Adrian interviews Tim Challies

Adrian
It is my great privilege and delight to welcome to the blog today Tim Challies. Tim is one of the most prominent of all God bloggers and though he wont tell you his traffic, I can tell you he gets more readers than I do just from looking at his comment section! Or perhaps his readers just like commenting more than mine. Welcome, Tim. As we start can you just tell us a bit about yourself?

Tim
Sure. In fifty words or less? I live in the Toronto area, just far enough outside the city to avoid the pollution. I was born and raised in this area and have lived here for my whole life other than a year I spent in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have post-secondary training in two fields- history and network administration. Despite that, I currently work from my home as a web designer – a job that requires none of the training I received in school.

Adrian
Why do you blog?

Tim
I blog as part of my spiritual disciplines. If I stop walking closely with God I very quickly run out of things to say. And so I blog to ensure that I continue to read the Bible, I continue to seek after God and continue to read good books. If I become lax in these activities my blog suffers. It really is a thermometer that measures my spiritual temperature. If that sounds selfish, so be it!
Of course I also blog because I love to challenge other people and to interact with them. I love people and love to spend time with them, even if only in an non personal setting like the Internet.
Adrian
You are dead right. You know why I started blogging? I figured it would be a good place for me to store clippings of stories and quotes and ideas that might find there way into one of my sermons!

Adrian
How did you get into this blogging thing? And how did your blog come to be so popular? Did you have any particular strategy that you were following in the early days?

Tim
I really just fell into this blogging thing. I began challies.com as a web site to provide family updates for my parents who had moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Every now and then I would put a little article on the site just to share it with them. At some point Google picked up these pages and people began to read them. A few years ago I decided to make the site into more of a blog, even though I hadn’t ever heard the word “blog.”

So to be honest I had no strategy. I don’t know that I’ve ever really done much to publicize the site. At the beginning I suppose I would try to find well-trafficked sites and post comments, but that didn’t seem to work. So I just dedicated myself to writing what I felt was quality content.
There were a couple of topics that I feel drove quite a few people to the site. I wrote an in-depth study of “The Purpose Driven Life” and several articles about “The Passion of the Christ.” These seemed to resonate with conservative Christians. So I suppose these were topics that helped make the site popular

Adrian
So just for the record, do you think that Warnie I gave you helped any? What about being on aggregators or being linked to by any other prominent bloggers? Or were you just in the right place at the right time?

Tim
I certainly appreciated the Warnie award. If you want my honest opinion about whether it helped any, I’d have to answer “not that I know of.” But I also don’t know how people discover my site, so perhaps it did. Regardless, I was honored to receive it and consider it an honor.

Adrian
You mentioned quality content earlier. I couldnt agree more about your content being great, but what do you think makes good content? How can we recognise it? To me it feels like some blogs become popular without much great content – perhaps mine is a case in point(!) A lot of bloggers like you and I dont have any real qualifications, or right to be listened to more than anyone else- no theological degrees or anything – we are just pyjama theologians you and I arent we. Why on earth does anyone listen to us?

Tim
Those are good questions. I sometimes ask the same questions about authors of books. How is it that one author, who really has little to say, gets book deals while another person does not? It does not seem to make much sense, yet that is the way it works at times. Again, I feel the author himself (or herself) is an important factor. I think Amy of Amy’s Humble Musings is an excellent example of a writer whose audience identifies with her (and no, I am not passing judgment on her content!).

As for what makes blogs popular, I suppose there has to be a combination of a topic that is of interest to people and a writer with whom people can feel some type of affinity. In my experience I know that I feel more comfortable reading blogs where I can identify with the author. Obviously the most popular topics among blog readers are politics and gadgets. Almost all of the most popular blogs are dedicated to these topics.

Adrian
Having some affinity with the author, now theres a point. I know for me that there are some blogs I love because I can see traits in the author that I share- sometimes to a lesser degree- but I share them nonetheless. I do love your passion for books for example. When I was young I know I read a lot more books than now but your obsession with reading in the real world definitely helps me want to listen to what you have to say…and there are all kinds of other ways why I have felt that I have some kind of connection to you.

Adrian
Blogging seems to do that to you. People often feel strangely connected to other bloggers they discover, and can begin to think that they agree with them on everything, and almost see them as somehow an extension of themselves. That kind of relationship can look weird to those watching

Tim
Exactly. Blogging is a form of communication that is very personal in nature. It is far more so than books, for example. A person can interact with the blogger and his audience through the comments section. He can almost always email the blogger to communicate his appreciation or criticism.

Adrian
That sense of identification can really take a hold cant it? I remember a time when a number of people actually thought jollyblogger and I were the same person! Did you ever see that?

Tim
I believe I may have been partly responsible for spreading that rumor, even though I knew you were actually two people!

Adrian
You rascal! What was it about us that made people feel that way?

Tim

I think it was based on the “in partnership” messages on your respective sites. I’m not sure that anyone really believed it. Your styles and subject matter are sufficiently different that it would be difficult to believe you were one and the same.

Adrian

I guess the really interesting thing is what happens when people who have made that connection suddenly discover that they DONT agree on everything. Like the day that I dropped a bombshell (for some people!) that I was a charismatic despite being known up to that point as a reforemd bloggger.

Tim
…or the day I admitted to being a closet Catholic! (Just kidding, of course).

Adrian
When it came to jollyblogger and I, we seemed to find it hard to really disagree on things. Our first crack at the so-called charismatic-cessationist debate makes hilarious reading in some ways. We both bent over backwards to try and understand each other, and seemed reluctant to say “I think you are wrong”

Tim
And yet one of you must be.

Adrian
I felt like I begun to understand the moderate cessationist viewpoint so much better that I actually wondered if we DID agree, but simply used different words to describe the same experience. I guess, that kind of convergance (HT Sam Storms!) is defin
itely one possible outcome of blogging for people. Do you agree?

Tim
I do agree. I think blogging gives us all opportunities to meet people who are like us in many ways, but also to meet people who are unlike us in other ways. It helps us all appreciate the diversity within the body of Christ.

Adrian
I mean, realizing that David was basically a cessationist was shocking, but not as shocking as when I realised after months that as he was a presbyterian he must be a paedobaptist! I mean a charismatic talking to a paedobaptist!

Tim
Presbyterians tend to be that way, don’t they?

Adrian
I know, I know, but I never made the connection!

Adrian
I guess we were agreeing so much on other matters that I could hardly bear to think of myself disagreeing with him.

Tim
Fair enough. As long as the disagreement is handled in agreement with Scripture’s exhortations to kindness and understanding, I don’t know that disagreements are a bad thing.

Adrian

No I think you are right (joke!)

Seriously though, I guess its fine to disagree, but great to do so from a point of being reluctant to get into a big argument, and fearful that you might be understood. I suppose valuing the relationship and what we agree on more than being right and the things we differ over. So I suppose what I am saying is, its fine to disagree, but do it remembering we are brothers and that brothers shouldn’t fight!

Tim
Absolutely. We need to separate the primary from secondary issues. When we agree on the major doctrines we can respectfully discuss the secondary doctrines, even if we do so more from a desire to understand and appreciate than from a desire for conviction.

Adrian

And, disagree with people like we respect them and love them! I know for me, its always easy to imagine my “opponent” in a theological debate obviously hates God and the church and is clearly inspired by the devil or else he wouldn’t be thinking what he thinks

Tim

It is easier that way, isn’t it?

Adrian

Blogging has been good for me because I have been exposed to godly men like you and David and others who disagree with me but are NOT actually my enemies!

Tim

That is what I find so difficult in discussing issues with others. I have come to see not only the value of not only loving the same thing, but also hating the same thing. Yes, we both love Jesus, but do we both hate it when people formulate doctrines that reject His free gift? I find it particularly difficult to disagree with those I admire. The more I admire a person, the more difficult it is to disagree.

Adrian

I cant help but wonder whether that was part of the reason for Pyromaniacs reluctance to really interact over the cessationist issue. Maybe I am being overly analytical but it seemed to me that he had got to know a few charismatics well over the blogosphere, and I guess also he must have heard CJ when he came to preach. Could it be that even the pyromaniac who definitely has “bulldog” tendencies at times felt he couldn’t really bring himself to dispute with reformed charismatics the way he would say with the emergent crowd….

Tim

That is possible. There are certain bloggers who have more to lose than others. A guy like Phil Johnson, as the elder of a prominent church, as the right-hand man to John MacArthur, has to exercise great caution and discernment in what he says and does. His reputation, his church’s reputation, and his pastor’s reputation could all be adversely affected by what he says.

Adrian

Yeh, you and I didnt have a reputation to loose before we started all this did we!

Adrian

I was surprised by his sudden change to a group blog though

I got the feeling reading his reasons that being “out there” and exposed to the hoardes of comments (and he used to get more than you or I) became a bit much due to all his other work.

Or maybe he was just busy over Christmas

Tim

I was saddened to see Phil move to a group blog format, and I say that with all due respect to the people he invited to participate in it with him. I would have preferred to see him go to a once-per week format or similar.

Adrian

Yeah, what is it with some people that they seem to think a blog HAS to be every day for it to be any use?

Tim

I can’t imagine feeling that way!

Adrian

O yeah? I seem to remember a comment about me and David Wayne being delinquent bloggers because we are how shall we say not as regular as you are? Sorry, that makes it sound like we are constipated! Bloggers block perhaps?

Tim

That I have committed to blogging every day has raised a few eyebrows and brought some gentle chastisement. But I feel my motives are pure. I know my personality and know that once I allow myself to become lax in an area, I tend to become very lax. And so I try to blog every day. Blogging is so closely connected to my personal spiritual disciplines that I fear I have a lot to lose if I stop blogging!

Adrian

Just so long as you dont expect all of us to be quite so disciplined! Going back to group blogs, some people think that they are the future of the blogosphere- I guess by the fact that neither you nor I have thrown in the towel we might have different views, right? I think that actually, a group blog can often loose that very intensity of personal reaction that I love about a blog like yours. I come to your blog to read YOUR views, not those of somebody else

Tim
I have also heard that group blogs are the future of blogging. I would tend to disagree. I do think there are some group blogs that are successful, but these seem to be among the minority of blogs. Again we return to the personal connection between the reader and writer. That is easier to form and maintain when there is only one author. Blogging is a perfect postmodern activity. It is a subjective pursuit. A person can blog as he sees fit and still be considered a blogger.

Adrian

What are good conservatives like us doing using such a postmodern activity? I can think of some exceptionally good group blogs though, and the ones I like are ones where the writers have a genuine connection between themselves.

Tim

Precisely. The Together for the Gospel blog is a great example. Anyone who cares to can eavesdrop on the relationship of four men many of us much admire. They have a strong bond already and have chosen to take that relationship to a blogging setting. I think they will do well.

Adrian

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. That blog DESERVES to do well. I am already in awe of the guys, and then to hear of their reading habits, well it makes your book obsession seem lightweight!

Tim

I’m not a big fan of the word “deserves” and I suspect C.J. would agree with me!

Adrian

Very good! OK. let me rephrase that, I think people will benefit more from reading that blog than many others, my own included and yes yours too!

Tim

Fair enough!

Adrian

Do you think that blogging is a good medium to get the message out?

Tim

I’d say that depends on the message. I do think blogging is a good medium for many messages. The difficulty may be that people do not take blogging as seriously as other forms of communication. A book still trumps a blog when it comes to communicating something serious. Of course with the ability of people to self-publish books this may soon change! But generally I think that people do not take messages communicated by blogs as seriously as they might.

Adrian

Why do you think that is?

Tim

I suppose because i
n many applications it just isn’t that serious of a medium.

Adrian

I actually think that blogging is better than books for putting across the general cut and thrust of a series of arguments for and against a position. Books can be so one sided

Tim

They can be. And yet they’ve done well for us for the past several thousand years!

Adrian

I think blogging is a good forum for generating a kind of community theology for example or at least for superficially understanding differing positions. I guess what blogging does is reinvent the “pamphlet”

I think that Wesley and Whitefield for example would have had their arguments over calvinism on blogs if they were alive today. And it is possible that they may have gone down the reflective, lets try and understand and interact with each other honestly rather than the polemic “this is what I think so there!”

Tim
Community theology can be both good and bad. Blogs make experts of people who have no right to be understood as experts.

Adrian

Too right people like you and me for example!

Tim

But I understand that a polemic “this is what I think so there” position in a book shows that a person has thoroughly researched and reflected upon a topic.

Adrian

Well it can do, but it doesnt always…..

Tim

When it comes to theology I find that blogging is a good medium to begin discussions that will lead back to Scripture and more thorough study in books.

Adrian

Of course, I do agree with what you said earlier, a blog is a very bad medium for developing an argument more thoroughly. But a book can often get away with portraying people who think differently in a very unfair light. In contrast, I can come onto say a cessationist blog and say something like “but charismatics DONT think that prophecy is on an equal with scripture and authoritative”. I cant do that with a book!

Tim

I would suggest that is more the function of a writer than a medium.

Adrian

Thats true to an extent, but there is nothing inherently interactive in a book format, indeed any kind of interaction has to be imported into it

Tim
I guess what I’m saying is that interactivity may not be what people are looking for. I would rather read a thorough explanation of a particular viewpoint and then read an opposing viewpoint rather than read both in a blog format.

Adrian
I guess, what I mean is that people are forced to interact with what other people are REALLY saying rather than the straw men we all are so guilty of erecting. To be quite honest, before I discovered otherwise through blogging I honestly thought that most if not all cessationists didn’t really believe in any sense of an experiential relationship with God for example. Bloggers from “the other side” have put me straight on that and many other points! Gosh. I am sounding like a blog evangelist arent I
Tim
You are! And I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.
Adrian
I am interested in the conversation aspect of blogging, but also the fact that its not entirely a free-for-all conversation
Adrian
For me it is somewhere between the spoken word and the written word, would you agree?
Tim
It combines aspects of both of those, yes. It has the interactivity of spoken conversation but is premised on arguments that are, hopefully, well-formulated and well-written.
Adrian
Weirdly, I often think of my blog posts as mini sermons, where I am declaring a point, but unlike sermons there is the opportunity for almost instant feedback. I think that there is something powerful in proclaiming, followed by an opportunity for discussion.
Tim
Feedback is not only an opportunity but an expectation with blogging.
Adrian
There is something very biblical about that
Tim
And yes, it can certainly be powerful.
Adrian
I think that we are in real danger in the modern church if we conclude that discussion between equals is the best and only way for truth to be explored, however
Tim
I think that you’ve touched on the greatest appeal of blogs. The beauty of blogs, and also the curse, is that any person can have a voice. That means that the reader must exercise great discernment, but it also means that the average person in the average congregation can have a voice within the church. I think it is a beautiful thing. But I also think there are issues that we must wrestle with, particularly in regards to teaching, the biblical qualifications of teachers, and so on.
Adrian
I certainly dont think blogging will ever replace preaching. I believe the task of the preacher is to declare the truth with great conviction (obviously moderating that conviction depending on the subject under discussion). The “thus says the Lord” aspect is crucial to preaching, it can never resound with quite the same strength on a blog. Preaching should only be done by those with a recognised call
Tim
Absolutely. I think there needs to be some discussion about the place of blogging along those lines. Some people have, for example, raised questions about the propriety of men reading theological blogs written by women.
Adrian
There is definitely a kind of blogging that is quite dangerous for just “anyone” to do. I think that the main issue surrounds the declaration of something as “Gods truth” If a blog is raising something as a discussion point that is one thing, but I for one am careful not to get my preaching form a blog! But I do like reading blogs written by preachers
Tim
Absolutely, and I assume most people would agree. As Mark Dever warned a week or so ago, blogging (writing to some extent and reading to a greater extent) needs to be supplementary to reading good books, studying Scripture, spending time in fellowship and so on.
Adrian
What do you feel are the other dangers of blogging?
Tim
As with any pursuit there is the danger of pride. Joe Carter wrote an article several months ago about being controlled by statistics and desiring influence and I think that resonated with many people. It is easy to become prideful. And of course there is the danger of teaching what is false. Anyone who blogs is, to some extent, a teacher and ought to read through the Scripture’s warnings to those who teach!
Adrian
Yeh, I know I have been there at points in the past when numbers got the better of me! These days weirdly the stats when I look at them have the opposite effect on me. I worry instead that I might be leading so many people astray……I think “Who am I that people read this drivell?” Do you ever feel like that?
Tim
I have never publicized my statistics. I do that primarily so people will not judge my site based on the traffic, whether they feel the actual number is a lot or a little.
Adrian
But I am sure you have looked at the numbers…..do you ever feel “O boy, what have I got myself into?”
Tim
When I stop to ponder the numbers I feel nothing. But when I understand that each number is a person, made in God’s image who is reading words I have written, I am humbled and sometimes terrified. Less so, of course, when I have written about social conventions regarding inviting oneself to another person’s house, but more so when I have written about matters of theology.
I often marvel that people read my site, but I suspect that is true of most bloggers and true even of many authors. It is very humbling to me that anyone would choose to take time from his busy life to share in my life through my site. But that is part of the attraction to a blog, isn’t it? It is a glimpse into another person’s life. It is much like peering through the window of a person’s house.
Adrian
Yeh
, and I guess we are back to where we were before. I know I sure love looking though your window Tim as do many! What do you think about the future of God blogs?
Tim
I don’t think we’ll see the number of God blogs fall off anytime soon. Blogging continues to increase dramatically and, almost by definition, Christians have a lot to say. So I would expect to see more and more Christians begin blogging. I also expect to see many higher profile Christians begin blogging. Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, and Mark Dever join the blogosphere. And I know that some people are pushing John MacArthur to begin a blog, though apparently he has enough trouble with email that he is unlikely to start blogging!
Adrian
I wonder if there will still be room for “nobodies” like you and me, or if we will retreat into the relative obscurity which we probably rightfully deserve?
Tim
Sure, I think there will be room for nobodies. The trouble with being a “somebody” is that the blog either tends to devolve into a circus of comments (imagine if Driscoll allowed comments) or the blog will not allow comments at all. There will always be an attraction to the “true” blogs that allow the interactivity that helps make blogging what it is.
I suppose the real question is what influence blogging will have on the church in the years to come. And I am not entirely sure of that. I suspect we will see Christian leaders arise from the ranks of the bloggers – people who had a blog before they pastored a large church or wrote their first book.
Adrian
Thats an interesting thought I guess. I wonder if we already know any of them? Theres a meme “God blogger most likely to “make it” in the real world?” Should I ask you for predictions? Perhaps not….
Tim
I don’t do memes! But I do think you will see people get their start in blogging. I would imagine they will have to turn to books and conferences and pulpits to really gain credibility. A question I have is whether or not these people will soon outrun their qualifications in terms of education and preparation. At this time I have no predictions, no.
Adrian
One of the things I have thought a lot about is the way that blogging tends to be a good way of sorting thousands of blogs into some kind of order
Adrian
The ranking system of the Blogdom of God is one example
Adrian
The blogs that tend to rise to the top (present company excepted) do seem by enlarge to have some degree of merit. But I also know that there are loads of great blogs that never seem to rise through the ranks. Do you believe in the notion of “the wisdom of crowds” some bloggers speak about?
Tim
I agree. There are some wonderful blogs that seem to “languish.” But we could as easily say the same of various Christians and their finances. If we understand that God is the true force behind the blogosphere we realize that there will not be and should not be parity. The responsibility of bloggers is to be faithful stewards of what God gives them, which in this case is people!
Adrian
yeah, that’s where it really gets scary for the blogs near the top of the pile. We are hear because God has put us here, and therefore will hold us accountable for what we do with our popularity. This is why I tend to want to use whatever popularity I have to give prominence to OTHER blogs or writers- eg in interviewing them.
Tim But, going back to what you just said, I am not sure what you mean by “the wisdom of crowds”?
Adrian
The wisdom of crowds is the notion that the decisions of a great number of people aggregated, especially if those decisions are in part determined by the decisions already made by others will often cause good decisions to be made. According to this model, instapundit is king because it is only right that he should be so
Tim
Then no, I would not believe in the wisdom of the crowds. I don’t know that the majority vote necessarily has a lot of relevance to the Christian life! Humans are far too predictable and fickle!
Adrian
I think that you are right there. Crowds can get it very right sometimes, but they can also get it very wrong!
Tim
I seem to recall what crowds did to Jesus!
Adrian
Yes, and perhaps we would be well to remember that the crowds that currently shower their links and visits on our blogs could quickly turn and crucify us!
Tim
I suppose they could. But I can honestly say that, as long as I was convicted by Scripture (and perhaps a few trusted friends) that I was correct, I would be fine with that. I have prayed that if I am ever in a position where I cannot give God all of the glory for anything that happens to or through my site, that either He take it from me or that I have the strength and wisdom to let it go.
Adrian
You are wise to pray like that. Actually the way that the god blogosphere can sometimes go in for almost public crucifixion of certain bloggers bothers me a great deal does it you?
Tim
The blogosphere is really just a group of sinful people, so sure, they can do great harm in singling out and smiting particular people or blogs. I would hope that people act on the basis of conviction and not just to follow a crowd.
Adrian
I think we must learn to follow both our conviction AND a heart of love that seeks to be winsome, would you agree? What we really need to do is learn to blog the truth in love!
Tim
I can’t disagree with that statement!
Adrian
Thats probably a good place to end. I really enjoyed this chat, lets do it again sometime!
Tim
Sounds good to me. It has been fun!

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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