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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

News

Saturday Selections - Nov 4, 2017

Sing a little louder As we approach Remembrance Day, this powerful nine-minute film serves as a reminder that there are battles to be fought today too. It's about a German church during WWII that liked to sing praises to God. What could be wrong with that? Singing God's praises is good, right? While we all know that evil is a temptation, we need to understand our hearts are so deceitful we can use even good deeds to distract ourselves from doing what God is really calling us to (Luke 10:38-42). Big parts of accepted "Science" aren't scientific From the article: "Evolutionists have frequently criticized creationism as unscientific because of its basic commitment to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo—that is, 'creation out of nothing.' The idea that God simply called the universe into existence by His own power, without using any preexisting materials, is rejected out of hand by evolutionists since this would involve supernatural action, which is unscientific by definition – that is, by their definition. Yet, evolutionary cosmogonists maintain that the universe evolved itself out of nothing!" Martin Luther and Jay Adams Jay Adams has often been called "the Martin Luther of biblical counseling," and in this article the author makes clear why that is such an appropriate comparison. Suicidal trend in Young Adult/Teen fiction In the typical public library, the Teen/Young Adult section will feature novels and nonfiction that promote sexual experimentation, make light of suicide, attacks Christianity, and pushes gender confusion. As this Breakpoint piece also emphasizes, parents need to be aware that Young Adult/Teen books are a spiritual battleground! Wonderful news - extreme poverty has been halved! Overwhelmed by a constant diet of bad news? Then consider this: God is blessing the world in an enormous way that most aren't even aware of. Over the last 20 years, something unprecedented has happened – extreme poverty has been halved. Even as the population continues to grow, the number of people in extreme poverty decreased from 1.7 billion in 1999 to 0.8 billion in  2013. The fatal flaw with Assisted Suicide This video clip highlights the fatal flaw in assisted suicide. Today in Canada, we no longer view death as an enemy to be fought, but a treatment to be offered. And when we start viewing death as mercy, then our "angels of mercy" are going to start pushing death. As Christians, we understand that while we don't need to fear death - Christ has conquered it! - death is still an enemy. It is gross perversion to portray killing as mercy. Every one of us is made in His Image, and precious, and every life is a gift from God.

Book Reviews

200+ free e-books worth checking out

We live in an age in which so many wonderful resources are available for free. Of course, with the sheer numbers being passed along here, we haven't been able to read, let alone review all of them so, as always, be sure to use discernment. But there are certainly a good number of gems here. The books below aren't broken up by subject, but are, instead, divided into three categories based on whether you can easily download them, or whether some personal information might be required, or whether the book has to be read online. This is a list of recent books, with most published in the last decade or two. Monergism.com has a list of much older titles, with most published at a minimum of 100 years ago, and many springing right out of the Reformation 500 years past. Their list amounts to more than 500 titles and can be found here. Downloads These books are completely free and can be downloaded with minimal fuss (usually just a click and you are on your way). Almost 100 from John Piper and friends John Piper seems to have released all of his books in free pdf versions, and has tackled topics as diverse as biblical manhood and womanhood, abortion, sex, retirement, C.S. Lewis, Open Theism, racism and biographies. On occasion, some of Piper's writings are clearly directed to specifically Reformed Baptists. So, for example, in his biography of Adoniram Judson, he lauds the missionary for coming to reject infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. But for the most part his books are intended for a larger Reformed audience. But with so many available, what should you start with? His short biographies are excellent, each about 70 pages or so, and one of his most popular is Don't Waste Your Life. Oh, and while the majority of the books here are by Piper, there are many exceptions, and that's important to note, because if it isn't by him, it may not be free. 31 days of purity This is a 31-day devotional to encourage and challenge the Church in regard to sexual purity. With contributions from Tim Challies, David Murray, and Joel Beeke, there are some insightful, trustworthy folks behind this. 4 volume set of S.D. DeGraaf Promise and Deliverance series This is a wonderful set to equip parents to better explain Bible stories to their children, and it could also be read as a devotional of sorts for teens, or even adults. These have been used in Dutch Reformed circles for generations now, but were also recognized by Christianity Today as a "landmark in interpreting the simple stories of the Bible." The free pdfs below are scanned, which means they aren't searchable or highlightable, but they are certainly readable. You can download them by clicking here for: Volume 1: From Creation to the conquest of Canaan Volume 2: The failure of Israel's theocracy Volume 3: Christ's ministry and death Volume 4: Christ and the nations You can find a longer review of these books here. Social Justice: How good intentions undermine justice and the Gospel E. Calvin Beisner is probably best known as the head of the Christian stewardship group the Cornwall Alliance. But before he started speaking on the environment, he researched and wrote a lot on poverty and economics. In this booklet he outlines how good intentions are not only not enough, but often harmful. 15 by WORLD magazine's Marvin Olasky The editor of the Christian WORLD magazine has written books on Journalism and how Christians should read the news (and write it), on the history of abortion and the fight against, on a Christian perspective on compassion and the government's role in it, and even written a novel about radical Islam. There is lots to love here! Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? This is an important topic for any Christian considering the pill. Randy Alcorn's 200-page book can be downloaded for free, or, click here for a shorter overview. Abolition of Reason Jonathon Van Maren, Scott Klusendorf and other “incrementalist” pro-lifers argue against "abolitionism" or “immediatism.” Memoirs of an ordinary pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson Well-known Reformed Baptist pastor D.A. Carson on his unknown, faithful father. False Messages: A Guide for the Godly Bride Aileen Challies, wife of the Reformed blogger Tim Challies, has written a booklet for women on a biblical view of sexuality (it is near the bottom of the list). The Holy Spirit Kevin DeYoung with a short 30-page introduction to the Third Person of the Trinity. Scripture Alone: The Evangelical doctrine In this 40-page booklet, RC Sproul does a wonderful job of defending this key Reformed doctrine. 20+ from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church I haven't had a chance to check these out, but plan to download Ned B. Stonehouse's J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir. Download for free, but they want some information These books are free, but getting them will require you to give your email address, or create an account, or in some way provide them some information. But these aren't spammers, so you can always opt out of their email lists. 30+ booklets from RC Sproul In the last few years RC Sproul released a series of "Crucial Questions" booklets, all in the range of 40 to maybe 80 pages. That made them concise - something that could be read in an evening or two. And Sproul managed to pack a lot in these few pages while still keeping it readable. I will say, they still aren't light reads, but because of their small size, if anyone is interested in the question, then they should be able to work through Sproul's answer. I haven't read all 28 of them, but have appreciated each of the half dozen or so I've read so far. They tackle questions such as: Can I know God's will? Can I lose my salvation? What is baptism? Who is the Holy Spirit? The e-book versions are free and will be forever. Love the least (a lot) Michael Spielman is the founder of the website Abort73.com, one of the most comprehensive pro-life websites on the Internet. And his Love the Least (A Lot) is one of the most readable, most motivating, pro-life books you could ever read. God and the gay Christian: a response to Matthew Vines This is a response, by Reformed Baptist leader R. Albert Mohler Jr., to a popular book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Mohler has also written a short book Homosexuality and the Bible. Parenting the Internet generation This is such a helpful book! It's by Luke Gilkerson, one of the folks working at Covenant Eyes, a Christian Internet accountability company, and his goal is to help equip parents to protect and guide their children when it comes to all things online. This is a thoroughly biblical resource, and as much a parenting guide as it is an Internet guide. You can find a longer review here. Covenant Eyes has many other booklets available on the topics of sexual purity and online safety such as More than single, A parent's guide to cyber bullying, Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives, and more, that can be found here. Read online These books are free too, but are only available to be read online, usually one chapter per webpage. 30+ Creationist resources from Answers in Genesis Answers in Genesis is a creationist group with a presuppositionalist approach to apologetics, which means there is a decided Reformed influence in the group. But while all Reformed folk should be creationist, not all creationists are Reformed, so these books are not specifically Reformed. Answers in Genesis has done something curious here, in making their books available for free reading. You can't download them, but can read them, chapter by chapter, on their website. That makes things a little more troublesome, but if the book interests you, it is a minor inconvenience. The very best is In Six Days, in which 50 scientists each take a chapter to explain why they believe in creationism. Old Earth Creationism on Trial and In the Beginning Was Information are also very good. Even more great Creationist books Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Evolution, and Refuting Evolution 2 are available for online reading here. Letters to a Mormon Elder James White’s fantastic resource can be read for free online. Be a bit patient – it does seem to take a minute or two to load.

Science - Creation/Evolution

I believe in theistic evolution

I recently realized I believe in/affirm theistic evolution.  Depending on your perspective, have I sold out or have I finally come to my senses?  Neither.  Let me explain. It has long perturbed me that those who affirm or allow for Darwinian macroevolution to be compatible with a biblical worldview will sometimes call themselves "creationists" or will claim to believe in/affirm biblical creation.  They do this knowing that biblical creation is usually understood to refer to a view that holds to God having created in six ordinary days on a timescale of some thousands (rather than millions or billions) of years ago.  By claiming to believe in creation they lay concerns to rest, whereas all they have really done is disguise their true position. Stephen C. Meyer has helped me to see I could do the same thing with theistic evolution.  Meyer wrote the "Scientific and Philosophical Introduction" to Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, a massive volume published in 2017 by Crossway.  He notes that theistic evolution can mean different things to different people, as can "evolution" without the modifier "theistic."  For example, it can refer to common or universal common descent or to the creative power of the natural selection/random variation (or mutation) mechanism.  But evolution can also just simply mean "change over time."  And if one believes that God causes "change over time," then that can be understood as a form of theistic evolution.  With that, Meyer contends, no biblical theist could object (p.40).  He concludes, "Understanding theistic evolution this way seems unobjectionable, perhaps even trivial" (p.41).   So, in the sense of believing or affirming that there is change over time directed by God, I am a theistic evolutionist -- and I suspect you are too! But what's the problem with this?  Let's say I were to (miraculously) get myself invited to a BioLogos conference as a speaker who affirms theistic evolution.  It appears I'm on board with the BioLogos agenda.  The conference organizers are a little doubtful, but I insist that I affirm theistic evolution and they take me at my word and welcome me in their midst.  Then I give a talk where I evidence that I'm actually a six-day creationist who believes Darwinian macroevolution to be a fraud.  "But you said you hold to theistic evolution!"  "Oh, but you didn't ask me what I meant by that.  I believe that God causes change over time -- that's how I'm a theistic evolutionist."  Would anyone blame the conference organizers for thinking me to be lacking in some basic honesty? Integrity is really the heart of the matter.  If I say, "I read a book and I realized I'm a theistic evolutionist," most people will hear that and conclude that I still believe in God, but I also affirm Darwinian evolution.  And that is not an unreasonable conclusion.  Furthermore, what would be my purpose for making such a claim?  Would it be to tell something designed to mislead so as to advance my cause?  Does the end justify the means? If you affirm Darwinian macroevolution as the best explanation for how life developed on earth and you believe God superintended it, then man up and say so.  Honestly say, "I am a theistic evolutionist."   As for me, believing that God created everything in six ordinary days on the order of some thousands of years ago, I will say directly, "I am a biblical creationist" or "six-day creationist," or "young earth creationist."  But let's all be honest with one another. Biblical creationists also have to stop being naive.  Just because someone says they believe in biblical creation doesn't mean they actually believe the biblical account as given in Genesis.  They can fill out those terms with their own meaning.  So we have to learn to ask good questions to ferret out impostors.  Questions like: Do you believe God created everything in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago? Was the individual designated as Adam in Genesis ever a baby creature nestled at his mother's breast? Was the individual designated in Genesis as Eve a toddler at some point in her life? Do you believe it biblically permissible to say that, as creatures, the figures designated in Genesis as Adam and Eve at any point had biological forebears (like parents/grandparents)? What does it mean that God created man from the dust of the earth?

These are the types of questions churches need to be asking at ecclesiastical examinations for prospective ministers.  These are the types of questions Christians schools need to be asking prospective teachers at interviews.  True, even with these sorts of questions, there are no guarantees of integrity, but at least we will have done our due diligence.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com and CreationWithoutCompromise.com where this first appeared. 

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of “neutral” perspective that doesn’t elevate one group’s beliefs over another’s? 

In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam’s “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn’t possible, and isn’t desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a “Principled Pluralism” that recognizes God as supreme.

*****

“Principled pluralism” recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other.

Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles.

1) No neutral “non-religious” ground   

There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions.

Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word.

2) All know God’s law

Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19).

3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness

The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised.

Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it:

“The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.”

4) Government’s authority is limited

Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere.

Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health.

5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church

Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities.

This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.


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