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Pro-life - Fostering

7 ways to help a foster family

So you’re not able or ready to plunge into foster care? That doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved! Here are some practice ideas for how to help out a current foster family. Educate yourself Educate yourself on the local foster care system. Educate yourself on trauma and how it affects children. Educate yourself on what “reunification” means, and why we need to have a heart of forgiveness and compassion. Educate others The Church can play a big role in supporting the foster care system in your community. Find your local (Christian) foster care and adoption agencies and give freely, both financially and with your time. In our local church we did a special service offering at Christmas for a local foster care agency. Locally we also have a volunteer-run short-term “House” that is a place where children entering into foster care can spend their first few days before being placed…instead of in a hotel or social worker’s office. Get involved there! Search in your community for worthy organizations that are striving to repair the foster care system, and are Christian-based. Share with others, and pull together as a church to support them! Meals If you know a family that is fostering, chances are they have a houseful of children already, and have a lot of mouths to feed. Whether they’ve taken in a new placement or not, showing support by bringing a meal (or even some snacks to stock up the cupboards) goes a long way. They are likely spending a lot of time communicating with the team of people involved with their child, or helping the child work through trauma, or something along those lines. That’s why food is so appreciated! Items Foster parents in Washington State receive a monthly stipend from the state to cover costs but as you can imagine, the costs involved with becoming licensed, as well as ongoing costs incurred can, at times, exceed the stipend. Sometimes a child comes with nothing but the clothes on their back and suddenly the foster parent is making a trip to the store to get formula, diapers, PJs, toothbrush, shoes, underwear – you name it! In our case, we are licensed for ages 0-10, boys and girls. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to store clothes and items for each age group and gender. Also, as we were becoming licensed, we were required to have certain items available in our home (medicine cabinets that could lock, fire escape ladders, emergency food supplies for 8 people for a full week, as well as a bed available for each age of child, etc. etc.). This did become quite costly, so every little bit we got donated to us really helped. If you know of someone going through the licensing process, ask them what they are in need of, maybe you happen to have it lying around! Childcare Whether it’s offering to take their biological children for a time, or the foster child, it might just be exactly what they need. A date night? Groceries kid-free? Or maybe their foster child has yet another appointment (here in Washington State they’ve required what seems to be an overabundance of doctor and dentist appointments) and they’d love to not take along their other children. Whatever it may be, offer! Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but if it’s offered it might just be what they need right at that moment. House, yard, and transportation help This can be so helpful, especially around the time of a new placement entering a home. That’s when all the house and yard work gets moved to the bottom of the importance pile. The family needs time to bond, organize, and have a lot of communication with the new team of people that are now in their life. They need to spend that first critical week loving on that child, attaching and adjusting. Offer to come fold a load of laundry, or weed their gardens, or clean a toilet. Or, maybe they’d love you to run an errand or two for them, or pick their kids up from school, or bring a child to their lessons or practice. Just ask! Prayer Please lift these families, as well as the children they are fostering, up in prayer! Ask them if there are specifics to pray for.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Eph. 6:18

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Abortion supporters don't believe in equality

There are two ways society views human worth. Which leads to a better society?

****

In his now famous TedTalk, author Simon Sinek unlocks the secret to how the most powerful leaders shape their messages. They start with “Why?"  "Your Why", says Simon, “is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do." Simon illustrates with great clarity how powerful it is when leaders of any organization or movement start their message with an explanation of their purpose, their beliefs. I thought about this yesterday as I stood on the side of Main St. in Grimsby quietly participating in the Life Chain demonstration. I wondered how many of the people driving by really understood why we were there - our purpose, our belief. I wondered too if my fellow demonstrators really understood how people with opposite views on the issue of abortion can arrive hold the position they do. You can’t really take seriously the folks who drive by yelling at you and giving your kids the finger. But putting that aside for the moment, let’s be honest; demonstrations are not the most effective format for respectful and rigorous debate. They tend to polarize groups into opposing camps and do little to create empathy between people who hold different views. We’re content to consider each other crazy. However, at one point in yesterday’s hour-long demonstration a passing motorist rolled down her window and yelled to demonstrators “It’s my body, It’s my choice!” And I thought; There it is! Her “Why.” Her belief. And as horrifying as the consequences of that belief are, it struck me how perfectly logical it was that this woman might also support the idea that she has a right to end the life of another human being. There’s nothing wrong with her logic. She’s not crazy per se. She just doesn’t believe that the human growing inside her is...well, human. And that is precisely where we differ. Two views I believe that human life starts at conception. And that belief changes everything. I’m not crazy either. Far from it. Feminist author and pro-choice advocate Mary Elizabeth Williams (also a staff writer for Salon) would agree with me. In an article that Mary wrote titled “So what if abortion ends life?” she states the following:  "I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life.” She goes further:

"When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory....When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand.”

I totally agree. Which makes Mary’s following statement so confusing. She says "And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.” How can someone believing that the fetus inside them is human still claim the right to kill it? That does sound crazy to me. 1) All life is not equal But Mary explains...

"Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always."

And there it is: Mary's “Why." Her belief. Mary believes that some humans are more important than others. She’s forced herself to believe that or else her pro-choice position would be, to use her own words, "illogically contradictory.” Mary also thinks she should be the one to decide whose lives, in particular, are more important and whose aren’t. And this why I (and many others) stand in silent demonstration at the corner of Main St. and Christie St. each year. 2) All are equal because all are made in God's image I believe that I am not my own (Nope. Not my body. Not my choice) ie: I do not belong to myself. Rather, I believe that in both life and in death I belong to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ. I belong to and submit to the one (and only) creator-God who made me and who alone determines the purpose of my life. Therefore I personally am not the ultimate authority on what I can or cannot do with my life or the life of others. I believe that all lives including the lives of those who stand in direct opposition to what I believe are equally sacred and worthy of protection. I believe that the protection of life is everyone’s responsibility and so also my responsibility. My purpose here on earth is to love God, love my fellow human beings and to serve them by putting their life and well-being ahead of my own. I and those who believe as I do are not fighting for self-importance or survival. We're fighting to outdo one another in kindness. I realize that we can’t make you believe what we believe. But surely you can see that we’re not crazy either. Which kind of society do you want? And to those of you who don’t quite know what you believe consider this: What kind of society do you wish to experience? What kind of society do you wish to build for your children? What kind of leaders will you choose to support and follow? Will you follow those who believe that some lives are more important than others (who believe that their lives are more important than yours perhaps)? Or will you choose to follow those who believe all lives are of equal value, and who believe that leaders should put others ahead of themselves? Simon "Start-with-why" Sinek has another book out which may help you decide. It’s called Leaders Eat Last. This choice is indeed yours. I’m praying that you’ll choose wisely.

This article was first published in October 2016. Jason Bouwman is a graphic designer and author of the utterly unique book "Still Thinking" which we review right here.

Current Issue, Magazine

Jan/Feb 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: The great moon hoax of 1935 / "Seven Wondrous Words" book excerpt / Why we should be life-long learners / Complementarianism is not misogynistic / This isn't your parents' Katy Keene...or Archie Andrews / "The Gospel comes with a house key" review / The case for biblically-responsible investing / Canada has no "right to abortion" / When the Word of God is not preached / Christian fantasy fiction for teens and adults / What you should know to survive and thrive in your secular science class / Four films to see for free online / I started my business for the wrong reasons / and much more...

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF

Sexuality

Propaganda disguised as Sex Education

In 2009 Dr. Miriam Grossman (a medical doctor) released a book that explains the problems and agenda of the modern sex education movement: You're Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Ed and How They Harm Your Child. Though it is an American book, it provides a lot of material that is helpful for people in other English-speaking countries. Grossman explains the underlying motivation behind many school sex education programs, and explains how this motivation leads to the deliberate distortion of sexuality information given to students. The organizations and their agenda First of all, it’s very important to know about the main organizations involved in promoting sex education. Many of us have heard of Planned Parenthood, the US’s biggest abortion provider. Another key organization is the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Both Planned Parenthood and SIECUS are motivated by anti-Christian ideals. Grossman writes,

These organizations are still animated by the philosophies of the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey – whose work has been debunked – the birth control and eugenics advocate Margaret Sanger, the feminist Gloria Steinem, and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. These twentieth-century crusaders were passionate about social change, not health. Their goal was cultural revolution, not the eradication of disease.

Because of the cultural aspirations motivating these organizations, the materials that are produced for sex education classes are not just about the nuts-and-bolts of human biology. They are deliberately designed to encourage behaviors that are condemned by traditional Western morality. As Grossman puts it,

Sex education is about as neutral as a catechism class. And like a catechism, the “information” and “guidance” offered is designed to inculcate particular beliefs in young people.

In short, “Sex education is not about health – it’s a social movement, a vehicle for changing the world.” [Editor's note: that is made even more apparent with SIECUS' recent rebrand – they now want to be known as "Sex Ed for Social Change."] Alfred Kinsey Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the infamous sexologist mentioned by Grossman, was a prominent American researcher of the 1940s and 1950s. He produced groundbreaking studies on the sexual behavior of men and women in the United States. These studies claimed to demonstrate that the vast majority of people engaged in some form of perverse sexuality, such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality and more. On the basis of his studies, and the supposed normalcy of these behaviors, massive cultural and legislative changes were undertaken in Western countries. These changes were justified by Kinsey’s science. But there was a big problem. Kinsey’s so-called “science” wasn’t science at all. His research was deliberately skewed to generate results that would justify his left-wing social beliefs. Kinsey wanted to overthrow traditional morality, so he conducted his “research” in such a fashion as to produce results he could use to undermine conventional views about sexuality. Kinsey’s fraud didn’t get properly exposed until the 1980s when Dr. Judith Reisman (currently at Liberty University School of Law) carefully scrutinized what Kinsey had done and published her results. Unfortunately, outside of conservative circles, Dr. Reisman’s research has not been widely disseminated. She deserves a Medal of Honor or something like it. Anyway, it’s important to realize, as Grossman points out, “In the upside down world of sex education, the ideology of Alfred Kinsey has been enshrined.” SIECUS The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) was founded in 1964 by Mary Calderone, who had been a director of Planned Parenthood. Grossman writes that the focus of Calderone’s

newly launched organization, which was, by the way, founded with seed money from Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame, was not to treat or prevent disease. Like Kinsey, she was crusading for social reform. Her book for parents reads like a primer for his views, and quite a few Kinsey disciples had eminent positions with SIECUS

Hefner subsequently provided additional funding as well. That is to say, SIECUS received financial support from the sale of pornography. In short, much of the impetus for modern sex education in public schools is provided by organizations with a clear left-wing ideological agenda. Dr. Grossman’s experience For twelve years Grossman was a student counselor at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). She dealt with hundreds of students in their late teens and early twenties who had contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD). She found that they had received sex education at school, but had not been warned about the harmful consequences that were likely to result from sexual activity. Grossman is not opposed to sex education as such. She is opposed to ideologically-driven sex education that deliberately withholds information from students in order to advance a political and cultural agenda. Pheromones and oxytocin Grossman is particularly sympathetic towards the numerous young ladies she counseled who have been harmed by premarital sexual activity. Recent medical research has helped to establish that women are especially influenced by male pheromones (a pheromone is a chemical produced by one person that can be perceived by other people) and the hormone oxytocin. Male pheromones “have psychological effects on women, like increased attention and a feeling of well-being.” Oxytocin, known as “the cuddle hormone,” is released in women who have physical contact with a man. Among other things, oxytocin promotes social bonding, leading (potentially, at least) to a certain degree of attachment to the man. The gist of all this is that young women who engage in premarital sex are likely to develop emotional attachments to their partners that can potentially cause intense emotional pain. Grossman believes this information should be shared during sex education so that girls can be forewarned about the likely emotional stress they will face from sexual activity. At this point, however, “These biological truths are omitted by the sex-ed industry because they fly in the face of the ideology animating their very existence.” Another important scientific finding involves the development of the cervix. Before a girl turns twenty, a region of her cervix called the “transformation zone” has a covering of cells that is only one layer thick. As she ages, the covering becomes 30 to 40 cell layers thick. But until then, there is little protection from viruses or bacteria. In other words, teenage girls are especially vulnerable to STDs, much more so than boys. Grossman writes,

Based on this finding alone – something gynecologists and pediatricians have known for at least twenty years, girls should be advised to delay sexual behavior. Yes, delay sexual behavior.

Anal sex Another area where sex educators fail to properly inform children has to do with the dangers of anal sex. These educators seem to encourage students to engage in any form of sexual behavior they desire (as long as the partner is willing), and anal sex is considered to be one of the legitimate behaviors to explore. Grossman points out that there is an inevitable “ick factor” in any discussion of anal sex. Anal sex inevitably and unavoidably involves contact with feces. However, she quotes a prominent sex education website as claiming that “negative attitudes about anal sex” sometimes result from a “disgust about feces” but “more of it is often based in homophobia and heteronormativity.” In this view, since anal sex is a common behavior of homosexuals, people who think it is gross are likely to be homophobes. Since homosexuality is good, anal sex must be good too! From a Christian perspective, this is obviously complete rubbish. Because of the strong support for homosexuality among sex educators, there is unwillingness among them to tell the truth about anal sex. Grossman has no such reservations and points out that

“feces are filled with dangerous pathogens: salmonella, shigella, amoeba, hepatitis A, B, and C, giardia, campylobacter, and others. These organisms and others can be transmitted during anal sex or oral-anal contact.”

From a health perspective, anal sex is dangerous (not to mention gross and disgusting). Grossman makes an appropriate biological conclusion: “Unlike the vagina, nature put a tight sphincter at the entrance of the anus. It’s there for a reason: Keep out!” Sexually Transmitted Diseases Another aspect that is improperly taught has to do with STDs. Sex educators do discuss STDs and how to prevent them. The emphasis is on how to avoid STDs, and failing that, how to get treatment. But Grossman says sex education curriculum does not discuss the emotional consequences of getting an STD. Many people who contract an STD get very distressed as a result of their diagnosis. But this is of little concern in sex education. Grossman writes,

Educators often mention the hardships of living in a sexist and homophobic society, but rarely describe how devastating it is to discover blisters “down there,” to worry about cervical cancer, and to learn that these viruses might stick around – for a long, long time.

All STDs are completely avoidable. Anyone who delays sexual behavior and finds a mate who has also waited will be free from STDs as long as they are faithful to each other. In other words, obeying the Bible in this area of life results in the avoidance of all STDs. Grossman argues that all of the negative effects of STDs should be taught. But this is not the focus of the sex educators or their websites:

Instead of sounding an alarm about health risks – the association of oral sex with cancer of the tonsils, for example, or the epidemics of HPV and syphilis among gay men – kids get a hefty dose of leftist indoctrination and recruitment. On these websites, the enemy is not genital infections; it’s our oppressive, heterosexist society.

Conclusion The controversies over sex education in North America will continue. This is all part of the ongoing culture war. Dr. Miriam Grossman has done parents a huge favor by analyzing the materials produced by the sex education movement and comparing them with modern medical knowledge. From a modern medical perspective (i.e., a genuine scientific perspective), the best thing for people is to save themselves for marriage and then remain faithful to their spouse. Does that sound familiar? Of course it does, because that’s what the Bible teaches. The science clearly demonstrates that monogamous heterosexuality is the healthiest sexuality for human beings. But as Grossman notes, that’s “information our daughters and sons never hear, because it challenges the institutionalized ideology and – gasp – confirms traditional values and teachings.”

A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue.


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Adult non-fiction, Graphic novels, Teen non-fiction

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to kill Hitler

by John Hendrix 176 pages / 2018  The world “pastor” is not often paired with words like “plot” or “kill.” But when the Nazis took over Germany, and used nationalism and intimidation to silence its churches, and then set out to conquer the world, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to do something. And he felt himself pulled to do what would once have been unthinkable to him: Bonhoeffer joined a conspiracy to kill his country’s leader, Adolf Hitler. At 176 pages, and text-dense, author John Hendrix has a lot of space to explore Bonhoeffer and his time.  He starts with his birth and family life, before showing how World War I impacted the Bonhoeffers – one of Dietrich’s older brothers was killed – and how the runaway inflation that came shortly afterwards destroyed everyone’s savings. In 1921 a German could exchange 75 marks for 1 US dollar, but by the end of 1923 to get that same US dollar he would have to bring a wheelbarrow, or maybe a dumptruck, to carry the 4 billion marks that’d now be needed. Money, jobs, and hope were scarce, and this set the scene for the rise of Hitler. Germans wanted a way out, and Hitler presented himself as a savior. Meanwhile, Bonhoeffer was learning, via travels in Europe and America, that a love for one’s country doesn’t mean you have to support everything your government does. So when the Nazis, only a few months after they came into power, fired Jews from any government positions, Bonhoeffer was one of the few church leaders to speak out. He published a public paper called “The Church and the Jewish Question” in which he laid out an explicitly Christian justification for resisting the government. He described three ways the Church can and should respond to an evil government. Question the State and its methods: a True church must reject government encroachment on its beliefs Aid the victims of State actions: the Church has an unconditional obligation to the victims... Strike back: it is not enough to just bandage the victims under the wheels, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself! As you can tell, this “comic book” gets into some big and heady topics. What’s more, “how to deal with a hostile State?” is a topic of growing relevance these days. That makes this an important book, but also one that should be discussed between parent and child. There is some serious theology here, and while the general thrust is right on – we owe our allegiance first and foremost to God, even if that means resisting the State – what exactly it looks to live that out, back then and today, is a topic too weighty for a teen to work out on their own. This is a graphic novel worthy of both a teen and adult audience. The thought and research that’s has gone into it is evident throughout. Even the coloration of the book is fascinating, with Bonhoeffer consistently shown either in teal or with a teal background, the Nazis always highlighted with the use of red, and when death makes an appearance there is a predominance of black. I’d recommend The Faithful Spy for any teen who has begun to think on big issues, and anyone anyone interested working through what it means to live to God’s glory in tumultuous times.

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: You Who? Why you matter and how to deal with it

by Rachel Jankovic 235 pages / 2019 I began reading my wife’s copy of You Who? only after she shared comments from the online critics who were savaging it. A good encouraging review won’t necessarily sell me a book – I have too many others stacked up already competing for my attention – but when a certain sort of critic just hates a book then my curiosity is piqued and I want to know, “What could have gotten them that riled up?” So I owe Rachel Jankovic’s detractors thanks for getting me started on one of the best books I’ve read this year. The author’s premise is simple: “Who am I?” is a question everyone asks and most of us answer badly. The most common answers involve our jobs: people will say “I’m a farmer” or “I am a small business owner.” But there’s a problem with identifying with our career: we can lose our job, or retire from it. And who are we then? Others will identify themselves with their abilities or interests (“I am an artist,” or “I am a surfer”), or in their marital status (“I am single”), what groups they belong to (“I am Canadian”), or in not belonging to any groups (”I am a free spirit”). And many women look for their identity in the roles of wife and mother. But here, too, problems exist because here, too, things can change: over time our abilities fade and our interests can shift. Over time the country we were once proud of may betray the values we thought it held. And over time even the most loving spouse will repeatedly let us down. Sure, our children can be a frequent source of pride and joy, one week sitting side by side in the church pew, hair combed, shoes polished, lovingly sharing the songbooks, but the next week it’s just as likely you’ll be taking two out at a time, their legs kicking and little lungs giving full vent to their protests in front of the whole congregation. If we find our identity in being the perfect parent, it doesn’t take any time at all for that bubble to burst. So if those are all wrong answers to the "Who am I?" question, then what’s the right one? Jankovic wants to:

“encourage and equip believing women to see their identity in Christ as the most essential part of them, and to see all the ways that will work its way out in their lives, manifesting itself as strength, dignity, and clarity of purpose.”

Encouraging believers to make Christ our first and foremost shouldn’t be controversial. So why were critics upset? Because they were confused, mistaking Jankovic’s call to God-honoring obedience for some sort of legalistic works righteousness. There’s a sense in which that’s understandable. Legalism (or works righteousness) and antinomianism (or lawlessness) are a set of paired theological errors. The legalist can’t believe God’s grace is really free, so he wants to earn it by obeying God’s law and, like the Pharisees of old, will even add to and expand on God’s laws. Meanwhile, antinomians recognize that the law can’t justify us and conclude that since we can’t measure up to God’s standard then Jesus must have come to abolish all those pesky Commandments. These are huge, dangerous errors, but if you speak out against one, it’s inevitable someone will mistake your point and think you are a proponent of the opposite error. And that’s what’s happened here. In the Reformed circles that this magazine serves we all know we can’t earn our way to heaven, but if we have a tendency to err in one direction or the other then we’re probably more likely to tip in the legalistic direction (just think of all the additional rules we once had for Sunday and how often we heard "dat niet op Zondag"). But in the evangelical world – Jankovic’s target audience – the error is on the other side. In those circles many believe sin is no big deal because, after all, the more we mess up, the more it just shows how gracious God is. Or as the current star of the Bachelorette reality TV show (a self-professing Christian) put it this month, after she had sex with one contestant and went naked bungee jumping with another:

“I refuse to feel shame….I am standing firm in believing that maybe God wants to use a mess like me to point to his goodness and grace.”

What this neglects is the Apostle Paul’s answer to the question, “Shall we then continue in sin that grace may abound?” to which he gave a definitive, “By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2). Of course, we shouldn’t expect solid theology from reality TV. But this antinomianism – lawlessness – is working itself out in the audience of evangelical wives and moms that Jankovic is speaking to. There we find that the false identities some Christian women are adopting, are giving them reasons to disobey God’s call to faithful, mundane, day-after-day obedience. A mom who finds her identity in her abilities will ignore her children in favor of her career aspirations. Or if she’s made herself the center of her world, then she’ll have every reason to skip the laundry folding and partake in a little “me time” instead. And if her kids become her identity, then neglecting her husband to give the little ones more attention can be spun as downright virtuous. That’s what it can look like, but as much as these identities promise us meaning and fulfillment, they never deliver. Jankovic wants us to understand we were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our identity is in Christ. We were made to worship. That’s our identity: God worshippers. And His people give Him glory by doing the good works that He has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Does that mean folding laundry is the key to pleasing God? Well, God might be calling you to get at that pile of clothes and, if so, then you should obey. Then that is how you can glorify Him. But the kids' homework might be a more important priority, or maybe, to take on the rest of the day, a nap is needed. If so, then that unfolded pile can also glorify God as you, in loving obedience, get some rest, or help with homework instead. I am not a mom or a wife, but this book was a help to me too. There wasn't all that much in here that I didn't already know but it served as a much-needed reminder that I am not what I do. I’m at that stage of life where joints are giving out, and it’s more obvious now than it has ever been that I am no athlete. Before I read You Who? that was getting me down. But there is joy to be found when, instead of finding my identity in my athletic ability (or lack thereof) I bow my knee and ask my God and King, “How can I honor You?” When I make Him my focus, then it turns out I’m still able to throw a ball far enough to play with the three kids God has given me to raise and nurture. I can't glorify myself anymore in my athletic endeavors, but in playing with the kids He's given me, it turns out I can glorify Him. I can still, in this way, do what I was made to do. And instead of being depressed at being able to do less, I can be content knowing God isn’t concerned with the declining volume of my output. But, as Jankovic notes, He does demand everything I have to give. If that sounds like a lot, of course, it is. Jankovic emphasizes obeying God in the day-to-day grind, making every moment about Him. We're not going to succeed at that, but when we understand what Christ has done for us, and how we are His, then we will want to try. And in trying, we will glorify Him. In failing we will also glorify Him. And we can glorify him, too, in repenting and then, secure in what Christ has done for us on the cross, going to bed assured of forgiveness and getting ready to do it all over again tomorrow. If I’m not making this sounds exciting, then that’s a good reason for you to pick up You Who? where Rachel Jankovic says it a lot better. And if you are excited, well, what are you waiting for? You're going to love You Who? I’d recommend it for any study group, women or men, and if your group is interested, then be sure to check out the study group e-book that you can download for free here.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Know why you believe

by K. Scott Oliphint 2017 / 221 pages There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics. We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them. Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics. However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level. I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith. This is that book. As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work. He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books. Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. He’s done it again. Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards. And the book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

That really sets the tone for everything following. One of the reasons I love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously. It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” God’s light especially shines forth in his Word. If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way. This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith. The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies. That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics. Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:

1. Why believe in the Bible? 2. Why believe in God? 3. Why believe in Jesus? 4. Why believe in miracles? 5. Why believe Jesus rose from the dead? 6. Why believe in salvation? 7. Why believe in life after death? 8. Why believe in God in the face of modern science? 9. Why believe in God despite the evil in the world? 10. Why believe in Christianity alone?

Each chapter deals with one of these questions. It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise. There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter. Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil. It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily. Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God. He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation. Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents. When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin. The real blame for evil is on them, not God. He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ. This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more. For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist. Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do. But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read. It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.

A 12-part video series based on the book is also available. Here below you can see the episode based on "Chapter 5. Why Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead?" Dr. Bredenhof reviews many other books on his blog Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com.

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.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Theology

On the proper role of Government (and the footnoted Belgic Confession article 36)

A review of P.J. Hoedemaker’s Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated Against Dr. Abraham Kuyper

 *****

Anyone who has ever studied the Belgic Confession, even on a superficial level, is aware of an oddity in article 36. This is the only place in the Three Forms of Unity where we find a footnote in most versions of the Confession. Whether it is the United Reformed, Canadian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed Churches in North America, or the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, all have an additional footnote. Article 36 is titled “The Civil Government” or sometimes “Of Magistrates” and addresses what we confess about the role of the government. The relevant text in the body of the confession originally read:

[The government’s] task of restraining [evil] and sustaining [good] is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed, the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. (Italics added)

But the clauses that I've italicized above were moved from the body and relegated to footnote status a century ago, as is explained in the Canadian Reformed edition here:

The following words were deleted here by the General Synod 1905 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland): all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed.

I’ve been a pastor in both the Canadian Reformed Churches, and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and to my knowledge, neither federation has ever made an official decision about the status of this footnote. Do we confess this or not? It is an odd ambiguity in our Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort). FOOTNOTE'S BACKGROUND That’s why it was with great interest that I began reading a small book, recently translated, on this very topic. Article 36…vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper comes from the controversy which led to the words being deleted in 1905. It provides some of the historical background, illustrating that the deletion was not without its opponents. This book also provides an occasion to reflect on whether it may be time to revisit the matter in an official, ecclesiastical way. The author, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (1839-1910), was a curious figure. While he grew up in a family with roots in the 1834 Secession (in which a number of congregations split from the Dutch national church) he himself became a minister in the Dutch national church. However, unlike so many others in the State church, Hoedemaker was a conservative, and confessionally Reformed. This book is a response to a series of articles written by Dutch theologian and journalist (and future Dutch prime minister) Abraham Kuyper in his newspaper The Herald in 1899-1900. In these articles, Kuyper argued against the original wording of article 36 – he did not agree with the civil government being called on to address idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of the antichrist. In 1896, Kuyper went a step further. Together with other notable theologians in his denomination (the Gereformeerde Kerkenor Reformed Churches), including Herman Bavinck, Kuyper put forward a gravamen against article 36. A “gravamen” is an official objection to a point of doctrine. These eight ministers alleged that article 36 did not conform to the Word of God and they asked the Synod of 1896 to make a judgment on the matter. The Synod decided to appoint a committee to study the matter, a committee which bizarrely included Bavinck and Kuyper (!). It was the work of this committee which would later result in Synod 1905 deleting the allegedly unbiblical words. GOING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL? [caption id="attachment_9170" align="alignright" width="200"] Let me make a few comments about the translation. There are a few idiosyncrasies that readers should be aware of. When Hoedemaker refers to "Lord's Days" in the Heidelberg Catechism the translator literally renders them “Sundays” instead. And instead of the Secession of 1834 (Afscheiding), he uses the term “Separation.” Elsewhere he uses the term “Nonconformity,” and I believe he is translating the term "Doleantie." Aside from those sorts of minor things, the book reads quite well in English.[/caption] In his book, Hoedemaker argues for the original form of article 36. Or, more accurately, he argues against Kuyper’s objections to the original form of article 36. He maintains that Kuyper was inconsistent. On the one hand, Kuyper wanted to honor King Jesus as the Lord of all of life. But on the other hand, Kuyper was arguing that King Jesus has no crown rights over the responsibility of the civil government with regard to idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of antichrist. Hoedemaker alleged that this inconsistency was owing to political expediency. Abraham Kuyper was getting into politics and article 36 was an embarrassment in trying to build bridges with Roman Catholic politicians. Early on Hoedemaker makes a point I find especially compelling. He alleges that the discovery of “the fatal defect” in article 36 is “not the result of the ongoing investigation of the Scripture; but exclusively causes which lie in the times, and in apostasy from the living God.” He states repeatedly that Kuyper and others were not arguing from exegesis, but from pragmatic considerations and false inferences. The pragmatic considerations had to do with Dutch politics. The false inferences were along the lines of the Confession requiring the civil magistrate to persecute unbelievers and false believers. Hoedemaker is especially persuasive in addressing that notion. CONCLUSION I should note that this book is not exclusively about Belgic Confession article 36 – it also serves as something of a polemic against the 1886 Doleantie (another church split). Hoedemaker writes, “The first step on the road to Reformation is the recovery of the normal relations of church and state.” But in wanting to undo the 1886 Doleantie, he’s arguing that all Reformed believers should have gone back to the national church despite its waywardness! So who should read this book? I would especially commend it to those with an interest in politics. When we have so little in our Three Forms of Unity about politics, what little there is should get our attention. Is it time to revisit the formulation of article 36? This is where I believe office bearers and especially ministers would do well to give this book a read too. Perhaps we need a proposal to a synod to clarify the status of the footnote and perhaps even to restore it. Note well: we are not talking about changing the Confession or adding something to the Confession that was never there to begin with. This is something completely different. In a 1979 article for Clarion, the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Dr. J. Faber argued for completely rewriting that part of article 36. That is a possibility. But if the footnote can be re-examined from a biblical standpoint, perhaps it would be as simple as cutting and pasting the text back into place.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where a slightly longer version of this review is available here. He is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11

by Jonathan Sarfati 786 pages / 2015 Outside of sermon preparation, it is not often that I read a commentary from front to back. If my reckoning is correct, this is only the third time and certainly the longest of the three – but it was well worth it! Dr. Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International has provided the Church a monumental resource on issues relating to the first 11 chapters of Holy Scripture. Sarfati has produced a thorough commentary on Genesis 1-11 which takes Scripture seriously as the inerrant Word of God. The greatest strength of this volume is its commitment to the inspiration of the entire Bible and everything that necessarily must follow from that. For example, one of the foundational issues that confronts Genesis commentators immediately is authorship. Commendably, Sarfati appeals to all of Scripture to prove the traditional view that Moses wrote Genesis, though quite possibly collating materials from earlier. Throughout the commentary, he also refutes the arguments of the “documentary hypothesis” – the old liberal idea that several authors were responsible for the Pentateuch, authors who lived much later than Moses. Generally, Sarfati lands on the right side of the issues in the interpretation of these chapters. He defends creation in six ordinary days – a creation which happened thousands of years ago, not millions. He maintains that Adam was created on the sixth day out of literal dust from the ground, while Eve was created from Adam’s rib. There was a literal snake which led to a historical fall of the first man and first woman. Later, Sarfati makes the case for a global flood in the days of Noah. He gets full marks on the big-ticket items. Some disagreements When we get down to some of the interpretive details, I disagree with Sarfati on some points. For example in Genesis 6:2, we read that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Sarfati vigorously argues the old view that “the sons of God” were angels. In other words, angels were married to human beings and had sexual relations with them. He argues that Jude 6-7 proves that angels engaged in sexual immorality. He argues that since angels can eat, surely they could also reproduce. I am not convinced. In their essence, angels are spiritual beings, not physical beings and therefore cannot engage in sexual relations, much less reproduce by inter-breeding with humans. I find the “Sethite interpretation” to be correct – people descended from Seth (the line of the Messiah) married rebellious unbelievers. However, I would also grant that Sarfati’s view falls under the umbrella of what we call “the freedom of exegesis.” As a Reformed reader, regrettably, there are other areas where I cannot be as forgiving. While I have a lot of appreciation for the work Sarfati has done here, I would be remiss if I did not highlight several serious theological issues. One issue that arises here and there is Sarfati’s dispensationalism. He often quotes from (and refers to) fellow Messianic Jew Arnold Fruchtenbaum, another dispensationalist and figure on the “biblical prophecy” scene. This view emerges when, for example, Sarfati argues that Genesis does not speak directly about the church. For a Reformed believer, Genesis is all about the church! Sarfati makes a distinction between the Old Testament people of God (Israel) and the church, but the Belgic Confession says in article 27, “This [catholic] church has existed from the beginning of the world and will be to the end, for Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.” Not unrelated to this is the muted development of covenant theology in this commentary. For example, there is hardly a word about God’s covenant with Adam and Eve either before or after the fall into sin. Another issue which caught my attention was Sarfati’s occasional references to followers of philosopher Gordon Clark, particularly Gary Crampton and John Robbins. Clark was part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church when it first began in 1936. However, theological complaints lodged against him eventually led to his departure in the late 1940s. In Clark’s thinking, logic and God are to be identified with one another. God is pure logic, according to Clark and his followers. Clark famously translated John 1:1, “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God…” Critics of Clark (like John Murray and Cornelius VanTil) argued that Clark had confused creation with the Creator. God stands sovereign over logic; he is not subject to it nor equal to it. Unfortunately, Sarfati seems to follow Clark’s reasoning in several places. It leads him to assert that maintaining the presence of any paradoxes, antinomies or tensions in Scripture (even apparent contradictions or humanly irreconcilable statements) is very dangerous. However, I would argue that this makes God, the author of Scripture, subject to our notions of what must be logical – far more dangerous! There are things taught in Scripture that are simply not capable of rational explanation – for example, the one God eternally existing in three persons. This is why the Belgic Confession says in article 9 that “this doctrine far surpasses all human understanding.” Helpful insight Enough about the theological and interpretive issues – this commentary also promises to shed scientific light about the first chapters of Genesis. This is where this commentary is most helpful. A few examples will illustrate. Genesis 2:21 says that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Sarfati notes the fact that human ribs can actually regenerate. Hence, Adam would eventually have had a complete set of ribs again. When discussing the Flood, the commentary point outs that catastrophic plate tectonics can explain the mechanism of this deluge. How do we explain the formation of canyons that appear to be millions of years old? Sarfati describes how canyons have rapidly formed following catastrophic events like the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Off the coast of Iceland, an island (Surtsey) appeared due to volcanic activity in 1963. Scientists have since been dumbfounded at how quickly Surtsey developed a “mature landscape," including cliffs that would otherwise have been dated as far older. In many instances, I was skeptical of Sarfati’s claims. However, I did my own research on many of them and in every instance, so far as I could tell, his claims proved accurate. This commentary aims to be scholarly in many respects. The author has used the original biblical languages – Greek and Hebrew are found throughout, but always transcribed. A lot of research is in the background, both biblical and scientific. However, an incongruent feature is the informal style of writing often used – this can be distracting in a commentary that strives to have an academic calibre. Conclusion The Genesis Account would especially serve well in the context of Christian education. Christian science and Bible teachers should have this volume on hand and refer to it often – they will find that their teaching on creation-related issues will be greatly enhanced! Preachers would also appreciate it, especially when confronted with questions from parishioners. I regularly give my catechism students the opportunity to ask me questions. I am always surprised how many of the questions have to do with either the beginning (protology) or the end (eschatology). This book has already helped me to be better prepared to deal with the former. Last of all, all Christian households could benefit from having a book of this nature on hand as a reference tool. When you hear or read the claims of the world, Sarfati will typically lead you back to the solid ground of biblical teaching on origins. Yes, as noted above, there are some caveats, but overall this commentary can be recommended.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs on books and many other things at Yinkahdinay.Wordpress.com

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.

*****

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.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Calvin’s Magnum Opus: a review of "Institutes of the Christian Religion"

A “magnum opus” is an author’s greatest work. When it comes to John Calvin his Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the classics of Protestant theology. However, as often as it is referenced, it is seldom read as a complete work from front to back. I first purchased my copy of the McNeill/Battles edition before starting pre-seminary studies in university, more than twenty years ago. Over the years I have read bits and pieces and there, often as a need or interest required but it wasn’t until this past year that I finally read the Institutes from beginning to end. In this essay, I will share some of the highlights of my complete tour through this theological masterpiece, and those highlights will include both points of appreciation and critique. I read the two-volume McNeill/Battles edition published in the Library of Christian Classics. This edition is based on the final version Calvin published in 1559. I also occasionally referred to the older editions of Beveridge and Allen, and even sometimes checked the original French and Latin. Different translations and editions Calvin originally wrote the Institutes in 1536 as a sort of catechetical handbook. It was never designed to be a systematic theology – such a creature did not yet exist. It was also not designed to be a book of extensive commentary on Scripture. No, its original purpose was catechetical – to summarize the teaching of Scripture on essential matters of faith and life. However, as the work progressed to its final form in 1559 – twenty-three years later – it did take on a more systematic form. In some places there is limited commentary on Scripture – for example, when dealing with the Ten Commandments (2.9) or the Lord’s Prayer (3.20.34-49) – and there are extensive references to Scripture, but generally Calvin leaves biblical exposition to his commentaries. A Scriptural foundation…most of the time His approach is typically theological, with the Scriptures explicitly as a foundation. However, by way of exception, there are parts that are more philosophical. For example, in 1.15.6-8, Calvin discusses the soul. There is almost nothing directly from Scripture in this discussion. Instead, Calvin works more with philosophical ideas from the likes of Plato. For a modern reader unfamiliar with Greek philosophy, this discussion is difficult to follow. Related to that, there are places where Calvin follows Platonic notions instead of biblical ones. One of the most well-known examples is how Calvin speaks of the body as the prison house of the soul. He does this in at least four places (1.15.2, 2.7.13, 3.7.5, 3.9.4). This devaluing of the body does not accord with the biblical worldview. In Scripture, the body is redeemed by Christ just as well as the soul (1 Cor. 6:19-20), and will be raised at the last day (1 Cor. 15). Well-read and it shows The attentive reader will pick up on Calvin’s copiousness – he read widely! Throughout the Institutes, Calvin refers to numerous authors going all the way back to the early church. Two stand out in particular. The most quoted and referred to author is Augustine. This is not surprising since Augustine is the most influential of the church fathers on the Protestant Reformers in general. Most of the time Calvin quotes Augustine approvingly, but there are also occasions where he dissents. The other author is Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk who lived from 1090 to 1153. While Bernard lived before the worst developments in Catholic theology, he was still not exactly a medieval quasi-Protestant. Nevertheless, Calvin made use of Bernard’s best insights. In 2.16.1, Calvin gives this beautiful quote from Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs:

The name of Jesus is not only light, but also food; it is also oil, without which all food of the soul is dry; it is salt, without whose seasoning whatever is set before us is insipid; finally, it is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, rejoicing in the heart, and at the same time medicine. Every discourse in which his name is not spoken is without savor.

Calvin appreciated Bernard’s fervor for Christ and his felicitous turn of phrase. Brilliant, but also inexplicable, word choices Calvin likewise employed language with a skilled eye to felicity. Calvin valued beautiful rhetoric – throughout the Institutes there are words so well crafted you may feel some salty moisture rolling down your cheek. Calvin’s Institutes feature numerous sections like this in 3.2.42:

Accordingly, in brief, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when his truth shall be manifested; faith believes that he is our Father, hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.

Calvin was indubitably a master of using language to powerful effect. Regrettably, I have to say I also encountered instances where Calvin uses strong, questionable, or even offensive language. He uses strong language when it comes to unbiblical and dangerous ideas. But he also uses strong words for the person of his theological opponents: “blockheads” (3.20.25), “stupid men” (3.21.7), “swine” (3.23.12), and many other such insults. I have read enough Reformation literature to know Calvin was not unusual in using this kind of language – and our day tends to be far more sensitive about throwing invectives around in our theological polemics. I am far less inclined to give Calvin a pass on some other language he uses. In three places, Calvin uses the exclamation “Good God!” (3.4.29, 3.4.39, 4.16.27). In each context, it is clearly an exclamation and not a sincerely-meant prayer to God. The expression was used in Calvin’s original Latin of the 1559 edition (“Bone Deus!”), but for some reason he dropped it in the French. In each instance, the older translations of Beveridge and Allen omit these exclamations. I have encountered the same expression in the writings of Guido de Brès. I find it troubling and I cannot find a way to excuse it. I would suppose that, being former Roman Catholics, they became accustomed to using this exclamation to express great horror – a blind spot. Challenges and benefits For readers today there are some challenges in reading and benefiting from Calvin’s Institutes. Some of the discussion has less relevance to us. For example, I found the discussion about the sacramental theology of the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the most tedious parts of the work. It may be interesting from a historical standpoint, and it might still be valuable to someone actively engaged in apologetics with Roman Catholics, but for the rest of us, the temptation to skip through this section is difficult to resist. Persevering readers will encounter some of Calvin’s best and most well-known theological insights. Among them: The Scriptures serve as spectacles to help us see God clearly (1.6.1, 1.14.1) “…man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols (1.11.8) Calvin believes the world to be less than 6000 years old (1.14.1, 3.21.4) Justification “is the main hinge on which religion turns.” (3.11.1) Fasting “is an excellent aid for believers today (as it always was)…” (4.12.18) If baptism is to be denied to the infant children of believers because Scripture is silent on the explicit practice, then women should also be denied access to the Lord’s Supper (4.16.8) The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently, preferably every week (4.17.43) Aristocracy, or perhaps a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy “far excels” all other systems of government (4.20.8) Revolts are possible when led by lower magistrates (4.20.30) Reading Calvin’s Institutes will remind Reformed believers today that Calvin is not the gold standard for what it means to be Reformed. After all, there are several points at which much contemporary Reformed faith and practice departs from Calvin. For example, in 4.3.16, he discusses the laying on of hands in connection with office bearers. He argued that this laying on of hands ought to be practiced not only with the ordination of “pastors and teachers,” but also deacons. Interestingly, the original Belgic Confession also said that all office bearers should be ordained with the laying on of hands. While there are Reformed churches which follow Calvin on this, there are also those (like the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia) which do not involve the laying on of hands in the ordination of elders or deacons. Conclusion Let me conclude with noting that the McNeill/Battles edition is generally well-done. There are comprehensive indices. There are immense numbers of helpful explanatory footnotes. It must be said, however, that some of these footnotes reflect the editor’s liberal theological bias. For example, in a footnote in 1.8.8, the editor informs us that Calvin did not hold to the modern view of a late date for Isaiah 45 and its mention of Cyrus. Well, I guess not, seeing as how Calvin believed the Bible to be the Word of God! As another example, in a footnote in 4.8.9, the editor claims Calvin does not explicitly support biblical inerrancy anywhere. While it would obviously be anachronistic to expect Calvin to affirm every jot and tittle of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (written in 1978) there is plenty of evidence to affirm Calvin has far more in common with biblical inerrantists today than their opponents. For most Reformed people today, Calvin’s Institutes will remain a reference. No one should expect regular church members to pick it up and read it straight through with profit. Those who try will almost certainly get frustrated and give up. We must be realistic. It is a work from an era in which theologians could expect far more from their readers. I wonder whether even many of today’s pastors would be able to digest everything Calvin serves up. Some of his discussions and references certainly went beyond my ken. We live in a strange time where we have more access to information than anyone else in the history of world, and yet, compared to Calvin from 500 years ago, we are dullards. Reading through the Institutes certainly drove that point home to me.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.Wordpress.com where this article first appeared.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Calvin's Institutes: Which edition should you read?

John Calvin published five different Latin editions of his Institutes, expanding on it with each new edition. The 1536 edition was just 6 chapters long, and the addition of 17 shorter chapters in 1539 doubled the book’s size. Four more chapters were added in 1543, and then only minor changes made in 1550. But the final, 1559 version was fully 80% larger than its predecessor. In addition to these Latin editions, Calvin also created French versions that, while very similar, were not strict translations – they taught the same doctrine, in the same order, but sometimes said things in different ways. It is the final Latin 1559 version that most translations are based on, including the two best-known English-language translations: the 1845 Henry Beveridge, and the 1960 Ford Lewis Battles (edited by John T. McNeill), translations. 1845 Beveridge One advantage of the Beveridge edition is that the copyright has expired on this translation, so it is readily available online for free (there is also a harder to find 1813 translation by John Allen also available online for free – Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3 – as well as in print). Cheap print and e-book copies are also available, but this is where you have to be wary, as some have crisp new type and a beautiful layout, and others look like they are copies of copies of the original 1800s publication, with dark text cramming every nook and cranny of the page. If you plan to be reading the Institutes front to back – all 1,700 some pages of it – then a nice airy, legible layout is important. So buyer beware – be sure that you can take a look at the inside of whatever edition you are buying. 1960 Battles This edition came a hundred years later, so as you might imagine, the language is somewhat more current. The editor, John T. McNeill also provides lots of helpful explanatory notes at the bottom of many pages. However, as Dr. Bredenhof notes in his Institutes review, McNeill's liberal theological bias comes out in some of these notes. 2014 White In addition to being the most modern translation (by Robert White and published by the Banner of Truth) this edition's main feature is one that will be regarded as a strength by some and a weakness by others – it is based on the much smaller 1541 French edition. It clocks in at just 920 pages, instead of the more than 1,700 pages of the final 1559 version. So, this would be the best one for those interested in checking out the Institutes but who would appreciate an abridgment...in this case, done by the author himself! Conclusion While it might seem a trivial thing, I really can't emphasize enough the importance of buying an edition with an inviting layout. You're going to be investing a lot of time with this book, whatever edition you buy, and if you get one with dense text, and a hard to read font, it will wear on you. And on that point, the White edition is beautiful, the Battles/McNeill seems good though not great, and the various editions of the Beveridge run the gamut from beautiful to atrocious.

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

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Thoughts on Deepak Reju's "She’s got the wrong guy"

Sometimes a pointed comment sticks with you for years. A decade back, a dad of two unmarried mid-twenties daughters exclaimed in exasperation, “I really don’t know what guys are looking for in a girl.” I knew those young women. They were beautiful, talented, educated, faithful Christians. The one in particular even had a delightful sense of humour. So what are guys looking for? And when they don’t make a move, what is the girls’ response? Sometimes it means that a woman – a smart woman – will “settle.” That is the premise of Deepak Reju’s book, She’s Got the Wrong Guy-Why Smart Women Settle. Deepak Reju, a pastor of biblical counseling and families in a Baptist Church in Washington, DC, writes from a wealth of experience with the sad consequences that arise when women make poor choices in marriage. He writes with genuine empathy for the realities 21stcentury Christian women face. Some problems are ageless. When confronted with the spectre of the single life, women have always questioned themselves. What is wrong with me?  Am I never going to have children? Doesn’t God care that I feel lonely? Today there are added challenges. Sex is everywhere, more than ever. Both men and women are single longer and marry later, requiring a sustained commitment to purity. Technology has changed the way we do relationships. Face-to-face conversations, always more risky, become the exception.  There is comfort in hiding behind a screen. “It’s a lazy man’s dream – no intentionality, no commitment, and no risk” (p. 5). Online dating allows optimal, but not necessarily honest, presentation of oneself. Another reality is that today more women are educated, accomplished and talented as they enter the workforce. With university degree in hand they move into successful careers. This may be intimidating for some men. The secular world generally does a better job valuing women for their intelligence and capabilities. Christian women are affirmed and rewarded in the workplace, but often treated like second-class citizens in their church. Dating as a conservative Christian woman is hard; dating as an intelligent, gifted and self-confident Christian woman seems almost impossible (p. 6). Added to this mix of challenges is the current confusion over sexuality, gender, the value of marriage, and the rising number of divorced singles and single parents. Reju suggests that faced with such a confusing, complex world of dating, women too often make the choice to simply settle for an OK man. It could be that a woman thinks of marriage as the most important goal of life, a sort of idolatry. “As Christian women, we teach the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel – and we secretly hope for marriage” (p. 7).  One can hardly blame her, since that is typically an unspoken expectation in church communities. Or “settling” could be the result of personal baggage that makes a woman undervalue herself. I don’t really deserve better. It’s the best I can do.  She might have blinders on, refusing to see the problematic aspects of a dating relationship. He’s not very spiritually minded now, but I’m sure that’ll change after we’re married. She may live with anxiety, fearful that she is not really lovable, or seen as too picky, or that she’ll always have to fend for herself. Fear of loneliness is real. It’s good to reflect what it would be like attend several weddings each year as a single (Will I ever walk down the aisle?) and baby showers after that. And how about never having a reason to go to the church nursery except to babysit other women’s children?  I remember the exasperation of one single woman in her early thirties who still visited with her married girlfriends: “If I hear another breast feeding or diaper rash story, I’m going to scream….or puke!” Men to watch out for Reju is not dismissive of the discouragement and loneliness single women feel, but he urges them not to forget Jesus. Instead, desire him above all else. As Christians, our goal, male or female, is to form our lives around growing closer to Jesus. Marriage and family life are valuable, but they are earthly treasures. Christ remains the greatest treasure. That said, the bulk of the book deals with the ten, yes ten, categories of men to avoid in dating. It’s a formidable list. Avoid the following: the control freak the promiscuous guy the unchurched guy the new convert the unbeliever the angry man the lone ranger the commitment-phobic man the passive man and the unteachable guy Each of these types will present significant issues in a marriage. It will be more difficult for the wife to mature as a Christian. It is unlikely the relationship will be truly loving or of mutual benefit. Likely the woman will suffer. Each chapter of about ten pages includes an engaging story of a couple that highlights the serious challenges that develop. A brief look at one of the stories – that of Janelle and Dominique – will give a taste of Reju’s approach to the complex topics he’s addressing. Janelle, from a Christian home, met Dominique, a relatively new believer, at church and began dating. It wasn’t long before she noticed his controlling patterns. When she was with girlfriends he would call to ask where she was. He would check with her multiple times a day. She rationalized his behavior, “He’s protective of me.” But his behavior was sometimes accompanied by anger, jealousy, and insistence on his own way. Despite realizing that her relationship had problems and that her guy didn’t meet the biblical criteria of a loving husband, she carried on. She thought, “He knows me; we are making it work; he’s fun; and I like him.” It seemed like too much work to untangle the relationship and start over. Besides, that would be admitting failure. And things would change once they were married. But warning flags should be flying! Such a man displays a warped perspective on what the Bible says about male leadership. He uses Scripture to make his girlfriend or wife do what he wants. He lords it over her through spiritual language that is twisted to support his demands.  Maybe such a man could change with growing maturity, but it’s better and much safer not to date this sort until he does. Don’t assume that you can change him. Better to break off and not marry him, than face a lifetime of emotional abuse, and worse. Interestingly, Reju devotes a whole chapter to the topic of ending relationships: “Breaking up for the Glory of God.” Who’s left? As I made my way through chapter after chapter on men to avoid, I began to wonder, “Well, who’s left. Now what? Should women just stay single?”  Thankfully, the author offers a way forward. There are godly men who desire to serve the Lord within the context of marriage. Women must realize that there is no perfect man, even if he is a committed Christian. It happens that good men are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations in superficial or non-essential things, like physical appearance, age, or charisma. Furthermore, a woman cannot expect complete maturity and thoughtfulness from a man in his twenties or even thirties. Christian maturity takes time. So it is possible to choose wisely while choosing an imperfect man. Choose to be attracted to one who is growing in Christ and demonstrates interest in continued growth in Christ together with you. Don’t settle for the problematic man who is far from God and shows little sign of change. Reju devotes a final segment explaining that waiting is OK. Yes, waiting is hard, but there is a way to wait well. I think it’s fair to say that in many churches singleness is not seen as a beautiful thing. Scripture presents a high view of marriage, with only a couple passages highlighting the benefit of being single. Reju suggests that singles may be made to feel incomplete. I would argue that at times we are even guilty of taking advantage of our singles, counting on them for some heavy lifting for our church programs and duties. One mature single confided to me, “They say, ‘Well, you’re alone anyway so you have more time.’” She continued, “They should realize that I have to do everything myself, including groceries, home repairs, painting and car maintenance. I have no one to share the workload. I work full time. I probably have less not more time.” So, church involvement, yes, but certainly to be accompanied with a lot of appreciation and support. The author argues that what makes waiting hard is that it exposes the heart. You begin to believe that what you “want” is what you “need.” Waiting is hard because it shows what you really worship.  Patience is difficult. What do you pray while you are waiting? And then there is the challenge of maintaining sexual integrity. Desire for sex is a healthy thing. Desire for children, no less so. These are challenging realities to face, while not knowing if the desire for marriage will ever be fulfilled. But it is possible to wait well. Scripture does portray singleness as a positive thing that allows a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Remember, marriage is temporal, singleness lasts to eternity, for everyone. The goal is to wait on the Lord, not to wait for marriage. Be willing to share your heartache and pain with others. In the church we live in community; singles and marrieds need each other as we wait together. Remember that no man will ever fulfill your ultimate desires; only one bridegroom does that and he’s planning the ultimate wedding banquet. Conclusion [caption id="attachment_7947" align="alignright" width="200"] 192 pages / 2017[/caption] Would I recommend this book? Yes, certainly for single women who are dating. The book offers pertinent questions and issues to consider before making any commitment to marriage.  Breaking up for the glory of God may be necessary. The book also offers helpful advice for single women not in a relationship. It will expose the heart’s desires, and help her not to settle for being married to an unsuitable man, but to wait, relying that God’s grace will be sufficient. Single men should read the book as well. They will gain insight into the typical longings of a woman’s heart. If they find a chapter or two that serves as mirror for them, there is the choice to put away ungodly attitudes and become the mature man in Christ. It will also be a helpful read for friends of singles and those who counsel them. And while I agree the title is catchy, I wonder if it might put off exactly those who could benefit most from reading it. I was also left with the thought there could be a second volume, warning men which women to avoid: the manipulator, the gossip, the passive-aggressive, the I’ll-change-you-for-the-better-agent and of course, the unbeliever, the unchurched and the angry woman. All in all, I appreciated the honesty of Reju’s book. He writes with empathy and understanding. His advice rings true. Some final reflections: I read this book with keen awareness of the many beautiful, talented, educated, godly young women (and some men) in our church communities.  I wonder what it’s like to be a single in our churches. That would be worthwhile to explore. Are they lonely even while being part of a congregation? Are they appreciated for who they are as singles, or perhaps somewhat pitied? How well do our churches serve and support our singles in their twenties and thirties, and beyond? Do our conversations revolve around our families, our spouses, and children with scant thought what that feels like to someone who longs for marriage and children? Do we encourage post-secondary education for our young women according to interest and ability, or do we fear that will make them less marriageable? Do we expect singles to shoulder tasks in the church because, “Well, they have the time, anyway?” Are we as inclusive as we purport to be? It’s a good thing when a book makes the reader reflect on the broader issues at play in our churches. She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle is one of those books, and well worth the read!

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.

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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.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Being a witness: an interview (of sorts) with Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) has long since been retired from his earthly duties, but the Presbyterian pastor, philosopher, and apologist was still up for an interview (of sorts) on the desperate need for a clear Christian witness in the public square. The text in bold is his own words, taken from his book A Christian Manifesto.

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JON DYKSTRA: A Christian Manifesto was your last book. Why did you feel the need to write it? FRANCIS SCHAEFFER: It was intended as a rallying cry for Christians, to stand up against the world’s humanist worldview, by offering up God’s own. The basic problem of the Christians in this country…in regards to society and in regards to government is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals. They have gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally, abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom of a much larger problem. [We] have failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in…. the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a worldview that was at least vaguely Christian…toward something completely different – toward a worldview based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance.  The phrase “separation of church and state” has been used to push Christians to the sidelines in politics, and we have, for the most part, gone willingly. Christians have forgotten that the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. That includes politics as well. A Christian Manifesto is a call for Christians to reenter the public square as Christians. It argues that the Christian worldview is absolutely vital to civil society and we need to share it with them. JD: Why is it vital? FS: Because it is foundational! In the American Constitution we have the phrase “certain inalienable rights.” Who gives the rights? The State? Then they are not inalienable because the State can change them and take them away. Where do rights come from? Now Christians know there is Someone who gave these inalienable rights, but if you don’t recognize the Giver, how can you recognize His gift? If we ignore God and build our law on humanist assumptions we are left with rights that have no foundation. And if we can’t explain the basis for these rights, how can we complain when they are taken away? That’s why a secular worldview is the road to tyranny. JD: How should Christians respond when their government ignores God? FS: Be a witness! We are where we are today in large part because of the many voters who held to two bankrupt values – personal peace and affluence. Personal peace means just to be left alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world, or across the city. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity – a life made up of things and more things – success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. Even as voters demand peace and prosperity, we Christians need to stand on principle. We need to speak, even when that is going to cause us trouble, and cost us materially. JD: But are Western Christians prepared for the cost that comes with being a witness? FS: Many are scared. That's because obedience can be scary. I know many among your readership had grandparents involved in hiding Jews from the Nazis. What your grandparents understood is that when we recognize Christ as Lord of All then at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty to disobey the State. That’s why your grandparents were willing to risk the wrath of Man – because they valued the approval of God. And they understood that when Jesus says in Matthew 22:21: “Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” it is not:

GOD and CAESAR

It was, is, and always will be:

GOD and CAESAR

The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. JD: You’re talking here about there being a time and place for civil disobedience. What cautions or considerations would you share when it comes to resisting a government imposing wicked laws? FS: Samuel Rutherford suggested that there are three appropriate levels of resistance: First, [the Christian] must defend himself by protest (in contemporary society this would most often be by legal action); second, he must flee if at all possible; and third, he may use force, if necessary to defend himself. One should not employ force if he may save himself by flight; nor should one employ flight if he can save himself and defend himself by protest and the employment of constitutional means of redress. JD: Here in the West we are still free to make use of the first possibility, taking legal and political action. What would you say to Christians who are hesitant to speak out against our society’s humanist worldview, and downright scared about presenting the explicitly Christian alternative? FS: I would tell them the world needs to hear a Christian witness. And until we share that, anything we do is only treating the symptoms. Then I might quote to them a few lines from Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming:

You’ve got gangsters in power and lawbreakers making rules When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up, When you gonna wake up And strengthen the things that remain?

A version of this article first appeared in the March 2008 issue.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Beating the college debt trap

Getting a degree without going broke by Alex Chediak 212 pages / 2015 In Canada, the average student debt among university graduates is now more than $26,000, and in the States, over $37,000, with only three in ten graduating from college debt-free. This may seem an inescapable reality – college tuition levels are on the rise, as are other costs like housing and textbooks. But author Alex Chediak makes the case that students can, and should, pursue post-secondary education with no, or manageable, debt. He does so by illustrating nine “traps” or commonly held notions about college that lead many students into debt. These traps include the ideas that a four-year degree is best for everyone, spending a fortune on a prestigious university is always a good idea, and that student loans are always worth it. This book is written from, and for, the American context, and the author acknowledges that although he’s “writing as a Christian” this isn’t a densely religious book. In spite of this, the principles taught in this book are applicable for a broader audience. And, while the pages aren’t brimming with scriptural proofs, the advice given is grounded in sound scriptural teaching about finances, stewardship, and debt. This is an excellent read for prospective post-secondary students, but maybe even more so for parents looking to give them sound advice.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS: Two on depression and joy

SPURGEON'S SORROWS: Realistic hope for those who suffer from depression by Zack Eswine 144 pages / 2014 Drawing on over eighty sermons by C. H. Spurgeon (largely from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit), the author paints a vivid picture of the recurring bouts of depression, melancholy, and helplessness that harassed Spurgeon. But Spurgeon’s difficulties also enabled him to minister from the pulpit and in correspondence with many suffering from depression and from the callous comfort of “friends.” The book is organized under three themes:

1) Trying to understand depression 2) Learning how to help 3) Aids for daily coping

The author places a strong emphasis on the fact that depression often has “circumstantial, biological and spiritual contributors and challenges” and “that the spiritual side of things could originate its own kind of depression.“ He draws on sources contemporary to both Spurgeon and our day on depression, A section named: “Jesus Suffered Depression Too” may raise eyebrows! Spurgeon on Heb. 4:15 and Heb. 2:18:

“readily applies this sympathy of Jesus to include not only our physical weakness but also our ‘mental depression.’… Realistic hope is a Jesus-saturated thing.... [He] is an ally, a hero, a companion-redeemer, advocating for the mentally harassed.”

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THE HAPPY CHRISTIAN: Ten ways to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world by David Murray 256 pages / 2015 In this book David Murray sets out to:

“identify the major causes of negativity and unhappiness in our lives and outline ten biblical and practical ways to tilt the balance of our attitude, outlook, words, and actions that will lift our spirits, compel attention for the Christian faith, and make the Church an energizing force in a life-sapping culture.”

The “key is individual Christians and the Christian church repositioning the positive symbol of the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ, at the center of their faith again.” Murray combines biblical breadth and depth with current research and statistics on happiness and mental health.  He presents this in an older more Puritan-style of writing, full of alliteration and multiple angles of description and application. Throughout the book there is much meat and sweetness to savor and meditate upon. The chapter on “Happy Differences” deals with the topic of “diversity” or “Why can’t everyone be more like me?” He carefully distinguishes between issues of ethnic/cultural diversities and seeing all moralities/immoralities as the same. One quibble: I do find it odd that virtually all the Scripture citations are in the end-notes and not in the text.

Adult non-fiction

Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms

edited by Rev. Peter H. Holtvluwer 383 pages / 2018 The Psalms are a rich treasure for God's people: so many inspired words of comfort, so many choruses of praise to our Father in Heaven! For generations, Christians have used these songs as a beautiful means to meditate on God's faithfulness and love. In Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms, Rev. Holtvluwer has compiled daily meditations that show how Jesus Christ is revealed and glorified throughout the 150 songs that make up the Psalter. Sixteen Reformed ministers, professors, and theologians contributed to these one-page devotions, each focusing on a few verses of a psalm, often with suggested short readings from elsewhere in Scripture. The writers act as guides, helping us to see the work of Christ in every psalm: in the imprecatory psalms with their themes of judgment, in the songs of lament, in the joyous choruses that praise God the creator, in the songs of deliverance from enemies. By providing this redemptive historical perspective, these teachers have done a great service to help Christians appreciate the Psalms more fully, and see Jesus revealed on every page. The writers also bring our attention to godly living. As Christ was the perfect Israelite, so we are called to lives of obedience, thankfulness, praise and prayer. Like the psalmists, we are reminded how far short of God's perfect standard we live, and how we are called to repentance and comforted with forgiveness. Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms is suitable for personal study, or for family devotions at mealtime for example. Since many Christians have the practice of starting their morning by reading a psalm, this may be an excellent aid to this good habit. In addition to one or two meditations on each psalm in numerical order, the book also has sections dealing with psalms about Christ's birth, his suffering and death, his ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A final section highlights psalms suitable for use at special occasions like Thanksgiving, the turning of a new year, and prayers for fruitful crops. Beautifully bound in a long lasting hard cover format, Christ's Psalms, Our Psalms is a welcome addition to our bookshelves and breakfast tables. And if you enjoy this devotional, a companion study resource will also be available in 2019, written by the same authors, and intended as a pastoral commentary to help preachers and laymen see the themes of the redeemer in the psalms. You can find out more details about that on Rev. Holtvluwer's blog here. All proceeds from Christ’s Psalms, Our Psalms go to benefit mission work in Brazil, and specifically the Reformed Reading Room in Recife. Canadian, US, and International order can purchase it at PremierPublishing.ca. It is also available at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Ed Welch's "Blame it on the Brain?"

Blame it on the Brain?: Distinguishing chemical imbalances, brain disorders, and disobedience by Edward T. Welch 1998, 208 pages A boy won’t sit still so the doctor wants to put him on Ritalin. An aging grandfather, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, is starting to make inappropriate comments to his grandchildren. A mother is depressed and asks her minister what he thinks about anti-depressants. These days we’re regular confronted with “brain issues” but few of us feel equipped as to what God thinks on these matters. Author Ed Welch notes that while going to the Bible would be the natural thing for us to do with most other matters, it might strike Christians as an odd approach in this case. After all, what does the Bible have to say about our brains? Welch answers that question by noting that God made us, so He knows what we are really like. And what God reveals about us – about how our body and spirit are both distinct and yet impact each other – is foundational to a good understanding of our brain. Blame it on the Brain is divided in two parts. In Part One Welch offers up the theological resources Christians will need to be able to “dialogue with the brain sciences.” These are the biblically-derived principles by which we can interpret and understand the (mostly secular) brain research being done. Once we are outfitted with the proper theology and taught how to apply it, Part Two then explores some “modern diagnoses and experiences, all attributed to the brain, and considers them from a biblical perspective. Then, in Part Two, Welch applies these principles to specific problems including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, head injuries, depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, homosexuality, alcoholism and more. He groups them under three headings: The Brain Did It Maybe The Brain Did It The Brain Didn’t Do It Where Welch places different conditions will strike some readers as controversial. Doesn’t the world say all of these conditions should fall under the “The Brain Did It” umbrella? It does indeed, because the world think if the brain did it, then our sinful hearts can be excused. “Born this way” is supposed to clear us from any responsibility for our conduct. But Welch’s three-fold division is less controversial when we understand that even conditions with clear physical causes, like dementia, will have a spiritual dimension as well – responsibility persists, even if it is to a far different degree. For example, if a dementia patient’s confusion leads him to believe he has been waiting for his daughter all day long (even though she arrived right on time) she should try not to be bothered if he expresses some frustration. However, if the same patient starts making crude comments to the nurses, then that should not be dismissed as simply the disease talking. As Welch writes,

Does the disease create the sinful behavior? Definitely not…. Sexual thoughts, jealousy, private profanity, and anger can be neatly covered when our minds are intact. But when we are intellectually less competent, some of the private events begin to slip out.

Dementia isn’t the cause of this sin; it simply reveals what was always in the heart. In a situation such as this repentance should still be be sought. Even when our brain is damaged, we remain both physical and spiritual beings, and as in need of accountability, correction, and forgiveness as the rest of humanity. Cautions The only caution I have is not with what Ed Welch wrote, but with how a couple of passages might be misunderstood. In the first, Welch states that with psychiatric problems there “are always spiritual problems and sometimes physical problems.” I’m afraid that some will understand him as saying psychiatric problems are always the result of sin. That is not what Welch is saying. Sin will sometimes be the cause of spiritual problem, but other times the spiritual problems will be better understood as spiritual needs. Welch notes counselors have to be aware that psychiatric problems almost always involve suffering so the diagnosed person and their family will need to hear from the Scriptures about the hope and compassion that God offers in the midst of suffering. A second matter that might be misunderstood is how Welch designates homosexuality as something “the brain didn’t do.” If he denies the brain dictates someone’s sexual preferences, is Welch saying everyone chooses to be homosexual? No. Welch is only arguing that while the brain may have an influence it cannot be credited as the sole determiner of their sexual orientation – other factors have to be involved. Conclusion This isn’t a large book, but there sure is a lot to love! I must have highlighted half of the pages and I really can’t say enough good things about. Educational, thoroughly biblical, helpful, applicable, and it still manages to be enjoyably readable. This would be a valuable resource for minsters and elders, and a highly recommended read for everyone. We all need to learn how to think biblically about mental illness and matters of the brain and I can’t imagine a better introductory book for this topic.

Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com, where this first appeared.

Adult non-fiction, Children’s non-fiction, Teen non-fiction

Made in Heaven

by Ray Comfort 78 pages / 2012 This picture book isn’t a children’s book – we gave it to my mother-in-law for her birthday – but it is certainly a book children will love. Here we find 32 instances, gorgeously illustrated with full-color pictures, of where mankind has built better machines by trying to imitate (as best as we can) the wondrous design we find in God’s creation. So the fronts of trains have been shaped like Kingfisher beaks to reduce shock waves, while window wipers were inspired by blinking eyes. And Velcro came about when an engineer noticed the many burrs sticking to his dog. If the world’s smartest engineers are looking to nature to figure out how to build better machines, then isn’t that good evidence that the world around us didn’t come about by fortunate happenstance? Comfort concludes with a 3-page gospel presentation, encouraging readers to ask God for forgiveness. We might wish that he’d also encouraged readers to attend a good church, but if we’re giving this to anyone (and it could be used as a good evangelistic “tract”) then we can make that suggestion ourselves. This would also make a wonderful gift for anyone – man, woman, or child – interested in the marvelous way God has designed creatures, both big and small.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Visual theology for young and old

VISUAL THEOLOGY: Seeing and understanding the truth about God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers 2016 / 155 pages I’ve read and reviewed several systematic theologies. These books were geared towards pastors, theologians, or theological students. They follow the same basic structure and, because they’re Reformed, they tend to say the same things in mostly the same way. Visual Theology has “theology” in the title, and it generally steers in the Reformed direction, but that’s where the similarities end. Visual Theology is decidedly not directed at the ivory tower – though scholars will certainly reap spiritual benefits if they read it. Instead, it’s for regular people in the pew. It also recognizes that some of those regular people are more visual in their learning style. So, Tim Challies delivers clear prose and Josh Byers illumines with effective infographics. All up, it’s not only a beautiful book, but also pedagogically powerful. Conventional systematic theologies cover such topics as God, creation, salvation, and the last things. Visual Theology is different; it has four parts: grow close to Christ understand the work of Christ become like Christ live for Christ. It’s Christ-centered and relationally oriented. It’s theology that, as Challies says, “is about growing in godliness.” You can only grow in godliness in a healthy relationship with Christ. Visual Theology shows why and how. I found valuable insights new to me (especially in the third section on hating and fighting sin), but also many familiar truths expressed or illustrated freshly. As I mentioned, generally this book leans Reformed. For example, the use of creeds is affirmed; the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of sin is quoted; the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is affirmed; and justification is properly defined as a declaration of righteousness. Commendably, Visual Theology teaches a monergistic view of salvation which includes unconditional election. By the authors’ own admission, the book “is not a thorough introduction to Christian doctrine.” Some readers will detect gaps. Allowing for the intent of the authors, but also for full disclosure to readers of this review, let me mention two. Visual Theology is almost completely positive in its presentation of biblical teachings. That means there’s not much, if anything, in the way of exposure or addressing of errors. Next, its relational framework is a plus, but it is surprising that the biblical framework for a healthy relationship between God and humanity is missing. There’s no explicit mention of the covenant of grace. I have one noteworthy concern: the authors are Baptists and this becomes evident in the description of baptism: “The water of baptism represents the washing away of sin, while going into the water and coming back out represents death and new life.” The first part of that sentence is true, and the second part can be true, but more needs to be said. The authors assume immersion of the believer as the norm for baptism. As one would expect from Baptists, the sprinkling of babies is not even in the picture, nor is the relationship between baptism and the covenant of grace. However, this is one short paragraph in an otherwise great book and it is far from being a polemic for the Baptist position. This book could be useful as edifying reading for a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it could also be used as a textbook for an adult education class. For those who might use it in an educational setting, there’s also a website with the infographics available as PowerPoint slides and more: visualtheology.church. Visual Theology is innovative in its approach, almost entirely reliable in its content, and attractive in its presentation. You’ll find it both enjoyable and edifying! And you can view dozens of samples of what's in the book on Tim Challies' Pinterest page here. – Wes Bredenhof

*****

GOD'S TIMELINE: The big book of Church history by Linda Finlayson 80 pages / 2018 This book will be a well-used treasure for Christian families and classrooms. It combines text, color, symbols, visuals, infographic timelines and photographs to illustrate how Christ has been building His Church since AD 33. Finlayson divides the time from AD 33 to 2010 into five periods: Early (33-500), Medieval (497-1500), Reforming (1500-1685), Missionary (1700-1900), and Modern (1900-2010). These are further divided into sub-periods on the timelines. This book is intended for ages 9-15, but it is helpful for any learner including adults. Within each chapter there are definitions of special terms: heresy, council, creed, canon, Islam, crusade, the five “solas,” ecumenical, etc. The history ranges over all the major denominations and leading personalities of each of the smaller timelines. Some minor criticisms: The maps could be a little larger, and there is little or no mention of the Black Church, Martin Luther King Jr., etc – the ending of the slave trade is there but not their churches or history. The Missionary and Modern chapters need to be expanded to reflect the building of the church of Christ in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Overall, the book covers all the major events, issues, and personages that are always recounted. This is helpful for the intended audience. And the bibliography gives great resources for further study. You can find a couple sample pages here. – Dennis A. Bratcher  

*****

JUST THINKING: 95 doodles to noodle over by Jason Bouwman 2017 / 188 pages If you’re a regular reader of Reformed Perspective you may recall some of the Just Thinking “cartoons that have appeared in our pages over the last few years. Author Jason Bouwman, a graphic designer by trade, and a theologian by inclination, has collected 95 of these “theological doodles” and paired each with an appropriate quote, or a few words of explanation, and made the most remarkable book out of them all. Every two-page is a complete though – doodle on one side, reflection on the other, and together they grab the readers’ attention and then hold it. This is a book that can’t be read through quickly – each spread is worth contemplating. To put it another way, this is theology with an artistic flair, and a devotional of sorts. This is that rare book that would make the perfect high school grad gift, as well as a fantastic birthday present for a seminary professor; we’ve given copies to our teenage nephews as well as to our 80-year-old aunt. Bouwman has crafted something remarkable here, somehow managing to package “insightful and challenging” with “accessible and creative.” I can’t recommend it enough. You can order a copy and see sample pages at JustThinkingBook.com. – Jon Dykstra

*****

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Undeniable: why doubting Darwin is a matter of common sense

There's no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but Douglas Axe’s Undeniable is something special – he explains why evolution isn’t merely wrong, but is so completely inadequate an explanation for life’s origins that even children can see through it. ON INTUITION In Romans 1:20 God tells that through His creation He has made His presence known to all – none have an excuse. So it shouldn’t surprise us that from the earliest age children intuitively disbelieve Darwin’s theory. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:

By elementary-school age children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists.

And it isn't only children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:

Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.

Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent. Why is that? It's because it's hard not to see how well crafted creation is. We’re confronted with the undeniable reality that the marvelous animals we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete.  When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – "five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease" – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, "some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are." An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art. This intuition is available to all. As he's says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:

The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years.

ON WHY EVOLUTION IS A NON-STARTER There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:

Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.

It's no different today:

[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik's] own diagnosis...is admirably frank: “Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.”

As Axe puts it,

What's left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn't explain how things originate?

 WHAT EVOLUTION LACKS Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can't get innovation even on this tiny scale - enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?

The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did.

Evolution isn't living up to its big claims.  Axe gives an apt analogy:

Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind “We never said he could dunk a basketball...or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.”

Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme’s efficiency. But it can't make anything new. As Axe puts it, "As a finder of inventions, Darwin's evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but...it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler." So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:

Invention can't happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how.... What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident.

THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK EVOLUTION CAN DO WONDERS [caption id="attachment_6655" align="alignright" width="560"] 274 pages / 2016 / by Douglas Axe[/caption] Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can't begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the "more advanced products of human technology" with one of Creation's simplest creatures.

Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection.

This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world's most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 "needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table," its living rival "does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size."

The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls.

Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man's more impressive accomplishments. So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn't compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection. Evolutionists point to time as their theory's savior - inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years? What’s behind this objection is only another example of why even a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, "Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge." Even if we grant time and countless trials we still know ingenuity – especially on the scale of living things! – can’t manifest itself. Creativity needs a creator. Inventions aren't created by accident.

The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump...may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion, trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself.

CONCLUSION Axe set out to show that doubting Darwin is a matter of simple common sense, and he’s done a good job of it. This is going to be a pivotal book – the sort to get people riled up and talking for years to come. Axe is an Intelligent Design proponent, not a creationist, but this is a book that creationist can embrace. His argument is that biology blows up evolution – to that we can all agree. Unlike most in the ID community, he isn't hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book. This is an accessible book for anyone who has any appreciation for biology. He's written this for the non-scientist, and yes, there were a few spots where I found it tough slogging, but once I got through them the rest of the book was a breeze. I’d recommend this for anyone with an interest in biology and the evolution/creation debate – this is an exciting, and more than anything else, encouraging book. God has created all of life as a wonder beyond explanation! Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how much and how often mainstream science ridicules those who don't believe in evolution, it is the Darwin’s doubters who are on solid scientific ground.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

7 quotes from "Learning Contentment"

[caption id="attachment_6470" align="alignright" width="300"] 2017 / 115 pages[/caption] An in depth review is in the works, but in the meantime, here's a taste of Nancy Wilson's wonderful and, more to the point, challenging new book.

*****

What is contentment? “Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God.” On perfectionism “We sometimes flatter ourselves into think that it is a good character trait to be a ‘perfectionist.’ But this label brings much trouble and temptation with it. A so called perfectionist is never satisfied with his work (or anyone else’s work)…..As creatures we must learn to find our true satisfaction in our Creator God. Then we can be satisfied with out imperfect work. Then we can offer our imperfect work to Him and be thankful that He is satisfied with us in Christ. Then we can rest. Only God is perfect. When we think we can be perfect we are stumbling blindly.” We're allowed to be distressed “[Jesus] struggled in the garden in Gethsemane. He was ‘sorrowful and deeply distressed’ (Mt. 26:37). From this we learn that sorrow and distress are not contradictory to contentment. Jesus wrestled in prayer and asked God if there was any other possible way. But He concluded His time in prayer with “Your will be done” (Mt. 26:42)…. If we want to find contentment, humility must be our frame of mind. If we want to be like Christ, we must take the form of a servant." This is the other side of “Train up a child…and he will not depart from it” “The more we hear ourselves grumble and complain the more we take it to our heart and believe our own words. This is where crotchety old women come from. When they were young, they were complaining about something, and now that they’re old, it has become a way of life.” Grab a hold of your thoughts “One of the central ways we can resist mental temptations, including the temptation to be discontent, is to pay attention to what we are thinking about….Setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:2) literally means picking your thoughts up and moving them elsewhere. How do you begin to do this? First you have to tune in. What are you listening to all day? What you listening to when you go to bed, when you rise up, when you hop into the shower, when you drive across town? You may be surprised to notice how much fault-finding, reviewing of hurts and wrongs, wishing for things you don’t have, dissatisfaction, and complaining are going on….If you want to change your thought patterns you must practice thinking about things that are 'praiseworthy' and root out the things that are not.” There is no neutrality “We are always either feeding discontent and starving contentment, or feeding contentment and starving discontent.” What kind of score are you keeping? "Contentment counts its blessings. Discontent counts its grievances. Contentment is cheerful. Discontent pouts. Contentment takes the hit. Discontent points the finger. Contentment is generous. Discontent won’t share.”

Adult non-fiction

5 quotes from Greg Koukl's "The Story of Reality"

The following quotes are from Greg Koukl's new apologetic book "The Story of Reality: How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between." You can read Dr. Bredenhof's review of it here. GOD'S STORY IN ONE SENTENCE “It’s a story I can tell in a single sentence, though it’s a bit long. Here it is: God, the Creator of the universe, in order to rescue man from punishment for his rebellion, came to earth and took on the form of humanity in Jesus, the Savior, to die on a cross and rise from the dead, so that in the final resurrection those who receive his mercy will enjoy a wonderful friendship with their sovereign Lord in the kind of perfect world their hearts have always yearned for.” IT"S NOT ABOUT ME “The Story is not so much about God’s plan for your life as it is about your life for God’s plan. Let that sink in. God’s purposes are central, not yours. Once you are completely clear on this fact, many things are going to change for you.” WHAT EVERY WORLDVIEW SHARES “Every worldview has four elements. They help us understand how the parts of a person’s worldview story fit together. These four parts are called creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Creation tells us how things began, where everything came from (including us), the reasons for our origins, and what ultimate reality is like. Fall describes the problem (since we all know something has gone wrong with the world). Redemption gives us the solution, the way to fix what went wrong. Restoration describes what the world will look like once the repair takes place.”  THE PROBLEM OF EVIL FOR ATHEISTS “…given a Godless, physical universe, the idea that things are not as they should be makes little sense. How can something go wrong when there was no right way for it to be in the first place?” WE ARE THE PINNACLE OF GOD'S CREATION “If you have ever asked yourself the question ‘Who am I?’ you now have your answer. The Story says you are a creature, but you are not just a creature. You are not a little god, but you are not nothing. You are made like God in a magnificent way that can never be taken from you. No matter how young or old or small or disfigured or destitute or dependent, you are still a beautiful creature. You bear the mark of God. He has made you like himself, and that changes everything.”

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

Reflections on "12 ways your phone is changing you"

The phone has had a huge impact on our way of life. This was true already, back in the 1920s, when the coming of the telephone to rural New Zealand made a huge difference to isolated farmers’ wives, allowing them to communicate daily with friends. “Party lines” – which involved several homes sharing the same line – meant calls were not necessarily private…but if you needed to chat, then you could. By the time I was a child the family telephone was a fixture on the wall, either in the hallway or in the kitchen. That meant it was in a public place where anyone could answer it and know who was calling you – or at least hear your end of the conversation. Cutting the cord When I was in my early adulthood cordless phones arrived. You could now take the phone into the privacy of your bedroom, and carry on a conversation unheard by anyone else. This began to worry parents, who knew the phone was somewhere in the house – but where? And what was being said on it? Then came cell phones, when suddenly, calls could be made and received way outside the house, and when instant communication was, for the first time, privately accessible to all. You could speak to anyone – seemingly anywhere. I remember my astonishment at a call from Paul while he was on the top of a mountain in South Canterbury helping on an autumn muster. It was revolutionary to think of the possibilities of limitless accessibility. Now, since 2007, and Steve Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhones, smartphones are everywhere. More than simply telephones, they are portable, computer-like devices that enable us to be online, all the time, and wherever we go. We can browse, we can post, we can keep up with the news – in short, do most things possible previously only at home. What’s not to like? Cautions to consider Well, lots, actually. As DesiringGod.org’s Tony Reinke has argued, our phones are changing us more than we know. I’ve just finished reading his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You and found it just as full of insights as all the reviews had promised. Everyone who owns a smartphone would likely benefit from a long, slow consideration of Reinke’s conclusions. He has thought hard about the implications of many of our common phone habits. In general, Reinke finds that phones are causing us to disengage from the kinds of person-to-person interaction that love requires of us. We are becoming more detached, more isolated in our own little worlds, less caring, more frivolous. Despite the fact that technology is a gift from God – the product of our inventiveness as creatures made in God’s image – our use of this particular piece of technology is making us less like Christ. It’s time that we took a good look at ourselves and reclaimed the use of our phones for good purposes. 1. Always available distraction One of the most obvious problems with smartphones is their capacity to distract us. Beeps, buzzes, and tunes of all sorts destroy our concentration when we ought to be attending to work – or to someone in our proximity who deserves our attention. I’m sure you’ve noticed the way vast numbers of people walk down the street with their heads down, thumbs tapping at their phones. (You’ve probably almost collided with more than a few). Not so long ago I was in a café and noticed a sign on the counter: “Sorry, the wireless is down today. You’ll just have to talk to each other.” Shock, horror! The girl serving the coffee thought it was exciting – and I don’t blame her. Our phones are also distancing us from our flesh and blood – the people right in front of us, our families, our friends, and the people who need our help. Every time we flop on the couch for 15 minutes of mindless scrolling and skim-reading, we could be ignoring an opportunity to edify, encourage, correct, love – and even learn from – a human being for whom God has given us responsibility. Those 15 minutes will never be given back, either. While some still think that our smartphones can end loneliness by connecting us to others, Reinke believes (and I agree) that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by screen-to-screen communication. We were created to respond to facial expression, tone of voice, and physical touch. Neither texts nor Facebook messaging can match what can be expressed face-to-face. Of course we can communicate with many more people at far greater speed than is possible if we’re limited to where our bodies can be at any given time. But perhaps God has intended us for fewer, more meaningful friendships than Facebook could ever cater for. 2. Ever present peer pressure I have never been a consumer or user of social media, mainly because I feared the distraction and time-wasting, but Reinke suggest there are other reasons these media are harming us. He explains that we are becoming something like peacocks, preening and arranging our personas for the admiration of an online audience. Learning how others carefully shape their profiles to appear interesting, successful, witty, and up-to-date, we inevitably desire to be seen the same way. So Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc become platforms from which we can project the same attributes. I had not realized the full extent of this, but Reinke notes that many a person wakes in the morning to check how many comments or “likes” their posts from the night before have generated. It’s obvious that young people sensitive to peer pressure can fall for this, but many a lonely adult person who lacks security in Christ can be equally susceptible. It’s time to get off social media, on our bikes and start visiting lonely people face-to-face! 3. Distance diminishes consideration Another effect of the distance our smartphones can put between us and others is the impunity with which we criticize and demean others, via our screens. Apparently people feel less sense of remorse for what they say to others online than for what they might say in person. Clicking “send” has nowhere near the consequences (they think) that saying something in personal conversation does. We’ve all seen the horribly offensive things people say, apparently without compunction, on Twitter or in the comments section beneath news articles. It seems that if the recipient of your spite is not visible through your screen, then guilt about how we make them feel is lessened. I can’t quite understand that, since each of us is capable of imagining how it would feel to be on the receiving end of vindictive words on a screen. But certainly, increased use of screens for communication seems to be hardening us. We are getting accustomed to this unkind and demeaning discourse-at-a-distance, and it appears to be imitated by others. For instance, last month I read about our Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to our Leader of the Opposition as “simple Simon.” Does that kind of epithet sound vaguely familiar – on Twitter, perhaps? 4. Privacy brings temptation Much has been written about the danger of what Reinke calls “secret online vices” like pornography. The scary thing is that this kind of vile material is available, on phones, any time and any place. Many people think they are able to view it without anyone else knowing; and therefore without consequence. Christians need to remember that God sees everything we do: nothing is hidden from him. God has made our eyes and our ears, but he expects them to be used with discretion. How can we use them to pollute ourselves? Reinke would not be the first to suggest that in the end, if your eye is causing you a problem, pluck it out. Smartphones are indeed disposable, and certainly able to have their contents blocked and curbed. The consequences of addicting yourself to such vices are too awful to contemplate. 5. Algorithms feed us just one side (Prov. 18:17) There is one final way that our smartphones are changing us, and it concerns me more than the others because it affects our ability to distinguish truth from error. We are so overloaded with online input (resulting in what Solomon called a “weariness of the flesh”) that we are inclined to retreat to bubbles of like-minded communications, dismissing all the rest as biased, wrong, or simply doubtful or unverifiable “noise.” The result is that the world is becoming an increasingly partisan place consisting of groups of people who, day by day, shout at each other, distrust each other, even hate each other – intractably. Being constantly online and fed a continuous diet of news we agree with is light years away from an older world. Once upon a time (maybe 20 years ago) people read a range of news sources, mindful of the biases of each, in order to arrive at some semblance of the truth. In those days discerning readers knew that if one news source got things wrong, the others would pounce and correct it. The truth prevails in the end, as historians generally know. Nowadays there is little true dialogue, and a cynicism about anything other than the source I read. All else is “fake news,” we hear. This is really scary, since unless we are willing to expose even our most deeply-held views to scrutiny, we will lose the power of discernment. And that is what tyranny thrives on. Conclusion So I’d suggest, along with Tony Reinke, that it’s high time to take a close look at our uses of our smartphones. Are they changing us? Yes, and in ways that we might not realize.

This is an edited version of an article first printed in the May 2018 issue of Faith in Focus www.rcnz.org.nz where it was published under the title “We and our phones.” It is reprinted with permission. Sally Davey is a member of the Reformed Church of Dovedale, Christchurch, New Zealand. You can download a 40-page preview of Tony Reinke's "12 ways your phone is changing you" here.

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: God has a wonderful plan for your life

by Ray Comfort 128 pages / 2010 Why doesn't the modern evangelistic message "work"? In this book Comfort is confronting an enormous problem that he argues is related, at its root, to a lack of concern for the law – 90% of seeming converts in Christian crusades are gone from the church within a year, and many never set foot in a church at all. He argues the cause for this distressing statistic is the "modern message," which promises earthly happiness for those who turn to Him. Meanwhile the Bible and church history show persecution is a likely result of following Christ. Comfort tells us that the "lost key" to true evangelism is the use of the law. Only knowing our sin – our specific sins, not just our weakness or brokenness – begins "making grace amazing.” To illustrate this, Comfort makes a brilliant analogy about giving parachutes to two airplane passengers. The first man is  told that the chute will make his flight much more comfortable. When, instead, he finds that wearing it makes him feel silly in the eyes of the other passengers and makes it hard to sit in his seat, he gives it up in frustration. The second passenger is told that the chute will save his life when (not if) the plane crashes – a metaphor for our inevitable appearance before the judgment seat of God. You can imagine how much more grateful he is for his "gospel chute." Comfort next makes it clear that Jesus Himself used the law to convict sinners of their need for forgiveness through God's grace – the only chute that can save us from the crash of our condemnation – and concludes by stressing that churches filled with false converts are no testimony to the power of a false modern message. The appendix is a model of "gentleness and respect" as Comfort passes on a word "For My Campus Crusade Friends," demonstrating that some of the organization's own leaders have come to see the necessity for the law in the proclamation of the gospel. CAUTIONS This is not the first book by Ray Comfort that I have read. The previous one, Revival's Golden Key, was a good read, but this one is a really good read. The two books have similar messages, but God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life is a better read for two reasons:

1. It's almost 100 pages shorter. 2. Comfort's use of Scripture is simpler and more literal.

In Revival's Golden Key, Comfort sometimes slips into an allegorical interpretation of particular passages to support his contention that it is the law of God that brings sinners to true Christian conversion. God Has a Wonderful Plan sticks to texts that clearly relate to preaching and evangelism to make the same point. CONCLUSIONS If you believe that Comfort can show a better way to obey the Great Commission as Reformed churches begin to make evangelism a greater priority, you can download a free pdf copy of the book here (just click on "Start Reading Now").

This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com.

Adult non-fiction, Theology

Calvinist vs. Arminian: a tale of two books

Why revisit the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism? Isn't it a waste of precious time to discuss these differences even as the world is aflame with political unrest? No, this is a debate that should always generate interest and discussion. Dr. J. I. Packer once observed that the very terms Calvinism and Arminianism represent opposition:

“The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other."

Arminianism had considerable influence in Anglo-American theological developments and, on the surface, Calvinism might seem to have lost the battle in the theatre of American evangelicalism. Many evangelicals even believe that Calvinism is “irrelevant.” They say, “Christianity cannot possibly teach that.” With a commitment to egalitarianism and the rejection of the traditional doctrine of original sin, American culture is receptive to Arminianism. The Arminian emphasis on individualism and self-determination dominated much of 20th century American evangelicalism. Billy Graham, for instance, uses the language of Arminianism in his crusades when he asks attendees to "make a decision for Christ" – language that Calvinists find utterly foreign to their understanding of salvation. Revival of Calvinism So it seems clear that Calvinism does not fit the American ideal. Why would anyone be a Calvinist then? The reason is quite simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural. Perhaps this is why Calvinism seems to appeal to young people, especially college students. There is also a renewed interest in Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. What is at stake? But why should we know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism? Because they represent stark opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God. Two books, published as a set of sorts, highlight just how profound the differences are: What I am not a Calvinist, by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, and Why I am not an Arminian by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist believe:

“...the heart of the matter is how we understand the character of God. The issue is not how powerful God is but what it means to say he is perfectly loving and good.....The breathtaking vision of God's Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinist claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal misery."

The following questions then, are at issue: How are we saved from our sins and granted eternal life? Are human beings so fallen that they must be saved exclusively through the unilateral and unconditional actions of God? Is it possible for human beings to successfully resist the saving approaches of God's grace? Can any who were once truly redeemed through faith in Christ fail to receive final salvation? The tone of the debate Considering the seriousness of the differences, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the history of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been one of intense and often "mean-spirited" confrontation. However, Why I am not an Arminian's authors aims to treat their Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as they would want to be treated. They also note that the Synod of Dordt was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God. "Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate." They observe that Calvinists and Arminians are brothers in Christ. In other words:

“The issue of the debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contribution of both God and man in human history."

And Why I am not a Calvinist authors rightly say,

"We should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretative conclusions."

Why I am not a Calvinist So what type of argument do the authors Why I am not a Calvinist make? They first provide some background. Arminianism has its roots in the work of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). It teaches that salvation is available to anybody who exercises faith; it contrasts with the Calvinist understanding that God alone determines who is and who is not among the elect. Arminian popular belief tends toward the overestimation of human ability and the human redemptive contribution. Traditional Arminianism believes that the death of Christ provides grace for all persons and that, as result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a response to God. But, they argue, it is possible for sinners to resist God's initiative and to persist in sin and rebellion. Arminianism believes that God's grace enables and encourages a positive and saving response for everyone, but it does not determine a saving response for anyone. Furthermore, an initial positive response of faith doesn't guarantee one's final salvation:

“It is possible to begin a genuine relationship with God but then later turn from him and persist in evil so that one is finally lost.”

In 1610, the disciples of Jacobus Arminius produced a manifesto called the Remonstrance, which they regarded as a corrective to the Calvinist doctrine of election. The authors view the divine election of Israel and Christ as “that tree of redemption into which all persons can be incorporated by faith.” They state:

“God doesn't unconditionally predestine particular persons to salvation. Rather, election is in Christ, and all are saved who do not knowingly and persistently refuse God's gracious offer of life.”

Interestingly, Why I am not Calvinist's authors go beyond traditional Arminianism, and seem favorably inclined to Openness Theology, also called Open Theism. Advocates of Open Theism have argued that while God knows everything that can be known, He cannot have exhaustively definite knowledge of the future. Since the future will involve decisions made by genuinely free creatures, knowledge of the future is said to be impossible, by definition. Since God doesn't know future free choices, the future is not completely settled. Clark Pinnock, a noted Open Theism advocate says, “Some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and presumably, God's knowledge of it.” And Richard Rice argues, "Where human decision is presupposed, God cannot achieve his purpose unilaterally. He requires our cooperation.” Open Theist theologians acknowledge “the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all,” but in His freedom and desire to enter into a relationship of love with humanity has “decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.” They also believe that God is “dependent on the world in certain respects.” Consequently, they propose that the traditional view of God's infallible foreknowledge is a conviction that should be dispensed with. Open Theist theologians seem to highly esteem people while limiting God. For example, according to Pinnock human freedom can be won only by surrendering divine foreknowledge. I agree with those theologians who call Open Theism radicalized Arminianism. And if our future free actions cannot be known with certainty, even by God, how can we believe in the fulfillment of prophecy? Why would God "promise" anything if He cannot know the future or guarantee it by His almighty power? For the authors, the doctrine of election does not seem to hold any mystery. In fact, an appeal to mystery scandalizes them. They claim that some Calvinists “make a hasty retreat to mystery” when faced with charges of inconsistency. And they argue, “It isn't a sign of true piety for one to be willing to dispense with logical coherence in the name of mystery.” They critique John Piper's declaration that the potter has absolute rights over the clay, and if God chooses not to save some persons, it is not for us to understand but simply to adore. Interestingly, on the one hand the authors state that Calvinists have been zealous evangelists and missionaries and have contributed powerfully to the cause of winning the lost for Christ. On the other hand, they argue that Calvinists can't make coherent sense of their claim that God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to persons he has not elected for salvation, nor can they explain how God can truly have compassion for such persons. They claim, “the consequences for evangelistic preaching are profound indeed.” Why I am not an Arminian What are the counter arguments from the authors of Why I am not an Arminian? In their carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinism, they address the historical context, theological concerns, and biblical texts in a readable manner. In fact, they are Bible-centered in their presentation. They point out that the question of ecclesiastical authority and the integrity of the church as a confessional body was an intense bone of contention for both sides in the struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians within the Dutch church. The Calvinists argued that a Reformed church is a confessional church. Hence they pleaded for the maintenance of particular confessional standards. Following in the tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam, however, the Arminians championed the liberty of the individual conscience relative to doctrinal standards. The authors show that Calvin was not the first one to talk about reprobation or the absolute sovereignty of God. They point to the church father Augustine who emphasized the utter dependence of man upon God alone for salvation and the supremacy of grace to the exclusion of all human contribution. His teaching has proven a problem for many Christians throughout the centuries, and it still lies at the heart of the Arminian rejection of Calvinism, which was in many ways a 16th century revival of Augustine's teaching on sin and grace. The authors show that Calvinism stands for the doctrine that all humankind is sinful. Human beings will not and cannot make their way to God, retrieve their own lives or earn their own salvation. If humankind is to be saved, God must act. God must be gracious. Human beings are utterly dependent upon the saving grace of God. And apparently, God has not acted on behalf of all. He has not chosen to be gracious to all human beings. Sovereign in His grace, God showered His redemptive love upon a Jacob but not on an Esau. It is a mistake, therefore, to pit individual and corporate election against each other. In other words, egalitarian fairness – treating all persons the same – may be a cultural ideal for the modern West, but there is no biblical reason to suppose that God shares it. The authors write:

"For his own reasons, God assumes the right to save one and not another – a Jacob, for example, and not his older, more talented brother; for Esau, left to himself and his sinfulness, is deserving divine wrath.”

Why does God elect some and others are passed by? God does not elect Abraham and Jacob based on foreseen merit or even foreseen faith. The basis of their election is God's love and will. The authors also show that both individual and corporate election are taught in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham and Jacob, also the nation of Israel. As fallen human beings, Calvinists struggle with a sovereignty that stretches and often transcends our abilities to discern the redemptive ways of God. Scripture leads us to the contention that divine sovereignty – God always prevails – is compatible with human freedom. God is not rendered idle by a world ruled by human freedom. Furthermore, in the new heaven and earth:

“the ultimate life of the redeemed will not include libertarian freedom, the ability to choose sin rather than obedience, apostasy rather than faithfulness.”

The authors also show that Calvinism is much broader in scope than the TULIP doctrine. The five points of Calvinism do not sufficiently define Calvinism, and certainly do not say all there is to be said about the Reformed faith. They affirm the five points of Calvinism but also a Reformed understanding of the church and sacraments. They explain the particular Reformed contribution to Christian reflection on the covenant and the kingdom of God. They also stress the church as the people of God with a call to seek a cultural life in the world that is typified by justice, mercy, and a transformational vision for individual vocational life. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that not all believe. One person hears the gospel as the word of life; another sees it as foolishness. But the authors of Why I am not a Calvinist critique Piper's rejection of "the wider hope," which holds that saving grace is available to all persons, not just those who have heard the gospel in this life. The Cannons of Dordt follow Augustine in their explanation. God has sovereignly chosen to save some but not all. And unlike Arminianism, Calvinism believes in the perseverance of the saints. The Canons of Dordt judged the Arminian agnosticism regarding perseverance as a hopeless position. If our salvation depends on us, whether it be our merits, our will or even our striving to keep in step with God's grace, we are most surely lost. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist claim that an emphasis on God's sovereignty in salvation hinders evangelism, yet that emphasis encouraged the apostle Paul to continue preaching. In the line of Paul, Calvinists believe that the message of the cross is to be presented to all in order that they may believe and be pardoned. The good news of a provided forgiveness is to be as universally proclaimed as is the command to repent. God commands us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to every person in it. The Synod of Dordt did not see the doctrine of particular atonement as compromising preaching in the slightest. "God wants all to hear the gospel, but He intends to save only some. Why that is the case, we don't know." As evidence of the compatibility of belief in limited atonement, and a fire for spreading the gospel, Calvinists can refer to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles H. Spurgeon and Francis Schaeffer. They proclaimed a redemption that is definite and yet good news and offered an invitation addressed to all. Much more can be said about the differences between Calvinism and Arminians. I hope that this summary review will enhance our readers' love for our Calvinist heritage and the rich doctrines of sovereign grace.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. 

Adult non-fiction, Teen non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Can I smoke pot? Marijuana in light of Scripture

by Tom Breeden and Mark L. Ward Jr. 103 pages / 2016 This book is valuable in two very different ways. First, it's valuable for anyone considering the title question: Can I smoke pot? For some that might be a personal interest, while others simply want to know how to answer the question when it comes up. Second, about half of the book is spent making the argument that the Bible is our go-to whenever we have questions. We might not think that when it comes to marijuana, since the Bible never mentions it directly. But if we want to know God's thoughts on the subject, then it doesn't take much digging to find principles which are applicable. The Bible does offer us the guidance we're looking for. As Cornelius Van Til put it:

“The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.”

That makes this a very useful book for anyone interested in learning how to use God's Word as a guide for all of life. Shorter answers are available to the title question. If you want the article-length response, I give one here. But the value in this book is that, even though it is short – at 100 pages it can be read in an evening or two – the authors have the room to delve deeper. So some of the topics they address include: the role of government and when we do and don't have to listen to it what the Old Testament and New say about the use of medicine what questions we need to ask when considering the wisdom of using marijuana for medical use how recreational marijuana use compares to recreational alcohol use is it possible to smoke marijuana recreationally in moderation? So what answer do the authors ultimately give to their title question? There is a sense in which they don't give a simple yes or no answer. But when it comes to recreational use, they want Christians to understand there are many reasons why we should just say no. So read the book, and then share it with your friends, your kids, and your church. Let's have a ready answer for this increasingly common question.

This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com

Adult non-fiction, Theology

Heaven: what can we know?

A summary review of Randy Alcorn's Heaven

****

Christians don't seem to speak about Heaven as much as in the past. There is more interest in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth than in preparing for the afterlife. SLOPPY THINKING When Christians do think about Heaven, they seem disconnected from the Scriptures. According to popular thought, where Christians go when they die is the same place they will spend eternity. Even contemporary believers base their thinking on Heaven more on sloppy, syrupy, sentimental television programs than on any clear teaching of Scripture. There is a hint in our attitude toward Heaven that it will be "angelic," that we will end up playing harps on a misty cloud in the "heavens." We will be wearing long white robes, and talking pious talk forever and ever. Some even picture Heaven as a boring place. But these conventional caricatures of Heaven do a terrible disservice to God and adversely affect our relationship with Him. Heaven is not a sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever. Hell will be deadly boring. Heaven is exciting! Everything good, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and interesting is derived from God. When we have an infinity of newness to explore, we can never be bored. THINKING ABOUT HEAVEN [caption id="attachment_5954" align="alignright" width="197"] 560 pages / 2004[/caption] So why think about Heaven? Because the Scriptures remind us to think on things above. Doing so gives us insight into the brevity of our time on Earth and the value of life eternal. The doctrine of Heaven then, should not be marginalized by the church. Rather, it should be preached, taught, studied and loved. In calling us to this end, theologian/novelist Randy Alcorn, prolific author, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, has made a beautifully written contribution with his book Heaven. Is Heaven a real place? It's as real as a morning cup of coffee. Ah, but will we drink coffee in Heaven? Alcorn asks, "Can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking wouldn't be part of the resurrected Earth?" His answer? "No." Despite biblical references that this Heaven and Earth will pass away, Alcorn strongly argues – from Scripture, word studies, and historical theology – that the "destruction" of the current Heaven and Earth will be temporary and partial. He firmly believes in the literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies about the Messiah's second coming and the New Earth because Isaiah's detailed prophecies regarding the Messiah's first coming were literally fulfilled. The ultimate fulfillment of hosts of Old Testament prophecies will be on the New Earth, where the people of God will "possess the land forever" (Isaiah 60:21). Alcorn states, therefore, that God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus. THE RESURRECTION The key to understanding the New Earth is the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus' resurrected body on Earth was physical, and that this same, physical Jesus ascended to Heaven, from which he will one day return to Earth (Acts 1:11). Alcorn states that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ's resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity. Because we know that Christ's resurrected body is physical and that our resurrected bodies will be like his, there isn't a compelling reason to assume that other physical depictions of the New Earth must be figurative. Consequently, the predominant belief that the ultimate Heaven that God prepares for us will be unearthly could not be more unbiblical. Earth was made for people to live on, and people were made to live on Earth. Alcorn also believes that Christ's redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe.

"The power of Christ's resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe – mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies."

THE INTERMEDIATE STATE Christians often think about Heaven as their final destination. However, this belief is not based on Scripture. Alcorn explains the difference between the present (or intermediate) Heaven, where Christians go when they die, and the ultimate, eternal Heaven, where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth. When we die in Christ we will not go to Heaven where we'll live forever. Instead, we'll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we'll wait for the time of Christ's return to Earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. The intermediate Heaven then is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. In the intermediate Heaven, being with God and seeing His face is its central joy and the source of all other joys. We will be fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other. We will know what is happening on Earth. We will be distinct individuals, live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God's promises. We will be reunited with believing friends and family. We will be one big family. We will be aware of passing of time. But we will never be all that God has intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in the resurrection. CHRISTOPLATONISM Why do we find it so difficult to grasp that the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination? Alcorn rightly blames the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that material things, including the human body and the Earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. He asserted that the spirit's highest destiny is to be forever free from the body. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism, came to embrace the "spiritual" view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is, therefore  a disembodied state. From a christoplatonic perspective, therefore, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally – or even ideally – live in a disembodied state. Christoplatonism has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth. The Bible, however, contradicts Christoplatonism from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It says that God is the Creator of body and spirit; both were marred by sin, and both were redeemed by Christ. THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH  The New Heaven and Earth is a real, tangible place. The New Earth has dirt, water, rocks, trees, flowers, animals, people, rain, snow, wind and a variety of natural wonders. An Earth without these would not be Earth. Alcorn believes there will be animals from various nations. He believes these animals have souls, though not the same type as humans. Alcorn firmly believes that we will be eating and drinking in the New Earth. However, there won't be marriages. Alcorn notes that the institution of marriage will have fulfilled its purpose. The only marriage will be between Christ and His bride – and we'll be part of it. The city at the centre of the New Earth is called the New Jerusalem. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million miles. Alcorn suggest that we will walk on streets of real gold. The New Jerusalem will be a place of extravagant beauty and natural wonders. It will be a vast Eden, integrated with the best of human culture, under the reign of Christ. More wealth than has been accumulated in all human history will be spread freely across this immense city. We will also have our own homes. In this New Earth we will also enjoy periods of rest. Alcorn says that God prescribed rest for sinless Adam and Eve, and He prescribed it for those under the curse of sin. Hence, regular rest will be part of the life to come in the new universe. Alcorn argues that there will be a government on the New Earth. The need of government didn't come about as a result of sin. God governed the universe before Satan fell. Likewise, He created mankind as his image-bearers, with the capacity for ruling, and before Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically commanded them to rule the Earth. On the New Earth there will be no sin. Therefore, all ruling will be just and benevolent, devoid of abuse, corruption, or lust for power. As co-rulers with Christ, we'll share in the glory of the sovereign ruler himself. We will become the stewards, the managers of the world's wealth and accomplishments. Alcorn believes in the transformation of the entire universe. If the new creation is indeed a resurrected version of the old, then there will be a New Venus, after all. In the same way that the New Earth will be refashioned and still be a true Earth, with continuity to the old, the new cosmic heavens will likewise be the old renewed. It will provide unimaginable territories for us to explore and establish dominion over them to God's glory. And if Christ expands His rule by creating new worlds, whom will He send to govern them on his behalf? His redeemed people. Some may rule over towns, some cities, some planets, some solar systems or galaxies. Alcorn comments, "Sound far-fetched? Not if we understand Scripture and science." CULTURE Alcorn notes that Scripture is clear that in some form, at least, what's done on Earth to Christ's glory will survive. But he also argues that cultural products of once pagan nations will be brought in by its people "proclaiming the praise of the Lord" (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Alcorn believes that Isaiah and Revelation indicate that these products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth. But the idea of bringing into the New Heaven and Earth cultural products is also a much disputed idea. Will we still want these treasures when our whole environment will be different? He says that there will be technology, machinery, business and commerce. There will be music, dancing, storytelling, art, entertainment, drama, and books. We will design crafts, technology, and new modes of travel. We will not only work in the New Earth, we will keep on learning. Alcorn looks forward to reading nonfiction books that depict the character of God and the wonders of his universe. "I'm eager to read new biographies and fiction that tell powerful redemptive stories, moving our hearts to worship God." Interestingly, he also believes that the Bible will be in Heaven. "Presumably, we will read, study, contemplate, and discuss God's Word." But why would there be a Bible in Heaven? The Bible serves God's people in this world as a guide for their lives and to strengthen their faith. In Heaven there is no need for the Bible. We see then God face to face. We witness then the fulfillment of His promises. ETERNAL REWARDS  Alcorn argues that God will hand out different rewards and positions. He says that our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our rewards. The rewards hinge on specific acts of faithfulness on Earth that survive the believer's judgment and are brought into Heaven with us. Alcorn believes that the position of authority and the treasures we're granted in Heaven will perpetually remind us of our life on Earth, because what we do on Earth will earn us those rewards. IMAGINATION AND SPECULATION Alcorn asserts that God expects us to use our imagination in describing Heaven, even as we recognize its limitations and flaws. He states that because the Bible gives a clear picture of the resurrection and of earthly civilization in the eternal state, he is walking through a door of imagination that Scripture itself opens. He writes: "If God didn't want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, he wouldn't have told us as much about it as he has." But at times his imagination gets the best of him. He repeatedly uses the words "perhaps" and "speculation." For example, he claims that perhaps intermediate bodies in the intermediate Heaven – or at least a physical form of some sort – serve as bridges between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies. He suggests that our guardian angels or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor us. We could also discuss ministry ideas with Luis Palau, Billy Graham, or Chuck Colson. He also argues that we will explore space. He suggests that to view the new heavens, we might travel to the far side of the moon and other places where stargazing is unhindered by light and atmospheric distortions. HEAVENLY MINDED. EARTHLY GOOD.  Thinking about Heaven should impact the way we live on Earth. Alcorn comments that understanding Heaven doesn't just tell us what to do, but why. It is incentive for righteous living to the glory of God. Anticipating our homecoming will motivate us to live spotless lives here and now. In other words, what God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve Him in our present life. EVALUATION Alcorn quotes frequently from the writings of many Reformed authors, including Francis Schaeffer, Al Wolters, Anthony Hoekema, Herman Ridderbos, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Cornelis Venema, Paul Marshall and Richard Mouw. He is also greatly indebted to writings of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer. His work clearly shows the impact these scholars made on him. But Alcorn also adds his own perspectives on the life to come. He writes: "I will try to make the case carefully and biblically. There is plenty in this book for everyone to disagree with." I have already stated a few of my disagreements, so let me now state a few more. Alcorn overly quotes from his own writings. His "works equal rewards" theology is questionable. I can't find any Biblical support for his suggestion that God might create new beings for us to rule over in the afterlife. The rich concept of Sabbath rest gets short thrift – rest is not something physical; it is spiritual. It is not negative, what we do or not do, but positive, something we have. This rest is a gift from God, something we enjoy in close association with Him. I suggest that Alcorn thinks about Heaven too much from an egocentric viewpoint – focusing in on what interests us the most. With all the discussions of what we may do in Heaven, we easily forget that Heaven is the place of habitation of the Triune God. I also have questions about the purpose of Alcorn's speculations. We must not say more than Scripture. God has not revealed to us what the new cosmos will be like. We don't know anything about extra territorial space travel. We easily forget that the apostle Paul says: "No eye has seen no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9,10). But my critical observations don't take away the appreciation I have for Alcorn's work. He gives new insights, and makes you think about the best that is yet to come for God's people.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This article first appeared in the 2005 July/August issue.

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

"The Devil’s Delusion" and the baseless confidence of the certain atheist

Some atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, were very certain about their doubt. This sort of sure skeptic will argue that society should make a clean break from religion of every sort and instead embrace science and all its implications. But their assertions about science – that it proves God is not – don’t approach anything close to the truth. It was to counter such ridiculous claims that mathematician David Berlinski wrote The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. Berlinski is as interesting as his book. He is not a creationist or even a Christian. This self-described “secular Jew” doesn’t oppose atheism and mindless evolution on any religious grounds. He just wants to pop the bubble of pretentious atheists, and as such the purpose of his book is not to determine whether God exists “but whether science has shown that He does not.” It has not, as Berlinski humorously, shows. BIG BANG THEORY Secular science has a very different origin story than the one we find in Genesis. According to the Big Bang theory view, billions of years ago something of incredible density suddenly started to expand, leading to the universe as we know it today. The Big Bang theory is relatively new – from the 1920s – and, from its start, it made atheists very uncomfortable. As Berlinski writes,

If the Big Bang expresses a new idea in physics, it suggests an old idea in thought: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Christians don’t have to agree with the Big Bang theory to be amused by the implications – even this secular theory suggests the universe had a starting point. And that prompts the unavoidable question: Who or what caused it to start? While atheists insist “Not God!” they have no scientific reasons to be so insistent. The Big Bang theory hardly requires an atheistic conclusion. APPEARANCE OF DESIGN Many aspects of the universe are precisely ordered to sustain life on earth, and Berlinski shares several, beginning with the “cosmological constant.”

The cosmological constant is a number controlling the expansion of the universe….And here is the odd point: If the cosmological constant were larger than it is, the universe would have expanded too quickly, and if smaller, it would have collapsed too early, to permit the appearance of living systems. Very similar observations have been made with respect to the fine structure constant, the ratio of neutrons to protons, the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force, even the speed of light.

Why stop? The second law of thermodynamics affirms that, in a general way things are running down. The entropy of the universe is everywhere increasing. But if things are running down, what are they running down from? This is the question that physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose asked. And considering the rundown, he could only conclude that the runup was an initial state of the universe whose entropy was very, very low and so very finely tuned.

Who ordered that?

“Scientists,” the physicist Paul Davies has observed, “Are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issues are the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences’ and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.”

Those arguments are very much of a piece with those that [atheist] Fred Hoyle advanced after studying the resonances of carbon during nucleosynthesis. “The universe,” he grumbled afterwards, “looks like a put-up job.”

Creationists often point to additional features, not specifically mentioned by Berlinski. Some examples include: The earth’s orbit is precisely in a zone where it is not too close to the sun (which would cause water to boil) and not too far from the sun (which would cause water to freeze). The earth’s rotation helps to regulate the planet’s temperature, preventing one side from becoming too hot, and the other side from becoming too cold. The tilt of the earth’s axis is perfectly aligned to result in regular seasons that are necessary for many forms of life to thrive (think of trees in the fall and spring, for example). The earth’s atmosphere is a thin layer of nitrogen and oxygen held in place by gravity and indispensable to maintaining life. The list goes on and on. Atheistic scientists have proposed speculative theories to explain this unlikely string of coincidences. Berlinski demonstrates that these theories are not at all convincing, which poses a big problem for the atheists, because if their theories

…do not suffice to answer the question why we live in a universe that seems perfectly designed for human life, a great many men and women will conclude that it is perfectly designed for human life, and they will draw the appropriate consequences from this conjecture.

In other words, the reason the universe appears designed to support life is because it has been designed. But by Who?

One answer is obvious. It is the one theologians have always offered: The universe looks like a put-up job because it is a put-up job. That this answer is obvious is no reason to think it false. Nonetheless the answer that common sense might suggest is deficient in one respect: It is emotionally unacceptable because a universe that looks like a put-up job puts off a great many physicists.

They have thus made every effort to find an alternative. Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth?

Well, you were wrong.

DARWINIAN EVOLUTION Everyone is familiar with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over long periods of time, mutations occur in various organisms. Some mutations help the organisms to survive and even to thrive. As this process continues over millions of years, different species emerge. This is called “speciation.” One species evolves into another through a series of small and gradual developments. Unfortunately, for its proponents, the fossil record does not show this gradual advance. Body types appears in the fossil record fully developed. Evidence of transitions from one species to another has not been found. Yet such evidence is precisely what Darwin’s theory requires. Besides the absence of fossil evidence, Berlinski points out that

there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies. This is the conclusion suggested as well by more than six thousand years of artificial selection, the practice of barnyard and backyard alike.

In short, there is no genuine scientific evidence that any species has gradually developed into another species. ATHEIST WORLDVIEW So if science doesn’t back unguided evolution, why do atheists insist it does? This is where we really get to the crux of the matter. Berlinski writes,

If Darwin’s theory of evolution has little to contribute to the content of the sciences, it has much to offer their ideology. It serves as the creation myth of our time, assigning properties to nature previously assigned to God. It thus demands an especially ardent form of advocacy.

Like everyone else in the world, atheists have certain presuppositions about the nature of the world, life, and reality. They have a worldview. When they try to explain the existence of life and the universe, they interpret everything through the lens of their worldview. Because they begin with the presupposition that God does not exist, their worldview rules out certain conclusions right from the very start. Berlinski understands this and points out that behind the current wave of aggressive atheism “is a doctrinal system, a way of looking at the world, and so an ideology.” Atheists formulate arguments using science to make it appear that science supports their beliefs. But as Berlinski writes,

Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs, and very rarely – perhaps never – do beliefs reflect an agenda determined entirely by the facts.

ATHEISM AND MORALITY Interestingly, Berlinski discusses the implications of atheism for morality. Many atheists like to assert that their beliefs pose no problem for ethics. Atheists can still make moral judgments. The problem is that if they do make moral judgments, those judgments cannot be based on their atheistic beliefs. Atheism provides no basis for ethics aside from subjective personal preferences. Berlinski writes,

If moral imperatives are not commanded by God’s will, and if they are not in some sense absolute, then what ought to be is a matter simply of what men and women decide should be. There is no other source of judgment.

Morality is either determined by God or by man. If God does not exist, there are no external ethical restraints on man’s behavior. CONCLUSION So does science prove “God is not”? No, and atheists who claim otherwise are only showing their willingness to look past the evidence. They’ve started with atheistic assumptions and arrived at atheistic conclusions that are dictated by their worldview. Berlinksi is not a Christian and he accepts many aspects of the secular worldview, including a long age for the universe, and, seemingly, aspects of evolution. But even in accepting these secular tenets he can’t look past the overwhelming evidence for design, and thus some sort of Designer, apparent in the world around us.

Michael Wagner’s book, "Leaving God Behind" about Canada’s Christian roots can be purchased here.

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Greg Koukl's "The Story of Reality"

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important That Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl 2017 / 198 pages There are two types of apologetics books: there are the ones that tell you about defending the faith and then there are the ones that show you how to defend the faith. Greg Koukl’s new book falls into the latter category. It’s a book written with two main types of readers in mind. It’s for Christians who are struggling for answers to the big questions that come with the Christian faith. It’s also written for unbelievers who are open to considering the claims of the Christian faith. For both readers (and others), I think Koukl has something powerful to offer. The Story of Reality is a basic overview of most of the key elements of a Christian worldview. When I say it’s basic, I mean that it’s not written at a highly academic level. A high school or college student should be able to manage it. However, behind the basic level of communication, one familiar with the issues will recognize that Koukl is no slouch. The deeper stuff is in his grasp, but he has distilled it into something readily understood. A story but not fiction The concept of “worldview” is increasingly being criticized in Christian circles as something created by modern philosophy. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Koukl recasts the notion in terms of a story. In this story, there are characters and there is a plot. The main characters are God and man. The plot involves creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. But unlike other stories, the Christian story (laid out in the Bible) is objectively true — it is reality. Koukl addresses other competing “stories” such as: materialism mysticism/pantheism Islam He critiques these stories and shows how they’re inadequate for explaining the state of things as we see them. He then also provides ample argumentation to illustrate that it’s only the Christian story (or worldview) that can be true. Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Readers familiar with Reformed presuppositional apologetics will recognize what Koukl is doing. His method is generally in that school. As I’ve noted before (in my review of his previous book Tactics), Koukl is a student of Francis Schaeffer, who in turn had been a student of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was one of the pioneers of Reformed presuppositional apologetics. One of the key features of that school is a commitment to the place of Scripture in apologetics, not only as a foundation, but also as part of the actual method. Similarly, throughout The Story of Reality, Koukl is constantly either quoting or, more often, paraphrasing the Bible. This is highly commendable! Couple of cautions This is not to say that Koukl is always consistently in the Reformed school of apologetics. There are a couple of places where I put some question marks. In chapter 21, he discusses faith. He correctly notes that faith, in itself, does not save. Rather, faith is the instrument through which we are saved. Then he writes this:

"This is why reason and evidence matter in the story. It is critical to get certain facts right. Put simply — reason assesses, faith trusts. That is the relationship of reason to faith. Reason helps us know what is actually true, leading to accurate belief. Faith is our step of trust to rely on what we have good reason to believe is so."

There is some truth in this. You can say that faith needs and uses reason as a tool. However, there are also important limits to this. Above all, the unregenerate mind misuses and abuses reason because of sin. Unregenerate reasoning is not going to assess facts correctly. Deadened by sin, reason does not help you know what is actually true. Moreover, even when regeneration comes into the picture, human reason is going to run stuck with certain pieces of the Christian worldview (or story). Think of the Trinity. Reason assesses that doctrine and says, “Sorry, it doesn’t make sense.” Does faith then stop trusting? Faith has reasons for believing in the Trinity, but those reasons come down to the faithfulness and reliability of the One who revealed it to us, not the logical self-evidence of it. There were a few other questionable statements. In this blog post, I interacted with his suggestion on page 51 that the Big Bang is compatible with Genesis. In chapter 11, he opines that the Bible teaches that animals have souls. The biblical evidence offered for this is debatable. One addition would have been good I also want to draw attention to an omission. The subtitle tells us that the book will tell us “everything important that happens in between” the beginning and the end. But in Koukl’s story, an important part is missing. It’s the part where the lives of believers are transformed by the gospel. It’s the part where the Holy Spirit works to change us and make us into new people who take every thought captive for Christ in every area of life. I was hoping to read at least a paragraph, preferably a chapter, about that vital and wonderful part of the Story. It’s incomplete without it. A book worth buying for – and reading with – a friend Despite my criticisms, overall this is a well-written and well-argued book. Koukl deftly anticipates questions and objections. He uses helpful illustrations. The chapters are of such a length as not to be intimidating. If you know an unbeliever who is showing interest in the faith, I’d suggest buying two copies — one for yourself, and one for her or him. Offer to read it together and discuss it. You’d for sure find yourself enriched and, who knows, perhaps it would be God’s instrument to work faith in the heart of your friend too.

For 5 great quotes from "The Story of Reality" click here. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Creation Without Compromise and Yinkahdinay where this article first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction

Shocked by Augustine's Confessions

There are many classics I mean to read in my life, but I just haven’t yet. Fortunately this summer, while laid up with an injury, I found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked – not by any of his confessions, but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But whatever the case, this classic is engaging. FREE TO QUESTION The best thing about the first few chapters is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (such as ‘Why does a good God allow evil?’) and then immediately answer it, Augustine just begins with posing questions. Many chapters start with a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God. I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two – for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time? AN ATTRACTIVE HUMILITY The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of many of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert. It was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims. But Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the Church after him should follow…even though the Church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers. [caption id="attachment_5448" align="alignright" width="197"] Some translations of Augustine’s "Confessions" can be easily found online and downloaded for free. But the free versions often have older language, with "Thees" and "Thous." A more current, very readable (but not free) version is Benigus O’Rourke’s translation pictured here. – JD[/caption] This is not to say Augustine is completely uninterested in answers. No, in fact much of his search for God is driven by his dissatisfaction with the answers given by his pagan worldview. And finding a few answers was central in his conversion – he explores answers more and more the further you delve into his book. However, the questions never stop. In the end, he is willing to have faith without answering every question that could be asked about God. QUESTIONS ASKED IN FAITH The second really cool thing about Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to all of them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the ones they love. I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day. If someone had wanted me to read Confessions before now, they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should have said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar. And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them:

“Let [people] ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Tactics: a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions

by Greg Koukl 2009 / 208 pages What would you do? You’re in a public place and you encounter a woman with a pentagram hanging on a necklace. Maybe it’s a fellow student at university. Perhaps a neighbor. You see this pagan five-pointed star and what would you say? For most of us, we probably wouldn’t say anything at all. But that would be a missed opportunity, according to author and apologist Greg Koukl. When Koukl encountered a store clerk with a pentagram pendant, he used the moment to ask some key questions of the young woman. His well-placed questions challenged her to think about her way of looking at the world. Koukl’s book Tactics teaches how to use the same method in all kinds of circumstances. Koukl wants to help Christians learn to share their faith in a winsome and Christ-like manner. He wants us to be confident in promoting the Christian worldview and its values. An upgrade on what I had For some years I’ve been teaching my pre-confession students a short unit on apologetics, teaching them how to defend and promote the Christian faith. I don’t just want to them to know what they believe; I also want them to know why they believe it. They should be equipped to deal with people who don’t believe and who might challenge them on their faith. For this apologetics unit, I’ve been using Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive as a textbook. Pratt’s book is good in many ways, but I’ve been looking for something better. Koukl’s Tactics recently came across my desk and I thought I might explore that as an alternative. At first I was skeptical. I’ve explored other options over the years, some even from Reformed authors, and I’ve been disappointed. So far as I know, Gregory Koukl isn’t a confessionally Reformed fellow, so how could this possibly work out as my new apologetics textbook? After all, I believe it is crucially important for our apologetics to be grounded in our Reformed theological convictions. Reformed in approach… Well, what a surprise! If Koukl isn’t Reformed, his approach sure sounds Reformed in most places. As mentioned above, he teaches readers to ask carefully crafted questions. He calls this the “Columbo Tactic,” after the famous bumbling-but-very-effective TV detective. These Columbo questions are meant to dissect the unbeliever’s worldview and poke holes in it so that they see that their worldview is incoherent and inconsistent. He wants us to help the non-believer see that even if they have a very nice house, it has no solid foundation. Anyone familiar with Reformed presuppositional apologetics is going to recognize the language and approach. Besides asking well-crafted questions, Koukl also suggests a few other strategies. One of them he calls “Taking the Roof Off.” This involves getting into someone else’s worldview or argument and taking it for a “test drive” to see where it ends up. In the words of Proverbs 26:5, it is “answering a fool according to his folly.” In this excerpt, Koukl shows how that might work:

The story is told of an atheist philosophy professor who performed a parlor trick each term to convince his students that there is no God. “Anyone who believes in God is a fool,” he said. “If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove he is God, and yet he can’t do it.” The professor then dropped the chalk and watched it shatter dramatically on the classroom floor.

If you meet anyone who tries this silly trick, take the roof off. Apply the professor’s logic in a test of your own existence. Tell the onlookers you will prove you don’t exist.

Have someone take a piece of chalk and hold it above your outstretched palm. Explain that if you really exist, you would be able to accomplish the simple task of catching the chalk. When he drops the chalk, let it fall to the ground and shatter. Then announce, “I guess this proves I do not exist. If you believe in me, you’re a fool.”

Clearly this chalk trick tells you nothing about God. The only thing it is capable of showing is that if God does exist, he is not a circus animal who can be teased into jumping through hoops to appease the whim of foolish people.

Later in the book, one learns why Koukl’s approach is reassuringly comfortable to a Reformed apologist: by and large he learned it from Francis Schaeffer, who in turn learned it from Cornelius VanTil (the father of modern Reformed apologetics). What I appreciate most about this book is that it isn’t top-heavy with theory. Koukl provides the basic approach and then spends the greater part of the book illustrating how to use it. And he illustrates well. His writing is clear, concise, and enjoyable to read. I think my pre-confession students are going to love it! One caution Were there any issues or concerns? Let me mention one. In chapter 2, Koukl discusses the use of our minds and logic. A lot of what he says there is good and true. However, on page 32, he makes what he recognizes will be a controversial statement to some: “Therefore the mind, not the Bible, is very first line of defense God has given us against error.” This is because, he says, the mind is first in terms of the order of knowing things. I know what he is trying to say, yet he seems to create a false dilemma between the Bible and the human mind when it comes to our knowing. For us to know rightly, we need to have our minds regenerated by the Holy Spirit and our thoughts guided by the Word of God. It’s not a case of either…or, but both…and. In the words of Psalm 36:9, it is in God’s light that we see light. Our thoughts are meant to follow after God’s thoughts. Conclusion Obviously I’m going to highly recommend this book to anyone else teaching apologetics, whether to young people or others. In school Bible classes or church catechism classes, this little book could add some extra punch to your instruction. Moreover, for anyone just interested in becoming better at sharing our Christian hope with others – which should be all of us – you need to read this book too.

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.

Adult non-fiction, Pro-life - Euthanasia

SPEAKING AGAINST SUICIDE: a summary review of "A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide"

Do you find it harder to make the case against euthanasia than against abortion? That might be, in part, because we have less experience – abortion has been legal in Canada since 1969, and euthanasia only since 2016. Also, in abortion, we have victims who need advocates because they can’t speak for themselves, whereas in euthanasia the victims are also the perpetrators. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped – who wants to die? And consider how, in euthanasia, many of the cases involve terminal illnesses, and so have the same emotional tension as the hardest cases – those involving rape and incest – have in the abortion debate. That’s why it’s more difficult. JUST TWO OPTIONS But, just as in the abortion debate, the key is to first find the central issue. With abortion, the main question is, "Who is the unborn?" There are only two options. If the unborn is not human, there is no justification needed for “its” surgical removal. But if the unborn is human, then no justification is sufficient for killing him or her. As in Blaise Alleyne and Jonathan Van Maren’s explain in their new book, A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide Similarly, the crux of opposition to euthanasia can also be boiled down to just one question:

How do we help those who are feeling desperate enough to want to kill themselves?

And again, there are only two options: either we prevent suicide, or we assist it. Alleyne and Van Maren have given us a wonderful tool in this book. Their extensive experience in the pro-life movement is evident as they start by framing the debate. If we’re going to be effective, pro-lifers need to understand the three possible positions that people hold on this issue. They are: the split position – we should prevent some suicides while helping others the total choice position – anyone who wants to commit suicide should be helped to do so and the pro-life position – all life is precious, and all suicides are tragic THE SPLIT POSITION So how do we respond to the split position? Van Maren and Alleyne say that it is the job of pro-life apologetics is to show the split position’s inherent inconsistency. Suicide is tragic sometimes, but to be celebrated other times? The authors then give ways to counter the reasons often used to justify some suicides, given by the acronym QUIT for: Quality of life Unbearable suffering Incurable condition Terminal prognosis They spend 20 pages showing why these are fallacious reasons, so I can’t properly sum up their argument in just a line or two, but one underlying flaw to these justifications for suicide is that they are based on ageism and ableism. So in much the same way we can expose the inadequacy of many justification for abortion by bringing out an imaginary "two-year-old Timmy" (“What if the mother was too poor to have a baby?” “Would that be a good reason to kill Timmy?”) in the assisted suicide debate we can bring out an imaginary able-bodied 19-year-old. If someone opposes this 19-year-old committing suicide, why is it that they are fine with that 90-year-old doing so? Or that wheelchair bound lass? We can expose them for being ageist and ableist – treating people as less worthy of life based on their age or ability – and show them it is wrong to assist the suicide of anyone, of any age or level of health because as the authors put it, "suicide is a symptom [of despair], not a solution." TOTAL CHOICE Next, the authors take on those are (sadly) willing to be consistent and advocate total choice for all who desire to be assisted in ending their lives. Our only response is to insist that the suicidal need love even more than they need argument. THE SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES The fourth chapter shows how dangerous it is to accept either the split or the total choice position, because they have always involved a slippery slope toward more and more assisted killings they reduce the willingness to prevent suicide they undermine the morale of everyone who works in any facility that provides suicide assistance THE PRO-LIFE POSITION Finally, the authors show the pro-life position. We know, on the one hand, that life is a gift from God, so it is not to be thrown away, but on the other, that all life ends, and because of Jesus we need not fear death. So the pro-life position is not about continuing life at all costs. It allows for: the refusal of burdensome treatment the use of pain medication, even when that risks hastening death, as long as the intent of such medication is to alleviate pain rather than to kill The pro-life position also offers positive responses to the suicidal: psychological health resources, pain management, palliative care, and dignity therapy. The authors end with two pleas: "Let death be what takes us, not lack of imagination." In other words, may no-one ever have their death hastened because we refuse to imagine how we may show more compassion. "As people who believe in the dignity and value of every human life, it is our responsibility to.... persuade people that assisted suicide is wrong." In their Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide Alleyne and Van Maren have done an admirable job of giving us the tools to carry out that responsibility. Given the urgency of the push toward euthanasia in both Canada and U.S., we need to read this book.

“A Guide for Discussing Assisted Suicide” can be ordered at lifecyclebooks.com (where you can also find the option to buy in bulk for your pro-life group or circle of friends at greatly reduced prices).

Adult non-fiction

Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection

by Gary Bates 2004 / 382 pages Are people actually being abducted by aliens? That’s the question being asked by this book…and the recently released documentary based on it. The author is Christian, so you might expect he’d answer with an emphatic “no” but Gary Bates response could best be summarized as, “sort of.” The way the book is structured, Alien Intrusion could be given to anyone, Christian or not. The cover and first few chapters hardly give a hint that this is a Christian book since, initially, it seems to be making a case for UFO’s and aliens. Bates notes that millions of people, including a past president of the United States, claim to have seen a UFO, and he discusses how many popular TV shows, likes Star Trek and various science fiction movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey assume that aliens are somewhere out there. But after delving into what people think about aliens and UFOs the author then begins, step by step, to explain why aliens could not possibly be visiting us from other planets. Most of the reasons are simply practical – the distances are too far and the energy needed simply too immense. Despite the fact that it is physically impossible for aliens to be visiting us, the author doesn’t believe that every story of alien abduction is simply a lie or a delusion. After debunking many famous “UFOlogists” Bates notes that there are still too many ordinary folks making abduction claims – people who have nothing to gain, and personal credibility to lose – to simply dismiss the phenomenon altogether. This is where the book starts to become clearly Christian. The author argues that it is only now that our world has embraced evolution (and dismissed God) that UFO sightings have become so prevalent. There is also a strong correlation between UFO belief and occult experimentation – many of the more famous “UFOlogists” have also dabbled in the “dark arts.” It is worth noting, too, that the messages “aliens” pass on are often direct attacks on the Bible, portraying Jesus not as the Son of God, but merely as some advanced alien. So are people being abducted by aliens? Bates argues that while some people may indeed be having these encounters it is not with aliens but rather with demons masquerading as extraterrestrials. Now, I’ve not yet seen the 2018 documentary of the same name, but the trailer (see below) looks promising. I suspect that it follows the same sort of format, first presenting the evidence for an alien intrusion, before then explaining why it just isn’t so. As for the book, it is fantastic, and a great gift for anyone interested in science fiction. Bates employing a solid Christian worldview to separate the fact from the fiction. https://youtu.be/0ZxYkM7PB7U

Adult non-fiction

4 books on the irreconcilable divide between Creation and Evolution

Four encouraging books to equip the Church in the current Evolution vs. Creation debates, listed by size, smallest to biggest. No Adam, No Gospel: Adam and the History of Redemption by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. 29 pages / 2015 More and more professing Christians are accepting scientific theory that suggests that man-like mammals (hominids) preceded the coming of Adam by millions of years. Biologos, a well-funded organization, is also pushing evolution using scholars who have a conservative reputation to convince people to accept evolution. But what does affirming evolutionary origins of the human race do to the gospel? Can you affirm that Adam was not historically the first human on earth without jeopardizing the Good News? Professor Gaffin clearly shows that “the truth of the gospel stands or falls with the historicity of Adam as the first human being from whom all other human beings descend.” After clearly explaining Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49, Gaffin responds to The Evolution of Adam, a book written by a popular Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns. Gaffin shows how the views of Enns lead to a complete abandonment of the Reformed faith in its biblical understanding of sin, salvation, and death. Indeed, no Adam, no gospel! The results of accepting evolution theory are disastrous for the Christian faith. Although a small publication, this booklet is timely and packed with excellent biblical insights. I highly recommend it. The Faces of Origins by David Herbert 180 pages / 2012 It’s often said that new scientific knowledge has made it impossible to continue to accept the truth of the Genesis creation account, that this new knowledge meant scientists had no choice but to accept evolution. Herbert challenges this narrative. He says it wasn’t the new knowledge, but a new worldview that led to the rejection of the Genesis creation account. Western civilization left a worldview based on biblical revelation, where God was actively involved in history, and instead embraced a naturalistic worldview based only on reason. Naturalism believes that natural processes alone are sufficient to account for life and creation. Herbert shows that for eighteen centuries a biblical understanding of origins had the upper hand. Real change came during the seventeenth century. Indeed, BenoÎt de Maillet (1656-1738) was the first modern uniformitarian and evolutionist. Once scientific findings were interpreted without God, through the lens of naturalism, evolution became the most popular explanation of our origins. This in spite of the fact that the empirical evidence points to design and not evolution. The price of excluding God and denying Genesis is high. It has led to a resurgence of atheism. This book is a great and easy read. By Design: Evidence for nature's Intelligent Designer – the God of the Bible by Jonathan Sarfati 260 pages / 2008 The Bible tells us that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). One implication of these words is that scientists who study creation must be able to see something of God’s awesome power and wisdom. Yet, most mainstream scientists steadfastly refuse to give glory to God and instead seek to honour the god of their making, the theory of evolution, to account for the wonders of creation. This delightful book illustrates magnificently how God’s glory can indeed be seen in his handiwork. God’s design is evident everywhere and it all argues against evolution. For example, God has put an incredible amount of information in creation to enable everything to work properly. “There is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.” This book is chock-full of all sorts of examples of God’s wonderful design, including the incredible designs allowing sight, smell, flight, orientation, and stickiness. Critics are answered and God’s wisdom is celebrated. Understanding Genesis: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture by Jason Lisle 496 pages / 2015 Building on his The Ultimate Proof of Creation (2009), Jason Lisle, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, goes into considerable detail in outlining the rules and principles for correctly interpreting God’s Word. He wants to logically refute faulty interpretations of Genesis and equip Christians to defend God’s Word against compromised positions, especially with respect to Genesis. These concerns take up the first half of the book. The second part of the book goes into considerable detail in applying sound principles of interpretation to the matter of geocentricity, the age of the earth, theistic evolution, and the extent of the Genesis flood. Two appendices on a defense of the Trinity and formal fallacies round off the book. Lisle’s approach is sound and he does an excellent job in fleshing out how to interpret Scripture. He resists the temptation which earlier creationists like Henry Morris fell into by claiming that the Bible is a scientific textbook and so this book appears to be a significant improvement in the manner in which the Bible Is used. Lisle rightly prioritizes Scripture over scientific theories and through careful exegesis wants to let the Word of God speak. This is a very helpful book.

Dr. Van Dam is the Emeritus Professor of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary and the author of several books including "The Deacon: The biblical roots and the ministry of mercy today," and "The Elder: Today's ministry rooted in all of Scripture."

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

God and government

Biblical Principles for Today: An introduction and Resource by Cornelis Van Dam 330 pages / 2014

Any Christian who wants to be involved in politics, or any politician who wants to understand Christians who are involved in politics, needs to read this book. Dr. Van Dam explores the two great foundations of Canadian politics – Christianity and humanism – and the nature of the conflict between them. Then, after outlining the conflict, Dr. Van Dam makes clear how Christian principles can function in a world dominated by humanistic ideals. Christians and humanists have very different views of the origin and task of government, the relationship of church and state, and the concepts of human rights and toleration – but, as Van Dam shows from both Biblical and historical evidence, the Christian understandings of these concepts leads to both greater stability and freedom for society. That same general form of looking at the fruit of the two worldviews leads to enlightening discussions of the differences an approach guided by the Bible could make in areas like the abortion and euthanasia debates, the issue of capital punishment, the need for traditional marriage, the balance of productive work and necessary weekly rest, the stewardship of creation, and immigration policy. By this point in my reading, my renewed commitment to see Biblical values reaffirmed in our politics had me primed for the last section – "Working for Change" – which first describes the Biblical reasons for getting involved in the government of the country, and ends with a look at the many excellent organizations that are doing just that. The study questions and bibliography at the end make this an excellent resource for starting some political activism of your own, with both insightful Biblical application and plenty of written and online works, as well as the groups mentioned above, to help you (and me) and like-minded Christians to get going (or to keep going, only with a little better grounding in basic principles). Of course, this conflict isn’t limited to Canada – humanism and Christianity are also battling it out in the US, in Australia and most other Western nations – so this would be a great book for Reformed Christians in all those counties. To get a print copy of God and Government, Australians, Canadians, and Americans can email info@ARPACanada.ca for information – they have a suggested donation of $10. Americans also have the option of a Kindle version for just $10 at Amazon.com.

This review was first published on ReallyGoodReads.com. You can read two excerpts from the book: the first is on what principled pluralism is, and the second is on the Bible and pluralism.

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Paul Tripp's "Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family"

What’s the best passage in the Bible about parenting? Maybe some will say Ephesians 6:1-4. Others will point to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Paul Tripp has his own suggestion about a helpful parenting passage. But he also wants us to realize that the Bible isn’t meant as a topical resource to consult when we have specific questions or difficulties. We probably sometimes wish that that’s how the Bible was organized: if you’re angry, turn to this text; if you’re lonely, read this one. And if you want good advice about raising your strong-willed kids, read this. The Bible isn’t written as a topical study, addressing the daily issues which concern us. From beginning to end it’s a story, where God is telling us about His great work of salvation through his Son. And so nearly every text in the Bible reveals something about God, or about ourselves, or about sin, or grace through Christ, or life in this world, or our calling. This broad scope means that almost every passage in the Bible has something to say that relates to the many diverse areas of your life, including your job as a parent. This is the kind of “big picture” perspective that Tripp teaches in his book Parenting. He doesn’t provide ten practical steps for raising nicer kids. He doesn’t share how-to strategies for the challenges of boundaries and discipline. Instead, he wants to reorient the very way that we look at parenting. What are we really trying to do in our homes? What are our chief goals? And what’s the one foundational thing that parents and children need, so much more than good manners, civilized dinner times, and open communication? THE WAY OF GRACE The subtitle of Tripp’s book says a lot about his approach: “The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.” He argues that the better way of parenting – the only way – is the “way of grace,” or the way of the gospel of Christ. That sounds vague, but then follow fourteen chapters exploring principles of how God’s grace is worked out in the parenting task. For example, Principle 1 is, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” Or Principle 5, “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” And Principle 11, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.” These powerful principles give a flavor of the kind of book that Tripp has written. For each of these norms he shows that the core of parenting resides in the human heart: not just the hearts of our children, but our own hearts as dads and mums. Both their and our hearts need to be changed by the salvation that is granted through the work of Jesus Christ. TWO DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE LIES Our children need transformation because they all believe two dangerous and destructive lies. First, a child reckons that he’s autonomous, a completely independent human being with the right to live his life however he chooses, and to worship whomever he wants. Second, a child believes that he is self-sufficient, that within himself he has everything that he needs. If you pay a bit of attention, you can see these lies getting worked out in the conduct of our children, right from those aggravating moments of trying to spoon mushy peas into their mouth, to the frustrations of getting the silent treatment from your teenage daughter. Born in sin, our children desperately need help. God has placed them in our life so that we can help them, with wisdom, compassion and hope. MAKING PARENTS SQUIRM As a parent, reading parts of this book made me uncomfortable. This is because Tripp seems to know parents and our weaknesses so well. He knows that we often focus on changing our children’s outward behaviors (use of technology, clean language, respect for curfew, etc.), without targeting the heart behind the actions. He knows that we tend to “lay down the law” when there’s been a household infraction, instead of showing grace. He knows that in the heat of the moment we can get sinfully angry and say cruel things to our children, and then spend the rest of the evening telling ourselves that what we did was totally fair and completely justified. Uncomfortable, because it’s true. Still, Tripp wants to encourage. He says that parents who finally admit that they’re inadequate and run to God for help actually make the best parents. When your weakness is again so painfully evident, “Know that God hasn’t left you to the limits of your righteousness, wisdom, and strength," but that He is with you, and He is almighty and gracious. Tripp insists that successful parenting isn’t about us achieving our own goals or upholding our own values (e.g., producing punctual, responsible, hard-working children), but it’s about us being usable and faithful tools in the hands of God. After all, God is the only one who can produce good things in our children, and He’s the only one who can bring them to faith in Christ. As parents, we are unfinished people ourselves, being used by God as agents of change in the lives of unfinished people. CONCLUSION Tripp doesn’t pretend that it’s going to be easy. I love his line on page 208, “Parenting is about the willingness to live a life of long-term, intentional repetition.” Our task as parents means that we’ll need to do the same thing, over and over. We’ll need to say the same things, over and over. That’s fine, for God is pleased to use our humble prayers and efforts and energies for the good—and even for the salvation—of the children He’s entrusted to us. This is an excellent book. It’s a book to savor: read a chapter, and then let it simmer. Talk about it with your partner in parenting, or talk about it with other parents (whether more or less experienced). You’ll be challenged and encouraged.

This article first appeared in the Oct 7, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Mt. Nasura Free Reformed Church in Western Australia. Below you can find a talk on parenting Paul Tripp gave earlier this year.

[Paul Tripp] "Parenting is Gospel Ministry" from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Spanking resources to read, listen, or watch

God gave us children, and gave us his Word to show us how best to raise them up to know and love Him. In addition He gave us godly teachers to help us grow in knowledge and wisdom so we can better be able to take up this privileged and awesome responsibility. You can find three different teachers below, all espousing variations on the same theme. All are excellent, so whether you learn best via listening, watching, or reading, there is something here for you. Biblical Childrearing by Douglas Wilson Approx. 3 hours Format: Audio In this series of four sermons Pastor Douglas Wilson goes over the biblical principles, and explains the practical outworking of them. Of the three selections here I’d say this is the most clearly biblically grounded – Wilson spends more time than the others connecting what he is saying to what God has said. This is available on CD, or as a $6 US audio download at CanonPress.com. Getting to the Heart of Parenting by Paul Tripp Approx. 4.5 hours Format: Video Paul Tripp is a favorite in our church circles and for good reason. In this video series Tripp emphasizes how very important it is to keep our focus on nurturing our children’s hearts rather than on the externals of their behavior. It is available on DVD or as a $35 US video download at PaulTripp.com. Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard 150 pages Format: Paperback This might be the most practically-focused of the three, with Ginger Hubbard offering plenty of illustrative conversations to show how we might best talk to and teach our children discipline. The one caution I will add is that Hubbard doesn’t have a covenantal understanding of childrearing – she views our children as being pagans in need of conversion rather than as prince and princesses who have received promises. However this is only a minor matter in the book, popping up in only a few places. And since Hubbard grounds what she says about discipline in what the Bible says, her advice is good and godly. Her book is available as a $5 ebook at Shepherdpress.com and also at most any online bookstore.

Adult non-fiction

Four reasons to pray: a summary review of William Philip’s "Why We Pray"

Does prayer intimidate you rather than refresh you? Do you wonder whether your heart is really in it? If so, then you’ll be interested in William Philip’s Why We Pray, a brief, easy-to-read and often humorous response to these and other questions that many of us have about prayer. Philip is a Scottish minister who used to be a cardiologist, and in this book he continues to deal with "matters of the heart." Rather than lecturing us on how important it is to pray more, he explains how prayer is a response to who God is. Philip uses examples from politics, sports, and his own life to clarify the four Biblical reasons why we may and must pray. 1. God speaks and we get to respond We may pray, first, because God is a speaking God. He spoke creation into being and shaped it by his word, so creation "speaks" back visibly by displaying His power (see Psalm 19:1-6). God wanted more from human beings, though, because He made us capable of responding audibly. When we cut off the conversation through the sin of Adam and Eve (including hiding from God), He restored the relationship through Jesus Christ. Real prayer is responding in faith to God's call in Jesus Christ. 2. God is happy to hear his children The second reason we pray is because we are "sons of God" (even the "daughters"!). Philip says that the reason we are called sons of God is because we, like sons in the ancient world, have an inheritance. We can pray to our (adoptive) Father in heaven because of the work of God's (natural!) Son, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ was (and is) such a faithful Son, God gladly accepts us as His children - so we have the right to appear before Him. Like any loving father (only much more so!), God wants to hear His children speak to (and with) Him. 3. God is able to do what we ask It is because, in the third place, God is sovereign that our prayer is so meaningful - though some do not necessarily see it. If God is so great, and is working out His infinite plan, some ask, then why pray at all? Philip compares our part in God's plan to being on an unbeatable sports team. Would any of us quit simply because we are so sure that the team is going to win? In His infinite power, God is not only a willing father, but also able to grant whatever we ask that is within His will. 4. The Holy Spirit teaches us to pray rightly Finally, God is the Spirit who dwells within us, and this makes sense of the requirement that we ask only what is within His will. The presence of the indwelling Spirit makes prayer into the conversation that God intended to have with us before the fall into sin. This gives us both hope and a significant responsibility. God wants us to pray for whatever we think we need, but He also speaks to us by His Word and Spirit, so that as we pray, our Biblically informed consciences enable us in time to see what His will is, and in the meantime to ask that He grant us only what is according to His will. In other words, as Philip tells us, prayer is to "think God's thoughts after Him." Conclusion Each chapter ends with questions that invite us to ponder just how our own relationship with God is reflected in prayer. If you want a helpful clear explanation of we may, and why we should want to, pray to our speaking, Fatherly, sovereign, indwelling God, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of William Philip’s Why We Pray.

A version of this review first appeared on Really Good Reads

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts)

We have all struggled with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Whether it be at the funeral, waiting to give our condolences, or an encounter with the bereaved at the store or at church, it can be challenging to offer words of comfort that don’t sound cliché or inadequate to our ears. What can we say that will help this person in their grief and sorrow? Sometimes we are at a loss of how we can best help a friend in their season of grief. Too often, we don’t think much past the first few months after a death. But grief is a long and difficult journey, and our brothers and sisters in Christ need us to be there for them in this painful time. With What Grieving People Wish You Knew, Nancy Guthrie has written a practical guide for those who want to help their friends and family members who are grieving. From someone who knows [caption id="attachment_3871" align="alignright" width="217"] Nancy Guthrie / 188 pages / 2016[/caption] Guthrie writes on the perspective of someone who has suffered profound loss, as two of her three children died in infancy. She has experienced firsthand the comfort that thoughtful words and caring deeds can bring, but also the well-meant comments that can unintentionally hurt. To write this book she questioned many grieving people via an online survey, asking them to provide concrete examples of what others had said or done that helped them in the midst of grief, and throughout the book she shares many of these testimonies. Guthrie gives straightforward advice on what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do. As you read the chapter “Typical Things People Say” (that miss the mark), you will probably cringe in the realization that you yourself have said some of these things, unaware how insensitive these words may sound to a person raw with grief. “I know just how you feel” is one example. This statement, though well-meaning by trying to establish camaraderie through a similar experience, in essence minimizes the other’s loss by suggesting that their grief isn’t unusual, or unique. “You’ll be fine” is another comment that sounds encouraging enough at face value, but, Guthrie notes, “what the grieving person hears you saying is that the person who died didn’t really matter enough for his or her absence to matter.” Ouch. Or have you ever said “Just call me if you need something”? A grieving person is not going to call. They likely don’t even have the headspace to know what they need. A more helpful thing to do is figure out what can be done for them and then do it. Tell them that you’re going to mow their lawn, pick up their groceries, or help them with their taxes. This is putting into action your love and concern for them in their grief. Even the simple question of “How are you?” can be a tough question for the bereaved to answer. It makes them feel put on the spot to give what is hopefully an acceptable report of how they are really doing.

“The grieving person knows what the questioner most likely wants to hear – that everything is getting better, the world is getting brighter, the darkness is lifting, and the tears are subsiding. But oftentimes that just isn’t the way it is, and it can be awkward to be honest about the confusion, listlessness, and loneliness of grief.”

Ways to comfort What can we say instead? Guthrie’s survey revealed that there are two particular things that grieving people really want to hear from others, and they are closely connected. First, they love to hear stories, anecdotes, or things that their loved one said or did that were meaningful, and the more specific the better. Second, they want to hear the name of the person who died. “Oh, to hear that person’s name. It is like salve to an aching soul, music to a heart that has lost its song.” So, talk with them about their loved one who has passed on! Tell them about the special thing he did for you, the way she was always so encouraging, or the joke he told that you still laugh about. Don’t be uncomfortable about speaking the deceased’s name, for hearing it spoken will bring comfort to those who mourn. Just show up! Perhaps the most insightful chapter is the one entitled “Assumptions we make that keep us away.” Often people unconsciously distance themselves from the grieving for one reason or another – possibly we’re unsure of what to do or say, or feel we don’t know them well enough, or maybe we assume that the grieving just want to be left alone. But, as Guthrie writes, “If I had to boil down the message of this entire book to just two words, these two would probably cover it: show up.” She encourages us to put aside any awkwardness we might feel and simply show up, and here again she offers many tangible ways of doing so. Also really helpful is a section about heaven, briefly summarizing what the Bible teaches about it as well as tackling some common misconceptions. Guthrie brings forward the comfort and hope that believers possess, knowing they will be with Christ when they die. She also cautions not to assume the deceased is in heaven; in such cases where it seems unlikely she encourages readers to simply offer what they know to be true about God, rather than give false hope by going beyond what the Bible says. While Guthrie’s regard for and knowledge of Scripture is evident throughout the book, the notion of covenant seems to be missing in this section on heaven, specifically in regard to the eternal destiny of children who die. But this is a minor imperfection in a beautiful chapter that focuses on the richest comfort we can offer those who are grieving – the resurrection that is yet to come! Conclusion This is not an easy read. There is so much raw emotion written on its pages, in the countless examples of real people’s experiences of hurt, hope and healing. I found sometimes I had to put this book down for a while because reading about so many individuals’ sadness and pain became truly overwhelming. If you are anything like me you will probably shed more than a few tears, but you will also learn a lot, for this book will equip you with skills, words, and ideas “for being a balm of comfort to the grieving people in your world.” I encourage you to read this book if you know someone who is grieving and you want to truly help them, to walk alongside them in their grief. And even if you don’t know someone who is grieving right now, some day you will. Reading this book will help you to help them in their time of need. I highly recommend it.

A version of this article first appeared in the July 15, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and it is reprinted here with permission. Below is a 20 minute video in which author Nancy Guthrie shares some of what she believes are the key points in her book "What Grieving People Wish You Knew."

Adult non-fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Gender Dysphoria

A book worth chewing on…but not swallowing whole [caption id="attachment_3835" align="alignright" width="198"] UNDERSTANDING GENDER DYSPHORIA: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture - by Mark A. Yarhouse - 191 pages / 2015[/caption] Christian leaders have a new, helpful and thorough resource available to help them respond to the recent phenomenon known as “gender identity disorder” or “gender dysphoria.” Understanding Gender Dysphoria is authored by Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a clinical psychologist and Hughes Chair of Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice at Regent University. He has a long career of counseling those struggling with gender dysphoria, a condition in which the person feels there is some sort of disconnect between their biological sex and the gender they feel they really should be – they are men who feel like they should be women, and women who feel like they should be men. Yarhouse’s book brings a Christian perspective to the issue that avoids simplistic answers and embraces and grapples with the psychological and theological complexity. Yarhouse engages with an incredible amount of social-scientific and medical research, but avoids the pitfall of producing a merely clinical document. Rather, he emphasizes pastoral sensitivity and challenges the Christian reader to walk side by side with people struggling with their identity. OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK There’s a lot in the book, so let’s begin with a quick overview. Understanding Gender Dysphoria is written for a Christian audience, a fact made obvious by the dedication on the first page: “To the Church, the Body of Christ.” Yarhouse is motivated by a desire to see the Church proactively grapple with this issue and help those who desperately need help. He has a lot of criticism for the “culture wars” mentality, which tends to be too simplistic in its engagement of issues like transgenderism. He lays the groundwork by explaining what exactly gender dysphoria is and how complex of an issue it really is. He then delves into Scripture, and wrestles with a number of different texts, analyzing them in light of their historical or literary context and applying them to the issue. He spends a chapter on the causes of gender dysphoria (the short answer is, we just don’t know!), a chapter on its prevalence and how it manifests, and a chapter on prevention and treatment. Throughout these chapters, Yarhouse cites the latest studies, and is careful to note strengths and weaknesses in the reliability of those studies. He makes it clear that much more careful study is needed. Yarhouse ends his book with two chapters on a Christian response, one at the level of the individual and one at the level of the institution. Here he enters the pastoral realm and gives suggestions for better ways in which Christians and churches can compassionately assist and walk alongside transgendered neighbors. GENDER IDENTITY CONFLICTS: THREE LENSES A theme that runs throughout the book is an analysis of three frameworks or “lenses” through which different groups see the issue of transgenderism and gender dysphoria. It’s helpful to explore these in order to understand the starting point for how the various groups in society view and understand the issue. All three perspectives have something to offer, and also have limitations. After discussing them, Dr. Yarhouse proposes his own fourth “lens” or framework, which includes aspects of the other three. So what are these frameworks? 1. Integrity framework The integrity framework is probably the lens through which most Christians, as well as most orthodox Jews, and Muslims, view the transgender issue. This framework understands gender in terms of the sacred integrity of maleness and femaleness. We are our biological sex, and there’s no changing that. God created mankind as male and female, equal in dignity and worth, yet with distinct and complementary roles. But you don’t have to be religious to believe that our gender is stamped on us and unchangeable. A naturalist (one who denies the supernatural) might simply note that in nature we see humankind and the animals as being a binary species: male or female markers are imprinted on each and every one of the trillions of cells of each human and animal body. According to the integrity framework, men and women are to conform to, and live in accordance with their biological sex. Scriptural backing for the integrity framework can be found in the creation account, particularly in Genesis 2, and also some Mosaic prohibitions in Deuteronomy against cross-dressing, as well as Jesus’ teachings in the gospels and Paul’s teaching in his letters to the Ephesians and to Timothy. Meanwhile, the naturalist can look to the consistent testimony of biology, DNA and chromosomal data, as well as abundant social-scientific evidence to confirm the binary biological differences between the sexes. Are there any limitations or potential pitfalls to this approach? Well, holding exclusively to this view might leave a person liable to seeing all male/female differences as unchangeable, including those that are actually just gender stereotypes (i.e. women are bad at math, men are bad at cooking). It might also lead some to overlook and dismiss the struggles of individuals with gender dysphoria (as in “He’s a guy not a girl – what doesn’t he just smarten up!”). And it also has the potential to paint all transgender people with the same brush. 2. Disability framework Another way of understanding transgenderism is through the disability framework. As the name suggests, it focuses on the mental health dimensions of the phenomenon of gender dysphoria, and views transgenderism as a disorder of the mind. Most Christians would see some value in this framework too. As our society begins to understand the realities of mental health issues such as schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, anorexia or post-partum depression, then we get a new sense of what gender dysphoria is like. The potential pitfall to the disability framework is that in presenting the problem as a health one or a medical matter, it might well prevent discussion of any theological dimension. Treatment becomes very clinical; theological or spiritual responses are sidelined. As one transgender Christian said, “By reducing gender dysphoria to a mere medical diagnosis, I felt trapped and robbed of a spiritual solution.” 3. Diversity framework The diversity framework is the way most social progressives view transgenderism – they see gender dysphoria as a good thing, to be celebrated. There are two subgroups within the diversity framework. A vocal minority – Yarhouse calls them the “strong” form diversity framework – sees the sex-gender binary as a socially constructed authority structure to be destroyed and eliminated. But there’s another group within the diversity framework (the “weak” form) that simply seeks to give expression to the lived experience of a transgendered person and to answer two questions of identity and community: “Who am I?” and, “Where do I belong?” For those who subscribe to the integrity framework and, to a lesser extent, those who subscribe to the disability framework, there are many problems with the diversity framework. We know that our gender is fixed, and, in fact, a gift from God. So any efforts at undermining the reality of gender are to be opposed. But Yarhouse argues there is still some value in the weak form of the diversity lens, particularly for the Christian community. What can we learn from this framework? Well, Christians recognize that all humanity is disordered. Any honest Canadian would agree that every human being struggles with the brokenness of life, biologically, psychologically, and spiritually. So “Who am I” and “Where do I belong” are important questions that need to be answered. There are answers, and they apply to all, including the transgendered. Indeed, there is a lesson here for broader Canadian civil society: we can give space for expression of struggles and assist with answering deep questions of identity and community without having to go so far as to deconstruct gender or to embrace and affirm new and dangerous social theories. 4. An integrated approach Dr. Yarhouse argues that we need to take the best of all three of these approaches and create a new framework altogether: what he calls “an integrated approach.” The integrated view recognizes the integrity of the two complimentary sexes as God has created them. It also recognizes the psychological element or disability associated with this issue, which needs to be addressed with compassion. And the integrated approach takes from the diversity framework the understanding that every individual in their particular circumstances and struggles want their experience or struggle to be understood and heard and want to know who they are and where they belong. The Christian worldview offers a compelling alternative to the approach of the proponents of the “strong” form of the diversity framework, which seeks to deny and destroy all gender differences. Sadly, the strong form of diversity framework has been adopted – without critical reflection and to the exclusion of other perspectives – by too many provincial governments and is now being imposed onto our communities and schools with the force of law. CAUTIONS ABOUT THE BOOK A legitimate question can be asked at this point: Is Yarhouse’s integrated model backed up by Scripture on all three points? I think they are, with this caveat: an integrated approach does not necessarily mean taking an equal measure of each of the three views (integrity, disability and diversity). Yarhouse himself seems to favor the disability model first (he is a clinician, after all), informed by the integrity model, with the diversity model adding a smaller piece to the overall puzzle. Dr. Robert Gagnon, a leading theologian on the bible and sexuality, has offered some push back on Yarhouse’s thought (I commend to the reader his article published Oct. 16, 2015 titled “How Should Christians Respond to the Transgender Phenomenon?”). Gagnon takes issue with points of conflict between the disability lens and the integrity lens. While he acknowledges the disability lens, Gagnon is concerned that Yarhouse’s use of the disability label might have the unintended effect of accommodating sinful choices, since Yarhouse argues that “the disability lens also makes room for supportive care and interventions that allow for cross-gender identification in a way the integrity lens does not.” To put it in other words, Gagnon is worried that understanding this as merely a disability might lead to treatments that, in themselves, could become sinful behaviors. It is important to note here that Gagnon agrees with Yarhouse that the mere existence of gender dysphoria is not sin itself. He writes:

I do not view the mere experience of gender dysphoria as necessarily resulting from active efforts to rebel against God… Where I would qualify Yarhouse is in noting a more complex interplay of nature, nurture, environment, and choices. Incremental choices made in response to impulses may strengthen the same impulses.

Gagnon suggests that it is here that Yarhouse departs from the Biblical language by referencing the clear dictates of Scripture in Deut. 22:5, and Paul’s reference to “soft men” in 1 Cor. 6:9-10. Gagnon suggests that while having the internal turmoil over gender identity is not sin, “acting on a desire to become the opposite sex can in fact affect one’s redemption.” How far should Christians following Yarhouse’s suggestions of compassionate accommodation go? On the one hand, were a man wearing a dress to attend one of our services, his attire should not be our first concern. We can greet him, and get to know him, ask what brought him, etc. The Church is, after all, a place for sinners, so we should be able to accommodate all sorts of seekers. But Yarhouse pushes accommodation further. He talks of intermittent (and often private) cross-dressing as a way for some Christians to manage their struggle with gender dysphoria. But this is no longer accommodating a seeker who doesn’t yet know what God has said about gender. It is accommodating someone who knows God made us male and female, who wants to indulge in sinful behavior on occasion. So Yarhouse doesn’t properly limit the extent of the accommodation the Church should show. One final caveat: Yarhouse makes repeated reference to the Church rising above the culture wars or abandoning the culture wars on this issue. I do think there is value in the Church elevating our language and avoiding the typical style of the so-called culture wars, by avoiding debates that lack all nuance and are blunt or belligerent (the style of Ezra Levant is an easy target, but there are many on both sides of the debate who engage in this style). That being said, Christians cannot avoid the culture wars altogether – it’s one manifestation of the antithesis. The question is not whether we do it, but how. We must engage with the culture as salt and light. We must engage winsomely and relationally. Perhaps this is what Yarhouse is getting at. But simply because some do the culture wars poorly isn’t any reason at all for Christians to disengage. RECOMMENDATION This book was a challenging yet rewarding read. It really opened my eyes to a much fuller understanding of the issue of transgenderism and, in particular, gender dysphoria. It's pastorally sensitive while also being scientifically grounded and very well researched. Yarhouse is definitely an expert in the field and has given me a deep appreciation for the complexity of the issue. This book does require work to get through, but the payoff is a much better, fuller and more nuanced understanding of the issue than what is readily available through any short-form articles in the mainstream or social media. With the cautions noted above, I recommend this book for Christian counselors, pastors, elders and teachers.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

The Bible and Pluralism

Pluralism is the belief that people of different cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony. But when their different values inevitably clash how do these differences get resolved? In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he outlines a specifically Christian form of pluralism that allows for believers and unbelievers to live in peace together, because it recognizes that God and his law are supreme.

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When God gathered his chosen people, his demands were clear. They had to be completely dedicated to his service. However, God recognized that within his kingdom of Israel, there was not only his holy nation, the church, but, as noted earlier, there were also others who did not really belong to the assembly of God’s people. They nevertheless lived within the kingdom of God on earth as established in Israel. To these people the Lord showed great forbearance. They were not forced to become worshippers of the God of Israel nor did God give any command to that effect to Israel’s rulers. However, they were expected to obey the prohibitive commands of God’s moral law. They could not, for example, indulge in sexual sin (Lev. 18:24–30), blaspheme God’s name (Lev 24:15) or sacrifice their children to the false god Molech. (Lev. 20:2). The people in whose midst they lived, as well as the land, was holy and they had to respect that. Indeed, God had expressly commanded that all the idolatrous nations living in Canaan had to be wiped out for the land was to be holy (Deut. 7; cf. Ps. 78:54; Zec. 2:12). There was, however, no such command for territories outside Canaan that were later conquered to be under Israel’s rule. It is noteworthy that after David defeated Moab, the Aramaean kingdoms of Hadadezer (Damascus and Maacah), Edom, and the Ammonites, there is no hint anywhere in Scripture that he worked to remove all idolatry and false worship. Also no special attempt was made to compel these people to become worshippers of the true God. Since David’s office as a godly king over these gentile peoples roughly parallels the office of government today, this tolerance points to a principle that can apply to government today. Tolerance of false religion Indeed, state tolerance of false religion is not in disagreement with Scripture. God is long-suffering and patient. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). He allows the good grain as well as the weeds to grow together, until the time of harvest. Then God himself will separate the two in the final Day of Judgment (Matt. 13:36–43). Government can tolerate what the church cannot endure. Each has its own office and calling. In a modern pluralistic society, the following words of Christ are relevant: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). If one asks freedom of worship for oneself, then it should also be granted to others. As head of the church, Christ tolerates no ungodliness and sin. The church on earth must act accordingly. As head and ruler of his kingdom Christ is patient and bears with the weakness of the sinful human heart. His servants, the civil governments, must do likewise even as they are obligated to seek true righteousness and justice for the country entrusted to their rule. State is not the Church Besides the principle of toleration, there is the related principle of the civil authority being distinct from the religious authority in Israel. Even though church and state were very closely related, they were not identical. Each had its own jurisdiction. This has important implications. Even in Israel, which was a theocracy, there were clear limitations to what the king as civil ruler could do. Although the theocratic king had priestly and prophetic aspects to his office, he nevertheless remained in the first place the civil ruler in charge of the judicial and political affairs of the nation. Although the priests were vital in the theocracy, Israel as a theo cracy was not a priest state as found in other ancient near Eastern countries such as Egypt. Priestly authority was limited to all things related to the administration of the sacrificial service of reconciliation, including instruction in the ways of the Lord. And so there were clear distinctions. Religious matters were in the province of the priests and the civil ones were the responsibility of the king. Accordingly, in the time of King Jehoshaphat the civil courts were organized specifically along the lines of religious and civil matters (2 Chron. 19:11; cf. 1 Chron. 26:30, 32). We need to value the biblical principle that is involved here. Scripture gives no justification for a modern theocratic state such as we find in some Islamic jurisdictions. The Bible indicates that there is to be a clear separation of what we today call church and state, or spiritual authorit y and civil authority. Christ’s teaching affirmed this when he said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Such thinking is completely contrary to, for example, the Muslim idea of a jihad or holy war that is necessary to establish their kingdom in the here and now. All of this underlines the fact that the state is not given the duty to force people to love God and to worship him. The state is permitted to tolerate things that the church cannot tolerate. There is, however, more to this larger issue. Rule of Law Another important principle in considering the relation of church and state is the rule of law. The Davidic king was not to be autocratic and self-seeking, thinking himself to be more worthy than those around him. He was God’s representative in the theocracy, sitting on God’s throne (1 Chron. 29:23) and therefore a servant of God who needed to submit to God’s law. The Lord even stipulated that when the king assumed the throne of the kingdom then he “is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:18–20). In this way God’s will would be done for his chosen nation in his kingdom. With all the plurality that may have existed in Israelite society, above it all was the law of God. It needed to be heeded for the well-being of the people. Israel’s rulers were not the only ones who were accountable to God. Pagan ones were as well. For example, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God had put him in power (Dan. 2:37–38) and so God warned the monarch through Daniel that unless he acknowledged God’s supreme place and repented of his sins in ruling, he would be driven from the throne to live with the wild animals (Dan. 4:24–27). There was accountability that had to be acknowledged. Today, rulers are to be servants of God in the first place and as such also have an obligation to heed the abiding principles of God’s Word for the good of society. Thus, when government makes decisions pertaining to morals and issues on which the Word of God gives clear direction, it should not set itself above the norms which God has revealed. It is the duty of government to restrain sin and evil (Prov. 14:33; Rom. 13:4). How does the calling of the church factor into this obligation of the government? Church is not the State Clearly the task of the church is to preach the gospel and administer the reconciliation that God offers to humankind. The church’s “job description” was given by the risen Christ prior to his ascension when he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The church is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation and gather God’s people together. The state must give the church the freedom and opportunity to do its calling of spreading the gospel. That gospel includes the proclamation of Christ’s kingship, a message the state must hear from the church or its members so that it understands its servant role. The church’s task with respect to the state is not to make official pronouncements about the political issues of the day and to get involved in crafting government policy. The church as an institution has neither the charge nor expertise to do so. It is also not the task of the church to try to rule over the government (the Roman Catholic ideal). The state has its own God-given responsibilities. However, the church does have the duty to train and equip its members so that they can function meaningfully in today’s secular society as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and so influence also politics. Scripture is certainly relevant for the affairs of the state, but it is not the calling of the church as a corporate body to interfere in the political process and attempt to apply the biblical principles to the government agenda. That is the responsibility of Christians in all walks of life, also those involved in politics. All of this does not mean that the church should always remain silent. There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned. There can also be occasions when the government invites input from interested parties on new legislation which is of great interest to the church. Churches should then participate and make a case for the application of biblical principles on the issues of the day. In summary, the church’s duty is to preach and safeguard the gospel and seek the spiritual well-being of its members. The resources and gifts of the church should focus on these central concerns. With respect to its task over against the government, the church must also lead the way in instructing its members to be good citizens and to be obedient to those in authority over them. Furthermore, the church is called to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Such prayer includes the petition that the state may continue to protect the freedom and ministry of the church so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. When that proclamation is blessed, it will eventually have a salutary effect on society and government. In our current age of secularization, it is easy for the people of God to grow weary in seeking the best for those who rule over them. But, one must realize that there are usually no quick fixes to the dilemmas of evil and sin in society and often incremental change is all that is possible. But the church need never become despondent. It has every reason to be encouraged for an important truth is that God is supreme ruler over everything already. In a broad sense his kingdom encompasses the entire universe. The battle against evil has been won (Col. 1:13–20; 2:15). One day God’s kingdom will arrive in full perfection when all will recognize him as Lord and Master.

This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of "neutral" perspective that doesn't elevate one group's beliefs over another's?  In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn't possible, and isn't desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a "Principled Pluralism" that recognizes God as supreme.

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"Principled pluralism" recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other. Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles. 1) No neutral “non-religious” ground    There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions. Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word. 2) All know God’s law Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19). 3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised. Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it:

“The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.”

4) Government’s authority is limited Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere. Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health. 5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Adult non-fiction, Church history

What God has done in Korea

The Korean Pentecost  tells the remarkable story of Christianity in 20th century Korea

*****

Christianity is originally an Asian religion. It can seem strange to think of Christianity that way now because currently, Christianity has less presence in Asia than perhaps any other continent. That’s largely because Islam violently expunged most Christians from Asia hundreds of years ago. However, in one part of Asia, Christianity has been growing since the beginning of the twentieth century. South Korea probably has the strongest presence of Protestant Christianity of any Asian country. Yet life for Christians in Korea has not always been easy as is clear from its numerous martyrs during the twentieth century. Their sure confidence in God, even in the face of death, is an example to us. 1832 – Protestantism arrives in Korea While there may have been a Roman Catholic presence in Korea from as early as the 1500s, it wasn’t until 1832 that the first Protestant missionary, a German, came to visit Korea. However, he was in the country only briefly. It wasn’t for thirty-three years before another Protestant missionary arrived. In 1865, Rev. Robert Thomas, a Welshman, boarded an American ship, The General Sherman, to take gospel tracts and Bibles from China to Korea. However, many Koreans were suspicious and fearful of the intentions of those on that ship, and therefore set it on fire. As crewmembers swam ashore, the Koreans killed them. Rev. Thomas made it to shore with some of his Christian literature, but he was killed as well. Years later, in 1893, American missionaries of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches established permanent residences in Pyongyang, Korea. The following year, as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895, in which China and Japan fought over the Korean Peninsula) Christians in that city fled into the countryside. They shared the gospel with others, and by the war’s end, many Koreans had become Christians. As missionary William Blair put it,

“God’s Spirit had been using those days of war and peril to make men welcome the message of his love and the comfort of the gospel.”

1901 – William Blair arrives The missionaries visited each new group of Christians. However, there were too few missionaries to keep up with all the work because of the large number of new converts. Additional help was requested from America. William Blair was a young missionary who responded to this call and went to Korea. He arrived in 1901 under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Blair later put pen to paper to record his experiences in Korea, and is one of the two authors of the recently republished The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed. His first-hand account of what God did in those early years make up the first part of the book. (The second half, by his son-in-law Bruce Hunt, covers the period of Japanese persecution and then the post-World War II Communist persecution of the Christians in North Korea.) Upon his arrival, Blair’s first task was to learn the Korean language. Then he began his missionary work in earnest. Interestingly, he found that the fact that Jesus was not an American made Christianity more appealing to Koreans. In his words, “It makes a world of difference to an Oriental to know that Jesus was born in Asia.” Blair and the other Presbyterian missionaries carried on their regular tasks of evangelism, Bible study, catechizing, baptizing, etc. year after year. The success of their efforts led them to set up an autonomous Korean Presbyterian Church in 1907. However, Korea was under Japanese occupation, and a strong anti-Japanese and anti-foreigner nationalism was taking hold in Korea. Even Korean Christians were caught up in this nationalism. Some of the anti-foreigner sentiment was directed towards the American missionaries by Korean Christians. 1907 - The Korean Revival It was during this time of crisis that a large, days-long Bible study class for men was held in a Presbyterian church in Pyongyang, early in January 1907. American missionaries and Korean pastors took part in leading the meetings. About 1,500 men attended in the evenings. On the second night of these meetings, Blair writes, “a sense of God’s nearness, impossible of description” was felt. A Korean pastor called upon the men to pray. According to Blair:

“As the prayer continued, a spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came down upon the audience. Over on one side, someone began to weep, and in a moment the whole audience was weeping.”

The following night was even more unusual. Early on, one of the Korean elders publicly confessed to the sin of personally hating William Blair. He then asked Blair to forgive him and to pray for him. As Blair began to pray,

“It seemed as if the roof was lifted from the building and the Spirit of God came down from heaven in a mighty avalanche of power upon us.”

Men throughout the meeting began to pray aloud, some lying prostrate on the floor, others standing with their arms outstretched towards Heaven. The missionaries had been praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the people and they realized their prayers were being answered. Many of those praying felt a need to publicly confess their sins and the missionaries gave them an opportunity to do so. Public confession of sin As Blair relates:

“Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of that judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of men forgotten.”

This was an unusual way to conduct a meeting and Blair knew that. But he notes,

“We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”

After this series of meetings, the men returned home with a new enthusiasm and a special closeness to God.

“Everywhere the story was told the same Spirit flamed forth and spread till practically every church, not only in North Korea, but throughout the entire peninsula had received its share of the blessing.”

Those were exciting times for Christians in Korea. Unfortunately, as Bruce Hunt relates in his portion of The Korean Pentecost, severe hardship and persecution were just around the corner. Japanese oppression As mentioned, Korea was under Japanese occupation. The Japanese hated Christianity because they saw it as a threat to their authority. Some Christians were arrested and tortured. The situation became worse shortly after the end of World War One. With President Woodrow Wilson advocating for the self-determination of small nations, many Koreans felt a need to speak out on behalf of their own country’s independence. Hunt writes:

“A Declaration of Independence was secretly drawn up and signed by thirty-three prominent leaders in Korea. Fifteen of the signers, including the Rev Kil Sunjoo, a nationally beloved evangelist and Bible teacher, were Christians.”

The Japanese reacted violently to that declaration, wounding and killing many Korean nationalists. Because Christians were prominent among the nationalist leaders, Christians in general were singled out by the Japanese for punishment. Many of them were killed. A major conflict erupted over education. The Japanese authorities demanded that all schools be registered with the government and use government-approved curriculum. Religious – in other words, Christian – instruction was forbidden. Later, the Japanese partially relented and allowed some Christian instruction, but frequently the Christian teachers were not acceptable to Japanese authorities and therefore not allowed to teach. Compulsory idolatry Things got even worse when the authorities began requiring all teachers and students to regularly bow before Shinto shrines to demonstrate that they were loyal subjects. Shinto is a religion in which the Japanese Emperor is considered to be a deity. Bowing to a shrine shows loyalty and submission. This is analogous to Roman times when Christians were expected to offer incense to the Roman Emperor, who was also considered divine. At first, Christians knew they could not participate in idolatry by bowing to the shrines. Gradually, however, compromise set in and some were able to rationalize the activity. Eventually the Japanese decided they wanted all subjects to bow to Shinto shrines regularly. All public meetings, including Presbytery and General Assembly meetings of the Presbyterian Church, had to be opened with Shinto bowing. Many Christians broke under the strain and went along with this idolatry. The church became divided between a majority who compromised with Japanese demands and a minority who determined to remain faithful to God. The Presbyterian General Assembly itself compromised and declared (under heavy government pressure) that shrine worship was not idolatry. As a result, faithful Christians withdrew from the Korean Presbyterian Church to worship separately. Hunt writes:

“Following the example of the Scottish Covenanters, a statement was drawn up, pointing out the biblical teaching on shrine worship and the necessity of breaking completely from those who condoned idolatry. From then on, no one was baptized who did not give consent to this document, and no one was allowed to lead services who had not subscribed to it.”

Those that remained faithful were persecuted, often imprisoned and even killed. According to Hunt, no one knows how many Christians were killed for refusing to participate in Shinto worship. 1939 – A courageous testimony in Japan In 1939, Elder Pak Kwanjoon made an especially courageous testimony against Japan’s persecution of Korean Christians. He traveled to Japan with two other Christians to protest directly to the government. On March 21, all three went into the Japanese Parliament, which is known as the National Diet, with leaflets hidden in their clothing. They took places in the gallery above the four hundred Diet members. When Pak gave the signal, all three threw their leaflets onto the members of the Diet. Hunt writes:

“Elder Pak’s leaflet urged the Japanese government to cease from its rebellion against God in forcing shrine worship on its people, lest the wrath of God fall upon the country. Pak’s leaflet

1) urged that Christianity be made the national religion of Japan, and 2) warned that if Japan continued to persecute Christianity, she would be destroyed”

It may be worth noting that six years later Japan surrendered to the Allies after being devastated by two atomic bombs. Could that be a fulfillment of Elder Pak’s words? He was arrested and sent back to Korea where he died in prison shortly before the end of WWII. 1945 – From the frying pan into the fire Of course, with the end of World War Two in 1945, Korea was freed from Japanese oppression. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union occupied the northern part of the country and imposed Communism. Hunt notes that from the Communist perspective:

“Christianity was interpreted as a political crime, an act of vilest rebellion against the state, ‘the people,’ and therefore deserving of the severest punishment, even death.”

Korea’s northern Christians went from the frying pan into the fire. Before the end of 1945, Christians in North Korea were being imprisoned. This was just the beginning, for as Hunt writes:

“After the Communists came into power in the northern half of Korea, thousands of Christians in that area, especially Christian ministers, church officers and leaders, were killed by them.”

The few remaining North Korean Christians continue to suffer persecution to this very day. Conclusion Christianity is commonly seen as a European or Western religion but that is not true. Most of the events in the Bible occurred in Asia or Africa, and Jesus Himself was an Asian. The “Holy Land” is in Asia, not Europe. Currently, Christianity has little presence in most Asian countries. But since the late nineteenth century it has been growing successfully in Korea. The Korean Revival of 1907 is widely recognized as having had a great influence on the spread of Christianity in that nation. And the faithful testimony of Korean martyrs in the twentieth century should be better known in the West. The Korean Christians have suffered much for the faith but stood strong, assured that God remained with them. We can learn much from their example.

Dr. Michael Wagner is the author many, many books, and is a regular contributor to Reformed Perspective.

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

13 quick thoughts on "Screen-Smart Parenting"

Parenting is _________.  You fill in the blank.  It is so many things.  It is an adventure with no shortage of ups and downs.  I am sure we have felt at times proud and accomplished and then just as quickly felt embarrassed and insecure. These beautiful children God has entrusted to our care lead lives that are also filled with adventure and with healthy doses of curiosity.

Screen time: less is more

This year, we have been reading Screen-Smart Parenting in our homes and coming together to discuss its content together as parents. Our children have access to so much now and the book is encouraging us all to be good gatekeepers so that our children do not develop unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil longs to exploit. The digital devises in our homes and that many of our children possess provide opportunities for growth, learning and connection. Here are some tips that the book gives for healthy homes and habits:

1. No TV in the bedroom. 2. No background TV in the home. 3. Turn off devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 4. Teach your children to ask permission to use technology. Make technology a privilege, not a right. 5. Download/buy games and apps yourself, don't let children do so. 6. Oversee YouTube.  Tell your children to report any inappropriate games/sites/social networks to you. 7.Keep family computers/devices in as public a space as possible. 8. Don't permit technology use during meals. 9. Designate screen-free times for the entire family.

Smartphones: you need complete access Our children need help with time management online and offline.  They need protected study and sleep time.  They need coaching on how to use good judgment online, with sticky and uncomfortable situations online.If your child has a smartphone:

10. Parents, you should know all their passwords. 11. Start with having all texts come to your devices. 12. Hold the phone when your child is sleeping (set up a nighttime charging station in a common room). 13. Encourage selfies in moderation.

Most of all, our children need for us as their parents to be good digital role models for them.  Model that we can be engaged and present with our children without digital technology. We are now reading the last section of the book, Part 3.  In it, the author Dr. Jodi Gold walks readers through the development of a Family Digital Technology Agreement.  Each will look different but it will help shape the healthy practices you commit to as a family.  I am really looking forward to completing this for our own home! Technology: the Devil wants it for his ends Ultimately, we understand that this world is God's and He made it good.  We believe that there is not one square inch of God's world that doesn't have his mark and stamp as creator - and ultimate redeemer.  Satan is not a creator.  He is merely creative in how he has distorted and twisted what God has made.   Technology is a gift.  It is good - and we see and experience its benefits all around us.  But it is also something that needs boundaries and limits in order for us not to fall into traps of unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil has set up to exploit. This is good, hard work, parents.  But it is important.  And you are not alone! May God continue to give us courage and grace and wisdom as we raise up a generation of young people to know, love and serve Him.  To His glory! 

Randy Moes is a high school principal at Calvin Christian School in South Holland, Illinois 

Adult non-fiction

Top 3 marriage books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance, first to third: When Sinners Say “I Do”  Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage  by Dave Harvey 190 pages / 2007 This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one. Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack 208 pages / 1999 Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach. Each for the Other Marriage As It’s Meant To Be by Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell 224 pages / 2006 I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter.

Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church at Launceston, Tasmania. He blogs at Yinkahdinay, where this post first appeared. 

Adult non-fiction, Science - Creation/Evolution

The Galileo myth: Stories that we all know, often ain't so

As we grow up, receiving instruction at home and at school, we hear many stories that are enduringly imprinted on our minds. Even years later, an adult is often able to recount in detail that vivid scene in the court of King Solomon when he had to rule in the case of the two prostitutes and the one baby, or is able to describe the story of our Lord and the little man Zacchaeus who waited for him in the sycamore-fig tree. But Scriptural stories are not the only ones imparted to us as we go through the years of our elementary and secondary education. We also hear other “timeless tales,” stories that everyone knows through one source or another. We all know, for example, the story of the flat earth; in the Middle Ages, people believed that the earth was flat and believed that those who went too close to the edge would fall off. It is usually said that this was the official teaching of the church, and was something that restricted any voyages of discovery. The church’s ignorance on this point is considered another aspect of the superstition and intellectual decline that typified the so-called Dark Ages. But though the “villains” of this story, the ignorant ecclesiastical leaders, tried to squelch any exploration, the “hero” Columbus bravely stood against the power of the church and its feared Inquisition, and ventured out onto the high seas – and lived to tell about it. Other familiar tales from the past could be added to this one, stories that have been told so often and so widely that they attain the status of “myth.” The purpose of a Myth When we say “myth,” some might automatically equate this with fiction or fable. But “myth” in a wider sense is a grand story, sometimes true, sometimes not, that explains who we are and how we fit into the universe. A tale told and re-told and perhaps re-enacted on television becomes part of the understanding of our past and of our position today. In the tale of the flat earth, we are confirmed in our view of the Middle Ages as a period of ignorance and superstition. The church was blindly opposed to scientific progress, while intelligent sailors courageously showed the conventional understanding to be wrong – a well-known story, but one that is not true. Contrary to the details of this tale, historians have long recognized that all educated people of the medieval period knew that the earth was round, and that the account of the church’s suppression of the intrepid Columbus is pure fiction. And yet this myth is still retold, for it nicely contrasts for our minds the rational modern world with the foolish bigotry that preceded it. It is the place of modern myths that Philip Sampson examines in his book, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization. After providing the example of the flat earth in his introduction, he looks at other tales that are less innocuous, larger stories that influence the perception of a whole culture – myths that invariably assault Christianity and misrepresent the Scriptures, while lauding humanism and reason. Sampson has selected six grand stories, the most common value-conveying tales. “[These myths] are the modern mind’s way of communicating its beliefs about the fundamental problems of origins and meaning…A myth presents values and beliefs to us as though they were facts and history.” He observes that myths are not necessarily invented with the conspiratorial intention of obscuring the facts, but are told as reflections of the society that tells them. The pattern of a Myth Before beginning his work of showing how several “meaning-carrying” modern myths are truly fictional, Sampson summarizes their general characteristics. The vocabulary connotations in each diverse story are remarkably similar: religion is typically associated with belief, omens, ignorance, superstition, heresy, excommunication, torture, and blood; science is always associated with enlightenment, scholarship, intelligence, open-mindedness, and observation. Each story will also have a plot (usually the struggle of a free-thinking underdog against the ignorant church), a hero (an independent thinker), and a villain (the representative of the powerful church). These stereotyped characteristics already betray the selectivity and bias that underlie each myth. In the book, six modern myths are first retold, often in the very words of the philosophers and historians that perpetuated these falsehoods and their intended cultural meanings. Sampson then carefully debunks these ideas, telling the real, more complex stories. In addition to Galileo, he tells of: Darwin and how his ideas were received in "A Story of Origins" Christianity’s impact on the environment in "A Story of Mastery" how missionaries treated native peoples in "A Story of Oppression" Scripture’s view on the human body in "A Story of Repression" the Church’s treatment of witches in "A Story of Persecution" Let’s join Sampson as he deals with the first of the six myths, Galileo. Galileo: a story of a hero of science! The story of Galileo tells us how we fit into the modern world: “We occupy a small planet circling an average sun of one galaxy among many.” “The Received Version” is probably familiar to our readers: the setting is Renaissance Italy; the plot is the warfare between science and religion; the characters are the plucky Galileo, armed only with a telescope, and the cruel Inquisition and her thumbscrews; the story’s end is that Galileo was tortured, condemned as a heretic, and left to rot in a prison cell, while science floundered. [caption id="attachment_3213" align="alignright" width="500"] A geo-centric or "Aristotelian" model of the universe from Oronce Fine's 1549 book "Le Sphere du Monde."[/caption] The contrast is between the high ground of reason and observation and the cramped cell of religious dogma and truth. As many schoolchildren learn, “The Bible said that everything moves around the earth but Galileo’s observations showed that the earth moves around the sun.” It’s a familiar tale, but as Sampson observes wryly, “The main drawback…is that most of it is untrue.” So what is the truth? Sampson then does some “demythologizing.” The dominant model of the universe in western Europe up to the late Middle Ages was derived from Aristotle, who reasoned that the heavens, a perfect, unchanging realm, would also be unchangeable in their physical qualities and motion. The earth is at the centre (lowest point) of a universe of concentric spheres, but while the heavenly bodies are ever-perfect, the earth is made of imperfect, changeable matter. This Aristotelian cosmology was essentially the standard view, until the “revolution” of Copernicus (who died twenty years before Galileo was born), who revived the ancient Pythagorean hypothesis that the sun, not the earth, is at the centre of the universe. A common sub-plot in this “cosmic” myth had to do with how man’s importance was tied to where the earth was placed in the universe. It is usually asserted that the pre-Copernican men had an exaggerated and arrogant sense of human importance and that was why they placed earth as the center of the universe. Then, when it was discovered that we are only “the third rock from the sun,” man was humbled, and simultaneously Scripture was undermined: “If man’s abode was not at the centre of things, how could he be king [of creation]?” But, as we have seen, the pre-Copernican cosmology was no compliment to earth’s occupants, for in that model the earth is the least important and most transitory place in the universe. Indeed, it was the Copernican system that elevated humanity, lifting the earth to the ranks of perfect heavenly bodies and its inhabitants to heavenly creatures. Far from engendering humility, the end result of the Copernican view was a proud glorification of man and his ability. Mock the Pope at your peril The question must be asked, though: Why Galileo as the hero? Why not Copernicus, who had earlier made the key contribution to the “new” cosmology? Sampson notes that Copernicus is not an appropriate character, for he was a canon of the church, he enjoyed the support of the pope, and his book circulated without problem for many years. But Galileo – he was condemned by the church for teaching that the sun is the centre of the universe, and his book confiscated. The retold modern tale features the persecuted Galileo as scientist and hero. It is said that he invented the telescope, discovered how the earth moves around the sun, conducted his famous experiment on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and asserted, even in the face of the powerful church, that it is the earth that moves. The truth is, he didn’t invent the telescope, likely didn’t drop cannon balls from the Tower, and didn’t discover the dynamics of the pendulum. He did make major contributions to astronomy, but could not prove that the earth moves around the sun. Indeed, there was insufficient evidence at Galileo’s time to prove the Copernican view. Copernicus had been hesitant at first to publish his opinions, not for fear of church punishment, as is said, but for fear of being ridiculed by fellow astronomers who still maintained the dominant Aristotelian cosmology. Galileo feared the same rejection, but persistently asserted that the earth literally moves around the sun, “and popularized his views in snappy Italian rather than the arcane Latin of the universities” His book on cosmology became a bestseller. Galileo’s relations with the (Roman) church at this time were cordial. Most of the church leaders favored his view over Aristotle’s, though they acknowledged that more evidence was needed to establish his case. They judged that Galileo’s view made excellent sense “as a hypothesis.” But Galileo then began to push the envelope; to prove that the earth revolves, he proposed an ingenious but erroneous theory of tides, he argued that comets were a form of optical illusion, and he reinterpreted certain Scripture passages in the light of Copernican reasoning. Then the last straw: he also wrote a “dialogue” in which his view and the Aristotelian view are represented by two characters. In the dialogue, he put a favorite cosmological argument of his friend Pope Urban VIII in the mouth of the conversation’s simpleton. As Sampson notes: “this was not a wise move, and the rest is history.” The major cause of Galileo’s troubles was then not his view of the earth’s motion as such, but that he had made fun of his Holiness. Sampson notes that today most historians accept that the events surrounding Galileo’s troubles with the church involved complex intrigues of politics and patronage rather than “dogmatic reservations” about Biblical teaching. The dialogue was confiscated and Galileo summoned to Rome in 1633. But the stories of dank prison cells and torture are modern embellishments; he was detained, and forced to abjure heliocentrism, but he was given his own room and servants, in keeping with his position of favor in the Roman church. In the end he did not die a lonely and broken man, as the Received Version runs, but returned to his home with a church pension to live out his years in peace. It is said that a larger result of the imagined escapade was that science long floundered under the church’s domination. But Sampson, having dispelled the modern myth of a brave Galileo resisting an ignorant church, now points out another historical fact: rather than warfare between science and religion in this period, there are direct positive connections between them. The Reformation churches, in particular, replaced Aristotelian reasoning (still persistent in the Roman church) with insights from the Bible, and so provided the soil that enabled science to grow. The relationship between Biblical Christianity and the rise of science is a complex one, but Sampson identifies four basic aspects of it in the Reformation. Firstly, there was a restoration of the perspective that nature is created and not divine, and is therefore open to free inquiry and investigation. Secondly, the principle of man’s God-given dominion over creation, not domination, was rediscovered. Thirdly, reason was properly demoted as dependent on God and not vaunted as a “key” to unlocking God’s secrets, thus encouraging again the study of creation. Fourthly, God’s sovereign care for creation was again recognized, with the corollary that certain God-ordained laws in the universe could be discovered through science. The theme of conflict between religion’s ignorance and science’s enlightenment is at the heart of the Galileo myth. A proper historical study demolishes the oft-repeated tale that lauds free science and mocks repressive religion, and affirms instead the positive framework that Biblical Christianity affords to free investigation. Postmodern stories Modernity asserts that reason, facts, and scientific achievements underpin its self-confidence, yet it is persistently told fables that in reality receive the central place in the communication of its worldview. Indeed, it is nothing new that stories are used to pass on modernity’s core beliefs – many societies have used narrative in this way. The question must be asked though, says Sampson: why do the modern myths have such a negative focus, concerned with the warfare between science and religion, reason and superstition? He suggests that this myopic view represses another story, “one less congenial to the modern mind,” namely that of the damage science has done (e.g., the Chernobyl disaster) and of the brutal reality that confronts the idea of human progress (e.g., two world wars). “Modern myths constantly reinvent a superstitious image of religion in order to brush it aside and with it modernity’s role in oppression.” A well-told story provides an opportunity to neglect the facts and distract attention from corporate shortcoming and guilt. Postmodernism has recognized the unrealities in modernism’s vision of the world, but the familiar stories have not disappeared. Rather, modern stories are still used, but now selectively, and with strange bedfellows. The modern myths’ presentation of enlightening science is combined with elements of “spirituality” (e.g., the tale of Galileo is accepted by the same person who puts credence in his daily horoscope). Today, tradition and religion are not rejected, but are incorporated with science, in accord with postmodernity’s spirit of eclecticism. And so the falsehood of retold myths will continue to confront us in this postmodern age. On the book At first blush one might think that Sampson’s book is only another example of “revisionist history,” where historical events or periods are radically reinterpreted, usually to conform to the historian’s implausibly slanted thesis. But a consideration of the great amount of research carried out by Sampson, also in primary sources, should dispel any fear of revisionism. Indeed, every historian will write from his own perspective and presuppositions, making “objective” historiography impossible. At the same time, we can be honest and careful with the historical evidence that we examine and interpret. Sampson’s honesty is observable throughout his book. Though depicting the modern myth as invariably characterized by stereotyped features, he resists the temptation to do the same in his retelling. For example, though refuting the image of an ignorant and repressive Christianity, he acknowledges where churches and popes were autocratic; though disputing the extent of the witch hunts (also in Salem, Mass.), he concedes that many women were wrongly killed by Christians for exaggerated charges or suspicions of witchcraft. 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization is relatively short, but bursting with the fruits of Sampson’s research. A slight criticism would be his use of endnotes, which necessitate the use of two bookmarks (which aren’t that scarce, I know) – the interested reader always has to flip to the back of the book to read his often fascinating footnotes, as Sampson digs up varied and obscure sources. The book is not a light read, but it is a stimulating and exciting one, as we accompany the author to the courts of Renaissance Italy, to the jungles of South America, and to the colonial towns of New England. He also provides an abundance of “signposts” for the reader to follow him to his startling conclusions. Sampson clearly works from a perspective that values the historicity and authority of the Bible. Though he has much to say that is negative about modernity’s credos and their narrative expression, he also makes positive statements about the value of a truly Christian worldview, one that touches all of life and offers a proper approach to all we encounter. This book would be eminently helpful for any thoughtful Christian reader. Its appeal is broad because the stories Sampson treats are well-known to many of us – familiar stories, but ones whose values and bases are not usually recognized for what they are. With the help of this book we may continue to assert in the world the relevance of the Scriptures for everyday life and may continue to witness to the true freedom that the gospel of grace affords.

Rev. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Mt. Nasura Free Reformed Church in Western Australia. You can find a Dutch translation of this article here. For more on the Galileo myth, see also this excellent article on First Things.

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn't so long ago we were kids, and now we're raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today's parents there is one very big part of life where that isn't true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us. They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren't mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what's a parent to do? Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson's Parenting the Internet Generation. It is not only fantastic, it's even free. Parenting is foundational [caption id="attachment_2773" align="alignright" width="333"] 144 pages / 2016[/caption] What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us. The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly.

Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits.

One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways.

•  Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do •  Failing to really listen to them as we correct them •  Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”) •  Showing little compassion •  Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive •  Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks •  Showing favoritism to other siblings

It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits.

See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes):

Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there.

I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids. But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear:

Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance.

Contents In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out:

1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9)

Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples:

"If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented?

If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation?

At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn?

Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over. These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker. Conclusion This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with. I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents. And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are.

You can get a free pdf copy of Parenting the Internet Generation here

Adult non-fiction, Children’s non-fiction, Teen non-fiction

The Sweet Taste of Providence

by Christine Farenhorst 2016 / 296 pages Seventy-four! When Christine Farenhorst comes out with a new collection of short stories, the big question I have is, how many can I look forward to? And in The Sweet Taste of Providence she has given us an impressive 74. These short stories are packaged as 4-5 page devotionals. They take no more than 5 minutes to read out loud, and end with a couple of questions for discussion. That makes this a great book to read with your kids, maybe 8 and up, before bed…or a little earlier, because this might get them discussing and dissecting right when you want them calming down. The short story length could also make this a good, ahem, “bathroom reader.” As Reformed Perspective readers know, Christine loves to share slices of history – usually bits we’ve never run across before – and show how God has been at work. It can be easier to see His hand in things when we’re looking back than when we’re looking around in the present (yes, God will turn even today’s evil to our good – Romans 8:28) so these stories are maybe first and foremost a wonderful dose of encouragement. But it’s also just a fun read. The Sweet Taste of Providence is available at Amazon.ca and also at Sola Scriptura.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Book excerpt: "How Should Christians Approach Origins?"

Evolution is just a theory. Then again, so is gravity.  – as seen on a t-shirt. Is the theory of evolution like the theory of gravity? How are they different? This is just one of the topics that professors John Byl and Tom Goss cover in their book, How Should Christians Approach Origins? In this excerpt they note that there are two very different sorts of science happening here. ***** It is sometimes argued that it is inconsistent to use modern medicine and technology originswhile rejecting evolution, since both are products of mainstream science. However, we must be careful to distinguish between two types of science: operational science and historical science. OPERATIONAL SCIENCE is the experimental science done in the lab or in the field. It investigates repeatable events in the present. This concerns most of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy, and the like. It gives us all the science needed for technology, such as in developing smartphones, satellites, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and so on. It studies the present material reality and how it normally functions. HISTORICAL SCIENCE, on the other hand, is concerned with extrapolating from present observations to the distant, unobserved, and unrepeatable past. This includes various theories and explanations in archaeology, cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, biological evolutionary development, and so on. These two types of science differ significantly: Operational science aims to discover the universal laws by which nature generally operates, whereas historical science aims to establish ancient conditions or past causes. Operational science explains present events by reference to general laws, whereas historical science explains present events in terms of presumed past events. Operational science calculates forward, deducing effects from causes, whereas historical science calculates backwards, inferring past causes from present clues. One problem here is that more than one possible historical cause can give rise to the same effect. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution and defense may present very different historical scenarios to explain the material evidence. Operational science assumes methodological naturalism. Since it is concerned with what normally happens, in the absence of miracles, it is reasonable to consider only natural causes. Historical science, on the other hand, seeks to find what actually happened in the past. Constraining ourselves to natural causes amounts to metaphysical naturalism – the further assumption that no miracles have in fact happened in the past.¹ The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged, Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science – the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.² In short, the scientific know-how needed to make smartphones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from [some chimp-like creature]. End notes ¹ Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2009), 150–172. ² Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American, November 24, 2009 (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/darwins-influence-on-modern-thought/). This excerpt reprint with permission. How Should Christians Approach Origins? can be purchased at Amazon.ca and GoDutch.com. Inquiries about bulk pricing can be directed to Tom Goss at tgoss@rogers.com

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Sex Matters

[caption id="attachment_2109" align="alignright" width="194"] 128 pages / 2015[/caption]

Today we have a guest post by Annie Kate Aarnouste on a book, "Sex Matters," that parents could find a great resource to give to their kids.

*****

Sex Matters is a book intended for Christians – McKee provides answers from the Bible and explains the Bible’s message using research and real life examples. Jonathan McKee wants to make it easier for parents to talk to their kids about sex, and to that end he’s written a book for parents to give to their teens, which addresses the two common questions, “Why wait?” & “How far?”

WHY WAIT?

Why wait? McKee takes over 20 informative pages to explain the statement, “God has given the gift of sex to enjoy in marriage.” And in addition to making the biblical case, he shares how research shows that this command is in alignment with how human beings function.

HOW FAR CAN I GO?

How far can people go, and when should they stop? McKee’s answer rests on the rather obvious observation that once the process is started it is designed to be continued.

That is why it is so difficult to stop, a fact that has been known for millennia. So his advice? Don’t start the process; don’t do anything you would not do in front of your grandmother.

WHAT DOES FLEEING SIN LOOK LIKE?

Sex outside marriage is a huge temptation, especially in our media-saturated culture, and it is the one temptation the Bible repeatedly tells us to flee. McKee explains clearly what fleeing temptation means for girls and how it is different for guys.

Christians need to understand the truth, recognize natural consequences, and establish safeguards, and parents need to help their teens do these things as well as to encourage them to take responsibility themselves.

McKee also covers the dangers of porn, questions about masturbation, and the effects of abuse. Over and over he turns to the gospel, reminding young people that Jesus offers a fresh start for everyone, whether you have sinned or been sinned against.

He also encourages young people to remain pure by pointing out that a few years of self-discipline can be traded for a lifetime of awesome connecting without baggage after marriage. Who in their right mind would choose anything else? But the trouble is that we are sinners and that disobedience seems so attractive.

Finally, McKee offers some practical suggestions:

Marry earlier. Be careful what you listen to and watch, what you wear, who you are alone with, and where you go. Beware of the dangers of the Internet and install safety systems.

CAUTION

I will add one caution. Sex Matters is a book for teens exposed to our culture and, as such, it can be explicit. When parents wonder if the book itself could cause more problems than it solves, McKee’s response would be that our culture is explicit, and that equipping our teens requires us to be forthright.

So do pre-read this before giving it to your teen to see if it meets your expectations.

CONCLUSION

McKee’s Sex Matters is a valuable book (especially in conjunction with More than Just the Talk, which he’s written for parents). It is unabashedly Biblical – so much so that our huge public library refused to buy it – but it deserves a place in home, church, and school libraries and would be a blessing to any community that has it in its public library.

What’s more, it is short (only 122 pages), easy to read, and contains discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I highly recommend it.

This is adapted from a review on Tea Time with Annie Kate and used with permission. The original can be found here.

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

No Christian Silence on Science

SCIENCE FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE by Margaret Helder 2016 / 110 pages

From the title onward, No Christian Silence on Science is a clarion call to Bible-believing, six-day creation upholding Christians to stand up and be counted. It's much more than that too. The author, Margaret Helder, has written for Creation Science Dialogue and Reformed Perspective  for years, and if you've read her there, then you know Dr. Helder approaches God and His creation with awe, and teaches us how to tackle evolution without fear. This book is very much an outgrowth of that work. This, then, is intended to equip us, so we will be able to give a ready defense of our faith, and fortify us, so we will continue to trust in God, even when we face that attacks that will come in this predominantly Darwinist and secular field. That's a big task to tackle in a book that's just 110 pages. That's why, while this is a great book, it is no light read - there is a lot packed in here. In the five sections Dr. Helder addresses: Science from a Christian Perspective How Design in Nature reveals God's Character and Work Christian vs. Darwinian Ethics The Christian Student: Meeting the Challenge of Secular Institutions Impact of Evolution Thought on Church and Society My favorites were the last two. They are worth the price of the book all on their own, and if I was giving this to a university student I'd tell them to head to Chapter 4 first, to hear Dr. Helder's advice on how to interact with evolutionary-minded professors. At one points she gives an example of a find that seems to prove evolution, and she then shows how a Christian student could respond. She suggests students be ready to ask questions, and starting with the 5 Ws is always a good idea (in Science, and journalism too!). A question-asking student will often find that this new, exciting, revolutionary find, is being really over-hyped. That's not to say creationists have all the answers. As Dr. Helder notes, in the early and mid 1900s Christians holding to a six-day creation had little supporting scientific evidence available to them, so it was only because they were so confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible that they weren't swayed by evolution. Today many problems with evolution can be pointed to, but there will still be occasions where a challenge to the biblical explanation is presented that we cannot answer. And perhaps we won't be able to answer it for several decades. But we, too, should hold to the Bible, because it is trustworthy. Who should read No Christian Silence? This will be of interest to anyone, but for the young high school graduate heading into the Sciences this is a must. If they were to read it before heading to their first university science class, and really work through it slowly and thoughtfully, they would be well-prepared. There are other books they should read too, but this is a very good place to start because Dr. Helder covers all the key controversies, and gives good solid direction on how to meet and deal with the opposition. No Christian Silence on Science is us available through the Creation Science Association of Alberta website or can be had by sending a $20 check ($14 for the book and $6 for shipping) made out to the CSAA, at 5328 Calgary Trial, Suite 1136, Edmonton AB  T6H 4

Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

True Right: Genuine Conservative Leaders of Western Canada

by Michael Wagner 128 pages / 2016 Feeling like you're the last true conservative left in Justin Trudeau's Canada? Then you need to read Michael Wagner's True Right and find out that all through Canada's history great, solid, courageous conservative men have stood up to the socialist hordes. What is a genuine conservative? How’s this for a definition? Someone who knows who God really is, and knows the government ain't Him. That comes out in the book, which is divided into 17 short biographies of political leaders who shaped Western Canada, some of whom were conservative another who were not. There's controversy to be had in the "weren't" camp, where the author places some big and well-loved names...but his reasoning is hard to argue with. Among the 13 who were, their faith in God is often evident. In this latter group most readers will find a pleasant surprise or two, meeting stalwart gentlemen who they'd not previously known. You might differ with Wagner on some of his assessments – I think in noting these men's strengths, he's sometimes overlooked a notable shortcoming or two – but you'll most certainly come away encouraged. Yes, even in Canada there have always been true conservatives, good and godly men, who were willing to stand up and fight, win or lose.

"True Right" can be purchased here. 

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews

What "right" trumps all others?

In this excerpt from Jonathon Van Maren’s new book The Culture War he lays out how sexual rights have triumphed over all others…and one of the first steps we can take in response. ***** When abortion activists came shrieking with rage at Canadian Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth’s suggestion that a committee examine human life in the womb in 2013, he was somewhat surprised. When the Canadian government kowtowed to feminist hysteria and shut down his colleague Mark Warawa’s motion to condemn gender-selection abortion, Woodworth noticed a trend – and coined a new term. What we’re seeing is “abortionism,” he told me in an interview. Abortionism is essentially a philosophy that raises abortion to a sacred status, above all other democratic principles. I agree with Mr. Woodworth, but I think the problem goes much deeper than abortion. Abortion’s now-sacred status is symptomatic of something far more sinister: the sweeping success of the Sexual Revolution. So-called “sexual rights” are now considered to be the most important “rights” our society has, and take precedence over all other rights, regardless of how fundamental they are. Rights that fell by the wayside Freedom of speech? This is now a quaint concept that does not apply, for example, to any sort of pro-life activism, especially and ironically on university campuses, once lauded as the marketplaces of ideas. Pornography, nude demonstrations, and virtually any form of sex-related activism is welcome – unless you happen to be opposing something, in which case it is not. When I was in university, for example, our “Cemetery of the Innocents” display was trampled and destroyed by a student politician who then took to the campus paper to refer to us as “the Hitler Youth.” On campus after campus across North America, feminists respond to pro-life activism the same way: Shut down the debate. Almost every pro-life activist I know has been censored on his or her university campus in some way or another – and usually with the endorsement, if not assistance, of the university administration. The same applies to the right to educate your children as you see fit. Increasingly, the adherents of the Sexual Revolution are realizing that in order to get the upcoming generation of Christians to accept the New Sexual Order, they will have to force it on them. Specifically, mandate new “sex education.” Christian schools and home-schoolers frustrate them, because they can no longer teach children about masturbation and anal sex in fifth grade. As Wendy Shalit highlights in her magnificent book A Return to Modesty, much of the public education system is now the systematic destruction of innocence. And if the powers that be have their way, soon you won’t be able to opt out. Religious liberty is being dispensed with at an alarming rate as well. After all, our culture has abandoned religious values. Once we’ve chiselled and hacked the last of the Ten Commandments monuments from in front of the last courthouses, we can put those quaint beliefs in the trash can alongside it. Businesses that disagree with gay marriage are being forced to shut down. Churches in Denmark have already been ordered to perform gay weddings, and there’s no reason to think that such things won’t soon begin to happen here in North America. Our tax dollars are used to fund Pride Parades that resemble public orgies. The Sexual Revolutionaries are not, for the most part, about living and let live. They are about compulsory acceptance. All rights are now subject to sexual rights. How we got here The Sexual Revolutionaries didn’t just change history. They rewrote it, because that’s what revolutionaries always do. This struck me vividly when I was traveling in China, and our tour guide, a pretty young woman named Anna, was taking my friend and I from the Forbidden Palace to Tiananmen Square to Mao Tse-Tung’s Mausoleum, where the dead dictator still lies in state in a glass-covered coffin. After listening to Anna praise Mao for hours, I asked her how she could possibly believe he was good for China when, by some estimates, he presided over the deaths of nearly seventy million people. First she was irritated, and then agitated. After informing me that Mao was a great leader, she ended our discussion by announcing, “Denying Mao would be like denying Communist Party!” And with that, historical truth was placed firmly in the backseat to ideological obligation. In order to understand the sex-driven lunacy and carnage that has gripped our culture on virtually every front, we have to put history back in the front seat. We have to honestly analyze and understand how we reached this point, so that we can begin to realize what we can do – not to return, but to rebuild. To equip our children and the upcoming generation with the truth of what has actually taken place, and why it is that we believe what we do. One thing we can do This is precisely what Ted Byfield told me when I asked him what young people could do to begin the process of cultural renewal. Read history, he told me urgently. People will be stunned to find out what actually happened – “they will be astonished at the things we’ve done in [the last] century that made no sense at all. What should be emphasized in your generation is to find out what happened. In other words, read history.” He's right. Once we know what has happened, we will have a better sense of what is happening, and have vital context for the spreading social decay we are witnessing. That decay, as we will see, has become our culture’s new normal. The Culture War is about how the Sexual Revolution triumphed in the Western World, and how Christians can respond. It can be purchased at TheBridgehead.ca.