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Media bias

Proverbs 18:17: the antidote to Fake News

In the era of, not so much fake, but exaggerated, partisan, and selectively reported news, how can we discern the truth of a matter? God shows us the way in Proverbs 18:17, where we are told the first to present his case seems right until a second comes and questions him. What does it look like, to put this verse into action? Let’s take a classic example from the US gun debate. In the early 1990s Emory University medical professor Arthur Kellermann told Americans that owning a gun was associated with a 2.7 times greater risk of being murdered. Kellermann shared that in his study of three metropolitan areas they had found three-quarters of the victims were murdered by someone they knew, and nearly half by gunshot wounds. That raised the question of whether having a gun in the house might increase rather than decrease a person’s chance of being murdered. The New York Times, and other media outlets, spread these findings far and wide. But was the anti-gun case as compelling as it seemed? To find out, we have to continue on and hear from the critics – the first has presented his case and now we need a second to come and question him. Critics noted that Kellermann’s study showed an equal risk increase associated with owning a burglar alarm. National Review’s Dave Kopel pointed out, this study overlooks “the obvious fact that one reason people choose to own guns, or to install burglar alarms, is that they are already at a higher risk of being victimized by crime…. Kellermann’s method would also prove that possession of insulin increases the risk of diabetes.” The National Rifle Association wanted people to understand that a study of homicides couldn’t give a good measure of how effective guns could be for personal protection. "99.8 percent of the protective uses of guns do not involve homicides," explained NRA spokesman Paul H. Blackman, but instead would involve brandishing the weapon to hold off an assault, or perhaps firing the weapon to scare or wound the assailant. The first presenter might have had us thinking guns clearly needed to be banned. But that was only half the story. Even after hearing from the critics we don’t have the full picture – veteran newsman Ted Byfield once noted that to provide every side of a story we’d need more ink than exists in the whole of the world – but by hearing the two sides argue it out we have a much better picture. God tells us in Prov. 18:17 that if we hear only one side – even if it’s our side – then it’s likely we’re going to miss something. So if the truth matters to us we want to give even our opponents a hearing. At least the thoughtful ones (Prov. 14:7).

Apologetics 101, Politics, Pro-life - Abortion

On "the Overton Window" and talking crazy

There are two ways to encourage our country to turn in a godly direction. Both involve talking.

****

Glenn Beck, a radio talk show host in the US, authored a novel with the curious title The Overton Window. Before ever reading the book I had to google the title to find out what it meant. I was glad I did – it turns out "The Overton Window" is an enormously useful way of looking at how ideas are discussed in the public square. A political analyst, Joseph Overton, coined the term to describe how some topics/issues/ideas fall into a range - the Overton Window – where they are deemed acceptable for public discourse. To give an example, while no one likes property tax increases, we also wouldn't think it radical or unthinkable to talk about hiking them a point or two. It is an idea that can be discussed publicly without embarrassment, falling within the "Overton Window" of acceptable discourse. Now, some ideas fall outside the Overton Window. If we were to draw out a "spectrum of acceptability" (see the illustration below) for public conversations, then on the outer extremes would be ideas deemed simply Unthinkable. These are thoughts that, if anyone were to propose them, they would then be dismissed as crazy, bizarre, or bigoted. But as we move inwards, towards the middle, ideas start to become merely Radical, then become Acceptable, and as they become more and more Popular, they are so well thought of by the public, they may well become government Policy. The Overton Window helps us understand why some of the issues most important to Christians just don't get discussed. It's because a politician isn’t going to dare talk about ideas that will make him seem like a kook – if an idea falls into the Unthinkable, or Radical end of the spectrum, he won’t touch them. That’s where Christians are right now with the issue of abortion in Canada. And that's where we're heading on transgenderism. A daring politician may bring up ideas that are merely Acceptable, but most politicians try to find out which way the parade is heading, and then get out in front of it. So they will only bring up issues thought Sensible, Popular, or so accepted that everyone thinks they should be made Policy. I bring up the Overton Window because it is a very useful tool to direct, and measure, what we are doing when we set out to shift the public's stand on an issue. The opposition is trying, and largely succeeding, in making orthodox Christian beliefs seem radical. If we are going to change hearts and minds on issues like the protection of the unborn, marriage, human rights commissions, education policy, and restorative justice, we will have to begin by pushing our ideas back into Overton Window of "acceptable discourse." We want our ideas, once deemed unthinkable, to be seen by Canadians as simply common sense, and so popular they should be policy. Doing it right So how do we make the shift? There are two ways. 1. Speak the unthinkable to makes it less so Talking does wonders. The current transgender debate is being lost, quite quickly, and the biggest reason is that no one – at least none of our political leaders – are willing to speak up. The opposition has already managed to make it unthinkable to say, "God made us male and female, and wishing it was different can't change that truth." But what if someone did speak up? Here in Canada in recent months we've seen the impact that even one person can have when they are willing to voice what has become politically incorrect. University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has made waves for publicly questioning whether people can choose to be genderless or "non-binary." Because he hasn't backed down, his solitary stand has become a movement of sorts, with thousands echoing his concerns. And it all started because he was willing to speak. Here's another illustration, this one from Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center think tank where Joseph Overton first thought up the term “Overton Window.” If a teenage girl wants her parents to change her curfew from 10 pm to midnight the most strategic way forward would be for her to start talking about how all her friend get to stay out until 2 am. Now there's no way her parents will let her stay out until 2 am and she knows it, but if she makes a credible case for this extreme, she might just succeed in shifting 2 am from an Unthinkable idea, to merely a Radical one. And that, in turn, might just make midnight seem downright Acceptable. By overshooting what she is really after, she can tug her parents to where she is actually hoping they will go. We can do something like that too. We aren’t going to exaggerate our position like this girl – that would be lying – but we can take inspiration from her and speak out fearlessly on our most unthinkable ideas. If we are vocal, if we are heard, we can pull the public towards us, even if we don’t yet bring them all the way over. So, for example, if in our day-to-day lives we all start wearing pro-life shirts that celebrated the humanity of the unborn, and if in the next election campaign CHP candidates effectively and vocally make the case for the humanity of the unborn, and then we all use the ARPA Easy Mail to write our MPs, and write in to our local papers too, all of us calling for an end to abortion, we could succeed in pulling the public enough our way to allow a Conservative MP to push for an “Informed Consent” law. This is a law that would require women be given all the facts before they have an abortion. Of course we wouldn’t be satisfied with this one small step forward, but some children would be saved. It would be a start. But it will only happen if we are willing to speak the unthinkable fearlessly and boldly. 2. Speak the radical repeatedly During the 2008 election, one-time US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought homemade cookies for students at a Pennsylvania school. She had heard that there was a debate going on over whether public schools in the state should ban sweets. “Who should be deciding what I eat?” she asked a cheering audience. “Should it be government or should it be parents? It should be the parents,” Palin concluded. That a child’s parent should make their nutritional decisions, rather than some arm of the government, is not an extreme position. But unless, like Palin, we speak this truth repeatedly, repetitively publicly, and repeatedly (and repetitively) it could easily become extreme. It is only by repetition that common sense remains common. How not to do it Now there are also two approaches we can use to be sure we won’t shift our nation in a more godly direction. 1. We can't expect change if we won't speak This might seem so obvious as to be not worth mentioning, But it is our default. It is easier not to let co-workers know we oppose how a homosexual couple rewrote the BC public schools curriculum. It is easier to be quiet than do the research to be able to speak persuasively for the unborn. It’s easier to remain ignorant about what our country’s human rights commissions are up to. It’s easier to be unprepared, and unnoticed, easier not to stick out, easier to keep our mouths shut. It’s easier, but we can’t expect change if we won’t ready ourselves to speak on the issues of our day intelligently and persuasively. 2. We also can't expect change if we pretend to be less radical than we are One of the reasons I'm bringing up the Overton Window is because it is a more accurate way to evaluate success than some of our more traditional measures. We sometimes get caught up in measuring our success by how many Christians MPs or MLAs we’ve elected, or how many votes our candidate received, or maybe how many pieces of legislation “our guys” have managed to pass. But there is a problem with measuring success this way. It is possible to increase our vote total and elect more Christian MPs even as our nation becomes increasingly godless. We can even pass positive pieces of legislation, without changing Canadians’ hearts and minds. How? By downplaying our Christian convictions. If we pretend that we aren’t radical, that our radical positions are quite conventional, we can get elected. But without any mandate to make the changes we are actually hoping for. I want to note before I bring up this next example, that I am not trying to attack this man. I greatly respect him. But the strategy he employed is a very relevant example. When he was a Manitoba Conservative MP, Rod Bruinooge, proposed a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. It was, possibly, the very smallest step forward in the protection of the unborn, since it would have only protected those few children who were wanted by their mothers, but were being threatened by their fathers. It was a small step, but still a step!  But it was not sold as pro-life legislation. Bruinooge was quoted by WorldNetDaily.com as saying his bill “doesn't have any bearing on access to abortion.” He noted:

“That's not related to this bill. Access to abortion in Canada is in all nine months….This bill doesn't have any bearing on that… This bill is neither pro-life or pro-abortion.”

Now anything abortion-related in Canada would fall in the Radical/Unthinkable range. But if the public had taken Bruinooge at his word, and believed that his bill has nothing to do with abortion, perhaps they would have found it an Acceptable idea. The bill wasn't passed. But if it had, its passage wouldn’t have signaled any sort of shift in our nation. It will only have passed because MP Bruinooge avoided talking about abortion – so the bill won’t have done anything to change the public's mind about abortion. It wouldn't have done anything to shift the pro-life position in any positive direction in the public's mind. Conclusion The shift that we are after is going to involve pushing boundaries, being radical, bringing up the unthinkable. That’s how we are going to start to shift hearts and minds - when we fearlessly and repeatedly and effectively present God’s truth to our nation (Heb 13:6). And so to conclude I want to encourage you to speak out, in whatever organization you are a part of, and wherever God has placed you:  at your work, in the park, behind a podium, over the back fence, at the gym, Equip yourself to speak out and then speak. We all need to take on this task.

This article was based on a talk delivered Nov. 22, 2010 at a CHP event, which you can hear here.

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction

Edith Cavell: a brave guide

Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. 
 The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory.

***

December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.”

***

Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.”

***

After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. [caption id="attachment_11944" align="alignleft" width="1280"] Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one.[/caption]

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Abortion supporters don't believe in equality

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

AA
Book Reviews
Tagged: Christian fiction, Commandments, featured

Honoring God’s name in Christian fiction

“I didn’t expect the person killing me to yawn with boredom.”

As opening lines go, this has to be one of the best. It’s from Dr. James Dobson’s novel, Fatherless and while I hadn’t expected much from this psychologist’s first try at fiction, after skim-reading the opening chapter in the bookstore I was pleasantly surprised and bought the book.

But I soon came across a surprise of a different sort. On page 171 a character used God’s name as an expletive. He wasn’t talking to God, or talking about God; this was God’s name as an exclamation mark.

Three replies

That wouldn’t have been surprising in a secular novel. But why would a Christian author take God’s name in vain? While you won’t find the F-word in any Christian fiction, it isn’t all that rare to find God’s name abused. In the past I’ve run across this with several other Christian novelists. When I asked three of them why they did it, I got three very different responses.

1. Heard

My first letter was to an author who has written a couple dozen popular novels. He said no one had ever pointed this out to him before – none of his readers, none of his editors. He promised that, going forward, he would certainly not do it again.

An encouraging response…but also an indicting one. Of the thousands of Christians reading his book, none had ever mentioned it? It seemed that a big reason God’s name is being dishonored among Christians is because we aren’t willing to speak up about it to each other.

2. Wrong

I couldn’t find contact information for the second author, but an opportunity came up when I attended one of his lectures. At the coffee break I came forward to ask him about it privately. I was as tactful as I could be, but this was an unavoidably confrontational situation: I was telling him he had done something wrong. His response was gracious: “Can you show it to me?”

We found the page, and he read it over. The character was a detective who as a young boy had grown up in the church, but who as an adult had abandoned belief in God. And yet here he was, near the end of the novel giving insincere “thanks” to God.

The author explained that I had missed some of the subtleties in the story. He showed me that at this point in the book the detective was no longer the agnostic he had been. While there wasn’t any big conversion scene, a reader who was paying more attention than me would have realized that the character was genuinely thanking God.

It was a great lesson, very kindly delivered: before correcting an author about his mistake, it is important to be sure something really does need correcting.

That said, in most cases it is pretty clear.

3. Misunderstood

The third author asked if I objected when there were other sins in a story. He said that if a Christian author could only write about nice characters doing nice things there would be no stories to write.

Good point, and I wrote back that I had no problem with murders or many others sins taking place in a Christian novel. When a character is murdered, no actual murder takes place, and readers aren’t generally left thinking that murder is no big thing.

Now, it is possible for characters’ fictional sins to become real ones. That’s why, while a Christian novel can involve adultery, those scenes must be handled in a very different fashion than they are in a Harlequin romance. There is no place for “steamy” scenes in God-honoring fiction; a Christian writer shouldn’t be tempting his readers to covet or lust.

Similarly, when a character takes God’s name in vain, a sin is happening. As we read these passages, whether in our heads or aloud, God’s name is being used as if it were an expletive or maybe a word whisper (just something to say in place of “um” or “ah”). This treatment contributes to the belittling of God’s name. These passages contribute to the overall impression that hallowing God’s name isn’t all that important, that it is only as “holy” as any other swear word. Actually God’s Name doesn’t even get the same “reverence” as the N-Word – that has to be used with care. The F-word, too, can’t just be thrown around in every situation. Maybe if you’re a sailor, but not if you’re a Christian author. However, God’s Name can be interjected in mixed company: sailors or saints, no one objects.

To put it another way, I wasn’t objecting to the depiction of sin – I was objecting to the committing of it. When a character takes God’s name in vain then a commandment really is being broken…and not by the character. It’s the author who is using God’s name in a way that God never intended: as a substitute for the F-word, or some other swear word. God allows us to use his holy Name to talk to Him, or about Him. But God’s name shouldn’t be used simply because a story’s heroine stubbed her toe and the writer wants the audience to understand that it really really hurt. The author is using God’s name in vain when he inserts it simply because he lacks the creativity or patience to think up another interjection.

When it is appropriate to abuse God’s Name

Douglas Wilson has pointed out there are situations in which fictional character can appropriately misuse God’s name, so long as the intent is to honor God. And he cites Jesus’ storytelling as his example:

In the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax man praying the Temple, the Lord said this: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:11).

He uses the name of God, but He is clearly not communicating with God. This is not a true prayer. The Lord is explicit – this particular prayer bounced off the ceiling, fell to the floor, and has rolled into the corner. It was a clear breach of the Third Commandment.

“The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain . . . superstitious, or wicked mentioning . . .” (Westminster Larger Catechism 113).

In short, this fictional depiction is a high violation of the Third Commandment, committed by a character in a bit of prose composed by the Lord Jesus Himself. We therefore have to do more than simply say that the sinful use of God’s name in prose is automatically a violation. ….any sin whatever may lawfully be portrayed by a Christian writer. If his intentions are scripturally healthy (and if he is competent), he is not entailed in the sins he is portraying, because nobody ever heard the Lord’s parable and came away wanting to be more like that Pharisee. The story is devastating, both to the Pharisee and to the sin being committed.

While casual abuse is always sinful, there is a deliberate way authors can abuse God’s Name that does still honor Him. So, for example, one character might abuse God’s name so that another can question or correct him. Of course, not every instance has to be this obvious:  an author might decide that a congressman whose only god is ambition will sign off his speeches with: “May God save America.” Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, the congressman is misusing God’s name, but if the author is competent, then the story will be “devastating, both to the [congressman] and to the sin being committed.” God’s Name will actually be honored.

Competency is key

However, as Wilson goes on to note, competency is key. As we learn in Proverbs 27:14, good intentions are not enough – it isn’t enough that the author intends to honor God; he actually has to pull it off.

That means if a character stubs his toe, and then makes mention of God, it doesn’t much matter what the author intends, we know how most of his audience is going to understand this – just another instance of someone calling on God instead of dropping an F-bomb. No matter what the author intends, this type of usage reinforces our culture’s casual contempt for what is holy, and it will have the effect of belittling God’s Name.

This is what the Third Commandment forbids.

Conclusion

I can’t imagine that any Christian writer wants to violate the Third Commandment. That means that many who are dishonoring God’s name are doing so for no other reason than no one has explained how wrong it is. That also means there is quite the opportunity for change. If we speak up, reaching these writers through their personal websites or their publisher’s sites, there is every reason to believe they’ll listen, and even be grateful for the correction…and even if they don’t listen, God will be glorified simply by our defense of his Name.


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