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Adult non-fiction

How does a Christian live in the midst of suffering?

A book summary of Kelly Kapic's Embodied Hope

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Pain and suffering require good theology because often, during intense pain of any kind, the whole question of how God’s sovereignty and goodness relate becomes intensely personal. Often Psalm 92:15 – The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him – becomes a very difficult confession. Is God really good? Sometimes it’s an arrogant question, but when there’s suffering it is often something entirely different. In Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Reformed theologian Kelly Kapic considers physical pain and discusses “how a Christian might live in the midst of suffering.” That is, ultimately, what those in pain need, far more than abstract theories of the problem of suffering. THE NEED TO KNOW GOD AND KNOW THE SUFFERER Kapic, a professor with a wife who suffers severe chronic pain, insists that to help others with pain we need both pastoral sensitivity and theological insight. Without careful study of who God is – without theology – we often head into psychology and moralism. Conversely, without loving and knowing the sufferer, we may end up with harsh principles. Kapic’s deep understanding of the gospel, and of pain, and of the writings of godly men like Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Bonhoeffer, enable him to explores how hope and lament are intertwined. He discusses how we can deal with the fact that God’s good creation has been compromised, how we experience that as we suffer, how to lament that biblically, and how God’s faithfulness ultimately shapes biblical lament. Vigorously rejecting the ancient and still common idea that the body and its pain are not important, Kapic points out that God created our bodies as well as our souls. Our bodies are essential to our identity as individuals, they are essential to our relationships, and essential to our worship. And all of that is tied to Jesus Christ, who is hope embodied, hope made physical. Jesus is the answer to the sufferer’s questions and he is God’s solution to the brokenness of the universe. Because of him our sufferings are not the final word, nor are pain, aging, forgotten memories, or death. [caption id="attachment_5333" align="alignright" width="200"] 2017 / 192 pages[/caption] GOD GIVES US EACH OTHER However, it is not only our individual relationship to Jesus Christ that counts; our relationships in the body of Christ are also vital. In fact, suffering shows how essential the body of Christ is to each member. Kapic states that we are in essence “members of a larger body, and thus also inherently unstable when isolated.” If this is true in general, it is even more important when someone is suffering. Being is pain is not a safe place to be alone. Lonely pain opens up temptations to despair, to dwelling on already-forgiven sins, and to questioning God’s care. A Christian who suffers chronic pain alone is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, but a Christian who suffers in the body of Christ is, ideally, carried and encouraged by the faith, hope, and love of other believers. For example, when Luther was ill, he begged prayers from his friends that he would be saved “from blasphemy, doubt and distrust of his loving God.” Even so, sufferers must not ultimately look to other believers but to God’s revelation in Christ, since all faith, hope, and love “must ultimately point to and come from the triune God, and not merely from the communion of saints.” BEING THERE Of course, believers need to learn how to come along side those in pain. We often just want to help and, while this can be very important, our goal should not be to “fix” the other person. Rather we must learn to accept that pain is real and that the suffering person often just needs someone to be there. It can be very hard to watch someone suffer, and many people feel helpless and want to run away. Instead, we need to learn to share God’s love, perhaps with a glass of cold water, or a card, or a smile, or perhaps with endless hours of simply being there, suffering faithfully together, listening, honestly accepting the pain, and pointing to Christ, together. Just as the suffering person needs other believers, so other believers need sufferers. In loving and being loved by sufferers, those who are well are reminded that they, too, are poor and in need of God's grace. Otherwise it can become easy to imagine that they are self-sufficient and deserve their wellness because of how faithful they have been. Furthermore, those who suffer are uniquely able to witness that, though troubles are real, “God is unflinchingly faithful.” And, as Kapic points out, sufferers, too, have a responsibility. They can encourage and serve those who are well by loving them and being grateful and compassionate. They “need to beware of abusing others.”

“Those dealing with a great deal of pain often have to work hard to avoid self-absorption and cultivate neighbor love. It takes intentionality. It takes a missional focus. But it can be life-giving.”

CONCLUSION In Embodied Hope Kapic, as the husband of a wife with chronic pain, shares many practical insights. Yet he always comes around to this:

“Beloved, amid the trials and tribulations of life, let us have confidence not in ourselves, not in our own efforts, but in God. This God has come in Christ, and he has overcome sin, death, and the devil. While we may currently be walking through the shadow of death, may our God’s love, grace, and compassion become ever more real to us. And may we, as the church, participate in the ongoing divine motions and movements of grace as God meets people in their need."

This book has helped me come to terms with the fact that chronic suffering exists and has given me insight for supporting my daughter. I think it will be a blessing to every Christian who suffers physical pain or who loves someone who does, and I strongly recommend it. Embodied Hope would be a great addition to a church library, as well.

Annie Kate Aarnoutse reviews books at Tea Time With Annie Kate where this first appeared.

Science - Creation/Evolution

I believe in theistic evolution

I recently realized I believe in/affirm theistic evolution.  Depending on your perspective, have I sold out or have I finally come to my senses?  Neither.  Let me explain. It has long perturbed me that those who affirm or allow for Darwinian macroevolution to be compatible with a biblical worldview will sometimes call themselves "creationists" or will claim to believe in/affirm biblical creation.  They do this knowing that biblical creation is usually understood to refer to a view that holds to God having created in six ordinary days on a timescale of some thousands (rather than millions or billions) of years ago.  By claiming to believe in creation they lay concerns to rest, whereas all they have really done is disguise their true position. Stephen C. Meyer has helped me to see I could do the same thing with theistic evolution.  Meyer wrote the "Scientific and Philosophical Introduction" to Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, a massive volume published in 2017 by Crossway.  He notes that theistic evolution can mean different things to different people, as can "evolution" without the modifier "theistic."  For example, it can refer to common or universal common descent or to the creative power of the natural selection/random variation (or mutation) mechanism.  But evolution can also just simply mean "change over time."  And if one believes that God causes "change over time," then that can be understood as a form of theistic evolution.  With that, Meyer contends, no biblical theist could object (p.40).  He concludes, "Understanding theistic evolution this way seems unobjectionable, perhaps even trivial" (p.41).   So, in the sense of believing or affirming that there is change over time directed by God, I am a theistic evolutionist -- and I suspect you are too! But what's the problem with this?  Let's say I were to (miraculously) get myself invited to a BioLogos conference as a speaker who affirms theistic evolution.  It appears I'm on board with the BioLogos agenda.  The conference organizers are a little doubtful, but I insist that I affirm theistic evolution and they take me at my word and welcome me in their midst.  Then I give a talk where I evidence that I'm actually a six-day creationist who believes Darwinian macroevolution to be a fraud.  "But you said you hold to theistic evolution!"  "Oh, but you didn't ask me what I meant by that.  I believe that God causes change over time -- that's how I'm a theistic evolutionist."  Would anyone blame the conference organizers for thinking me to be lacking in some basic honesty? Integrity is really the heart of the matter.  If I say, "I read a book and I realized I'm a theistic evolutionist," most people will hear that and conclude that I still believe in God, but I also affirm Darwinian evolution.  And that is not an unreasonable conclusion.  Furthermore, what would be my purpose for making such a claim?  Would it be to tell something designed to mislead so as to advance my cause?  Does the end justify the means? If you affirm Darwinian macroevolution as the best explanation for how life developed on earth and you believe God superintended it, then man up and say so.  Honestly say, "I am a theistic evolutionist."   As for me, believing that God created everything in six ordinary days on the order of some thousands of years ago, I will say directly, "I am a biblical creationist" or "six-day creationist," or "young earth creationist."  But let's all be honest with one another. Biblical creationists also have to stop being naive.  Just because someone says they believe in biblical creation doesn't mean they actually believe the biblical account as given in Genesis.  They can fill out those terms with their own meaning.  So we have to learn to ask good questions to ferret out impostors.  Questions like: Do you believe God created everything in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago? Was the individual designated as Adam in Genesis ever a baby creature nestled at his mother's breast? Was the individual designated in Genesis as Eve a toddler at some point in her life? Do you believe it biblically permissible to say that, as creatures, the figures designated in Genesis as Adam and Eve at any point had biological forebears (like parents/grandparents)? What does it mean that God created man from the dust of the earth?

These are the types of questions churches need to be asking at ecclesiastical examinations for prospective ministers.  These are the types of questions Christians schools need to be asking prospective teachers at interviews.  True, even with these sorts of questions, there are no guarantees of integrity, but at least we will have done our due diligence.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com and CreationWithoutCompromise.com where this first appeared. 

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews

The man who shot Liberty Valance

Western 1962 / 123 minutes RATING: 8/10 What does it mean to be a man? In this classic Western, Hollywood offers up two answers. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) is a successful horse rancher living just outside the town of Shinbone who prides himself on not needing anyone and not fearing anyone. He solves his own problems, and figures that everyone else should do the same. Self-reliant - that, in his mind, is what makes a man a real man. Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a lawyer, newly arrived to Shinbone who starts a school for both children and adults when he discovers that most can't read. He wants to bring law and order to town, but via the law book, and not the gun barrel, and that makes him naive. But he's also principled and caring, and that, in his mind, is what makes a man a man. To put both these models of manhood to the test, we have Liberty Valance, a bully and a killer. He and his gang do whatever they want, and none of the town folk dare stop him. Doniphon could stop him... but that would be solving other people's problems for them. Ransom wants to stop him... but he'll need more than just his law books. Cautions This is an all-time classic that everyone will enjoy...if they have the patience for it. It starts off slow, and the pacing throughout is far more relaxed than anything a modern viewer is used to. If it were made today, they would cut at least a half hour. But, if you go in understanding that, then this will be a grand film. It's the nature of Western to have some violence in them, but in this one a lot of it occurs offscreen, though just barely so, as when Ransom is whipped. Onscreen we see a manic Liberty striking furiously, but Ransom is just below the frame, so we don't see the blows land. A couple of people are shot, but without any real gore. The only language concerns would be one use of "damn" Conclusion If your children regularly watch TV then the pace of this film will be too slow to keep their interest. But otherwise this would be a classic worth sharing with the family including children maybe 10 years old and up. It's good fodder for a discussion about the difference between Hollywood's ideal man, and the type of man God calls us to be in passages like Ephesians 5:21-33.

Economics - Home Finances

The case for biblically-responsible investing

God calls his people to be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us, whether that’s our talents and time or the possessions we’ve been given. It all belongs to God (Ps. 24:1), so just as a steward manages and cares for what belongs to another – and does so as the owner desires – so too we are to manage what belongs to God as He desires. We are also to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are two activities we often do without thinking, yet specific mention is made of how even these activities are to be done to the glory of God. How much more then ought we to manage God’s money in a way that glorifies Him! How shall we then invest? So, when it comes to investing, we need to understand that buying shares in a company means becoming a part-owner. And an owner, whether a minority or majority owner, bears responsibility for the actions of a company. In Ephesians 5:11 we are instructed to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” So here is a key issue for consideration: if a company is doing “works of darkness” being an owner of a company is taking part in those activities. Even if it is a small part, it is still a part. Another consideration is the aspect of making money or profiting from sinful activities. Proverbs 16:8 instructs us in this (as does Prov. 15:6): “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” As a shareholder, it is not possible to refuse the portion of a dividend or share growth which results from activities which directly contradict Scripture. Receiving that profit, no matter how it is then used, is bringing the “wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God” (Deut. 23:18). So, what is the problem? The problem is Christians often unknowingly invest in companies which directly contradict Biblical values. An examination of the companies which make up the S&P 500 is alarming. Found there are companies which, among other things, profit from or support abortion, pornography, and gambling. So, what is the solution? What this might look like The solution is what I call “biblically responsible investing.” The goal with this type of investing is to be a faithful steward who glorifies God with the management of His money. In striving for this, a disciplined process is followed which can be summed up in three steps: AVOID THE BAD: Via in-depth research and analysis, we want to actively avoid companies that are at cross-purposes to Biblical values. SEEK OUT THE GOOD: We want to actively seek out companies which value ethical business practices, the sanctity of life, care for the poor, and other biblical values. BE AN ACTIVE OWNER: An investor has a voice in the boardroom and a vote to cast in proxy votes. Rather than remaining silent or letting ungodly money managers cast votes, Christian investors and investment managers can raise their collective voice when needed in the boardroom. Will this always be perfect? Will a company ever find its way through the process? Unfortunately, perfection will not be attained on this side of the grave. A business may hide an unethical practice or donation. However, that is not an excuse not to strive for perfection. This is the way of the Christian life here on this earth. It is a continual striving to walk in the way of godliness, being “holy in all manner of conversation.” We strive to put off and flee from sin. We strive to fight the good fight of faith as God has called us to do. Then, after fighting the good fight, when we are called to give account of our stewardship we, being washed by the blood of the Lamb through no merit of our own, will hear these blessed words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Brian Hilt is an Associate Portfolio Manager with Virtuous Investing of Huxton Black Ltd (InvestVirtuously.ca) and passionate about stewardship and biblically-based financial planning and investment advice.

Adult non-fiction

An interview (of sorts) with “Gay Girl, Good God” author Jackie Hill Perry

Jackie Hill Perry is an American poet and recording artist on the Humble Beast label. Married to Preston, she is the mother of two children. Last year, she published her first book Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. This is an “interview” of sorts, with her responses coming as excerpts from her book.

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WES BREDENHOF:  At its heart, what is your book really about?

JACKIE HILL PERRY:  Every sentence is the pursuit of showing off God….This is a book with a lot of me in it but with a whole lot more of God.  He is what the soul needs for rest and what the mind needs for peace.  He is the Creator God, the King of Glory, the one who, in love, sent the Christ to pay the penalty for and become the sin that we are all born with.  It is the words from and about this resurrected Lamb of God that I hope will lift off the page and into the heart.  This book is a lifted hand, a glad praise, a necessary hymn, a hallelujah overheard and not kept quiet.  This work is my worship unto God that, with prayer, I hope will leave you saying, “God is so good!”

WB:  You say that it was the story of who you were. So who were you? What were you like?

JHP:  To me, the devil made more sense than God sometimes.  Both he and God spoke.  God through His Scriptures; Satan, through doubt.  I’d learned of the Ten Commandments in Sunday school in between eating a handful of homemade popcorn and picking at my stockings.  The “Thou shall nots” didn’t complement the sweet buttered chew I found myself distracted by.  They were a noise I didn’t care to welcome.  “You can’t.  You shouldn’t.  Do not,” didn’t sound like a song worth listening to, only a terrible noise to drown out by resistance.  Satan, on the other hand, only told me to do what felt good or what made sense to me.

WB:  When you finally came out as gay, what were you thinking about God? And what do you think He thought about you?

JHP:  As much as I wanted to believe God grinned when He thought of my life, I knew He didn’t. My conscience spoke to me throughout the day.  In the morning, it reminded me of God.  A few minutes before the clock brought the noon in, it brought God to mind, again.  Night was when it was the loudest.  On the way to sleep, my head lay relaxed on my pillow surrounded by the natural darkness of night, I thought about God.  I was His enemy (James 4:4).  How could I, an enemy of God, have sweet dreams knowing that He sat awake throughout the night?

WB:  So by God’s grace you became a Christian in 2008 – through his Spirit and Word you were miraculously brought to faith and repentance. What impact did your conversion have on your same-sex desires?

JHP:  To my surprise, being a Christian delivered me from the power of sin but in no way did it remove the possibility of temptation.  A common lie thrown far and wide is that if salvation has truly come to someone who is same-sex attracted, then those attractions should immediately vanish.  To be cleansed by Jesus, they presume, is to be immune to the enticement of sin.  This we know not to be true because of Jesus. He being completely perfect and yet He still experienced temptation.

WB:  What was that temptation like for you?

JHP:  It was slapping me around like a weightless doll in the hands of an imaginative child. Being tossed between fun and funeral, who would I decide to trust more?  What the temptation wanted me to believe or what God had already revealed?  The struggle with homosexuality was a battle of faith.  To give into temptation would be to give into unbelief.  It was up to me to believe Him.  His Word was authoritative, active, sharp.  The simplicity of faith is this:  taking God’s Word for it.  And I might not have felt like it, but I had no choice but to believe Him.

WB:  Why do we have a hard time believing that a gay girl can become a completely different creature?

JHP:  Because we have a hard time believing God.  The Pharisees saw the man born blind, heard his testimony, heard about his past and how it was completely different from the present one, and refused to believe the miracle of Whothe miracle pointed to. The same power that made a man born blind able to see through the means of something as foolish as spit and mud is the same enormous power contained in a foolish gospel brought into the world by a risen Saviour.  It is through faith in Him, initiated by His pursuit of me, that I, a gay girl, now new creature, was made right with God.  Given sight, able to recognize my hands and how they’d been calloused by sin, and how Jesus had come to cleanse me of them all.  Now seeing, I worship.  One thing is sure, if ever I am asked, how am I able to see now, after being blind for so long, I will simply say, “I was blind, a good God came, and now, I see.”

WB:  You have experienced the struggle with same-sex attraction.  Should those who are tempted with that identify themselves as “Gay Christians”?

JHP:  I don’t believe it is wise or truthful to the power of the gospel to identify oneself by the sins of one’s past or the temptations of one’s present but rather to only be defined by the Christ who’s overcome both for those He calls His own. All men and women, including myself, that are well acquainted with sexual temptation are ultimately not what our temptation says of us.  We are what Christ had done for us; therefore, our ultimate identity is very simple:  We are Christians.

WB:  In your book, you warn about the “heterosexual gospel.”  You write that “God isn’t calling gay people to be straight” and it’s actually dangerous to teach that he is.  Why do you say that?

JHP:  Because it puts more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than knowing Jesus.  Just as God’s aim in my salvation was not mainly the removal of my same-sex desires, in sanctification, it is not always His aim that marriage or experiencing an attraction for the opposite sex will be involved.

Excerpts from Jackie Hill Perry’s “Gay Girl, Good God” have been used with the gracious permission of the author (and publisher). Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. A Dutch translation of this article can be found here.


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