Tim Challies

More Random, Granular Tips for Bloggers

I have been saying it for years: there is still a place for blogs. Even while many new forms of communication have come our way in the past 10 or 15 years, and while each of them may have its own place in the media ecosystem, none can exactly duplicate the unique strengths of blogging. A few years ago I shared some Random, Granular Tips for Bloggers that were meant to help bloggers grow in their craft. Today I am offering an additional list of tips that I hope will accomplish the same goal.

Don’t botch the opening lines. The first line or two of any article are the most important because they are the ones that will determine whether people will continue to read or just go on to the next piece of content begging for their attention. A common but ineffective way to begin an article is with something like, “This is part two of a series on…” or “in the last part of this series I covered…” Not only are those uninteresting sentences, but they immediately tell readers that unless they have already read the previous articles, they won’t get much from this one. It is far better to begin with words that stand well on their own and will draw in new readers. After you’ve got them interested you can remind them of the previous articles. (Like in a sermon—first give a great introduction, and then remind people where you’re at in the series.)
Don’t botch your title. In a similar vein, make sure your title is strong—not clickbait or misleading, but also not drab and ineffective. One way you can go wrong is to put something like “Part One” or “Part Two” in your title. There is nothing wrong with writing a multi-part series, but by advertising it as such you may drive off people who haven’t read previous entries or who may not want to read the first part of a series when they don’t know when or if they will read the follow-ups. Make the article strong enough to stand on its own and let people know it is a series after you’ve proven that it will be worth their while to invest the time and effort in reading it. (Further to this, remember when you write a series to go back to earlier entries to add some way to navigate from one to the next. Also, remember that you can change titles later on to add “Part One,” etc.)
Consider not using the words “Book Review” in your title. I have covered this one before, but want to circle back to it. I suppose it relates to what I have already covered, but I will say it nonetheless. In general, I recommend avoiding explicitly titling an article as a book review. There are exceptions, of course, if the book is very well-known and the kind people are already interested in or if you are writing for a more academic audience. But as I explained previously, in most cases, a headline that beings with “Book Review:” is not going to make much of an impact. Consider, for example, two options for Tara Isabella Burton’s look at the rise of the “Nones” and how they are creating and adopting new forms of spirituality. The first might be “Book Review: Strange Rites” and the second, using the book’s subtitle, “New Religions for a Godless World.” I rather suspect the second option will prove more effective. (A book’s subtitle often makes a great title for the review since where a title is often clever, a subtitle is usually far more descriptive.)
Make sure readers can subscribe via email. Though many bloggers use RSS readers to subscribe to blogs, the average reader does not. If they want to be notified of your new material it is likely they will want to do so via email. For this reason it makes sense to have some kind of an email list that will push your new content to subscribers. For smaller lists and less frequent writers you may want to do this manually; for larger lists and more frequent writers you may want to automate this. Services like Feedblitz will do this for you.
Understand the medium. Blogs are (generally) not an academic medium. Neither are they formally published books. While you should obviously never plagiarize, neither does it make the most of the medium to cite sources as if you have written a term paper. The better approach may be to relate to sources in a similar way as a sermon, explicitly mentioning when you are directly quoting another person or leaning substantially on their work. But otherwise I think the medium permits a more casual relationship to citations, perhaps by simply noting who you have drawn from or been inspired by at the end of your article. In most cases, it is unnecessarily distracting to fill an article with this [1] kind [2] of [3] citation. For good or ill, most blogging platforms just haven’t developed good ways of creating helpful citations.
Make the ordered list your last resort rather than your default. I sometimes joke that there’s no problem a blogger can’t solve with 5 numbered points (and no problem he/she can solve without). The point is that the ordered list (or listicle) has long been a mainstay of blogging. Yet, in my view, it is rarely the best way to communicate. Listicles were created to be shareable, not to be helpful or edifying. So though there really are times to use them, there are often superior ways to package up your ideas. This is especially true when dealing with difficult, emotional, or controversial topics. So make that format your last resort rather than your default. You’ll become a better writer for it.
Mix content creation and curation. Most bloggers set out to create content. Well and good. But there is also a lot of value in curating content—pointing people to articles, videos, podcasts and so on that exist on other sites. While I’m sure there is a “business case” to be made for this, the best reason is simply to recognize and honor others for their hard work. Learn to spread your focus from just your site to others.
And finally, let me loop back to a key tip I shared last time: Ignore most of the “rules” for blogging. There are lots of sites (and even books) about how to start a successful blog and how to gain a large audience. But what you need to keep in mind is that most of these resources will teach you how to create a blog that primarily benefits you. They will teach you the rules that will gain an audience but not necessarily benefit that audience. They’ll teach you to create material that is viral but not necessarily edifying. As Christians, our main concern should always be loving others and doing what is beneficial to them. You may find the best way to do this is to toss many of the “rules.”

A La Carte (February 8)

The Lord be with you and bless you today.

Westminster Books has a deal this week on a new edition of a true classic.
Today’s Kindle deals include a few interesting titles.
The Importance of Theological Pairs
This is a really interesting look at theological pairs in the Shorter Catechism.”Many disagreements in theological matters come from only holding to one of two complimentary theological truths. When we grasp both we’ll be able to refute theological error and minister more effectively to others with theological precision and care.”
Marxism’s Long Shadow
This is the second part of a two-part article on Marxism.
Love Is Not a Finite Resource?
“Linguistic tricks are often used to smuggle in destructive ideas.” Indeed. Here’s a new one.
Travel Photographer of the Year Ltd.
There are some lovely photographs on display in the Travel Photographer of the Year awards.
What Things?
“There are moments in scripture that are easy to miss, but they are deeply profound if we take the time to consider them. One of those moments happens on the road to Emmaus. Jesus speaks two words in light of the context that reveals a world of encouragement.”
Preachers Should Measure Twice and Cut Once
Erik Raymond: “Measure twice and cut once. For generations, the veteran builder has spoken these words over a sawhorse to their younger apprentice. Because as the saying goes, when you spend extra time being precise on your measurement, you won’t waste time (and wood) by repeating it over again. What’s true in the wood shop is also true in the study. The preacher must measure twice and cut once when preparing to make an argument.”
Flashback: Pornographic Detachment
Pornography makes sex about self—about personal pleasure and personal satisfaction that has no reference to the pleasure or satisfaction of another person.

Good hospitality is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. —Kevin DeYoung

Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation

This week the blog is sponsored by The Gospel Coalition. Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation is the story of the people, the books, the lectures, and ultimately the God who formed and shaped the life of Timothy Keller. With access to Keller’s personal notes and sermons—as well as interviews with family members and longtime friends—Collin Hansen offers a deeper understanding of one of the 21st century’s most influential church leaders. Visit www.timothykellerbook.com to purchase the book and access bonus content, including lectures, sermons, timelines, photos, and interviews.

If you woke Tim Keller in the middle of the night and asked him to quote any author because his life depended on it, he’d pick C. S. Lewis. 
“It would be wrong not to admit how much of what I think about faith comes from him,” Keller wrote in The Reason for God. 
His other primary influence, Jonathan Edwards, didn’t have the same gift for pithy insight. But no one outside Scripture contributed as much to Keller’s overarching theological framework as Edwards.
Keller coined the term “ecclesial revivalism” for how he tries to bring the spiritual dynamics of renewal inside the church. It’s a term that also applies to Edwards. Both sought to combine cutting-edge apologetics with pastoral ministry while preaching for changed hearts. 
Keller openly admits how much he borrows from others, whether Lewis or Edwards or anyone else. Grounded in the gospel, Keller branches out for insight wherever he can find it. He’ll grab from John Stott’s preaching over here and Abraham Kuyper’s worldview over there. He’ll reach for new urbanism from Jane Jacobs and existentialist philosophy from Søren Kierkegaard. Leading up to 1989, when he planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Keller assembled building blocks from Jack Miller and R. C. Sproul, Elisabeth Elliot and Barbara Boyd, Richard Lovelace and Harvie Conn, not to mention little-known pastors such as Kennedy Smartt.  They helped convince him Redeemer could have it all: small groups with vocational training with evangelistic preaching with mercy ministry. The church could be intellectual but also pious, Reformed but not sectarian. 
In a 2014 conversation with Don Carson and John Piper for The Gospel Coalition, Keller explained why it’s important to draw on multiple influences:
I would say if you don’t appreciate any of the Puritan writers, you’re missing out. There are some tremendous Puritan writers. But I also know people who only seem to care about the Puritans. They went into the Puritan forest, and they’ve never come out. It’s the only thing they read. And when they speak, and when they preach, they start, “Methinks.” I think the fact that you (Piper) and I have really learned so much both from C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards, two people who almost certainly would not have gotten along, they’re so different, I think that has corrected me at a number of places where I get too much into one guy the other guy comes in and reminds me, “No, he’s not the only way.” It’s almost like if you cut a person, a good minister for example, like a tree, there should be a lot of rings.
Having one role model would be derivative. Having 100 means you’ve drunk deeply by scouring the world for the best wells. Keller himself has now become a role model to many church leaders. But future generations will honor Keller better by reading his library than by only reading the books he wrote. How ironic if the pastor who gathered from such varied tributaries became a solitary river flowing down the years. 

A La Carte (February 7)

Blessings to you today, my friends.

(Yesterday on the blog: Tell Your Anxieties To Ask Permission)
Shepherds Feed the Sheep
Jared Wilson: “Many of these churches – philosophically – operate more like parachurches. And the result is this: it is the sheep, the very lambs of God, who basically become the outsiders. And so you will have leading practitioners of these churches saying things to believers like, ‘Church isn’t for you.’ For example…”
Unshockable Parenting
“What will you do when your 17-year-old tells you that his girlfriend, the one you counseled him not to date because she is not a Christian, is pregnant? How will you react when you find out from another parent that for the past six months, your daughter has been going by a different name and using the boys’ restroom at her middle school? What will be going through your head when your teen proudly displays her new tattoo or eyebrow piercing at church?”
Do Humans Have Free Will? The Answer (Of Course) Is: It Depends!
Justin Taylor answers a good question. And, like so many questions, it really depends on what you’re actually asking.
The Devil is Blinding You to Glory
“Have you ever felt cold towards the gospel? Have you heard that Christ died for your sins and was raised from the dead and just felt blah. If that is you, because I know it has been me at times, then I want to alert you to something. This is more than just unfortunate; this is war. And this coldness to Christ is a direct attack from the enemy.”
Is Every Occasion an Occasion for Mom Guilt?
Sometimes it seems like every occasion can be an occasion for a mom to feel guilt, doesn’t it?
The Most Important Paragraph in Human History
Andy Naselli does a good job expositions what he calls the most important paragraph in human history.
Flashback: It Takes Two
Gossip is not only a sin of the mouth, but also a sin of the ears. It takes two: the one who speaks and the one who listens…It’s as sinful to hear it without protest as to speak it without apology.

The further you go in obedience, the more you see of God’s plan. God doesn’t often tell us the end from the beginning. He prefers to lead us on step-by-step in dependence upon Him. —Iain Duguid

Tell Your Anxieties To Ask Permission

I might have thought that the long, steady march of sanctification would mean I’d only see progress against sins, struggles, and temptations. But I am learning that there may be some areas where I actually experience a kind of regress. One of these is anxiety, for the older I get, the more I find myself prone to it. I dare say I may struggle with worry more now than I have at any other time in life.

What’s especially frustrating and disheartening is that much of what I worry about and much of what keeps me up at night is minor and inconsequential. One night last week I laid awake for hours fretting about what pants to wear for an occasion that’s coming up. Another night I tossed and turned endlessly as my mind raced about a minor decision I’ll need to make six months from now. There are some big things too, of course. But so many small things. And together they highlight just how weak I really am.
I guess I should’t be surprised. I’ve often studied Ecclesiastes and especially chapter 12. I’ve often expressed my view that this chapter contains a kind of universal biography that describes each one of us. Through the metaphor of a broken-down house it describes the decline and decay of the aging human body and mind. In the Preacher’s poetic words we see the eyes growing dim and the ears losing their ability to hear, the hands beginning to tremble and the legs becoming increasingly unsteady. And then this: “one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way.” That seems to speak to fears and anxieties that plague the mind and interrupt a good night’s sleep.
Now I’m not saying that the author of Ecclesiastes had someone in mind who was merely in his late forties as I am. But I am saying that he was sketching out a realistic perspective on aging and indicating that we are all on the trajectory toward it. And just as it is natural to have the aging body be afflicted with physical weakness, it is natural to have the aging mind be afflicted with emotional weakness. Just as you should count on losing some teeth (“the grinders cease because they are few”), you should count on losing some resilience. Just as you should count on your hair going white (“the almond tree blossoms”), you should count on your confidence getting weak. Life will beat you down in body and mind and leave you not only weak, but facing new struggles, new trials, new temptations.
So what are we to do? What am I to do when my mind is racing, when my heart is troubled, when another night is quickly slipping away? There are many strategies for coping with anxiety and each can be effective in its own way. But I am partial to one I came across in a dusty old book from a different era. Anxiety, after all, has plagued every generation of Christians.
Charles Ebert Orr has counseled me to speak to my anxieties and tell them that if they are going to take up residence in my heart and mind, they are going to need to first secure permission from the owner of my heart and mind. In other words, if those worries want to trouble me, they’ll need to get the nod from Jesus. It’s simple counsel but clever, and effective, and true.
Have you given your heart to the Lord? Have you given him ownership of your body and mind and all that you are? Then anxieties have no right to take up residence unless the Lord grants them permission to share what is rightly his. Sinful humans were barred from the Garden of Eden and gentiles from the temple of Jerusalem because these were the places God had chosen to dwell. Today he dwells within his people and he is no more willing to share his dwelling now than he was then. And certainly he is not eager to share it with worry, anxiety, fretfulness, fear.
What we need to both understand and practice is an active resistance to anxiety—an active resistance that will compel us to cast our cares upon the Lord. It is not enough for a fisherman to stand passively with a hook in his hand. It will do him no good to stand on his boat and pray, “God, please put a fish on my hook.” He must cast it into the water if he is to catch a fish. And it is not enough for us to lie passively in the dark wishing that God will take our anxieties from us. It may not be enough even to pray, “God, please take them.” We are told to cast them upon him. And we can do this by speaking to our anxieties and telling them they are welcome to stay only if the owner grants them permission. For in speaking to them, we are really speaking to ourselves, we are really reminding ourselves that we have been surrendered to the Lord who rules and reigns, the Lord who grants peace and rest, the Lord who surveys every square inch of his people and declares “Mine!”

A La Carte (February 6)

Good morning. Grace and peace to you.

(Yesterday on the blog: A Prayer for Times of Controversy)
What Are Theologians For? The Case of Karl Barth’s Adultery
“‘It’s a shame he was an adulterous and unfaithful husband, but he sure was a great theologian and a gift to the church.’ Is this sentence intelligible? Might it be regarded as capturing the complex reality of indwelling and ongoing sin for theologians, or is it simply oxymoronic?”
The most precious and painful thing I will ever write
It is so encouraging and challenging to read an obituary of a very good life.
‘He Gets Us’ Super Bowl Ads Part of Billion-Dollar Campaign
What’s the “He Gets Us” campaign all about? And who’s funding it? CT explains.
An Open Letter to the Prayerless Church
Paul Miller: “In our prayer seminar, we ask several confidential questions about a participant’s prayer life. After doing hundreds of seminars, we have found that about 85% of Christians in a typical church do not have much of a prayer life. Praying communities are, perhaps, even more rare.”
What is Good (and Bad) about Transparency
“The rise of reality TV and then social media has radically increased transparency. Team Transparency has rallied around #nofilter selfies and sharing even the frustrating and discouraging parts of life. Team Self-Respect has rallied around calls for decency and the need for some last bastion of privacy.”
Scarcity and the Goodness of God
“Once we grab a taste of joy and pleasure we’re tempted to cram ourselves full– whether through TV binges or social media dopamine hits. We’re stuffed, yet completely dissatisfied, because deep down we still wonder when we’ll get it again. Yet those of us who belong to Christ don’t have to live in such a way. We can shift our minds to what’s true: Abundant goodness remains accessible at any time to us through our Lord.”
Flashback: As if God Had Ever Made an Atlantic Wide Enough…
In this short but sweet quote, Theodore Cuyler reflects on what we need most in our times of affliction.

We should not run aimlessly or halfheartedly, as though we signed up just to get a T-shirt, but as runners who look to receive the “well done” from our Lord and Master. —Alistair Begg

A Prayer for Times of Controversy

For as long as there has been truth, there has been division over the truth—over what is consistent with God’s revelation and what is aberrant, over what pleases him and what grieves his heart. Richard Baxter was no stranger to this reality and, aware of his own sinfulness, penned a prayer meant to plead God’s help in times of controversy.

Lord God, when controversies occasion division among your people, may I look first to the interest of the common good and to the exercise of charity.
May I not become a passionate contender for any party or censure the peaceable.
May I not overreach my understanding or try to win esteem for my orthodoxy or zeal.
May I suspect my own unripe evaluation and silence my opinions until I am clear and certain.
May I join the moderates and the peacemakers rather than the contenders and dividers.
For division leads to the ruin of the church, the hindrance of the gospel and injury to the interests of true religion.
Keep me, I pray, from being misguided; from being carried away by passion or discontent; from worldly interests; from thinking too highly of my own opinion.
May my zeal be more for faith, charity and unity than for my opinions.

(Drawn from Into His Presence)

Weekend A La Carte (February 4)

My gratitude goes to Boyce College for sponsoring the blog this week to tell you (and the young folk in your home) about their upcoming D3 Winter Conference.

Westminster Books has launched a new season of their interview series and they interviewed me on Seasons of Sorrow.
There are, indeed, some new Kindle deals today.
(Yesterday on the blog: Into the Light)
Do Affections Provide Assurance?
Erik Raymond: “Where do you look for assurance of salvation? Or, to put it another way, what causes you to question your assurance?”
Surviving the Winter of Suffering
Lara writes transparently here: “During a blizzard of suffering, I drew the blinds down in my heart. I pulled inward so I could survive. I eked out a small corner for myself and gave the bare minimum to the world. I didn’t know any other way forward. I met the needs of my family, I checked off the homekeeping list, and then I crawled back into the darkness.”
What was God doing before creation? (Video)
Michael Reeves answers here, though if you’ve read Delighting in the Trinity you already know the answer.
Be of Good Cheer, Your Seasons Are In God’s Hands
“More than ever before, I’m recognizing how the external, visible things we present to the world have their own hidden life cycles. When we see the perfectly executed cheer routine, the long-awaited novel hit the shelves, or the new business launched, that’s harvest day. It’s that moment we’ve dreamed of and longed for, but it’s only a fraction of the process. It took months of planting, watering, and tending to make harvest day possible.”
Productive Christians: Worth Imitating
“Last week in Romania a 2000 year old, fully intact, Roman road was discovered. It was well-built and intact. Many Roman era roads are still used today. This road was built in 106AD. For generations, Roman road engineering was passed down from one builder to another. Imitation provided longevity in the passing down of this skill.”
Why should I Forgive?
Guy Richard is beginning a series on forgiveness. The first entry is already helpful.
Flashback: The Only Tears In Heaven
What greater promise do we have than this, that in a moment God will comfort all sorrow, that his tender hand will wipe away not just some tears, but every tear?

Our rejection of God left our world in chaos. Because God alone possesses infinite glory and goodness, our lives only work with him at the center. —J.D. Greear

Free Stuff Fridays (Boyce College)

Parents of teens are always on the lookout for discipleship material. Today, you are invited to enter the Boyce College/D3 Giveaway to win those resources for free! That includes free tuition for a Boyce College dual credit course valued at over $1,200! 

Whether you are a pastor or a parent of teens, you are always on the lookout for ways to grow your student’s faith. Enter to win resources to help accomplish your goals through the Boyce College/D3 Winter Conference Giveaway.  Here are some of the items Boyce College and D3 are making available to our contest winners:

Student Discipleship Resource Bundle*
Boyce College dual credit course (3 credit hours) online or on-campus ($,1200 value) plus these books:

God and the Transgender Debate, by Andrew Walker
Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations, by Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright
How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison
This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, by Jaquelle Crowe
NASB Grace & Truth Study Bible

Pastor Resource Bundle*:
D3 swag includes a personalized ¼ zip pullover, plus these titles:

God and the Transgender Debate, by Andrew Walker
Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney
Deep Discipleship, by J.T. English
50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith, by Gregg Allison
NASB Grace & Truth Study Bible

*Winners will be drawn randomly and notified by email from Boyce College
ENTER TO WIN

Into the Light

It was a long time ago now that I wrote a book on pornography. And in a way it was a very different time. Back then the problem was just as pervasive as it is today, but that pervasiveness was still quite new and poorly understood. There were relatively few resources meant to help those who had fallen into troubling or even addictive patterns. Porn was still assumed to be solely a temptation for guys.

Today, though, no one can dispute the nearly universal reach of pornography—a reach so great that few young adults can truly claim they have been untouched by it. Today we know that while men may still be more likely to turn to porn casually or compulsively, many women do as well. And today we have a host of great tools meant to help people who are caught up in it and who long to be free.
Shortly after I wrote my book on the topic I realized that I had created a bit of a media mismatch. Where most people encounter porn in video format, books are in print. And where porn can be delivered freely, privately, and discreetly, books have to be purchased and carried around. In response I began to map out a video project that would address porn through a series of videos that could be accessed as early and discreetly as the smut it was meant to combat. Unfortunately I was unable to afford to create this myself and unable to secure funding, so the project fell by the wayside.
But if I had been able to make that series, it might have been similar to a new “teaching documentary” titled Into the Light which is now available to watch free online. The documentary had its genesis with two young men who made four simple observations: “There are pervasive sins that affect every Christian in the local church (like pornography); Books can equip Christians to fight sin and care for each other; However, not everyone is a reader; Therefore we need video resources to equip and inspire Christians.” Fair enough! So they set out to create that video resource, and I’m pleased to say they succeeded well.
The format of Into the Light is simple and effective. It is framed around six teaching sessions from six different teachers, all of whom have some expertise on the topic: Jeremy Pierre, Jenny Solomon, Heath Lambert, Deepak Reju, Ellen Dykas, and Garrett Kell. Pierre begins by discussing the nature of sexual sin and its consequences and Solomon follows by explaining God’s good design for our sexuality. Heath Lambert tells of the heart and how it is corrupted by pornography while Reju describes the necessity of taking radical measures to battle it. Ellen Dykas’ assignment is to tell how to run with endurance. Garrett Kell speaks last and enters a passionate plea to pursue freedom from this sin within the context of the local church. Woven throughout is the story of one young couple (a composite of many others) who tell of the history they brought into their marriage and the means through which God confronted, forgave, and healed them. At the end pastor Daniel Shin brings a final challenge and call to action.
I have been aware of Into the Light for some time now and had been slated to appear in it until we encountered some scheduling conflicts. I know the young men behind it as students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and recipients of the Nick Challies Memorial Scholarship. They have made a professional-quality documentary that I think can and will prove helpful to those who are engaged in the battle against porn. It is a gift to the church and one I’d encourage you to make use of.

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