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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Silver Fleet

Drama/ Black and White / War 1943 / 88 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is well-done, almost unknown World War II film told from the Dutch perspective. As the occupation begins the Nazis ask Dutchman Jaap van Leyden whether he would like to continue on in his job as shipyard manager. They want him to complete work on two half-built submarines that were originally intended for the Dutch navy. When he decides to accept the position both his workers and his wife question his patriotism – why was he willing to be a collaborator? But while van Leyden may not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis, someone else does. The workmen have started receiving anonymous messages outlining a daring sabotage plan. The notes are all signed "Piet Hein," a historical Dutch hero from the 17th century, and stirred by the memory of Hein's great deeds done long ago, and their own strong love of country, the workmen are happy to help this mysterious figure. Cautions Silver Fleet doesn't fully explore why these men were willing to risk their lives. Their love of country is the expressed motivation, but for Christian viewers, who know that our country can do nothing for us after death, patriotism should strike us as a wholly insufficient reason to risk one's life. But while God is not mentioned in the film, we know that it was their love of God that prompted our Dutch grandparents and great grandparents to take the risks that they did. So, with that in mind, Silver Fleet can be enjoyed as a secular tribute to the bravery of Dutch men who, whether the directors cared to acknowledge it or not, were willing to risk their lives for love of God and country... in that order. Conclusion The Nazis are at times more buffoonish than threatening, but overall the acting is quite good. The Silver Fleet is a solid World War film that I would recommend to any 1940s film enthusiast, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the War from the Dutch perspective. There seem to be no trailers available for The Silver Fleet, but the 3-minute clip below gives a feel for the film. While it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere online, cheap copies on DVD are readily available.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

By what standard? God's World...God's rules

Documentary 2019 / 110 minutes RATING: 8/10 The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and has a generally Calvinist leaning though that not always so. Four decades ago, it was a question as to whether the denomination might slide into liberalism, denying the truthfulness of the Bible, and following a path many other large denominations had traveled before it, or whether the SBC would turn back. In a pivotal 1979 annual meeting where God corrected their course. But now the home of Albert Mohler and also Beth Moore, has been wrestling with the issues of complementarianism, social justice, sexual abuse, and also something called “Critical Race Theory.” This two-hour documentary certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is eye-opening in showing how troubling worldviews can sneak into the Church via the best of intentions. One example: we are all agreed that sexual abuse is sinful and that we should act to prevent it. But in the SBC some have linked complementarianism with sexual abuse – one pastor said that preventing women from preaching denigrates them and teaches men that women can be abused. There we can see how, under the guise of doing something good – preventing sexual abuse – a biblical truth is attacked. You can watch a 14-minute preview below, or watch the whole film for free at Founders.org/cinedoc.

Adult non-fiction

How does a Christian live in the midst of suffering?

A book summary of Kelly Kapic's Embodied Hope

****

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.


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