Monthly Archives: February 2023

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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