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Parenting, Popular but problematic

Patricia Polacco gets woke

In my idyllic and very Christian small town I keep forgetting that even here there’s a spiritual war going on. This past weekend I got a reminder in amongst the books we borrowed from the public library when two titles were pushing the same agenda. The first was by well-loved children's author Patricia Polacco about a family with two moms. God's view of marriage – as being between a man and woman – was represented in the story by a snarling, glaring neighbor. The second was a chapter book about a girl competing in a TV game show who had two dads. While we parents should know what our kids are reading, if you have a child who reads a lot this becomes harder and harder to keep up with as they get older. But, as the Adversary knows, you are what you eat. And if he can sneak in a diet of "homosexuality is normal," he can win our kids over before parents even know a battle is happening. So, what's the answer? Should we monitor our children’s book intake closer? That's part of it. Should we rely on Christian school libraries more (if you have access to one)? That seems a good idea. Would it be wise to invest in a high-quality personal home library – only fantastic (and not simply safe) books? That’s a great idea. But, as our kids get older, it's going to come down to talking through this propaganda to equip them to see through it. It will mean explaining to them that we oppose homosexuality because God does, and that even in prohibiting homosexuality God shows his goodness. As Cal Thomas put it:

“God designed norms for behavior that are in our best interests. When we act outside those norms – such as for premarital sex, adultery, or homosexual sex – we cause physical, emotional, and spiritual damage to ourselves and to our wider culture. The unpleasant consequences of divorce and sexually transmitted diseases are not the result of intolerant bigots seeking to denigrate others. They are the results of violating God’s standard, which were made for our benefit.”

We have to share with our children that our Maker knows what is best for us, and homosexuality isn't it. Like many an idol (money, sex, family, career, drugs) it might even bring happiness for a time, but, like every other idol, it doesn't bring lasting joy, it won't save us, and it will distance us from the God who can.

Church history

Jenny Geddes: the Reformer who let fly…

You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here.

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Our story is about what should have been a small thing. It wasn’t such an unusual thing. You hear about it from time to time. Someone got upset and threw their stool. Someone got excited, got a little rowdy, and that was the end of it, right? Not quite. The stool thrower was a certain Jenny Geddes, She wasn’t a notable woman, merely running a fruit stall just outside the Tron Kirk, the main church in Edinburgh. Her stall was the 1600s equivalent of a hot dog stand. She wasn’t the sort of person that you would expect to appear in the history books. She was average. Not unusual. Much like you or me. But maybe that goes to show you that if the cause is important enough, the small can rise to do big things. In 1635, Charles I, king of England and Scotland, had declared himself to be the head of the Scottish church. Not all the Scots were terribly happy about this. In the spirit of the Reformation, the Scottish church had gone a good ways toward removing Catholic influences and developing its own, distinctive, Protestant style of worshipping. There was quite a bit of fear that Charles would change all that. Charles wanted the Scottish church to be more like the English one, uniting religion in his kingdom. Catholic subterfuge? Charles and the unpopular English Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, appointed a committee of, admittedly, Scottish bishops to develop a prayer book for use in the Scottish church. The Scots saw this prayer book as a way to make the Scottish church Catholic again by subterfuge. A lot of the more conservative Scots, the more Puritan leaning members of the church, were not impressed. So when it came time to debut the new Book of Common Prayer in an actual worship service, tensions were running high. Sunday, July 23, 1637 saw Deacon John Hanna nervously ascend the pulpit at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Sitting in the back of the cathedral was Jenny Geddes. Interestingly, the women were required to sit at the back, and bring their own stools to sit on which undoubtedly has a fascinating story behind it. For our purposes, it’s enough to realize that any stool light enough to be brought from home is also light enough to be thrown across the room. At some point Geddes had had enough. She rose and colorfully accused Hanna of being a Catholic priest in disguise. She yelled “Devil cause you severe pain and flatulent distension of your abdomen, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?” and then flung her stool across the room and at Hanna’s head. Cursing flatulence on someone and flinging your stool seems to have been the trigger for chaos. A riot started in the church – possibly involving more flying stools – with the service ending up more like a barroom brawl than a place of worship.  One worshipper who dutifully used the appropriate responses from the new Prayer Book was soundly thumped with Bibles. The riot spread out onto the street, even the city council chambers were besieged, and in time the authorities were called in to break up the chaos. The ruling authorities in Edinburgh appealed to the capital in London to withdraw the new Book of Common Prayer, but the government of Charles I refused. The Scots responded by signing a National Covenant in February 1638, to make the Scottish church more Presbyterian and less Anglican, and later that same year tossed out the Scottish bishops who had written the new Prayer Book. King Charles treated this as rebellion, and in 1639 launched the First Bishops War, the first in a series of wars with the Scots known as the Wars of the Covenant. These wars would tax his treasury, and, ultimately, lead to the confrontations with Parliament which would eventually cost him his head. Conclusion All this came about because one woman threw a stool. The funny part is that historians aren’t even sure if Jenny Geddes was a real person, or just a wonderful element to throw into a pretty crazy story about religious and political reform. Whatever the case, the riot was real, and it goes a long way towards showing that at the right moment, real, average, even boring, people can make a spectacular difference. Sometimes it’s not where you take your stand that matters, but where you take your seat.

This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. You can check out other episodes at History.icu or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts.

For some further digging… Wikipedia on "Jenny Geddes" Undiscovered Scotland on "Jenny Geddes" Reformation History on "Jenny Geddes" Scot Clans on "Jenny Geddes" InAmidst.com on "Lo and Behold"

Assorted

Technology and our anxious hearts

As a pastor I get to talk to lots of people. After some conversation, I start to get a sense of where people stand. How are they doing? What’s on their mind? Anything bothering them? And maybe it won’t surprise you to hear that quite a few people are anxious. I don’t necessarily mean that in a clinical way, as a mental health disorder. But more generally, people have this feeling of unease, being unsettled, fearful and restless. It’s common, so common that probably everyone experiences it. And there can be a host of factors that contribute to our feeling of unease. If my stomach is kind of unsettled for weeks on end, then I’m going to start getting anxious. If you’re running low on money, you might be anxious. Other times there might not be a particular reason that we can put our finger on, but we still feel it: anxiety and fear. Far deeper than any one cause, it’s a basic condition for human beings, a component of who we are as a weak and sinful people, living in a world that is broken, difficult, and often hostile. Maybe you’ve heard this before, but do you know what is the most repeated command in the Scriptures? What’s the thing that God tells us to do most often? People usually think that it’s something like, “Love one another.” Or “Praise the Lord.” But the most repeated command in Scripture is this: “Fear not.” God says it to his special servants like Joshua. His angels say it to the people to whom they’re bringing messages. His prophets say it to Israel: “Do not fear.” And Jesus says it to his believers: “Do not be afraid.” More than 350 times in Scripture we find the command: “Fear not.” We need to hear that, because we do fear. It’s symptomatic of being a human. TECHNOLOGY ON THE BRAIN I’d like to unpack another factor in our daily fears and anxieties: technology. By technology I mean specifically things like the portable and connective devices that we have with us so much of the time, those devices that are always nearby and available: smartphones, laptops and other computers, and tablets. Some of us sit in front of screens all day and then, even when not at our desks, we continue to engage with technology. Also for those who don’t have an office job, so much time is spent with this technology: before work, during work, after work; before class, during class, after class. It’s hard for us to grasp how massive a change has happened in this area of portable technology. For instance, in a single decade we have rushed from a world with zero smartphones to a world with approximately two billion smartphones. We bought these devices because of what they promised to do for us, but we can be sure that they’re also doing something to us. REASONS FOR ANXIETY People have only started to think about the impact of this almost constant interaction with technology. With this relentless stimulation, the brain is not getting time to rest. And this can make us anxious for a number of reasons. Let’s look at a few of these reasons, and how we can counteract this anxiety with God’s truth. Reason #1 – FOMO One of the reasons that our use of technology can make us anxious is that it trains our brains to need a constant intake of information. Our brains are plastic and shape-able, and we are being programmed to expect continuous updates in a whole number of aspects of life. These updates are for everything ranging from significant international events in Moscow, to trivial things like what our friends had for breakfast this morning. And when we don’t get these updates, we feel disconnected and disconcerted. When we don’t have a chance to read them, or when we don’t have our electronic device on our person, it’s like the world is going by without us. It’s an affliction that is becoming widespread these days – an affliction so widespread that it has already entered the Oxford English Dictionary. What is it? FOMO. It’s a catchy acronym that stands for “Fear Of Missing Out.” According to one definition, it’s:

the state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out; a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity or a satisfying event.

Missing the boat, missing the bus, missing an opportunity, or missing an event with friends – we’ve all experienced missing out in some way or another. So the fear of missing out is a universal experience. What does that look like in relation to our use of technology? The closeness of our phone to our eyeballs, and the connectivity of our computer to Wi-Fi or 4G networks, makes this a real struggle. We’re used to getting a constant refresh and update on things, whether about world events, or about how our life looks in comparison with others, or something else. As often as we log in and start scrolling around, there is a recharge of our fear that we’ve missed out on something. We want to know, we want to see, we want to comment. Whether it’s a breaking-news alert, a vibrating notification, or a text message, there’s an immediacy to every moment. Our phones make our lives vulnerable to that feeling that somewhere, somehow, something interesting is happening – right now! We’re addicted to anything new, and the newer the better. See whether you can relate to these scenarios:

SCENARIO #1– You wake up in the morning, and what is the first thing that you do? You reach over to your bedside table, and check your phone. Who sent you a message? Who posted something? And you’re kind of alarmed to see that last night while you were getting your beauty sleep there was a conversation among your friends about something important – you missed it. There’s a twinge of regret.

SCENARIO #2 –You’ve got a few minutes before you need to get going, so you head over to your favorite social media site. You see that one of your friends has been posting pictures of her amazing holiday: beautiful beaches, exciting cities, lots of artful shots of food and drink. And here you are, getting ready to clean the toilets again, or to listen to a two-hour lecture at university. Your life is unquestionably lousy. You’re missing out on fun and adventure.

SCENARIO #3– You’re going to bed at night. You brush your teeth, etc. Then you lay down and read your Bible. But then, one last time, you check your phone: Any messages? Anything new? Not this time. But what about when you wake up? What will you have missed? There’s another twinge of anxiety.

As you’ve probably experienced, we can get into a compulsive habit of going online. It’s not just checking social media, but other websites. What videos are on top at YouTube? Who is Kendall Jenner dating these days? What did Meghan Markle wear to the polo match with Prince Harry? What memes are trending? At one level we realize that we don’t really care about all these things, but we still choose to read and watch. We’d hate to miss out. Maybe you’ve heard about the studies that connect social media with depression. In an alarming number of users of social media, there is an almost immediate feeling of sadness when a person logs off. It’s even become a shorthand term, “Facebook depression” – or maybe “Insta-gloom.” Checking on the status of our friends often forces us to deal with people who are either more successful than we are, or more attractive, more whatever. We’ve just seen what is not ours. We’ve been reminded that our life is not as interesting. We wish people could see how good w eare, and we’re anxious to portray ourselves in a positive light – so we keep trying to set up the perfect selfie. And then we worry when it’s not possible. Response: you won’t miss out By now FOMO has become a joke and a hashtag. Yet it describes a deep insecurity that dwells inside each of us. And FOMO is neither unique nor modern, but pre-dates Wi-Fi and our always-connected phones. We can remember those days when we didn’t have a phone, but even back then, we had our fears of missing out, didn’t we? In Grade 4 there was a birthday party, and you weren’t going – that’s a pretty rotten feeling. Or you heard about the excellent business opportunity that a brother in your church received. You could’ve been part of that – why weren’t you invited? More FOMO! The problem is that our sinful natures will always say that if we could just have our idols (whatever they are), eventually they’ll be able to satisfy us. That goes all the way back to Paradise. What more could Adam or Eve want than what God had given? But Satan said, “Escape your creature-hood. Define your own truth. Keep the glory for yourself. Why miss out on becoming like God with just one bite?” Today that devilish offer still stands. FOMO smoulders in the human heart. The Bible calls it coveting, a faithless desire to possess something that doesn’t belong to us. We attach to idols our deep longing for happiness, thinking that a person or a possession or achievement or status or experience will finally make us happy. That’s why we keep searching, keep scrolling, keep buying – because we’re looking for something more. But the anxiety caused by the fear of missing out is a lie. It denies the immense riches of what we have in God and through Christ Jesus. At the heart of the gospel is the living God who sent his only Son so that with his blood He could buy for us the gift of salvation. Scripture says that we have no good thing apart from Him, that in his presence there is fullness of joy forever. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33). If you know Christ, you’ll never miss out. Reason #2 – bad news These days there’s a 24-hour news cycle. This means there’s never a time of day when we can’t know what’s going on around the world. It used to be that you’d find out about events only when your morning (or evening) newspaper arrived, or when you watched the 10 o’clock news before you went to bed. If it didn’t make the news by those traditional times, then you wouldn’t know until the next day, or even later. Now, however, there are networks dedicated to providing news, every day, all day. This news is on TV, and it’s online. The networks have correspondents throughout the world who are able to post stories within seconds of writing or filming. These news stories are compelling, because when we hear about them, these events are not old. In fact, sometimes the events are still happening! The technology has made it possible for us to watch these things happen live: a massive fire downtown, an attack in Paris, a shooting in America – we are watching it unfold, or we’re “on the ground” for the aftermath. Because the world community is a more-connected place, we’ve been made aware of so many more events, some of them really terrible. There have always been horrific events, but now we can see them in all their detail: terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters. Instead of still camera shots we have video footage, which makes it more dramatic, and therefore more frightening. The constant news coverage also makes it seem like these things are happening more and more. The media knows that nothing gets attention like bad news – so they tell us about all the bad news they can find. So if you connect to the news regularly, you’ve probably had the thought that the world is completely falling apart. There are wars raging in different places, and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. There are new and unstoppable strains of disease, and catastrophic weather due to climate change. After scrolling through the news for a while, you’re sure that almost everything is crumbling. Another aspect of all this bad news is the sense that not only is the world getting worse, but that the church is under attack. Reading almost any major source of news, you realize that Christian beliefs are considered a thing of the past, and that the Bible belongs in the dustbin of history. God’s standards are being dismissed, whether that relates to marriage and sexuality, or to drug use, or gambling, or something else. Fewer people these days identify as religious, and there can be vitriolic hatred for those who disagree with progressive thinkers. With all this bad news streaming into our eyes and ears, we can feel overwhelmed. For example, when we see so much suffering because of famine or war, we feel helpless: What can I do? How can I help? We conclude that we can’t help, so we just get used to it. Or hearing about danger from the random attacks of terrorists in public places, we can become fearful: What if we’re next? What if it happens here? Or, seeing where society is going and how the church is ridiculed, we worry about the church. How can the church survive? How can Christians and our old-fashioned Bible compete with people that seem to be so intelligent, sophisticated and influential? That constant newsfeed of disturbing stories and immoral trends makes us anxious. Maybe it makes us want to check out, just withdraw and retreat to our distractions. But is that the answer? Response: God is God The answer to our fear of bad news is this: Do not fear, for God is God, in all his glorious sovereignty and unfailing goodness. When we see another natural disaster, confessing that God is God means that it’s not up to us to save the world. We can show mercy to those who are suffering, and we ought to. But realize that this world is a vast place, and you’re just one person. You can’t do it all, and you don’t need to. “What if that happens here?” we say when there’s another terrorist attack. Again we confess that God is completely in control of all things. He’s not surprised by what President Putin is doing, or by what’s happening on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, you and I are so limited in our awareness or control. It’s like a board game, with a big board full of squares and twists and turns. We see only the square that we’re on, and we have no idea about what is coming next, whether good or bad. But God sees the whole board. He’s not restricted in anything He does, and there are no loose ends in God’s world. All of it He works out according to his own good purpose. And the beautiful thing is that God has only good things in store for his people. When marriage is redefined, and when we hear about persecution of Christians, and when there is the defiant rejection of God’s truth, remember that God said this was going to happen. He predicted all of it. He’s not surprised, even if we are. It’s actually reassuring to see his Word being fulfilled, even as people embrace the darkness, as love grows cold, and as the church is oppressed. It’s difficult, and we should grieve for those who are lost, and we must defend our faith, but remember that Christ told us all about it. It’s a reminder that He’s in charge, and that there’s no need to fear. Reason #3 – No Time Our technology also gives the impression that time is moving very quickly. The world is changing every hour, events are happening constantly, people are always doing exciting things! All this change and development means that time is running out. You only have one life, and it’s pretty short. Technology teaches us to think that this life might be our only chance for joy. If we miss this moment, there might never be another. So we’re learning to use technology to achieve a lot of things, to access a lot of information, and to be connected to a lot of people. Using the technology on your phone, you can schedule your day to a high degree. With a calendar and automatic reminders and planning tools, you can aim for the peak of productivity. Using technology, you can know a lot these days. You can closely manage your fitness levels, keep up with fashion, music, world news, and read about all kinds of things that interest you. Using technology, you can keep in touch with a lot of people. You can text, WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. You don’t have to spend half an hour conversing, but you can have a brief but beneficial exchange. These are good things. Being productive is an aspect of faithful stewardship. It is fitting that we try to keep informed about world events and church life, so that we can be good neighbors and a prayerful people. It is right that we maintain meaningful contact with the people God has placed around us. But the problem is that all this takes time. Always needing to be scheduled means the pressure of managing every fifteen-minute block of our day. Taking 10,000 steps per day takes time. Reading and processing new information takes time. Keeping up contact with all sorts of people takes time and emotional energy. So sometimes we feel anxious because there is no time, not for everything. Technology is wonderful and it is terrible. It has made some great things possible, but it has also made us capable of too much. And so we’re anxious. What should we do about this fear? Response: you still get eternity So much to know, so much to do, so many to people to connect with – and only one life. But here’s the good news: we have more than one life! In Christ, we have an eternal promise. All that has been lost will be found in Him. All that we have missed will be restored in Him. Peter writes, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). It’ll be so different from now, for in the new creation only righteousness shall dwell; there will be nothing incomplete, nothing wicked, nothing to cause grief or disappointment, but only peace and perfection. That gives us a great purpose, for we know that we’re going places. We know this life isn’t just about the pursuit of earthly goals. It’s not even simply about those good things like church and family and faith. Because these imperfect things are a part of something much bigger: God’s great plan to restore His creation perfectly through the Son. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything in this life – you still get eternity! Meanwhile, give your attention day by day to living for Christ. SEVEN SUGGESTIONS As you’ve read this article, maybe you’ve had the thought that you probably should just throw away your phone. But you’re also aware that you probably won’t throw it out. So moving forward, what can you do with technology and your anxious heart? Confess your anxiety to God. Pray for Him to forgive your worrying. Pray for Him to forgive your coveting. Pray for His strength to become more content in Christ. Confess your anxiety to other people. If you have a problem, you can be sure that other people have that same problem. It can be embarrassing to talk about, but let’s challenge each other to be holy. Be mindful about what you’re doing. Honestly ask yourself a few questions: How many people that you keep contact with are actually meaningful friends? How much has your life been improved by keeping constantly up to date on social media? Do you really need to read this article, watch this video, or comment on this post? Be with people. Take time to enjoy the presence of friends and family in the beauty of everyday life. Remember that it’s not true fellowship if everyone in the room is busy tapping at their screens! Instead, enjoy the gift of being together in talking, playing a game, getting outside, or discussing a good book. Take a break. Have specific times when you shut down social media and turn off the television or computer. Try to take a “Sabbath rest” from media – and not just on Sunday! You’ll probably enjoy time away from the frantic and never-ending flood of information. And you probably won’t miss out on anything important. Remember others. A God-given cure to discontentment and covetousness is serving the people around us. Our technology has the ability to turn us inwards, to become even more self-absorbed than we are naturally. So look around and give your attention to the interests of others. Remember the good news. Today there’s lots of bad news, but things aren’t always as disastrous as they seem. God is mercifully continuing to uphold this world – for example, through his blessings in health care and food production, many people are now able to live longer and healthier lives. We should also see how God is still restraining wickedness in this world through the (sometimes unexpected!) election of conservative governments who implement pro-life and pro-family policies. And don’t forget the best news of all: the truth of God’s Word and the good news of salvation and peace through Christ. We shouldn’t be so busy with everything else that we can’t get into the Scriptures. We probably have the Word on our phone, now let’s put it on our mind. CURES FOR ANXIETY Fear of missing out, the helplessness of hearing bad news, the pressures of having no time – we really can’t blame technology for any of this. This is because all sin originates inside the human heart, and because we’re a fundamentally weak people. But God graciously helps us and gives us his peace. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-27:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

Jesus’ words are consistent with the command which is found more than any other in the Scriptures, “Do not fear.” May these beautiful ancient words speak directly to our modern anxieties about technology!

Dr. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Mount Nasura, Western Australia. This article first appeared in two parts in Una Sancta, the denominational magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.

Christian education

A Christian perspective on 2+2

What does math have to do with God? Many people see no connection. Aren't logic, numbers and geometry the same for Christians and atheists? Math is thought to be the hardest subject to integrate with Christianity. Yet, there are very close links between math and God. Mathematical realism The key question concerns truth. Most mathematicians believe that mathematical truths such as "6+1=7" are universally and eternally true, independent of human minds. They believed that they are discovering properties of, say, numbers, rather than merely inventing them. This view of math dates back to Pythagoras (582-507 BC) and Plato (427-347 BC). They held that mathematical concepts apply best to ideal objects. For example, geometry deals with exact circles, but no physical object is exactly circular – perfect circles don’t actually exist. Furthermore, such things as the number "7" seem to exist at all times or, even, beyond time. This led to the notion that math exists in an ideal world of eternal truth. This is called mathematical realism. Where do such eternal mathematical truths exist? Augustine (354-430) placed the ideal world of eternal truths in the mind of God. He argued that eternal truths could not arise from material things or finite human minds. Rather, mathematical truths must depend on a universal and unchanging Mind that embraces all truth. Only God can have such a mind. Thus math was held to be true because of its supposed divine origin. It was held, moreover, that God created the universe according to a rational plan that used math. Since man's was created in the image of God, it was thought that man should be able to discern the mathematical structure of creation. Indeed, since man was God's steward over creation, man had the duty to study nature and to apply the results towards the glory of God and the benefit of man. Such theological considerations were key factors motivating the scientific revolution. Most founders of modern science, such Kepler, Galileo and Newton, were all driven by their Biblical worldview. Naturalist math Ironically, the very success of mathematical science led to the demise of the Christian view. The universe seemed to be so well controlled by mathematically formulated laws that God was no longer deemed necessary. Such over-confidence in scientific laws led to a denial of biblical miracles. This undermined biblical authority. Consequently, many scientists banished God and embraced naturalism, the notion that nothing exists beyond nature. THE LOSS OF CERTAINTY With the rejection of a divine Mind, there was no longer any place for eternal truth. This, in turn, led to the collapse of mathematical realism. Naturalists came to consider math as just a human invention. But if math is just a human invention, why should it be true? Mathematicians tried to prove the truth of math using the axiomatic method. Math was to be grounded on a set of undoubtedly true, self-evident principles, called axioms, from which everything else could be derived. The axiomatic method had been used with great success by the Greek mathematician Euclid (circa 300 BC). He derived all the truths about normal (or Euclidean) geometry from only 10 axioms. This became the model for the rest of math. Towards the end of the 19th century the search was on for a set of self-evident axioms upon which all of math could be based. Any system that yields a contradiction is, of course, false. A system of axioms that will never yield a contradiction is said to be consistent. A system is said to be complete if all true theorems (and no false ones) can be derived from the axioms. The goal, then, was to find a set of axioms that could be proven to be consistent and complete for all of math. Initially, there was some success. Simple logic and Euclidean geometry were proven to be both consistent and complete. Unfortunately, in 1931 the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel proved that the program was doomed. He proved that any large system of axioms (i.e., large enough for arithmetic with addition and multiplication) will always be incomplete.  There will always be theorems that can be neither proven nor disproven by the system. Thus all of math can never be based on a finite set of axioms. Math will always be larger than our human attempts to capture it within a system of axioms. Moreover, Gödel proved also that we can never mathematically prove the consistency of any system large enough for arithmetic. Hence we cannot be sure of the validity of arithmetic, even though we use it all the time! The soundness of math now had to be accepted largely on faith. THE LIMITS OF INVENTION Rejecting theism affected not only the soundness of math but also its content. Classical math was based on the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and infinite Ideal Mathematician. The operations and proofs allowed in classical math were those that could in principle be done by God. It was thought that, if math is just a human invention, its methods should be adjusted accordingly. Only those mathematical concepts and proofs were to be considered valid that could be mentally constructed in a finite number of explicit steps. The "there exists" of classical math was to be replaced by "we can construct." This came to be known as constructive math. It entailed a new approach to both logic and proofs. Classical math is based on what is called two-valued logic. Any mathematical proposition is either true or false. Take, for example, Goldbach's Conjecture concerning primes. A prime is a number that is divisible only by itself and 1 (e.g., 2,3,5,7 & 11 are the first five primes). Goldbach's Conjecture asserts that any even number can be written as the sum of two primes (e.g., 10=3+7; 20=13+7). No one has ever found a number for which it did not hold. But no one has as yet been able to prove it. Classically, this conjecture is either true or false, even though we do not yet know which it is. Constructionists, however insist that there is a third possibility: a proposition is neither true nor false until we can construct an actual, finite proof. The rejection of two-valued logic restricts one's ability to prove theorems. Classical math often uses an indirect method of proof called Proof by Contradiction. To proof a theorem, one first assumes the theorem to be false and shows that this leads to a contradiction; hence the initial assumption is false, which means that the theorem is true. Since such proofs rely on two-valued logic, constructionists reject them. They accept only those theorems that can be directly derived from the axioms. Unhappily, this means rejecting so many results of classical math that one lacks the sophisticated math needed in modern physics. EVOLUTIONARY CONJECTURES If math is just a human invention how did it ever get started? Naturalists propose that evolution has hard-wired our brains to contain small numbers (e.g., 1,2,3…) as well as a basic ability to add and subtract. They conjecture that all our mathematical thoughts come from purely physical connections between neurons. Even if an evolutionary struggle for survival could account for an innate ability for simple arithmetic, it is hard to see where more advanced math comes from. Our ability for advanced math is well in advance of mere survival skills. The evolutionary approach fails to explain also the amazing mathematical intuition of leading mathematicians. Further, if our mathematical ideas are just the result of the physics of neural connections, why should they be true? Such accounts of math cannot distinguish true results from false ones. Indeed, if all knowledge is based on neural connections, so is the idea that all knowledge is based on neural connections. Hence, if true, we have no basis for believing it to be true. In spite of naturalist objections, most mathematicians remain realists. They view new theorems as discoveries rather than inventions. The excitement of exploring an objective mathematical universe is a powerful incentive for research. Realism explains why mathematicians widely separated in space, time, and culture end up with the same mathematical results. Moreover, if math is just a human invention, why is it so applicable to the physical world? Math is indispensable for science. Further, if math is a human invention, one might ask: how did math exist before Adam? Are we to believe that "2+2=4" did not hold, so that two pairs of apples did not add up to four? Christianity and math How does math fits within a Christian worldview? The Bible tells us that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-30). The divine image included not only righteousness but also rationality and creativity. This involves the capacity for abstract thought, as well as the ability to reason, to discern and to symbolize. Man was created with the innate potential to do math, to help fulfill his role as God's steward (Gen. 1:28). Adam could have confidence in his mental abilities because God created these to function properly. He was the result of God's purposeful plan rather than an evolutionary accident. With Adam's fall into sin, man lost much of his original image. Yet, man's mathematical ability is still largely functional. It seems that we are born with various basic, innate mathematical abilities such as those of logic, counting and distinguishing shapes. JUSTIFYING MATH How can we justify human math from this basis? One could try to ground the soundness of math on the Bible. After all, the Bible frequently uses logical arguments (e.g., I Cor. 15:12-50 or Matt. 12:25-29) and arithmetic operations (e.g., Luke 12:52). Gordon Clark claimed that all the laws of logic could be deduced from the Bible. Similarly, J.C. Keister asserted that all the axioms of arithmetic are illustrated in Scripture. Although such biblical examples may confirm our rules of arithmetic and logic, they fall short of rigorous proof. One must be careful in drawing general conclusions from a limited number of specific cases. Moreover, this method gives no basis for the vast bulk of math that extends beyond basic arithmetic and logic. A better approach might be to ground the truth of math on the attributes of the biblical God. For example, God's character has a logical aspect. God's word is truth (John 17:17); God never lies (Titus 1:2) and is always faithful (Ps. 117:2). God means what he says, not the opposite; hence the law of non-contradiction holds. God's identity is eternally the same; hence the logical law of identity must be eternally valid. Thus the very nature of God implies the eternal and universal validity of the laws of logic. Logic is not above God, but derives from God's constant and non-contradictory nature. God's character also has a numerical aspect: the Biblical God is tri-une, consisting of three distinct persons. Since the three persons of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are eternal, so are numbers. Consider further God's infinite power and knowledge. God knows all things. This includes not just all facts about the physical world but also all necessary truths and even all possibilities. As such, God's knowledge surely embraces all possible mathematical truths. Thus math exists independent of human minds. God surely knows whether any proposition is true or false. Hence the usage of two-valued logic in math is justified. God is the source of all being, upholding everything. He even establishes necessary truths and contingent possibilities. God upholds all truths, including truths about math. God surely knows whether any mathematical proposition is true or false. God's knowledge includes that of the actual infinite. The concept of infinity is crucial to the philosophy of math. We can distinguish between potential infinity and actual infinity. Potential infinity is the notion of endlessness that arises from counting. Given any large number, we can always obtain a yet larger one by adding 1 to it. There seems to be no largest number. Potentially we could go on forever. Actual infinity, on the other hand, is the notion that the set of numbers exists as a completed set. Augustine, however, considered actual infinity to be one of the mathematical entities that existed in God's mind. He wrote, "Every number is known to him 'whose understanding cannot be numbered' (Ps. 147:5)." Since God knows all things possible, this must surely encompass also the totality of all possible numbers. A BASIS FOR MATH Modern math is based on set theory. A set is a collection of objects. We can consider the set of all dogs, or the set of all even numbers, and so on. We use brackets {} to denote a set. Thus, for example, the set of even numbers is written {2,4,6...}. Treating each set as an entity in its own right, we can then do various operations on these sets, such as adding sets, comparing their sizes, etc. Remarkably, almost all advanced math can be derived from the nine axioms of modern set theory. Not all math, since Gödel proved that all of math can never be derived from a limited number of axioms. Yet, it does cover all of the math that most mathematicians ever use in practice. So far no contradictions have been found. Can we be sure, however, that no contradictions will ever be found in this system? Gödel, you will recall, proved that it cannot be proven mathematically that the system is consistent. The best we can do is to appeal to the plausibility of the individual axioms. Everyone agrees that the axioms all seem to be self-evidently true when applied to finite sets. Several of these axioms, however, deal with infinite sets. They postulate that certain operations on finite sets apply also to infinite sets. Infinite sets are needed to get beyond number theory (which just concerns whole numbers) to real numbers (such as √2 = 1.414213..., which requires an infinite number of decimals to write out fully). Real numbers are needed for calculus, upon which physics heavily relies. The axioms concerning infinite sets are rejected by constructionists since infinite sets cannot be humanly constructed in a finite number of steps. However, these axioms are very plausible given an infinite, omniscient and omnipotent being. Georg Cantor (1845-1918), the founder of modern set theory, justified his belief in infinite sets by his belief in an infinite God. He thought of sets in terms of what God could do with them. Cantor believed that God's infinite knowledge implies an actual infinity of thoughts. It included, at the very least, the infinite set of natural numbers {1,2,3...}. Actual infinity could thus be considered to exist objectively as an actual, complete set in God's mind. Cantor believed that even larger infinite numbers existed in God's mind. Even today, almost every attempt to justify the principles of set theory relies on some notion of idealized abilities of the Omnipotent Mathematician. The existence of sets depends upon a certain sort of intellectual activity - a collecting or "thinking together." According to Alvin Plantinga,

"If the collecting or thinking together had to be done by human thinkers there wouldn't be nearly enough sets - not nearly as many as we think in fact there are. From a theistic point of view, sets owe their existence to God's thinking things together."

Plantinga grounds set theory on God's infinite power and knowledge. He concludes that theists thus have a distinct advantage in justifying set theory. A detailed theistic justification of modern set theory has been developed by Christopher Menzel (2001). Ultimately, the consistency and certainty of math can be grounded upon the multi-faceted nature of God Himself. Trust in God generates confidence in math. Bibliography John Byl’s The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning (2004) Christopher Menzel’s "God and Mathematical Objects" in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective (2001) edited by Russell W. Howell & W. James Bradley Nickel, James Nickel’s Mathematics: Is God Silent? (2001) Alvin Plantinga’s "Prologue: Advice to Christian Philosophers" in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy (1990) edited by Michael D. Beaty Vern Poythress’ "A Biblical View of Mathematics" in Foundations of Christian Scholarship (1976) edited by Gary North

This article first appeared in the February 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title, "A Christian perspective on math." Dr. John Byl is the author of "God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe" and "The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning." He blogs at Bylogos.blogspot.com

Some guidelines in teaching math  The goal of Reformed education is to prepare students to serve the Lord (I Cor. 10:3). This entails teaching them to think and function within a Christian worldview. In any discipline one must teach not only the subject matter but how this coheres with other disciplines and finds meaning within the Christian worldview. God's truth functions as a comprehensive unity. Math should thus be taught in terms of various contexts. 1. Mathematical Context In addition to mathematical knowledge we should instill insight into why math works, an appreciation of its beauty and a love for math. 2. Theological Context Math must be connected to the Christian worldview. We should show how Christianity explains mathematical truth, the rational structure of the universe, and our ability to do math. Studying math should be motivated by the love of God and directed to His glory. Studying math tells us something about God (e.g., His wisdom, coherence, boundlessness, consistency, dependability, righteousness). 3. Applied Context We should illustrate how math is an important tool for other disciplines, such as science. Math helps us to fulfill the cultural mandate and to more deeply appreciate God’s wonderful world. We should stress both the strengths and limits of mathematical models: these have to be applied and interpreted in ways that are consistent with Scripture. More generally, math helps to develop logical thinking and analytical problem-solving abilities, skills that are useful in all facets of life. 4. Social context Math teaching can be enriched by linking topics to their historical-cultural context. One could tell interesting anecdotes about pertinent mathematicians, touching also upon their religious motivation. This will bolster also the theological context since Christianity played a large role in the scientific revolution and since most leading mathematicians  (e.g., Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Euler, Cantor, Gödel) were theists.


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Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

How to get our boys to read

In a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Spence argues that the way some “experts” were trying to encourage boys to read was all wrong. Their strategy involved pitching boys books like Goosebumps, Sir Fartsalot, Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho. If we want boys to read, so this line of thinking goes, then let’s give them the potty humor they adore. That’ll make them readers, right? It might get some reading, but what it won’t do is give them any of the benefits that come from reading good books. Thomas Spence insists that instead of “meeting where they are at” we need to aim higher, and he quotes C.S. Lewis: “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.” If we point our sons to what’s disgusting and encourage their interest, how can we expect them to learn and appreciate what is good? How can our boys become men if, instead of training them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), we reinforce their childishness? Instead of the gross, we need to fill our shelves with what’s great. We need to give our boys examples to aspire to, in books like Encyclopedia Brown, Saint George and the Dragon, The Green Ember, The Hobbit, Journey Through the Night, and Wambu: The Chieftain's Son. Of course, it’s one thing to stock our shelves, and another to get our boys to pull books off of them. How do we get them reading? Two tips: start early, and get rid of the distractions. Read to your son from the day he's born. Sure, a newborn won’t understand what’s being read, but he will love the time sitting on mom or dad’s lap. As he gets older, he’ll enjoy board books’ for their soft chewy corners and bright colors. Then simple stories can help him learn colors and numbers and all sorts of other words. A child who never remembers a time when he hasn’t been read to won’t have to be taught to appreciate stories – by the time he hits Grade One it’ll be in his DNA. But like any habit, this one can be broken. In his article Thomas Spence cites the findings of a Dr. Robert Weis, who linked video games in the home with lower academic performance. I’m sure a similar connection could be made between TV viewing and reading ability. The fact is, no matter how good the book, it can't compete with video games and TV shows for a boy’s attention – given a choice he’s going to watch a screen rather than read. If we want to raise readers then we need to limit their access to electronic media – we need to guard them against these distractions, indulging in them only in moderation. This is going to be tough. One of the reasons we parents like TV shows and video games is they can act as effective babysitters. A boy glued to the TV, or busy trying to make it to Level 3, isn’t going to be pulling his little sister’s hair. And if he’s busy then Mom’s probably got at least 20 minutes to hop into the shower, or get breakfast ready, or put away the laundry. A lot can get done when this babysitter is helping out. Now consider that not only does the TV have to be turned off, but mom or dad needs to read to the kidlets for 15, 20, 30 minutes a day, right from babyhood onward. For a busy set of parents this might seem like just another chore to add to all the others. But here’s a bit of encouragement: it isn’t going to be forever, and it does work. A child can read on their own at 6 or 7, and while it’s wonderful to keep reading with them after that, it’s not the same sort of necessity. At that point you can switch up from being the book reader to being the book supplier, pointing them to the very best ones (and I have suggestions on some really good ones here and here). Regular reading might mean you don’t have time to tidy the house, or your lawn isn’t mowed nearly as often as it should be. But are you going to look back and regret the length of your lawn? And will your son reap a real benefit from reading with you each day through Grade One and beyond? Reading daily, for just a half dozen years or so, and you’ll have helped him develop an appreciation of good books that can benefit your son for his lifetime....

Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: If we survive

by Andrew Klavan 352 pages / 2013 "We came to Costa Verdes to build a wall. I just wish I could tell you that all of us made it out alive." Will Peterson is a 16-year-old visiting a small Central American village with his church's mission team, there to help rebuild the local cinder-block school. They've finished the work and are waiting in the cantina for the bus to take them back home when the room is suddenly filled with rebel soldiers and the pot-bellied, smiling waiter, who had been joking with them only moments before, is now on the floor, shot dead by the rebel leader. What happens next is a not-so unusual chase-type adventure. The rebels have taken over the government and are executing anyone for any reason, and they don't want to let any American witnesses get out of the country alive. So now these church kids, along with an unexpected helper, are on the run, barely staying ahead of these murderous bandits. What makes this something special is the characters in it. The most intriguing might be Jim Nolan, a 16-year-old intellectual who has read the biography and op-ed articles of the country's rebel leader...and who believes everything he's read. Even when the rebels start killing people, Jim is sure they're fighting for justice. Even when the guns are turned their direction, he's just as sure that it's all a horrible mistake, and if he can only talk to someone, things can be straightened out. Jim steadfastly holds onto his rebel sympathies despite all the bloodshed around him. Author Andrew Klavan makes clear why Jim remains so loyal: because a lot of what he's being reading, about how the government was oppressing the country's poorest, is entirely true. Klavan isn't taking a cheap shot at the naivety of liberals here – this is a more nuanced look that admits the problems the Left points out might well be problems, even as the solutions they suggest are no solutions at all. Or, in the context of this story, just because the government is bad doesn't make the rebels good. Will is also a well-developed character. He came on the trip as a way of escaping his home life: mom and dad are always arguing and, he thinks, on the path to divorce. But now, unbelievably, things have gotten a whole lot worse, and as Will and the others bounce from one crisis to another, he has to battle a very understandable sense of panic. He does so by remembering two things: a Hemingway quote that cowardice is "a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination." advice from his youth pastor, who once told the group, "Don't worry about anything – pray about everything." CAUTIONS While praying is always good advice, the way Will's prayers are depicted in the story makes it seems like it is more the act of praying, and not the God he is speaking to, that really helps Will. Another caution worth noting is that while the church mission group is Protestant (and seemingly some sort of conservative Evangelical) there are positive, if brief, portrayals of other religions. This includes Roman Catholicism, in which a priest has a key role in saving them, and the villagers' ancient spirituality, when the missions group is invited to sit in on a pagan festival of lights. However, Will keeps to the facts, describing what they see, but not digging into what it all means. A discerning reader would have reason to presume Klavan believes Roman Catholicism isn't importantly different from Protestantism, but that isn't a message the author is trying to hammer home here. CONCLUSION This is a gripping read that any teenage boy would really enjoy, and dad might not mind either. And if dad does join in, this could be a leap off point for some really good conversations about: the American role as policeman of the world one-sided news coverage, both from the Left and Right, and how that compares to what God tells us about the importance of hearing both sides in Prov. 18:17 courage and what it really involves what prayer to God is actually why we find nice people following other gods, or worshipping God in wrong ways So, overall, I'd recommend this for teen guys with a little discernment, and a willingness to talk things through with their parents....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Devilish correspondence: Lord Foulgrin’s and Screwtape’s letters

THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS200 pages / 1942by C. S. Lewis &LORD FOULGRIN'S LETTERS208 pages / 2001by Randy Alcorn Some 75 years ago, as C. S. Lewis reports it, he intercepted correspondence between two devils, the one a senior demon and the other his student being taught how best to tempt and attack Man. While Lewis refused to share how he’d come by these letters, the published correspondence was eye-opening, giving insight into how the Devil can twist not only our weaknesses, but even our strengths, to his devilish ends. So, for example, we get to listen in as the experienced tempter Screwtape teaches his charge, Wormwood to sidetrack prayer, either by making it perfunctory – perhaps done regularly, but with little to no thought – or by making it feelings, rather than God, focused. Either diversion will do. While Lewis wrote (or discovered) The Screwtape Letters during World War II, it remains as insightful and as helpful as ever. But it was also a book worthy of imitation, and nearly 60 years later Randy Alcorn did just that, with his Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. However, while Lewis stuck strictly to devilish correspondence, Alcorn alternates between letters and story chapters – it is half mail, and half narrative. The narrative sections make Alcorn’s book a little more accessible for a teen audience, while, on the other hand, Lewis’ is the more insightful, which also makes it the most satisfying of the two for adults. But both are excellent. One caution: both books have an Arminian flavor, and, as my brother Jeff points out, “whether this Arminian tendency is simply the devil’s mistaken understanding is not clear, but Lewis at least seemed to be Arminian in his other writing.” That means, while both books can serve as a warning of the devil’s many means of attack, there’s at least a few that Lewis and Alcorn overlook. I understand that some might find the devilish focus of both books disturbing. It might seem wrong since Christians don’t normally want their children reading books about demons. What makes Alcorn’s and Lewis’ books different from the devilish taint that exists in so much of today’s entertainment (Hellboy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, DC Legends of Tomorrow, etc.) is that Lewis and Alcorn expose, but don’t celebrate, the darkness. They are equipping readers to be aware of the Devil, not asking them to join him. That’s quite the difference indeed. Below is a 8 minute adaptation/preview of Lewis's "The Screwtape letters." ...

Teen fiction

The Giver (the graphic novel adaptation)

by Lois Lowry adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell 2019 / 176 pages It's a hundred or so years in the future. War has been eliminated by muting mankind's emotions and by eliminating the conflict that comes when we have to make choices. Not only are everyone's jobs chosen for them, so is their spouse, and even the kids they will raise. 12-year-old Jonas has been given a unique role, being trained by The Giver to know and understand the past, so he can use that knowledge to advise the community in times of crisis. But as he becomes the best-informed citizen in his community he discovers things that horrify him – choices are also being made for the citizens as to who will live and who will die. My brother Jeff has done a great review of the book this is based on, so I'm going to focus on what makes this graphic novel different from the book. GRAPHIC NOVEL VERSION Most graphic novel adaptations are much shorter than the source material they are based on, in part because all the descriptive passages in the book can become pictures instead, and also because the plot is usually simplified. But this one is every bit as long as the original, with every scene in the book included. Jonas's discovery of color is a big theme in the novel. In the muted world in which they all live, citizens have lost the ability to see color, but as Jonas learns more about the past, he gains insight into the present and starts gaining the ability to see reds, and greens, and yellows. So first, adapter P. Craig Russell shares Jonas' muted world by depicting everything not simply in black and white – that would be a bit boring – but also with subtle splashes of blue. And as Jonas learns how to see more, we begin to see increasing flashes of vibrant color, to show his growing awareness of just how exciting and intriguing a place of discovery the world can be. It's fun to see in pictures this transition from dull to brilliant. In these sections, the comic might even be better than the book. But pictures also present challenges. It can be hard to visually depict what's going on in someone's head. To make up for that Russell carries over a lot of the text from the book. But he can't use all of it, which is why in the original the characters are all a little deeper, a little more realized. CAUTIONS And sometimes showing is more problematic than telling. In one scene in the book Jonas helps bathe the elderly. In the comic Russell has to use just the right angles to ensure all we see are the knees down or the shoulders and up. Nudity of a sort comes up in one other scene, which is the book's most troubling, even without the visual element. Jonas discovers that unwanted babies are killed via lethal injection, and even in muted pictures it's quite horrible. Russell is restrained, but the idea of murdering infants is so unpleasant that any pictures, even muted ones, just add to the horror. That said, the scene is not at all graphic. I'll also note that the baby is shown fully naked, with scant detail, but enough to tell that it is a boy. CONCLUSION This is every bit as good as the novel, though both have their different strengths. I'd recommend this to teachers as a slightly easier way for reluctant readers to access this book. But like the novel, and the film too, this comic needs to be discussed. Its teen audience needs to wrestle with the warnings given in this story – the danger of governmental control, the false compassion of euthanasia, the potential and peril of emotions – but they'll most likely need help. So this is a great conversation starter, but a guide will be needed. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

3 provocative, powerful, PG-rated, dystopian novels

The best dystopian books warn us of an undesirable future that seems far too likely for our peace of mind. The most famous examples are 1984 and Brave New World and while these are very important books, both have sexual content that make them problematic to discuss in a high school setting. But there are fantastic alternatives that are every bit as challenging and thought-provoking and yet don't bring in the sexual content. The most "explicit" of the three below is Time Will Run Back in which sex is mentioned but only in the context of the government mandate that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the State. Nothing titillating here. What we're left with are provocative PG-rated stories and that'll allow parents and teens to enjoy and discuss them together. ***** WINTERFLIGHT by Joseph Bayly 1981 / 216 pages In this dystopian novel, Joseph Bayly takes us to a not-so-distant future in which abortion for disabled children is mandatory, euthanasia is compulsory soon after 75, and Christians are so confused about Romans 13 they think God wants them to submit to even these demands. When Jonathan and Grace Stanton's six-year-old son Stephen falls off his bike, they don't know what to do. The fall was minor, but their son has hemophilia and he needs treatment. But the law says he shouldn't exist: had his condition been diagnosed prenatally the State would have required that he be aborted. Stephen survived only because he mother never visited a doctor during her pregnancy, and when the time came a friend helped her have a home birth. Now the Stanton's wonder what the State might do, even six years later, if they bring their son in to see a doctor. Do they dare find out? Winterflight was written almost 40 years ago, but it got my heart racing – it all seemed far too probable for my liking. Abortion is already being used to "cure" genetic disabilities like Down Syndrome and while it isn't mandatory, pressure from doctors and culture are such that in some countries 98% of Down Syndrome children are killed before birth. When it comes to killing the elderly, we don't demand their deaths at 75, but we are already exploring the cost savings that can be had from their early departure. In countries where euthanasia has been legal longer, there are regular reports of involuntary killings. In Canada, attempts are already being made to make involvement on some level mandatory for all doctors. But what hits closest to home is Bayly's portrayal of the confused Christian response to these government abuses. When Grace's elderly father is told he must report soon to be euthanized, their misunderstanding of Scripture has them thinking that they need to obey the governing authorities even in this, since those authorities are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). But at the same time, in saving their son, the Stantons show that on some level they do understand we must sometimes defy the State. Is their confusion realistic? We'd never march ourselves off to the local euthanasia clinic just because the government demanded it. But why would we resist? Do we understand on what biblical basis we could reject such demands from the "governing authorities"? During World War II there was confusion on this point among some good Reformed Dutchmen. Among those who joined the Resistance, some felt guilty about it because they were worried that in acting against the Nazis they were resisting God's chosen rulers. The confusion persists today. Even as we know the government shouldn't mandate euthanasia – even as we recognize that there are limits to their power – many Christians will still turn to the government asking it to solve our problems. We understand the government has limits, and yet we'll also ask them to do more and more. We are confused. And that's what makes this book such a fantastic read - the discussion it'll prompt is one we need to have. Cautions There are just a couple cautions to note. First, there is a small bit of language – I think "damn" might be used two or three times. Second, without giving away the ending, when the book was first published some Christians misunderstood the ending as being prescriptive – they thought the actions of the book's confused Christians were what we should do. So it's important to understand that's not so. These are confused Christians, under enormous pressure, acting in a confused way and the author is not endorsing their actions. In fact, the book is primarily about warning us not to do as they do. Conclusion This is a fantastic dystopian novel, as prophetic as they come, and certainly unlike any other Christian fiction you've read. The topic matter is weighty, but because there's nothing graphic this could be appropriate for as young as early teens. However the younger a reader might be, the more they'll need a guide to steer their interaction with the story, and particularly the not-at-all happy ending. It would also make great book club material, with fodder for some fantastic discussions. ***** TIME WILL RUN BACK by Henry Hazlitt 368 pages / 1951 As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing. Like 1984... In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens' lives. But Hazlitt didn't read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were: plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin....All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen. In Hazlitt's envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they've wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx's books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against. Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator's son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas. Peter's education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn't want to be caught doing the deed. ...and Screwtape Letters This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, with Peter's teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world's state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out "what is useful" can be hard to determine. "It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it." "These decisions are sometimes very difficult," Adams put in. "We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself." "Therefore," said Orlov, "we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish." In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country's greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can't make it work. The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can't use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can't calculate value, then they also can't determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year? After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic  economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole. In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism! Conclusion Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here - that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism's democratic twin, socialism. This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn't believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market. The e-book can be had for free here. ***** THE GIVER by Lois Lowry 1993 / 208 pages The Giver is a book that is not specifically Christian, but has been studied in Christian schools and is stocked in our Christian school library. Why? Lois Lowry's novel is a brilliant dystopia - a vision of the future where things have gone horribly wrong. What makes it so brilliant is that in the brief space of a children's novel, Lowry shows, as dystopian novels always do, how the desire to make a utopia leads to disaster. The original Utopia (which literally means "no-place"), by Thomas More (an English Catholic writing around the time of the Reformation), is a vision of an ideal, perfectly regulated society, where people live their lives with leisure and work balanced, and the wealth is fairly shared among all. All these features are appealing, but given human nature, any attempt to build society through regulation will result in the stomping out of individuality and the oppressive power of whatever authority we trust to organize everything. Basically, there is a kind of idolatry of human systems and power. Of course, we know that idols always disappoint, and idols always demand horrible sacrifices. That's what's going on in The Giver. Lowry builds up a picture of an ideal, well-organized society where everyone has his or her specific role set by 12 years old. All the angst of adolescence in our society has been taken care of through this selection of each person's career by the community, as well as by the suppression of the disruptive disturbance of teenage hormones. The result is a village in which there is no significant crime; in which each person is given a specific role and, in return, has all his or her needs are met from cradle to grave by the community; and in which both the physical storms and emotional storms have been subdued by technology. This "sameness," as the narrator calls it, has been maintained for generations. Even the memory of the relative chaos of our own society has been wiped out, but the elders of the village have ensured that the past is not entirely lost, so that in the event of crisis, the elders can learn from it. This is where the main character, Jonas, comes in. At twelve years old, he is given the unique role of the Receiver of the community. What does he receive? The memories of the village before the "sameness" - from the Giver. Jonas's unique knowledge enables him to see what a terrible place our own world is - with war and other suffering - but also what emotional ties like family and romantic love were lost with the oncoming of the "sameness." His own crisis comes when he sees what sacrifices his seemingly utopian village demands to keep its stability. Why would Christians want to read this? The Giver shows us both the beauty and the cost of human emotion and desire, but also the foolishness of playing God in trying to wipe both out by human power. What we need is not liberation from our own humanness, but liberation from the sin which has corrupted our humanness - by the death of Christ - and the redirection of our emotions and desire - by the work of the Spirit. Lowry may not explicitly put us before God's throne, but she does a fine job of knocking down one of the idols that serve as a stumbling block blocking our view of His glory. ...

Adult fiction, Teen fiction

Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell

by Christine Farenhorst 328 pages / 2017 In the past year, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses (or did he?) I've read about a dozen works on Luther. This is a favorite. One reason I love it so, is because it offers something very different from the others – this about is Luther and his time, but he isn't the main character. He isn't even a minor character, never making an in-story appearance. The events take place miles away from Luther's Wittenberg, in the French city of Strasbourg, on the border with Germany. The story centers around a middle daughter of the middle-class Schutz family. Like their neighbors, the Schutz's read and discuss Luther's pamphlets. By taking a step back from the man himself, author Christine Farenhorst (as regular RP readers will know, she is a long-time contributor to the magazine) give her readers the opportunity to encounter Luther's ideas in much the same way as the people of his time did. They didn't debate his ideas at the start, so much as wonder what to think of them. Some of his points they could readily agree with – many saw a need for at least some sort of reformation of the Church. But his thoughts on indulgences... might he be right? We follow the title character from childhood up until her mid-twenties. Though Katharina Schutz is a real person, this is historical fiction – all the big events are true, but the day-to-day details of Katharina's life have been made up. This is why, even as a background character, Luther still dominates the story. Katharina's life is fascinating reading but because much of it is speculative, it serves as the foundation while what we learn about Luther here is his real, actual history. One of the strangest bits of true history in the book is the dancing plague of 1518 that hit Strasbourg. Victims couldn't help but dance. It would have been funny except that this stilted, clumsy dancing never stopped - as many as 400 dancers kept going for days and days, beyond exhaustion, and even to the point of heart attacks and strokes. Target audience This is a teen to young adult book, but like any good children's book, adults interested in their church history will find it fascinating. However, as a third of all children at that time died before they hit age 5, there are some parts to Katharina's story that would be bawl-inducing to anyone under, say, 10. The somewhat slow beginning – it took until chapter 4 to really grab me – also makes it better suited for readers with a little maturity to them. Conclusion There is a real benefit to learning about Luther in this one-step-removed fashion. I was fascinated by what I learned about the people and culture of that time. It gave me a deeper understanding of the pressures that Luther faced, and insights into how God prepared the ground for the Reformation Luther sparked. It is a fascinating story that I look forward to reading with my daughters. This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com. Pick up your copy of Christine Farenhorst’s “Katharina, Katharina” at Sola-Scriptura.ca/store/shop. ...

Teen fiction

5 fun preteen/teen fiction titles

Today's library is very different from the one we all grew up with, and nowhere is that difference more noticeable than in the teen section. Even in my small, 99 percent Christian, town the teen section is filled with books that would have made my grandma blush - fiction and non-fiction in which teen sex, homosexuality, transgenderism, or atheism play a prominent part. And I've lost count of all the novels featuring vampires, werewolves and witches. Some of this is dangerous, and some of it just dumb. But in either case, there are better novels out there. Here are five suggestions that are not just safe, but super – these are really good reads! The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson 2013 / 304 pages This is Cinderella reimagined, with all the famous bits altered but included: it has the carriage (but it was never a pumpkin), the slipper (but not made of glass), the ball, (but now it's more of a jousting tournament), and the fairy godmother role (though she not a fairy or a godmother). Author Melanie Dickerson gives new life to the story by taking the magic out of it, bringing in an additional villain, and making the key characters sincere Christians. My only reservation would be one I have for all romance literature: they celebrate just the one stage of love – the beginning – to the exclusion of all that comes afterwards. But “afterwards” is very important, so if a teen girl ingests too many books about ball-attending, sword-fighting, head-turning Prince Charmings, they may well overlook that fellow right in front of them – the Bible-believing, hardworking, diaper-changing ordinary Joe. So while the occasional romance novel isn't a problem, these aren’t the sort of books that should be ingested one after another. Dickerson does a good job of keeping us wondering what new twists and turns she is going to add to this familiar tale. It is definitely aimed at teen girls with a little too much angst for anyone over 18. But adults could enjoy this as a nice light read too. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton 340 pages / 2011 Mount Majestic is a fun romp, with all sorts of inventive ingredients: • Piles of poison-tongued jumping turtles • A castle built on top of a mountain that rises and falls once each day. • A tyrant twelve-year-old pepper-hoarding king • A terrible, life-changing, island-threatening 1,000 year old secret Books with good girl heroes are hard to find. Most often the heroine is decidedly boyish (or at the very least tomboy-ish): armor-wearing, sword-swinging, that sort of thing. But Persimmony Smudge is a different sort. She dreams of battles, yes, but when it comes down to it, it’s her brain and her bravery, and not her battle skills, that save the day. While I suspect the author is Christian there is no mention made of God. The only “supernatural” elements are a prophetic Lyre-That-Never-Lies, and clay pots that give the recipient what they need (and not what they might want). When the question is asked about who it is that puts the gifts in the pots, and puts “words of truth into the strings of a Lyre” the only answer we get is, “I have no idea.” So Mount Majestic is simply a fun read, without any spiritual depth – that dimension is left unexplored. Highly recommended, for girls in Grade 3 through early teens. When Lighting Struck! The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley 231 pages / 2015 This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg and I can't think of a more enjoyable way to learn about the man than grabbing a copy of When Lighting Struck! The target audience is teens, but like any fantastic book, adults are sure to enjoy it too. This is fiction which means means parts of this are made up, including lots of the day-to-day dialogue, but the key events are all true. It didn't take much to make Luther's life exciting: as doubt-filled as he was early on, the Reformer was even more bombastic after he understood that forgiveness is a gift given, not earned. This is a man who: • was condemned by the pope as a heretic • had 200 knights pledge to protect him • didn't want to marry lest he quickly leave his wife a widow • was kidnapped • masqueraded as a knight • helped formulate the German language • cared for Plague victims • ended up marrying a nun And it would be easy to go on and on. Put the story of such a man into the hands of a talented writer and what you're left with is a book anyone will just tear through. War in the Wasteland by Douglas Bond 273 pages / 2016 "Second Lieutenant C.S. Lewis in the trenches of WWI" – if that doesn't grab you, I don't know what will. War in the Wasteland is a novel about teenage Lewis's time on the front lines of the First World War. At this point in his life, at just 19, Lewis is an atheist, and his hellish surroundings seem to confirm for him that there is no God. When men are hunkered down in their trenches waiting through another enemy artillery barrage, there is a motivation to talk about life's most important matters. Lewis’s fellow junior officer is a good debater, and won't let Lewis's atheistic thinking go unchallenged. Their dialogue is imagined – this is a fictionalized account – but the author pulls the points and counterpoints of their back and forth argument straight out of the books Lewis wrote after he turned from atheism and became one of the best known Christian apologists on the planet. War in the Wasteland comes to a solid and satisfying conclusion, which is a neat trick, consider that Lewis's story of conversion is, at this point, very much incomplete. This would be great for older teens and adults who have an interest in history, World War I, apologetics, or C.S. Lewis. Bond has crafted something remarkable here. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith 365 pages / 2015 “Rabbits with swords” – it’s an irresistible combination, and all I had to say to get my two oldest daughters to beg me to start reading. As you might expect of a sword epic, this has a feudal feel, with rabbit lords and ladies, and noble rabbit knights and, of course, villainous wolves. This is children’s fiction, intended for preteens and early teens, so naturally the heroes are children too. The story begins with siblings Pickett and Heather being torn from the only home they’ve known, pursued by wolves, and separated from their parents and baby brother. It’s this last detail that might warrant some caution as to how appropriate this would be for the very young. It isn’t clear if mom, dad and baby Jack are dead…but it seems like that might well be, and that could be a bit much for the very young (I’m planning on skipping over that bit when I get to it with my preschool daughters). They escape to a community that is hidden away from the ravaging wolves, and made up of exiled rabbits that once lived in the Great Wood. Their former and peaceful realm fell to the wolves after it was betrayed from within, so now these rabbits in exile look forward to a time when the Great Wood will be restored. Or as one of the wisest of these rabbits puts it, …we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed…. We sing about it. We paint it. We make crutches and soups and have gardens and weddings and babies. This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. Though God is never mentioned, and the rabbits have no religious observance of any kind, author S.D. Smith’s Christian worldview comes through in passages like this, that parallel the way we can recall a perfect past, and look forward to a perfected future. It’s this depth that makes this more than just a rollicking tale of rabbits in peril. There is prequel, The Black Star of Kingston, and a sequel, Ember Falls, which are both very good, but this is the book to start with. So, my overall take is two very enthusiastic thumbs up for anyone ten and up. Longer version of these reviews can be found at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....