Tag Archives: books

Best (and Bittersweet) Wrapup of 2021 … Books and More

At the end of each year, I like to take some time looking back over some of best things I have learned, mainly from books (and podcasts), with a wrap-up of some of the biggest stories hitting the Christian world. But before I do that, I would like to report on the most bittersweet moment this past year.

It was the loss of our Italian greyhound, Digby. He was a rescue dog that we adopted, near the time when I learned that my mother was dying of cancer, back starting in 2014. He had been pulled out of a burning house, engulfed by a fire, and he needed a home. Friends who were traveling through Indiana picked him up for us, that we might give him a “forever home”. This sweet little guy gave my wife and I much joy for seven years.

He was in many ways a much better dog than Dooty, another Italian greyhound, whom we lost in 2013. In September, 2020, our newest “family member” was sadly diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. Dogs typically do not recover from this disease, but with certain types of medical treatment, they can live months, or even years after the initial diagnosis, with a good quality of life. Fourteen months later, though, in early November, it became apparent that the condition of this Italian greyhound was rapidly deteriorating. What made his death so much the more difficult was his genuinely sweet disposition to the very end. I marvel at the glory of God that was on full display by this creature.

We will miss this little guy. Hopefully, we will meet someone just like Digby in the New Heavens and New Earth (The first two following pics were from late 2020. The third was from September, 2021. The last one was from November, 2021).

 

 

 

 

 

 


Speaking of bittersweet, here is a remarkable story of forgiveness, displaying the power of the Gospel.  A Christian friend of mine, Debbie Smith, was sexually attacked in 1989, when a man entered her home and dragged her into the woods. He was eventually caught and convicted, after DNA evidence provided a positive match for the suspect. Earlier this year, Debbie spent five hours visiting this man, still in prison, where she told him that she had forgiven him.

 


 

Here is my wrap-up for 2021….

This will really show my age here, but just few weeks ago I learned that Michael Nesmith, the lead guitar player and primary songwriter for the 1960’s television pop-group, the Monkees, died at age 78. As a kid, I watched re-runs of that show, and I was drawn to Nesmith’s character, always wearing a wool hat, and who came across as the most pensive member of the band…. Just one little interesting factoid about Nesmith I recently learned: His mother invented Liquid Paper, the typewriter correction fluid, in 1954, as a divorced single mother, trying to raise her son Michael ….  Here is one of Nesmith’s musical creations, that he introduces in this silly video for the television show, “You Just May Be The One.” Mickey Dolenz, the drummer, is the only surviving member of the band:

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Onto some things of a more serious nature….

On the bright side, in the midst of disaster, it is really encouraging to see how Christians are working together to help the folks impacted by tornadoes in Kentucky, back in early December…. My wife and I visited family over this Christmas near where the worst tornado, which reached up to EF-4 strength, devastated the towns of Dawson Springs and Mayfield, Kentucky. You could see the damaged inflicted along the path the tornado took crossing Interstate 69 in several places. It made me appreciate the power of nature to inflict terrible damage, and impact many lives, as we could see debris for miles scattered over rural Kentucky…..

On the more problematic side of the church…..

One of the most significant developments that I have been seeing in the American church is the development of what might best be called “progressive Christianity,” as a contrast to “historically orthodox Christianity.” A generation or so ago, this distinction was primarily seen as the difference between “mainline Protestant Christianity” and “evangelicalism.” But with the looming collapse of the Protestant mainline, and the emergence of other churches that do not fit the older Protestant mainline mold, the category of “progressive Christianity” seems like a much more appropriate designation. Unlike in previous generations, when so-called “liberal Christians” went to “mainline churches” (with a few conservatives mixed in, here and there), and “conservative Christians” went to “conservative evangelical” churches, many churches today are a blended mix of everything, that defies easy boundary markers.

As some have said, this blending is an invitation to shallowness…..

We are now living in an age where the specific boundary between “progressive Christianity” and “historically orthodox Christianity” (certainly of the Protestant sort) can become slippery and elusive. On the one side, some doctrinal controversies can cause unnecessary division, and harm the unity of Christ’s body. Yet at the same time, the category of “disputable matters” can also become so broadly and loosely defined that the concept of knowable, absolute Christian truth becomes a meaningless enterprise. Some differences in belief and practice are simply stark and distinctive, and difficult to ignore. The following video dialogue between Sean McDowell (historically orthodox Christian) and Colby Martin (progressive Christian) provides an informative illustration as to what this chasm in the church looks like:


 

Speaking of controversy 😦   …..  When COVID started to emerge in the U.S., a little under two years ago, I first thought that this crisis might be the spark that would lead to a spiritual revival. Having people crammed up in their homes for weeks on end might encourage a massive wave of interest in spiritual things. But such was not the case. In fact, things have pretty much devolved into an unparalleled amount division in the culture… and 2021 was pretty much the wearisome ballooning of the same craziness that engulfed people in 2020!!

So much of this spirit of division is driven by the flood of post-modernism throughout the Western world. The shady world of fake news and deepfake technology has not helped matters, that is for sure (listen to this Holy Post podcast, if you are unsure what “fake news” and “deepfake technology” is)….. and our American educational system has pretty much robbed a whole generation of a vibrant appreciation of history, a situation that we have managed to export to places outside of the U.S., like the U.K, according to historian and The Rest is History podcaster, Dominic Sandbrook.

This state of affairs is pretty depressing, but there are signs of change in the air. Positive change. Even a gay atheist, like the venerable British historian, David Starkey, who last year ran afoul of the U.K.’s extreme “social justice warrior” movement and virtue-signaling “woke” crowd, laments our culture’s failure to pursue truth. What if every Christian possessed this type of desire to pursue truth?

 

Sadly, this depressing state of affairs permeates the church as well. Consider the case of Eric Metaxas. A few years ago, despite some earlier misgivings about some of his writings, I imagined that Eric was becoming the type of evangelical public intellectual who could soundly speak for the conservative evangelical movement as a whole. After reading his book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I was pretty excited about Eric Metaxas’ prospects as a popular-style, evangelical public intellectual. I was very hopeful about Eric, and here on Veracity I have linked to perhaps a good half dozen episodes of his talk show from YouTube (which have all since mysteriously vanished)…

…. and then 2020 came. …  Eric appeared to go off the deep end, uncritically embracing various conspiracy theories (as it would appear). WORLD News Group did an interview with Eric Metaxas in November, 2021, primarily regarding a new book authored by Metaxas, but also to ask the question that keeps popping up in my mind, “Whatever happened to Eric Metaxas?Give it a listen and make up your own mind.

Speaking of WORLD News Group, that sponsors the daily news podcast, The World and Everything In It, that my wife enjoys listening to daily, a shakeup there has everyone scratching their heads. WORLD has historically been on the more conservative side of conservative evangelicalism, under the editorial leadership of Marvin Olasky. I have had issues with some of WORLD’s reporting over the years, but I have also been grateful for WORLD taking controversial stands, in exposing various scandals inside the evangelical world, and Marvin Olasky was largely responsible for that type of journalism. Now, however, Olasky has announced his resignation from WORLD magazine, since a decision at WORLD was made to take editorial control of the magazine away from Olasky.

Olasky has his concerns about the future of Christian journalism: “The trend in journalism these days is to emphasize opinion, not reporting. Reporting is costly; opining is relatively cheap. It can lead to more ‘reader engagement’ in terms of clicks, likes, shares—and subscriptions. Challenging readers or donors can be costly: Supporting proclivities and prejudices is better at cementing loyalty. These days it makes a certain kind of economic and political sense to abandon Biblical objectivity and become known as a liberal or conservative organ.” For someone who is such a resolute conservative evangelical to make such a statement does not bode well for the state of the church.

I am continually being challenged to learn How to Have Impossible Conversations in a digital world where the social media algorithms steer us all into ideological corners, on both the right and the left, and thus facilitating outrage fatigue. Thoughtful, intelligent nonbelievers employ such conservational strategies, to avoid nonsense, but Christians would do well to do the same. Probably the best summary of this problem, from a pastor’s point of view, comes from this interview of pastor Matt Chandler by theologian Preston Sprinkle:

To get a feel for how difficult the situation is, just recently in December, 2021, the Pew Research Forum released an updated report chronicling the rise of the “Nones,” those who say that they no longer have a religious affiliation.  In 2007, the survey indicated that the “Nones” made up 16% of the American population, rising to 26% by 2019.  Now, just a few years later, we are at 29% for the “Nones.” That is almost 1 out of 3 Americans (about 3 out of 10, to be more exact), whereas this was just at 1 out of 6 Americans (about 3 out of 20), a little more than a decade ago.

On the whole, American Christianity does not seem to know what to do about this situation….


 

Now onto better things….

Before I hit the book review summaries, I like to put another plug in before the end of 2021 for the Cambridge House at the College of William & Mary. I am super-excited about what is going on there!!.This is a great effort to try to put a dent into the growing “Nones” trend, on just one local college campus, here in the United States.

Now, this is perhaps the most exhilarating story of the year… just in time for Christmas. The group of conservative Anabaptist missionaries that were held captive by gang members in Haiti for weeks made a daring escape away from their captors. Wow!! (One of the captive missionaries gives a one-hour testimony of his experience).

 


 

Some Book Reviews…..

If there is one thing I appreciate about bike commuting is the ability to listen to audiobooks (and podcasts) while I ride. Not only am I trying to get my body in shape, I am working on getting my mind (and hopefully, my heart) in shape as well. As we are s-l-o-w-l-y emerging out of the COVID pandemic, I have been able to sneak in some great listens during 2021.

First, let me say that I am trying to stay off the 24-hour news cycle, that I believe has been a detriment to the spiritual health of millions of people. We live in an age where evidence-based reasoning takes a backseat to whoever successfully can take advantage of the attention-getting algorithms propagated by social media networks like Facebook. I am thankful for a site like Ground News that takes the current headlines, and simply summarizes the stories, and organizes the reporting media based on an organization’s ideological bias. Another site, AllSides.com, does pretty much the same thing. Websites like these help to quickly cut through all of the garbage.

I want to next list off a few of my favorite podcasts. When it comes to Bible study, nothing else beats Dr. Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast. This is some of the best Bible teaching out there today, a combination of verse-by-verse exposition, apologetics, and an appreciation of current biblical scholarship, all wrapped up into one. If you think studying the Bible might be “boring,” then the Naked Bible Podcast is your antidote.

Preston Sprinkle has a wide variety of fantastic interviews on his Theology in the Raw podcast. Beyond theological topics, focusing on history, I have become a follower of The Rest is History, by British historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, which is a lot of fun, as well as being educational. Premier Christian Radio’s C.S. Lewis podcast is a wonderful introduction to the great Oxford Don, Christian apologist, and children’s book author, featuring interviews with scientist/theologian Alister McGrath. Plus, if you have ever wondered what the whole Old Testament Apocrypha was all about, you should try the Bad Books of the Bible podcast, put out by Ancient Faith Radio.

Then there is a whole slew of YouTube channels, such as Sean McDowell’s channel, for great apologetics content; Gavin Ortlund’s Truth Unites, for an evangelical Protestant engagement with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and Matt Whitman’s Ten Minute Bible Hour, a Baptist look at the richness of different Christian traditions.

But hands-down, the most provocative podcast I have listened to this year has been Christianity Today’s The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill…. It is eye-opening, intense, soul-searching, spiritually challenging, and controversial, all at the same time…. In the wake of Ravi Zacharias scandals, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill gave me a lot to think about how Christians have not handled celebrity pastor Christianity that well…..After just finishing listening to the whole series, with my small-letter “c” complementarianism in view, I confess that I am still drawn to the power, penetration, and conviction of Mark Driscoll’s message. But it is quite clear that Pastor Mark’s theological vision got hijacked by a type of control-freakish machismo that ultimately took down Mars Hill Church from the inside.

It would appear that the greatest threat to Christianity lies not in the surrounding culture, but right in the backyard of the church.

Who needs television and the 24-hour news cycle when you’ve got stuff like this to listen to?

But now for the books….

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, by Carl Trueman. Best book of the year.

  • The Unseen Realm, by Michael Heiser. Trueman’s book only beat this Heiser book, because of the timeliness. But Michael Heiser’s research into the supernatural world of the Bible has completely shifted the way I read the Bible. The Unseen Realm, and its less-academic version, Supernatural, are destined to become classics in Biblical studies, revolutionizing how to approach the Bible as a whole, shaped by the historical context of Second Temple Judaism. I hope to be writing a lot about Dr. Heiser’s work in future blog posts. This has motivated me to dig into the Scriptures, with greater enthusiasm, than anything else I have read in the past 5 or 6 years. In my view, if we are praying for revival in the church, that might explode into a new “Great Awakening” in our culture, I believe it will start by grappling with some of the ideas and thoughts found Dr. Heiser’s books. Review here at Veracity.
  • Embodied, by Preston Sprinkle. This is the “go-to” book I would recommend to understand the crisis of gender identity overtaking the culture today, and its impact on the church, based on solid scientific research and biblical wisdom. However, unlike Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Sprinkle’s Embodied is more focused on how to care for people wrestling with these deeply personal issues, instead dealing with the culture war questions. Embodied was also a very important personal book for me, too. Review here at Veracity.
  • The Two Popes, by Anthony McCarten. A provocative look at the relationship between the current pope, Francis, and the previous pope, Benedict. It is a great movie, too. Review here at Veracity.
  • Welcoming Justice, by Charles Marsh and John Perkins. A short but helpful book that sidesteps around the unhelpful categories of critical race theory and “wokeness” to get at the real story of how the church can effectively combat racism. Review here at Veracity.
  • The Bible With and Without Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. Two Jewish scholars help both Christians and Jews understand why both groups read the Bible, and particularly, the New Testament, so differently.  Review here at Veracity.
  • Finding the Right Hills to Die On, by Gavin Ortlund. When theological controversial erupts in your small group or church, Ortlund’s book is great resource to try to frame what is important and unimportant regarding how to navigate theological controversy. I found this book immensely helpful in trying to navigate a theological debate that has been tearing at my home church, for the past couple of years, and its impact on personal relationships. Review here at Veracity.
  • The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, by Beth Allison Barr. An otherwise brilliant and illuminating study of the history of women in the church, making an important case for affirming the gifts of women in the life of the church, nevertheless comes up short when it comes to offering a cogent, exegetically compelling interpretation of the Bible concerning women in church leadership. To use a manner of speaking going back to J. I. Packer, Beth Allison Barr’s efforts are well-meaning, positively enlightening, challengingly corrective on certain matters… and yet still “wrong-headed” at certain crucial points. Review here at Veracity.
  • Judaism Before Jesus, by Anthony Tomasino. The best book that I have read that gives you an historical introduction to the “Time Between the Testaments,” between the Old and New Testament, otherwise known as the period of “Second Temple Judaism.”  Review here at Veracity.
  • Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden. A classicist scholar examines the writings of the Apostle Paul, and surprisingly concludes that Paul is not the “bad guy” that so many skeptics, and even liberal-minded Christians, think he is. Review here at Veracity.
  • Still Time to Care, by Greg Johnson. A history of the “Ex-Gay” movement, with a positive challenge for Christians to return to an ethic of care for those who experience unwanted sexual attractions, as opposed to an ethic of cure. Review here at Veracity.
  • To Think Christianly: A History of the L’Abri, Regent College, and the Christian Study Center Movement, by Charles Cotherman. An insightful history into the concept of a “Christian Study Center,” from Francis Schaeffer, to James Houston, to R.C. Sproul, and even to anticipating the new Cambridge House, near the College of William and Mary. Review here at Veracity.
  • Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis. A history of some significant moments in the lives of America’s Founding Fathers, and their relationships with one another. Review here at Veracity.
  • A Parent’s Guide to Smartphones (Axis Parent’s Guide). David C. Cook publishers has been putting a great little series of books, aimed at Christian parents, to help them raise their kids. Each book is short, and can be read in perhaps under an hour. I picked up one these via Kindle, A Parent’s Guide to Smartphones, and the material was brief, but entirely helpful. Other books in the series address topics ranging from “Internet Filtering & Monitoring”, to “Vaping”, to the television show “Stranger Things.” If you know of a parent who is swamped with the pressures of raising children in a digital age, books in this series would be a great gift for them.
  • Urban Legends of the Church History, Urban Legends of the Old Testament, and Urban Legends of the New Testament, respectively by John Adair and Svigel, by David A. Croteau and Gary Yates, and by David A. Croteau. These three books in the “Urban Legends” series, published by B&H Academic, do a great job dispelling a lot of the common “fake news” stories surrounding church history and the Bible. Hopefully, this book series will encourage the death of at least some of these fictions that afflict the church. Review here at Veracity.
  • Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, by Alec Ryrie. An historical study in how believers wrestle with doubt. For a “second guesser” like myself, Ryrie’s book has been exceedingly helpful on a personal level. Review here at Veracity.
  • The Legacy Standard Bible. As of December, 2021, the finishing touches have just been put on a new Bible translation (more background here), that has a good deal of momentum behind it, in some circles. The New American Standard Bible has been a favorite of many for decades, along with its cousin, The Amplified Bible, as developed by the Lockman Foundation (These translations are fine translations, but I tend to lean more towards the English Standard Version myself). Pastor John MacArthur, and the faculty at The Master’s Seminary, in Southern California, have taken the 1995 edition of the New American Standard Bible, and have modified it in a way that they hope will emphasize a very traditional outlook on English Bible translation. I have not read through the whole Legacy Standard version (available online), but looking at it so far, the LSB is for those who find themselves frustrated with all of the newer Bible translations. YouTuber Timothy Frisch has a helpful video describing the Legacy Standard, in more detail.

Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.  The Carl Trueman book was more timely, but Heiser’s book will probably have a deeper, longer lasting impact on me.  The second best book of the year I read in 2021.

 

I have already started on Allen Guelzo’s new biography of Robert E. Lee, and the first chapter or so is simply fantastic. I am looking forward to more good listens on my bicycle commutes in 2022!

For other reflections on the year 2021, see my post from the end of the summer.  Ah, now we await a new year, in 2022! Let us pray that God does a work in the hearts of his people for the sake of the Gospel!!

Before I sign off for 2021, why not another fun tribute to the Monkees, this time with Colt Clark and the Quarantine Kids playing “I’m a Believer”…. and to top it all off, here is the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, with her Christmas greeting. She is like the world’s grandmother.


Best of 2020 … (Books, a few excellent blog posts & videos … and a deepfake)

One last look at 2020….

First, let me talk about some really good books….

If there was one ironic benefit of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns of 2020, it was that it gave me a chance to read some more books. Most of them I “read” via Audible, or the Kindle “Speech-to-Text” feature with the Amazon Alexa app for Android (which was new to me and is pretty cool!!), listening to them as I took my exercise riding my bike all around the pathways of our rural county, as the pandemic curtailed much of my commuting into work. Increasing the reading to 1.25 speed helped, too, and then I could go back and review, if I missed parts. Here are some of the best books I enjoyed, that I commend to others:

  • Tactics, by Greg Koukl.  Hands down, this 10th anniversary edition of Tactics is the best book I read in 2020, and immensely practical. Koukl does a fantastic job giving the Christian a set of tactics to use, to enable anyone to have a good conversation about spiritual matters with just about anyone else. Tactics is like the Christian version of How to Have Impossible Conversations, written by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, that I read in 2019 (and re-read alongside Tactics in 2020). These books made me realize how much improvement I need in my communication and conversation skills with others. I will be going back to reference these books for A LONG TIME.   Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland. While Koukl’s book is immensely practical, Tom Holland’s book was the most intellectually stimulating read of the year. Tom Holland is a British popular historian, specializing in ancient and medieval history, but his latest book takes a 2,000 year journey through the history of the West, showing how Christianity made the Western world, contrary to a more secular narrative, that sees Christianity as an impediment to the flourishing of today’s global society. Holland made me stop and think a lot, reminding me that the case for atheism really can not be made without acknowledging a debt to Christianity. Most secular atheists unconsciously accept certain Christian presuppositions, without giving them a second thought. If you have conversations with atheists, and you are not quite sure how to respond to them, Dominion is essential reading. Reviewed here on Veracity. Pastor Tim Keller wrote a sober and appreciative review for the book here, that might be entitled as “Nietzsche was right”.
  • The Crucible of Faith, by Philip Jenkins. While Tactics was the most practical, and Dominion the most intellectually stimulating, Philip Jenkins book on the period of Second-Temple Judaism was the most faith-challenging book I read in 2020. A thought-provoking introduction to the “time between the Testaments,” looking at the crucial historical period after the (near) completion of the Old Testament and before the writing of the New, where most of the central interpretive theological frameworks, that connect the Old and the New Testaments come together. It showed me just how ignorant I was, as a Protestant, of how important the study of Second Temple Judaism is in properly understanding the Bible as a whole. Crucible of Faith forced me to rethink my view of biblical inspiration, and how progressive revelation through the Scriptures actually works. Surprisingly, Jenkins has a liberal historical-critical bias here, when it comes to the Bible, that I could have skipped, but the historical narrative Jenkins portrays is so captivating, that I ended up reading the book twice!
  • J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken. Ryken wrote an excellent biography several years ago about J. I. Packer, one of evangelicalism’s greatest statesmen, of the modern era. Really inspiring. Packer died in July, 2020. We lost a great soul here. I am so thankful that he served his Lord so faithfully. Reviewed here on Veracity.
  • Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett. One of Packer’s final books, Packer and Parrett make a cogent and urgent case for restoring the practice of catechesis, or Christian instruction in basic doctrine, to the life of evangelical churches, for the sake of the future of the church.  It has become my conviction, that every church needs to seriously consider implementing catechismal instruction, across all age groups, particularly in view of our post-modern society. Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Angels, by Michael Heiser. A somewhat academic, yet eye-opening treatment on the topic of angels, correcting a lot of falsehoods that Christians (and others) sometimes believe about angels. Reviewed here on Veracity. This is a side topic that rabbit trails off of Dr. Heiser’s major work, The Unseen Realm. I also started reading Heiser’s Brief Insights of Master Bible Study, short devotional-type readings, that have encouraged me to be a better student of the Scriptures. Fantastic stuff. Brief Insights of Master Bible Study was reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Did America Have a Christian Founding?, by Mark David Hall. A scholarly, responsible reading of the theological orientation of the Founding Fathers. Hall makes a provocative case that the Founding Fathers were generally more “Christian” than proposed by other evangelical historians. Hall’s thesis might be a stretch in some areas, but he thankfully avoids the irresponsible pitfalls that you find among some popular Christian authors, such as David Barton. Reviewed here on Veracity.
  • God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, by Thomas Kidd. A very balanced presentation of the history of the American Revolution, with special attention paid to evangelical Christian concerns. I used Kidd as the main source for teaching an Adult Bible Class on American Church History, at my church in the winter/spring of 2020.
  • Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, by John M. Barry. A fantastic look at the life and times of Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island. Barry convincingly shows how evangelical Christian faith is at the very roots of contemporary ideas behind religious freedom. Interestingly, Barry is also the author of The Great Influenza, about the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic, which has helped many readers survive the great coronavirus pandemic of 2020!
  • Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler. Bowler gives us a definitive history of the prosperity gospel movement, that threatens to corrupt the historic Gospel of Christianity. Interestingly, Bowler’s work is not a theological critique, and she comes across as sympathetic to her subject. But she manages to trace the historical development of prosperity theology in a way that is very surprising. I had no idea how pervasive and subtle the prosperity gospel is until I read Bowler. Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Studies in Words, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is an expert in the English language, and he gives a number of examples of how the meanings of words change over time. In an era when the pace of social change comes quickly, and words easily change their meaning, I have found Lewis to be very helpful in the age of social media. Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry, by Joshua Swamidass. A much appreciated attempt to try to reconcile Young Earth, Old Earth, and Evolutionary Creationism, all in one book. Swamidass makes a case for an historical Adam and Eve, 6,000 years ago, who are the genealogical parents of today’s human beings, without necessarily being the genetic parents of all humans who have ever existed. I hope that Swamidass’ peacemaking project is successful. The church needs peace in this disputed area of doctrine!! Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Eden Was Here: New Evidence for the Historicity of Genesisby Glenn Morton, a Christian geologist and apologist, who died in 2020. This was Glenn’s last book, written by one of the most provocative thinkers in looking at the creation vs. evolution controversy. Glenn fully accepted the contemporary science of an ancient earth, with an evolutionary origin of humanity, but he nevertheless sought to reconcile science with a fully historical account of the early chapters of Genesis. This was Glenn’s last stand, in making a valiant, if not at times, greatly contrarian, defense of the Bible. I dare any Young Earth Creationist to read it! Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Confronting Old Testament Controversies, by Tremper Longman. Veteran Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman writes a much needed book for Christians, addressing various attempts by other Christian scholars to rethink the Old Testament, in an age influenced by the “New Atheism.” Longman finds several of these revisionist attempts to be lacking, but he interacts with  critics in a very irenic fashion. Offers much needed help to Christians, who are hesitant to embrace the Old Testament. Longman has helped me to wrestle with some of my doubts concerning the Old Testament. Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Hebrews for Everyone, by N.T. Wright. I like reading good commentaries as I prepare lessons for my small group Bible study, so this was a good fit for our group’s study of Hebrews this year. Wright’s For Everyone series is really designed for folks who want a general overview of different blocks of passages, as opposed to digging into a verse-by-verse study, which is more my preference. Nevertheless, Wright’s Hebrews study is very solid, and easy reading. N.T. Wright is like a writing machine!
  • Weathering Climate Change, by Hugh Ross. From a fully evangelical Christian perspective, a much needed look at a vexing problem facing the whole world, that takes the science seriously, but that does not demand draconian political measures to try to address it. A mix of detailed scientific analysis made accessible to non-experts, along with very creative solutions, that should be taken seriously. Reviewed here at Veracity.
  • Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths. Though I read a good bit of theology and history, I really enjoy science books, and I finally finished this one that I started to read a few years ago. Christian & Griffiths have written about how the discipline of computer science gives us insights into how humans make decisions…. and sometimes how irrational we can all be. This book is void of anything spiritual, so would be helpful if a Christian theologian could write a book about this topic.
  • In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis, by Kenneth Stewart. Finally finished this book I started a few years ago, exploring why some evangelical Protestants become Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. While the vast number of shifts are from Roman Catholic to Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox to Protestant, there is still a minority, yet growing number of evangelical Protestants who move in the opposite direction. John Henry Newman, the great 19th century Roman Catholic theologian, said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.‘ As an enthusiastic student of church history, I can attest to there being a lot of truth in this statement. Then there is this quote by Eastern Orthodox theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan, that rings very true for me: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” I have not completely felt the pull to move away from evangelical Protestantism for good, but there are a number of times when evangelicalism just drives me nuts. This book effectively explains why.
  • What Does God Want, by Michael Heiser.  A short primer on the Gospel, meant as an evangelistic tool, to be given to folks raised in a church, but who find much of traditional evangelical Christianity to be lacking in telling a cohesive grand narrative, that takes into account some of the most difficult passages of the Bible. This might become my “go-to” evangelistic book to hand out to seekers wanting to know Jesus. Ironically, there is a hunger for a deeper knowledge of the Bible among many Christians, that many church-goers are simply not getting from popular megachurch evangelicalism, and Dr. Heiser is seeking to help people grasp that grand Scriptural narrative, for believers and non-believers alike. May his tribe increase!

Here are my books of the decade and books of 2019 posts, previously noted on Veracity. Looking back, I have come to conclude that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind was the best book of the decade. It has really helped me keep a lot of things in perspective, in such a wild and crazy year as 2020.

Next, let me talk about some blog posts….

Normally each year, I write a blog summarizing the best blog posts of the year, but I pretty much have already done that a few months ago. I will highlight a few of the most interesting and important blog posts that folks might benefit from, that have been published since early September. But let me preface with a caveat….

Last year, I wrote a post, “Reflections on Seven Years of Internet Blogging.” I am more convinced now that blogging, particularly of the long-form kind, that I’ve been putting out here on Veracity, is still valuable, but I do think that exhaustion over social media has caused a lot of blogging to suffer. YouTube video offerings still seem to be big, however… so I have included a few video links below as well.

So, yes, I want to talk about some videos, too…

People tend to respond more to video than to written text. After all, if someone had simply written about the death of George Floyd, it probably would not have brought so much attention…. it took a video to explode the nation. But that is deeply concerning, particularly with the development of more and more convincing DeepFake technology, that can so easily fool us, and breed a horrifyingly lack of discernment, that so plagues the post-modern world, including Christians. A case in point… here is the U.K.’s Channel4, doing their own DeepFake video, mimicking the original Christmas message that Queen Elizabeth delivered last week, that I was encouraged by and posted on Veracity the other day…. If we can be fooled by technology, why put so much of our trust in it?

Back to reality now….

Kind of a hodge-podge of posts here, but to me, these are all thought provoking…. go ahead and skim through it, as your interest will indeed vary, but you should stick around for the video at the bottom. It sums up the year exceedingly well:

  • The Beauty of Complementarity Between Male and Female: British pastor Andrew Wilson has written an excellent summary showing how complementarity between male and female is so important and beautiful, and why churches need to develop a theology that can be lived out in sacramentally distinctive ways.  It perfectly summarizes what I have been trying to articulate on the Veracity blog over the past two years, that seeks to navigate a middle-way between a rigid complementarianism, that sadly excludes women from fully utilizing their gifts for ministry in the church, and a “woke” egalitarianism, that preaches that male and female are simply interchangeable cogs in the machinery of “big-box” evangelicalism today, a product of a corporate mindset that permeates significant segments of the evangelical world. Most of my critics never bother to read my arguments, but perhaps they might read Andrew Wilson’s excellent summary instead, and let me know what they think? Here is a gem from Wilson’s conclusion:
    • This is what makes it so crucial that we practise what we preach on the church as family. To deny that women can be elders will sound like the equivalent of denying that women can be CEOs, but it is more like the equivalent of denying that women can be fathers, and that men can be mothers. But for that to be grounded in reality, it is vital that the church is not just said to be a family, but seen to be a family; that we recognise fathers and mothers and honour and revere them as such, rather than (as can easily happen) operating with a fundamentally corporate model in which women are simply excluded from all the key positions or discussions.”  Well put!  READ IT AT THINKTHEOLOGY IN THE U.K.!
  • Do infants automatically get saved?: Another gem from Andrew Wilson covers the question, “DO BABIES GO TO HEAVEN?” What really encourages me is that Wilson finds that there are good reasons why Scripture can be so clear on some matters and less clear on other matters (like this one).
  • The Best Way to Teach the Bible on YouTube Verse-by-Verse?: Speaking of John Piper, this retired pastor has taken on the task of using YouTube as a means of helping people study the Scriptures verse by verse, with the YouTube hashtag #LookAtTheBook. Here is a ten minute segment on 2 Timothy 3:14-17. An excellent resource.
  • Another “Statement”?: There is the Philadelphia Statement, which I whole heartedly endorse. On the other hand, I think enthusiasm for these kind of statements (think the Nashville Statement, the Statement of Social Justice, etc.) is starting to wane. I call it “statement fatigue.”
  • Does John Walton Really Teach Gnosticism?: In the latest on the never ending battle between Young Earth Creationism, and other Creationist readings of Genesis, a young blogger Evan Minton responds to an argument by the film producer of Is Genesis History?, that seeks to critique Wheaton College’s John Walton, and his “Cosmic Temple Inauguration”  approach to Genesis. In-depth reading, particular for those who believe the myth that Creationists, who do not subscribe to a Young Earth interpretation of Genesis, do not believe the Bible. This debate will probably continue until Jesus’ returns.
  • Walter Hooper:  The man who worked nearly full-time since 1963 to keep C. S. Lewis’ literary legacy alive and in print, died in December, 2020, from complications when suffering from COVID-19. Joseph Loconte wrote an obituary for Walter Hooper in The National Review. Lewis was convinced that no one would continue to read his books, after his death. What fascinated me the most about Hooper, in this article, is that Hooper followed in Lewis’ footsteps to become an Anglican, but then converted to Roman Catholicism. Hooper believed that Lewis would have also converted to Catholicism, had Lewis lived longer, into the 1980s, as the Church of England became increasingly more liberal. Here is a link to a YouTube interview video of Hooper.
  • A critique of The Bible Project’s approach to the atonement?: I am a big fan of The Bible Project , so I would want to take any valid criticism seriously. Pastor Sweatman offers some thoughtful criticism, but I am not persuaded that the creators of The Bible Project reject the concept of propitiation, as Sweatman suggests.

AND FINALLY…. a way to end off the year 2020, by looking back, in a humorous way….. that does not really have anything overtly theological in it at all.

Some independent film company in California put together this 18-minute film, back in October, that perfectly summarizes pretty much all that has happened in the year 2020…. Australia fires, locust attacks in Africa, wildfires in California, Black Lives Matter protests, and obviously, the coronavirus….  (of course, being released in October, it has nothing about the Presidential election, the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine, or the Nashville Christmas bombing). I have not seen the movie 1917, which supposedly has a really long, single scene shot, at the beginning of the movie. But this 2020 film is meant to parody 1917, with the same, single long film shot, look and feel.  So, with that, I wish all of you Veracity readers an end to crazy 2020, and a Happy New Year, for 2021 !!


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.

Best Books I Read in 2019

The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. Best book I read this year. Though written by an atheist, Haidt makes sense of why different Christians (and people in general) think so differently. Read my extended review of this important book here.

I should probably say including the “best books I have LISTENED TO in 2019,” since I listen to a bunch of audio books, either from ChristianAudio.com or Amazon’s Audible, as part of my work commute.  I wrote some reviews of the most enjoyable books, that I will link to, for more in-depth analysis. These are some great books!:

  • Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time, by Jeremy Courtney.  A heart-wrenching look at how one, young Christian family moved to war-torn Iraq, who started a ministry for children plagued with heart defects, resulting from years of chemical warfare and poverty, so that these children might receive life-saving heart surgeries. Preemptive Love pushes a lot of boundaries, some unnecessarily, and yet some which are very necessary. Jeremy Courtney’s central message? Love Anyway.
  • Irresistible, by Andy Stanley. Pastor Stanley unfortunately over-states his case about the need for Christians to “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, to the largely correct chagrin of his critics. But towards the end of the book, his apologetic argument for the Christian faith, that the truthfulness of the Christian faith hangs and falls on the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus is spot on. With respect to that last part, Stanley makes the clearest, most compelling argument for an evidentialist approach to Christian apologetics that I have ever read. Love it or hate it, I wish many more Christians would read this book! Veracity book review.
  • Two Views of Women in Ministry, by Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg, Linda Believille, and Thomas Schreiner. The best multi-views type of book on the topic of women leadership in the church, packed with the latest research, far exceeding the IVP title, from some 20 years ago, Women in Ministry, Four Views. I personally found Craig Blomberg’s essay the most convincing. Brief Veracity book review.
  • Is the Bible Good for Women?, by Wendy Alsup. Perhaps the best case for a moderate complementarian view of women in ministry, finding a healthy, middle ground in a highly contentious debate within evangelicalism. Wendy avoids the contemporary egalitarian tendency, that asserts that women should serve as elders in a local church, that reads too many modern assumptions into the New Testament, effectively undercutting the Scriptural doctrine that male and female are equal yet ultimately not-interchangeable. But she also knocks down the opposite hyper-complementarian view, that puts women, who are wonderfully gifted to serve in various forms of ministry and church leadership, into a tiny little, dehumanizing box. Wendy strikes a great balance. Veracity book review posted here. Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission came out after Wendy’s book, but I have heard that it is great, too.
  • Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ, by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley. The best thing I have ever read on what it means to have a Christian conscience. Explores the biblical texts regarding “disputable matters,” particularly with respect to Paul’s teaching about eating (or not eating) food sacrificed to idols, and draws out excellent, practical principles on how to live this out. Veracity book review.
  • Spirit and Sacrament, by Andrew Wilson. London-based pastor Wilson forges a middle ground to reconcile the charismatic and liturgical sides of Christianity, within the context of a broadly Reformed theology. Excellent. Too bad very few churches exist like what Wilson describes on this side of “the pond.” Wilson is simply a delight to read, no matter what the topic. Veracity book review.
  • Paul: A Biography, by N.T. Wright. A masterful biography of Paul, right up there with F.F. Bruce’s Apostle of the Heart Set Free. While some of Wright’s other recent books stir controversy, in certain quarters, in Paul, Wright makes a glorious defense of the character, history, and integrity of the great apostle, that all Christians can benefit from. Veracity book review. N.T. Wright at his finest.
  • End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You, by Brian Godawa. A surely controversial, yet very compelling case, for a partial preterist view of the End Times, as a contrast to an older dispensationalist model, which was made popular in the 1980s and 1990s, through the Left Behind book series, and the earlier Late Great Planet Earth. Not all will be convinced by Godawa’s argument. But if pre-trib Rapture theology strikes you as less-than-convincing, then Brian Godawa will help you sort things out. Veracity book review.
  • History in English Words, by Owen Barfield. A classic by one of the Oxford Inklings (friends of C.S. Lewis), that helps to explain how words evolve. For example, just over the last ten years, I have witnessed how words and terms like “social justice,” “gay,” “intersectionality,” and even “evolution” itself have radically evolved to mean things today, in popular discourse, that are completely different from what they were in years past. Such rapid shifts in language can make deep conversation in our postmodern world exceedingly difficult. As the meaning of words continues to quickly change in our culture, Barfield sets out the problem within its historical context. I blogged my way through the book with these Veracity blog posts (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5).
  • The Fool and the Heretic, by Todd Wood and Darrel Falk. A refreshingly non-combative discussion regarding the relationship between science and Creation, between a Young Earth Creationist and an Evolutionary Creationist. Helped me to appreciate both sides of the debate, with greater empathy. Fairly brief, too, which was a plus. Veracity book review.
  • Can We Still Trust the Bible?, by Craig Blomberg. Excellent defense of the integrity of the Bible, answering the toughest questions regarding the reliability and inerrancy of Scripture, steering a middle course between an unbridled skepticism and a knee-jerk reaction against sound biblical scholarship. Learn how to intelligently defend the Bible with this book. I wrote a quirky Veracity book review here.
  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity, by Douglas Murray. Recommended by John Stonestreet, of the Colson Center For Christian Worldview. A masterful study as to what happens when the “social justice movement” gets detached from a Christian worldview. When “intersectionality” and
    “critical race theory” become an ideology, we get a rather unforgiving form of religion, that is having a detrimental impact in certain segments of Western society, in this current particular cultural moment. Murray argues that the culture wars, which were driven by the so-called “Religious Right” over the past 40 years, have been flipped over within the past decade, in favor of a highly secular counterpart. What a timely book. Veracity book review.
  • How to Have Impossible Conversations, by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. A book written by two atheists, on how to have good, healthy conversations, with people with whom you have strong disagreements with, which is great because I have some strong disagreements with atheism. Boghossian and Lindsay have ironically helped me to think more deeply and learn how to have better conversations with others, when the topics get heated.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Hands down, the best book I read in 2019. Brilliant scientific analysis by an atheist, from a nominally Jewish background, which can help evangelical Christians better understand the world they live in, and why people are so different, and so divided from one another. Evolutionary psychology has controversial aspects to it, but there are amazing insights that can be of assistance to Christians. Veracity book review posted here.

Onward to a new decade!!


Best Books of 2018

I do not get to read nearly as much as I would like. But thanks to Audible and ChristianAudio, audiobooks work well on a commute. Here are the best books I read (or listened to) in 2018. Some of them I wrote reviews for here on the Veracity blog. Consider putting one of these on your Christmas reading list (I have starred * the more scholarly books, but most of them are geared towards a popular readership):


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