Tim Challies is my mentor and pastor. I want to be like him when I finally grow up.
He is a blogger at Challies.com. He’s the co-founder of Cruciform Press. And he’s the author several books, including Sexual Detox: A Guide For Guys Who Are Sick of Porn (2010), Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity (2015), and Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God (2016).
I’ve been learning from Tim for years, and I am thrilled to learn more as I interview him today.
You’ve always been inexplicably kind to me. And I don’t quite understand it, Tim. No older man has loved me more than you have loved me. You made me your summer intern a few years ago, and though I wasn’t a great intern, you were a great boss. That inspired me to start this blog. And that is just the tip of the depth of your kindness to me. Why have you been so kind to me?
It’s very encouraging of you to say so. If I have been kind, I hope it’s simply a reflection of the kindness Christ has shown to me. I think from the day we first met—at Filipe and Gloria’s wedding, if I recall correctly—you and I just “clicked,” which is to say I saw you as a kindred spirit (to borrow a phrase from a favourite novel). I suppose I haven’t thought a ton about the nature of our relationship beyond it being just a friendship. Though we come from considerably different backgrounds and live considerably different lives, the Lord brought us together through the local church and it has been a joy to be your friend. You know I love you and care for you deeply!
You mentioned kindness, which gives me opportunity to say this: I consider kindness a too-rare attribute, even among Christians. I have often prayed that by the end of my life I would be a kind and gentle old man. That’s the kind of man we all long to know, but the kind few of us have opportunity to actually know.
I really enjoyed spending Family Day with you and your family earlier this week. I really admire the kind of husband and father you are to your wife and your children. That day, I thought about Annie, my girlfriend, and me, and I wondered how I could become a good husband and father one day too. So how do I do that, Tim? What do I need to know now so I can become a good husband and father one day?
It was great to hang out on Family Day, though I’m sorry the weather kept us from the journey we had planned to make (which, for those reading, was an exploration of Josiah Henson’s home in southwestern Ontario).
You and I have talked before about the fact that you grew up without a good example of a husband or father. You’ve written about it, too. One thing I’ve seen from you since the early days is your willingness and desire to be around Christian men, and I think that is a key. In fact, I think your desire to seek out godly examples and then to imitate them in healthy ways is an evidence of God’s grace in your life. It’s well and good to read books or attend conferences that deal with being a godly husband or father, but I think it’s often the case that a lot more is caught than taught. So, continue to be around people who have experience that you don’t. Be willing to invite yourself into their lives and into their homes so you can see and experience family life and married life. Observe and ask questions. The local church is God’s gift for this.
But even then, ultimately you and I and every other man is dependant on the Bible. We need to read, understand, apply, and obey it. So if you want to be a good husband and father one day, immerse yourself in the Bible now. Grow in godly character. It will serve you well now and in the future.
One of the projects I worked on as your summer intern was The History of Christianity in 25 Objects. You’re developing that into a documentary that will be released later this year, right? Between all the locations and objects in the documentary, which fascinated you the most, and why?
I had actually forgotten that you and I had worked on that project together. That did, indeed, form the basis for the documentary and book that will release early in 2020, if all goes well. While you and I only wrote about it all those years ago, last year I was able to actually go out and do it. I set out on a journey that took me across 6 continents and 24 countries. It was an amazing year, and I saw and experienced some incredible things. The one I rank as favourite tends to change day by day, but more often than not, I point to my trip to the south of India where I visited Amy Carmichael’s Dohnavur Fellowship. The incredible ministry she founded is still alive and well there. It still houses some of the objects that were most precious and important to her. It was deeply moving to be there and to see the place where she lived, served, and died.
Beyond that, I loved seeing the Fleet Bible in Australia, Hudson Taylor’s tombstone in China, and an amazing dam in Ecuador. And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It was a life-changing year.
Your latest book with Josh Byers, A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible: Seeing and Knowing God’s Word, will be released next month. What do you want me to start thinking about differently once I finish the book?
What makes our book original is not so much the words, but the images that go with the words. I think the words are good and important, obviously, but it’s not hard to find a solid introduction to the Bible. What we attempted to do is to closely tie words with images. We want people to read about the Bible, but also see the Bible. We want them to experience it both through words and through images. We do this through graphics, infographics, and other visual elements. We think this combines to make a unique, powerful, and attractive package.
Our hope is that people will learn about the Bible, about its big story, and about some of its individual elements in a whole new way as they see it presented in the visual form. We expect this will be especially appealing to a younger demographic, though I expect anyone can enjoy it.
You recently said, “Some people look at the medium of the blog and ask, ‘What can this do for me?’ Other people look at it and ask, ‘How can I use this to serve others?’” How do you make sure you use your blog to serve others instead of yourself? How can I do the same?
When blogs first appeared on the scene, I think most people saw them as a casual medium through which they could share their thoughts on life or doctrine or family or whatever else was interesting to them. Over time, though, people began to see blogs as a step on a career path—a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. So blogs became an opportunity for “platform building” on the way to a book contract or the conference circuit. When this happened, bloggers became less concerned with serving others and more concerned with serving themselves by building an audience big enough to attract that offer or invitation. This is where blogs began to focus more on big headlines rather than solid content and to focus on accumulating readers rather than serving them. If blogging really is a dying medium, I’d say it’s through a self-inflicted wound.
Personally, I continue to see blogs as a good and legitimate medium in and of themselves. When we accept this, we’re ready to consider how we can use blogs well. And I think the best place to begin is with this question: Would I read this? If we just applied that filter to any article we wrote, I expect we’d immediately see a big uptick in quality. We need to stop writing vapid, condescending material that promises a lot (through a big headline) but delivers nothing (through poor content).
For what it’s worth, I think you do an exemplary job of writing material that is beneficial to others. Yet for you and I and every other blogger, the temptation is always there.
What do you think I need to improve on to become a better blogger?
First I want to point out a couple of things that I think you do particularly well. I know for awhile you struggled with consistency, but more recently you have set a schedule and stuck to it. That is one simple key to effective blogging. Well done! Also, I think you are especially skilled at using stories from your own life to illustrate truths. So you use your own life as the starting point for an exploration of a topic. I often point others to your writing as a good example of how to do that effectively. Again, well done!
So what do you still need to improve on? It might be expanding your repertoire. Any writer can find a niche or area of interest and “camp out” there. You have written lots and have gained a level of expertise in the area of race, and I suspect people are seeing that as your niche, your topic. But if you have a niche or identity, I don’t think it’s actually race, but your experience as a theologically-Reformed Ghanaian-Canadian. In other words, there’s a uniqueness around your background, your life, and your story that is interesting and beneficial to others. Race is part of it, but there’s more than that. I think you should keep pushing yourself to explore new ideas and new interests.
Our local church is filled with members with different ethnicities, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different views on some social issues, how do you and the rest of the elders maintain unity at our church despite our differences?
Yes, God has blessed our church with many different kinds of diversity. Of course, he has blessed Toronto with many different kinds of diversity, so in that way our church reflects our city. I want to be careful not to speak out of turn, but in general I believe our church is doing well with maintaining unity in diversity. And by that I mean the members of the church are forming deep and meaningful relationships with people who are different from themselves in any of the ways you’ve listed. I believe comfort is a universal temptation and to thrive in a context of diversity we’ve got to be willing to let go of comfort and spend time with people who are different from ourselves. I see the people of our church doing that, and am very proud of them for it. It would grieve me if I saw a church that appeared diverse, but was actually full of subcultures formed around ethnicities, socio-economic divisions, and so on.
At Grace, we are committed to building and maintaining unity through a deliberate and committed focus on the Word. As elders we model this by preaching expositionally, which means every week we are focusing on the same passage of Scripture and drawing out its truths congregationally. We model this by drenching our services in the Bible. I hope we model it in counselling and conversational contexts. But I want to be sure to affirm the role of the members of the church because in them I see this instinct to always ask, “What does the Bible say about that?” In good times or bad, in times of worship or conflict, I see the people of our church going to the Bible and leading others to the Bible. And as they do this, the Spirit draws us all closer and closer together in true love and unity. It’s a beautiful thing. All of which is to say, a church can’t maintain unity in diversity if only the elders are committed to it; it takes the whole congregation.
Do you have any questions for me, sir?
So many come to mind: Can you beat Filipe in a foot race? Who makes the best Jollof rice, and why doesn’t he or she ever make it for me? When are you going to visit America? But maybe I’ll go with this: What are a couple of strengths of Ghanaian culture that, if Grace Fellowship Church identified and embraced them, would make our church stronger and more biblical?
Loool! I dare you to release the video of my race with Filipe. Any honest person knows I won that race.
Who makes the best Jollof rice? Surely not the Nigerians. Nigerian Jollof is the biggest scam to ever come out of Nigeria. Every discerning person knows Ghanaians make the best jollof.
I’m planning to visit America as soon as I’m able. I miss Annie a lot!
We Ghanaians call older men and women — including strangers — “uncle” and “auntie” as a sign of respect and as an invitation for the older men and women to relate to us as if we’re relatives. For this reason, when Ghanaians experience trials, “uncles” and “aunties” typically serve them just as much as they would serve their real relatives.
This, of course, isn’t embedded in the Western culture. The West is much more individualistic. And that is great in some aspects. However, sometimes, it allows others to suffer alone. I think that downside to individualism has crept into Western churches too. And Our church is great, but I think that if we embraced that aspect of the Ghanaian culture, our members and leaders would improve our mercy ministries by more frequently visiting our members’ homes when they experience suffering (James 5:14), as “uncles” and “aunties.”