Ten years ago this week I was reading a small book by Hugh Hewitt, In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World, when I stumbled across a sentence that would change the course of my life: “Start and maintain your own Web log (blog).” That night I took Hewitt’s advice and started my own blog, Evangelical Outpost.
Over the course of a decade, blogging has taught me how to write, think, read, and communicate more effectively, and opened a career path to jobs I could have only dreamed about. Almost every aspect of my life—from my education to spiritual development—has changed for the better because of blogging.
But of all the benefits it provided, what I’m most grateful for is the community. For those who have come of age during the era of social media, it’s difficult to understand how lonely and intellectually frustrating the world could be before the Internet. Blogging helped to change that by providing new groups of friends who were interested in discussing books, theology, and the Christian’s place in the world. No matter where you lived or what you did for a living, if you could get online you could join the conversation.
Yet while blogging had started in the late 1990s, there were still relatively few Christian bloggers heading into the new millennium. In his book, Hewitt even lamented that, “At present no great blogger has emerged with a distinctly evangelical worldview.” That began to change, though, in 2003.
Of the hundreds of bloggers who began in 2003 and that have influenced my life, three stand out: Tim Challies, Jared Wilson, and Justin Taylor. Over the years these faithful men became my friends and mentors, providing a model not only for how to be a better blogger but also how to be a better believer.
For this milestone anniversary, I asked each of them four questions about their experience (each of their answer will be presented in a separate article over the next few days). I have to confess, though, that these interviews are mostly an excuse for me to express how important they have been to me (a feeling I suspect many readers share). Today we start with Tim Challies.
One hundred million words. That’s a rough estimate of how many words Tim has read in books since 2003. Tim not only reads more books than an above average reader, he reviews more books in a year on his website, Challies.com, than most people will read in a decade.
For most of us, simply reading all those books would be a sufficient (and exhausting) accomplishment. But Tim is also an uber-productive writer. Along with two books and sermons for his church, he has written something for his blog nearly every day since it started. That in itself would be an amazing feat, but Tim has managed to do it while consistently producing quality work that is Biblically faithful. While I may not have agreed with everything Tim has written, I can’t think of a single time in all these years when he has written anything that was not faithful to God’s Word (something I can’t even say for my own writing).
Consistency, quality, work ethic, and faithfulness are the four traits that have made Tim Challies one of the best bloggers in evangelicalism.
What was your motivation for starting a blog?
Challies.com did not start out as a blog. Rather, I decided to begin a family web site so I could share photos and updates of my children (hence the domain challies.com). Over time I wrote the occasional article and found I enjoyed the writing, so eventually moved the photos elsewhere and kept tapping out articles every now and again. It was in late 2003 that I made the decision to define the site as a blog. To add some discipline to my blogging, I determined I would write something there every day for a year. And then I just kept doing it.
How has blogging changed your life over the past decade?
It has changed my life in just about every way. Writing every day has allowed me to think through a long list of issues, to determine what I believe on them and then to record my thoughts; it has opened up the door to writing books; it was what the Lord used to introduce me to Grace Fellowship Church where I am now a pastor. Even the discipline of it has added a kind of structure to my life—something that is especially important to me because I am a naturally undisciplined person. Truly, I can’t even imagine how my life would look had I never gone ahead and registered that domain on September 25, 2002. That little decision radically changed my life.
One surprising thing it did was give me some opportunities that forced me to come out of a comfortable shell I was living in. As I began, I was a very shy and introverted person who was terrified to stand in front of a crowd. I had some very vague desires to be in ministry, but had not pursued these. But then my writing opened up opportunities to speak and I had to face my fear of public speaking and just learn to do it. I think the decision to stand in front of a crowd and the decision to not be terrified or embarrassed set me on a trajectory that allowed me to (several years later) become a pastor.
What is one lesson you’ve learned from blogging about writing, communicating, etc.?
I learned that I think best when I write. I don’t really know what I believe until I write it down and work it through in my word processor, and in that way writing has been a critical part of my spiritual development. For some reason it took me beginning a blog to figure this out.
How has blogging itself or the blogosphere changed in these ten years?
When blogs began, they were social media. Today they are just one part of a great network of tools that includes Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so many others. So it used to be that bloggers found community one to another, often writing for one another and carefully putting together blogrolls that would be a kind of vote of confidence in the other person. The blogosphere used to be something meaningful, describing a network of relationships. But over time social media replaced many of those things, so it’s almost like each blog stands alone now, but the authors are bound together through Twitter and Facebook.
Another big change is that blogging has become mainstream enough that “blogger” is not quite the pejorative term it used to be. It still does not carry the weight of “author” or “journalist” but it also isn’t an insult.