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Drama, Movie Reviews

The Song

Drama / Musical 2014 / 116 minutes RATING: 9/10 The Song destroys all the expectations we have for Christian films. It has great acting, a great script, an even better soundtrack...and also infidelity, abortion, suicide, drugs, and more infidelity. It's far better than most any Christian film you've seen, but also much grittier. It is based on, but does not pretend to be, the story of King David and Solomon. The setting is Nashville, with Jed King an aspiring country singer who hasn't yet measured up to the status of his superstar father. But he also hasn't fallen into any of his excesses either.  When he meets Rose, the manager of a winery, Jed writes a special song for her that turns into his first major hit. From there we see him rise to spectacular heights. Like Solomon before him, he has it all. And like Solomon (and his superstar father), that's not enough – he falls to temptation, in his case involving the lead singer of his opening act. That doesn't explain how very different this film is from the typical Christian fare, so let's focus on two things that make it remarkable. The first is the outstanding pairing of story with biblical narration. All the "Solomonic texts"– Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon – are quoted regularly and impactfully. Jed is learning some hard lessons through the film, and he shares them, warning us of the ways of the adulterous women and the futility of having it all when it is all going to turn to dust in the end. Remarkable, too, is the music. It's another fantastic pairing this time of story and song: the musical performances are worth the price of admission right there! While praising it as highly as I can, I will add that this was a hard film to watch the first time, since, being familiar with both David and Solomon's story, my wife and I knew that at some point Jed's happy story was going to take a devastating, self-sabotaging turn. We actually ended up watching it in two nights, the first with all the fun romantic joking and giddiness of Jed convincing Rose to be his wife. We shut it off right before Jed was set to make his stupid devastating decisions (it wasn't hard to tell when that was going to happen). Then the next evening, we could start with that ugliness, ride it out, and then enjoy the end of the movie, where we got to see his life impacted by undeserved but gratefully received grace. CAUTIONS Even though we don't really see anything objectionable, the mature topic matter means this is not a film for children. Underscoring that point, it begins with a two-minute overview of the lowlights of David King's life. We see Jed's father singing on the Grand ol' Ole Opry and later catching his bandmate's wife swimming naked in a lake (the water obscures her), paralleling David seeing Bathsheba. While King David kills Uriah, in the film the husband, upon learning of his friend's and wife's betrayal, commits suicide. Thankfully this is all covered in a quick montage in the opening minutes. CONCLUSION Some films are gritty for the sake of being gritty. This is gritty for the sake of being true. But it is also funny, romantic, rousing, thought-provoking, and toe-tapping for the same reason: because that's what life is like too. I don't know if I gave The Song the pitch it deserves, so I'm linking to a few other reviews so you can get a second and third opinion. Plugged In – conservative Christian review Variety – a secular take If you want to dig into the film further, here's a list of some of the biblical references throughout the film. You can check out the unique trailer below, and rent the film online at Amazon and other online streaming services. ...

Drama

Alleged

Drama 93 minutes/ 2011 Rating: 7/10 The year is 1925, and Charlie Anderson's goal is to quit his job, leave his hometown of Dayton, Tennessee and work for legendary Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken. When a legal battle in the town's one-room courthouse garners attention from the national media, Charlie thinks he may have just the news story he needs to grab Mencken's attention. Mencken turns out to be willing to teach Charlie how to craft an article. But close-up tutelage lets Charlie see that his mentor won't let a little something like the truth get in the way of a good story. Mencken is more than willing to make up a story if it will sell papers. Is Charlie? Setting This is a charming romance/drama, and though it is a Christian production the acting is great – most roles have been filled with actors you're likely to recognize (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: The Next Generation; Fred Thompson, Law and Order; Ashley Johnson, Growing Pains; Brian Dennehy, Rambo, etc.). But there is another level on which Alleged can be appreciated. It is fun but also medicinal. What do I mean? Well, back in 1960 another film used a court case in 1925 Dayton, Tennessee as the setting for their film. And in the decades since then Inherit the Wind has been shown in public school classrooms across the US as a "based on true events" account of what happened back then. But whereas Alleged is mostly true, Inherit the Wind was mostly propaganda. Here's what really happened. In 1925 Tennessee passed the Butler Act which forbid Tennessee public schools from teaching students that Man descended from a lower form. Dayton's John Scopes was the first to be charged with violating the law and his trial garnered national attention when some big names "star" lawyers were enlisted: for the prosecution, the Scripture-quoting, mostly Bible-believing, 3-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan; and for the defense, Clarence Darrow, infamous for his defense of two indefensible child-killing clients. These big names got the attention of one more: Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken whose columns largely influenced how the trial was perceived by the nation. Scopes was found guilty and was fined $100 but because Mencken portrayed this as being a battle between Science and Christian ignorance, Scopes became a noble martyr, and evolutionists decisively won the publicity battle. Thirty-five years later Inherit the Wind built on Mencken's work, but made Christians look even worse. Townspeople were shown as a lynch mob ready to kill Scopes, their minister a rabid dog, and their defender – William Jennings Bryan ­– an ignorant, boring blowhard. But it is this blatant misrepresentation of the trial that most colors how America remembers the "Scopes Monkey Trial." So it was a joy and delight to see how this same trial portrayed accurately in Alleged. We learn that John Scopes, rather than being hated by the town, was helping it – the trial had been a publicity stunt from the beginning, with Scopes a willing participant. The hordes of reporters and visitors brought in by the trial were a welcome boost to a local economy that had been hit hard by the closure of the town mine. Cautions Some cautions to consider: Charlie is drunk as a skunk in one scene, though his fiancée’s disappointment makes this an object lesson in the folly of drunkenness. Also, one character shouts "Hallelujah!" in a seemingly insincere manner during a church service. And because the film teaches about the implication of Darwinian thought, there is a subplot that deals with eugenics. This may be a disturbing topic for a younger audience that doesn't yet need to know how horrible the world can be. Conclusion Because Inherit the Wind was shown to generations of American public school children it has had a lasting impact on the way the creation/evolution debate is conducted. It can be given much of the credit for why creationist arguments are most often mocked, rather than answered. Alleged is an enjoyable counter to Inherit the Wind. It is educational, informative, and also fun, romantic, generally light, and quite well acted. Highly recommend for older teens and adults. You can check out the trailer below, but I do want to add that the film is much better than the trailer makes it out to be. Americans can watch it for free right now at Tubitv.com. Those that want to delve even deeper into the real events should check out a lecture series by Dr. Gary North called "Monkey in the Middle." It's available on DVD, and hopefully shortly online. "Inherently Wind" is another lecture worth checking out (and it's free!) in which Dr. David Menton contrasts the real events with the "Inherit the Wind" portrayal of them.  ...

Movie Reviews, Sexuality, Watch for free

In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality

Documentary 2020 / 104 minutes Rating: 8/10 One of the most serious challenges that the Christian church is currently facing is in the area of gender and sexuality. When the church holds fast to the Biblical teaching that God created us male and female, that God is the one who defines our gender, and that marriage is a sacred, lifelong bond between one man and one woman, then we are placing ourselves distinctly outside of the mainstream of our society. What's more, the challenge to the Bible's teaching on gender and sexuality comes not only from outside of the church, but also from within. Because of the importance of this issue, it is essential that Christians be prepared. First of all, we must understand what God's Word teaches about sexuality and human relationships, in order to personally stand firm on that solid foundation and not be led astray by the latest cultural trends. Secondly, we must be prepared to lovingly stand up for that teaching, in the face of often virulent opposition. Finally, we must be ready to serve, help, and love those who are struggling in this area. In a world in which abuse and disorder have affected the lives of so many, the church needs to be ready and willing to serve as a beacon of hope, a place where the healing truth of the gospel can be found. The church is where that life-giving and hope-giving message must not only be proclaimed, but also lived out! A resource that can help In His Image: Delighting in God's Plan for Gender and Sexuality is a valuable resource for Christians who need to be equipped to understand and apply the truth of Scripture in their personal lives, in their relationships, and in their interaction with our culture. This documentary was released in 2020 by the American Family Association, and is available online as well as in a DVD set, for use as a group study resource. As a full length film, this is not a shallow treatment of the issues, and it would be a worthwhile resource for several weeks' worth of small group study and discussion. The documentary features a number of personal stories, including that of Walt Heyer, who lived for eight years as a woman before having his "sex change" reversed. A number of pastors and theologians also contributed to the film, including Kevin deYoung, Sean McDowell, and James R. White. It starts with the Bible In His Image begins with a discussion of that foundational Biblical teaching, that every human being is created in the image of God. Beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve in God's image, the documentary bases everything that follows on the teaching of Scripture, emphasizing the sufficiency and the authority of God's Word. From those very important starting points, the film goes on to address other means of addressing the issues. As Robert Gagnon, Professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University, emphasizes, we begin with Scripture, we make use of philosophical reasoning and scientific evidence, and finally, we turn to personal experience. Sadly, the tendency in our culture is for personal experience to take precedence over everything else. In His Image, while using a number of personal stories that really make an impact, gets things right by focusing first and foremost on the Word of God as the ultimate source of wisdom. I highly recommend In His Image as a very powerful and useful resource that will help to strengthen Christians in their commitment to God's Word in the face of ever-increasing pressure to conform our thinking with that of the world. The message of Scripture is proclaimed boldly and without compromise. But importantly, this is done in a way that emphasizes the Good News of Jesus Christ, and how we can show genuine love for our neighbour by proclaiming, and living, that truth. You can watch the trailer for In His Image below, and see the film for free at InHisImage.movie. Rev. Jim Witteveen blogs at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Drama, Movie Reviews

Woodlawn

Drama 123 minutes / 2015 Rating 8/10 Directors of movies about sports sometimes get carried away with their art - swelling orchestral music fills the soundtrack as mud spatters over our athletic hero, who despite his talent, is an underdog against evil, cheating opponents. Sprinkle in a few losses and some team disunity that must be overcome and you've got a pretty typical Hollywood sports movie. Woodlawn does contain a few of these clichés, but surprisingly most of them are not fantasies – they're real and historic, and form an uplifting tale that seems almost too amazing to be true. As high schools become racially integrated in Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1970s, tensions run high at predominantly white Woodlawn High School. Parents aren't happy with the coaching staff when black students earn starting positions on the football team. When Christian sports chaplain Hank Erwin asks permission to speak to the football team after a riot at the school, Coach Tandy Gerelds reluctantly agrees. He's stunned when each and every player on the team, black and white, respond to Erwin's altar call and dedicate or re-dedicate their lives to Christ. In time, the team decides that devoting their season to the Lord is more important than winning or losing, and – what do you know! – they find athletic success along the way. Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin (also known for the 2018 film I Can Only Imagine) wrote the movie about the work of their dad Hank, who later became a state senator, and who had a profound influence on the young men of Woodlawn High School and their cross town rivals. Most details in the movie, even the ones that seem too convenient or unlikely to have happened, are based on real events: Woodlawn is a morality tale with great lessons that just happens to be true. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

American Gospel: Christ alone

Documentary 2018 / 139 minutes RATING: 8/10 In one of the documentary's many memorable moments Costi Hinn, the nephew of televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, describes how, while working for his uncle, they would stay in $20,000-a-night luxury suites, fly in private jets, and eat in the very best restaurants. His uncle was not ashamed of this lifestyle since he preached that God wanted his people to be wealthy. But the extravagant lifestyle did start to wear on Costi Hinn: "Another hotel that sticks out in my mind is called the Grand Resort... it's in Greece and ironically, it's set on the Aegean Sea. I had my own suite, my own pool and there I stood every day looking out over the Aegean Sea. If you know your Bible at all, Paul sailed the Aegean Sea on many missionary journeys. And so here I am, a Word of Faith/Prosperity kid looking out where Paul was shipwrecked, where he went through literally chaos and hell on earth, just to get the gospel out to people, and now I am staying at 5-star hotels..." He began to recognize the contrast between the "God wants you to be rich" message he was spreading, and the message of Jesus, who prepared his disciples to be hated and persecuted (John 15:18, 2 Tim 3:12) but that they could endure it all knowing they had Christ. American Gospel: Christ Alone is about the many churches that have replaced Christ with what we hope to get Him to do for us. In this alternative gospel, Jesus isn't the gift; instead what is on offer is the American Dream: if we love God enough, and give enough to Him (via gifts to the right preachers), then He'll give us the nice car, the beautiful wife, and the big house with the picket fence all around. Why should you watch? That's a lie that most Reformed folk aren't falling for, or at least, not straight on. So why should we watch this documentary? One reason might be to help others. If you know any Christian friends tuning in to preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Todd White, and Benny Hinn, then this would be a great film to watch together. It exposes their health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, prosperity gospel for the sham that it is. Another reason is to better understand how, even in solid, orthodox Reformed churches, we can still buy into a prosperity-lite counterfeit. The version we adopt might be masked by other names, like "the Protestant work ethic." It isn't preached off our pulpits, but it is in amongst the pews. The hardworking sort that we are, our heart may start to feel some sense of entitlement. We'd never say out loud that God owes us anything, but if we did right by our family, helped at the Church and school, and put in the hours at the office then...shouldn't God want to reward us? And with that comes the pressure to keep up appearances. If hard work is supposed to earn you anything, then if you aren't successful, there must be something wrong with you, right? The end result of this train of thought is that works are done, not out of gratitude for what God has already done for us, but out of fear of what others might think. As one of the interviewees noted: "You can grow up in a church, hear a gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you're are a good person." So yes, we can also benefit from this false gospel take-down. Powerful insight Some of the most impactful interviews are the ordinary Christians. We meet Katherine Berger, who has had one medical issue after another but is happier today than when she was healthy because she now knows the true Jesus. It also doesn't hurt that there are some really insightful Christian leaders interviewed. Some of the recognizable names include: Jackie Hill-Perry Matt Chandler Ray Comfort Nabeel Qureshi Phil Johnson John MacArthur Michael Horton John Piper R. Scott Clark Steven J. Lawson Paul Washer Their responses are stitched together so seamlessly the film doesn't even have a narrator – a minor detail, but it highlights just how well-produced it is. If all I have is Jesus... Ultimately what makes American Gospel worth watching is what it teaches us about Christ. It tells us about a God so good that should we lose everything else – our health, our home, money, and family too – and we have Jesus, then we have more than we could ever imagine. The full film can be rented or bought online at their website here. But if you want to try before you buy, you can watch a 40-minute excerpt for free below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Spirit & Truth

How does God want to be worshipped? Documentary 2019 / 87 minutes RATING: 8/10 How should we worship God?  It’s one of the most important questions a Christian can ask.  We often think that the Reformation was about important doctrines like justification by faith alone. It certainly was, but it wasn’t just about that. In fact, one of the most central issues of the Reformation was the manner in which God should be worshipped. Some believed that if God did not forbid something, then it was permissible. Others argued that the church had the authority to formulate Christian worship as it saw fit.  The Reformed churches, however, applied sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) to worship – only God, through his Word, can decided how God is to be worshipped.  This fundamental principle came to expression in Lord’s Day 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism and its explanation of the second commandment:  “We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” That idea is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  This documentary, by Les Lanphere, is about the Regulative Principle of Worship and Reformed worship.  It’s about how this principle is biblical, how it’s needed for our day, what it looks like in practice, and why it matters supremely. Great content, with packaging to match Documentaries can sometimes be as inspiring as a grammar handbook.  Les Lanphere’s are decidedly not.  If you’ve seen his 2017 Calvinist, you know he has a gift for making films that grab you by the collar and pull you right in.  While it starts off a bit slow, Spirit & Truth rises to that same standard. I loved it, not only for the content, but also for the production qualities. The film features interviews with numerous pastors and theologians.  Some of the more familiar faces would be Tim Challies, W. Robert Godfrey (URCNA), John Bouwers (URCNA), and Kevin DeYoung. These interviews put meat on the bones of what Reformed worship is all about. Three facets There are several facets to Spirit & Truth that I really appreciate. The film is not only about the outward externals of worshipping God properly. It also speaks of the heart – the “spirit” of “worship in spirit and truth.” One can go through the motions of worshipping God to the letter, but without heart-engagement it’s all meaningless. While Spirit and Truth is a faithful explanation of Reformed worship in general, it carefully treads around some of the finer details about which some Reformed and Presbyterian believers may disagree. For example, there are some Presbyterians (and Reformed too) who are convinced that we ought only to sing Psalms.  Spirit and Truth leaves that issue alone. However, it does emphasize the thing we all agree on:  at the very least, Scripture does command us to sing Psalms.  That’s something often neglected in contemporary Christian worship. Finally, there’s sometimes a perception that Reformed worship (as we know it) is merely a white, western, Euro-centric practice.  If that’s true, that has implications for worship in cross-cultural contexts, both in our own country and abroad.  However, Spirit & Truth includes interviews with non-western or non-caucasian Christians in various contexts to illustrate that Reformed worship, following the RPW, transcends cultures.  It does so because it’s biblical and God’s Word transcends cultures. Conclusion I sometimes wonder whether we hold on to our Reformed worship practices just because they’re our practices or because they’re traditional.  Spirit & Truth persuasively argues that we ought to hold on to Reformed worship because it’s biblical.  And because it’s biblical, it honors God, it puts Christ and the gospel in the center, and it will serve for our blessing. There are a lot of pressures to modify worship in our churches to make it more like what we see in the broader ecclesiastical context. But if Spirit & Truth can help convince us that we have to hold on to distinctively Reformed worship for the right reasons, those pressures will be easily resisted.  This one is highly recommended for Bible or catechism classes, Bible study groups, and office bearer retreats. You can watch the trailer below, and find Spirit & Truth available for streaming rental here. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the author of "Aiming to Please: A Guide to Reformed Worship." ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Mask

Christian / Action / Drama / Family 103 minutes / 2015 RATING 8/10 William Reynolds is a 18th century assassin and the righthand man to the head of the East India Trading company. When the young assassin wants to leave his dark life behind, his employer (played by veteran actor John Rhys-Davies) tries to have this loose end tied up, planting a bomb under Reynolds' carriage. Reynolds only manages to survive thanks to the warning of a passing vicar who ends up paying for his kindness by getting blown up himself. On the run from his employer, and in search of a new life, Reynolds adopts the vicar's identity only to meet Charlotte, a young woman who knows a lot more about God then this hastily minted "vicar" does. There is so much to love about this film, and this romance is a big part of it. It has the typical movie-plot instant attraction yes, but none of the usual bodice-ripping. As impressed as Charlotte might be by Reynolds' charm, she wants to know his heart – she finds it strange that this man of God so often speaks of God as "if He were a distant acquaintance." So despite her heart saying yes, she will not pledge herself to him until she seeks advice from an older wiser head. So, one more thing to love: Beyond the Mask has the fun of the two principals exchanging flirtatious banter, yet with none of that falling-into-bed-with-a-near-stranger nonsense. Of course, with their affair of the heart taking place just 20 minutes in, we know that the happy ending can't come yet. Reynolds' old life forces its way into the new and he has to flee to the American Colonies, leaving his lady-love behind. There he decides he will make repayment for his former evils by doing heroic goods – he dons a disguise and a mask to fight the East India Company in its new endeavors in the Americas. Lots of daring-do and explosions follow. Cautions There is no sexual content at all, and while God's name is called upon, it seems to be put to appropriate use (being either directed to Him, or part of a discussion about Him). The notable concern is violence. Parents considering this as a family night film need to understand that while there is no gory violence, there are men murdered, others blown up, and a very large number put down quickly by a punch or two from our reforming yet not fully reformed William Reynolds. Conclusion This is a wonderful film, with solid acting, an intriguing (if on occasion confusing) script, good special effects, authentic period costumes and sets, and a pleasant number of explosions. It is a family film (though because of the violence, for older children only) with a solid Christian moral. I don't want to praise it too highly, because this also isn't a movie that will go down as an all-time classic. But it is one of the best Christian films you'll see, and a cut above most any family film out there. Check out the trailer below. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Overcomer

Drama /Family 2019 / 119 minutes RATING: 7/10 This was going to be John Harrison's year. The high school basketball coach had all his best players returning, ready to make a legitimate run at the championship. But then the local steel manufacturing plant closed and took their 6,000 employees, and most of his players, out of town. So what's a basketball coach to do when he has no team? How about switching to a new sport? But when the school principal convinces John Harrison to give coaching cross country a try, his new team turns out to be just one student, Hannah,...and she has asthma. That setup allows for a generous dollop of humor in this drama, but the best part of this film is more serious. Producers, the Kendrick Brothers, are known for packing messages into their movies, and they do so once again, making this film/sermon about finding our identity, not in our job, spouse, political party allegiance, or what ethnic group we're part of, but in Who we belong to. That's a message the Church needs to hear. Because this is a message movie, it is easy to criticize – one secular reviewer rated it as just one star because it was too "churchy." However, for Overcomer's intended audience, being edified even as we're entertained is no reason to knock a film. What makes bad Christian films bad is not that they have a sermon inserted in there somewhere. The truth is, every film, Christian or secular, has a message, and the quality of the message is often what sets the great ones apart from the good ones (think Chariots of Fire, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca). What makes bad Christian films bad is that they deliver their message poorly, with bad acting, bad writing, bad production values, or some combination thereof. In contrast, the Kendrick Brothers been upping their game from film to film. And Overcomer is them at their very best. CAUTIONS Though there are no concerns about sex, language, or violence, there are still a couple cautions to share. The first is that there are some Arminian flavorings to the film, coming out most overtly when school principal Olivia Brooks tells Hannah that Jesus offers salvation, but "He doesn't force it on you." That, surely, is news to Paul, whom Jesus turned right around on that road to Damascus, and without his permission. I heard an Arminian friend once liken Jesus to "a gentleman" in that he would never force Himself on us. But God, in His Word, reveals Himself, not as a gentleman, but as a parent, and as every parent knows, when our children head off in the wrong direction, we do force our will on theirs. That's what loving parents do. However, this flavoring is a minor matter. More substantial is when Coach Harrison discovers that Hannah's dead father is actually someone he knows...and isn't dead at all. Hannah's grandmother, who is raising her, told Hannah her father was dead because he was into drugs, and because he had indirectly caused Hannah's mother's death by getting her involved in drugs too. So grandma, to keep Hannah away from a father who had caused them such pain, told her this lie. Coach Harrison ends up going behind the grandmother's back to introduce Hannah to her now Christian father. It all works out for the good, but that a teacher would work actively against a guardian's wishes should have been treated as a bigger issue than the film made it. It is a complicated situation, with an absent father's interests conflicting with the desires of the established guardian grandmother. But it seems, at the least, Coach Harrison needed to go to the grandmother and tried to convince her, rather than going behind her back. While that's a big issue, it's an easy enough one for parents to correct by hitting the pause button and discussing. CONCLUSION What makes the film worth watching is the overall identity message. Even here there are nits to pick, as the Arminian flavoring to the film manages to even make having Jesus as first in our life somehow about us, as much as it is about Him. That said, this is still an effective reminder of how often we can put other things – our career, our family, our hobbies, our interests – ahead of our God. If your family liked Facing the Giants, or Courageous, or any of their previous films, you'll certainly enjoy the Kendrick Brothers' latest effort too. ...

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." ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Wild Brothers: 8-episode DVD series (+ free vlog series)

Reality / Documentary Each episode is 28-30 min / 2015-2016 Rating: 7/10 Everyone in our family enjoyed this DVD series, from our 2-year-old all the way up to mom and dad. At series start, the Wild family lives in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia, where dad is a missionary to the Wanu tribe. The four Wild brothers are the sort of boys who collect pets in their pockets, and who love to explore the jungle with a butterfly net in one hand and a slingshot in the other. In their first adventure, titled Welcome to our World, we get introduced to the family, and the boys introduce us to God’s creation. We go hunting with them, we’re introduced to their best friend, a native Indonesian child named Pu, and we get to watch their facial expressions as Pu introduces them to a local delicacy, raw echidna brain. A fun extra is the boys skinning a ten-foot python that even after it has been dead for an hour is still moving! The second in the series, called Jewels of the Jungle, follows the family as they go butterfly and moth-hunting. Our girls wanted to buy butterfly nets of their own after that one. Then in the third, Paradise Lost, the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl-to-boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish. Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof. As they do in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration. There are five other episodes, and each is just as interesting as the next. The only disappointment is maybe in the way the series concludes. In the last two episodes they are make preparations to sail across the ocean in a giant canoe. It is fascinating, as they carve the boat out with local help, and point out parallels to what Noah had to do. But because this is real life, and because in real life sometimes plans get upended, the finale doesn't end on the triumphant note we might have wished for. Cautions There are no cautions to note. While it isn’t clear what denominational background the family is from, the Christian reflections the boys and their parents share with viewers are thoughtful and solid. In one episode a brief shot of some human skulls is seen, and an encounter with a snake in the extra features of one episode was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, at the time 2 though 6, enjoyed this immensely – that little bit of tension didn't scare them away! Conclusion The Wild Brothers are very adventurous boys, the sort who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and again...at least when they are properly cooked! And they are very godly boys too, very aware of how God makes Himself evident in the creation all around us. And while they are boys, this was exciting for me girls too – I don't know that they fully appreciate bugs yet, but this did move them in that direction. I'd recommend this as great viewing for families with young kids from 10 and under. Mom and dad will enjoy it too, but there might not be enough action for the teenagers. You can buy the series on DVD or via download at AnswersInGenesis.org and as DVDs at Amazon. The trailer below is for the first episode, Welcome to our World. Addendum: free vlog series The Wild Brothers also now have a free vlog series, called "Highlands to Island" that you can find here. While you should watch the first episode, my daughters and I found the later episodes, from maybe 8 onward (there are 30 so far) more interesting than the first few. The vlog isn't quite the DVD series, but until new DVDs come out, this sure is a nice way to reconnect with this wonderful missionary family. https://assets.answersingenesis.org/vid/prod/etc/trailer/30-9-507_wild-brothers-1-trailer.mp4...

Family, Movie Reviews

Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures

Buddy Davis is a musician, dinosaur sculptor, and children's entertainer. In his "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series, he's teamed up with the folks at Answers in Genesis to craft something that kids will really like. Below I review all 5, rating them, and providing the trailers for each. To market the series, Answers in Genesis has posted the first episode online where it can be watched for free. I provide the link down below. I Dig Dinosaurs! 26 min. / 2011 RATING 7/10 In this children's video Buddy invites along to go on a dinosaur bone dig to see how paleontologists find them and take them out of the ground, and then put them on display. Davis really knows his stuff. Dinosaurs have long been promotional tools for evolutionists, but Davis will have none of that. He approaches the topic of dinosaurs and their fossils from a thoroughly Christian, creationist perspective. In a number of instances, he contrasts the biblical position with the evolutionary one. So, for example, he explains that fossilization doesn't need to take millions of years – as he explains, they've even found fossilized teddy bears! And kids are also told about how elastic blood vessels have recently been found in dinosaur bones that shows they couldn't possibly be millions of years old. These animals aren't as old as they have been made out to be! Our host is enthusiastic and energetic and keeps things hopping without it getting frantic. While I enjoyed this, I'd recommend it more as a kid's video than family viewing. I mean, parents won't be bored, but they likely won't want to watch this as many times as their children! To generate interest for the series, Answers in Genesis has made this first episode, I Dig Dinosaurs!, free to watch online right here. And you can watch the trailer below. Swamp Man! 45 min / 2012 RATING: 7/10 Our family really enjoyed the first in the "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series so when another popped up at our local library we had to check it out. Once again Buddy is our guide as we go out and explore God's great outdoors from an explicitly Christian perspective. In Swamp Man! Buddy takes us to the Florida Everglades where he gets up close and personal with alligators, lizards, dolphins, turtles, manatees, and snakes – lots of snakes! This is fast-paced, cutting from one animal to the next every minute or two, and in between Buddy has us zooming around on an airboat, a mudboat, a motorboat and an ATV. So there's lots of action to keep kids' attention, and mom and dad are sure to learn something too. I think I enjoyed this one almost as much as my daughters – very good family viewing! Anyone with a snake phobia will want to give this one a miss – of all the animals we meet, these are by far the feature creature. That's why this isn't a video I'd show my pre-school kids right before they go to sleep. It's not all that scary, particularly mid-day...but alligators, bears, and snakes at bedtime don't seem a good combo. That aside, this is a great family treat - one that mom and dad and kids anywhere from 2 and up will enjoy. Extreme Caving 58 minutes / 2013 RATING: 7/10 While Buddy Davis and the Tennessee Caveman Robbie Black are the hosts of this episode, the real stars of the show are the Cumberland Caverns themselves. This is one of the longest cave systems in the world, running at least 30 miles. If you've ever wondered what it's like to hike and climb and descend through caves that are hundreds of feet below the ground, you're going to love this! Davis, and his professional camera crew, takes us through passages and caverns that vary in height from dozens of meters to tight squeezes that are just a matter of inches. We get to see flowers made of gypsum, popcorn made of calcite, and translucent "cave bacon." We go stoop-walking and belly-crawling, pit-crossing, butt-sliding and even scuba diving into parts of the caverns that people don't normally go. We go so deep down that for a while even our guide loses his bearings! While Davis is normally an energetic, even hyper, host – all in an effort at keeping kids' attention – the physical demands of this episode mellowed him out some. That might be why I liked this one a little bit more. It's still a show for children, but the more restrained Davis is a little easier for adults to enjoy in an adult way. There is still lots of fun for the kids though, with animated scene transitions, a fun song about a skunk, lots of peppy bouncy music, and a close look at a cute furry fruit bat. The whole "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series and is produced with an explicitly creationist worldview, and one example of where that's evident in this episode is when Davis explains how many caves may have been formed by the Flood. The only caution I can come up with is that at least a couple of the Scriptural references Davis shares are on the random side, not particularly relevant to what he is trying to relate them to. But this is only a minor quibble in this remarkable video. At about an hour-long, this might be a bit too long for many a kid – it could be good to watch it in two parts. What I most appreciated is that it is something the whole family can enjoy, with lots of fun for the kids, and lots of amazing sights to see for the adults. Shucks, this has me think of checking out the Cumberland Caverns for myself! You can see a 2-minute clip of the episode below. Alaska! 25 min / 2015 RATING: 6/10 This time we head way up north, to Alaska! Bears are the big focus, as Buddy teaches us about the different species, and even shows us the damage a bear can do to a cabin (fortunately it happened while they were away!). There is a bit of an evangelism focus in these videos, which comes out in this one when Buddy talks about his love of fishing and segues to what the Bible says about becoming "fishers of men." Alaska! is a short adventure, at just 25 minutes, and while my kids loved it, and my wife appreciated it too, I found this one a little lacking in content and slower-paced. If your family has liked the other Buddy Davis adventures this will be worth checking out too – Buddy is a charming man – but this might not be the best one to start with. You can watch a 3-minute review/trailer of Alaska! below. Ice Age 25 min. / 2017 RATING 7/10 This time Buddy Davis takes us to the snow and ice of some giant glaciers left over from the Ice Age. He takes us paddling amongst the icebergs that result when huge chunks of ice "calve" right off the glacier and fall into the lake below. Davis also introduces us to some of the creatures from the Ice Age, including bear-sized beavers, saber-toothed tigers, and mastodons, which I always thought was another word for "wooly mammoth" but it turns out the two are quite different from one another. As always, Davis has got songs and jokes interspersed throughout, which the kids really seem to enjoy. What I liked best was Davis' overview of creationist thought about the Ice Age. Evolutionists talk about ice ages – plural – but Davis explains that creationists believe there was just the one, happening not so long after the worldwide Flood. I popped this DVD into the player when a couple of my kids were sick and home from school, fully intending to leave them to it while I went off to get some work done. But there was more than enough here to grab my attention too, so I had to stick around. This ended up being my own favorite of Davis' amazing adventures, and the girls liked it too. Other Buddy Davis adventures All of "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" can be purchased as DVDs or as downloads at the Answers in Genesis store here. Davis also has another series, "The Creation Adventure Team," that features Davis and a robotic dinosaur assistant named Proto who tackle A Jurassic Ark Mystery and its sequel, Six Short Days, One Big Adventure. Both of these can be watched for free here and here though the episodes are broken up into ten-minute chunks....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Narnia Code

Documentary 59 minutes/ 2009 RATING: 8/10 The Da Vinci Code and The Bible Code had me close to swearing off anything with the word “code” in the title, but this documentary made me glad I held off. It is based on a book of the same name that argues C.S. Lewis modeled the seven books of his Narnia series on the seven planets of the medieval cosmology. It is an argument that has intrigued and convinced many Lewis scholars. There seems good reason to believe the Lewis did add this extra layer of meaning and artistry to the books, and that, in a bit of patient playfulness, he was content to never make mention of it, leaving it for someone – as it turned out, a certain Michael Ward – to discover 50 years later. For a detailed look at the theory itself, viewers will need to go to the Bonus section of the DVD. The main feature focuses more on the discovery of the planetary connection, the excitement it caused, and why so many people today still get excited by what this man wrote. This is, admittedly, a documentary that will excite only a very particular audience: Narnia lovers who are equally fascinated by the tales' author. But for them, well, this brilliantly executed BBC production will have these folk scurrying off excitedly to their bookshelves and paging, once again, through these old favorites! You can see the trailer below and learn more about the book and documentary at PlanetNarnia.com. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Riot and The Dance

Documentary 2018 / 83 minutes Rating: 8/10 Biologist Gordon Wilson is excited about God's creation, and it's catching! In The Riot and the Dance, Wilson explores locations both exotic and familiar, showing us how amazingly the Lord has made his creatures in his awesome world. Nature films are most often spoiled by the Darwinian approach of their makers; we're accustomed to using the "pause" button while we remind our children and ourselves that it's God who made all the beauty we are watching, not random chance. How refreshing to hear Scripture quoted, and God's creative hand praised, in these beautifully filmed scenes. Wilson starts in ponds near his home in the northwestern US, finding the familiar in water striders dancing across the water's surface, and the less familiar in giant water bugs. He pauses in Montana for bison, in Manitoba for a snake den, and in California for comical but dangerous elephant seals. He dives across gravel paths in the Sonoran desert of Mexico, catching snakes and lizards to bring their beauty right up to the camera, and ends his world tour in Sri Lanka, marveling at elephants and water buffalo. Wilson believes Christians can and should find out more about the Creator by exploring what he made. "If we wanted to study someone like Michelangelo, we would want to study all his works, his art. The way you get to know God, you study everything He wrote, and made, His living creation, His creatures. They are not only paintings but sculptures!" Wilson does not ignore the brokenness of creation: "Life is not a basket of kittens... and there's all this death, and predator-prey relationships, and parasite hosts. But even in the midst of a fallen creation, the glories of God are still very present. Man needs redemption, and so does creation." Thus he includes some brief moments of gore – as a water buffalo is devoured by warthog and other scavengers – though there are not a lot. There is much to commend in this beautiful film. Give this one a viewing; you'll find yourself ready to dive into that field or pond, eager to explore your own corner of God's handiwork. Americans with Amazon Prime will be able to watch this there. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Long Goodbye: The Kara Tippetts Story

Documentary 88 min / 2019 Rating: 10/10 "I feel like I'm a little girl at a party whose Dad is asking her to leave early, And I'm throwing a fit. I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to go." – Kara Tippetts ***** Kara Tippetts started Mundane Faithfulness intending it to be a "mommy blog" that would encourage moms to just love their littles and be there every day for them. But it became something very different when the young mother of four and pastor's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The blog went viral as Kara, bluntly and beautifully, explained her treatments, shared her doubts, and showed how their family was trying to treasure every moment. In posts that were read by tens of thousands, she explained: "I want to be able to share this story that suffering isn't a mistake, and it isn't the absence of God's goodness...because He's present in pain." In Psalm 90 the psalmist pleas with the Lord, "teach us to number our days" (Ps. 90:12) and with her diagnosis, Kara was confronted with a truth the rest of us most often evade: that our days are numbered. She showed us what we should all do: find joy in the moments where they can be found. "Cancer was this gift that exposed to us what is important and what is valuable. Parenting with kindness. Loving your husband. Living well." Then, over the course of the next two years as it became increasingly clear that a cure wasn't likely, Kara showed the world what it looks like to die to God's glory. I gave this the highest rating I could because everyone should see it, and would be greatly benefited by it. Not only will Kara's story remind us to number our days, she teaches us to really think through what our purpose is. The only caution I would offer is that I can't quite imagine what sort of viewing party would work best, as there are just so many scenes here that will have everyone bawling. It's the mix of brokenness, beauty, truth, and God's goodness that'll ensure no one in the room has a dry eye, so if you don't like bawling in public, you won't want to watch this with friends. But you do want to watch it with friends because it will prompt some fantastic discussions about what really matters. So maybe the best approach is to gather a group, turn the lights down low, distribute Kleenex boxes generously, and know that your tear-stained face won't stand out from anyone else's in the group. "The Long Goodbye" can be purchased on DVD or streamed online for a few bucks at innumerable places around the Internet. Kara has also written a The Hardest Peace which I review here. After you've seen the film, you may want to check out this speech by Nate Wilson that makes the same points Kara does, but from a very different direction. Jon Dykstra also blogs on films at ReelConservative.com. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Drama / Christian 98 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand's 2010best-selling biography of Louis Zamperini was so good two movies have been based on it. The 2014 adaptation was a major motion picture that made more than $100 million. It was titled, simply, Unbroken. It focused on Zamperini's World War II heroics, and his career as an Olympian. That film shared how he survived getting shot down, and how he spent 47 days on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only to be rescued by the Japanese. They then imprisoned him in a camp staffed by sadistic guards who tortured him for the rest of the war. What was missing from this Hollywood production was Zamperini's conversion, which gets only a passing mention right as the credits roll. Director Angelina Jolie didn't see it as a significant part of his life. But for Christians who've read his biography, Zamperini's conversion is the obvious climax to his story. The Hollywood production was only half the story, with the best part still untold. In Unbroken: Path to Redemption we get that second half. While this is a sequel of sorts, picking up where the other left off, it stands up well on its own too. The focus here is on what happened after the war when Zamperini returned home, got married, and had to wrestle with nightmares, despair, unemployment, marital troubles, and alcohol addiction. Maybe this is why the first film stopped where it did: Hollywood didn't know what to do with an unbreakable man who gets shattered. But this Christian production does. While the special effects aren't at the level of a major motion picture, the acting is very good. And what makes this the superior adaptation is that it gives God his due. How was Louis able to survive it all? Only because God was there, every step of the way, protecting, pursuing, and forgiving. Some Christian critics have noted Path to Redemption doesn't go far enough into Zamperini's brokenness and as a result, mutes some of what God does for him. That's a fair critique, and I think some of my appreciation for this film is because, having read the book, I was already fully aware of that aspect. So this might be a better film when viewed as a follow-up to the book, rather than as a replacement for it. CAUTIONS There are a few cautions to share. First, Louis has some nightmares about his Japanese torturer. While these scenes aren't gory, they are intense and would scare children under 10 (and maybe some over 10). During another nightmare, Louis imagines that in his sleep he's mistaken his wife for a prison guard and has been choking her. It's all just a dream, but we get a glimpse of it. Also, one scene takes place on the beach with everyone in beach attire, but these are 1940s era bathing suits, so it isn't risqué. Finally, if you're watching this with teens, you might want to mention that this is not a how-to on dating, as it shows a good Christian lass letting herself be unequally yoked to the lapsed Catholic Louis. CONCLUSION This is the film we wanted to see in the first place, telling the full story of the broken man made whole. If you enjoyed the book you'll love this film. And if you saw the Hollywood production then you really need to watch Path to Redemption to get the rest of the story. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Irreplaceable – What is family?

Documentary 104 min / 2015 RATING: 8/10 Everyone knows something is wrong with the family these days. But what? For this Focus on the Family production, Tim Sisarich traveled all over the world to answer this question. He spoke to experts, interviewed prisoners, ordinary parents, and many others, and shared his own story as he searched for an answer. Irreplaceable, the resulting documentary, starts with the basic question, “What is family?” From Eric Metaxas to Nancy Pearcey, from John Stonestreet to Michael Medved, respected experts are given the floor. They discuss: the importance of family from ancient Greek times to today the hollowness and pressures of the hook-up culture the good news about marriage, and how hope and a few simple tools can transform bad marriages, the importance of parenthood, how children are treated as objects and commodities worldwide and the incalculable influence of fathers Speaking of fathers, it turns out that there is a common denominator among troubled youth. Most high school dropouts, pregnant teen moms, homeless children, youth suicides, and youth in prison come from fatherless homes. At this point in the film, Tim Sisarich stops focusing on experts and turn to stories, his own first of all, and then those of others. Sisarich, himself a father of five, speaks sadly of seeing so very many disturbing examples of fatherhood that his only response was to say, “I don’t know where to put that.” But he keeps on searching for answers, speaking to convicts, to parents of a Down’s syndrome child, to a foster parent of many, and to those who have been prodigals. Irreplaceable is both fact-filled and compelling, with a straightforward moral to this story: if we devalue sex, we will devalue marriage, and if we devalue marriage we will devalue the role of parents, and if we devalue the parenting role, we will devalue children. It is easy to look at the world and see the devastation such attitudes have caused. As we watch the movie, however, we realize that there is no call to point fingers at others; we, too, fall far short of God’s plan for our families and ourselves. In realizing this we, with Sisarich, can turn to our heavenly Father, remembering the gospel. He will certainly forgive us when we return to Him, whether we have sinned like the prodigal son in going astray, or sinned in not showing love and forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Anyone interested in understanding the family, our culture, and how to make an impact will appreciate this documentary and the accompanying panel discussion. For example, the panel discussion points out how lost most people feel. There is a huge opportunity, we are told, for the church to work out, practically, what it means to love God, each other, and society so that people will say, “Ah, they really care about me! Can I have some of that?” There is one noteworthy caution: because of the subject matter and some images in the section on the hookup culture, Irreplaceable is recommended for age 15 and older. Although there are a few uncomfortable viewing moments, it is good for adults to understand what today’s young people are up against and for young people to realize, from research as well as God’s Word, how hollow an ungodly lifestyle really feels. There are other DVDs that share this name, so the best way to find may be to search for “Focus on the Family Irreplaceable.” Annie Kate Aarnouste reviews many other movies, and books, and homeschool curriculum options, at her blog Tea Time with Annie Kate. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

CONNECT: Real help for parenting kids in a social media world

Documentary 70 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Connect offers “real help for parenting kids in a social media world” and the host, Kirk Cameron, starts things off by scaring parents with the story of a boy who was Internet-stalked by a “grown adult man.” The dad intervened in time… but it was a close thing. I watched this with 30-or-so other parents and this opener certainly grabbed our attention. But now, what can we do to protect our kids? Cameron makes clear, it isn’t just the creeps that we need to watch out for. We need to teach our children to see through a number of lies that social media fosters, including: “I deserve to be happy all the time” and “I am the center of the universe.” Our children need to know God is the center of the universe, and instant gratification is not only not a right, but not even healthy. More important: parents need to correct their own addiction to social media, and then get actively involved in their children’s lives. We are all busy, but we cannot be, as one of the experts put it, “mentally-absent parents.” There was a fantastic discussion starter for all the parents and teens who attended our viewing. One caution: there is some topic matter – about pornography addiction and suicide – that is not appropriate for the very young. It can be rented via online streaming, or purchased via DVD here. Americans with Amazon Prime can watch it here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Calvinist

Documentary 89 minutes / 2017 RATING: 8/10 Calvinist is the story of a generation of young men and women who went searching for answers and found them in Reformed theology. I found this a fascinating film because what they discovered is what I've always had as my birthright. I grew up in a Reformed home, attended a Reformed church, and went to a Reformed school, and it was the same for most of my friends and family. What was so very fun about Calvinist was the opportunity to see through new eyes the knowledge of God that I was taking for granted. The "young, restless, and Reformed" were a product of the late 90s and early 2000s – they had questions, and the Internet gave them access to all sorts of answers. When they googled "How do I know if I'm saved?" or "How do I know the Bible is true?" the best answers they found were by Reformed theologians like R.C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArther, and more. So this documentary serves at least three purposes: It is a history of how God steered this questioning generation towards just what they needed to know Him better. Calvinist also shares many of the answers these seekers were after. Producer Les Lanphere went to today's biggest name Reformers and and hit them with some of the biggest questions. So, in addition to learning recent history, the audience learns timeless biblical truths. The film also introduces us to a host of solidly Reformed teachers. In addition to Sproul, Piper and MacArther, Lanphere talks to: Michael Horton Tim Challies Robert Godfrey Joel Beeke Paul Washer James White Carl Trueman Jeff Durbin ...and many more That's an impressive and long list; Lanphere has put in the time and effort to make this a very special film. That extra effort also comes out in all the slick transitions and special effects – this looks good! One fun bit is running gag of sorts. Lanphere used 80s-era computer game style graphics to animate and illustrate some points. So, for example, when discussing Roman Catholicism's "faith plus works" position, we see what looks like an old arcade game, and scroll through some possible "fighters" including John Calvin and John Knox, until the selection stops on Martin Luther. An interesting tangent that's briefly explored is the impact Reformed Rap had on these young seekers. I watched this with a group of 20-somethings who had never heard of Shai Linne and they were amused and maybe even a little shocked that "Rap" could be paired up with "Reformed." But is it really so surprising that a medium which gives primacy to the word would be a great one for communicating the deepest truths about God? CAUTIONS While all the Reformed teachers we're introduced to are quite conservative, they do have some differences among them that aren't ever discussed. The most notable concerns baptism – there's a roughly 50/50 divide among the speakers, with half believing in credo-baptism (Piper, MacArthur, Durbin, White, Challies) and the other half, infant-baptism (Sproul, Horton, Trueman, Beeke, Godfrey). Other differences also exist, so while a discerning student can learn much from these men, discernment is indeed needed. CONCLUSION I've shared this film with two different sets of friends and everyone has really enjoyed it. This will be a hit with anyone 18 and up who has an interest in Reformed Theology. It probably won't convince a non-Reformed friend all on its own, but it will probably give the two of you a lot to talk about and explore further. If you use it for a group movie night, consider having an ice cream and brownie break at maybe the one hour mark. There's just so much packed in here that a break is needed to allow folks to think through and discuss what they've been seeing and hearing. You can check out the trailer below, and further down you can see two YouTube videos that are featured prominently in the film because of the impact they had on the young, restless and Reformed generation. Happy viewing! ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

DNA BATTLES: Were Adam & Eve historical?

Documentary 59 minutes / 2018 RATING: 7/10 In 2011 the Christian evolutionary group Biologos made a splash with widely published views that questioned whether Adam and Eve were historical. This documentary is a rebuttal. It tackles primarily the scientific front but also touches the theological front too, addressing their claims that Christians have to accommodate our views to the “reality” of evolution. While the theologians share answers to objections you may have heard before, the seven consulted scientists are sharing quite recent developments in biology that now show how certain evolutionary assumptions have been proven untrue (like Junk DNA). This is a great documentary, with books worth of material condensed into a one-hour presentation. But it isn’t going to be for everyone – you’ll need to remember some of your high school science to really be able to follow along. But for any viewer interested in the subject matter, this is going to be fascinating and worth multiple viewings. What this most reminded me of was Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, the very best creationist documentary I’ve seen. DNA Battles doesn’t quite rise to that level, but anyone who enjoyed Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels will certainly appreciate this one too. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Case for Christ

Drama 112 minutes / 2017 RATING: 7/10 On a Saturday morning in May, I found myself in an unusual place: seated in the Hoyts cinema, awaiting the start of a film Now I must say I never bought into the argument that movies could not be compatible with Christian life. It seemed to me that it depended on what sort of film was being screened. Having said that, I am thankful that, when it came to movies and theaters, I grew up with a sense of restraint. After all, wholesome cinematic presentations are few and far between, and the movie industry has been responsible for much social change that just doesn’t accord with God’s Word and God’s law. That’s why when it came to my own children I told them: “Don’t decide to go to the cinema and then see what’s on offer. Rather, if there’s something that you are confident about that it is wholesome, then make the decision to see it.” I reflected on those discussions – ones with my own children, and others with my parents when I was a youth – as I quietly waited for The Case for Christ to begin. A reluctant convert The Case for Christ is based on a book by the same name, telling the true story of a man, Lee Strobel, his wife and family, who lived and worked in the city of Chicago in the 1980s. The Strobels were a happy family, consisting of a Dad, a Mum, a daughter, and in the course of the film, a son was born to them. Early in the story whilst out at dinner, the daughter almost chokes to death on a large sweet; it’s the resolute intervention of a black Christian woman that saves the child’s life. Lee’s wife, Leslie, maintains contact with the lady who saved her child’s life and is inspired by the woman’s faith in Jesus Christ. In time Leslie, too, becomes a Christian, much to the chagrin of her atheist husband. As a journalist committed to the ideal of exposing the truth, Lee decides that the only way to convince his wife that she is throwing her life away is to disprove the fundamental tenets of Christianity. A colleague at work puts him on the right track and astutely suggests that he start by researching the resurrection of Christ. Armed with this information, Lee sets out to disprove this central teaching of Christianity. He consults colleagues and friends first, then he turns to theologians and historians, psychologists, and eventually a medical doctor. The more he looks, and the deeper he goes, the more he finds to support the resurrection of Christ, rather than disprove it. The frustration that accompanies this voyage of discovery is interesting and instructive to behold. In the end Lee admits, “OK God, you win!” and it is this that turns him to God in true repentance for his obstinate refusal to accept what was staring him in the face for so long. Authentic because it is true I couldn’t help but enjoy the story. It was honest, it was real, it was moving and it was genuine, maybe because it had really happened. It was wholesome too. I appreciated the search revolving around the resurrection of Christ. It resonated beautifully with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14: But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. I was impressed by the truth uncovered by the research, and by the excellent profound insights afforded by the different characters in the film. These days it’s hard to find movies where the language is not marred by blasphemy and where there is not some sexual overtone; it was wonderful to watch something where this did not – at least not that I noticed – feature. I also enjoyed the literary qualities of the film. The characters were real and the story was compelling. A second, parallel story, running through the film – Lee’s investigation into the shooting of a cop – provides some excellent symbolism in relation to Lee’s spiritual journey. When Lee stands at the side of the hospital bed of the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice and apologizes for not seeing what should have been obvious, the man mutters in response, “You didn’t see it because you didn’t want to see.” That was a poignant moment. Some nits that could be picked A Reformed critic might argue that the expression used in the film about “inviting Jesus into your life” is an Arminian sentiment, and I would be hard pressed to argue against that. Unless, of course, we see it as an expression of the believer’s response to the work of the Holy Spirit, causing and working faith in Jesus Christ. It can also be argued that faith shouldn’t be dependent on outside proofs (doesn’t God’s Word testify to its own authenticity?) and that the way to faith Lee Strobel pursues seems to elevate the authority of archeology and experts above the Bible. There’s truth in that criticism too. But from what we can learn about Lee Strobel, subsequent to the events in the film, it is clear that however his faith began, it has grown to a deep and caring connection with his God. This is a true story, so even if the producers intend it as an account of what we should do, we can choose instead to enjoy it as a record of what God did do. Still, I couldn’t help but appreciate that in an age where evidence and reason are so central, the facts of the Bible will stand up to rigorous scrutiny; even the rationalist, who might shrink back from a way of faith, is left without excuse. Summing up about the Case for Christ, I feel comfortable recommending it. With us in the theatre were families with younger children, some teenage youth and a smattering of older people, and it really had appeal for all. Two cynics I’m not sure why, but my mind couldn’t help but compare Strobel’s story to another that I had read about, some years before, one that filled me with deep sorrow and wonder. In an interview with Nederlands Dagblad, the ninety year old Harry Kuitert, emeritus professor of systematic theology from the Free University of Amsterdam, stated: I have sought God, but I have not found him. Harry Kuitert’s story sees him seeking the evidence that God is real, that God gives sense and meaning to life, and that there is life after death, but slowly and surely he comes to the conclusion that none of it stacks up and none of it is true. Nederlands Dagblad quotes Kuitert in the interview as saying: You cannot conclude that there is a God. … He exists only in your head, he is the product of your thoughts, and outside of your head he doesn’t exist. … Every believer makes his own religion. That’s doesn’t make it true. You believe because you choose to, maybe because you need to or because you are afraid, or lonely. If you read the different biographies of Harry Kuitert, you can’t help but stand amazed that a man who started out as being a minister of the Word and later a professor in theology slowly but surely lets go of the foundational tenets of the Christian faith. Throughout his life he reveled in different aspects of theology, but his book titles tell the story of a diminishing faith. In 1989 he wrote a book titled, The Universally Doubted Christian Faith, a title that served as a parody to what we often confess in church in relation to the Apostles’ Creed, “our undoubted Christian faith.” In 2000 he wrote a book called About Religion, about which Nederlands Dagblad said: Till now, for Kuitert God had still been the force or the person behind people’s searching and speaking. In this book, however, God has become the product of man’s imagination. Unabashed Kuitert writes: “I am finished with God as a person, as a being that exists in himself and for himself and that can be invoked through prayer.” And then, in 2014, he wrote The Church, a Construction Mistake, about which he stated: “Why doesn’t it honestly proclaim that it’s all made up?” Speaking about Kuitert, Nederlands Dagblad reported: In the Christian part of the Netherlands Kuitert became a phenomenon: Harry Kuitert, who peeled away the layers of faith, one after the other, until there was nothing left. Here then is the tale of two cynics (with apologies to Charles Dickens), one who started out refusing to believe but who was confounded by the evidence, and the other who believed and lost his faith because he couldn’t find the evidence that it could be true. You have to wonder how come. Is this just the outworking of God’s election? No doubt that’s part of the story, but it just won’t do to stop there. For mixed in with God’s election is also our human responsibility and ownership of the truth. What else got in the way of Kuitert? Was it intellectual arrogance, was it human pride – maybe even unwittingly – getting in the way of truth? I wished he could meet the liberated and innocent convict in the hospital who muttered to Strobel, “You didn’t see it because you didn’t want to see it.” May God’s Spirit as yet rip away the self-imposed spiritual blindfold that leaves him an empty and lonely cynic. ***** EDITOR'S NOTE: If The Case for Christ film inspires you to track down more by Lee Strobel, it’s important to understand that Strobel is not Reformed. That doesn’t come up much in The Case for Christ, because the topic is one all Christians believe – Calvinists and Arminians agree that Christ rose. But in The Case for Faith Strobel turns his investigative skills to the topic of faith, and the result is a book that could have been called The Arminian Case for Faith. In it he repeatedly rejects the Reformed understanding and presents a specifically Arminian answer to questions. So while the film could be a nice evening’s entertainment for you and your family, Strobel shouldn’t be a go-to resource for matters of faith and doctrine. ...