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Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter King

by Christine Cohen 351 pages / 2019 15-year-old Cora lives in a time of horses, and swords, and meat pies. It's also a time of poverty, and bitter winters, and threadbare clothing, and not enough food to make it through to Spring. To make things even worse, ever since Cora’s father was killed, the village has treated her and her family as if they are cursed, and as if that curse is contagious. But no matter, Cora is resourceful, and she’ll do just about anything to ensure her family lives through the winter. But how does a young girl stand up, by her lonesome, to the village god, the tyrannical Winter King, who is taking their food? I didn’t know quite what to think of this book in the early stages. While the village other villagers were religious, Cora was not. And she was the hero. So how was this a Christian book, then, if the god in the story seemed to be the bad guy? Well, as one reviewer noted, this is a very Protestant book in that Cora rejects a false religion in favor of the true one. She rejects the false representation of the Winter King that the village’s religious authorities maintain. But then she uncovers a book that tells a very different story about this King, presenting instead, a God who loves. CAUTIONS Cora is bitter and sometimes manipulative, and so driven to keep her family fed that she does stuff that she should not. There's good reason for her desperation – death is reaching for her whole family – but that it is understandable makes it tricky ground for the younger reader to tread. This is not a heroine in a white hat, and for the pre-teen, or even younger teen reader, used to simpler morality tales, they might not have the discernment skills yet to be able to cheer on a hero whose actions are not always praiseworthy. I feel like I'm making Cora sound darker than she is. There is surely darkness in her – but there is also a darkness around her that she is fighting, futilely at first. And then hope comes. CONCLUSION From the cover to even the way the pages are laid out, this is a gorgeous book, with a deep and satisfying story. I'd recommend it for 15 and up, but I know adults will find this has real depth to it that they'll enjoy exploring.

Book excerpts

What a Savior! Christ on the cross intercedes for his enemies

In Dr. Wes Bredenhof’s new book "Seven Wondrous Words" (available in Canada here, and in the US here) he shares Christ’s seven final conversations or “words” from the cross. In this excerpt he addresses the first, “The Word of Forgiveness” when Jesus says: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a).

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Perhaps you have heard of The Hunger Games. Some time ago, it was popular in the broader culture and controversial among Christians. The story involves a young woman named Katniss Everdeen. It is set in the future, in a time when the political landscape of North America has radically changed. It is now a country called Panem and there are twelve districts governed by a central region known as the Capitol. In years previous there had been a revolution. The revolution was violently overthrown by the Capitol and now as retribution each year the districts have to send two young people to the Capitol. The young people participate in a reality TV show that involves mortal combat. Only one can survive. There are all sorts of ways to view this story – which is to say there are many classic themes of literature. For many people, one of the most moving moments in the story is right at the beginning. It takes place at what they call “the reaping.” This is where the two young people are chosen by a draw. Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim is chosen. The choice means certain death for Prim. She is young and does not stand a chance in the Hunger Games. So Katniss steps forward and takes her place. She essentially offers to die for her sister. She is the substitute. This is one of those classic themes I just mentioned – something that has always resonated with audiences and especially with those who have some familiarity with the gospel and the Savior who offers himself as a substitute for sinners. But very much unlike the Savior, Katniss Everdeen is partly driven to survive by her rage against the system that brought her to the Hunger Games. Yes, she wants to survive for her sister and she tries to help others survive too – she has a sympathetic heart for the weak and helpless. But for her enemies in the Hunger Games she has no sympathy. Moreover, she also hates the people in charge and is filled with spite for them. She wants to destroy them. In this sense, she is a true daughter of fallen Adam and Eve. What a difference from Christ as he hangs on the cross as our substitute! The first of his seven sayings on the cross is often called the Word of Forgiveness. We are going to reflect on the content of the prayer of Jesus, the reasons behind it, and the attitude driving it. WHAT JESUS PRAYS When describing the actual crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, Luke is extremely brief. Verse 33 simply says that when they had come to Golgotha (the place of the skull), “there they crucified him.” Luke wrote his gospel for a man named Theophilus. Luke takes it for granted that Theophilus knew what this involves. He lived in the Roman Empire and so he surely knew the drill for Roman crucifixion. Luke did not need to go into the details. He did not need to tell of how the rough cross was laid out on the ground, of how Jesus was thrown down onto it and nailed to it. Luke did not need to tell of how the cross was then lifted up, with Jesus nailed to it, and then dropped into a previously dug hole in the ground. Theophilus knew all that. People were crucified by Rome all the time. As you might expect, it was customary for those who were crucified to die with some fairly foul words on their lips. The crucified would usually curse the Romans for their cruelty. They would usually curse the crowds watching and jeering. Under the best circumstances, someone might just die quietly without saying a word. But that would have been unusual. The more typical crucifixion involved crude words filled with hatred and anger.1 Realizing this makes Jesus’ first words on the cross all the more remarkable: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now as he hangs on the cross, he does the very thing he taught. Even at this moment, he is being obedient to the will of God and doing so in our place. Yes, he is suffering to pay for our sins, but he is also still actively obedient in our place. There is overlap here between what theologians call the passive obedience of Christ (his suffering obedience) and his active obedience. But the thing to keep in the front of your mind here is that this is not just some tidbit of Bible trivia: Jesus prayed for his enemies, for those who persecuted him. It is something he did for you – in your place. His righteousness here, too, is imputed to you, which means that it is credited to your account. This is personal. Do not let that slip by you here. There is gospel encouragement in that for people who have failed in following God’s will in this. After all, it is so hard to love your enemies and pray for those who attack you. You may have failed in doing that, but Jesus did not and God looks at you through him. Your Father sees his Son and he sees you in him. You see, this is not just okay news, this is good news! This is grace. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Many questions come into our minds as we hear these words. Let me try and answer as many of them as I can. As we do, the wonder of grace here should become more apparent. First of all, who are “them” and “they”? Who is Jesus speaking about? Our thoughts would first go to the Roman soldiers who are standing by and getting their hands dirty in all this crucifixion cruelty. Certainly, they had no idea what was happening. They had little (if any) clue that they were torturing and killing the Lord of glory. Jesus asks the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers. But does he also have the Jews in mind? To answer that, we could turn to Acts, which is part 2 of Luke’s historical work for Theophilus. In Acts 3:17, the apostle Peter tells a Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Peter says that they did not know what they were doing. They understood it at some level, but in a real way they were just driven by what John Calvin called “inconsiderate zeal.”2 They were led on by their emotions. Perhaps there were some in which there was a wicked spirit and premeditation. With some there may have been knowledgeable intention, but not all. Many were caught up in the mob mentality. So, yes, it is fair to say that Jesus had Jews in mind too. As he was being crucified, many of the Jews and their leaders stood round to watch. Verse 35 even says it, “The people stood by watching, but the rulers scoffed at him…” So Jesus is asking the Father to forgive both the Romans and the Jews involved in his crucifixion, for they were sinning in ignorance and not with what the Old Testament called the uplifted hand.3 But what does it mean that Jesus asks the Father to forgive them? Can he even do that? Does that mean this sin was forgiven? In the Bible forgiveness is a transaction which removes an obstacle in a relationship. It involves a promise that the sin committed will never be brought up again and will never be used against the person who committed the sin. When describing God’s forgiveness, we find these powerful images in the Bible of God casting our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and removing them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). God no more remembers our sins, which is to say, they are no longer a barrier to covenant fellowship (Jer. 31:34). That is what Jesus is asking for. However, in order for that to happen, there will have to be repentance. There will have to be a turning from the sin committed. That is what happens in Acts. When the Jews hear the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost and other occasions, some of them are cut to the heart. They ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” We can say this happened because of the preaching of the apostles. We can say this happened because of the work of the Spirit. However, we can also say all this ultimately happens because of the prayer of Christ on the cross. Jesus asks the Father to forgive them, which means he was asking the Father to set the wheels in motion so that all the pieces would later fall together so that they would repent and believe. Many did – thousands, in fact. They repented and sought the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus and received that forgiveness from God. Now probably another burning question has to do with what we are to do with this. Can we pray to the Father for the forgiveness of those who hurt us? To answer that we ought to think about our relationship to Jesus Christ. The Bible describes that relationship in several ways. One is found in John 15:5 where Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. This pictures our spiritual union with Christ through the Holy Spirit and faith. If we are truly united to him, then our lives ought increasingly to reflect his. Another important picture of our relationship with Jesus is that of a Master and his disciples. All Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ. It is crucial to recognize that the biblical notion of discipleship includes following the example of the Master. Jesus reflects this in John 13:34-35:

…just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus means becoming like him. Union with Christ and discipleship are two key ways to consider application here in Luke 23:34. These sorts of notions are in the background of what the Holy Spirit says in 1 Peter 2:21-23:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

To see an example of that in action, we can turn to Acts 7:59-60. When Stephen is being stoned, as he is dying, he echoes Jesus’ words. He prays to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He prays in almost the exact same way as his Savior. He has a forgiving and gracious spirit. His heart has been touched by God’s grace in Christ and he cannot die like so many others, with words of bitterness and cursing on his lips. Christ prayed for his enemies, Stephen prayed for his enemies, Christians are to pray for their enemies. In union with Christ and as his disciples, we are to pray that they would be brought to forgiveness through the blood of Christ. The Word of God calls us to this stance of grace towards those who might hate us and would hurt us. WHY JESUS PRAYED THIS “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Why did he pray this? In the first place, it was to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah 53:12 speaks of substitution: “For he bore the sin of many,” but then it also speaks of prayer, “and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Our Lord Jesus knew this prophecy and he knew this was what was needed. He made intercession for sinners – he spoke up on their behalf before the throne of God. That brings us to the second reason why he spoke these words: to magnify his grace and love for us. Jesus is portrayed here as the priest making intercession for sinners still lost in their sin and still under sin’s condemnation. That reminds us that he cares about us long before we make any moves towards him. Quite remarkably, Scripture even tells us that Jesus prays for those who do not yet believe. Sometimes we have this idea that, at the right hand of God, Jesus’ ministry of intercession only involves people who already believe. We have this idea that he only prays for Christians and speaks up on their behalf. Yet that is actually unbiblical. He said in John 17:20 that he also prays for those who will yet come to faith through the preaching of the gospel. When did Jesus begin praying for you? As soon as you became self-consciously committed to him, whenever that was? No, he has been praying for you all along, praying along the same lines as what we find in Luke 23:34. He has been praying that you would find grace and forgiveness in his sacrifice once offered on the cross! You see, his grace is far more wondrous than we often realize. He spoke these words on the cross to bring us to the realization of that. He wants us today to see the deep, deep love of Jesus, so we would love him in return and long to live for his glory. A third reason why he prays here has to do with where he is in his ministry. He is at the end of his three years of preaching and teaching. It began with prayer back in Luke 3:21 and now it ends with prayer.4 In fact, it must end with prayer. There is nothing else he can do. That hands that healed are nailed to the cross. The feet that traveled from town to town preaching are nailed to the cross. There is no more room in any synagogue for him and certainly not in the temple. What is left for him? He can only pray and that is what he does. When he cannot do anything else, he prays. That is powerful enough. When everything else is stripped away, there often still remains the possibility to pray. And prayer should never be underestimated. Jesus’ prayer was answered beautifully in the book of Acts. We are united to Christ through faith, and as we pray, we can also do so with the hope and expectation that our prayers will be answered. There may not be anything else we can do but pray, but God will hear and answer. Maybe not always in the way we asked or expected, but his promises are sure. He always hears and answers prayer offered in the name of Christ. You can count on it. HOW JESUS PRAYED THIS That brings us last of all to consider his manner in this prayer. I can be even briefer on this point, because it should be obvious from everything else. This prayer is drenched in wondrous grace. There is amazing grace, even if his oppressors are ignorant of what they are doing, even if they do not fully comprehend the extent of their evil, and even if they are still violent and bloodthirsty. What do these Roman soldiers deserve from God’s hand except his wrath? What are the wages for the sin of these Jewish crowds and their leaders? Do they not deserve death? Could not Jesus justly call down bolts of lightning from the sky to incinerate them on the spot? He could stop the wind and the waves, could he not do the reverse and call in a tornado to give these sinners a taste of what they have coming? They deserve all that and worse. They deserve the cup of hell he is drinking. But instead, he utters words of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” It is truly amazing when you stop and think about it. We hear forgiveness prayed for those sneering, for those mocking, for those nailing, for those stripping him naked. Grace for those hurling insults and taunting him. Mercy for those whose commitment to him flags and fails. For me – and you. He does not return evil for evil. What a Savior! Now you may be thinking: was this not the same Jesus who preached woes against the Jews in the Olivet discourse? In Mark 13 and Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the terrible covenant curses that would fall on the Jews for their unbelief. How does all of that tie into the first word from the cross? Note well: the fall of Jerusalem did not take place right away. In his mercy, God delayed. God gave the Jews some forty years to hear the gospel of grace. They were given much time to repent and believe. Some did. They found forgiveness in the blood of Christ and while the covenant curses raining down around them affected them, they were not directed at them, nor did they have any relationship to their eternal destiny. The central thing to remember is that God gave time. In reply to Christ’s prayer, God mercifully gave room for the preaching of the gospel to be heard among all the Jews following Pentecost. The dreadful covenant curses fell on those who remained in unbelief. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” This first wondrous word from the cross is a word of grace. In this prayer, you can see what your Savior is all about. As he enters into the darkness of our curse, he says, “Remember that I practice what I preach. I preach grace and I embody grace.” His grace and mercy are for you. He uttered these words in obedience for your benefit, so that you are declared righteous by God and can stand before him without fear of condemnation at the Day of Judgment. He also spoke these words to show us, who are united to him, how we are to be a gracious people, even with those who seem to have it in for us. We see grace here and how to respond to grace with more grace. All of that results in praise and glory for the God of grace and our Savior. QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION Can you think of other examples from Scripture and church history of believers reflecting their union with Christ in forgiving their oppressors as he did? Arthur Pink asserts that Peter’s eloquence was not the cause of the conversion of the 3000 on the day of Pentecost. Rather, he insists, it was the prayer of Christ. What is your evaluation of this assertion? Why is it so challenging for us to adopt the forgiving attitude of our Savior in Luke 23:34? What does Scripture say about this in passages like Matthew 18:21-34? Is it legitimate to conclude that in the first word from the cross, our Lord Jesus was only praying for the elect? Why or why not? As we saw above, Christ’s prayer effected a delay in God’s judgment over the unbelieving Jews. Does this relate to the preaching of the gospel inside and outside the church in our day? If so, how?  ENDNOTES 1 Tom Wright, Luke For Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), page 284. 2 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint), page 301. 3 Numbers 15 makes a distinction between sin committed unintentionally (Num. 15:22,27) and sin committed “with a high hand” (Num. 15:30). 4 Arthur W. Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), page 9.

“Seven Wondrous Words” is available in Canada at The Study (thestudy-books.com), in the USA at Amazon.com and in Australia at Amazon.com.au. 

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

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I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Assorted

Ready Christian answers to life's deepest questions

There’s no end of mysteries to explore in this weird, wacky, and wonderful universe. How is it that light can be both a particle and a wave? How is it possible that the complexity of a single cell surpasses that of the largest city? And how come there’s no synonym for thesaurus? Among life’s many questions there’s a small collection that garners special attention – they are the deepest and most unfathomable of them all. Or, at least to secular sorts. It turns out that God has given clear and ready answers to any who have the ears to hear. Q. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? A. The chicken. How can you have one without first having the other? But when we understand that God created everything in just six days then we can conclude that, just as He created Adam full grown, He probably started chickens off with their adult versions too. Q. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? A. Yes. Is sound the vibrations in the air, or do those vibrations only become sound when they are heard? Before you answer, consider how there are other vibrations in the air – too low or too high for us to hear – that we consequently don’t regard as sound. However, the problem here is that the premise of the question is wrong: Christians know there is always Somebody around. Q. How did life begin? A. With a word. Evolution has no explanation for the origin of life since evolution's two mechanisms – natural selection, and random mutation – require an already living, already replicating organism to exist before they can act on it. Just as there is no possibility of selecting until there’s a pool of candidates to select from, there can be no mutation until there’s an original to mutate from. While secular sorts have no answer to give, Christians can read all about life’s origins in Genesis 1 and 2. Q. Is my glass half empty or half full? A. Half full. Nothing we have in life is deserved so if we’re given a glass that’s got water right up to the midway point we should view that gratefully, happy for the gift given. Q. If God can do anything, can He make a rock too heavy for Him to lift? A. No. God can’t do everything. Specifically, He can’t do anything contrary to His own character. That’s why He can’t ignore sin – His character won't allow it. And that's why, to offer us mercy, Jesus had to come to Earth to take our sins on Himself – God could only offer mercy in a way that still satisfied His need for justice. It would also be contrary to His character, as a God of order, to make rocks too heavy for Him to lift...or to make square circles, or any number of other nonsensical things. Q. Is there life after death? A. Yes! Unbelieving sorts will speculate about there being something after life, but Christians don’t have to. That Jesus died and rose again is the assurance of our own resurrection. He’s beaten death! Q. What is the purpose of life? A. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Money, fame, power, status, and even family bring only temporary joys. What Man was created for was an eternal relationship with our infinite God.

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Bonus: Did Adam have a belly button? A. No. Belly buttons are scars from our umbilical cord connection to our mothers, and since neither Adam or Eve was born, neither of them would have had this scar. Double Bonus: Who did Cain marry? A. His sister (or possibly his niece). While we aren’t supposed to marry relatives now, that prohibition came 2,000 years after Cain's time (Leviticus 18:6). So why could he marry a close relation and we can't? The explanation probably comes down to genetics. We all have genetic defects - damaged information in our DNA - but so long as we marry someone unrelated, the effects of those errors won’t generally be seen in our children, as the most serious effects of the error are likely to be countered by the corresponding and error-free section in our spouse’s genes. But close relatives may share the exact same defects, and were they to marry, their children would be more likely to have genetic diseases. This didn't apply to Adam and Eve, because they started off with perfect genes, and when their children married, they still didn’t have many errors to pass on. It was only after a couple thousand years that genetic errors would have so accumulated that close relatives had to be barred from marrying.

Assorted

Confirming what we’ve always confessed

On March 11, 2015, Classis Ontario West adopted an unusual proposal from Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church: Providence wants an addition made to the Belgic Confession.

As they explain in their proposal, our confessions differ from Scripture in that they aren’t perfect or sacred…so they can be amended or edited. That has happened in the past: for instance, at the 1905 General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands a number of words were deleted from Belgic Confession Article 36 “in an effort to better conform to biblical teachings on the role of civil government.”

But why would a change need to be made now? Because “the Canadian Reformed Churches presently face a significant doctrinal challenge in the area of origins.”

What change does Providence propose? They want to replace the first line of the Belgic Confession’s Article 14 with the following to clarify “our confessional and biblical stance on human origins” (new wording is italicized):

We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and are the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre- Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy.

As the proposal notes, many believe that our confessions are already quite clear on this topic. However, the fact is some Canadian Reformed academics have joined together to argue that the confessions leave room for a great diversity of views on how mankind came to be. This group, Reformed Academic, includes some very prominent figures: Dr. Arnold Sikkema, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer and Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff. They have a diversity of views amongst themselves, and it can be hard to figure out just what they each believe about Man’s origins. On the group’s blog they have allowed their most outspoken (and clearest) member, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer, to outline what he considered strong evidence for the possibility that man and chimpanzees have a common ancestor.

Does that mean Dr. Van der Meer is affirming the evolution of man from some relation of chimps? Well, there is a nit that can be picked here: relating strong evidence for evolution is not necessarily the same thing as affirming evolution. As Dr. Sikkema noted in a response to the proposal, even a creationist like Dr. Todd Wood has acknowledged that there are strong evidences for evolution.

But, of course, there is acknowledging and there is acknowledging. While both Reformed Academic and Dr. Wood acknowledge the evidence for evolution only Dr. Wood acknowledges that God created Man over six literal days and not via a process that involved pre-Adamites and millennia upon millennia of death, disease, and disaster, which He thereafter declared “good.” Context is key.

In his response to the proposal Dr. Sikkema argued that Providence Church had misrepresented him in supporting materials by labeling him a “theistic evolutionist”:

I don’t “believe in evolution.” It’s not about belief. I don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of gravity either, but I do believe in a good, loving, and covenantally faithful Triune God…

Dr. Sikkema uses the term “belief” here in the sense of “place my hope in.” In that sense he believes in God, but not evolution or Einstein’s theory of gravity. However, no Christian anywhere “places their hope” in evolution, so if that is what it means to “believe in evolution” it is not surprising Dr. Sikkema rejects the label “theistic evolutionist.” As he has redefined the term it can’t be applied to anyone at all.

But what if we give the term a more reasonable definition? What if we say a theistic evolutionist is “someone who argues that God-directed evolution is a legitimate possibility”? Then the term applies. In a joint blog post (responding to the charge that, “evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions” Dr. Sikkema and the other members of Reformed Academic wrote:

…God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity [i.e. the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession].

Other objections have already been raised, some of note (an edit will be needed to acknowledge that Eve, too, was made in God’s image), but very few of which wrestle with what is at stake here. To paraphrase Douglas Wilson, did Adam bring death into the world (Romans 5:12) or did millions of years of death and dying bring Adam into the world?Providence’s proposal specifically and clearly rejects the latter and calls upon our churches to do the same.

The proposal’s critics are going to fall into one of two camps. There will be:

  1. Those who argue it isn’t necessary because they believe the Confession already rules out pre-Adamites.
  2. Those who argue it isn’t necessary but who won’t rule out pre-Adamites.

If the critics all fall into the first camp, Providence’s proposed addition isn’t needed. Conversely, if there are any who fall into the second camp, that will highlight why we need to clarify our Confession.

There will also be some who make a show of being in the first camp with carefully parsed statements such as, “it could be argued that the Confession already rules out evolution.” While that sounds very first camp-ish, it can be a clever way of saying, “some people – not necessarily me, mind you – could argue…” We should view such critics who won’t be clear as strengthening the case for Providence’s clarifying proposal.

Lots of work, research, and thought has gone into Providence’s proposal, and you should read it for yourself. It can be found on their website: ProvidenceChurch.ca.


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