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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.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Brain, Heart, World – a fantastic, free, 3-part documentary on pornography's harmful impact

Documentary 90 minutes / 2019 RATING: 8/10 Fight the New Drug is an anti-poverty group that's come up with an impressive 3-part documentary called Brain, Heart, World about what pornography consumption does to your brain, what it does to your relationships, and what it does to the world. Each part is half an hour, and while you do have to give them your email address, it's well worth doing (and they won't spam you). They've packaged up important psychological insights with compelling personal accounts, making this must-see TV. Maybe what's most impressive is that they're having a very open conversation about pornography, even as they keep that conversation very PG-rated...at least for the first two episodes. With Episode 3, The World, since it is tackling sexual trafficking via first-hand accounts, there was really no way to keep it from being PG-13-ish. That said, this is as careful and delicate a presentation on this topic as I've seen. (Parents, if you're considering sharing and discussing this with your kids do be sure to preview it). This is an eye-opening presentation, but it is an entirely secular one. Fight the New Drug is "a non-religious and non-legislative organization" that teaches about the harmful effects of pornography "using only science, facts, and personal accounts." That means they operate from a materialist worldview that ignores the spiritual, and seemingly denies it. They don't speak to the repentance Jesus offers and in passing ways even minimize the need for it – at one point a girl says: "I realized it wasn't me that was bad; it was the porn that was bad." She gets close to the truth here, even as she completely misses it: the porn is irredeemable, but she isn't. Another example: in the Heart episode they share that researchers have found relationships the key to happiness such that "happiness is love." Now, understanding as we do, that relationship with God is the key to everlasting happiness, we might be tempted to say that here again they got it almost right. But seeing as they aren't actually pointing us to God, they also got it awfully wrong. In this way the series shortcomings are enormous; we can't fix a sin problem like lust and adultery without acknowledging it as a sin problem. That said, Christians can benefit enormously from watching series, because the series' shortcomings are the sort that we can fix with what God teaches us, and its strengths and insights can be a help when stacked on top of God's firm foundation. You can watch the series trailer below, and access the series itself here.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

The Missing Project

Documentary 2019 / 75 minutes RATING: 8/10 2019 was the 50th anniversary since Pierre Trudeau’s government first legalized abortion in Canada. To mark the occasion a number of pro-life organizations came together to make this film. This is, in part, a history lesson, detailing the country’s sad descent to where the unborn today have no protections under Canadian law. The Missing Project begins by explaining the divisions that exist among pro-lifers, between what’s called the “abolitionists” and the “incrementalists.” As ARPA Canada’s André Schutten clarifies:

“In Canada, the pro-life movement is very split on the question of, 'How do we implement a law?' So some people within the pro-life movement are adamant that we can only ever advocate for a total ban on abortions [abolitionists]. Whereas others, including myself and my team, we certainly believe that we can make incremental changes [incrementalists].”

One of the film’s strengths is how it gives time to representatives from both these sides. Whatever camp pro-lifers might have fallen into, it was a confusing time after the abortion law was struck down in 1988 and the Mulroney government proposed Bill C-43. No one knew at the time that this would be the last abortion restricting legislation proposed by a Canadian government. Some pro-lifers opposed it, hoping for much more. In a horribly ironic twist, these pro-lifers were joined in their opposition to the bill by abortion advocates who didn’t want any restrictions at all. They say hindsight is 20/20 but that isn’t true in this case. Pro-lifers today still fall on both sides. We hear some arguing the bill would have done almost nothing, and then get to hear from one of the bill’s crafters who argues that it would have at least done more than the nothing we’ve had in place since then. Bill C-43 was defeated in the Senate on a tie. After hearing from the various sides, viewers will probably be grateful that they weren't Members of Parliament at the time, and didn’t have to decide whether to vote for or against this bill. After the historical overview, we start hearing about the many things that have been missing in the public debate about the unborn. First and foremost, there are all the missing children, millions killed before they saw the light of day. Missing, too, is any media coverage of their plight. While that violence is committed behind closed doors, Jonathon Van Maren notes the media also have no interest in covering violence done in broad daylight against pro-life demonstrators.

"...abortion activists often take their core ideology to its logical extent, which is that they can react with violence to people they find inconvenient - that's the core message of the abortion ideology."

A missing answer At one point an atheist lists herself as one of the missing voices in this debate. It is odd, then, that while she was given time to make her argument – that we need to present secular arguments so as to reach atheists like her who don’t care what the Bible says – we don’t hear anyone making the argument for an explicitly Christian pro-life witness. There are many Christians in the film, but no one answering this young atheist, explaining that if we are only the chance product of an uncaring universe, why, from that worldview, would anyone conclude life is precious from conception onward? She believes it, but not because of her humanist stance – it's only because God's Law is written on her heart (Romans 2:14-15). So not only is it our joy and privilege to glorify God in all we do (1 Cor. 10:31), even from a very practical perspective, proclaiming the triumph of the Author of Life is the only answer to a culture of death. Conclusion That said, this is a film every Canadian Christian should watch because there is something here for everyone. Even if you've been involved in the pro-life movement for 20 years, you are going to hear something you’ve never heard before.  If you don't want to watch, because the death of 100,000 children a year is simply too depressing a topic, the filmmakers made sure this film is also encouraging. For example, about two-thirds of the way through, when we could really use a brief reprieve, the director gave us a moment of delight. Dr. Chris Montoya explains how we know a baby is able to learn from the time of the first detectable heartbeat. I won’t give it away, but it involved a tuning fork and thumping mom’s tummy. In a film full of muted horror, this was a moment of wonder – a kid at two months can already respond!  Another reason The Missing Project is encouraging is because of the challenging note it ends on. We learn there are things that can be done to help these babies. We don’t have to just toss up our hands in despair.  Another reason for hope is that, although God is not mentioned, Christians can fill in the blanks. We can see God at work in these various organizations, and it isn’t hard to imagine how His people can ally with and make use of these groups to offer our own Christian pro-life witness. So watch, learn how to spot our culture’s pro-abortion lies, be challenged, discover all the opportunities, and then go spread the truth that every one of us is made in the very image of God, right from the moment of conception.  The Missing Project can be viewed, for free at WeNeedALaw.ca/MissingProjectFilm where you can also find discussion questions and tips on how to host a movie night. Check out the trailer below. For more, you can also check out the 50 individual interviews that started this project – one for each year abortion has been legal in Canada. You can find those on the Life Collective website and also on YouTube here. Some of these individual interviews do raise an explicitly Christian perspective.

Assorted

Tidbits - February 2020

Lightbulb moment I was in my 4th-year neurophysiology course, learning about the brain, when the professor used a curious word: "think." As in, this is how science "thinks" things might work in our brain. What struck me was how tentative the professor had just become, and I wasn't the only student surprised to hear this modest word. A classmate popped up his hand and asked something to the effect of, "What do you mean 'think'? Don't we know how the brain works?" This got a definitive response from the prof. No, he explained, we don't have a clue how the brain works: all our theories are just guesses and don't begin to account for how much information is stored in our brains and how we access it. We even know our theories must be wrong – because they don't offer a sufficient explanation – but until something better is found, this is the best we have. His admission was quite the eye-opener for the class, who, to this point, had assumed we were learning something far more substantial than theories that were known to be deficient. The fact is, the human brain is a wonder, and even the smartest brains among us don't have a clue as to what is all going on. And to propose it was random chance that brought such a wonder into being, well, that just shows some folks aren't using the wonder they've been given. TV Trivia Fred Rogers, of the children’s show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, was a seminary classmate of R.C. Sproul. Reformed humor What do Martin Luther and birds have in common? A diet of worms! Arguing for infant baptism In Jay Adams' book Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, the author poses an intriguing argument for infant baptism. One of the characters in the book, Brian, is trying to convince his girlfriend that infant baptism is biblical, and shares with her this scenario:

"It's the day before Pentecost. Andrew, a pious Jewish father, has just had his child circumcised. He is happy because he now knows that little Simeon is a part of the covenant community – the visible church. The next day, he hears Peter preach and believes the Gospel. Now, according to Baptist thought, his child is no longer in the visible church. In for one day and out the next."

While there is no explicit example of a child being baptized in the New Testament (nor is there any example of children being excluded or forbidden from being baptized) there seems a clear parallel to circumcision, made even more clear by this scenario. Words are not optional "Preach the Gospel. If necessary rebuke anyone who says 'If necessary, use words.'" - RC Sproul Jr. When he’s good he’s very good! Tim Keller gets stuff wrong (he’s a theistic evolutionist) but when he also gets stuff right, he’s gets them really right, like this, from his November 7, 2014 Facebook status update: "When I am loving to my wife when I don't feel loving to my wife I am more loving to my wife than when I am loving to my wife when I feel loving to my wife." Actress understands the holiness of God's name Actress Melissa Joan Hart hasn't always had everything figured out, but she has gotten one thing right: she refuses to take God’s name in vain, no matter what the script might require. Hart gained fame in the 1990s playing a good witch, then starred in a horror film, and posed in lingerie for a men’s magazine, but these days pops up on social media for her work with World Vision. While promoting her film God’s Not Dead 2, she told TheBlaze.com’s Billy Hallowell:

You will not see me in a TV show ever saying, “Oh my God,” because I don’t take that word lightly...And that’s a very small example of how I’ve been able to influence my work a little bit. For me, it’s a big step today, because it’s written in every single script.

Science - Creation/Evolution

Biomimicry recognizes the genius (but not the Genius) behind the wonders of creation

Earlier this month, Vox media reported on the discipline of biomimicry, which encourages engineering teams to include a biologist to help them solve problems by seeing what already works well in the natural world. It’s a return to copying designs that the Creator put into place thousands of years ago.

In Christophe Hawbursin’s Vox article “The man-made world is horribly designed. But copying nature helps.” the illustration he gives of how biomimicry helps is the Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train. At 170 mph, whenever it exited a tunnel, it caused a sonic boom that annoyed people up to 400 meters away. To get a quieter, faster, and more efficient train, an engineering team was created, headed by Ejii Nakatsu, who was also an avid birdwatcher.

It turns out that bird connection was key – the team based components of the redesigned bullet train on characteristics of three different birds:

  • The owl: the pantograph – the rig that connects the train to the electric wires above – was modeled after the owl’s feathers, reducing noise by using similar serrations and curvature
  • The Adelie penguin: the penguin’s smooth body inspired the pantograph’s supporting shaft to provide lower wind resistance
  • The kingfisher: the kingfisher’s unique no-splash beak was copied for the front of the engine

By copying designs from creation, the new train became 10% faster, 15% more efficient, and the decibel level was significantly lowered.

Other examples of biomimicry include studying sharkskin to learn to repel bacteria, and studying the self-organization of ants to enable autonomous cars to communicate with one another. Biomimicry also studies the eco-system to create a circular economy where there are no wasteful byproducts. And recently, scientists have begun a website at AskNature.org where people all over the world can match problems with solutions advised by “nature.”

There is an irony in how Janine Benyus, the author who popularized the term biomimicry, recognizes that the design found in Creation far exceeds that of Mankind’s best minds. And yet she doesn’t see a better Mind behind any of it, choosing instead to credit these wonders to mindless evolution working over the last 3.8 billions years. As the apostle Paul might put it, she worships and serves “created things rather the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). But for Christians, how wonderful it is to be reminded of just how much humans can learn from the genius of our God who declared all the creatures He made “good.”

 

Sharon L. Bratcher has a book with 45 of her RP articles in it, and a 2-year lesson plan entitled “Bible Overview for Young Children” ages 2-6 and 6-9. For information on these, contact sharoncopy@gmail.com.


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