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On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.”

Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days!

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call!

Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend!

Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r.

To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore!

My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were:

God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king!

The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes:

"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness.

Family, Movie Reviews

The Giver

Drama / Family 97 minutes / 2014 RATING: 8/10 My brother Jeff wrote a review of the book this film is based on that hits all the high points of the film too. So with his permission I've included it below with slight modification. The Giver is a brilliant dystopia – a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a couple hours, we're shown, as dystopian story always do, that the desire to make a utopia always leads to disaster. The original Utopia (which literally means "no-place"), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision  of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices. That's what's going on in The Giver. The story begins with what looks like an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 18 years old (in the book this all happens by 12). All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person's career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology. This "sameness" has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At eighteen years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the "sameness" - from the Giver. Jonas's unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is – with war and other suffering – but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the "sameness." His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability. Why would Christians want to watch this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness – by the death of Christ - and the redirection of our emotions and desire – by the work of the Spirit. Neither the book nor the film explicitly put us before God's throne, but both do a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory. The film does differ from the book in some ways, with the most notable being the insertion of some actions scenes. But author Lois Lowry was quite pleased about how her book was translated to the big screen. According to her, yes, this is a different medium, but very much the same story. Cautions There are no language and sexual concerns, but some for violence. As the Giver shares his memories with Jonas, one of them is an image of "war" - it's a brief look, but includes a man getting shot in the chest and bleeding, and another man getting shot repeatedly. The most disturbing scene in the film is one of a baby being euthanized by injection - we don't see the actual injection...but we almost do. So no blood, but quite horrifying. I suspect it is this single scene that boosted this from a PG to PG-13 rating, and quite rightly. One other concern would be the way God is portrayed. For the most part, He simply isn't, but among the memories Jonas receives are ones showing the various religions of the world at worship. These are only brief glimpses, and not much is made of them, but neither is Christianity distinguished from any of the others – all religions are treated as equivalent. Conclusion This is a fantastic film, that hasn't been rated all that highly by the critics. I think that's because they are assessing it simply as entertainment. But this is meant to be a thought-provoking film, one to be discussed and not simply watched. And as such, it rates much higher. I'd recommend it as family viewing so long as the youngest viewers are at least in their teens.

For more on dystopian fictions see "Why is dystopian fiction worth reading?"

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

Two qualities dads should look for in boys who want to date our daughters

*****

Here's a topic that's best to get to too early rather than too late - what sort of men should our daughters marry? Dads are going to have a lot of input in this decision, one way or another. If we actively try to influence our daughters – by example, through conversation, and by requiring interested young men to talk to us first – we'll point them to a certain sort of man. And if we don't talk about what makes a man marriable, if we aren't a good example of a godly man and good husband, and if we have no role in our daughter's dating life, then we'll point them to another sort of man. What kind of man do we want for our daughters? The answer is simple when we keep the description broad: a man who loves the Lord, and will be a good leader to his wife and children, who’s hardworking, and also active in his church. But what does this type of man look like as a boy? If our daughters are dating and getting married young, they'll unavoidably have a "work in progress." That's a description that fits all of us – sanctification is a lifelong process – but which is even more true for a boy/man in his late teens who hasn't yet shouldered the responsibilities of providing for himself, let alone a family. It's hard, at this point, to take the measure of the man he will become. How do we evaluate potential suitors when there isn't a lot of track record to look back on? We need to find out how they react to light and to leadership. 1. Light

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21

Does a young man love the light? This is a characteristic that is easy for us dads to check up on. It's as simple as asking his parents if they know where he is on Friday and Saturday nights. Does he think it's no big deal to tell his parents where he will be? Or does he want to keep what he's up to a mystery? Does he have a problem with having his parents around when friends come over? Or has he introduced all his friends to them? When he goes out to other friends' houses does his group pick spots where parents are home? Or do they want their privacy? Many young men in our congregations are planning or attending events that take place late at night and far away from parental, or any other type of, supervision. They may not have a specific intent to get drunk or do other foolishness, but by fleeing from the light they've created the opportunity. A teen who tells his parents that it is none of their business where he is going is a boy who loves the dark. Another question to ask: does he have monitoring software on his computer – Covenant Eyes, for example – and would he be willing to show his smartphone to you? Would he be happy to let you know where he's been on the Internet? This would be a young man who is unafraid of, and loves, the Light. 2. Leaders

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... – Ephesians 5:25

There's a reason that young women are attracted to "bad boys." When the other young men they know are doing nothing all that bad and nothing at all remarkable, then an arrogant kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks can look like leadership material. He, at least, is not lukewarm. But this is the last man we would want for our daughters. His "leadership" recognizes no authority but his own. In contrast, God tells us that as heads to our wives we are called to serve, imitating Christ. Godly men don't dominate their wives; they die for them. So how can dads spot this sort of servant leadership in young men? It shows itself in big ways and little. In a church service, does he hold the songbook for his sister? Or does he have his hands in his pockets while his sister holds the book for him? Does he sing? Or is he too cool (too lukewarm) to praise God with enthusiasm? How does he treat his mom? If he treats her with respect – if he readily submits to authority – that is a good sign that he can be entrusted with authority. If he treats his mother shamefully, yelling at her, and ignoring what she asks, every young lady should beware! If he's a terror to someone placed over him, we don't need to guess how he will treat those under his authority. Another question to consider: did he take the servant-leader role in the relationship right from the beginning? In any boy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. So was this boy willing to stick his neck out for your daughter? Was he willing to risk looking the fool so she wouldn't have to? Or did he wait for her to take the lead and ask him out? How does he take correction? Any boy who dates our daughter is going to be, at best, a godly man partly formed. While we are all works in progress, not all of us recognize this – arrogant young men think themselves beyond the need of correction. If a potential suitor bristles at any suggestion from his elders, or if he's unwilling to apologize when he's wrong, then he is definitely the wrong sort for our daughters. We, instead, want the young man who, as we read in Proverbs 15:32, "heeds correction [and] gains understanding." Conclusion Young men hoping to get married are aspiring to a leadership role. But while marriage makes a man a leader, it won't magically make him a good one. Fortunately, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and love of the Light something we can grow in. So fathers shouldn't be expecting perfection. But we also shouldn't settle for lukewarm. It's one thing for a young man to not yet be the leader he could be, and something else entirely for him to not be aspiring to this role or preparing for it. It's one thing for a young man to not be seeking the Light as consistently or vigorously as he should, and another for him to be fleeing from it. Fathers, we want our daughters to marry young men who love the Lord and want to honor Him in their roles as husband, father, and elder. Let's be sure, then, that we teach them to look for true leaders who love the light.

A French version of this article can be found by clicking here.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

The Missing Project

Documentary 2019 / 75 minutes RATING: 8/10 2019 was the 50th anniversary since Pierre Trudeau’s government first legalized abortion in Canada. To mark the occasion a number of pro-life organizations came together to make this film. This is, in part, a history lesson, detailing the country’s sad descent to where the unborn today have no protections under Canadian law. The Missing Project begins by explaining the divisions that exist among pro-lifers, between what’s called the “abolitionists” and the “incrementalists.” As ARPA Canada’s André Schutten clarifies:

“In Canada, the pro-life movement is very split on the question of, 'How do we implement a law?' So some people within the pro-life movement are adamant that we can only ever advocate for a total ban on abortions [abolitionists]. Whereas others, including myself and my team, we certainly believe that we can make incremental changes [incrementalists].”

One of the film’s strengths is how it gives time to representatives from both these sides. Whatever camp pro-lifers might have fallen into, it was a confusing time after the abortion law was struck down in 1988 and the Mulroney government proposed Bill C-43. No one knew at the time that this would be the last abortion restricting legislation proposed by a Canadian government. Some pro-lifers opposed it, hoping for much more. In a horribly ironic twist, these pro-lifers were joined in their opposition to the bill by abortion advocates who didn’t want any restrictions at all. They say hindsight is 20/20 but that isn’t true in this case. Pro-lifers today still fall on both sides. We hear some arguing the bill would have done almost nothing, and then get to hear from one of the bill’s crafters who argues that it would have at least done more than the nothing we’ve had in place since then. Bill C-43 was defeated in the Senate on a tie. After hearing from the various sides, viewers will probably be grateful that they weren't Members of Parliament at the time, and didn’t have to decide whether to vote for or against this bill. After the historical overview, we start hearing about the many things that have been missing in the public debate about the unborn. First and foremost, there are all the missing children, millions killed before they saw the light of day. Missing, too, is any media coverage of their plight. While that violence is committed behind closed doors, Jonathon Van Maren notes the media also have no interest in covering violence done in broad daylight against pro-life demonstrators.

"...abortion activists often take their core ideology to its logical extent, which is that they can react with violence to people they find inconvenient - that's the core message of the abortion ideology."

A missing answer At one point an atheist lists herself as one of the missing voices in this debate. It is odd, then, that while she was given time to make her argument – that we need to present secular arguments so as to reach atheists like her who don’t care what the Bible says – we don’t hear anyone making the argument for an explicitly Christian pro-life witness. There are many Christians in the film, but no one answering this young atheist, explaining that if we are only the chance product of an uncaring universe, why, from that worldview, would anyone conclude life is precious from conception onward? She believes it, but not because of her humanist stance – it's only because God's Law is written on her heart (Romans 2:14-15). So not only is it our joy and privilege to glorify God in all we do (1 Cor. 10:31), even from a very practical perspective, proclaiming the triumph of the Author of Life is the only answer to a culture of death. Conclusion That said, this is a film every Canadian Christian should watch because there is something here for everyone. Even if you've been involved in the pro-life movement for 20 years, you are going to hear something you’ve never heard before.  If you don't want to watch, because the death of 100,000 children a year is simply too depressing a topic, the filmmakers made sure this film is also encouraging. For example, about two-thirds of the way through, when we could really use a brief reprieve, the director gave us a moment of delight. Dr. Chris Montoya explains how we know a baby is able to learn from the time of the first detectable heartbeat. I won’t give it away, but it involved a tuning fork and thumping mom’s tummy. In a film full of muted horror, this was a moment of wonder – a kid at two months can already respond!  Another reason The Missing Project is encouraging is because of the challenging note it ends on. We learn there are things that can be done to help these babies. We don’t have to just toss up our hands in despair.  Another reason for hope is that, although God is not mentioned, Christians can fill in the blanks. We can see God at work in these various organizations, and it isn’t hard to imagine how His people can ally with and make use of these groups to offer our own Christian pro-life witness. So watch, learn how to spot our culture’s pro-abortion lies, be challenged, discover all the opportunities, and then go spread the truth that every one of us is made in the very image of God, right from the moment of conception.  The Missing Project can be viewed, for free at WeNeedALaw.ca/MissingProjectFilm where you can also find discussion questions and tips on how to host a movie night. Check out the trailer below. For more, you can also check out the 50 individual interviews that started this project – one for each year abortion has been legal in Canada. You can find those on the Life Collective website and also on YouTube here. Some of these individual interviews do raise an explicitly Christian perspective.

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Tagged: C.S. Lewis, Dating, featured, pro-life logic, Saturday selections

Saturday Selections – March 21, 2020

How is the moon’s design evidence for creation? (6 minutes)

The unique characteristics of our moon – its size and distance from us relative to the sun’s size and distance, the plane of its orbit, the ratio of its mass compared to the Earth, and more – make it a perfect aid to study our sun’s corona and to stabilize our planet’s rotation.

RC Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries makes all their teaching series free

The best response to coronavirus fear? Learn more about our good, trustworthy, sovereign God. So as their response to the coronavirus crisis, RC Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries is making their entire library of hundreds of teaching series free to stream online.

C.S. Lewis on Modesty

Lewis chips in on the Christian modesty discussion/debate. There’s more to be said, but this is a helpful contribution.

Eviction rights: “My building, my choice”?

In this spoof of the abortion rights argument, reporters ask a political candidate about the “My Building, My Choice!” campaign that has the US government proposing rules to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants.

How far is too far?

When Christian young people are dating, “The question, ‘How far is too far?’ is often asked with the wrong motive. The real question usually being asked is, ‘How much can I get away with?’ Purity doesn’t ask that; purity asks, “How can I honor God in this relationship?”

Many a reader won’t agree with one of the suggestions in this article: no kissing before marriage. But whatever you think of that particular outworking, there are biblical principles here well worth discussing.

15 Reformed theologians on anxiety and fear

The folks at the Westminster Bookstore have done something special, collecting key chapters from 15 Christian authors addressing the topic of anxiety and fear and then distributing those chapters for free (at the link above). These chapters include, in order:

EDWARD WELCH – A small book for the anxious heart (4 daily readings)
PAUL TAUTGES – Anxiety – Knowing God’s Peace (4 readings)
SARA WALLACE – Created to Care: God’s Truth for Anxious Moms (Chap 8)
MARK VROEGOP – Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Intro/Chap 1)
JOHN CALVIN – Everyday prayer (Ps 130, 143)
DAVID POWLISON – God’s Grace in your Suffering (Intro)
DALE RALPH DAVIS – In the Presence of my Enemies (Ps 29 – Chap 6)
DAVID GIBSON: Living Life Backwards (Chap 1)
JOHN MURRAY – O Death, Where is Thy Sting (Chap 13)
PURITANS – Piercing prayers
ALISTAIR BEGG – Pray Big (Chap 2)
CHARLES SPURGEON – The Promises of God (5 daily readings)
PAUL DAVID TRIPP – Suffering (Chapter 11)
IAIN M. DUGUID – The Whole Armor of God (Chap 1)
GROVES + SMITH – Untangling Emotions (Chap 13)
TIMOTHY KELLER – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Intro)

Crisis, Christ, confidence and the coronavirus (27 minutes)

Two professors from the Westminister Theological Seminary, a doctor, and Martin Luther, weigh in on how God would want us to respond to the coronavirus crisis.


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