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On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.”

Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days!

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call!

Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend!

Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r.

To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore!

My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were:

God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king!

The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes:

"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness.

Drama, Movie Reviews

Tortured for Christ

Historical drama 77 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Tortured for Christ is a must-see film about Richard Wurmbrand’s courageous and faithful stand against the Soviets when they took over Romania. Shortly after the Soviet Union moved in, the new rulers invited all of Romania’s most prominent religious leaders to attend a “conference of the cults.” At this conference – broadcast over the radio – these leaders were supposed to, one after another, talk about how respectful to religion the new rulers would be. Except it is a lie. And all the religious leaders know it. But the people don’t. And none of the religious leaders have the courage to tell them. In the auditorium audience sits Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his wife. As they listen Wurmbrand turns to his wife: “If I speak now, you will have no husband" His wife’s reply? "I don't need a coward for a husband." Woah! So up he goes to the podium, he has his say before the mike is taken away, and he makes himself a stench in the nostrils of the authorities. Wurmbrand is eventually arrested, and then imprisoned and tortured for 14 years for his absolute refusal to deny his love for his Lord. For a time the torture happened every day, as Wurmbrand would be beaten for doing his nightly devotions. In one scene the guard asks him what he could possibly be praying to God for: he was in prison, his wife was too, and his children were basically orphans. So why, the guard wanted to know, was Wurmbrand still praying? "I am praying for you," Wurmbrand tells him. He wanted the guard who beat him every night to know the love of his Lord. While the torture scenes are muted, this is not family viewing. But it is a film I wish that everyone 16 and up would go and see. The trust that Wurmbrand has in his God, and the way that the Lord equipped him is so very beautiful and encouraging to see. It can be rented online at this link and you can watch the trailer below. Americans can also find it on Amazon Prime here.

Soup and Buns

Should Introverts be expected to act like Extroverts?

“You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.” This quotation from a tongue-in-cheek article by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic Monthly summed up his premise that Extroverts do not understand or fully appreciate Introverts. Although I knew that I was an Extrovert, I found the actual definitions a bit surprising. Tiring… or energizing? Introverts are people who “find other people tiring,” who need to re-charge after a certain amount of socializing. They mull things over inside their brains and then talk about them. Being alone with their thoughts is as “restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” One suggested motto for them is, “I’m okay, you’re okay – in small doses.” Rauch’s own formula is that he needs “two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” A Google search estimates that about 25% of people are truly Introverts, but in the “gifted” community they are a majority. Extroverts are “energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone.” They figure things out by discussing them with other people, and think by talking. They tend to dominate social settings with their “endless appetite for talk and attention.” Understanding is a one-way street Society in general views Extrovert behavior as more desirable, and this can sometimes be taken to a fault when Introvert behavior is criticized or not appreciated for its strengths. For instance, an Extrovert might be described as outgoing, happy, bighearted, vibrant, warm, and as a confident leader who is “a real people person.” Introverts are often described as loners, reserved, guarded, and taciturn (inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation). It is as though an individual’s worth is determined only by their observable interactions in a group. Rauch suggests that Introverts more often understand Extroverts because the latter put all of their thoughts and feelings out on the table. His concern as an Introvert, is that:

Extroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through…. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion.”

I wonder if any other Extroverts find themselves cringing and remembering times when they too felt offended because someone didn’t want their company. Other differences Extroverts tend to think that a lull in conversation is a bad thing, and they can feed off of small talk or deep conversation and enjoy large groups. Introverts need more time to think through what they will say and tend to dislike small talk while enjoying more meaningful discussion, especially in a more private setting. Extroverts feel a need to “draw out” the Introverts and get them to participate, because to them participation is essential. Since they cannot imagine that a person might enjoy sitting quietly off to the side, they take on the role of encourager. Unfortunately, it often comes across to the Introvert as controller instead. Smiley face :) Expectations exist regarding facial expressions too. Smiles are expected as part of good manners, so we give them whether we feel like it or not. Often if a person’s face goes to its default serious expression, people jump to the conclusion that he is upset or depressed, whereas he might just be pondering a weighty subject or listening to conversations around him. Rauch suggests that Introverts may be less smiley, but not necessarily less joyful. The differences are something to be considered in regards to church and family activities. As one Introvert explained to me, “At Ladies’ Bible Study, I often start formulating an answer to a question, but by the time I figure out what I want to say they have all gone on to a new subject or maybe even several subjects, so I rarely get to say anything.” Perhaps this is why some people feel more at home studying the Bible and praying with only a few friends. I wonder if our quick-sound-bite culture has lured us away from valuing long pauses with time to reflect? I’ve read that in some Japanese company meetings, they present the information and then sit in silence for a long time while everyone just thinks. What an Introverted thing to do! My friend went on to say, “The same thing happens when our entire family is together.” Some family members would prefer more two-on-two social activities and fewer or less lengthy whole group situations. It is possible to consider both the Extrovert’s and the Introvert’s preferences. Conclusion God tells us to love one another, and the more we understand one another, the more we will know how to keep this commandment. We may have lived our entire life thus far “not knowing what we didn’t know.” But now, we know.

This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact sharoncopy@gmail.com.

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Devilish correspondence: Lord Foulgrin’s and Screwtape’s letters

[caption id="attachment_9108" align="alignright" width="300"] THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS200 pages / 1942by C. S. Lewis &LORD FOULGRIN'S LETTERS208 pages / 2001by Randy Alcorn[/caption] Some 75 years ago, as C. S. Lewis reports it, he intercepted correspondence between two devils, the one a senior demon and the other his student being taught how best to tempt and attack Man. While Lewis refused to share how he’d come by these letters, the published correspondence was eye-opening, giving insight into how the Devil can twist not only our weaknesses, but even our strengths, to his devilish ends. So, for example, we get to listen in as the experienced tempter Screwtape teaches his charge, Wormwood to sidetrack prayer, either by making it perfunctory – perhaps done regularly, but with little to no thought – or by making it feelings, rather than God, focused. Either diversion will do. While Lewis wrote (or discovered) The Screwtape Letters during World War II, it remains as insightful and as helpful as ever. But it was also a book worthy of imitation, and nearly 60 years later Randy Alcorn did just that, with his Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. However, while Lewis stuck strictly to devilish correspondence, Alcorn alternates between letters and story chapters – it is half mail, and half narrative. The narrative sections make Alcorn’s book a little more accessible for a teen audience, while, on the other hand, Lewis’ is the more insightful, which also makes it the most satisfying of the two for adults. But both are excellent. One caution: both books have an Arminian flavor, and, as my brother Jeff points out, “whether this Arminian tendency is simply the devil’s mistaken understanding is not clear, but Lewis at least seemed to be Arminian in his other writing.” That means, while both books can serve as a warning of the devil’s many means of attack, there’s at least a few that Lewis and Alcorn overlook. I understand that some might find the devilish focus of both books disturbing. It might seem wrong since Christians don’t normally want their children reading books about demons. What makes Alcorn’s and Lewis’ books different from the devilish taint that exists in so much of today’s entertainment (Hellboy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, DC Legends of Tomorrow, etc.) is that Lewis and Alcorn expose, but don’t celebrate, the darkness. They are equipping readers to be aware of the Devil, not asking them to join him. That’s quite the difference indeed.

Below is a 8 minute adaptation/preview of Lewis's "The Screwtape letters."


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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

2 to help us understand the Muslim holy book

WHAT EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT THE QUR'AN by James R. White 311 pages / 2013 More than ever, Christians need to be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by Islam.  We often live beside Muslims, work alongside them, and study with them.  It’s good to have helpful resources to inform our conversations with our Muslim neighbors.  Though it is now a couple of years old already, James White’s book on the Muslim sacred text is one of those valuable helps. White is the author of numerous non-fiction books.  He’s well-known as an author, speaker, and debater.  He is an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an organization with a focus on apologetics (done in a Reformed, presuppositional manner). Rather than summarize everything in this book, let me just highlight two points which stood out for me. Qur-an’s caricature of the Trinity shows it isn’t perfect One has to do with what the Qur’an says about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  In chapter 4, White points out that the Qur’an says Christians believe the Trinity to consist of Allah, Jesus, and Mary. Christians are alleged to believe that Allah and Mary had relations to produce Jesus.  This is important because: Everyone affected would affirm that by the early decades of the seventh century, God Himself would have a perfect knowledge of what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says. And if that doctrine does not accurately represent His own self-revelation, He would be in the perfect position to refute its falsehoods with devastating precision.  But is this what we find in the Qur’an? The Qur’an doesn’t get the Trinity right, and so the Qur’an can’t be taken seriously as a revelation from God. Qur’an’s claim about itself is patently false In chapter 11, White has a penetrating discussion about the text of the Qur’an.  Muslims claim that it is a perfect, immutable text. Of course, that’s contrasted with the text of the Bible which, they allege, has been mutilated by Jews and Christians.  White gives a couple of examples from Muslim writers. This is one of them: Muslims and non-Muslims both agree that no change has ever occurred in the text of the Qur’an. The above prophecy [Surah 15:9] for the eternal preservation and purity of the Qur’an came true not only for the text of the Qur’an, but also for the most minute details of its punctuation marks as well…It is a miracle of the Qur’an that no change has occurred in a single word, a single [letter of the] the alphabet, a single punctuation mark, or a single diacritical mark in the text of the Qur’an during the last fourteen centuries. White demonstrates that this claim is patently false. He notes that “even widely published editions of the Qur’an contain information indicating variations in the very text.”  He cites Yusuf Ali’s edition with its note on Surah 33:6.  In The Hidden Origins of Islam (ed. by Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R. Puin), there is an essay by Alba Fedeli on variant readings in early Qur’anic manuscripts.  It is simply not true that there is a single immaculate Qur’an text preserved from the time of Muhammad. Conclusion One question I wish White would have addressed is whether these claims are made in ignorance or deliberately to deceive.  There is a doctrine in Islam known as al-Taqqiya.  This teaching says it is permissible to lie in order to advance the cause of Islam.  This is one of the things making Islam such a threat to western civilization in general, and Christianity in particular.  How can you tell when a Muslim is lying about Islam? I would recommend this book to anyone who has regular contact with Muslims.  Be aware though: most, if not all, of the points raised by White in the book have rebuttals by Muslim apologists somewhere online.  The rebuttals are weak, but if you are going to use White’s material in conversations it would be advisable to prepare yourself beforehand for what your Muslim neighbor may bring back in response.

Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com.

*****

UNDERSTANDING THE KORAN by Mateen Elass 193 pages / 2009 If I were to offer a one-sentence review I'd describe this as the most readable and most loving Christian book on Islam I've yet read, and while it isn't a very big book, there is a lot packed in it. The advantage of this “Quick Christian guide to the Muslim Holy Book” is how much it packs into its small size. The author, Mateen Elass, wanted to craft an introduction to the Koran that anyone could pick up and read, and somehow he's managed to make it both easily digestible and 100% solid meat - there's no fluff here. Elass is a Presbyterian pastor who was raised in Saudi Arabia so he knows what he’s talking about it, and can offer a solid, biblically-grounded insight. He outlines how the Koran is a compilation of muddled Bible stories, Gnostic accounts, and Jewish folk tales, and compares and contrasts Christian views on our Bible with Muslim views about the Koran. The only caution I had regards Chapter 6 “Is Allah a False God?” where the author argues that, like the Samaritans in New Testament times (see John 4:22), Muslims worship the real God, but in ignorance. This is a controversial stance – Muslims insist that Allah has no Son – but it becomes less so when the author makes it clear he isn’t arguing for any sort of equivalence between Islam and Christianity or that Muslims can be saved apart from Jesus. Introductions to Islam can generally be divided into those that have nothing but good to say about Islam, and those that have nothing but bad. One strength of this title is that it takes a third approach – the author is Christian, but one knows and loves Muslims, so while he is direct, thorough, and quite devastating in his critique of the Koran, he always remains calm, and never resorts to rhetoric. Understanding the Koran is small and engaging enough to be read in a few evenings, but the depth of material, and the review questions for each chapter, make this one worth reading a second time at a slower more studious pace.

Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com.

Drama, Movie Reviews

Gosnell: the trial of America's biggest serial killer

Drama 2018 / 93 minutes RATING: 8/10 "Are you going to be the first prosecutor in American history to charge an abortion doctor with murder?"

****

There are some great lines in Gosnell. But it was a film I almost didn't watch. I knew it was the true-life story of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist who in 2013 was convicted of killing three babies after they were born. I'd thought it an important story to get out into the public eye, so a few years ago I'd been one of the 30,000 who'd contributed more than $2 million to its Indiegogo campaign. But now, with the DVD in hand, I found myself thinking, "I'm already pro-life so do I really need to sit through a 90-minute film detailing the horrors of abortion?" I'm glad I did, for two reasons. First, the film wasn't the unrelentingly depressing drama I had expected. This felt more like a Law and Order episode, with a mystery that needs solving, and dedicated men and women trying to deliver whatever justice they can. There were some talented people involved in the production, from director Nick Pearcey, who also stars as the defense attorney, to the Daily Wire's Andrew Klaven who had a hand in writing the script. There's no clear star in this ensemble cast, but it might be Dean Cain (Lois and Clark) who is his regular personable self in the role of Detective James Wood, the man who first uncovered what was going on behind the closed doors of Gosnell's clinic. Second, the film is a much better pro-life tool than I ever expected. Gosnell killed thousands so this could have been as hard to watch as Schindler's List (Schindler is in everyone's top 100 list, but has anyone watched it twice?). But by hiding almost all of the gore, and by keeping a quick pace, not lingering in the clinic too long, audiences aren't confronted with the full horror of what Dr. Gosnell did. That makes this a film that can be shared with the undecided; if they can handle network TV, then there's nothing here that'll be too graphic for them. Now, there is a method behind the muted visuals. A gory film would have undecideds walking out or staying away. But the producers didn't intend to pull any punches – they've just been clever enough to lay out their argument in a way that'll be the most likely to reach and sway their intended audience. When Gosnell was being tried, both the prosecutor and the mainstream media emphasized that the case wasn’t about abortion – this was about the murder of already born babies. But in his defense, Gosnell’s attorney shows that what Gosnell did to these babies after birth was not significantly different from what other abortionists were – with the law’s blessing – doing to babies before birth. His reasoning was sound, even if it wasn't enough to get his client off. And seeing an abortion defender make the case that killing an unborn baby differs not a whit from killing a newborn baby is an argument that is sure to hit viewers right between the eyes.

Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com.