Today I interview author and blogger Tim Challies, one of the early pioneers of the Christian blogosphere.
Tim’s blog ranks in the top 5 of all Christian blogs on the Web.
Last year, Challies wrote a book entitled The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
Here’s my interview with Challies:
What motivated you to write The Next Story and what do you hope to accomplish in and among those who read it?
Tim Challies: I suppose the motivation was largely a growing realization that I was not doing a good job of living in a distinctly Christian way in a digital world. The new realities of this world were running me over, so to speak. I knew that life had changed, I knew that I was grappling with new difficulties, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on them. I came to see that a lot had been written about life in a digital world, but very little had been written about it from a distinctly Christian perspective. I began to do the research and a book was born.
For someone who is new to the book, what would you say is the big idea? What’s the main message you are trying to get across?
Tim Challies: The big idea is that there is a distinctly Christian way to think about technology and, therefore, there are distinctly Christian ways to live with virtue in a world like this one. If people can read the book and take away one lesson, that is what I would want them to take away since it gives them a starting point to think well and, on that basis, to live well. Now they can look at issues like truth and authority and time management and information overload and do so from a biblical perspective.
How has the book been received so far? Include positive, negative, and otherwise (apathetic)?
Tim Challies: I haven’t figured out how to read royalty reports (so many numbers in so many columns!), so I honestly have no idea as to how it has sold. My impression, though, is that my generation has understood its importance and have embraced it with some enthusiasm. Older generations have largely skipped it, believing that it is not as relevant to them as to those who are younger. The publisher’s marketing efforts have not been able to convince the older generation to read it, and I think that’s a shame as they have as much to learn as the rest of us.
What do you regard as being the biggest benefits of social media and the biggest dangers or problems?
Tim Challies: I’ve changed my opinion on this question repeatedly as social media has matured, but today I would say that the biggest benefit is the ability to share information about yourself with those who genuinely care. The biggest drawback must be the sheer volume of information we are all sharing. One reality of life in this world is the vast amount of information we are all trying to filter through. Social media adds information that is important and inspiring, to be sure, but it also adds mountains of information that has no real importance. We are rapidly developing filtering techniques, both electronic and mental, that allow us to sort through the information to separate good from bad and necessary from unnecessary. Yet as we advance, so too does the volume of information and the means through which it makes its way into our lives.
Since you blog every day, tell us what an average week looks like in your blogging preparation. Imagine we’re watching you every minute for a week. How do you come up with your ideas and how do you prepare them as posts? Do you have a schedule of sorts, etc. Give us the “goods.”
Tim Challies: If you were to watch me every minute for a week, you’d be very, very bored in very short order, I assure you. My ideas come from everywhere—reading books and articles, listening to sermons and audiobooks, things my children say and things I learn from the members of my church. I tend to jot down ideas as I think of them, usually tapping them into my phone. I let the ideas germinate for a few days, looking at them every now and again, and trying to figure out what I might say about them.
I do most of my writing in the morning and I usually write on the same day I post the article. It’s long been strange to me that some of the articles that are best received are the ones I write very quickly and post immediately. I can sometimes write an article in fifteen minutes that receives a far more positive response than an article I’ll labor over for days or weeks. After all these years, it’s still mysterious to me which articles will gain traction in the blogosphere and beyond.
Many of my readers are advanced bloggers. What tools would you recommend they use to take their blogging to the next level?
Tim Challies: As the blog has gained a following, I’ve had to involve some behind-the-scenes staff. I currently have a comment moderator, a programmer, a designer and an assistant, each of whom is part time, but each of whom is integral to the site’s continual operation. If my readers wonder where the money goes that I earn through advertising, well, now you know! I coordinate these people through Basecamp’s project management software. Beyond that, I don’t really use any advanced tools. I type my posts using Byword for Mac, an ultra-clean word processor, and do all my own Twitter and Facebook updates. I don’t know of any shortcuts that will replace hard work and consistent writing.
Looking back on all the posts you’ve written since you began blogging, what kinds of posts (genre) get the most views? Controversy, theological, weekly highlights, weighing-in on current events, book reviews, etc.?
Tim Challies: I mentioned earlier that the posts that gain traction are still a mystery, which is to say, I still cannot predict what will bang and what will fizzle. Historically, book reviews are the most popular over the long run since they can generate a good bit of traffic even years after publication. Current events, and especially controversial current events, can be a good way of attracting a following, but I do try to avoid controversy as much as possible. That way, when I do write something controversial, it stands out in importance. The A La Carte posts are consistently popular. When I meet readers of the site, I tend to hear from them that they enjoy A La Carte and book reviews above everything else.
I feel the same way about this blog. I’ve cataloged my most popular posts and I can‘t detect any patterns. Instead, I’ve been surprised by some of the posts that have gained the most views and shares. Shifting back to books, what has been the highest or best compliment paid by a reader of your book . . . something that they took away from it?
Tim Challies: Perhaps the greatest encouragement has come from those who have read Sexual Detox and been able, sometimes for the first time, to understand God’s plan for sexuality. Once they understand why God has designed us as sexual beings, they are able to use their sexuality for his glory. As it pertains to The Next Story, the best compliments have come from pastors who have led their congregations through the book, or at least through some of its main ideas.
With respect to blogging, have you ever taken someone’s criticism seriously where it caused you to apologize or change course? If so, would you mind sharing what it was?
Tim Challies: Yes, sadly there have been quite a few occasions where I’ve done that. The most notable recent example was following a review of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/one-thousand-gifts). I wrote a review and soon came to realize that I had forgotten that she was a real person (http://www.challies.com/articles/in-which-i-ask-ann-voskamps-forgiveness).
The nature of online communication had allowed me to dehumanize her. I apologized to Ann. I feel like I need to point out (again) that I maintain certain concerns with her book; it was the manner of what I said more than the content that concerned and shamed me. Ann and I hope to get together in the near future to talk about some of those things.
Thanks for sharing, Tim. Interestingly, I just invited Ann Voskamp to be interviewed on this blog. Blessings.
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