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Entertainment

Reading films: are Christians as discerning as they used to be?

"Moving pictures" have only the briefest of histories, spreading throughout North America early in the twentieth century. The first movie theatres were converted stores with hard wooden benches and a bedsheet for a screen, and they came to be known as "nickelodeons" because the admission price was five cents. Films were short – in 1906 the average length was five to ten minutes. In 1911 the earliest cinema music was played on tinkling pianos. During the silent film era, slapstick comedy – which depends on broad physical actions and pantomime for its effect rather than dialogue – was widely prevalent. With the advent of the "talkies" in the 1930s, screwball comedy became widely popular. It was laced with hyper action, was highly verbal, and noted for its wisecracks. In 1939 the first drive-in theatre was opened on a ten-acre site in Camden, New Jersey. A brief history of the Church and movies  When movies first because a form of widespread public entertainment, Christians were frequently warned against movie-going. Many "fundamentalist" pastors forcefully exhorted, "When the Lord suddenly returns, would you want to meet Him in a theatre watching a worldly movie?" In Reformed Churches too, Christians were also exhorted not to attend movie theatres. 1. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) As early as 1908 the editor of the CRC denominational magazine, The Banner, complained:

"Theatre going supports a class of people that frequently caters to the lowest taste of depraved humanity, actors and actresses and their employers."

A general objection was that the movie industry as a whole tended to be "of the world," and thus against Christian values and the church… and ultimately against God's Kingdom. The CRC 1928 Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements paid close attention to the question of worldliness in relation to the movies. The Report stopped short of calling the whole movie industry anti-Christian, but still issued severe warnings against attending movies. CRC Synod 1928 judged:

"We do not hesitate to say that those who make a practice of attending the theatre and who therefore cannot avoid witnessing lewdness which it exhibits or suggests are transgressors of the seventh commandment."

In 1964 the CRC took another serious look at the movies. The CRC realized that its official stance and the practice of its members were at great variance, producing a "denominational schizophrenia and/or hypocrisy." In 1966 a major report The Film Arts and the Church was released. It differed substantially from the earlier studies. Film, it said, should be regarded as a legitimate means of cultural expression, so the medium of film must be claimed, and restored by Christians. The Report was idealistic in hoping that members of the CRC would become discriminating and educated moviegoers, reflecting on and discussing films as part of their cultural milieu. The review of movies in The Banner began in 1975, but faced strong opposition. But in time the Reformed doctrine of the antithesis  (we should not be just like the world) became muted in the choice of movies made by CRC members. There was little difference in what they watched, and what the world watched. 2. The Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) The PRC was fervent in its denouncement of movies and movie attendance. The PRC considers all acting as evil, as is the watching of acting on stage, in theatres, on television, or on video. PRC minister Dale Kuiper said, "Certainly the content of almost 100 per cent of dramatic productions (movies, television programs, plays, skits, operas) place these things out of bounds for the Christian." But already in 1967 a writer noted that PRC practice did not match PRC principle: "When I was formerly an active pastor in a congregation, it was always a source of sad disappointment to me that so few of our young people could testify, when asked at confession of faith, that they had not indulged in the corruptions of the movie." And since 1969 and continuing till today, various pastors and professors have lamented that large numbers of PRC members watch movies, either in theatres, or more often on television. 3. Evangelicals Evangelicals have a history of making films as a way of teaching Christian values. The Billy Graham organization Worldwide Pictures made modest independent films to evangelize youth: The Restless Ones (1965), about teenage pregnancy; A Thief in the Night (1972), an end-times thriller; and the Nicky Cruz biopic, The Cross and the Switchblade (1970). A reporter dubbed them "religious tracts first, entertainment second." More recently, evangelicals made new producing sci-fi films about the apocalypse, which critics claim are embarrassingly poor-quality – artistically flawed – productions marketed in the name of evangelism. As examples, they refer to the three profitable Left Behind Movies (2000, 2002, 2005). There has also been a trend to create "family-friendly" movies. However, these movies tend to depict a world where all issues are plain and simple. Evildoers are destroyed, the virtuous rewarded, and often times the “good” characters have within themselves everything they need to secure their destiny. Clearly, then, this is not the real world. We've also seen, among evangelicals, a defense of less than family-friendly films. Already back in 1998, the Dallas Morning News ran a story about the growing number of Christians who advocate going to even R-rated movies. The reason? Evangelical filmmaker Dallas Jenkins said, “Non-Christians are just as capable of producing God-honoring and spiritually uplifting products as Christians are, and I've been as equally offended by a Christian's product as I've been moved by something from a non-Christian." Perspectives So how should Christians think about films? How can we approach them with discernment? It begins with recognizing that a film is more than a form of entertainment: it propagates a worldview. Films often: exalt self-interest as the supreme value glorify violent resolutions to problems promote the idea that finding the perfect mate is one's primary vocation and highest destiny Films also so often promote a view of romantic love as being passionate and irresistible, able to conquer anything, including barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personality conflicts. But the love it portrays is usually another euphemism for lust. In Images of Man: a critique of the contemporary cinema Donald J. Drew observes that in contemporary films the context makes it clear that love equals sex plus nothing. An underlying assumption in mainstream Hollywood films is that the goal in life is to become rich. And acquiring things is even supposed to make you a better person! But the values of consumerism, self-indulgence and immediate gratification can harm individuals, families, and communities.  Titanic (1997) Most films depict a world in which God is absent or non-existent. For example, there is nothing in the film Titanic to suggest that God is even interested in the fate of those on board the sinking ship. Whether uncaring or impotent, God is irrelevant in the world of this film. In his book Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, William D. Romanowski comments:

"Whatever outward appearances of belief dot the landscape of Titanic, they have little bearing on the faith of the main characters, especially when compared to the film's glorification of the human will and spirit."

The principal character Rose Bukater is engaged to Cal Hockley, who is concerned only with the approval of his social set. He equates wealth and social status with worth and character. Aware of the limited lifeboat capacity, Rose says, "Half the people on the ship are going to die." The snobbish Cal responds, “Not the better half.” These attitudes run against the grain of American values associated with freedom and equality. And because he is the obvious bad guy, the director has so framed things that whoever stands against Cal will be understood, by the audience, to be the good guy. And so we see in opposition to Cal, the free-spirited artist Jack who is the ultimate expression of pure freedom. His character traits, talent, and good looks easily identify him as the hero. And so the scene is set that when Rose and Jack have an illicit sexual encounter, the audience is encouraged to cheer this and want this, because it is for Rose a declaration of independence from her fiancé and her mother's control over her. The now famous sex scene sums up many of the film's themes: Forbidden love, class differences, and individual freedom. The Passion of the Christ (2004) There was, not so long ago, a film in which God was included. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was highly recommended by evangelicals for its realistic portrayal of Christ's suffering and death. But how true to the Gospels is the film? Why did the director have Jesus stand up to invite more scourging by the Roman soldiers? Was the suffering Jesus endured primarily physical, as this film portrays? Is the film historically accurate or is it a reflection of Gibson's theology? Co-screenwriter Mel Gibson said that he relied not only on the New Testament but also on the writings of two nuns, Mary of Agreda, a seventeenth-century aristocrat, and Anne Catherine Emmerich, an early nineteenth-century stigmatic. The violence in the film became a matter of much debate when the film was released. On the one hand, the head of an evangelical youth ministry said, "This isn't violence for violence's sake. This is what really happened, what it would have been like to have been there in person to see Jesus crucified." On the other hand, many critics cringed at the level of violence in the movie. Romanowski comments, "In my estimation, it is difficult to provide dramatic justification for some of the violence in the film." Star Wars (1977) While the inclusion of God in a film is a rarity, the inclusion of spirituality is not. One of the most iconic and controversial film series has been Star Wars. In 1977 it hit the big screens and it was an immediate success. Legions of fans formed an eerie cult-like devotion and the box-office receipts were astronomical. It originated a new genre – the techno-splashy sci-fi soap opera. The film definitely has a semi-religious theme. In From Plato to NATO David Gress writes that the Star Wars film saga broadcast a popular mythology of heroism, growth, light, and dark sides, wise old men and evil tempters, all concocted by the California filmmaker George Lucas. Much of the inspiration came from the teaching of Joseph Campbell, who claimed there is truth in all mythology. Campbell wrote in 1955 that "clearly Christianity is opposed fundamentally and intrinsically to everything I am working and living for." Meanwhile, John C. McDowell, Lecturer in Systematic Theology at New College, University of Edinburgh finds something redemptive in Star Wars. He analyses the "classic trilogy" Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and the Return of the Jedi in his book The Gospel according to Star Wars: Faith, Hope, and the Force. He calls these films a "pop-culture phenomenon" of unprecedented stature and much more than mere entertainment. He suggests that the films carry even "more influence among young adults than the traditional religious myths of our culture." He argues that the films possess rich resources to change and transform us as moral subjects by helping us in some measure to encounter the deep mystery of what it means to be truly human. He even claims that Star Wars is "a parabolic resource that reveals something of the shape of a Christian discipleship lived under the shadow of the cross." He notes that the theology of the original trilogy is difficult to pin down – though the interconnectedness of all of life does seem to be the fruit of the Force in some way and this is therefore exalted as the movies' "good" or "god." McDowell also discovered pacifist themes in the films – according to him, Star Wars at its best possesses radical potential to witness to a set of nonviolent values. Critical assessment Should we warn Christians about the kind of movies they are watching, whether in a theatre on TV? Some say, "They are only movies. They won't influence us." I wonder whether the lack of critical thinking by evangelicals is the result of the tendency to privatize faith, confining religious beliefs to personal morality, family, and the local congregation, all the while conducting their affairs in business, politics, education, and social life, and the arts much like everyone else. Aren't even many Christians overlooking the persistence of evil in human history? We live in a fallen world that is at once hostile to God and also in search for God. Works of art can glorify God – including film art – but they can also be instrumental in leading people away from Him. Ever since the fall, human beings have been in revolt against God, turning their gifts against the Giver. Art, along with nearly every human faculty, has been tainted by the fall. Indeed, one of the first phases of the disintegration brought by sin was the usurpation of art for the purpose of idolatry (Rom. 1:23). Most people believe they are personally immune to what they see on the film screen or on TV. How do we grow in our faith? Not by watching and observing a steady diet of movies. We must restore the primacy and power of the Word of God. God gave us a book – the Bible – and not a movie. We should be critical in our thinking, and apply our Biblical worldview. Scripture calls us to "test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thess. 5:1-22).

Parenting

Ignore your inner defense attorney!

My friend Paul Tripp writes that becoming our own defense attorney is a dangerous and destructive practice.  In less formal language Paul is warning about becoming an excuse maker.  These are the words of a defense attorney in action:

• “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be angry.” • “I guess I’m just tired.” • “He was mean to me.” • “If you were just a little nicer, it would be a lot easier.” • “Being inside because of the weather makes me cranky.” • “It wasn’t my fault, I’m just not feeling well.”

Whether these words come from you or your children they are the words of excuse making, defending ourselves from our own shortcomings and sins. Excuse making keeps us from trusting God, erodes relationships and weakens our character and faith. The default mode for the excuse maker is to shift blame instead of looking to God in repentance. Excuse making is evidence of regret over sins. Excuse making is a way to conceal sin. The Holy Spirit warns against concealing sin in Proverbs 28:13: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Here is alternate translation from respected commentator and scholar Bruce Waltke: The one who conceals his transgressions will not succeed but the one who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy. The message is clear and profound: Repentance brings hope. Excuses result in frustration and blame-shifting. The flesh acts as our defense attorney by continually offering a stream of excuses so that we can avoid addressing and confessing our sin. This leads to disaster. Waltke makes this insightful observation about concealing sin: People may smash their consciences to avoid humbling themselves, but they cannot avoid the reality that God knows and will punish sin. How much better to give him glory by acknowledging this and to experience his mercy. Concealing sins — making excuses — destroys trust in God. But repentance yields mercy and the blessing of God. There is no freedom in making excuses, only regret and frustration. However, if repentance is your first response you can be confident of God’s mercy. You don’t have to look for an excuse. You know that your are forgiven and can trust God for help to change. Repentance is the path of freedom. Here is a definition of repentance you can teach your children: “changing my mind and turning around to do the right thing.” Here is a prayer for repentance that will be a blessing to you and your children: God, thank you for making repentance possible by sending Jesus to live and die in my place. Thank you that my sin doesn’t separate me from your love. But still, sometimes it is hard to repent, especially when I am stubborn and angry and I just want my own way. Please give me a repentant heart and help me to love you more. In Jesus name, Amen. Don’t listen to your inner defense attorney! Embrace repentance.

Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.

Letter Writing

Activism 101: 4 tips on being heard

If you are waiting in-line at a grocery store you are guaranteed to be bombarded by flashy magazines. These magazines are often, if not always, an assault on the senses. They are visually disturbing with pictures of scantily clad women and men. Not only that, the headlines and featured articles promote gossip and obsession about sex, weight-loss, image and power (unfortunately those topics all seem to go hand in hand). It is interesting that these magazines are a temptation for women. On a first glance you would think that it would only be visually tempting for men (which they are). However I admit, and know many other females that would concur, that each time again I have to choose to refuse to look at or read the covers of these magazines. They are there for a reason. And it is not uncommon to see women spontaneously buy the latest glossy bit of smut. In fact, that is the very reason they are displayed there. To add to the problem, women who are grocery shopping are often accompanied by their small children. Enough is enough As a family living in Lethbridge (at that time) we witnessed this onslaught of images and ideas each time we shopped. It often bothered me that this was practiced by companies that received so much business from Christian families like ours, who did not want to see these magazines at all. One particular day my husband was shopping at the Lethbridge Save-On-Foods. He saw a young boy (maybe seven or eight years old) waiting in line with a parent. This child happened to be at eye-level with a Cosmopolitan magazine and out of sheer curiosity was staring at it. The cover featured a woman pulling her shirt wide open to reveal herself wearing only a white lacy bra. Now we all know the power of images and how hard they are to purge from your mind. And we all know the vulnerability of a young school-aged mind. And so when he told me about it I felt physically sick. I had had enough. The next time I was in the store I went from the checkout to the customer service counter and filled out a comment card. I briefly described what had been seen and suggested that they also would probably not care for their eight-year-old to see these images. I requested that the magazines be removed. If that was for some reason impossible I asked that they provide a family-friendly checkout that did not have the magazines. Quite a response It was very encouraging to receive a personal phone-call from the local store’s manager a few days later. He said that he agreed with me but then apologized that he could not change the store’s layout. Apparently every Save-On-Foods across Canada follows the same design and this layout is dictated from the head office. However he provided me with the email for the national customer service centre and offered to also contact them to add his support to my suggestions. Soon after, I sent an email to the head office with my concerns, suggestions and contact information. I then forwarded the email I had just sent to friends and family so that they could also send a similar email. After all, the more response that Save-On-Foods would receive the better. Right? A few weeks later a manager from the Overwaitea/Save-On-Foods head office phoned our home. He spoke with my husband and (at that time) agreed that something should be done. He offered to initially contact some of the magazine companies to see if the covers could be improved. If this wasn’t possible then he would look into cascading them or removing all or some of them from the checkouts. He let us know that it would likely be a few months before we would see any changes in the stores. It was once again a very encouraging response. We were looking forward to seeing what changes would take place. Quiet response Unfortunately, since then we have not noticed any significant change. The store in Lethbridge did provide one checkout aisle where they put a plastic cover in front of just one of the magazines (Cosmopolitan) so that only the cover was showing. However, this was the only change and on one’s first glance for a free checkout it was impossible to notice this. We waited for a few months like the manager had suggested but we did not see any other improvements. After that waiting period I sent a follow up email to see if anything was going to be done but I did not receive a response. My husband called again two months after that and was able to speak with the same manager. Unfortunately he was no longer so helpful. It was very disappointing to hear that they have no plans to standardize the idea of family friendly checkouts. According to him, the store is “not in the business of censoring.” They believe that most customers are not upset by the magazines being there and that they are serving their customers. He also reported that one of the stores in Abbotsford, B.C. does provide family friendly checkouts but he refused to provide any suggestions on how or if they could be implemented at other stores. Not the end? I suppose the reason is obvious. When it comes to consumerism, the almighty dollar writes the rules. The magazines are there because they rely on impulse buyers. The customer service team simply has not felt enough pressure to change. So the next logical step is for more customers to step forward. After all, how do you feel when you notice an innocent eight-year old staring at the cover of Cosmopolitan? If one comment card and one email could create a stir like this just think what could happen if more of us step up to the plate! Things we learned from this

1) Follow up, follow up, follow up. Keep the contact information of every person you spoke with in the issue so that you can speak to the same person again. Be sure to let them know in your email or phone call that you plan to contact them again.

2) Set a date. Write on your calendar when you are going to contact them again. Life is busy so it’s easy to forget how much time has gone by.

3) Get more people involved. A message is always stronger if it is spoken by more people. The decision makers need to know that they are serving more people by changing the status quo.

4) Offer your assistance. Ask how you can continue to help with this so that the decision makers don’t feel it’s all placed on their shoulders. They are also busy and they may feel more disposed to help you if you are also helping them.

Below is the email sent to the Customer Service Team:

To whom it may concern,

I am a resident of Lethbridge, Alberta after moving here from Langley, B.C. and I work as a physiotherapist in the local area. I have been a long time shopper at Save-On-Foods in Langley and now here in Lethbridge and I have been very happy with most of the service.

However I have always been disturbed by the magazine displays at the checkout aisles. There are always glossy magazines with full front cover stories that include pictures of very scantily clad women. If they are not in a very tiny bathing suit that shows most of the breast, they are in a dress that reveals almost as much. Recently there was even a full cover picture of a woman pulling her shirt open and holding it open to display her breasts barely covered by a lacy bra.

Now I have no need to see these, what I would consider pornographic, pictures. I realize that as an adult I can choose to turn my head away, which I do, but it becomes even more of a concern to me when I see a small child of 7-8 years old peering at the cover of Cosmopolitan which has been put right at his eye level. Would you want your child perusing the cover of Cosmopolitan? How confusing for our kids to be taught about people's privacy at home and then to be bombarded by these images at the local grocery store.

As a leading business group in Canada I would highly encourage you to rectify this situation, to make a moral stand and refuse to have those magazine covers take over your checkout aisles. Customers know where to find them in the magazine section. There is no reason to have them at every aisle. It is a disgrace to an upstanding business such as yours. Why sponsor this industry?

If somehow the increased magazine sales trumps that decision, I also have a few suggestions: You could opt to display the magazines in a cascading order so that only the title is visible as opposed to the entire cover. Alternatively, you could offer "family friendly" checkout aisles which do not have the magazine displays.

I can not express how grateful I would be to see the change occur. Please take the time to consider these suggestions. I appreciate hearing back from you regarding this email.

Sincerely, Jaclyn Penninga

This was first published as "One comment card and one email" in the October 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Children’s picture books, Parenting

3 picture books that tackle anxiety, anger, and failure

Children get anxious. And angry. And they can get frustrated when they fail. As adults, we often struggle with these same emotions, and sometimes we don't do all that well with handling them. Which makes it that much the harder for us to teach our children what to do. That's why this series of pictures books, from the Christian Counseling and Educational Fund (CCEF) are a welcome resource. Not only are they a tool for parents to help children, they can help us adults too. There is good advice in these pages, pointing us straight to the One who can really help. Zoe's Hiding Place: When you are anxious edited by David Powlison illustrated by Joe Hox 32 pages / 2018 The story is about a little mouse named Zoe who's worried about a school trip to the art museum. The last time the class went, she became so fascinated by one painting that she lost track of where the rest of the group went. Then, when she looked up, no one was around, and "It felt like I was alone forever!" She's scared it will happen again. So now she's retreated to her hiding place – under the covers in her bed. How can Zoe deal with her fear and worry? Her mom begins by listening. That's a good start. Then she explains to Zoe that what she is feeling is understandable. But when worry makes us feel like we're all alone, that's not true – God is always with us, and will never forsake us. Mom tells Zoe she can "turn each fear into a prayer" because God will help her. Her mom also helps Zoe think through ways she can stay with the group and not get separated. In the back of the book, the moral of the story is developed further with a two-page message to parents on "helping your child with anxiety." There the editor of this book, David Powlison – a very well-respected biblical counselor – has included a list of 10 "things to remember that will bring comfort to you and your child." Thoughts include: Recognizing that in this world "We have good reason to be anxious and worried." The most frequent command in the Bible is 'Don't be afraid.' Reminding your child that the Lord has listening ears. This is a wonderful book, meant for kids, but helpful for adults too. And the absolutely stunning pictures make this a pretty special morality tale. Yes, this is more an educational tool than an entertaining read. But it is a pretty entertaining read too. And the pictures are so fun to look at, a couple of my daughters have been paging through it regularly. I'd recommend Zoe's Hiding Place to any parents trying to help a child through worry or fear. With its firm grounding in Scripture, this will be a real help to both the child and the parent. For a 10-page preview of the book, you can check out this link here. Two others There are two other books in the CCEF's "Good News for Little Hearts" series, on failure and anger. Buster's Ears Trip Him Up is about dealing with failure. Buster is a speedy rabbit who thinks that winning is everything, so when his long ears trip him up and he loses the big race, he doesn't know how to deal with it. Fortunately, he has a big sister, and a wise father, who both know how to help him deal with failure. They remind him that God loved us before we had ever done anything so it really isn't about our accomplishments, but rather what Jesus accomplished on the cross. You can read a 6-page sample here. Jax's Tail Twitches is about when we are angry. Jax is a squirrel whose big brother is pestering him and that makes him mad. What's worse, the neighbors next door are taking their nuts without asking, and that makes his dad mad. But even when there is good reason to be angry, our anger is, most often, the wrong response to this wrong situation. This is a lesson that mom and dad can certainly benefit from, even as we share it with our children. You can read an 8-page excerpt here. I'd recommend all three of these book as wonderful tools for parents to read with and discuss with their children. The stories are solid, the artwork incredible, and what it teaches is biblical, helpful, and accessible.

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

Adult biographies

Eight Twenty Eight: When love didn’t give up

by Ian & Larissa Murphy
208 pages / 2014

I really enjoyed this book. It is the true story of Ian and Larissa. Soon after they decided to marry – ten months into their courtship – Ian was in a horrific car accident, receiving a traumatic brain injury. He spent many months in the hospital, and when Ian did eventually come out of the coma he was quite handicapped. Larissa felt that the old Ian was still there and continued to grow in love for him.  Then on the 28thof August, 2010, they married, seeking to serve God and enjoy life together with much laughter.

After the accident a person made a well-meaning comment to Larissa, “You need something to keep you going” which really hurt her because it sounded like he thought she “had nothing to be living for outside of an improved Ian.” But what carried her, what she discovered was the understanding that God turns everything– Ian healed, or Ian handicapped – for good (Romans 8:28). Anyone who has sat beside a loved one’s bed in ICU and gone through intense therapy with him or her, or someone who has had to come to terms with the handicaps of a loved one, will want to cling to the encouragement found in that promise.

You can read the prologue and the first chapter here. And the book trailer can be viewed below.


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