Today we are happy to bring you a virtual interview with pastor, author, and blogger extraordinaire —Tim Challies. Tim serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of 5 books, and he is a book reviewer for World Magazine. He blogs about books, faith, theology, and culture at Challies.com.
Redeemed Reader: You’ve written a good deal about church history on your website over the past years. What sparked your interest?
Tim: It was probably my parents. Both of my parents had a deep interest in history and from my youngest days I was taught that I could only understand the present in light of the past. Not only that, but I was taught that I could really only understand the church and its theology if I understood church history. So from early on I was taught church history, I was given access to biographies of important figures, and so on. I developed a deep interest in history and went on to study it both formally (in high school and university) and informally (through my own reading and research). I find history utterly captivating and fascinating.
RR: Absolutely! But history can seem old and stuffy to some people. Why is church history important today?
Tim: I will give three reasons:
1) I would agree with my parents that we can’t understand who we are today apart from knowing our history. It is easy to think that Christians always believed exactly what we believe today or to think that Christians have always practiced their faith exactly like we do today. History shows that is a myth. In fact, the Christian faith took a long time to develop to where it is today which shows us that we probably haven’t yet arrived at complete and inerrant truth in our faith and practice.
2) It’s also easy to believe that the problems we face today are unique, but history shows us that most of today’s issues are identical (or at least closely related to) issues the church has faced in the past. We are anchored by our history. It is a joy to be able to answer modern-day challenges by simply looking to what Christian leaders wrote one hundred or one thousand years ago. As the French say, the more things change the more they really just stay the same.
3) History shows us that our heroes were all flawed in one way or another. We tend to lionize the heroes of church history and to present them as men or women who were full of strengths and devoid of weaknesses. But a knowledge of history shows that the best of men are but men at their best. We don’t need to tear down our heroes, but it is strangely encouraging to learn that they, too, were flawed and stained by sin.
RR: It is definitely encouraging to learn that our heroes were real people with real struggles just like us! I love that point. What, do you think, are some of your favorite church history tidbits or stories?
Tim: A few years ago I made up a little series of articles I called The History of Christianity in 25 Objects. Through the series I wanted to tell the history of the church, in its ups and downs, by pointing to some strange, unusual, and fascinating objects. Some of my favorites to discover and research were William Carey’s couch which is just sitting in a corner of a library, The Works of William Perkins (which are safely housed in a special room in Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), and the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 which is the oldest New Testament manuscript ever discovered. Some day I’d like to tour the world to actually visit each of these artifacts
RR: A couch tucked away in a library —I want to find out more! Since you obviously cherish church history, how do you, the Challies family, learn about church history together?
Tim: We don’t as much as I would like. Aileen and I make resources available to our children and recommend short histories or biographies they may enjoy. We talk about what we have learned in our own reading. But we do not do a whole lot more than that.
That said, as the children are growing older we are taking a more active interest in teaching them history and finding interesting new ways to do so. I am beginning to take the children with me as I travel and this is leading us to key locations. Recently my son traveled with me to England where we visited John Bunyan’s home and John Newton’s church. Next year we hope to visit Scotland as a family where we will see Knox’s church and grave and see where so many Protestant martyrs were laid to rest. As a family we are finding great joy in sharing experiences together—even experiences that have a historical component like these ones.
RR: I love the way you weave travel and history together. My family also loved to talk about what we had learned in our own reading. Speaking of reading —what are some reading recommendations on church history for kids and/or teens and/or adults?
Tim: We have been well served here and have a lot of excellent resources we can turn to.
For adults, I recommend 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nicholas Needham as a sound, conservative church history. It’s up to 4 volumes now, so is not for the faint of heart! Adults may also want to consider Robert Godfrey’s excellent teaching series for Ligonier Ministries. In 70 20-minute lectures he covers the entire history of the church from Acts to the present day.
For children and teens I recommend the excellent Trailblazers series by Christian Focus,** a long series of short biographies perfect for younger readers. Along with them, pick up some of Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young Readers.** They are every bit as good.
RR: Thank you so much for the recommendations, and for taking time to chat about church history!
*photo taken from Twitter
This interview is part of our Church History October series–check it out!