Honoring Christ Online: An Interview with Tim Challies
by Tim Challies
Tabletalk: How did you become a Christian?
Tim Challies: Along with my brother and three sisters, I had the great privilege of growing up in a Christian home. My parents had both come to Christ through Pentecostalism and had married fresh out of college. Their honeymoon took them to Switzerland, where they spent a week at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. It was there that they encountered Reformed theology and a Christian faith that was intellectually fulfilling. I was raised in a home where the gospel was both celebrated and modeled. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had a crisis of faith and began to ask if I was truly a Christian or if I was simply following along behind my parents. It was during this time that the Lord opened my eyes, and I made the faith of my parents my own.
TT: What inspired you to start blogging?
TC: The blog came about almost by accident. A couple of years after I married and set out on my own, my parents moved from Toronto to the Atlanta area (they’ve since migrated west to Chattanooga, Tennessee). I had one child by that time and another on the way. I wanted a way to share pictures of my children with my parents and siblings, so I began a small website where I could display those photographs. I called the site challies.com because I anticipated only members of the Challies clan would be interested in it.
At some point, I decided to share with my parents an article I had written. Google and the other search engines eventually did what they do, and soon other people were reading that article. Over time, I found that a website is an interesting medium for sharing articles and interacting with other Christians. In the months that followed, I removed the pictures of the children and focused instead on writing. In November 2003, I committed to daily blogging, a habit I’ve maintained ever since.
TT: How do you select the links you highlight on your daily links roundup?
TC: I began the roundup of daily links (“A La Carte”) several years ago. While I had been playing an active role in creating content and sharing it online, I had come to see that there is also value in curating existing content. I have always chosen links primarily because of their interest to me, and I think that is probably the best way of doing it. This means that people who identify with me in some way are able to relate to many of these links and benefit from reading them.
TT: How do blogs benefit the church?
TC: The church rightly has a love-hate relationship with blogs and the blogosphere. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, blogs have been both a great benefit and a great liability to the church. When blogs are at their best, they are a source of biblical exposition, a means of spiritual encouragement, and a source of valuable news and information. On a personal level, bloggers are able to model Christian living and display thoughtful engagement with ideas and competing worldviews. The blogs I appreciate most are those that remain steady, focused, and biblical over the long run.
TT: In an age of rapid social media growth, how should Christians be encouraged or discouraged to use social media?
TC: Social media is a fact of life in the twenty-first century. Many Christians (and non-Christians, for that matter) would make it all go away if they could. However, since that is not going to happen, Christians are being forced to adapt to this new world, and they are being forced to learn to use social media in a way that honors God. Social media itself is not for everyone, and certainly every form of social media is not for everyone.
Christian leaders are finding that if they are to have a voice to the current generation, they need to have a voice that includes at least some forms of social media. As Albert Mohler states in his book The Conviction to Lead, a refusal to take advantage of at least some forms of social media is essentially a refusal to engage an entire generation.
TT: How can Christians interact online with others in a God-honoring manner?
TC: Part of the beauty of the Bible is that its wisdom is timeless, transcending any one time, context, or culture. This assures us that God has a lot to say to us about how we govern ourselves in communication. All of the wisdom in Proverbs, in James, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles is equally applicable to words typed into Twitter as to words spoken verbally. One of the issues we face is that online interactions are mediated interactions, and in the mediation—in the screen that separates one person from another—we are prone to lose some of our humanity. We do well to remind ourselves continually that “pixels are people,” which is to say that the rules that govern offline communication also need to govern what we say through our mobile phones or across the Internet.
TT: Can you describe how you were called to the pastorate?
TC: I did not set out to be a pastor any more than I set out to be a blogger. In fact, a friend recently looked back through old emails to find the very first time he and I interacted. The first time we wrote to one another, I was explaining how I felt no call to the ministry and had no desire to be a pastor. Yet today I find myself as one of the pastors of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto.
My path to the pastorate began when I visited Grace Fellowship Church. I had been attending a local Southern Baptist church that had been swept up in the church-growth movement. I was eager to find a church where the gospel was central and where the theology was Reformed. Grace Fellowship was just such a church. After I had been a member at the church for several years, the elders approached me and asked if I would become an elder. After a process of evaluation, the church members affirmed me as an elder. Not too long after that, our associate pastor planted a church, leaving a vacancy that I was asked to fill. And just like that, I was in full-time pastoral ministry. As I have gone about the work of ministry, I have been finding that the Lord has given me a growing passion for it.
TT: Excluding the bible, what have been the five most influential books in your life and why?
TC: Though I was raised in the Reformed tradition, I drifted into the Evangelical mainstream shortly after I got married and left my parents’ home. There were several books that were instrumental in showing me that sound doctrine really does matter and that served to rekindle my love for Reformed theology. John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel exposed the church I was attending as being driven by pragmatism rather than Scripture; James Montgomery Boice’s Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? showed me the beauty of sound doctrine while R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God opened my eyes to the sheer wonder and majesty of God. Those three books played a pivotal role in my life; they were just the books I needed within a very particular circumstance, and I regard it as the Lord’s kindness that He exposed me to all three of them.
Since then, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation is one I have returned to often as I’ve done battle with sin, while Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace has taught me the value of preaching the gospel to myself and ensuring that the gospel is instrumental, not supplemental, to all of faith and practice.
TT: What does the future of Challies.com look like?
TC: To be honest, I don’t really know. When I look back at my life and see how it has unfolded in such unexpected ways—a blog I didn’t mean to begin and a vocation I really didn’t think I was cut out for—I find myself hesitating when it comes to making long-term plans and prognostications.
Having said that, what seems to resonate most with the people who read the site are book reviews and my grappling with issues that are of interest to contemporary Christians. Whatever the future holds, I would expect these to remain central. I have always viewed the site as a place where I can simply think out loud and in public about the issues that I and other Christians are thinking about. If that is my niche in the blogosphere and if that is a way I can serve the church, then I am very glad to carry it on.
Tim Challies is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs online, Challies.com. He is also cofounder of Cruciform Press. He is a self-employed web designer and associate pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario. Tim is the author of The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn, and The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, and co-author of Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel.