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Documentary, Movie Reviews

Uncle Tom: An Oral History of the American Black Conservative

Documentary 2020 / 106 minutes Rating: 8/10 "Uncle Tom" is an insult thrown at blacks by other blacks for supposedly being too eager to get approval from whites. It's leveled at Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Candace Owens, Allen West, and the many other black conservatives who aren't willing to unquestioningly back the Democratic Party and the policies that it pushes. This conservative group is a small minority – in the US, blacks are a cohesively liberal voting block, with 9 out of 10 casting their ballot for the Democratic presidential candidate in the last election. But, as this documentary shows, the conservative minority is willing to wear insults as a badge of honor. They aren't going to stay silent about the damage that's been done to their black communities by government welfare policies and by a victimhood narrative that tells blacks they can't succeed because the system is stacked against them. Uncle Tom is conservative commentator Larry Elder's project, and offers his perspective which is, ultimately, a very hopeful one. Yes, he details the bigotry that has existed and continues to exist but he also notes that real progress has been made, and that "this is not your grandfather's America." President Obama is shown echoing that point, speaking of Martin Luther King Jr. and his generation as being "the Moses generation" that "took us 90% of the way" and the task for today's "Joshua generation" is to work on that last 10%. Elder contrasts that hopeful message with the scaremongering Democrats (including Obama) are running with now, where Republicans are caricatured as so racist that electing them will threaten black voting rights. The argument Elder makes is that it isn't a racist system, or racist boogie men that are blacks' biggest enemy, but the victimhood narrative. And he counters that narrative by showing and celebrating the successes of a broad assortment of black entrepreneurs and leaders. Cautions Some of the exchanges we see are not polite ones, so there are language concerns, including the uses of the n-word (from blacks directed at other blacks), and quite a number of f-bombs, as well as some other words that we might not want our young children to know. Another caution concerns how this film might seem unfairly biased. Many of us have grown up in the church, read God's Word daily and heard it expounded each Sunday, and that has equipped us with fairly reliable sniff detectors – even when we aren't able to put it exactly into words why we don't trust what's being presented, we can still sniff out lies. But in this case, I suspect some folk's sniff detectors might register a false alarm. The alarm will go off because there is a clear Republican conservative bias here, but just as offering a Reformed perspective is a bias too and doesn't preclude a fair treatment of opposing views, I'd argue the bias in Uncle Tom doesn't get in the way of a generally fair presentation. The Democrats are given plenty of screen time, and while their clips usually don't show them in a good light, these are the real positions Democrats hold and there is nothing deceptive about sharing what they actually believe. So yes, there might be too generous an appraisal of Donald Trump, and other points that we shouldn't be swallowing whole, but the overall argument against the victimhood culture is a solid one. Conclusion While there are Christians in the film, and some Christian perspective is offered, we never really get a concise summary of why the victimhood narrative is sinful (though lots of clues are offered). Parents watching this with their older teens might want to discuss: Is the victimhood narrative about raising victims up, or about assigning blame and guilt? Can any forgiveness be found in a victimhood culture? The victimhood narrative is sometimes used to justify shameful behavior – the current rioting is supposed to be understandable because of systemic racism. But do two wrongs make a right? How is blame being assigned? Is it based on actual sins committed, or is it on the basis of skin color? What does the Bible say about that? Are the charges leveled about specific instances of wrong or are they often generalized accusations of systemic racism? Can we address unspecified wrongs? How about specific wrongs? How does the hope offered in this film – that if you work hard you can get ahead – deliver, and how does it fall short? Uncle Tom offers a conservative perspective that, even as it doesn't always line up with the Christian perspective, still offers genuine insight into much of what's going wrong in race relations. I'd recommend this for ages 13 or up, based primarily on language concerns. But it is a film that demands discussion afterwards – it has to be unpacked and cross-examined to be of any use. You can watch the trailer below, and rent the film for $8 US here. And if you enjoyed it, you can get a closer look at two of these black leaders in their own documentaries: Walter Williams: Suffer No Fools and Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World. ...

Documentary, Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

FREE MOVIE: Dude Perfect: Backstage Pass

Documentary 84 minutes / 2020 RATING: 8/10 In 2009 some college friends, calling themselves the "Backyard Stuntmen" videotaped each other trying crazy basketball shots – behind the back shots, roof shots, hitting-a-hoop-driving-by-in-the-bed-of-a-pickup-truck shots – with each guy trying to outdo the last. Then they posted all their makes to YouTube, shared the link with family and friends, and then headed off to bed. They woke up the next morning to find out they had been featured on Sports Illustrated's website and their video was getting hits by the tens of thousands. So they followed up that one with another. Ten years later the five friends, now called Dude Perfect, are still making videos and their viewers number in the tens of millions. In this documentary the Dudes are giving their fans, old and new, a peek backstage at their 2019 live tour. And, in segments interspersed throughout, we also get the backstory on the ten years that preceded it: how the Dudes first met, why they all clicked, and even how they almost stopped before they really got going. All five Dudes – Tyler, Garret, Cody, Coby, and Cory – are professing Christians, and while that isn't as obvious in their trick shot videos (except, maybe, in how family-friendly they are), it comes out clearly in Backstage Pass. One example: as the Dudes are about to head out on tour their family and friends come together to pray for them. The very same ingredients that make their videos so popular are all on display in the documentary: amazing trick shots, over-the-top excitement, loads of humor, and good friends enjoying each others' company. Cautions The only content-related caution worth sharing relates to the "Rage Monster" that Tyler plays in a number of the videos, and on the the live tour too. The joke is that sometimes Tyler just can't control his temper and then he will, usually in a creative way, destroy something big. It might involve taking a pick axe to a skidoo, or throwing a 4,700 piece LEGO Star Wars Imperial Destroyer off a second-story landing. Adults will be able to deduce that when the Rage Monster rampages, what he is destroying is likely already headed for the garbage heap. But when the Rage Monster destroys the Dudes' hardwood basketball court kids won't know water damage meant there were already plans in place to pull it up – they'll just see an adult acting like a child having a tantrum. So, even though the Rage Monster only has a limited role in the documentary, mom or dad might want to hit the pause button to let kids in on his backstory. The only other caution isn't one I'd want to make too much of, but will still mention. These five Dudes show a lot of admirable traits in this documentary: they love their wives and their children, show respect to their parents and grandparents, and show love for each other. They also demonstrate industry, creativity, and hard work. But to some of their young fans they might seem to be five adults who have never had to grow up – the so-called "Peter Pan" syndrome. If any of our kids are under the impression they can play their way into millions, that's a course we want to correct. Fruitful work is a way to glorify God, and we should share with our kids that while the Backstage Pass shows some of the behind-the-scenes work, there's a lot more that gets left out because, like a lot of hard work, it would be boring to watch. But whether seen or unseen, our children need to know that hard work is key to the Dudes' success. Conclusion This is really all-ages viewing, keeping the attention of kids as young as 4 or 5, and while I haven't tested this on anyone over 50, I really can't see anyone disliking it. If you want to kick back for a dinner-and-a-movie family night, this should fill the bill. You can watch Dude Perfect: Backstage Pass for free below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Riot and the Dance: Water

Documentary 2020 / 84 minutes RATING: 8/10 Biologist Gordon Wilson has produced another beautiful ode to God's creation. The Riot and the Dance: Water explores how gloriously the Lord has made life in the lakes, rivers, oceans and ponds of the world. Wilson's narration is at times playful, at times serious, but always joyfully awestruck at what God has made. "Water is full of death. Water is full of life. It forms another world inside our own..." "…we will enter the liquid world and we will reemerge a little bit changed, with eyes that see this creation differently, with a little more knowledge of the artist who made it all." Wilson swims with sharks, snorkels with manatees, scubas with alligators, and wades in a slimy swamp, all in the quest to chronicle life underwater. Off the coast of Oahu, he finds green sea turtles, Galapagos and sandbar sharks, moray eels, and spinner dolphins. Why do spinner dolphins spin as they playfully leap from the water? "Because it's fun. Because it's fantastic. Because it pleases God." Another leaper found off the California coast is the humpback whale, expending tremendous energy to push its massive, 60,000-pound body out of the water in a display of power and joy. While exalting the beauty of created life, Wilson also explores the horrors of death, which is such a part of our fallen world. Chum salmon by the thousands die as they flail and flop on their journey up freshwater creeks and rivers. A giant water bug captures a much larger frog, pierces its victim's skin with a sharp beak, and literally sucks the life out of its prey (yes, this scene is pretty chilling, and perhaps a bit too graphic for youngsters). The biologist also muses on what nature will be like in the next life: "We see that all of creation is going to be redeemed, and some of the greatest threats that we see in the animal kingdom... they are going to be redeemed, and they can be redeemed without becoming tame. I'm not even going to guess what it's going to be like, but it's going to be glorious!" The camera work is wonderful, the vistas and scenery are inspiring, and Wilson's thoughtful narration brings a sense of wonder and adventure. It is very refreshing to watch a nature documentary without having to ignore secular commentary on evolution and billions of years. We can heartily recommend this film to Christians of all ages… although some might wish to skip the giant water bug scene! You can check out the trailer below, or rent it for just $1 here. And be sure to check out Marty VanDriel's review of "The Riot and the Dance: Earth." ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Brain, Heart, World – a fantastic, free, 3-part documentary on pornography's harmful impact

Documentary 90 minutes / 2019 RATING: 8/10 Fight the New Drug is an anti-poverty group that's come up with an impressive 3-part documentary called Brain, Heart, World about what pornography consumption does to your brain, what it does to your relationships, and what it does to the world. Each part is half an hour, and while you do have to give them your email address, it's well worth doing (and they won't spam you). They've packaged up important psychological insights with compelling personal accounts, making this must-see TV. Maybe what's most impressive is that they're having a very open conversation about pornography, even as they keep that conversation very PG-rated...at least for the first two episodes. With Episode 3, The World, since it is tackling sexual trafficking via first-hand accounts, there was really no way to keep it from being PG-13-ish. That said, this is as careful and delicate a presentation on this topic as I've seen. (Parents, if you're considering sharing and discussing this with your kids do be sure to preview it). This is an eye-opening presentation, but it is an entirely secular one. Fight the New Drug is "a non-religious and non-legislative organization" that teaches about the harmful effects of pornography "using only science, facts, and personal accounts." That means they operate from a materialist worldview that ignores the spiritual, and seemingly denies it. They don't speak to the repentance Jesus offers and in passing ways even minimize the need for it – at one point a girl says: "I realized it wasn't me that was bad; it was the porn that was bad." She gets close to the truth here, even as she completely misses it: the porn is irredeemable, but she isn't. Another example: in the Heart episode they share that researchers have found relationships the key to happiness such that "happiness is love." Now, understanding as we do, that relationship with God is the key to everlasting happiness, we might be tempted to say that here again they got it almost right. But seeing as they aren't actually pointing us to God, they also got it awfully wrong. In this way the series shortcomings are enormous; we can't fix a sin problem like lust and adultery without acknowledging it as a sin problem. That said, Christians can benefit enormously from watching series, because the series' shortcomings are the sort that we can fix with what God teaches us, and its strengths and insights can be a help when stacked on top of God's firm foundation. You can watch the series trailer below, and access the series itself here. ...