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Apologetics 101, Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Collision: Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson

Documentary 88 minutes / 2009 Rating: 9/10 The genesis of the film started back in May of 2007 when leading atheist Christopher Hitchens and Reformed pastor Douglas Wilson were asked by Christianity Today to dialogue on the question “Is Christianity good for the world?” Their wrote six exchanges which were printed in the magazine and then, in 2008, compiled into a book. When the two men headed out to do an east-coast book tour, filmmaker Darren Doane tagged along. He captured their exchanges and interactions, both onstage in formal debates settings, and as they conversed over a pint of beer in the local pub. The end result is the most entertaining and enthralling debate you will ever see on film. But its appeal is not the reason this is a must-see film. You should see Collision because: It prepares our children for what they’ll encounter at university. The attacks that Hitchens levels against God and Christianity are mimicked on secular campuses so Wilson’s able defense of the Faith will be instructive and will be an encouragement to our young people when they face these same attacks from their professors and fellow students. It demonstrates the approach we need to take to answering the theistic evolutionists. How are we to understand Genesis 1-11, and what role should Science take in guiding our interpretation of these chapters? To properly answer it we need to rediscover a mislaid aspect of our Reformed heritage – presuppositional apologetics. Throughout Collision Wilson brilliantly demonstrates (though doesn’t entirely explain) this distinctly Reformed way of defending the Faith. So what is apologetics? And how does presuppositional apologetics compare to the other, evidential, approach? Despite how it sounds, apologetics isn't about apologizing – it is about defending and arguing for God's Truth. Evidential apologists figure if we present the evidence – enough of it, and the right sort – people will follow the facts and come to realize that there is indeed a God. The problem with this approach is that facts are always interpreted. Present someone with information about the stunning intricacy of the human eye and they’ll fall back on their worldview – their presuppositions – to tell them how to understand this information. So a Christian will look at the eye and acknowledge it as evidence of a brilliant Designer. Meanwhile, an atheist will understand it as evidence of millions of years of evolution since something this amazing couldn’t have just sprung up overnight! Confronted with the same evidence, they come to opposing conclusions. Why? Because sin taints even our intellect – even our reasoning – so evidence can be twisted to support conclusions that run right up against God's Truth. Presuppositional apologetics delves into the assumptions – those presuppositions – that underlie every worldview. When, in Collision, Hitchens accuses God of being a tyrant for ordering the death of the Amalekites (Deut 25:19), Wilson asks Hitchens to provide, from his atheistic worldview, a grounds for being upset. If we are just “matter in motion,” as the atheist worldview contends, what reason is there for Hitchens to care what happens to Amalekites? Hitchens makes repeated moral claims, and Wilson repeatedly shows his atheistic worldview gives him no basis for claiming that anything is wrong or anything is right. Hitchens has debated a throng of other Christians but it’s only Wilson, and his presuppositional approach, that has given him pause. Does that mean presuppositional apologetics is the way to go if you want to win the argument? By the film's end, Christopher Hitchens wasn't won over. And while Wilson was impressive, many of the atheists who watched Collision said that Hitchens won the debate. In that sense, this pressupositional approach didn't "work." But, of course, it is always the Holy Spirit, and not the apologist, who transforms a person's heart. What makes presuppositional apologetics the way to go is that it begins with the right basis, acknowledging, as Romans 1:18-32 makes clear, that this is not a battle over evidence – on some level everyone knows God exists, everyone has God's moral law written on their hearts, and everyone is aware to some degree of how we don't measure up. When we understand that God has already declared Himself, then we can stop wasting our time with the red herring of having to prove His existence, and we can get to the real apologetics work of clarifying and presenting His truth. Then apologetics is an opportunity to glorify God by contrasing the unshakeable biblical worldview with the unbeliever's foundationless one. We can learn from Wilson and use this same approach to properly answer the theistic evolutionists in Christian circles. Like Wilson, we need to cut to the very core of the debate and address their presuppositions – we need to ask how evolution can fit with Christianity when it requires a mythical Adam and Eve, millions of years of mutations and mistakes, and Death before the Fall? This is a film some will love, and others might find too loud (the producer has shot music videos in the past, and that influence is felt here in the driving, beat-y soundtrack) but the meat of what’s discussed, and the example that is set, will be valuable for all ages and all interests. Would that everyone would watch this one... and now you can, on Facebook, for free!...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution

Dismantled: a scientific deconstruction of the theory of evolution

Documentary 2020 / 93 minutes Rating: 8/10 The Creation vs. Evolution debate is sometimes portrayed as being the Bible vs. Science, but Dismantled wants us to know that while creationists certainly stand on the Bible, they aren't conceding on Science. Flipping the script, the documentary begins by asking if evolution should be considered scientific. "Is it proper to equate evolution with science? Does science have the ability to address questions regarding past events that we were not there to directly observe or verify – events like the spontaneous origins of the universe, the origin of life from non-life, and the evolution of the earliest life forms into mammals? Or might we be giving science a power that it does not have? To answer this, it is important that we accurately define science, as well as its limitations." Evolution has street cred because it's supposed to be scientific – it claims to come from the very same source of knowledge that gave us rockets, microwaves pizza, smartphones, and self-driving cars. But as Dismantled notes, evolution has little in common with that sort of science. A quote from the film, taken from a biology textbook, explains that: "Scientific inquiry is a powerful way to know nature, but there are limitations to the kind of questions it can answer. These limits are set by science's requirements that hypotheses be testable and falsifiable and that observations and experimental results be repeatable." It is precisely the testable, repeatable, falsifiable nature of operational science that got us a man on the moon, and it is precisely those points that evolution's historical science doesn't share. Our origins involve events that happened long ago and aren't repeatable, making these events hard to test, and these theories hard to falsify. So the origins debate isn't about the Bible vs. Science, but more about one historical account vs. another... with the notable difference that one of those historical accounts is thousands of years old and unchanging, and the other is a recent creation and constantly being revised. That's the film's lead-off point, and it takes the first 20 minutes to make it. From there, they go on to assess which of these two historical accounts seem a better fit with the world we observe around us. That's the bulk of the film, and this 70-minute tour takes us through topics including: the micro = macro fallacy which assumes, without evidence, that small changes can add up to bigger ones genetics including the limits of supposed "beneficial mutations," and the problem of genetic entropy – that we as a species are breaking down faster than natural selection could ever build us up – and the supposed genetic similarity between man and apes the fossil record including Man's supposed ape-like ancestors, and the humanity of Neanderthals radiometric dating and its problems Dismantled is a slick production – the visuals are fantastic! – but its strength is in the scientists consulted. Whether it is Jason Lisle, John Sandford, Georgia Purdom, Rob Carter, Andrew Snelling, Nathaniel Jeanson (PhDs one and all), they all know how to explain big ideas to the rest of us who may not have been in a science class for decades. That doesn't mean this is all easy to understand, and I think most of us will have to (and be happy to) watch this twice, just because there is so much here to chew on. Cautions The one caution I'll note regards a mistake the film could, indirectly, encourage: believing the Bible only when the evidence says it is reasonable to do so. It is important to remember the evidence discussed in Dismantled wasn't available 100 years ago, and yet God's Word was just as true then. We need to know the Bible isn't true because it syncs up with the evidence; rather, the reason the evidence syncs up with the Bible is that the Bible is true. If that doesn't seem like much of a difference, its significance becomes apparent when the evidence doesn't seem to fit with the Bible. In those circumstances, if our trust is grounded in the evidence rather than the Bible, then we will side with it, against God's Word. But if we trust God, then we'll always stick with the Bible, trusting that any apparent conflicts will be resolved in time. Conclusion Dismantled is superb, summarizing important foundational concepts even as it presents the most current findings. I'd recommend it as a purchase, rather than a rental, because you'll want to watch it again to be able to properly digest all that is on offer. The target audience is high school and up, and for those who want to dig in even deeper, a great place to start is the recommended resources list available on the film's website. You can check out the trailer below, and then rent it on Amazon.com or buy the DVD or Blu-ray at Creation.com. And now a half-hour clip of the film can be viewed for free. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Facing darkness

Documentary 99 minutes / 2017 Rating 8/10 In early 2020, when New York was hit with a surge of serious Covid-19 cases, Samaritan's Purse set up a mobile field hospital to relieve the State's overwhelmed health services. Running towards danger was nothing new for this Christian group – they'd already been busy helping with the Covid outbreak in Italy. And years earlier, when West Africa was faced with an Ebola outbreak, they led the way there too, despite the horrorific nature of that disease. Facing Darkness is a documentary about that 2014 outbreak, and Samaritan's Purse's courageous response to it. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it might be great viewing for anyone feeling overwhelmed by our current Covid situation. Here are Christians facing risks many times greater, and while they are afraid – terrified even – it isn't a contradiction to say they were not fearful. They kept working. They kept helping, even when one, and then two, of their own staff became infected. As Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham detailed, when he got the news, it was devastating: "My phone rang...and Ken Isaac said, 'Franklin, one of our doctors, Kent Bradley has ebola.' I didn't even know how to pray. I just kept saying, 'Lord, why? We were there to save life. We are there in your name. Why?'" And, of course, they weren't the only ones impacted by the outbreak. The film begins with a young man sharing, one after another, the names of his aunts, uncles, his mother, brother, sister, nephews, and other relatives, who were all taken by Ebola. It is heartbreaking! So why should anyone see this film? Why would anyone want to? Because, at a time when the world is overwhelmed with fear, here are Christians who were certain God was with them, and trusted He would provide for them even in the face of sickness and death. These are people who live out the promise God has given, that whatever the here and now, He has treasure stored up for them in heaven. That makes this such a hope-filled film. It is wonderful! Caution With death an ongoing topic, no matter the safe visuals, this is not a film for children. Conclusion Facing Darkness tells an amazing and encouraging story – brothers and sisters in the Lord showing what it means to trust Him with our all – and that's an example that we can all benefit from. Check out the trailer below, and watch the documentary for free (with ads) at Tubi, or rent it at Amazon, Vimeo, and elsewhere. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

The Marks of a Cult: a biblical analysis

Documentary 2005 / 115 minutes Rating: 8/10 How would you define a cult? Some think of them as being deadly, like the 900 followers of Jim Jones who, in 1978, committed suicide en masse by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid (this is the origin of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). What this documentary focuses on are religious groups that have some connections to biblical Christianity, but which have departed so far from it, that they are worshipping another God. Overview One of the film's objectives is to give Christians an easily understandable way of spotting those departures. And to make it memorable, host Eric Holmberg uses the four common math symbols: +– x ÷. As he explains it, "A group can be classified as a cult when they: Add to the 66 books of the bible... Subtract from the triunity of God by either denying the personhood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead Multiply works necessary for salvation Divide the loyalties of their followers from God..." These math symbols are then used as the documentary's four "chapters" and serve as logical breaks for any who might prefer to digest this 2-hour documentary in chunks. 1. Additions (starting at 24:50) Holmberg explains that the first sign of a cult is that it will add to God's Word, "relying on some new, so-called revelation. either new scriptures, or by the discovery of some new interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic church." But why would such additions be needed? As Dr. Curtis Crenshaw notes: "If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority." 2. Subtraction (starting at 47:30) Cults will also subtract from the "triunity of God." Sometimes this involves denying the Holy Spirit's deity, but more often, it involves a denial of Jesus as being fully God. 3. Multiplication (starting at 1:11:35) Another sign of a cult is that they multiply the works needed to be saved. This springs directly from the subtraction or undermining of Christ's deity because, as Jerry Johnson highlights, when Christ is no longer God (or at least fully God), then his sacrifice will no longer suffice. And then Man will have to step in and do his own "share." "To downplay the divinity of Christ is to ultimately to surrender the doctrine of justification. Now, why is that? We must remember that God is holy, holy, holy. He is a thrice-holy God. Our mildest sin offends Him greatly....God doesn't wink at our sin. God is offended by it. He doesn't even want to look on us because we are not reflecting the character of being made in His Image. And when we think about that, and think about the fact that Christ came as deity to die in our place, that's because our sins are an infinite offense to the infinite nature of God, and therefore an infinite payment had to be made, and we couldn't make it. So to take away the deity of Christ does what? It opens up the door. You have got a satisfaction that isn't a full satisfaction. It's a partial satisfaction. And therefore, something else has to be added to it. And that's what the cults always do. None of them believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. They always add some works to salvation. Christ's work is not complete, because Christ is not diety. 4. Division (starting at 1:35:40) A fourth sign of a cult is that they will divide their followers from God so that their first loyalty belongs to the group or to the group leader, rather than to God. Conclusion Marks of a Cult is a lot of things: a history of how some of the biggest cults began; a rebuttal to some of their aberrant theology; an explanation of how they have different definitions for key theological terms like grace and justification; and a primer on the beliefs that Christiandom hold in common. It is also entertaining – this is education made, if not easy, then at least engaging. But it's also important to mention what this is not: this is not a film you'd show your Mormon or Jehovah's Witness friend to convince them they are worshipping a false god. This is a film for Christians, intended to clarify the conflict more than argue for the historic Christian side. That makes it a great introduction to the topic of cults. Those who want to go deeper can turn to the resources suggested throughout the film, including the likes of Dr. James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's God in Three Persons. Overall, Marks of a Cult is an outstanding documentary, and what's even better, you can watch it for free below! ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Free Speech Apocalypse

Documentary 89 minutes / 2015 Rating: 8/10 In 2012 Pastor Douglas Wilson gave a public lecture on the contentious topic of sexuality God's way. But it wasn't simply a public lecture: his event took place on the campus of a large university and was advertised well ahead of time, giving campus LGBT groups and their supporters time to arrange protests and arrange to fill the auditorium seats. In addition, this wasn't just any university campus: it was Indiana University, home of the Kinsey Institute, where the infamous sexologist Alfred Kinsey helped launch the Sexual Revolution. For a talk on God's thoughts about sex this was as hostile a setting as could be had. His talk, and all the hysteria and hoopla that surrounded it, is the centerpiece of director Darren Doanne's new documentary The Free Speech Apocalypse. Doanne uses the event to tackle three related subjects: The intolerance of the Left – As the title suggests, free speech and tolerance are the main topics tackled. Douglas Wilson comes to Indiana to dialogue, but that's not what the Left wants. Instead activist students scream and shout: "We believe in free speech, but this is hate speech!” False allegations made about Douglas Wilson – When students chant, "Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay; Douglas Wilson go away!" we get to see how Wilson is able to respond and rebut these accusations. The difference between Left and Right – Wilson notes, "this is the difference between the conservative mindset and the liberal mindset: The conservative thinks always in terms of tradeoffs. The liberal thinks in terms of solutions. The liberal wants solutions. And he doesn't want to think in term of tradeoffs. He doesn't think there is ever a price tag for what he is advocating." Liberals demand more and more, not thinking about how someone will have to pay for this. Conservatives are grown up enough to realize there are no perfect solutions – everything comes with a cost. Related to this last point, the American Civil War is touched on. In the US it is a near universal belief that this was a good and just war because it ended slavery. But it also resulted in 600,000 dead - that was the tradeoff that liberals don't consider. American presidential candidate Ted Cruz appears in the film for less than a minute, but his interview highlights how even conservatives and Christians can forget to consider the tradeoffs. Concerning the Civil War he says it "was absolutely a just war" but concerning abortion, "We have the ability to change this, and to change this without a war fought in the streets." So he understands that war would be an unsatisfactory tradeoff for today, but won't even consider whether that might have been true for the Civil War. Cautions The topic matter – sexuality God's way vs. the world's way, and tolerance God's way vs. the world's way – means this is a film for mature audiences only. The F-bomb is put to regular use by students, and these occurrences are not bleeped out. The one thing I found surprising was the selection, by the director, of some backing music for a ten-second segue that also included multiple f-bombs – an unnecessary, but fortunately very short, addition. There are also a few brief shots of homosexuals and others prancing about, and one line-drawn diagram shown for a few seconds that includes a depiction of a naked male butt. Conclusion This is an enormously ambitious film but because it tries to fit so much in, it might leave viewers exhausted by the time the credits role. But it is worth putting in the effort. Few Christians are both able and willing to beard the liberal lion in his den, and it is fun and encouraging to watch Wilson venture forth. Here we get to see a brave man standing up, outnumbered, but not outmaneuvered because he stands on God's Word. This film is also a must-see because it shows what is coming and what we are up against. As the Left continues to marginalize Christians, it may well be that in some circumstances no matter what we say or do we will not be able to win the debate. And not because of any weakness in our position, but rather because the other side has no interest in discussing. They'll want to meet our words with their shouts, or their claims of victimhood, or even their fists. However even then our light can shine. If our words are shouted down, our demeanor can stand in sharp contrast. In Wilson we see a joyful warrior, secure in the knowledge that God has already won. This is how we need to be. The Free Speech Apocalypse can be bought on DVD or purchased for streaming here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Logic on Fire

Documentary 2015 / 102 minutes RATING: 7/10 Even if you don’t know Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones (1899-1981) you likely do know some of the people praising him in this documentary. The list includes John MacArthur, Iain Murray, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, and RC Sproul, who say of him: “I believe that Lloyd Jones was to twentieth century Britain what Charles Spurgeon was to the nineteenth century.” Like Spurgeon, this was a man God used to stir up Britain. The joy in watching this documentary is to see what God did, and how He acted through this servant. Another good quote from one of the interviewees highlighted how very different Lloyd Jones was from the pastors of his time and many of the celebrity pastors of our own. …he wasn’t at all seeker-friendly. In fact he was seeker-unfriendly, because he felt that a non-Christian ought to be deeply uncomfortable in church. Because you actually want him to be uncomfortable because you need to realize your need for the Gospel. The only caution I would offer is that while Lloyd Jones was generally Reformed, he got some notable matters wrong. For example, his views on baptism differed with those of the denomination he served – he seems to have opposed paedo-baptism, though not loudly. But that is an aside because it is his preaching, and his generally Reformed perspective, that are the focus here. Both my wife and I really enjoyed this very polished production, and it might be the most re-watched documentary in our house.  It comes comes with 2 bonus disks and a small hardback book among the extras. Logic on Fire would make a great gift for any pastor and anyone who enjoys Church history, or documentaries. It can be rented and streamed online for $6 US here. Canadians and Americans can order the DVD set via the Banner of Truth US website BannerOfTruth.org/US. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

March of the Penguins

Documentary 80 min / 2005 RATING: 7/10 Penguins are cute but tough as nails too, and March of the Penguins gives us the insider's look at both the grit and the comedy. These waddling, wacky creatures mate and reproduce in a clearing that, while miles and miles from most predators, is also miles and miles away from any source of food. So God has equipped the parents to be able to go for months without food as they wait for their egg to hatch. To give us the inside scoop the filmmakers spent a whole year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle. Cautions Somewhere in this film there is a line about "millions of years" but it seems almost beyond belief that a person could watch this film about the trials and triumphs of penguin life and not see it as a testament to the wonder of God's creative hand. More important for parents considering whether to watch this with the family, not all the penguins survive the journey, including a couple of instances where we see a dead chick. There's a scene where predator birds attack a group of chicks, eventually carrying off one. So I wouldn't recommend this for younger, more sensitive viewers. Conclusion While I loved this film, the pace was sometimes a slow waddle. My dad owned a DVD player that sped films up to 1.25 times while keeping the sound at its normal timbre – this would be a prime candidate for such a device, and if you stream it online, that's sometimes an option. That said, there is a reason it won an Oscar for best documentary. The filmmakers took us somewhere we've never before been, right into the middle of that penguin huddle. And that is a remarkable place to be! If you like March of the Penguins, there are a couple of other documentaries you may like too. Winged Migration tells the story of dozens of different bird species as they travel thousands of miles from North to South and back again. And if you found the ice and isolation of the Antarctic captivating you'll likely enjoy Imax: Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. ...

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....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch it for free on YouTube here and see the trailer below.. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

FREE: Flight of the Butterflies

Documentary 2012 / 44 minutes RATING: 7/10 Equal parts detective story and nature documentary, Flight of the Butterflies tells the story of "Dana" and her offspring, beautiful monarch butterflies making their way across the United States. It also showcases the investigative work of biologist Fred Urquhart and his wife Norah, who spent their lives trying to discover where the butterflies were going on their yearly migration. The nature half is simply stunning, and deserves a widescreen TV viewing – you'd lose so much watching it on your phone. We get to follow Dana as she flutters from plant to plant, laying her more than 300 eggs, and get to tag along, too, as she flies as much as a mile up into the heavens. Then, when we eventually see one of Dana's grandchildren form her chrysalis, we get a peek inside: "Fed oxygen by hundreds of fine breathing tubes. her brain, heart and digestive track change shape and size. New powerful flight muscles develop, and compound eyes form. Long legs and steady wings complete the transformation." The caterpillar to butterfly transformation is astonishing – one creature becoming something else entirely! But it gets even crazier: while Dana didn't live all that long, and her daughter didn't either, they somehow manage to spawn a granddaughter that will look just like them, but be another sort of creature once again: Dana's granddaughter is a "super butterfly destined to live eight times longer" than either of the two previous generations! The mystery half is fun too. An actor familiar to many Canadians, Gordon Pinsent (Beachcombers, The Red Green Show) plays Fred Urquhart who recruits the help of regular folk – "citizen scientists" – all over the United States to help him tag, and then track the flight paths of monarch butterflies. After gathering this information for decades he can tell they fly south towards Texas, but where do these millions of butterflies go afterward? I won't spoil things: you'll have to watch it to find out. Caution The documentary opens with a quick nod to Darwin, with biologist Fred Urquhart declaring, "It has been said since Darwin's time that evolution has been written on the wings of a butterfly. I know my life has." Another similar sort of "nod" happens elsewhere, but the brilliant design evident in the monarch's lifecycle and remarkable migration far outshine these little mars. There is also a few mentions made of man-caused environmental issues that might impact the monarch, including a passing mention of global warming. But these are very brief, and the film is not any sort of anti-man screed. As with many a secular nature documentary perhaps the most notable caution is simply that in a film about a creature whose beauty and amazing lifecycle screams out the glory of its Creator, the film never gives God His due. But we can make up for this deficiency. Conclusion Fred and Norah Urquhart spent 50 years learning all about the monarch, and in this remarkable film we get to come along for that journey of discovery. This is a quiet film – there are no explosions to be found – so it isn't going to be to everyone's tastes. But maybe it should be – if the brilliance of the monarch butterfly doesn't fill us with awe at God's genius, maybe it's time we stopped watching so many car chases and superhero battles and sharpened up our sense of awe. Regardless, for the nature lover in your family this will be something special. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the film for free here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story

Documentary 91 minutes / 2012 Rating: 7/10 This is the amazing story of how a one-armed young man beats the odds to make it onto a Division 1 college basketball team. His disability alone would make Kevin Laue a "long shot" but then he also lost his dad at age 10. What the film celebrates is Laue's determination, but what it also captures is the enormous hole left when a father is missing. So much of what Laue does and wants to do is an effort to make his late father proud. Laue does have a father figure in the film, a fantastic high school coach in Patrick McKnight who was willing to just invest in the young man, and "put a foot in his butt" when Laue needed it. He also has a family that loves him, including a grandmother who calls him her "chickadee" and has to be in the running for his #1 fan. Cautions Language concerns would be a couple of f-bombs dropped by players and one "gosh." We see Kevin in the shower, shot from the other side of the somewhat opaque glass door so we don't see any details, but enough flesh-color to know he is naked. While the trailer below makes this look like more of an explicitly Christian film than it is - the Laues' trust in God only comes up in spots. And that's maybe the more notable caution: while the film highlights how important a father can be for a son, God isn't portrayed as nearly as significant. That might be more a matter of the filmmaker's editing decisions than the family's convictions, but either way it is an opportunity for a great discussion question for our kids: who do you think is being portrayed as the "god" – the most important person or thing? – in this film? Is it dads or God? Conclusion This is a fascinating film about young man who is admirable in many ways, and yet not so idealized here that he becomes fake and distant. It's a film that any sports fans and both parents and teens will enjoy. Check out the trailer below, and watch it for free here. ...

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

A Lego brickumentary

Documentary 93 minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 If you have kids who are too young to watch anything with tension then that limits your viewing options. Yes, there are lots of shows they can watch, but very few that mommy or daddy will want to sit through too (I can feel my brain cells dying whenever Daniel the Tiger is turned on). But here's something different: a documentary the whole family can enjoy. The basic building blocks of the Lego story are simple. The Denmark-based company has been making these little bricks for 65+ years. They got off to a rocky start, with the first three factories getting burned down, and in the late 1990s lost their way as they started producing sets that had more and more specialized pieces and less and less actual building involved. The buying public didn't like this new direction, and sales took a plunge. But this shocked the company straight, and they returned to what made them great: selling a simple toy whose infinite combinations sparked the imagination. The film itself is a hagiography of sorts, looking at the company with the wide-open eyes of a fan. This is sure to get your kids building, but the target audience for the film is as much adults and children. In fact, the majority of the builders we're introduced to are adults, including both the "master builders" who work for the company, and the legions of AFOLs – Adult Fans Of Lego – who craft their own creations and show them off online and at Lego conventions. These creations are astonishing, including a full-size X-wing fighter (from Star Wars) and reproductions of classic artworks like the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David. CAUTIONS The only cautions for this G-rated film I can come up with is that there are about 10 to 20 seconds of evolutionary nonsense, accompanied by a depiction of primordial life emerging from the sea and turning into man (primordial Lego life turning into a Lego man). There is also a short 5 second clip Lego mini-figure recreation of the shower murder scene from the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. That sounds worse than it is - in both cases my kids didn't even catch what was going on. I'll also add that while there is a role for adults to play Lego with their kids, the obsession shown by the the AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) was disconcerting. Hobbies can be fun, but God calls Christians to balance, and any hobby that takes over your life is not a healthy one. Instead of encouraging our young men to hold on to their childhood we should be preparing them to put off childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). So Mom or Dad might want to raise the issues of balance and maturity after watching this. CONCLUSION A Lego Brickumentary is a fun film for the whole family. I liked it because I could watch something entertaining and kind of educational without worry about my children being traumatized. Our kids liked it because it was inspiring and the host, a Lego mini-figure, is charming and often funny. So far we've watched it twice, and I could see us watching it again, so if you can get it for a good price, this might be a documentary worth owning. Otherwise, it makes for a great streaming rental, or might well be at your local library. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Our Kids Online...how to keep them safe

Documentary 88 minutes / 2020 RATING: 8/10 Our Kids Online begins with a wake-up call: kids aren’t just seeing graphic, dehumanizing pornography online, many are now imitating these acts, and even filming themselves at it. That got my attention. It also got me wanting to turn the documentary off right there. It’s too much, too dark, and I’d really rather not hear about it. The producers must have anticipated that feeling because right then, flashing across the screen, they shared the famous challenge, commonly attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As one of the filmmakers noted, “Just hoping our kids won’t be exposed is not an option….It’s not a case of if they see it; it’s a case of when.” So it was time to man up, keep watching, and trust that the promise in the documentary’s title – that I was going to learn how to keep my kids safe – would be born out. And by film’s end, I was glad I stuck with it. A parental perspective Filmmakers Rob and Zareen Cope are a couple of New Zealander parents who didn’t want to tackle this topic either. But then their kids started pressuring them for more access to the Internet. And because they wanted to keep them safe, the Copes started investigating what the online dangers were, and what could be done about them. That quickly left them feeling overwhelmed. Then they started doing what documentarians do: as Zareen explains it: “We got in touch with some of the world’s leading experts in this field and we hit the road.” As we, the viewers, follow along, we get to listen in on some pretty insightful, sometimes devastating, and always eye-opening conversations. Porn is different today Many parents don’t know what pornography is today: it isn’t just some Playboy-type pictures. As Russ Tuttle, from the Stop Trafficking Project, explains, one six-year-old kid’s very first exposure to porn was a video, and on it a woman was being hurt. Choking, and much worse, are becoming a “normalized” types of sexual violence presented in countless videos. That’s what six-year-olds can stumble across now. The Copes sum up another big difference as The Big 3 A’s of accessibility, anonymity, and affordability. Whereas pornography in the past was limited to magazines sold in corner stores, the advent of the iPhone in 2007 means that kids now have 24/7 access on their phones and also tablets and even gaming consoles, from the privacy of their own bedroom, and for free. Pornography has always been a problem, but it’s these 3As that have made it the epidemic that it is today. Another problem actually involves how wonderful and helpful the Internet can be. As Rob Cope puts it: “We’ve taught an entire generation to just jump online when one has a question. It’s brilliant. But what happens when their curiosity about bugs fully blooms into the curiosity about sex, and they type in ‘sex’ into Google?” Consider also that it isn’t just what our kids might stumble across, but who – the thousands of sexual predators online. In one of the film’s scariest moments, a mom created two Instagram accounts, one in which she posed as a 15-year-old, and the second as an 11-year-old. Within an hour seven adult males had contacted her. This scene drove home the point that parents need to know where our children are when they are online. And for parents who don’t feel comfortable monitoring their children’s every online move, Russ Tuttle has this response: “Let’s even say you feel like you’re invading their privacy. If you don’t ‘invade their privacy’ I promise you a predator will. You choose.” We should plan for our kids being curious about sex As another of the experts notes note, it is a myth that good kids won’t go looking for porn. Good kids are curious too. And then there is the added peer pressure we all remember of wanting to know what others know. The result? One statistic outlines the extent of the problem: public school officials in New Zealand have discovered that their country’s 800,000 students are making more than 300,000 porn-related searches at school each month! This is shocking, but the point is repeatedly made that this should also be expected. Parents who think that just because they have “good kids” they’ll be immune from pornography have forgotten what it was like to be a kid. Rob Cope notes: “Boy’s testosterone levels skyrocket between 900% and 1,000% from the ages of 10 to 14 right when…professionals around the globe are seeing a massive increase in assault. It’s the worst possible time to give them unfiltered access to the Internet. And it is the exact time that we do.“ Todd Olson, of the pornography addition recovery network Lifestar, presents the problem another way: “The prefrontal cortex is our brake system….The last part of our brain to develop is our prefrontal cortex so mom and dad are their prefrontal cortex: no you can’t do that.” Pornography is a far bigger problem than what parents faced when we were kids, and our children desperately need our help. Protection So what can parents do? The Copes list “four main ways to keep our kids safer online” and it is worth noting they say safer rather than safe. Not only do we want to do what we can to protect them from exposure, we need to equip them with what to do when it inevitably happens. The Copes encourage parents to: Educate ourselves, to be able to address these threats head on Educate our kids, to be able to deal with exposure Put filters and monitoring apps into effect Be aware of what our children are doing online To put it another way, we need to be “learning, talking, updating technology, and staying involved.” 1. Educating ourselves One suggestion they offer for how parents can get educated is the website ProtectYoungMinds.org. Others that could be listed include the Christian organization CovenantEyes.com which, in addition to their monitoring software, offer a fantastic blog, and many free, very helpful e-books. And a specifically Reformed resource (though not free) can be found at SetFreeCourse.com. 2. Educating our kids Some parents might find it disturbing to think about talking to our kids at 5, or 6, or 7 about pornography. That’s what I was thinking – I mean, can’t we just let kids be kids? But as I saw my kids hanging out with children in the neighborhood who had their own phones it became clear I had to get them prepped. As Protect Young Minds' Kristen Jenson put it: “There were a lot of people who were like, ‘What, talk to a seven-year-old about pornography?!?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, 7-year-olds are on the Internet, right? I mean, they are on their devices….Then we have to warn them. Just like you warn a child about running out into the street.’….It’s important to talk to children earlier about sex so that you can give your version. You can teach them your ideals, your values about sex…. Sooner is safer. When you begin a conversation with a young child you are not ruining their innocence. You are simply giving them information that they need to be safe in the world that they live in.” The film recommends a number of books that parents can read with their children to get this conversation going. I’m only familiar with the ones by Jenson – Good Pictures Bad Pictures jr. and Good Pictures Bad Pictures – which I’ve used with my kids and recommend as well. Those two books teach a pretty simple, yet vital, concept. Todd Olson, co-founder of the LifeStar Network, sums up the lesson this way: “We’ve all been trained as kids, what if I catch on fire? Stop, drop and roll. We know that, from just being trained on that. What’s the stop drop and roll when you see pornography on the screen? Turn off the monitor, run and get mom, dad, and just leave this place, and they’ll come and help fix it.” 3. Filters and monitoring apps The two filters they recommend are Safe Surfer and Circle, both of which are designed for ease of use – even non-techy parents should be able to manage them. For monitoring older children’s devices they suggest Bark and Covenant Eyes. 4. Tracking our children Kids might push back against mom and dad tracking where they go online, but as Todd Olson says, “This is not a trust issue; this is a put your seat belt on issue.” It’s simply what parents and kids need to do to be safe. Talking with other parents We can get monitoring devices and filters for our own homes, but our kids are going to venture outside those doors. What can we do then? Zareen Cope shared that for her younger kids, they would talk to the other parents before arranging play dates. “…we check in with the parents to find out what filtering and rules they have in place around devices and internet usage. It felt really weird at first but…as parents it’s our responsibility to protect our kids regardless of how uncomfortable that may feel. What was awesome was that once we explained…about what we had learned other parents were really receptive to our request to have devices put elsewhere while the play dates took place. A lot of them, like us at the start, had no idea about all these dangers. We know a lot of parents that are now keeping devices out of bedrooms, in a communal area during meal times and while charging.” How about older teens? Their friends also have phones, and they themselves are growing in ability and knowledge, so if they want to get around any protections you’ve put in place, they probably can. That’s why it is important to keep talking with them. We need to communicate that we are in this together, and that, rather than hide what they are doing from mom and dad, they can turn to us for help. As Solomon describes in Eccl 4:9-12, it is a wonderful thing to have backup: Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Cautions This is not a Christian film – the Copes describe themselves as non-religious – so that limits Our Kids Online to being a practical, rather than spiritual examination of pornography’s dangers. That also means that the solutions they offer are only of the practical sort – they never deal with pornography as a sin issue, or as the devilish attack that it is. Still, they get a lot right intuitively, with a key insight being that it is families, rather than schools, that are the key to kids being able to resist pornography’s pull. But they also get a lot wrong. For example, Rob Cope makes light of looking through Playboys. While it isn’t overtly stated, the Copes also don’t have a problem with premarital sex, though they are very worried about the violent sort they have learned is happening these days. They’ve spotted a problem with what pornography is doing to sex. But they don’t understand the solution to bad notions about sex is a better understanding of God's intent for it: to give pleasure certainly, but in doing so, to bind husband and wife closer together, and to craft new life out of that union. It never really comes out in the film that the reason pornography is so fleeting, so unsatisfactory, is because pornography makes it about pleasure alone, and as such, misses out on the other two purposes. The final caution is related to the topic matter. The Copes have done a good job of making a documentary about pornography as visually tame as you could ever hope for. But the verbal descriptions are – unfortunately, and also necessarily – shocking. This is not a film you would watch with your kids. Conclusion Sometimes in our Reformed circles parents will sometimes leave sex-ed to the school system. But what even the secular Copes understand is that schools can’t fill this role; we need to protect our children. Steven Shields, cofounder of Unashamed Unafraid, spells out the alternative: “So if you’re not going to teach you child about sex, or about sexuality, or about how to treat the opposite gender… they will be educated. You just won’t be in charge of it.” What if you’ve gotten a late start to it? Maybe you’re worried your kids are already looking at pornography and you're scared to even face the possibility. Then it’s even more important to get to it. As Russ Tuttle shares: “Parents tell me this all the time ‘My kid’s now 14, 15, 16. I wish I had stated earlier. If I make changes now it‘s going be World War III.’ Yeah, you’re probably right. But historically, World War I was worth fighting. And World War II was worth fighting. But they weren’t fought as wars, they were fought as battles. One battle at a time.” Our Kids Online is an eye-opening call-to-arms and I highly recommend it. But Christians need to build on what’s offered here, telling our children not simply what is wrong with pornography’s portrayal of sex, but spelling out for them what God’s good design for sex entails. Parents need to step up. May God so enable us! You can watch the trailer below, and rent it for $5 US here. ...

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

FREE FILM: Babies are still murdered here

Documentary 2019 / 102 minutes Rating: 8/10 If you were told the pro-life movement is made up of two groups that don't always get along, who would you guess? Old vs. young? Men and women? Catholics and Protestants? The answer is, none of the above. The real divide is between abolitionists and incrementalists. If you aren't familiar with these two camps, abolitionists want the unborn to be protected from the moment of conception onward and see anything else as being an unprincipled compromise. Incrementalists also want the unborn protected from conception, but they argue that this goal can best be achieved with a step-by-step or "incremental" strategy that involves protecting some now – saving whatever babies we can right now – even as we move towards protecting all at some later date. So an incrementalist might propose a law that would criminalize abortion in the third trimester, seeing it as a step towards full protection, while an abolitionist would see such a law as saving those third-trimester babies at the expense of babies in the first two trimesters. Babies Are Still Murdered Here comes from the abolitionist camp, and while I count myself among the incrementalists I'd say this is a thought-provoking watch for all pro-lifers. Overall the film makes three points: Pro-lifers need to call out abortion for what it is – murder – because we do nobody any favors but minimizing the wickedness of sin. A related point: Christian pro-lifers need to fight abortion as Christians. No more of these secular, scientific, supposedly "neutral" arguments. We need to call out abortion as a sin, call people to repentance, and offer them every help we can as representatives of God's Church. Some pro-lifers can get so caught up in strategy that they'll work against other pro-lifers. If this third point strikes you as incredible, the film gives a few different examples. Ohio Right to Life opposed a heartbeat bill in the name of being strategic. They argued that the bill would almost certainly be struck down by the courts, and the legal precedent could set the pro-life movement "back 40, 50 years" so they spoke out against it. And after the heartbeat bill was struck down by a federal district judge, this question came up at the National Right to Life convention: "If one of these more idealistic bills comes up in our state what advice do you think we should give to our legislature? Do we ask them to vote for something like that? Should we ask them to oppose it? The answer given? National Right to Life General Counsel Jim Bopp said: "Not introduce it. Not consider it. Not a committee hearing. Not vote for it." This is what a pro-lifer was telling pro-lifers. Lest you think pro-lifers undermining the pro-life movement can happen only in the US, let me give a Canadian example. Back in the 1990s, I witnessed the Alberta pro-life movement get so intent on a strategy that they undermined the personhood of the unborn. The provincial government had taken a fiscally responsible turn and was cutting programs to balance the budget, so pro-life leaders proposed that we promote an end to the tax-funding of abortion as a financial issue - we could pitch it as one more budget item that could be cut. However, the pro-choice opposition saw through this approach and accused the end-tax-funding group of trying to save babies' lives rather than save budget dollars. And, of course, that was entirely true. But that's when things got crazy – the end-tax-funding group denied they wanted to save babies' lives and insisted it was about the money. And by making it all about money, when it was pointed out that a live birth cost the government more than 10 times what an abortion did, the whole strategy fell to pieces. Avoiding all mention of God or the worth of the unborn didn't fool anyone but did make pro-lifers seem money-grubbing and uncaring. So yes, there are times when a pro-life incremental strategy can go very, very wrong. We need to know that, so we can steer clear of it! It is by understanding how and why it can go wrong that we can head it off from doing so. It comes down to keeping our first priorities our first priorities. God's people save babies as a means by which we can glorify God: in reaching out to the desperate, we reflect His goodness, His mercy, and His love. But when we make saving babies our ultimate goal, then it becomes an idol, and in service to that idol, we might find ourselves opposing or undermining God's Truth. We can then, in the name of "effective strategy," downplay what abortion is and downplay what our own end goals are. But this is not honest. And it does not make glorifying God our goal. And, interestingly enough, as we saw in the Alberta tax-funding debacle, it doesn't even seem to be effective. RC Sproul, Jeff Durbin, George Grant, Voddie Baucham, Sye Ten Bruggencate, and John Barros are among the notable names involved in the film. They have a lot of provocative thoughts to share, and even if you don't agree with them all, there is something here every pro-life will find beneficial to hear. What's more, you can watch the whole film for free, below. If you find it edifying, then be sure to check out the original, also free: Babies are Murdered Here. ...

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." ...

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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. ...

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Ordinary Commission

Documentary 22 minutes / 2019 Throughout our Reformed congregations and communities, more and more attention is being given to the call to reach out to our neighbors in the Name of Christ.  Congregations and councils are talking about what they can do in their particular locations.  There is a shift from relying exclusively on ordained missionaries and organized mission projects to being active as individual believers. Lifestyle evangelism Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” and Paul instructs slaves in Titus 2:10, that they ought to behave in such a way that they “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.”  These words suggest that one way, at least, in which we are to make the gospel known involves simply living our day to day lives as believers where people can see us, and get to know what makes us tick, namely, the grace of God in Jesus Christ. John Dickson, in a book that we studied recently as ministers in the Niagara area, stated that personal interaction and personal relationships are aspects of "the best kept secret of Christian mission." You don’t need special training; you don’t need to learn any strategies or particular skills. You just need to take an interest in the people around you in your neighbourhood, your university or workplace, and invite them to get to know you, and to observe as you live the Christian life. The Gospel Comes With A House Key, a recent book by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, promotes hospitality as a very practical way for ordinary people to create a context in which this kind of interaction can take place. This is what two young filmmakers from southern Ontario, Jacob Valk and John-Michael Bout, call, the “ordinary commission." In an effort to learn how “ordinary believers” can personally fulfill the great commission, Jacob and John-Michael customized a 1977 Dodge van and travelled to mission conferences in Florida and Texas.  They chronicled their journey and their findings in a 22-minute documentary called, Ordinary Commission. At the conferences, they encountered two organizations that were established to provide ordinary Christians an opportunity to reach their communities with the gospel.  The communities in question are made up of people who have hobbies in common: surfers, and video gamers. Cautions These are admittedly hobbies that come with several question marks, and even if a believer involved in these activities would avoid the pitfalls stereotypically associated with them, it would no doubt be a challenge to maintain the posture of being in the world but not of the world.  By reputation, at least, there are questions about the content and the character of some of the most popular video games, and, gamers spend an inordinate amount of time alone or in a virtual community.  That raises questions about the appropriateness of deep involvement in video gaming. Of course, no one disputes that surfers and gamers need the gospel, or that Jesus associated with people considered undesirable by the religious community.  And it’s also true that there are many “respectable” hobbies that can consume an inordinate amount of our time and money. However, it’s clear that before Christians immerse themselves in any activity, they should consider the implications and possible complications.  How do we handle ourselves in clubs or groups that have questionable priorities, such as a community hockey or softball team that has a “win at all costs” ethic?  What are some of the ethical barriers that could stand in the way for believers to become involved in community activities -- for example, Sunday games or meetings? Conclusion For their part, Jacob and John-Michael do not intend to endorse these particular organizations or hobbies.  They only want to use them as illustrations of how believers can fulfill the “ordinary commission.”  That’s the basic message of the documentary: we should look at the various communities in which we are involved as mission fields. The principle illustrated by organizations such as Christian Surfers, and the outreach to gamers called Love Thy Nerd, can be applied to all kinds of communities, such as neighborhoods and workplaces. The point is that we all have neighbours in one context or another.  Some live next door, down the hall, or down the road; some play hockey or bridge with us, or belong to the knitting club; some work or study at the same place we do.  The documentary makes it clear that our involvement in these communities gives us the opportunity to take up the “ordinary commission,” and bring the gospel to our neighbors. The documentary is accompanied by a “Workshop” (i.e. leader’s guide and questions), intended to facilitate a discussion of the “ordinary commission,” and encourage viewers to think of ways in which they can carry it out.  The workshop could be improved by including questions which encourage participants to reflect on the challenge of being “in the world, but not of the world” as we involve ourselves in various hobbies and activities.  It might be helpful, for example, to include some reflection on the implications of Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” That noted, this is highly recommended for small groups, and for study societies. You can watch Ordinary Commission below and download their workshop here (you will have to give your name and email address). Rev. Dick Wynia is the pastor of Vineyard Canadian Reformed Church. ...

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The Fool – the true "banana man" story

Documentary 60 min. / 2019 RATING: 7/10 The Fool is the true story of how evangelist Ray Comfort was mocked and ridiculed by atheists the world over for a banana joke he made that fell flat. But even as Ray was brought low, God was using Ray's humiliation: these same atheists started inviting Ray onto their shows, podcasts, and stages and they let him say anything he wanted. So Ray used these forums to share the Gospel with hundreds and even thousands of atheists at a time. Some atheists even took Ray's books and read through them on their YouTube channels, all in an attempt to mock him. But the end result was that they themselves read out a Gospel presentation to their listeners. As Ray asks, "Who but God could take atheists and not only have them listen to the Gospel but have them proclaim it?" This is an often funny, always entertaining look at how God can use even fools like us. ...

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." ...

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