.  His latest book, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion is no exception.

PART ONE

Part one is a look at technology and its relationship to the Christian faith.  Challies is especially concerned to demonstrate how theory, experience, and theology intersect.  The author begins by arguing that technology is good gift from God; indeed it is part of the original creation mandate: “Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes – obedience to God requires that we create technology.”  To do any less, is tantamount to sinful behavior.

However, the author rightly notes that “technology is subject to the curse.”  The tools of technology (computers, iPhones, internet, etc.) have a propensity to attract the human heart in an idolatrous way and lure Christ-followers into a relationship that fails to honor God: “The things we create can – and will – try to become idols in our hearts.  Though they enable us to survive and thrive in a fallen world, the very aid they provide can deceive us with a false sense of comfort and security, hiding our need for God and his grace.”  The link between technology and idolatry is clear.  But there is more to the story.

The author includes a fascinating summary of technology, which he maintains involves both “risk and opportunity.”  This summary helps set the stage for part two which contains a host of practical imports, especially is it relates to the Christian life.

PART TWO

The author begins part two by demonstrating how the freedom of technology can actually enslave its adherents.  The idolatry of communication is addressed: “When our words serve an idol, they try to distract us from what matters most.”  Calvin’s claim that the human heart is an “idol factory” is vividly painted in this book.

Challies alerts readers to the danger of ungodly communication: “The words that come out of a person’s mouth or are typed on his keypad and texted to a friend are an expression of what is in his heart.  When angry words spill out of his mouth, he cannot plead ignorance or circumstance.  His words prove that there is an internal corruption … The caution that marks our speech must also mark our texting, our emailing, our commenting, or blogging, and our tweeting.”  Readers are encouraged to speak the truth in love and strive for maturity.

The author warns readers to steer clear from shallow thinking, a danger that poses a serious threat to Christians: “The challenge facing us is clear.  We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply.”  Several helpful suggestions are offered; suggestions that will help readers to think and reason more clearly and exercise Christian discernment.

Challies helps readers sort through the massive amount of information that confronts them on a daily basis.  He encourages five practical steps for dealing with this challenge:

1. Get wisdom.

2. Measure input.

3. Choose quality over quantity.

4. Simplify.

5. Memorize.

Chapter eight is worth the price of the book.  The author discusses how truth is determined in the digital revolution – by consensus and relevance.  He reveals how Wikipedia measures truth by consensus, while search engines such as Google measure truth by relevance.  However, he does not recommend Christians throw the baby out with the bath water.  Rather, he waves a much-needed banner of caution: ” … We need to be exceedingly careful that we know and understand and defend not just what is true but the very idea of truth, the very understanding that all truth flows out of the character of God.  Truth is not what is relevant or popular, but what God thinks.”  Users of technology must be aware of the dangers that lurk in the shadows; but they are also free to use technology for the advancement of kingdom purposes.

EVALUATION

The Next Story should be applauded for its clarity, depth, breadth, awareness of culture, and  clear biblical encouragement.  Six additional items mark the book – marks that should lure potential readers in:

1. This book is honest and transparent

Unlike so many other books, the author is quick to point out his weaknesses and propensities.  As one who appreciates the goodness and benefits of technology, he identifies with readers who struggle with improper priorities and idolatrous tendencies.

2. This book is biblical

The Next Story is firmly grounded in sacred Scripture.  It is both descriptive and prescriptive.  Readers walk away from this book and have no doubt that the author is committed to the authority of Scripture.

3. This book strikes the right balance

It would be easy to lash out against technology and foster a condemning spirit in a book like this.  The author strikes an important biblical balance.  The book is neither legalistic, nor is it oriented to license.

4. This book strikes at the core of idolatry

The Next Story is a vivid reminder that idolatry is closer to home than we think.  It challenges readers to utilize technology but not at the expense of one’s relationship with God.

5. This book is useful and practical

I anticipate that many youth pastors and para-church ministries will be utilizing the principles in The Next Story for years to come.  Parents would do well to read this work and put the principles into practice, especially with teens.

6. This book celebrates God’s truth

While I greatly appreciate the work that Tim put in to this book, his approach to truth is the most commendable aspect.  He tackles the difficult and timely subject of epistemology (while never using the word).  In many ways, I see his approach as somewhat of a backdoor approach to epistemology.  This is a high compliment because many tune out when confronted with absolute epistemological claims.  But this book is full of them!  And the author makes his case in clear, loving, and decisive terms.  At one point, I thought to myself, “Carl Henry is back!”

I consider The Next Story a gift to the church.  It is a gift that should be read and re-read.  It is a gift that should be imported into the very fabric of the church.  Thanks to Tim Challies for his labor of love.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Five stars