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Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Seraph’s Path

by Neil Dykstra 2019 / 475 pages Maybe I should have gotten someone else to review this, what with me sharing the same last name as the author. But this is a fantasy title, so I had to take a peek. And once I got started I wasn’t going to hand it off. Besides, the two of us aren’t actually related. I know Neil, but only well enough to recall he is the superior volleyball player, and nowhere near well enough to have had an inkling he could serve up something like this. It’s remarkable! The Seraph’s Path has quite the cast of characters, but it is mostly the story of Dyrk, a young horse trainer who wants to make something of himself, in part, because his parents don’t seem to think about him much at all. Our story begins with Dyrk determined to enter a competition his father won’t even let him watch. Somehow he finagles his way in, and reaches the final round, a free-for-all among 16 mounted soldiers-in-training, with the last man standing guaranteed entry into the King’s own College. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that for every good thing that happens to Dyrk something bad soon follows…and vice versa. The wonder of fantasy fiction is that anything can happen. Young children can open a wardrobe and get transported to a world of talking beasts. Or little fellows with hairy feet can be trusted with a mission that the most powerful could never accomplish. Or a horse trainer can suddenly find himself delivering the mail mounted on a flying tarn. The problem with fantasy fiction is just the same: anything can happen. That means if the author doesn’t have a tight hold on the reins the story can run amuck, and quickly lose all connection with the real world. If you haven’t read much fantasy, you might think a world of dragons, gryphons, and flaming swords couldn’t possibly ring true. But the author has pulled it off. In The Seraph’s Path, Dyrk doesn’t understand the opposite sex, and he’s prone to dig himself deeper via ongoing procrastination, and then he can’t figure out how best to ask for forgiveness. There’s something very real about this made-up world. I was also impressed with how patient the author is and I’ll give one example. In this world, the god Arren is served by seven Seraphs. Dyrk sends his prayers via those angelic servants because he thinks Arren is too holy to approach directly. If that strikes you as Roman Catholic-esque, I’d agree. But isn’t Dyrk our hero? So how can he, via his repeated prayers, be teaching us something so very wrong? Well, a few hundred pages in Dyrk has his first encounter with people who talk to Arren directly. And he doesn’t know what to think about that.  By the end of this book, the issue is still unresolved, but our hero has been given something to think about. Caution I can only think of one caution worth noting. At one point a key character faces sexual temptation, and while the passage is not lurid – there’s nothing here that would make grandma blush – it is sad and realistic enough that pre-teen readers might find it distressing. Conclusion Dykstra has engaged in some downright Tolkien-esque world-building, with not only exotic creatures and nations to discover, but layer upon layer of legend and history shaping the events. If you never made it through The Hobbit, or you haven’t read a fantasy book with a glossary in the back to help you keep track of the characters, then this might be too intense a read for you. But if you want a whole new world to explore, and a story that’ll not only entertain but really get you thinking, you’re going to love The Seraph’s Path. I finished this nearly 500-page tome in 3 days, and the only downside to it was the cliff-hanger ending. So I was very happy to discover that the 700-page sequel, The Seraph’s Calling has just been released. I look forward to finding out what happens next!

You can buy both books at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: an instructive, inspiring, downright intimidating look at Christian hospitality 

by Rosaria Butterfield 2018 / 240 pages

*****

This is a scary book. I have heard of several people putting it down after only reading a chapter or two of it, feeling overwhelmed by Rosaria Butterfield’s seemingly heroic examples of daily hospitality to her numerous neighbors and friends. As Carl Trueman states in his recommendation, “She sets the bar very high - and there is plenty of room here for disagreement on some of the proposals and details.” But fear not! As Trueman goes on to say, “The basic case, that church is to be a community marked by hospitality, is powerfully presented and persuasively argued.” Think of it this way. One of your friends just memorized the entire book of Ephesians. You think that’s admirable, but it sounds like more than you can handle. Yet, there are some verses in Psalm 4 that you want to memorize because they comfort you, so this reminds you to do it already. Or maybe your cousin enthusiastically tells you he is part of a “Read the Bible in 90 Days” group that really helped him see the connections between Scripture portions and helped him improve his Bible-reading habit. But when you hear he was reading one hour each day, that sounds like more than you can do. Yet, his example encourages you to increase the amount you are currently reading. Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes With a House Key is about using hospitality to spread the gospel. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself and thus spreading God’s love, peace, and salvation to the dying world that is next to you. It is about viewing where you live as the location where God placed you and figuring out how you can, as the saying goes, “bloom where you are planted.” Whose house is it? Hospitality is similar to the Greek word philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger.” The hospitality Rosaria is encouraging is not about inviting your relatives and fellow church members over for coffee or soup and buns on a Sunday, or taking them a casserole at a difficult time. What Butterfield is talking about is what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality.”

Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality (ROH) see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged. They know that the gospel comes with a house key. They take biblical theology seriously, as well as Christian creeds and confessions and traditions…. Engaging in ROH means we provide the time necessary to build strong relationships with people who think differently than we do as well as build strong relationships from within the family of God.

Cost in time and money But how can we manage this, when we are already so very busy, and finances may be tight? Rosaria gives the answer:

Practicing ROH necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill – to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis. Living out radically ordinary hospitality leaves us with plenty to share because we intentionally live below our means.

In other words, we may need to learn to leave some space and not to schedule every moment of every day, filling it up with things that we desire to do. Those who become parents find that life cannot follow a strict schedule, because children have a way of barfing, bruising themselves, or battling with siblings that is always unscheduled. In the same way that we scaled back our desired goals then, we ought to do it to allow for hospitality. If we truly believe that we should “be there” for others, then we may need to be open to the unusual and unexpected. On the other hand, it is possible as well to set aside a period of time each week in which you reach out to your neighbors. Rosaria and her husband started this by putting a picnic table on their front lawn on Thursday evenings and providing food for whoever wandered by and wanted to join them. This eventually grew into a well-attended and beloved activity for a lot of their neighbors, but it started with one dinner time. If you don’t have a house or a picnic table, why not try to visit a neighbor or invite a coworker to have lunch or dinner with you? As for cost, all of our money comes from the Lord – might He not want you to allocate some of it for the hospitality that He asks you to do? Rosaria writes:

Daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world. Our monthly grocery bill alone reminds us that what humbles us cannot hurt us, but what puffs up our pride unwaveringly will.

But what if we run into people who have different viewpoints than ours? What kind of example will that be for our children? Here is where we really need to believe that hospitality is something that God calls us to do.

The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different. They don’t buy the world’s bunk about this. They know that there is a difference between acceptance and approval, and they courageously accept and respect people who think differently from them. They don’t worry that others will misinterpret their friendship. Jesus dined with sinners, but he didn’t sin with sinners. Jesus lived in the world, but he didn’t live like the world. This is the Jesus paradox. And it defines those who are willing to suffer with others for the sake of gospel sharing and gospel living, those who care more for integrity than appearances…. the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear.

What will I say to them? If you feel like you don't know what to say to a stranger, just remember that people always like to talk about themselves. Get to know them. Ask about their interests and try to find a common ground in gardening, cars, sports, cooking, knitting, reading, or whatever. If they have a difficulty they are enduring, offer to pray for them before you end your visit – just a simple prayer. Be friendly. This isn’t the type of evangelism where you have to lead them down the Romans Road and get them to sign on the dotted line at the end of your time together. Jesus is the one who saves. The Holy Spirit will draw some people to God, and we are just planting or watering the seeds. We may or may not get to do the harvesting. But the reason we want to be hospitable is because people need to be rescued from their sin, just as Jesus rescued us from our sin. We are living examples of what God has done, and what He can do for others. Hospitality, then, is a chance to put God’s work in us on display.

Radical hospitality shines through those who are no longer enslaved by the sin that once beckoned and bound them, wrapping its allegiance around their throat, even though old sins still know their name and address.

Used by God Rosaria gives a list of how she hopes and prays that her book may inspire us to: Use our home, apartment, dorm room, front yard, gym, or garden to make strangers into neighbors and neighbors into friends and friends into the family of God Build the church by living like the family of God Stop being afraid of strangers, even when some strangers are dangerous Grow to be more like Christ in practicing daily, ordinary, radical hospitality Be richly blessed by the Lord as He adds to His kingdom Be an example of what it truly means to be a Christian to the watching world Have purpose, instead of casting about for our own identity, or wondering what to do with our time Conclusion Let’s not be sidelined by fear that people will hurt us or that we won’t know what to do or say. Using our home regularly to show hospitality brings glory to God, serves others, and is a way of living out the Gospel. It may seem sacrificial, but then aren’t we called to die to ourselves and live for God? So don’t be afraid to read the book. Be inspired, and pray over what God would use you to do.

News

Public doubt: Josh Harris abandons God, and Hillsong’s Marty Sampson struggles

In July, Josh Harris, the author of the 1990s Christian bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, declared he was kissing his wife and his God goodbye. He made the announcements on Instagram where, shortly thereafter, the former pastor shared a picture of himself as a participant in this year’s Vancouver Pride Parade. In mid August another public figure used Instagram to announce a crisis of faith. One of Hillsong  Church’s worship leaders, Marty Sampson, told his followers: “I’m genuinely losing my faith… and it doesn’t bother me…. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.“ He then laid out some of the questions that had been troubling him:

“How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.”

The post has since been deleted, and Sampson has since clarified that he hasn’t renounced God, but that his faith is on “incredibly shaky ground.” This public apostasy of Josh Harris, and the equally public struggle of Marty Sampson were met by all sorts of reactions. Among the constructive ones, was a Facebook post by John Cooper, the leader singer of the Christian rock band Skillet who, while never mentioning either by name, was clearly writing about both Harris and Sampson. He began by questioning why Harris continues to act as a public figure:

“I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, ‘I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it…therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.’ I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?”

Then he addressed Sampson, not mentioning him by name, but responding to a question in Sampson’s post:

“…there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that ‘no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.’ This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, ‘How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.’ As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

Breakpoint Ministries’ John Stonestreet saw Sampson’s struggle as revealing “a failure on the part of the church to take the difficult but essential task of faith formation seriously enough.” In his August 10 column, he noted that the faith Sampson felt himself falling away from was an emotion-driven, uncritical and uneducated faith that discouraged questions because it couldn’t stand up to them.  But this is not Christianity. This is not the faith of David, or Habakkuk, or Solomon, who all came to God in despair, asking questions in doubt. God is not scared of our questions…though as we see with Job, He doesn’t always give us the exact answer we were asking for. But He invites inquiry – honest questions, not simply scoffing (Prov. 3:34) – because He wants us to love Him with not only our heart, but also our mind (Matt. 22:37). So, as Stonestreet notes, it isn’t wrong to admit to doubt. But that a worship leader feels that no one is talking about these things reveals a congregation that isn’t interacting with the Psalms, or preaching on Habakkuk, and Job, and Ecclesiastes. As Stonestreet puts it, his church failed him. In 1 Cor. 10: 1-12, Paul tells us to take it as a warning when we see the problems others face. So, in our Reformed churches, how are we dealing with these types of questions? How do we address the doubts that are common to many a Christian? Are our churches a place where honest inquiries are welcomed? Or, if Robert Sampson were in our midst, would he feel that here too, “no one talks about it”?

Job Postings

Executive Director: Cornerstone Christian Care Society

The board of Cornerstone Christian Care Society is accepting applications for the position of Executive Director. We are a faith based organization that seeks to provide care in the widest sense to individuals with disabilities. “Do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10) Cornerstone operates a 24 hour care home in Carman and in Winnipeg and various other programs. Working closely with the board, duties for Executive Director are as follows: − Lead management and staff team. − Oversee the programs and services offered by Cornerstone. Ensure that they contribute to the mission and vision of care in the widest sense. − Oversee the day to day administrative operations of Cornerstone. − Develop new programs as needs arise. − Represent Cornerstone and maintain good working relationship with various government. agencies that assist us in providing care. We value the following qualities: − Member in good standing of the Canadian Reformed or the United Reformed Church in North America. − Training and experience in HR practices. − Effective communicator. − Training and experience in disabilities and community support. We look forward to hearing from you. Please send inquiries or resume along with a cover letter to board@cornerstoneccs.ca

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Media bias

A call for Christian journalists: an interview (of sorts) with Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky has been many things – the Editor-in-Chief of World magazine, a journalism professor, the author of more than 20 books, and a baseball fanatic. Two of those books lay out his radical notions concerning journalism, on how it used to be a Christian enterprise, and how it can be again.

This is an “interview” with those two books, and the text in italics are his words as they are found in Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of American News Media and Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism.

****

JON DYKSTRA: Let’s start with the title of your first journalism book. What does Prodigal Press refer to?

MARVIN OLASKY: The title refers to the relationship that today’s secular press has with the Christian journalism of yesteryear. Though few know it, American secular journalism is the wayward son of Christianity.

JD: Do you mean newspapers used to be Christian?

MO: Yes, indeed. For example, the New York Times was founded in 1851 by Henry Raymond, a Bible-believing Presbyterian. Throughout the City of New York there was at one time fifty-two magazines and newspapers that called themselves Christian.

JD: A Christian New York Times? That is pretty hard to believe.

MO: It was a great Christian paper! It became known for its accurate news coverage and for its exposure in 1871 of both political corruption (the “Tweed Ring”) and abortion practices. A reading of the New York Times in the mid-1870s shows that editors and reporters wanted to glorify God by making a difference in this world.

JD: The 1800s seemed to be a good time for Christian journalism. Is that when it all started?

MO: Oh, it started much earlier than that. You could even say that Luke was one of the first journalists. At that time published news was what authorities wanted people to know. The Acta Diurna, a handwritten news sheet posted in the Roman forum and copied by scribes for transmission throughout the empire, emphasized governmental decrees but also gained readership by posting gladiatorial results and news of other popular events. Julius Caesar used the Acta to attack some of his opponents in the Roman senate – but there could be no criticism of Caesar….The Bible, with its emphasis on truth-telling – Luke (1:3-4 NIV) wrote that he personally had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that Theophilus would “know the certainty of the things you have been taught” – was unique in ancient times. New Testament writers comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.

JD: But if journalism had a Christian origin, what happened to change things? Most journalism today could hardly be called Christian.

MO: There were a number of reasons for the change. First newspapers started shying away from tough stories. Evil unfit for breakfast table discussion or considered unfit to print was ignored and thereby tolerated. Several generations later it was embraced. More importantly, just as Christianity was being attacked by ideas like evolution and materialism, Christianity in North America underwent a period of revivalism that emphasized individualism. Many were saved thankfully, but this emphasis on personal faith did not stress the importance of a Christian worldview. So instead of confronting all problems from a biblical perspective, newspapers pushed Christianity to the sidelines. Furthermore, many Christians began to believe that the general culture inevitably would become worse and worse. They thought that little could be done to stay the downward drift. Christian publications should cover church news, they thought, and ignore the rest of the world.

JD: So instead of responding to these attacks, Christian journalists just retreated?

MO: Exactly.

JD: When did this shift take place?

MO: It’s hard to put an exact date to it, but by the 1890s things were underway and by the 1900s journalism had turned rather vicious under the leadership of men like William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

JD: But weren’t Hearst and Pulitzer giants in the newspaper industry?

MO: Yes they were, but you wouldn’t want to get on their bad sides. Hearst, for example, was the first journalistic leader to assault regularly those who stood in his path. When Hearst could not get the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, he called Judge Alton Parker, the party’s nominee, a “living, breathing cockroach from under the sink.” 

JD: Nice. Well, if we’ve lost our way, how can we make journalism Christian again?

MO: For too long Christians have contented themselves with singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” all the while forgetting that a fortress was an offensive as well as defensive weapon: From it soldiers could make sorties. We have to go out boldly and engage culture, and contrast our Truth with their opinion.

JD: But don’t we already have a number of Christian columnists who do just that?

MO: We have columnists, but not many journalists.  We need to have people covering the day-to-day news from a biblical perspective. Too often Christian newspapers fill their pages with warmed over sermons rather than realistic stories of successful independent schools or corrupted churches and thereby miss an opportunity to teach boldness. We need to confront culture boldly!

JD: Boldness is the key then?

MO: Well…no. Boldness alone won’t do it. In fact, none of this will make much difference unless Christian communities view journalism as a vital calling and Christian journalists as ministers worthy of spiritual and economic support.

The picture of Marvin Olasky has been modified from one found here, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue.


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