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Religion - Roman Catholic, Theology

What must Ben Shapiro do to be saved?

Does a person need to put their faith in Jesus to be saved? That was the underlying question conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro put to Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Barron in episode 31 of his Sunday Special. Ben Shapiro pulls no punches when he asks,

What’s the Catholic view on who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t? I feel like I lead a pretty good life—a very religiously based life—in which I try to keep, not just the Ten Commandments, but a solid 603 other commandments, as well. And I spend an awful lot of my time promulgating what I would consider to be Judeo-Christian virtues, particularly in Western societies. So, what’s the Catholic view of me? Am I basically screwed here?

Same question, different responses In asking this, Shapiro is asking the same question as the rich young ruler—albeit in a less elegant way. It’s the most important question a person can ask: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Like the rich young Jewish ruler from the first century, Shapiro qualifies his question with a list of good deeds. Both young Jewish men boast of their religiosity and their sincerity to keep the Law. Although their questions are similar, the answers they each receive are different. In Jesus’ response, He shows the rich ruler that he—like all of us—falls short of God’s perfect standard (Mark 10:21). In fact, he has not even kept the greatest commandment to love God above everything else, including his wealth. Jesus’ point is clear: You can’t enter God’s kingdom by working. Paul makes the same point in his letter to the Romans. He says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Paul adds, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23–25a). In His short encounter with the rich ruler, Jesus illustrates how not to inherit eternal life. But, in an encounter with another Jewish ruler, He explains how to inherit eternal life. Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Here’s what we learn from Jesus’ interactions with these two Jewish leaders. First, good works won’t work. Second, eternal life is received by faith—believing in Jesus. Contrast Jesus’ response to Bishop Barron’s:

No. The Catholic view—go back to the Second Vatican Council [which] says it very clearly.

Christ is the privileged route to salvation. God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might find eternal life, so that’s the privileged route. However, Vatican II clearly teaches that someone outside the explicit Christian faith can be saved. Now, they’re saved through the grace of Christ indirectly received, so the grace is coming from Christ. But it might be received according to your conscience.

So if you’re following your conscience sincerely—or, in your case, you’re following the commandments of the Law sincerely—yeah, you can be saved.

Now, that doesn’t conduce to a complete relativism. We still would say the privileged route—the route that God has offered to humanity—is the route of His Son. But, no, you can be saved. Even, Vatican II says, an atheist of good will can be saved.

The belief that someone can by saved today without explicit faith in Christ is called inclusivism. Barron does a good job laying out the inclusivist position—a position taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Bishop Barron doesn’t give any biblical support for the view. Why I am not an inclusivist There are a number of reasons why I am not an inclusivist. One of the most compelling arguments against inclusivism is found in the account of Cornelius. In Acts 10 and 11, Luke records what Cornelius is like.

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:1–2)

Cornelius seems to have a lot going for him. But he’s got a problem: He’s never heard the gospel. Knowing how Cornelius has responded to the light he’s been given, God gives him more light. He sends him a vision. In the vision, an angel tells Cornelius to send for a man named Peter.

And he [Cornelius] told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 11:13–14)

Notice the text says that Cornelius isn’t saved at this point. He has to hear “the message” by which he can be saved. God-fearing? Yes. Devout and sincere? True. Generous and religious? Absolutely. Even Peter is impressed by Cornelius’s spiritual accolades. Now notice what Peter doesn’t do. He doesn’t reassure Cornelius that he has been saved “by grace indirectly received”—as Barron put it. He isn’t saved by “sincerely following his conscience.” He doesn’t speak of two routes to God: a “privileged route” received by faith in Christ and another route where faith in Christ isn’t required. No, the text says Cornelius needed to hear a message “by which he will be saved.” What was that message? We are not left guessing. Peter tells us,

And he [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:42–43)

Even with all of his spiritual nobility and religious sincerity, Cornelius was still lost and in need of salvation. If inclusivism were true, Peter would not have needed to make a trip to Cornelius. But Peter had to make the trip because—as Paul says—“How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14–15). How can people call on Jesus if they have not believed in Jesus? The answer is, they can’t. How are people going to believe in Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus? The answer is, they can’t. How are they going to hear the good news if no one tells them the good news? The answer is, they won’t. Paul’s line of thinking is clear and straightforward. If no one is sent to these people, then there will be no one to preach the good news. If no one preaches to these people, then they will not hear the good news. If these people do not hear the good news, then they cannot believe. And if they do not believe, then they cannot be saved. One way to be saved In sum, Paul tells us that the people need to hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved. There is no other means of salvation. By the way, this is consistent with Peter’s testimony. He says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Notice he doesn’t merely say that there is no other savior. He says there is no other name. His name—Jesus’ identity—seems necessary. That’s why Peter tells Cornelius, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The story of Cornelius should be an encouragement to us because it shows the lengths to which God will go to make sure people seeking after God will hear the gospel so that they can be saved. God had given Cornelius some light—through creation and conscience—but this was not enough light to save him. Since Cornelius responded positively to the light he was given, God gave him more light—specifically, the gospel. Inclusivism is a bad idea Ideas have consequences. And bad ideas have victims. Inclusivism is a bad idea because it gives people—like Shapiro—false hope that they can have eternal life without coming to Jesus on His terms. Those who refuse to come to Jesus will not receive life (John 5:40). Jesus explicitly states, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Bishop Barron is wrong. Shapiro cannot be saved by “following the commandments of the Law sincerely.” Paul addresses this very thing in his letter to the Galatians. He says,

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16).

Shapiro’s good works will never be enough. Only those who put their trust in Christ will receive eternal life. The answer to Shapiro’s question isn’t hard. In fact, the apostle Paul answers the question “What must I do to be saved?” in a single sentence. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

This article is reprinted with permission from Tim Barnett and Stand to Reason (str.org) where it first appeared here. The Ben Shapiro picture has been adapted from one copyright © by Gage Skidmore and is used here under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Assorted

Beyond Monopoly - They’ve taken the bored out of board games

When it comes to traditional board games the joke about bored games holds a certain amount of truth. Everyone knows that Risk is usually won by the person lucky enough to get property in Australia, or that in the original Trivial Pursuit your best guess is always either Shirley Temple or Gary Cooper. And either games are entirely luck driven (think Chutes and Ladders) or else they favor those who have turned a pastime into a course of study – the professional Scrabble or bridge players, the chess masters, or those malodorous individuals known as war-gamers. It’s sometimes hard to believe that in the old days games – especially those with dice or cards – were often taboo, as they might lead to gambling and other vices. So in this article I’d like to diverge from my usual focus (literature) and write something about the value of board games. Of course, not everyone likes games – and that’s perfectly fine – but I think often we’re not aware what a positive form of entertainment board games can offer. In addition, many are simply not aware that there are different and more interesting games out there then what they’ve grown up with, or what they might see on the shelves in Wal-Mart. NEW GAMES ON THE BLOCK In 1995, a German game designer called Klaus Teuber came out with a board game called The Settlers of Catan. The game has sold over 18 million copies and was revolutionary in making specialty games popular in North America. You see, specialized games with unique themes, interesting mechanisms, and deeper strategy had always been more popular in Europe, and especially in Germany. As hockey is to Canada, or chocolate to Belgium, so board games have long been an intrinsic part of German culture. The Settlers of Catan succeeded because it was a kind of cross-over game, mixing luck and strategy brilliantly. It had enough complexity to lend itself to repeated plays, yet not too much to be off-putting to newcomers. Yet while Settlers was successful, twenty years later it’s still only the occasional specialty game that breaks through to the mass market. For instance, my local Chapters bookstore has recently started to stock rare games like Agricola (a complex game about farming set in the 17th century) and Pandemic (a game where players work together to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic). To most these remain esoteric curiosities, and people seem happy to buy the odd TV-show trivia game which gets played once and then collects dust. The result is that finding good quality games is almost a game in itself: you have to know where to look. So further on in this article you’ll find some practical advice to help you along. THE USES OF BOARD GAMES Last year I came across an interesting little game called Ten Days in Africa. It’s basically a Racko variant, but with a much more interesting theme. The idea is that you collect cards that represent either a country in Africa or a plane or car. Your job is to chart a 10-day journey by having the cards in a correct order. The game is not incredibly strategic, but what I found remarkable is how well it teaches geography. After playing it a few times I once more had all the countries memorized along with not a few of the capitals (it’s especially fun to say “Ouagadougou”). Even my six-year old daughter quickly learned the rules and could recite many of the countries off by heart. It strikes me that this is exactly the type of game that should be a staple in the classroom. It makes learning fun, and allows the mind to retain information at a deeper level than rote learning often does. Aside from the educational benefits of board games (many more of which could be used in the classroom), here are some other positive aspects (this is by no means an exhaustive list): 1. Board games support social interaction They create memories, induce laughter, and simply allow families and friends to enjoy being together. In addition, board games are great for breaking the ice with newcomers, strangers, or people of different ages. For example, I know of a minister who frequently uses board games with his pre-confession students (after the lessons of course!) as a way to get to know them more personally. 2. Board games are cross-generational Games make it easy to get people of different ages around the same table. This can be especially true in the teenage years, when children feel this strange need to dissociate themselves from their elders. The only people who are not allowed to play games are those past the age of 99. 3. Games help teach manners Losing graciously is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and not only for young ones. Board games teach courtesy, patience (esp. if the turns are long), cooperation, and so forth. 4. Games develop mental skills For younger kids they are great for teaching simple addition and subtraction. In addition, they help children develop better attention spans. For adults they teach problem solving, among other things. There have also been an increasing number of studies that suggest that as we get older it’s important not only to keep our bodies fit, but also to challenge our brains. Puzzles like Sudoku are often used as examples of brain games that can help prevent Alzheimer’s, but the same can be said for anything that taxes our mental faculties. 5. Games provide a healthy outlet for competition This is also where specialty games provide more variety than traditional North American fare. In Monopoly, for instance, you thrive when others land on your properties and go bankrupt (it really is a rather grim depiction of capitalism!). By contrast, specialty games frequent include catch-up mechanisms that allow players who have fallen behind in the scoring to get back into it. Monopoly only provides Free Parking and an occasional lucky dice roll. In addition, specialty games include an entire subgenre of games where players work together to succeed. I’ve mentioned Pandemic as an example of a cooperative game. Another in the genre is Shadows over Camelot, where players work together as the Knights of the Round Table. However, there is a twist: one of them may be a traitor, plotting against them... 6. Games are a relatively cheap form of entertainment I own some games that I’ve played over 50 times. When you think of how much a round of golf costs, or a nice dinner, board games are really not that expensive. SOME GENERAL ADVICE I’ve played a lot of different games over the years, so let me share a few tips for making your board game experience more enjoyable: Never read through the rules of a new game together. This is one of the most tedious things you can do. Instead have someone read through the rules carefully and then explain the game to the rest of you. In general, it takes much longer to read rule sets then to explain them orally. Don’t be afraid of a challenging game. I’ve met many people who don’t like it when a game has more than two rules: roll your dice, move your piece. Games are supposed to be a form of recreation, they say, not an IQ test. True enough – but these same individuals have no problem mastering equally complex hobbies. Take pleasure in seeing others do well. Know who you’re playing with. There are some games that allow for a great deal of cutthroat behavior – if you play with newcomers or relatively inexperienced gamers, you may want to pick out a friendlier game. Don’t force anyone to play against their will. Never trust your spouse in a board game. AVAILABILITY As mentioned, your average Wal-Mart has a fairly small selection of board games, most of them geared towards small children. Even the fact that they’re usually stocked among the rest of the kids’ toys suggests that there’s nothing here for adults. If you want to find more than Battleship or Candyland you’ll need to either go to a specialty store (those are hard to find and often expensive), or go online. To that end, let me direct you to a few websites to help you out. Please note that I’m not personally affiliated with any of the stores listed, but I know that these are very reputable companies with great customer service. One of the biggest is BoardGameGeek. Don’t let the name of this site put you off! This massive, sprawling site has millions of users, and is the largest database of board games in the world. You can search for games by theme, mechanics, publisher, etc. In addition, you can read reviews, have your rules questions answered, and much more. It may take you a bit to navigate the site, but it’s well worth the effort. For Canadians, Great Boardgames is probably the best online store in terms of selection, price, and ease of use. If you’re just interested in finding better games for children, in general, one of the best game companies for children’s games (esp. the very young ones) is called HABA (they also make other high quality children’s toys). RECOMMENDATIONS Part of the difficulty with buying specialty games is that you often cannot try them out before you buy. So here are some games I highly recommend. I’ve tried to represent a range of interests, themes, mechanics, and ages. FITS This is basically Tetris the board game, but everyone I’ve played it with has loved it, and many have bought their own copies. Pandemic In this great example of a cooperative game, you must try to save the world from the outbreak of an epidemic. Can you beat the game? Agricola If you think The Farming Game is complex, try again. This is one of the best strategy games out there. The title is Latin for “farmer” and you get to build up a farm that looks nicer than those of your neighbors. The game can be played on two levels of difficulty, and the easier “family” version can be played from 7 or 8 years and up. Memoir ’44 This World War II simulation is a two-player game that is not just for boys who like to play with army toys. You can watch a video demonstration of how the game is played at www.daysofwonder.com/memoir44. Zooloretto Build your own zoo and attract tourists to come see the animals! Zooloretto is a well-produced game that is especially geared towards families. Dominion This is one of the strangest and most addictive card games you’ll come across. It has a medieval theme that may not be for everyone, but every game is both different and highly competitive. Bohnanza This quirky little card game lets you collect income for planting bean fields! It’s easy to learn and quick to play. If you’re tired of your old camping favorites, try this one out. Ticket to Ride: Europe This family-oriented train game is a great game to start with if you’re unfamiliar with specialty games. Our copy has been played so often we’ve had to replace the cards! You can watch a video demonstration of the game here. Animal upon Animal Made by HABA, this game is like Jenga in reverse. Players have various animals that they have to try place on the back of a crocodile. This one is great for very young ages (and it teaches dexterity), but will also produce laughs in adults. Ten Days in Africa If you’re an educator, check out this series. It’s great for teaching geography as there are also versions for the USA, Asia and Europe. CONCLUSION Let me end on a slightly more theoretical note. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once wrote an intriguing book called Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture (1944). In it, Huizinga asks whether all culture is not ultimately a form of play or playfulness, and whether we should speak of Homo Ludens (Man the Player) rather than of Homo Sapiens or Homo Faber. From ceremony to ritual to storytelling – culture is about stepping out of our ordinary lives and participating in an act of imaginative creation. Of course, this argument can become reductive, for it suggests (as such anthropological perspectives often do) that even something like religion is a form of play. Yet Huizinga is right in demonstrating that play is not something confined to children, something to be outgrown. At the very least it is an intrinsic aspect of culture, and as such it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Reformed Christians sometimes have an antipathy towards that which seems escapist or fantastical. But our imagination is an important faculty in its own right and not something to be repressed. Thus hobbies and pastimes are not things we do when we’re not busy being serious with kingdom work, but are a natural product of Christian culture.

This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue.

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

****

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

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

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books [editor’s note: “Great Books” is a term for the classics of Western Literature – for more see the endnote below]. Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task.

Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum. 

Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

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Theology
Tagged: angels, featured, Johan Tangelder

On angels and guardian angels

Does everyone have a guardian angel? Many people are convinced that they have an angel as their special protector. In the film City of Angels, actor Nicolas Cage plays a guardian angel who protects Meg Ryan, an overworked doctor who is caught in the tiresome repetition of everyday life.

This idea, of a guardian angel, offers comfort and solace. And efforts such as this, to capture angels on film, have enormous clout in shaping popular understandings of these spiritual beings. Can Hollywood convey a fair, helpful, or faithful presentation of angels?

Unfortunately, no. They have distorted Biblical truth and misled viewers about the nature, character, and purpose of angels. The concept of an individual guardian angel for each one of us taps into our popular, individualistic culture, which is searching for spiritual experiences, comfort, and hope.

The Roman Catholic Church and guardian angels

When did the idea of guardian angels first come about. While the early Apostolic Fathers spoke of angels only incidentally, some of them had the opinion that every believer has his or her guardian angel. And very early in the history of the Church, the belief that an angel was assigned to each human being as a guardian gained currency.

The Roman Catholic Church deemed the angels’ guardianship over mankind sufficiently based on revelation to demand belief. But as Roman Catholic scholar J. Huby points out, the most important “canonical books” for the knowledge of angels are Daniel, the apocryphal books of Tobias (aka Tobit) and 2 Maccabees, and the book of Enoch which is not in the canon of the Protestant or Roman Catholic churches.

The Roman Catholic Church claims human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession of angels from infancy to death. Its catechism says,

“Beside each believer stands an angels as protector and shepherd leading him to life…. The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being.”

Pope Clement X set aside October 2 as a feast day in their honor, celebrating their protection of human beings from spiritual and physical dangers, and their assistance in doing good.

The Bible and guardian angels

So what does the Bible say about each of us having a guardian angels who protects us? Very little! Some point to Matthew 18:10 to support the idea:

“See that you do not look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

This does speak to God caring for us through angels, but doesn’t show that each of us is paired with an angel.

Another passage often pointed to is Acts 12, where Peter is freed from jail by an angel and, when he arrives as the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, those there couldn’t believe it was him, and wondered if it was “his angel.” This shows that people of that time may have believed everyone had their own angel, but it isn’t the Bible endorsing the idea.

God’s Word does not support the notion that each believer has his or her own personal guardian angel. And while it also doesn’t speak clearly against the idea, Reformed theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) has good guidance for how we should think on this matter: “God’s Word does not say anything about it, and one must not be wiser than what is written.”

But, again, the Bible does say that God cares for us through His angels. Their intervention is not an everyday occurrence, but occasional and exceptional – not as their own option, but only as it is permitted or commanded by God. It is sufficient to know that they are employed for the good of the Church. John Calvin comments:

For if the fact that all of the heavenly hosts are keeping watch for his safety will not satisfy a man, I do not see what benefit he could derive from knowing that one angel has been given to him as his especial guardian. Indeed, those who confine to one angel the care that God takes of each one of us are doing a great injustice both to themselves and to all the members of the church; as if it were an idle promise that we should fight more valiantly with these hosts supporting and protecting us round about! (Institutes I,xiv,7)

The ministry of angels

Angel appearances are not rare as we usually think. Many stories in the Bible reveal the visible and audible manifestations of angels. Repeatedly, we read of those surprised by them.

Yet we should not be surprised. Angels do minister to believers. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). The Puritan theologian John Owen (d. 1683) comments on this text that God employs angels

“for the good of them that are heirs of salvation, to manifest unto them the greatness and glory of the work of the gathering, preserving, and redemption of his church.”

Angels have a special role in the execution of God’s providential care. God instructs His angels to keep vigil for our safety and to take care that harm will not come to us. In Psalms 35 and 91 we read that God will encamp around those who fear Him and guard them in all our ways. Even archangels have been put to work in the interest of God’s elect (Luke 1:11-38; Jude 9).

In times of danger we may freely ask God to send an angel for our protection. And some have received the aid of an angel without even asking for it. When the prophet Elijah, exhausted with the relentless persecution he suffered from Queen Jezebel,

“lay down and slept under a broom tree….and behold an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ Elijah looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank… and strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:5-8).

When Dothan was surrounded by the Arameans, Elisha’s servant was deadly afraid. The prophet reassures him, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prays, ” O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” The servant is astonished to see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Ki. 6:8-17).

Angels guarded Daniel who, when falsely accused, was thrown into the lion’s den. He told the king Darius, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight” (Dan. 6:22).

Although the Great Commission was given to the Church (Matt. 28:19-20), angels take an active part in the spread of the Gospel. They cooperated with the church in its mission outreach. They saw to it that unbelievers could hear the Gospel despite opposition to the Church.

In the book of Acts, the great missionary record of the early church, angels are mentioned 21 times. Angels displayed miraculous powers on behalf of some of the apostles. Apostles were arrested and put into jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the jail doors and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell all the people the full message of this new life” (Acts 5: 17-20).

James and Peter were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Peter, expecting to be executed, was rescued by an angel. A heavenly light shone, an angel poked Peter and said, “Quick, get up!” He led him past two guards, through an iron gate, down the street, and to freedom. Only then did Peter realize that God had sent an angel to rescue him from King Herod’s clutches (Acts 12:1-11).

Philip, the evangelist, was preaching the Gospel in Samaritan villages, when an angel came and told him to “get up and go south.” Philip obeyed the angel, and explained to an important Ethiopian official the good news of the Gospel taught in the book of Isaiah, and led him to the Lord (Acts 8:26-40).

Angels today

G. K. Chesterton said that the most wonderful thing about miracles is that they do sometimes happen. And this is true also of angels’ interventions today. Why should God not send His angels to minister to the saints in the third millennium? Centuries do not make any difference to the eternal and unchanging God.

Elizabeth Elliot tells about a blind man her father knew, who was to step into what he thought was his cabin aboard ship. It was in fact a hatchway, but he felt a hand on his chest pushing him back. He asked who was there. There was no answer. Was an angel sent to rescue him?

Dr. B. Wielenga in his book Het Huis Gods (The House of God) notes when the Secessionists were persecuted in 19th century Netherlands, it was a time of miraculous answers to prayer. Angels watched over the safety of the faithful believers in all their ways.

The history of missions records many authentic stories of heavenly assistance received in critical times. Missionaries have shared amazing experiences about the mysterious intervention of angels when their lives were threatened. G. Van Asselt, a 19th century missionary in Sumatra recalled that one of the Bataks had seen a double row of guards surrounding his house. They stood hand in hand and had shining faces. The Bataks suspected that the missionary had hidden soldiers in his home during the day, but after he was allowed to search Van Asselt’s house, he had to admit that he was wrong. When the Batak asked Van Asselt why he had not seen the guard of angels, Van Asselt replied that this was not necessary for those who trust in God’s Word.

God’s providence

Many Christians have testified that in times of critical danger they suddenly felt an unseen hand. Some tell of a mysterious warning not to proceed with their travel plans and then to discover later that the plane they were booked to fly with had crashed.

Playwright Tony Kushner was greatly troubled by the belief that angels appear to some people and not to others. He said,

“I find that horrendously offensive. The question is, why are you saved with your guardian angel and not the woman who was shot to death shielding her children in Brooklyn three weeks ago? That suggests a capricious divine force. If there is a God, he can’t possibly work that way.”

Christians do not subscribe to a New Age theology which says that we live in a benign universe where all you have to do is ask an angel for help. Our view of angels and their activities is formed by Scripture. Any other view is either a fiction or a counterfeit.

Since the Bible teaches that God employs angels for our good, we know He uses them to guard us. As the Puritan Thomas Watson (d.1686) testified, “The angels are of the saints’ life-guard…The highest angels take care of the lowest saints.” But God does not always come to the rescue. Faith in Him does not depend on miracles and angelic interventions. Faith is a relationship to the sovereign God through Jesus Christ, independent of the miraculous. Christians too get into fatal car accidents.

In the early church, the first martyr Stephen died by stoning, though God could have prevented it. James the brother of John was executed, though Peter was miraculously rescued from the same prison. But this same Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down in Rome. The apostle Paul died in Rome under the cruel persecution of Caesar, though John survived his exile on Patmos under similar persecution and came home to die of old age.

God’s ways with His people are mysterious. They are beyond our human understanding. Christians don’t pretend to know all the answers. Who can understand the mind and ways of God? (Rom 11:33ff). The Bible record of miraculous interventions enriches and encourages believers, as we can see in Hebrews 11:32-40, where we read of those “who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, ” and of women who “received back their dead, raised to life again.” However, “others were tortured and refused to be released.” There were those who faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put into prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.”

Some were rescued; others were not. Yet, they were all commended for their faith. They did not count the cost of their faith walk. They lived in complete obedience to their Lord. They were not preoccupied with the ministry of angels. Their faith was not shaken or weakened by the lack of divine interventions. They believed that they were not their own, but belonged body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ.

A version of this article was first published in the March 2001 issue, under the title “Surprised by Angels.” Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.


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