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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.

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker.

André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada.

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Animals by design: exploring unique creature features

by ICR illustrated by Susan Windsor 125 pages / 2018 Mexican walking fish, lantern fish, immortal jellyfish, and zorses – those are just some of the crazy creatures featured in this fun little book. Every two-page spread showcases another animal, and even when it’s one you’ve heard of before, there’s sure to be cool details that’ll surprise you. Animals by Design is published by the Institute for Creation Research. That means that, in addition to all the fascinating facts, a clear Christian perspective is also included. The point of this book is to introduce our children to how awesome our God is: hey kids, just look at the amazing, bizarre, surprising, unique, and simply astonishing creatures He’s made! This has been sitting on our coffee table, off and on, for a few months now, and it turns out I was the only one in the family who hadn’t been regularly reading it. My wife and girls had all been taking turns flipping through it. It’s an easy book to dip in and out of – it doesn’t require a big time commitment – because each animal can be read on its own. So, maybe this time I’ll learn a little about zorses, and the next time I sit down at the couch, I can always find out then what makes an immortal jellyfish immortal. The colorful drawings will appeal to kids but it’s a kids book that mom and dad and anyone interested in animals or science will love too. In the US you can find it at ICR.org and in Canada you can order it through the Creation Science Association of Alberta.                  

News

Reagan’s challenge to his dying atheist father-in-law

Earlier this year a note was discovered in Nancy Reagan’s personal effects – dated August 7, 1982 – written by Ronald Reagan to his father-in-law. What makes the 36-year-old letter special is the topic – the president of the United States was taking time on a Saturday afternoon to write to Loyal Davis, his ailing father-in-law. Reagan was concerned about his health, but even more so about his eternity – Davis was a self-declared atheist. Reagan was 71, and just 16 months removed from being shot in the chest by crazed gunman John Hinckley Jr. So maybe he understood what his father-in-law was facing, how he was being confronted with his certain mortality. From the letter it's clear that Reagan has been doing some reading about God, sharing with his father-in-law arguments that probably came from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. What he began with was one of his own experiences. During his first year as governor of California, Reagan developed an ulcer that gave him sharp pains, and other times only discomfort, but which never went away entirely. Then one morning, as he reached for his Maalox, he discovered he didn’t need it – he was healed. That same morning the first and second letters of the day were from people telling him that they and others were praying for Reagan. Inside of an hour, a member of his legal staff popped in “on some routine matter” and on the way out the young man shared that some of Reagan's staff would arrive early every day to pray for him. An appointment two weeks later confirmed that not only did Reagan no longer have an ulcer, but, the doctor added, “there was no indication I’d ever had one.” Reagan understood this as God answering these many prayers. But he knew his skeptical father-in-law might dismiss this as coincidence, so he presented him with more to consider.

Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah…. All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty-three specific prophesys (sic) about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood.* And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.

....But Loyal, I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?

The miracle is that a young man of 30 yrs. without credentials as a scholar or priest began preaching on street corners. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back & he didn’t travel beyond a circle less than one hundred miles across. He did this for only 3 years and then was executed as a common criminal.

But for two thousand years he has had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together.

And with that, Reagan pleaded with his father-in-law to turn to God and place his trust in Jesus Christ. And there is some reason to hope that he did. Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post discovered the letter while doing research for a biography on Nancy Reagan, and, rather than simply place it back in the box, she brought it to her paper, where they published it this past month. And so it was that, some 35 years after it was written, God used this private plea to challenge the many hundreds of thousands who have now been able to read it.

* Reagan isn't quite right on this point. King David does prophecy, in Psalm 22, of Jesus' hands and feet being pierced (which points to the cross) but nowhere does it prophecy specifically that he would be nailed to a cross of wood. This is important to mention only because Christians don't want to be accused of overstating things.

We all know that fish is a good source of protein, but did you know that some are a good source of information? It’s true – I know that evolution is true and it’s all because a little fish told me.

The Astyanax mexicanus is a cave-dwelling fish. The river-dwelling version of this species can see with the best of them, but this, the cave-dwelling cousin, has adapted to its lightless surroundings by losing its eyes. As a result, the two versions of this fish look quite distinct. However, they can still be interbred which shows that they are the same species.

The evolution of the blind fish

The history of this fish is easy to imagine. At one point some sighted fish made their way into dark caves where they were subsequently trapped. These caves had no light so their eyes served no useful purpose to them. Not only were their eyes useless, having eyes in this environment might actually have been harmful in one critical way: eyes are softer than the rest of a fish, so as these fish bumped around in the dark their eyes were susceptible to gouging and cuts from the rocky protrusions on the cavern walls.

So imagine that a fish without eyes is born into this environment. In the outside world, this would be a disadvantage. But here, in the darkness, no eyes simply means it has no soft flesh to get gouged. This eyeless fish is, therefore, hardier and fitter than its sighted siblings. That makes it more likely that this blind fish will reproduce and pass on its blindness to the next generation.

Over a number of generations this blind fish and its offspring must have competed with the sighted fish until only the blind fish – the fitter fish – remained.

This is a clear example of survival of the fittest, of evolution in action, and it is quite convincing. It is why I am an evolutionist.

Evolution’s two meanings

But while I may be an evolutionist, I don’t deny that God created the world in six literal days, because, after all, that’s what the Bible tells us. I’m an evolutionist, but I’m also a creationist. I was rather shocked when I first came to this realization. I had been raised a creationist and for a very long time I thought that meant I had to reject evolution in any and all forms.

But it turns out that the word “evolution” can mean a number of different things, and some of those meanings do not conflict with the biblical account. There are two very common meanings to the word:

  • Evolution is often used to describe the small changes that animal species may undergo over time. Perhaps a species of bird might, on average, start having larger beaks – scientists would readily call this evolution. This particular use of the word is sometimes referred to as microevolution. Animal species are adaptable (just think of how dogs have adapted in a variety of ways to meet different needs) so this use of the word isn’t particularly controversial.
  • A second use of the word is where the battle actually commences. “Evolution” can be used as a descriptor for the theory that says man evolved from a single cell, which in turn emerged from the primordial soup eons ago. This molecule-to-man hypothesis is sometimes called macroevolution and it directly conflicts with the six-day creation account given in Genesis 1 and 2.

Equivocation

The reason this all matters is because evolutionists often use examples of microevolution to try to prove macroevolution, their molecules-to-man hypothesis. And similarly sometimes amateur creationists waste their time (and their credibility) arguing against microevolution because they think they have to be against all things evolutionary.

The Astyanax mexicanus fish is a good example in both cases. Since this fish seems to have adapted to its dark cave environments by losing its eyes, evolutionists think it is compelling proof of their molecules-to-man theory. It is so compelling that this blind fish might bother some creationists.

But creationists need not worry – the blind fish’s beneficial mutation doesn’t contradict creationism. We live in a fallen world, and that means children and offspring are sometimes born with handicaps via mutations. An eyeless fish is just another normal outcome of this fallen state. Most often these mutations will be harmful but in some rare circumstances, like the Astyanax mexicanus fish, the mutation may actually be beneficial. But it is important to note here that the loss of eyes is an example of devolution, rather than evolution. This fish has lost an ability it once had – the part of its genetic code responsible for making eyes has been short-circuited. The molecules-to-man theory of evolution says that complex life arose from simpler life, but this blind fish is an example of a complex animal becoming simpler and less developed.

If this fish is evidence of anything, it is that we live in a broken world (Rom. 8:22).

Conclusion

In any debate it is vital to first define the terms. This is particularly important in the creation/evolution debate since it is by confusing the terms that evolutionists make their most compelling case. They can’t point to macroevolution in action so instead they use examples of microevolution. Then they act as if there is no difference between the two, calling both the same thing – evolution.

Therefore creationists have to be careful that when they argue against evolution they haven’t made the mistake of arguing against microevolution. Arguing against microevolution is a losing proposition since we see animals undergoing small changes all around us. Evolution in this sense is an indisputable fact.

But evolution on a larger scale – the whole molecules-to-man hypothesis – flies in the face of what God tells us in the Bible, and also what He shows us via the degeneration and decay we see going on in the world around us. So I am, and will remain, a six-day evolutionist.


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