Sarah Osborn’s World #1

As part of a focus on American Church History, over the next few months, I will blog my way through a book that I found both thoughtful and enthralling. I read it as I sat with my mother, a little over four years ago, when she dying of cancer.

The history of Christianity has been dominated by male voices. Some of the most profound literary contributions of women have simply remained forgotten. So when someone rediscovers a woman’s voice of faith from the past, it can be a real treasure to find.

Harvard Divinity School religious historian, Catherine Brekus, has given us a remarkable gift by recovering for us the lost story of Sarah Osborn (1714-1796), a poor woman from New England who met Jesus during the great revivals of the mid-18th century. It was during this “First Great Awakening” where the English speaking world was greatly impacted by the dynamic preaching of George Whitefield and John Wesley, which helped to define contemporary evangelicalism. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did as I post up various blog summaries of Brekus’ wonderful book. Better yet, read the book yourself!

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Neil Peart & Australian Koala Rescues: A Rough Start for 2020

Australia’s fires overlaid on a map of the United States.

We have had a rough start to 2020. A lot of news, and we are less than two weeks into the year! A couple of items stick out to me, that I am thinking about in particular.

First, the extensive wildfires in Australia are simply staggering. Several dozen human deaths, thousands of homes destroyed, and an unbelievable 10 million hectares of land have been burned.

But what stands out to me the most is the impact on animal life. Possibly one billion animals have died (or suffered serious injury) from the fires, including possibly 30,000 koala bears. The story about koala bears is difficult enough, considering the fact that koalas were already threatened with extinction. Heart-wrenching YouTube videos abound recording koala bear rescues.

How should Christians respond in leading efforts to care for God’s good creation?? (Here are some ways to help)

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Secondly, the other story that jumped out this week is the death of Neil Peart, the legendary drummer of RUSH, the Canadian rock music trio, that has been playing music since the 1970s. So much of popular rock music has been riddled with lyrics that are far from being spiritually edifying. But once Neil Peart joined RUSH as their drummer and chief lyricist, Peart went against the grain. Neil Peart was known to be a sensitive thinker, a lyric writer who was not known for shallowness.

Neil Peart was also an atheist, having been raised in church, but leaving it at a young age, due to a growing skepticism. Peart became particularly enamored with the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

In 1997, Neil Peart took a break from the band, when his college aged daughter died in a car accident, shortly followed by the death of his wife, due to cancer. As a kind of therapy, Neil Peart road his motorbike solo across the United States, to work through his spiritual questions and doubts. Sadly, Neil Peart was not impressed with his experience with Christian churches, and his lyrics often reflected his disillusionment.

Neil Peart never came across as a “faith basher” to me, but his skeptical outlook on the world, and his negative experience with Christianity, as evidenced by some recorded interviews, like this one, is representative of some of the more thoughtful skeptics in my generation, as well as in up-and-coming generations.  One of the reasons why I am so passionate about the study of Christian apologetics is because I believe that Christians can supply good answers to many of the tough questions posed by skeptics, like Neil Peart. Sadly, relatively few Christians seem to be that concerned about the Neil Pearts in our world, who are honestly looking for answers to life’s difficult questions.

Neil Peart died at the age of 67, after battling brain cancer himself, for the past three years. I wonder if  in some quiet way, the Lord Jesus and Savior of the World might have revealed Himself to Neil Peart, in those difficult, dark days.

May we as Christians learn to have a stronger desire to love the Neil Pearts, among our neighbors, families, and friends, for the sake of the Gospel.

Here is Neil Peart talking about the early years of the band:

I have seen RUSH perform live four times. Great every time. Here is the master at work, live in Frankfurt, Germany.

With the whole band, performing “Secret Touch,” one of my favorites, from 2002’s “Vapor Trails” album:


Great Tools for Doing Awesome Bible Study

Happy Epiphany!

As I have remarked before, we live in an age where we have easy access to great resources for learning the Bible. As we start a new year… and a new decade (unless you think it begins in 2021 !), I thought I would highlight just a few of these excellent tools for doing rewarding, and dare I say, awesome, exciting, … and even fun, Bible study. Some of the best tools available are for free online.

Believe me. I like the idea of “free.” But there are a few standout resources that I can recommend, that might cost you just a few bucks. Here we go:

Dr. Michael Heiser’s Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study. One of Dr. Heiser’s several books that can help anyone make better sense of the their Bible, without having to be a total geek, dumping tons of money going to a seminary or Bible college. This book costs a few bucks, but many of the other great tools for Bible study are available for free on the Internet. See below!!

Obviously, the first place you want to start is to get a good Bible. If you are totally new to the Bible, and you want to read quickly through the Bible, something like Eugene Peterson’s The Message is a great place to start. For a high level introduction to God’s Word, The Message is really helpful.

Another great tool for getting a high level survey on the Bible, available in short videos, is the awesome work done by the folks at The Bible Project.

For reading the Bible, while on the go, with your phone or tablet, download an app like YouVersion, or the ESV Mobile App, or the NIV Bible App, that can even read the Bible to you, while you go about your daily business.

However, if you really want to dig in, and really understand the Bible, in a verse-by-verse manner, a paraphrase like The Message will often end up doing you more harm than good. What you really need is a good study Bible. There is a big difference between READING the Bible and STUDYING the Bible. Try to get into the habit of studying the Bible, and not simply reading it.

I will admit it. After awhile, simply reading the Bible can get boring, and you will eventually lose interest. Actually studying the Bible, on the other hand, will offer you a lifetime of rewards.

A good study Bible has selected commentary and notes, that will aid you in your understanding. I have reviewed a number of excellent study Bibles here at Veracity, put together by the best Bible scholars in the world, that I can highly recommend, such as the English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible, the Zondervan New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, or anyone of the fine Christian Standard Bible (CSB) Study Bibles. My “go-to” favorite is Crossway’s English Standard Version, and they have probably the best looking Bibles you can buy. But anyone of the ones I have listed above are great.

I would personally stay away from Bibles that have been translated, or filled in with study notes, written by just one person. When you do that, you are just limiting yourself to one scholar’s point of view. I mean, a good study Bible (even some of the online ones) can be expensive, so why make an investment, that is only going to limit your thinking process?? We all have our blindspots. But hey, if you really want to drop $50 bucks on the “Joe-I-Am-A-Popular-Pastor-But-I-Am-Not-The-Pope-But-Some-People-Think-I-Am—-And-I-Am-OK-With-That” Study Bible, do yourself a favor and drop another $50 on a different study Bible, to give you a more rounded perspective, please?

On the other hand, if you are cheap, like me, you might want to check out some of the great Bible study helps available for free online:

  • BibleGateway.com.  You can read and compare multiple Bible translations, of all of the major English translations available (and non-English, too), from your favorite web browser. There are even options at BibleGateway to read notes from a few other study Bibles.
  • Biblehub.com. For a quick glance looking at how a single verse compares with various popular translations, I often will use Google or DuckDuckGo to search for a reference, and look for the hit at Biblehub.com, to see the list of various translations.
  • The NET Bible (otherwise known now as Lumina). Done by a number of folks at Dallas Theological Seminary, including the esteemed veteran Bible scholar, Daniel Wallace. In particular, if you are puzzled about all of the “some manuscripts” blah-blah-blah this and that, the NET Bible explains all of that for you. By far, this is my favorite study Bible available online.
  • The STEP Bible. Just recently put out by the good folks at the Tyndale House, at Cambridge, in England. This is the easiest way to do word studies and word searches in the Bible. You will never need a separate concordance or interlinear translation again, if you use the STEP Bible.
  • (and for the ultra-Bible nerd) The KJV Parallel Bible. The total Bible geek can consult this online parallel Bible to compare how the trusty ole KJV compares with modern translations.

The point is that there is simply no excuse for not having the resources available to you to do good Bible study, assuming you have a computer and an Internet connection. Probably for most folks, a good study Bible is really all you will ever need. Yet for more in-depth study, if you are thinking about leading a Bible study, you can look at other online tools, or spend some money on something like a concordance (where you take a word found in the Bible, to locate where else in the Bible, that word can be found), a Bible dictionary (for looking up what those words mean), or an interlinear Bible (to figure out which Greek or Hebrew word matches the English, in your Bible translation).

As noted above, there are also some really good, inexpensive and short books available to aid in your study of the Bible, without flooding your bookshelf, or filling up your computer hard drive, with stuff you will probably never look at.

Bible commentaries can be really helpful, if you really want to dig deep into a particular book of the Bible. I would suggest that the best ones out there, that will not take up all of your mental energy, and that will not totally destroy your bank account, would be either a volume out of the IVP Tyndale Bible Commentary series (for more nerdy readers), or the NIV Application Commentary series (for less nerdy readers). Sometimes, there are book sales on individual books in these commentary series, so keep your eye out.

I also like having a Bible background commentary, to help you dive in, behind the scenes, to better understand the culture of the Bible. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is my personal favorite.

All-in-one resource systems for your computer, like Logos Bible Software, or Accordance, are great for folks who want to be more hardcore in their Bible study. But just be prepared to shell out some bucks, once you get involved in that.

If you have hung around Veracity long enough, you will know that I am a big fan of Dr. Michael S. Heiser. He is an Old Testament scholar who most recently worked with Logos Bible Software, and who is host of the Naked Bible Podcast.

Michael Heiser has released a set of books designed to give you profound insights into understanding the Bible, and each insight can be read and digested in less than 60-seconds. That is my kind of way to start at really getting into Bible study.

Here is my top tip on one of my favorite Michael Heiser books. The first book in the series is Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study: 80 Expert Insights, Explained in a Single Minute.  Here is a sample of the topics:

  • Read the Bible with a Critical Eye — It Can Take It
  • The Aim of Bible Study Is the Meaning of the Text, Not a Defense of Your View
  • Ignorance Is Not a Gift of the Spirit
  • Attention to Detail and Clear Thinking Are Not Antithetical to Loving Jesus
  • Listening to a Sermon Isn’t Bible Study
  • All Interpretations Are Not Equally Plausible
  • Some Things in the Bible Are Clearer than Others — By Design
  • Nonliteral Doesn’t Mean “Not Real”
  • If It’s Weird, It’s Important
  • You Can’t Understand the Bible Without Understanding the Worldview of the People Who Wrote It

Each essay can be read in, yep, less than a minute.

You can get it on Kindle for $9.99. The paperback version is a little more, but it is worth it. I do not follow Mike on everything, but he is really good at dismissing a lot of the foolish talk that passes itself off as “Bible study” in some circles today. So, stop just reading the Bible, and get excited about studying it. Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study is a “quick read” tool to help get you started.

Are you more excited now about digging into God’s Word this year? I know I am. So, go for it!


7 Books I Want to Read for 2020… (But Not Sure I’ll Get To… But Maybe You Will?)

Here is my New Years Resolution: To try to read some books that I have had on my list for awhile, but I never seem able to get to. If you get to read any of these before I do, please let me know. Let’s see if I actually get to read these before the end of the year….

  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, by Michael Heiser. Dr. Heiser is the voice behind the Naked Bible Podcast, and currently my favorite Old Testament scholar. Heiser is all about building a Christian apologetic framework for living in a post-Christian age. According to others, this is Dr. Heiser’s best book, describing the unseen supernatural realm, which Heiser argues is the key to understanding some of the most difficult passages in the Bible.
  • Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, by Michael Licona. Critics of the Bible often claims that there are errors in the Bible. Unfortunately, some of the supposed defenses of the Bible can be pretty weak, and not very convincing. Mike Licona’s book reportedly tries to take a more responsible approach the reliability of the Gospels. Mike is also friends with my pastor’s father (Michael Simone), who is a recently retired pastor himself, in Virginia Beach.
  • Tactics, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictionsby Greg Koukl. An updated addition to the classic introduction to Christian apologetics, giving practical tips on how to have good conversations with non-believers. Apologist David Wood ranks this book as the number one Christian apologetics book every Christian should read.
  • Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Hurry. Yes, it sounds geeky, but highly recommended by top evangelical Bible scholar, Daniel Wallace, for understanding how we got the New Testament that we have in our Bibles, and how sometimes apologists make mistakes.
  • All But Invisible, by Nate Collins. The PhD thesis made into a book, written by the founder of Revoice, a ministry dedicated to maintaining orthodox, Scriptural convictions about God’s good purpose for marriage and sexuality, while reaching out more effectively and compassionately to the LGBTQ community.
  • Confronting Old Testament Controversiesby Tremper Longman. Professor Longman is one of the great veterans of evangelical Old Testament scholarship, and contributor to several popular Bible translations, addressing thorny apologetic issues, such as the age of the earth, evolution, and genocide in ancient Israel.

And now, for the number one book, I really want to try to read in 2020:

  • Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland. Though he himself is not a Christian, by his own admission, British historian Tom Holland promises to make the case that it is the Christian faith that remade the world, and that Western society is on the verge of forgetting that truth, which threatens the West’s very existence.

Top 21 Books of the Decade

As we pass on towards a new decade….

When I was a kid, I hated to read. Nowadays, I never find enough time to read all of the books I want to enjoy. Thankfully, audiobook outfits like ChristianAudio and Audible have made it a lot easier to digest good books on the work commute, or while working in the yard. Here is a list of the top books of the decade (the 2010s), noting that not all of these books were written in the decade, but that these are ones that I have read…. and would even like to read again (I have hyperlinked below to previous Veracity book reviews). These are top 21, as we are in the 21st century, knowing that I probably have neglected to mention some other really good titles.  Here we go!

  • The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusadeby Susan Wise Bauer. I had to include Susan’s book that I read, not simply because she only lives a few miles from me here in Virginia, but because I simply enjoy her writing. Susan is an excellent writer in the world of home school education, and History of the Medieval World is a broad, sweeping, global in scope introduction into the second half of the first millennium, since Christ’s first coming. Not sure if I really would read this particular title again, but it made me very interested in her other books in her world history series.
  • Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology, by Alister E. McGrath. By far, McGrath is my favorite evangelical theologian, as he writes for scholars as well as normal people, with real jobs in the real world, across a wide array of important topics for the Christian. McGrath is a Brit, who teaches at Oxford, but has worked for years with the popular apologist, Ravi Zacharias. Darwinism and the Divine shows where McGrath shines the brightest, in being able to reconcile scientific thinking with biblical theology. McGrath affirms Cardinal John Newman’s 1870 famous quote, “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.” I have a special interest in the Bible/science discussion, but just about anything McGrath writes is worth reading.
  • Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, by Albert Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, John R. Franke, and Peter Enns, and edited by J. Merrick and S. Garrett. The “inerrancy” debate during the 1980s swirled around in my InterVarsity college circle, confusing me greatly. I wish someone would have written a book like this some 30 years ago to have helped me to see that there are various nuances as to understanding what “inerrancy” really means. For the record, my position is somewhere between the views of contributors Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Bird.
  • An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, by Grant Palmer. The fascinating story of a Mormon Church Educational System director, who learned the history behind Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, and who made the painful journey out of Mormonism towards becoming a more orthodox, evangelically-oriented Christian. Palmer’s journey began with the Mark Hofmann forgeries and murder scandal in the 1980s (remember the Salamander letter?).  An Insider’s View is dense and geeky for me, which I like, and Palmer makes for a definitive resource on Mormonism. But if you really want to read a total page-turner on the same topic instead, go for Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven  (Krakauer also wrote the popular Into Thin Air, about the 1997 climbing Mount Everest disaster). I read Krakauer years ago and could not put the book down!
  • Original Sin: A Cultural History, by Alan Jacobs. Now at Baylor University, Jacobs is just a wonderful writer, and in this book, he outlines how the doctrine of original sin has impacted culture down through the ages.
  • Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, by Peter J. Thuesen. An historical look into how the Calvinist/Arminian controversy shaped the evangelical church in America.
  • The Reformation: A History, by Diarmaid MacCulloch. The definitive treatment of the Protestant Reformation.
  • Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton. The classic biography of the Reformation’s most important person, Martin Luther. More recent biographies are more up-to-date, but Bainton still stands out as the best introduction. The perfect book to remember Luther’s stand for the Gospel 500 years ago.
  • Tyndale, by David Teems. Great biography of William Tyndale, who gave us one of the first English Bible translations, and who has made a lasting impact on the English language.
  • George Whitefield, by Arnold A. Dallimore. A classic biography of the First Great Awakening’s most powerful preacher.
  • Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas. Controversial at times, yet a penetrating examination of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted Adolph Hitler. Would read Metaxas again, but would need to read Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer first.
  • Irresistible, by Andy Stanley. A bit jagged for the first two-thirds of the book, but during the last part, pastor Andy Stanley lays down what I think is the best evidentialist approach to Christian apologetics, that I have ever read.
  • Is the Bible Good for Women?, by Wendy Alsup. So far, Wendy Alsup articulates the best, most convincing argument as to how the Bible views the topic of “women in ministry” in the church, from a more mediating perspective of the debate.
  • Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright. A masterful biography of the Apostle Paul, one of N.T. Wright’s best books.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Excellent help from a secular, moral psychologist, exploring why people can become so divided from one another, when making moral judgments. Definitely the best book I read in 2019, and maybe, even right up there as being the best book I read in the decade. Should be required reading for Christians and non-Christians alike.

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