Milestone: One Thousand (1000) Veracity Blog Posts!!

Well, we finally hit another milestone: Veracity now has 1,000 published blog posts.

John Paine started this blog back in 2012, so now the blog is over 10 years old. Eleven years to be more exact. One thousands posts. That is a lot of Internet!

Back in the “dark ages” before Tik-Tok, John had kept asking me for months if I would like to write an occasional post, and after numerous attempts to push him off, I finally gave in, with my first post in late 2012. Over the past few years, John’s day job has kept him from posting, except for a short dive into YouTube a few years ago. Now, looking back, four out of five Veracity posts have been written by me. I never thought THAT would happen.

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As I wrote about in 2019, the Internet blogging world has changed a lot since 2012. Back in 2012, blogging was still fairly new, and a lot of folks were writing and reading blogs. Audio podcasts were just starting to take off, and YouTube was in many ways still in its infancy. Other social media platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, either were relatively unknown or did not exist yet. Veracity is still one of the few holdouts, but most blogs have stopped allowing comments, due to the proliferation of trolls. My, how times have changed.

The social media explosion has had a tremendous impact on our post-modern world….. as well as the church. It is a bit of an exaggeration, but it almost seems like everyone has a podcast, or a YouTube channel, or whatever. Social media is the 21st century equivalent of the printing press that ignited the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, with Martin Luther’s pamphlets and printed books. Social media has been a two-edged sword, allowing us to easily keep up with friends and family members, while simultaneously corrupting our youth and triggering a massive mental health crisis among children. Social media has helped to educate people, as well as exposing corruption in high places, while simultaneously dragging down public discourse to intolerable levels. What was fun and helpful just a few years ago is now considered toxic, in many circles.

Nowadays, while podcasts are still popular, YouTube has pretty much taken over the area of media attention that was once the domain of blogging. Particularly when it comes to long-form blogging, the kind that I tend to gravitate towards, blogging has been on the decline. In a world where there is so much social media, it is understandable that long-form blogging does not mesh very well with short attention spans, which the new social media world tends to exploit and propagate.

But changes still are happening, in shocking ways. The big IT giants, including Google, have been struggling. Reports of a possible bankruptcy at Twitter would have surprised everyone a few years back. Other big social media companies, like Facebook/Meta, are laying off thousands of workers. Who knows? Perhaps traditional type blogging will make a comeback.

Veracity’s long-form blogging approach will never have the kind of outreach that some Christian YouTubers have, like Allen Parr (almost 1 million subscribers), Mike Winger (over 500 thousand subscribers),  Alisa Childers (approaching 200 thousand subscribers), or the amazing the Bible Project (a whopping 3.48 millions subscribers!!). But that is quite fine with me! Here at Veracity we dive into the tougher issues that I run into almost on a daily basis, working on a secular college campus, issues that are shaping the next generation of thought-leaders in our culture.

Perhaps your world is different from mine, but in the university/academic environment, the Bible is under continual attack, more so than at any point in modern history. The irony of this is that Christians today have more tools at their disposal to defend their faith than at any time in the history of of the church. Christians need to become familiar with the best arguments for the Christian faith. Otherwise, we risk losing future generations to a contagious unbelief and disregard for the Christian story told in all of its fullness.

Before something like “critical race theory” was a thing in popular culture, QAnon-type conspiracy theories politicized the church, or “transgender” was the topic of the day, discussions about issues like these were percolating on college campuses almost 15-25 years ago.  The trend is clear: Issues that captivate discussions in the university will eventually spill over into the wider culture eventually. If you are praying about how to reach the next generation for Christ, spend some time on Veracity to explore some of the challenges that need to be faced. If not for yourself, do it for your children and your grandchildren.

This is just one reason why I am “pumped up” about the vision of the Cambridge House, at the College of William and Mary. The Cambridge House is a “Christian study center,” dedicated to helping Christians students, faculty, staff, and friends of the college in the local community get to know one another better, and acting as a dialogue partner with the college, in expressing a Christian voice on campus, along the lines of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” In a few days, I will post about the first-ever public lecture being sponsored by the Cambridge House, at William and Mary, where I work. Exciting times!!

Veracity’s motto has been “Sharing the Joy of Personal Discipleship,” with a primary interest in Christian apologetics, along with my other personal interest in church history. Veracity has been a helpful vehicle for delivering content for some of the adult Bible classes I have given, though Covid and other events at our church have dramatically changed things. Just five years ago, between John and I, we were putting out perhaps two blog posts per week.  But if you have been following the blog for a long time, that rate has fallen off quite a bit, to about one post every other week, with variations to that schedule every now and then (like the series on “historical criticism” of the Bible that I ran for several weeks early last year). It just seems like eons have passed since my first blog post in September, 2012, on seven approaches to the Bible vs. science discussion in the church!

Long time readers will know that I like doing book reviews: Some short reviews, but also some occasional extended reviews … meaning grab a beverage and curl up with your phone or laptop to read those! Audible and audiobooks have been great for my daily work commute, as sitting down to read a book is something I never have enough time to do. But I find it beneficial for me to distill some of the ideas that I am learning about, and publishing them at Veracity for those who do not even have the time to listen to such audiobooks.

I have a few more posts looking again at the controversial “complementarian versus egalitarian” discussion taking place in many evangelical community settings. I also want to wrap up some reflections regarding the trip my wife and I took to Europe last year.

I am also grieving the loss of Dr. Michael Heiser, a significant scholarly figure who has helped many like me to have a greater confidence in Scripture. Heiser’s work has reinvigorated my study of the Bible, so I currently plan on a few posts that dive into some of Dr. Heiser’s many thoughtful insights and teachings, as a tribute to him, over the coming year.

I am not sure what the future beyond that holds. But thanks to everyone who has followed Veracity over the years to make it a success.

Happy One Thousand Published Blog Posts!!

Embracing Complementarianism: A Review

The relationship between men and women in the family and the church is one of the most hotly contested issues among Christians today. The controversy is part of a fundamental shift in Western society associated with questions about gender and sexuality:

  • What does it mean to be male?
  • What does it mean to be female?
  • What is marriage?
  • What is the relationship between the church, as a spiritual family, to the biological family?

All of these preceding questions were largely settled in the minds of most Westerners during the mid-20th century, and perhaps as late as some thirty years ago. Today, these questions are subject to vigorous and hotly contested debate outside of the Christian church, but the church is not absent from the discussion.

Large churches will get removed from their denomination for changing their position on having “women pastors,” as in the case at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church in February, 2023. Attempts to explore the relationship between sex and salvation will lead to public censure, outcries on social media, and triggered concerns about sexual abuse, as author Joshua Ryan Butler sadly learned with “THAT TGC article” controversy in March 2023. In other words, the debate touches practically everyone of us.

Over the past four years, I have written a number of blog posts in a series regarding this issue, particularly as it relates to the question of men and women serving in the church. In the process, I have felt like I am wearing the proverbial Union top with a Confederate bottom: I get shot at by both sides.

The debate is often pitched as being between the complementarians, who focus on the complementarity between male and female, and the egalitarians, who focus on the equality between male and female. But the reality is that most Christians are on some type of spectrum between the two points of view.

The egalitarian case is generally more restricted in scope in that the bottom line is simpler, especially when it comes to how men and women are to minister and exercise leadership in a local church setting. But it is quite rare to find an egalitarian who is consistently egalitarian, as the early Quakers were, in the broadest sense possible. Those early Quakers completely despised any notion of an organized clergy or local church office, preferring to sit in a round for their worships services, waiting for the “Inner Light” to prompt anyone to speak as the Spirit guided. Today’s evangelical movement still likes the idea of a hopefully educated and skilled orator behind a pulpit, often standing upon an elevated stage, expounding the truth of what is taught in the Bible, while the rest of the congregation quietly takes in the message.

Not very “egalitarian,” if you ask me.

But you would be hard pressed to find anyone giving a Sunday morning sermon pleased if someone else from their church would interrupt their sermon to correct them.

In other words, today’s evangelical egalitarians will still insist that we need leaders in our local churches, thus rejecting the radical egalitarianism of traditional Quakers. But when it comes to the question of men and women serving as leaders in the local church, today’s evangelical egalitarians are embracing a particular view that was largely dismissed as being contrary to Scripture, or exceptional at best, until roughly a hundred years ago. Evangelical groups like various Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Holiness movements led the way in the shift roughly a century ago, but relatively little controversy arose in its wake. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the changes only accelerated since the 1960s, as denomination after denomination among the Protestant mainline began ordaining women as presbyters (elders) in their churches, while smaller, more conservative segments of those denominations broke off to form their own denominations, thus retaining the practice of having only qualified men serve as local church elders (and in some cases, becoming more restrictive).

The egalitarian side of the conversation today generally embraces the view that when it comes to the question of men and women serving as elders in a local church that men and women can serve interchangeably in these leadership roles. There are three main questions that arise when consider this perspective:

  1. Egalitarians will insist that they see no difference in a man or woman’s service as an elder in a local church. However, many egalitarians will still insist that men and women are still different. But what does this difference actually look like in a local church fellowship? Is the local church to be thought of as a spiritual family, and if so, what does that actually mean with respect to liturgical practice and/or church governance? Is the local church modeling for biological families within that church what healthy brotherhood and sisterhood, fatherhood and motherhood, etc. actually looks like? If so, how does the local church express this form of a being spiritual family? To put it another way, what is a “man” and what is a “woman”, and how does that impact our view of the local church as a spiritual family, in the sense of how gender distinctions are expressed in a healthy way, setting an example for children and other young people today in a culture beset with confusion about gender? How do we define our terms here?
  2. What exactly is an “elder” of a local church? Are the elders merely functioning like a board of directors for a church, comparable to a secular organization? Is the oversight they exercise merely administrative or is there actually some spiritual authority component active here? What is the relationship between “elder” and “pastor?” Another way to ask questions like these is this: is the office of elder tied to some notion of passing the faith down from one generation to the next, charged primarily with protecting a local flock from serious theological error? How do we define our terms here?
  3. How does an egalitarian read passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 (most controversially), along with 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, which historically have been interpreted to argue for only qualified males serving as local church elders? What exactly has changed that gives egalitarians the confidence that their newer reading of Scripture is correct?

On the other side of the debate, today’s complementarians, particularly in an American context, will largely reject many of the excesses of patriarchalism of the past. Gone are the days when women were forbidden to go receive a college education, because “women do not really need it,” etc., because of a culturally-defined, patriarchal logic, not due to any particular Scriptural teaching. I personally have known of a woman who became an egalitarian because her dad forbade her from getting a driver’s license until she was out of the house in her twenties!! Really? Wow!

Nevertheless, today’s complementarians will still insist that some distinction with respect to roles in the church and in the family still needs to be maintained, in accordance with Scripture. Sure, there are still outliers who still believe some distinctions between men and women need to be carried into the marketplace as well. But the vast majority of complementarians view it necessary to value some form of “male headship” when it comes of leadership both within the home and in the church, and keep the discussion limited to those realms.

There are a few problems with such complementarian views:

  1. Not all complementarians are the same. In fact, some differences among complementarians are just as wide among themselves as differences in general between complementarians and egalitarians! Some believe that only qualified men should be leaders in a local church, regardless of office or other role. Alternatively, some believe that while the office of elder is restricted to only qualified men, women and men can serve together as deacons (a view that I hold). Some define “elder” one way and others define it another. Some say that being an “elder” and being a “pastor” are interchangeable roles. Others do not. The list of possible situations appears to be quite different depending on which school of complementarian thought you are encountering.
  2. Are complementarians really following Scriptural teaching, or are they simply clinging to older cultural norms? Have complementarians marginalized the contributions of women to the church, or have they empowered women and men to truly be who God made them to be?
  3. How does a complementarian read passages like Romans 16 and Galatians 3:28, which suggest that women were encouraged to serve as leaders in Paul’s churches alongside men, and that Christians today are encouraged to follow Paul’s example?

After doing several years of research, I have come to the conclusion that leaning towards being a complementarian is the most faithfully Scriptural way on interpreting the Bible on this challenging issue. Some might call me a soft complementarian, or a narrow complementarian, or even a moderate complementarian.  I prefer the terminology of being a sacramental complementarian, where ultimately I understand the Bible to teach that there is a profound mystery behind what it means to be male and female, and that the Bible teaches that having qualified men serving as elders in a local church has been designated in the New Testament as the most faithful means of church expressing that mystery, while at the same time encouraging women to serve as leaders in other capacities within a local church.

As noted above, I get shot from both sides here, where egalitarians are bothered that I am complementarian, while other complementarians do not think I am being complementarian enough!!

The best short summary that comes the closest to detailing my view can be found in Andrew Wilson’s article “Beautiful Difference: The (Whole-Bible) Complementarity of Male and Female.”  Nevertheless, I have longed to find a book that sets out to lay this vision out both biblically and practically. Finally, such a book is now in print: Embracing Complementarianism: Turning Biblical Convictions into Positive Church Culture, by Graham Beyond and Jane Tooher.

It is best to quote the introduction or jacket cover of the book to get a feel for what the authors are trying to accomplish:

A biblical vision for the roles of men and women in the church—and how to put them into practice.

It can be tempting to shy away from addressing the issue of gender roles in church because it’s often controversial. But this can result in churches either being increasingly influenced by secular culture or simply sticking with the status quo when it comes to what men and women do in church.

Building on the belief that complementarianism is both biblical and positive, this book focuses on what these convictions look like in practice. Moving beyond the familiar discussions around “gender roles”, and leaving room for variety in how readers implement these ideas, it will encourage a church culture where men and women truly partner together—embracing their privileges and responsibilities, and maximizing their gifts, in joyful service of God’s kingdom.

Too often, conversations about complementarian theology tend to get bogged down into discussions that focus on the negative. Instead of exploring the beauty and goodness of God’s purposes, as grounded in creation, for men and women, discussions tend to focus away from what men are called to do and instead focus on what women are NOT to do.

Such conversations often go something like this: “Men and women are different. The church is called by God to celebrate those differences while acknowledging the unique gifting of men and women…. Oh, and so therefore, this means that women are prohibited from serving as elders in a local church.”

In an age when secular feminism is predominant in the culture, and makes its presence felt even in the church, such a discussion sounds antiquated at best, or even discriminatingly destructive at worst.

At that point, you can often feel the tension, a tension that is so thick that you can cut it with a knife. Once you get stuck there, everyone begins to look for an exit. Unfortunately, this is NOT the best way to move the conversation forward.

Instead, Beyond and Tooher focus on the practical, helping those who embrace a complementarian theology to find ways for men and women to serve together in a local church, while remaining committed to the principle of a qualified male eldership. In many ways, Embracing Complementarianism is a step up from Kevin DeYoung’s book Men and Women in the Church, which I reviewed almost a year ago, which does well in its general theological framework, while still supporting a much “harder” view of complementarianism, which I contend is unwarranted by the actual teaching of Scripture; e.g. DeYoung argues for no women deacons in the church, and no women teaching of any kind in a mixed-setting, even under the authority of an all-male eldership.

The theological driver behind Embracing Complementarianism had its beginnings in the ordination debates for women in the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Australia in the 1990s. I have dear friends of mine who reject the faulty logic of slippery-slope arguments, and to a great extent I would agree. However, we have come a long way since the 1990s.

Back then, opponents of women’s ordination to the priesthood were concerned that the adoption of such a practice (which was eventually endorsed) would tend towards a slippery slope towards the full acceptance of same-sex unions in that Anglican communion.  In those days, supporters of women’s ordination sought to reassure their opponents that the full acceptance of same-sex unions was a type of slippery slope argument that was unwarranted, and that there would no serious attempt to try to change the definition of marriage in such Anglican communions. Contrary to the prevailing culture that sees “womens issues” and “LGBTQ issues” on the same continuum, defenders of women’s ordination in Australia sought to draw the line against same-sex marriage.

However, one can only look at what is happening today in the Church of England, which in the 1990s also endorsed women’s ordination, but that is currently in an uproar concerning proposed changes to allow for same-sex union blessings in the Church of England, despite calls for the Church of England to repent from this change in theological direction. Slippery slope thinking may indeed be faulty logic, but as many church bodies like various Anglican traditions, including U.S. Episcopalians, Anglican Canadians, and now the mother church of Anglicanism in the U.K. continue down such slippery slopes, I have more doubts now. I once thought that those who warned about such “slippery slopes” were over-reacting. Now I am not so sure about that. A robust theology of gender is desperately needed, which encompasses all of the great debates of our day, not just “women in ministry,” but concerns about the definition of marriage and the transgender movement.

A community of Australian Anglicans since the 1990s formed Equal but Different, where a very positive review for Embracing Complementarianism can be found, an organization which the authors of Embracing Complementarianism have an affinity for. The very fact that a man and woman team of authors partnered together in writing this book is a very positive step forward. The focus is less on authority and submission and more on partnership together as men and women in leadership, another great step forward. Australian author Ruth Baker has a very positive review of the book.  Interestingly, even a conservative blogger like Tim Challies has effectively endorsed the book through his review.

The best part of the book, apart from being fairly short, was in its attempt to frame the principle of a qualified male eldership to be a very positive thing. In other words, it is a expression of the beauty and goodness of God in creating men and women as God did by being grateful that men should be encouraged to step up and lead in their churches in such a way that encourages men to lead their families, by following the example of Christ loving the church, who laid down his life for others (Ephesians 5:25). In contrast to more traditional views, the concept of “male headship” is not a call to a unilateral, top-down hierarchy of husbands “ruling” their wives, but rather, there is an emphasis on servanthood and partnership, which is also to be reflected in the spiritual family of a local church body.

Despite the practical benefits of Embracing Complementarianism, there are two drawbacks that I would still note about the book. First, while Embracing Complementarianism rightly leans towards a more generous, “softer” version of complementarian theology, it does not come across as strongly enough in rejecting some of the excesses found in more “harder” versions of complementarian theology. For example, the two co-authors do not agree with one another on whether or not women should ever lead in Christian worship, even if the all-male eldership of that local church would encourage the practice, even only on an occasional basis.

For example, one reviewer has noted that chapters 5-7 in the book speaks a lot about “male leadership” in the church, which can give the mistaken impression that women should never be leading in a local church. It would have been much better if the authors had stuck to the principle of a “qualified male eldership,” instead of the more slippery and sometimes misleading notion of “male leadership.” For example, Nympha had a church meeting in her house (Colossians 4:15), and Lydia did, too (Acts 16:11-15), which assumes that both women had some leadership role. But to say that Nympha and Lydia were leaders in their respective churches does not mean that either woman was an elder in that church, anymore than saying that just because I have led Bible studies in my home, that therefore this has made me an elder in a local church. That type of logic simply does not follow. 1 Encouraging men to lead in the church should not be a discouragement from women leading, in a complementarian fashion.2

Secondly, the focus on the practical working out of a complementarian theology was somewhat hampered by an insufficient exploration into why having a qualified male eldership in a local church fully explains Paul teaching on this subject in the Pastoral Letters (primarily 1 Timothy and Titus). This criticism is rightly made in Andrew Bartlett’s review of the book.

My answer would be that Embracing Complementarianism would have been even better if it had tried to connect complementarianism with a more sacramental theology. Thus by acknowledging the sacramental character of qualified male eldership, we do not have permission to ignore this practice in a local church, anymore than it would be to say that the sacrament of baptism is unnecessary today because what really matters is a conviction within the heart, as though the liturgical practice of water baptism is simply an irrelevant, old-fashioned ritual that belongs to a by-gone era. Rather, in recognizing the mysterious element here of how male and female relate together offers an invitation to explore the theological reasoning that undergirds this mystery. In other words, simply saying that the Bible teaches about a qualified male-only eldership does not offer enough theological substance for folks who wonder why God would have the Apostle Paul lay this principle out in the first place. A brief attempt to try  to paint a sacramentally theological vision for a qualified male-only eldership was made decades ago by the great Oxford don, C.S. Lewis, by drawing upon the analogy of ballroom dancing. But more imaginative theological reflection is needed now in the 21st century. As Lewis himself put it, “the Church ought to be more like a [dance] Ball than it is like a factory or a political party.

There is a serious need for complementarian theology to be expressed in book form that tackles this task. In the meantime, Embracing Complementarianism fits a needed space for a type of complementarian approach to what it means to be male and female in the church today without falling into either the Scylla and Charybdis extremes of a Council of Biblical Manhood and Woman-style, more-hardened, authoritarian-leaning complementarianism, on the one side, and a Christians for Biblical Equality egalitarianism, on the other side, which at times reaches too far with what comes across as exegetical handstands in trying to defend their arguments.2

Co-author Jane Tooher summarizes the message in her book, and she was interviewed about the book, in this video below. Dig the Australian accents!!


1. Egalitarian biblical scholar Linda L. Belleville makes this non sequitor logical error in her essay in Two View on Women in Ministry, p. 54, in saying that “Mary, Lydia, and Nympha were overseers of house churches“.  With respect to Mary, the mother of John Mark, Belleville cites Acts 12:12 for support, using the same faulty logic. Sloppy and slippery definitions of what it means to be an “elder” and “overseer” in a local church merely complicate the conversation, thus keeping the discussion from moving forward in a constructive direction. When we can not even agree upon the meaning of the terminology in a discussion, healthly productive conversation will often suffer.   

2. A textbook example of how confusion reigns in the evangelical movement today can be seen in the 2023 move by the Southern Baptist Convention to oust from their affiliation churches like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California, for ordaining women as “pastors,” while still having all-male “elderships” in place.  For Saddleback, they saw no problem in having women “pastors” serving under the authority of all-male elder/oversight.  What is so odd about the move is that there are prominent complementarian leaders who endorse a distinction between “pastors” and “elders”, including Sam Storms, which would allow for women to serve as pastors, but not as elders.  On the other side of the argument can be found in the Southern Baptist Faith and Message (2000) itself, which seeks to equate the role of “pastor” with “elder.”  Furthermore, there is additional confusion as one of the “teaching pastors” at Saddleback is a woman married to the other teaching pastor, and even Sam Storms would argue that woman should not be a “senior pastor,” as it blurs the line between “pastor” and “elder.” Even Rick Warren agrees with that qualification. So while the Southern Baptist Convention has every right to exclude Saddleback from its membership, it does raise the question as to why the Southern Baptist Faith and Message conflates “pastor” and “elder” together, thereby creating a divide even within the ranks of complementarianism. The new lead pastor of Saddleback Church, Andy Wood, explains the rationale for having women pastors while limiting eldership to only qualified men.

3. See my review of Lucy Peppiatt’s book Rediscovering Scriptures’s Vision for Women, with a critique of some of these exegetical “handstands”.   

A Chapel Institute Conversation on Progressive Christianity (Veracity Video Special !!)

My friend and one of my pastors, Hunter Ruch, sat me down after lunch not too long ago to record two sessions for the Williamsburg Community Chapel Institute. The Chapel Institute is a ministry of the Williamsburg Community Chapel, in my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia.

During this interview, Hunter and I talk about some very important topics. First, we briefly share about another ministry that he and I are very much excited about, the Cambridge House, at the College of William and Mary. The Cambridge House is a Christian Study Center located within walking distance of the College, where I work. Just a week or so before my interview, another friend and new director of the Cambridge House, Jon Thompson, was interviewed by Hunter about what it means to be human. Read more about the Cambridge House here!

After that, in the first session, we launch into a conversation about what is “progressive Christianity“, how it differs from “historic orthodox Christianity,” and some of the history behind the movement, offering a few examples of what “progressive Christianity” might look like in certain expressions of the church. We talk about how the “progressive Christianity” of the 20th century has morphed into the “progressive Christianity” of the 21st century.

In the second session, we drill down on one particular example of “progressive Christianity,” the idea of “Christian universalism,” which contends everyone will ultimately be saved and reconciled to God in the end, through Jesus. At first, ideas like this look attractive, but it can lead to warped understandings of what the Bible actually teaches. It is very sad and disconcerting when certain evangelical influencers drift off in this direction. We wrap up our conversation talking about ways that we can help others who are wrestling with “progressive Christianity,” and trends like “deconstruction,” and how we can avoid drifting into “progressive Christianity” ourselves.

Just a few comments about what you will see and hear. First, Hunter introduced me as the senior networking “director” of IT at the College, which is not accurate. I am more properly a “senior network engineer,” part of a team of IT staff, though my main responsibility is in the area of architecture and design. Secondly, I got a little lost halfway through the second segment, explaining some of the problems associated with “Christian universalism,” but hopefully I got back on track!! Please let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Scholarship: Dr. Michael Heiser (RIP)

We lost a great one yesterday.

After about a year and a half battle with cancer, Dr. Michael S. Heiser has died. If I had to pick one evangelical biblical scholar who has impacted me the most over the past twenty years, it would be Michael Heiser.

Michael Heiser. Semitic languages and Old Testament scholar.

I first heard of Dr. Michael Heiser through a podcast that was recommended to me some eight or nine years ago, where Heiser went chapter-by-chapter through a book of the Bible, not quite verse-by-verse, but close enough, bringing his scholarly acumen to bear on the passage under discussion. This was before I ever sat down and read his mind-changing book, The Unseen Realm, that I finally got around to read just a few years ago.  The Unseen Realm, along with the shortened, less academic version of the same, Supernatural, are books that have forever changed the way that many Christians have read their Bibles for the better. I am one of them.

In The Unseen Realm (read my review), Dr. Heiser tells the story of how as a graduate student in ancient history, Semitic languages, and the Hebrew Bible, while earning advanced degrees at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he stumbled on a different way of reading Psalm 82, that changed the way he read the whole of the Bible. To his amazement, after spending years in academic study, he had previously missed the Bible’s teaching about the “Divine Council” of God.  This teaching was known among the ancient Israelites and Second Temple Jews of the Old Testament, but it had somehow become obscured or even lost among many Christian thinkers. As Christianity spread in the Gentile world within the first few centuries of the church, fewer and fewer believers adequately understood the uniquely Jewish context behind the Second Temple and early Ancient Near East cultural world of the Hebrew Scriptures.

As Mike, as he liked to be called, often said about the Old Testament: “Our contexts are foreign. They derive from church tradition that is thousands of years removed from the people who wrote Scripture and the audience to whom those people wrote.”

This supernatural world of the Bible explored by Dr. Heiser opened the door for me to understand a number of confusing Bible passages, that remained nothing more than mysteries to me. To summarize one of Dr. Heiser’s main ideas behind doing Bible study: “If it is weird, it is important.” Everything from the Nephilim of Genesis 6 to the head coverings passage of 1 Corinthians 11, Dr. Heiser was able take a lot of the best evangelical scholarly research on the Bible, and put it on the lower shelf, to help explain some of the stranger parts of God’s Word.

Furthermore, Michael Heiser has probably been one of the best apologists for the Old Testament, combining evangelical faith with academic rigor. Unlike many other scholars like him, Dr. Heiser was not raised in an evangelical church home. He was pretty much as unchurched as they can be when he finally gave his life to Jesus as a teenager. Yet unlike many other young teenagers who became believers, he nerded out quickly. He would take biblical commentaries with him to high school, in order to squeeze every minute he could to try to gain a better understanding of the text of Scripture. He never settled for accepting everything that was said from a church pulpit. Instead, he plowed deep into scholarship, avoiding pat answers to difficult questions, in an effort to fact check what he was being taught in various church settings. This nerdy love for the Bible would serve him well as a first rate Bible scholar later in life.

After several years working as a resident scholar with Logos Bible Software (now Faithlife), putting together a really helpful blog site, publishing a number of books both fiction and non-fiction (several of which I have reviewed at Veracity), Michael Heiser joined up with Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida to help start the Awakening School of Theology. Mike’s work included Angels (see my review), the 60-Second Scholar Series (see my review), and he wrote many of the study notes for the NIV FaithLife Study Bible (see my review). Dozens of YouTube channels carry snippets of interviews and talks given by Dr. Heiser, in addition to the authorized Dr. Michael S. Heiser channel. I have one of his last books, Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness, queued up on my Audible app (see these reviews at The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today).

Like almost any scholar, I have not always agreed with Dr. Heiser on every point he was trying to make, or else he simply was not able to convince me. His primary interest in the biblical theology of the Divine Council often led him to ignore or sidestep other important issues in the interpretation of Scripture. At times, Dr. Heiser tended to shortchange or be overly dismissive of the tradition of the early church and certain elements in Reformation theology, and he even promoted a kind of despair that we can know anything about eschatology with any level of confidence: that is, regarding how believers should think about the specifics of the Second Coming of Christ (my basic answer can be found here).

But such criticisms should not take away from the valuable contribution he has made to reinvigorate my love for Scripture, as well as encourage others to dive deeper into God’s Word. Dr. Heiser’s insights into the “Unseen Realm” excited him more about the deep truths taught within Scripture, and in his passion and confidence in that teaching he was adamant not to get bogged down in other never-ending debates among believers that might distract from the core principles of Bible study he was trying to instill within his readers and podcast listeners. I really can not fault him for that.

His death will leave a big hole in the world of taking the best of evangelical scholarship and putting it down on the bottom shelf, making it accessible to mere mortals. Yet thankfully, Dr. Heiser has given the church a great gift through his teaching ministry, and his influence will continue, and hopefully encouraging other gifted scholars to serve God’s people with exceptionally powerfully and helpful content. If you are new to Dr. Heiser, check out his YouTube channel, the website (geared primarily towards newer Christians and non-believers), or the “Live in Context” video curriculum, the first video which begins below:

Culture Clash: Christian, Secular and Soviet Influences In Eastern Europe

During our trip to Europe in 2022, I was particularly struck by the clashes of culture, particularly in cities like Budapest and Prague. For example, there are beautiful churches in Budapest and Prague. For the most part, churches rise above the skyline, a testimony to the time in Europe when Christianity dominated the cultural scene.

St. Vitus Cathedral, in Prague, Czech Republic, rises above the grand beauty of the Prague Castle at night, a testimony to the Christian era of the Middle Ages.

For example, in Prague, St. Vitus rises above the city in grandeur. I snapped the above photo on a beautiful moonlit night, with the spires of St. Vitus stretching upwards towards the sky overlooking the city. In a previous blog, I posted a photo of the interior of St. Vitus, lit up in the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows filled with Christian art. But less than a mile away, the Prague Metronome stands out for display, but with a different message. The curious history of the Prague Metronome is summarized by a plaque at the metronome’s base that reads, “In time, all things pass…”.

You have to know a little history to get the reference. In the mid-1950s, the Soviets installed a massive granite statue to honor Joseph Stalin. Stalin had grown up in the Russian Orthodox Church, and even spent some time studying in a seminary to train as a priest. However, as an adult, Stalin became a fierce opponent of Christianity. But his hatred of Christianity was eclipsed by his reputation for instilling terror and murdering millions. The monument was the largest statue of its kind in Europe until it was demolished in late 1962. It was so big and bulky that it took 1800 lbs. of explosives to take it down, and the Metronome took its place in 1991, after the decline of the Soviet Union.

To get an idea at how unpopular the Stalin statue was, you would have to know that the sculptor, Otakar Švec, killed himself just a few days before the statue was unveiled to the public. Otakar Švec was so horrified by his own creation, that he chose suicide over the humiliation of seeing his statue unveiled before his fellow Czech neighbors and friends. Strangely enough, the Czech Communists went forward with statue unveiling, only to begin the process of de-Stalinization shortly after the statue’s debut.

The Prague Metronome is a repudiation of Stalin’s ideological fanaticism, but I doubt that it is symbolizes a return to Christianity. Today, around 72% of all Czechs in the Czech Republic describe themselves as being “unaffiliated” when it comes to the Christian faith, the highest level of atheism/agnosticism of any country in Europe. On the bright side, at least there is more religious freedom in the Czech Republic now than there has been in recent generations.

The Prague Metronome took the place of the very unpopular Stalin monument. It was hard to get a closer photo of it, but if you click on the photo, you make it out better, rising just above the hill.

A similar story surrounds the “Liberty Statute” in Budapest, erected by the Soviets to celebrate the liberation of Budapest from Nazi Germany, but which was later reconfigured after the failed Hungarian Revolution of the 1950s that tried to oust the Soviets from power (see photo further down below).

But the specter of failed Marxist experiments are not the only signs of secularization in Eastern Europe. In Budapest, a shrine for singer/songwriter Michael Jackson was erected across the street from the hotel he used to visit, shortly after his death a few years ago. Just a block or so away from the Michael Jackson shrine is the first McDonalds fast food restaurant that opened up in the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union began to fall apart.

Michael Jackson shrine in Budapest.


Prague has its own pop-culture shrine, the so-called Lennon Wall, just down the street from our hotel, in honor of the fallen Beatles member, John Lennon. It is just weird to think that a mentally disturbed, suicidally obsessed, American Christian college dropout, Mark David Chapman, murdered John Lennon in 1980, catapulting John Lennon into secular martyrdom status. The iconic martyrdom status of John Lennon, marked by the graffiti painted on the Lennon wall, far supersedes the memory of another fallen Beatle, George Harrison, who was known for his conversion to Hinduism. Lennon wrote the song, “Imagine,” which is often regarded as a stinging critique of organized religious faith of any kind.

The Lennon Wall, in Lessertown, in Prague, Czech Republic. As I stood around the wall taking photos on a nice fall day, several groups of Beatles lovers would drop by and take photos of themselves in front of this wall.


It makes me wonder what the future of Europe will look like. Will Christianity ever return and dominate the spiritual life of Central Europe? Bible-believers are surely scattered all over cities like this, but they are generally few in number. Pray that they will have the courage to witness for Jesus, and be beacons of hope in such cities that have lost much confidence in Christian churches. Pray that the people of Europe, in places like Hungary and the Czech Republic, who have endured such suffocating ideological oppression, would become more open  to the Gospel.

I will close out this photo essay with some of my favorite pictures of Europe that I took during our trip. Europe can be stunningly beautiful:

Overlooking the Danube, from Buda Castle, in Budapest. The famous parliament building stands at the center.


Evening in Budapest, highlighting the hill where the Soviet’s erected the “Liberty Statue.” Unfortunately, I could not get a closer picture of the statue because the park where the statue is located was closed for renovations. Many locals in Budapest refer to the “Liberty Statue” satirically as the world’s largest bottle opener.


Full moon, on the Danube, in Budapest.


Nothing beats the look of Budapest and the Danube at night.

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