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News

Dawkins on eugenics: evil uncloaked

Richard Dawkins has been called one of the “Four horsemen of atheism” and is famed, as well, for being one of Charles Darwin’s most ardent defenders. In February he got himself into trouble for this tweet:

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology."

While eugenics – controlled human breeding – has been popular in the past, its best-known proponents were the Nazis, and that’s an association no one wants. That’s why Dawkins’ atheist and evolutionist cohorts didn’t like his endorsement of eugenics’ practical possibilities – it made them all look bad. And they jumped on him. But on what grounds could they attack him? As Dawkins made clear in follow up tweets, he thinks eugenics immoral.

“For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.”

“A eugenic policy would be bad. I’m combating the illogical step from ‘X would be bad’ to ‘So X is impossible’. It would work in the same sense as it works for cows. Let’s fight it on moral grounds….”

But there is a problem with an atheist evolutionist taking a moral stand against eugenics. As Dawkins highlighted in his 1994 book, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, his worldview doesn’t allow for a wrong and right.

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

If there really were no good, no evil, and nothing but pitiless indifference, then on what moral basis can we stand against eugenics? One fellow scientist, Dave Curtis, took a different tack, making the case that eugenics wouldn’t practically work, what with human being’s “long generational times and small numbers of offspring.” But this practical objection to eugenics doesn’t make atheist evolutionists look any better. Since when do we object to evil on the basis of how difficult it is to successfully pull off? What would we say of a man who objects to murder on the basis of how hard it is to dispose of the body? While his fellow atheists and evolutionists might not appreciate how Dawkins is sidling up to der Fuhrer, we can be grateful for the illumination he provided. As Discrn.com’s Peter Heck noted:

"It's one thing for Christians like myself to offer hypothetical illustrations to the world showing what happens to human ethics apart from God's moral authority. It is another for Richard Dawkins to actually demonstrate them personally."

Parenting

What’s the purpose of family devotions?

A mother-to-be asked two of my adult children how we did our family devotions and what they appreciated about them. To my horror, they described how “most of the time” they just complied as expected – singing, being quiet, and looking as if they were listening intently. They added that they had pretty much sat through church services the same way. And there I sat, thinking that we had done a “good job” overall, but discovering that the kids were often just tuning it all out and biding their time until they were freed. I shouldn't have been surprised. Many parents, including us, remember the fruitful times of good singing, contemplation, long discussions, and prayer. But they also remember flying through the format – bing, bang, bong – done, only because they were supposed to. If the dinner conversation unfortunately ended up including arguments, or sibling rivalry, one of the sinful selves may even have shouted: “Settle down - we have to read the BIBLE!”  Was it still worthwhile to “read and pray”? Well, if we wait until life is perfect, we’ll never read or pray, because we sinners do get out of sorts. Teaching children by example to quiet themselves, and then reading a short amount of Scripture and praying for forgiveness and strength, is exactly what is needed to get everyone back on track.  How do we really teach love for God? The purpose of family devotions is to glorify God together. Psalm 63 says,

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

We ourselves must first love God and express that love and honor to God verbally, and by our actions throughout the day. So if we’re not patient and we shout angrily over small matters, we won’t teach them to use self-control. If we don’t ask forgiveness, we won’t teach them to ask for it. Family devotions should demonstrate that love of God. We must genuinely glorify Him when we read, pray, and sing, and not just rattle off words. Four suggestions Worship is the most important thing we do every week and we should treat it as such. How can we do that? Here are four suggestions            1. A new setting can help with attention Consider letting young children leave the table when they are finished and then re-convening in the living room for devotions. This can provide a helpful transition, instead of taxing their patience – and yours – and making everyone want to rush through devotions and just get it over with. It’s also a more comfortable setting, snuggling together on the sofa or chair, away from dirty plates, silverware, and cups that could be spilled. Pre-bedtime might also be an opportunity when children will be happy to give attention to Bible stories and learning to pray. 2. Be a study buddy Work together on your child’s Bible or catechism memorization, or review what they wrote down in their simple sermon notes on Sunday. 3. Plan ahead If you can, find out the texts, songs, and Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day portion for next Sunday. Then use family devotions time to read and practice everything in preparation for worship. 4. Get involvement When the kids can read, let them take turns reading the text and choosing songs so they understand that it’s not just Dad or Mom who can or should do this.  

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

Humor, Theology

Humor and the life of faith

"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God"  – G. K. Chesterton

*****

Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58:

As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.

Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2).

All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8).

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12).

Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."

Parenting

Just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic?

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of people asking me for help with anxiety issues. While it seems to be affecting people of all ages, the most common problem is teens with anxiety, as the following stats underline: Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the incidence among girls (38.0 percent) far outpacing that among boys (26.1 percent). More than 6 million American teens are grappling with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Anxiety is now the most common issue for which people of all ages seek counseling. Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. Since 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has been asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do. The first year, 18 percent replied yes. By 2000, that climbed to 28 percent. By 2016, to nearly 41 percent. The American College Health Association has been recording about a 10% annual increase in anxiety rates over a number of years. Recent studies have declared millennials, especially women, the most anxious generation in history. Among 10- to 24-year-old females, seven to 14 per cent will experience an anxiety condition in any given year. There’s been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2012. One Christian counselor said, “When I first started counseling twenty-four years ago, probably one out of every twenty kids coming in were dealing with anxiety,” she says. “Now, out of my new appointments, I would say at least sixteen of every twenty families are here for that reason, if not more.” So just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic? It’s really bad, isn’t it? I list these statistics, not to make everyone even more anxious, but to try to re-assure anxious teens and their parents that anxiety is a very normal abnormality. Due to the stigma that still surrounds anxiety and depression, especially in the church, many people suffer in silence and secrecy. They think, “I’m totally weird….There’s no one else like me.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The statistics say otherwise. We are surrounded by kids who are suffering like this but most are afraid to admit it, and so are many of their parents. The kids therefore often continue to suffer without help or support.  Many different causes So, if teen anxiety is so widespread, what’s causing it? On the basis of personal experience, counseling, and research, here are what I believe are the most common causes of teen anxiety. Unresolved guilt: Teen years are often sin-filled years, especially in the area of sex, both virtual and real-life. This causes fear of being found out, fear of God, fear of consequences, and fear of judgment. Unbelief: Related to the above, many kids are not saved, they have no peace with God, because they have never believed in Christ for salvation. But even teens who are believers suffer from anxiety through unbelief, just simply not believing God’s promises. Physical problem: Oftentimes it’s not a sin or faith issue but a biological issue, where the “fight-or-flight” mechanism is disordered, constantly or periodically flooding the body and brain with “anxious chemicals” such as adrenaline, cortisol, etc. This is far more common than most people think and I’ll have more to say about it in another post. Impossible expectations: Teens can impose on themselves perfectionistic targets in school, sport, work, and other areas of life, causing huge anxiety when they fail to live up to them. Although young, there’s often a sense that bad decisions already taken, or bad exam results, will ruin the rest of life, and that there’s no way back. Parental pressure: Parents sometimes add their own unrealistic expectations, often with a view to getting scholarships, or of maintaining their social standing with other parents. Related to this is the problem of over-protective parents. Many kids are so spoiled or protected by their parents that they are totally unprepared for what the world throws at them as soon as they venture outside of the cocoon. Over-busy parents: And the opposite of the above. Some kids just need quality and quantity time with Dad and Mom. Broken homes: One of the most under-reported causes of teen anxiety. Sleep deprivation: Teens need 8-9 hours of regular sleep to thrive, but many are getting less than six causing significant physical, emotional, and intellectual damage. Technology addiction: The teen brain is being fried by the constant sizzle of social media and gaming, giving the brain no opportunity for calm and repair. Social media: Regardless of the impact of how long and how often teens are on social media, there’s the constant performance anxiety that flows from seeing other teens “perfect” lives online. Physical immobility: Teen bodies were not made to sit down all day. Lack of exercise reduces healthy brain and body chemicals and increases damaging ones. Friends and enemies: There’s constant pressure to please and keep up with friends, and especially for girls, these relationships are often complex and fragile. Then add frequent bullying from enemies, sometimes in real life, but today more often online. Neglect of Sabbath: God made the Sabbath for our good, but very few teens take a day off a week from studies, work, sports, shopping, etc., and are suffering the consequences of going against our Maker’s instructions. Bad news: Our teens are exposed to a constant diet of negative news from the media, feeding anxiety and fear. Unhealthy diet: Sugar, carbs, soda, and caffeine drinks make up a large part of many teen diets, a lethal cocktail for mental health. Bad time management: Bad organization, wrong prioritizing, doing the wrong things at the wrong times, procrastinating, taking on too much, all combine to create a constant background hum of stress and tension. Money worries: Poor planning, indisciplined spending, taking on debt, impulsive shopping, all stretch the budget and the nerves. Practical godlessness: Without God as the foundation and framework of life, everything depends on us. Teens, yes even Christian teens, often go days and even weeks without praying and reading God’s Word. This results in a lack of a sense of God’s presence, plan, and power in their lives. Faulty thinking: Teens can fall into a range of faulty thinking. Trauma: Abuse, unexpected bereavement, exposure to violence, accidents, etc. can result in degrees of PTSD. Conclusion As you can see, parents, there are multiple cause of teen anxiety. I hope this list helps you to think and talk to your teens as you try to explore what factors may be contributing to your teen’s worries — it’s usually more than one. Unless we find out the causes, it’s unlikely we’ll discover any cures. I’ll pick out some of these in future posts for further explanation.

Dr. David Murray blogs at HeadHeartHand.org where this first appeared as a pair of posts. In the coming weeks he hopes to share more of his thoughts on the teen anxiety epidemic in the hopes of helping concerned parents understand what’s going in with their anxious kids, offering guidance on how they can help them, and giving practical and biblical advice on how they can contribute to their healing. And we hope to share his thoughts on our website too, and in upcoming issues of the print magazine.

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Genesis: Paradise Lost (part 1)

Documentary
109 minutes / 2018
RATING: 8/10

There have been some very good Genesis-related resources coming out in the last few years and this is another. The intent with this one is to provide a visually stunning introduction to creation science. It’s going over the basics, but along with the expected talking heads laying out Creationism 101, there are impressive computer animations of the goings on for every day in the Creation Week. There’s even a 3D version of the film that, on a big-screen TV, makes this quite the immersive experience!

So who should see this? The target audience is Christians and interested unbelievers who want to learn what creationists believe about the opening chapters of Scripture. There is a lot packed in here – perhaps too much because the sheer volume of material only allows the producers to cover topics in big and broad ways. They simply don’t have the time to offer any sort of nuanced evolutionary counters to their own points.

A CAUTION

Now, that’s fine; it just means this isn’t a film to give to the hardened critic. It also means there is one danger Christians have to watch for: anyone new to creationism, after seeing the film, might be left with the impression that there are no compelling arguments, and no evidence of any kind, for evolution. That would be a dangerous sort of naïveté.

While that’s an important caution, this is a fantastic film. There is so much to love here, starting with the narrator Voddie Baucham – if you’ve ever heard this Reformed pastor and professor speak you’ll know he’s just perfect for this role. Fun guests include Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. The professors include some familiar names like Dr. Georgia Purdom, Dr. David Menton, and Dr. John Baumgardner.

The topics covered include:

  • an answer to the distant starlight problem
  • fossils on the top of mountains
  • carbon-dating
  • intricate complexity
  • reasons to believe the universe is young
  • the Law of Biogenesis
  • finding soft tissue in dinosaur bones (said to be millions of years old)
  • the pepper moth fallacy
  • the many human “missing links”
  • how if natural selection can explain the survival of the fittest, it doesn’t explain the arrival of the fittest
  • and much, much more!

CONCLUSION

One of the film’s strengths is the sheer width and breadth that it covers. However, there is just so much information! I was already familiar with most of what was presented and I still found it on the overwhelming side. But, as faults go, that’s a wonderful one to have – it only means this is an excellent candidate for repeated viewings, and that this is a video to buy, not just rent.

The other strength is all the computer animations. If they aren’t perfectly life-like, they are perfectly gorgeous. The Creation Week had been rendered with respect: God is never depicted, and naked Adam and Eve are only shown at extreme distance, or only in parts (their feet, or hands, or faces). Of course depicting the Creation Week visually is going to involve a lot of imaginative interpretation to fill in all the missing details; these folks have done so with the tact and care.

So, again, who should see this? I think the many talking heads means that Genesis: Paradise Lost isn’t for children – it would probably have to be older teens and up. But for anyone who’s interested in learning about our origins, and about how we should understand the opening chapters of the Bible, this is going to be a treat!

A version of this review first appeared on ReelConservative.com.


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