Tag Archives: books

2022 Year in Review (A Trip to Europe, Books, …. and Concerns for the Church)

Iconic view of Prague Castle, in the Czech Republic, on a beautiful October day. The highlight for me in 2022!!

Towards the end of the year, I try to post a blog entry looking back over the past year in blogging, mainly to comment on some of the favorite books that I have read, looking back over some important issues in our world with respect to the Christian faith, and perhaps taking a glance into the future for the blog.

2022 turned out to be a special year because of a trip that my wife and I took to Europe, celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It was the absolute highlight of the year for me. Three weeks. Six countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Italy. The trip really tapped into my love of church history, and I particularly enjoying meeting up with some good friends who live in Sicily. I will have a few extra posts to come out in 2023 that will chronicle a bit more of our trip.

Some Favorite Podcasts… (To Catch Up On)

OKay, this might all sound a bit rambling, as it is a hodge-podge of things I have been thinking through towards the end of 2022, but I will go with it anyway…. (otherwise, please feel free to skip this post and go about the rest of your day:  Happy New Year!)….

First, let us talk about a podcast update: In 2022 I decided to take on some European history audiobooks to get me primed for our trip this past fall, on my work commute. I am still listening through some of them to finish them up! But it meant that I had to postpone listening to some of my favorite podcasts, to be picked up (hopefully) in 2023. I will just list five here:

  • The Rest is History:  Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook are fascinating British historians to listen to, as they are wonderful story tellers of world history. They did a whole set of episodes covering the histories of various nations that competed in the 2022 World Cup. These historians are not professing Christians (Evangelical scholar Peter Williams offers a critique of Tom Holland’s view of the Christmas story, from a podcast episode posted near the end of the year…. plus here is another resource at Triablogue that might offer some additional help.), but they do try to treat Christians fairly, with respect, and even with admiration. Quite refreshing and enjoyable.
  • Theology in the Raw. Evangelical theologian Preston Sprinkle has done some great interviews with people who are having an impact on what thoughtful Christians wrestle with in the 2020’s.
  • Sean McDowell YouTube. The son of pioneer evangelical apologist, Josh McDowell, has great interviews with scholars concerning issues of Christian apologetics.  Excellent stuff on YouTube.
  • Naked Bible Podcast. Dr. Michael Heiser is top notch at doing in-depth Scripture study. Not exactly verse-by-verse exposition, but pretty close to it. Heiser is struggling with cancer right now, but he still manages to pump out great content every week. He is currently in 1 Samuel.
  • Bad Books of the Bible. Eastern Orthodox scholars Joel Miller and Jamie Bennett took a hiatus for much of 2022 in this podcast on the Old Testament Apocrypha, after looking at 1 Maccabees. But towards the end of 2022, they jumped into the “Wisdom of Solomon.” My fellow Protestants miss this, because we do not have these books in our Protestant Bibles, but even the leaders of the magisterial Reformation, like John Calvin and Martin Luther, suggested that Christians read these books, not so much for establishing Christian doctrine, but rather to be edified by Jewish writings written between the Old Testament and New Testament periods. Offbeat for Protestants, yes, but very helpful for understanding the background of the New Testament.

There are a couple of new podcasts out, that do verse-by-verse exposition, that have been recommended to me, but I honestly have not had time to check out myself…. but hopefully in 2023…. if someone knows about these, I would love to hear a review!:


A Little Dialogue with ChatGPT: Will Artificial Intelligence “Replace” the Bible?

Second, let us have a little fun with ChatGPT, the AI application that is all the rage right now at the end of 2022. I wonder what ChatGPT thinks about some of the topics we discuss here on Veracity:

Is the Bible the Word of God?”

Here is ChatGPT’s answer:

“The Bible is a religious text that is revered by many people, particularly Christians, as a sacred and divinely inspired work. Some people believe that the Bible is the word of God and that it contains teachings and wisdom that can guide and inform their daily lives. Others may view the Bible as an important historical and cultural document, but do not necessarily believe that it is divinely inspired. Ultimately, whether or not one believes that the Bible is the word of God is a matter of personal belief and interpretation. It is important to approach the Bible, or any other religious text, with an open mind and to consider it thoughtfully and critically, rather than simply accepting it as true without questioning or examining it.”

There is a lot insight to ChatGPT’s answer, that anticipates some of the concerns for the church I will address later in this blog post….. How about another question:

Is Christianity true?

Here is the first part of ChatGPT’s response:

“It is not possible for me to determine the truth or falsehood of any particular religious belief, as truth is a subjective concept that can vary from person to person……”

Mmmm. Is that really the best answer?  “Truth is a subjective concept that can vary from person to person?” Sure, there is a subjective element, but does ChatGPT not believe in objective truth at all? What do you think, dear Veracity reader?

OK. Here is another question, but let us try something else that is not theologically-oriented:

Who is the best soccer/football player in the world? Is it Lionel Messi?

ChatGPT’s answer:

“It is difficult to definitively say who the best soccer player in the world is, as this is a subjective question and opinions on the matter can vary widely. Many people consider various players to be the best at different times and for different reasons. Lionel Messi is certainly one of the most highly regarded and successful soccer players of all time, and he has consistently been mentioned as one of the best players in the world. He has won numerous awards and accolades, including six Ballon d’Or awards, which are given to the best player in the world as voted on by international journalists. However, other players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé, have also been widely regarded as some of the best soccer players of all time, and it is ultimately up to each individual to decide who they believe is the best based on their own criteria and perspectives.”

Ah. This answer goes a long way to explain why ChatGPT’s partial answer to the previous question was so non-committal.

Let us go for one more question. A simply “yes” or “no” might do for some, but my guess is that ChatGPT’s answer will be nuanced….. perhaps a bit too-nuanced. What do you think about this? Here we go:

Did Jesus of Nazareth physically rise from the dead?

ChatGPT’s answer:

“The belief in the resurrection of Jesus, or the belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead after his death, is a central tenet of the Christian faith. According to the biblical accounts, Jesus was crucified by the Romans and died on the cross, but he rose from the dead on the third day after his death and appeared to his followers. The belief in Jesus’ resurrection is thought to be a key aspect of the Christian faith, as it is seen as a sign of Jesus’ divinity and a fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

However, the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is a matter of faith and belief, and it is not something that can be proven or disproven through empirical evidence. Different people may hold different beliefs about the resurrection, and it is up to each individual to decide what they believe to be true based on their own experiences, knowledge, and perspective.”

ChatGPT is respectful of Christian belief, but I can still tell that the minds that created ChatGPT hold Christian truth claims at arm’s length. The moral to this lesson is this: If the only source for getting answers to the big questions of life is from the Internet, then the answers you might be looking for from ChatGPT might come up rather short.

Well, I hope that was fun!! ….. Now onto more serious matters….


Me with my longtime friend, Thomas Coyner: 1963-2022

A Brief Remembrance…

Though I experienced a lot of joy in 2022, I also had times of sadness. Just now on the last week of the year, my last remaining uncle died, which I am still reeling from right now, so I will not write about it more… therefore, I will move onto the next difficult moment…..

The toughest part of 2022 was perhaps losing a dear teenage friend of mine, Thomas Coyner. We met in high school, and we really bonded together as friends on a two-week wilderness Christian camping trip. Though I had grown up in a pretty liberal mainline Protestant church, I knew very little about the Bible, and less about having a personal relationship with Jesus. Thomas really helped me out, coming from a family background where so many of his family members were strong, well-grounded followers of Jesus.

Thomas drifted away from me after I went off to college, getting mixed up with the wrong friends, where drugs wrecked havoc in his life. It took a drug-related arrest and felony prison sentence to final bring him back around, and restore our friendship. Sadly, a genetic muscular disease started to degrade his life over several decades, even while he took upon himself the task of caring for his aging parents, who had their own serious health difficulties. Eventually, Thomas was unable to effectively care for himself beyond rudimentary tasks. The disease impacted his ability to speak, but it did not diminish his cheerful attitude. He never complained about his ailing condition.

I was able to spend an afternoon with him, and his immediate family, a few days before his death, where we got the photograph above together. I will miss my high school friend, Thomas Coyner.

Some End of Year Reflections…

Earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II died, one of the world’s most devout Christian leaders, with a very evangelical faith clearly evident in all of her Christmas messages.. Interestingly, her son, Charles III gave his first Christmas message towards the end of 2022.

If you listen carefully, Charles gives a message similar to his mother’s, but with a slight twist. As noted by The Washington Post, Charles thinks of himself more as a “defender of faith” versus “defender of the faith.”  Can you tell the difference?

“The Chosen” Mormon Controversy

I need to add some balance to what I am going to say next….I am not a big television watcher at all, but I know that many of my Christian friends have enjoyed the hit multi-season series, “The Chosen.” an in-depth dramatic presentation of the life of Christ, that has been viewed by millions.

The series is the brain child of Dallas Jenkins, son of the popular novelist Jerry Jenkins, who co-authored with the late Tim Lahaye the previously popular film series, Left Behind. Dallas Jenkins is a film-maker himself, and The Chosen has become the most successful crowd-funded film project of all time.

I have to admit that I have only seen one or two episodes myself. Not knowing much more than that, I have to say that I am glad that something like The Chosen is available, as an alternative to much of what is being pumped out rather frequently by traditional television media, the revamped Disney corporation, and Netflix. If The Chosen does nothing more than to encourage people to dig into the study of the Bible, then I think that it is worth it, despite any criticisms.

Nevertheless, Dallas Jenkins has been in trouble with a lot of Christians because of concerns about Mormon influence in “The Chosen” project. In fact, a number of Christians are now urging their Christian friends to boycott watching “The Chosen,” because of concerns that Mormonism is having a deceptive influence in the making of the film series.

I head went “tilt” when I first heard this….

Frankly, a lot of the criticisms and calls for a boycott seem way over the top for me. Yes, VidAngel, the distributor for the show, and who helped to build Android and iPhone apps for watching The Chosen, was started by some Mormons. And yes, various scenes in the films, depicting the city of Jerusalem, were filmed on property owned by the LDS (Latter Day Saints).  And furthermore, yes, Dallas Jenkins has become friends with a number of Mormons who have expressed great interest in making The Chosen a success.

I have written extensively about various problems with Mormonism, such as when Liberty University platformed conservative political commentator and Mormon supporter Glenn Beck, on their campus a few years ago, where Beck was claiming that Mormonism was just another Christian denomination (!!!!), and a broader look at how Mormonism in the 21st century is trying to reinvent itself, in an attempt to try to fit within the Christian mainstream, while trying to reckon with the movement’s history, (plus John Paine’s post on Mormonism from several years ago), so there is no need to rehearse this again here.

But just because Mormons have been involved in the distribution and set creation for the project does not necessarily mean that “The Chosen” is actively promoting Mormon doctrine about God. You have to actually look at the script for the film series and examine what is being said to figure that out.

For that matter, my car was probably built in Japan, with at least some part of that car having been installed by someone who was an active adherent to the Shinto religion, which is completely different from the Christian faith. Should I stop driving my car now??

Guilt by association is never a sufficient reason alone to condemn something.

If you think I am just being rather unconcerned about the importance of true doctrine, just take a few minutes to listen to this following interview that Christian apologist Melissa Dougherty had with Dallas Jenkins. Melissa is a former New Ager, who became a Christian a few years ago, and she has a very helpful YouTube channel, that would be of benefit for someone wrestling with beliefs associated with the New Age Movement. Melissa asks Dallas some tough questions, which is good! This all being said, The Chosen is clearly introducing material into the screenplay, as the Gospels themselves are highly selective, and do not neatly translate well to film without some adaptation. In other words, viewing the The Chosen is no substitute for actually reading and studying the Bible for yourself. If you think my fairly positive and tentative support for “The Chosen,” given what knowledge I do have, is not adequately based, then I would like to know.


Retired pastor and author Brian McLaren identifies with being a “progressive Christian,” but just barely. McLaren was once one of the most influential leaders in American Evangelicalism nearly 20 years ago. Times have changed.

Brian McLaren:  The Theological Driftings of a Former “Emergent” Evangelical Leader Turned “Progressive Christian” Turned ????

With that out of the way, and yet before I launch into my primary focus of my “year in review,” I would like to share a sobering story to frame what I will say next….. For a number of years, I have had a book on my shelf by Brian D. McLaren, a now-retired “non-denominational” pastor, entitled A Generous Orthodoxy. This is a book I had been meaning to read, for two main reasons:  (1) the book came highly recommended to me, and (2) I loved the title. The title conjures up the idea that Christians need to get past all of the denominational bickering of the past and move on towards a “generous orthodoxy” that simply focuses on the ethics of Jesus.

Who could argue with that?  Well, … read on…. I really resonated with that type of message (or a least I thought I did), but I just never got around to reading the book, despite the urging of other friends who suggested that I read it. As I write this, the book still sits in my bookshelf, occasionally drawing me in to dip in and read it…. but I am not sure if I really want to anymore.

Back in 2004, when McLaren wrote A Generous Orthodoxy, he was considered a leader of the so-called emergent church movement…. something that you rarely ever hear about these days. Other prominent emergent church leaders have included Rob Bell (author of Velvet Elvis and the very controversial Love Wins), Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz), William Paul Young (author of The Shack and Lies We Believe About God), and the late Rachel Held Evans.

One evening about ten years ago, some eight years after A Generous Orthodoxy was initially released, I was sitting in a church meeting, to receive some training to become a better small group leader in my church. I was given some paper handouts, including an article written by Brian McLaren. The article itself was actually pretty good. But that was not what bothered me. What bothered me was that within a few months prior to that evening meeting, the word on the street was that Brian McLaren had shifted on his view of marriage between one man and one woman, to say that it was perfectly fine for evangelical church pastors like him to bless same-sex marriages. In fact, McLaren had actually officiated at the same-sex wedding for his own son.

That made me go “tilt,” but I need to carefully explain this, as a lot of these kinds of conversations generate more heat than light…..

Should A Christian Attend a “Gay Wedding”?  Did Brian McLaren Cross a Line Here?

To this day, I can appreciate the difficult situation McLaren had in trying to know how to best love and support his own son. Even among historically orthodox Christians, like myself, who do not believe that the Bible affirms same-sex marriage, there is no uniform consensus on how to respond to such a situation. After all, if someone receives an invitation to attend a same-sex wedding, whether it be a family member or not, there is no explicit text in Scripture that addresses this.

The Gospel Coalition posts an article saying that attendance at a same-sex wedding inherently communicates that the attendee is endorsing the union, and thus advises the Christian to respectfully decline such invitations, even for a family member. Instead, a Christian should suggest an alternative, such as inviting the friend (or family member) and the significant other over for dinner, as a meaningful gesture of friendship, or something along those lines. But attending a same-sex wedding should be off-limits for the committed believer in Jesus.

LivingOut.org, a ministry in the U.K. that seeks to encourage LGBTQ persons in adhering to the historic sexual ethic of marriage, between one man and one woman, does not agree that attendance at a same-sex wedding inherently implies an endorsement, though it could be understood and interpreted that way. For example, attendance at a same-sex wedding for those who are not professing Christians might be a profound witness, encouraging the bonds of friendship, that might lead to Gospel fruit down the road. But if a professing Christian is having a same-sex wedding, one should probably decline the invitation, unless perhaps there is a family member involved, for the sake of preserving a positive family relationship.

These are tough decisions and questions to deal with, issues of conscience, where believers in good faith will indeed disagree, and arrive and different conclusions.

Sometimes Christians in our churches, and those who are investigating Christianity, have questions, looking for a place where such questions can be discussed, but they do not always sense the freedom for having such an open dialogue. Quite often, conversations are shut down before they even get a chance to start, such that those who are looking to have those conversations begin to look elsewhere.

Then there is the recent controversy regarding Amy Grant……I have not kept up with the whole story, but the recent news that Christian contemporary music mega-star Amy Grant will be hosting her niece’s lesbian wedding on Grant’s farm tells us that even the most applauded Christian celebrities are not far from being faced with such a difficult dilemma.

Here is my approach, and I would think that Brian McLaren would support this: When those deeply close to you make decisions you do not agree with, I would want to carefully navigate how to keep a friendship or family relationship growing, and maintain a listening posture, without feeling like I was betraying my own deeply held convictions or dishonoring the Lord, trusting that God would impart wisdom to me and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work to reach someone’s heart, for the sake of the Gospel.

I have never been to a same-sex wedding, nor have I been invited, but I have been to other kinds of weddings for non-believing friends of mine, who do not view marriage the same way as I see it taught in the Bible. I went to those weddings not as an endorsement of the couple’s view of marriage, but because I wanted to maintain the friendship. In some cases, my going to the wedding served as an entry-point for a deeper, spiritual conversation after the wedding, for which I was grateful, that I probably might not have had otherwise. On the other hand, I can think of other kinds of supposedly “traditional” weddings where I simply could not attend, as I knew that my presence there would have been an implied endorsement.

Yet while I want to be as “generous” as I can be with Brian McLaren, nevertheless I find some serious, serious problems here. I agree with McLaren that Christians need to more proactively, intentionally walk with LGBTQ folks through their journeys. However, actually performing a same-sex wedding, and trying to do so within a Christian context, goes far, far beyond the category of Scriptural faithfulness.

In other words, to answer the question posed in the subheading above, yes, I do believe that Brian McLaren crossed a line here…. and it is rather blatant.

Like others like him, Brian McLaren sought to justify his position by finding all sorts of examples where Christian leaders, or even ordinary Christians, have fostered some type of abuse, inflicting harm on those should have instead received support from God’s people. Sadly, this is not that hard to do. But just because some Christians have used the Bible as a weapon does not give us permission to undermine or redefine 2,000 years of consistent, received church teaching, thus stretching the boundaries of a “generous orthodoxy” to its uttermost limit, and even beyond.

I am pretty sure that our church leaders who prepared the teaching handouts for that training class did not know that much about Brian McLaren’s backstory. They just liked the article that McLaren wrote as offering excellent wisdom for a church small group leader. But it did make me wonder, “What was the process for vetting material to be used for training small group leaders in our church? Who is really responsible for that?”

McLaren’s new position on same-sex marriage was not consistent with the traditional perspective on marriage described in the membership covenant of our church. My question was simply this: Even though McLaren’s views on marriage were not part of the training materials that I received that evening in our church, I wondered if it really was the wisest thing to be distributing such written material authored by McLaren in our church meeting. Were we inadvertently platforming McLaren’s teachings, even though his stated position on marriage went contrary to the views of marriage held by our church’s members? Could we not have used similar teaching material written by a different author, who was more orthodox in their thinking?

Since then, Brian McLaren dropped off of my radar. No more Brian McLaren article handouts were being handed out at small group leader training sessions. Perhaps leaders in my church picked up on the story about Brian McLaren and wisely chose not to distribute his teaching materials any more, in an effort to avoid some type of endorsement conflicting with our church covenant. That was years ago, so I can only guess.

Brian McLaren Now in 2022….

Flash forward to the night that I am writing this blog post, in December 2022. I was curious to learn about where Brian McLaren, listed back in 2005 as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelical leaders, by Time magazine, was at in 2022, some 18 years after he first wrote A Generous Orthodoxy.  As it turns out, McLaren had written a new book in early 2022, entitled Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned. An evangelical apologist, Randal Rauser, leaning on the more progressive side of the evangelical spectrum, though way more traditional and orthodox than McLaren, wrote a review for the book, that I found both enlightening and disturbing. In his review, Rauser concludes:

To sum up, it seems to me that McLaren has journeyed far from the comparatively modest explorations of his works of twenty plus years ago. At this point, he seems to have adopted a process metaphysic coupled with a metaphorical view of theology that ranks the value of doctrines as forms of life that spur pro-individual, social, and environmental behaviors….. in keeping with [McLaren’s] pragmatic orientation, he is not particularly troubled if others achieve those same ends wholly outside a Christian form of life. Indeed, one might say that on McLaren’s view Christianity is an incidental husk, one that is useful insofar and only as it aids us in loving one another…..

…. So is McLaren a Christian? No doubt, his many fans will give a hearty yes while his many conservative evangelical critics will respond with an equally hearty no! …. I submit that McLaren … [has adopted] a sweeping skepticism about the truth status of Christian doctrine but who nonetheless advocates remaining in the Christian form of life so as to increase love of neighbor and the mystery that stands behind it all. 

Frankly, I do not see a whole lot of difference between McLaren’s attempt to redefine Christianity and outright disbelief in the Christian faith. For if McLaren had simply stated that he was no longer a Christian, then it would sadden me, but it would have come across to me as being way more honest.

There are a number of secular intellectuals, styling themselves as “Christian atheists,” like the British historian and atheist, Tom Holland, who reject the ultimate truth claims of Christianity, but who nevertheless acknowledge a kind of indebtedness to how Christianity has shaped their world and moral values. Though I disagree with him, I respect Tom Holland in that he comes across as being very honest about his hesitations about Christianity.

Instead, Brian McLaren’s thinking these days comes across as though he has embraced the “Gospel of Wishful Thinking” more than the historical Gospel of Jesus. If Rauser’s assessment of McLaren’s latest book is correct, then I must confess that I am both grieved and bothered by where McLaren is at now. Does it grieve and bother you?

Is there such a thing as an inevitable “slippery slope?” I would argue that going down a “slippery slope” is indeed a logical fallacy, as not everyone who embraces one particular “progressive” expression of Christianity necessarily is on their way down to apostasy. It would be going too far to say that Dallas Jenkins is sliding down a slope towards Mormonism and away from orthodox Christianity. However, in the case of a Brian McLaren, the slope away from historic, orthodox Christianity appears to be well-lubricated for him.

Some people are drawn to folks like Brian McLaren, because they resonate with McLaren’s on-going concerns about doubt and disillusionment, as they wrestle with their own doubts. However, I would pushback on this to say that there are also those who are drawn to progressive Christians like McLaren, only to be driven deeper into their doubts, and abandon their faith.

Did Jesus “Change His Mind” Because of “Mistakes” That He Made?…. Brian McLaren’s New Reading of a Somewhat Difficult Text

If you think I am misrepresenting Brian McLaren, or being too hard on him, let me share with you something that McLaren said in a recent interview, promoting Do I Stay Christian? In that interview, McLaren commented on Jesus’ first miracle, as recorded in the Gospel of John, at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1-12 ESV). When Mary, Jesus’ mother, comes to Jesus saying that the wedding party had run out of wine, Jesus gives what appears to be a rather stiff rebuke (v.4):

“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Interestingly, Mary then speaks to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Oddly, at first glance, Jesus then proceeds to turn the water into wine. Admittedly, it is a rather strange passage. I mean, would you ever talk to your mother like that?

Sadly, a lot of church sermons will simply brush that issue aside and move on to talk about Jesus’ power that turns water into wine. So, kudos to Brian McLaren for not side-stepping the obvious. But a careful exploration of a good study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, or the Christian Standard Bible Apologetics Study Bible, three sources that I consulted and highly recommend, might help illuminate what is going on.

Evangelical scholarship on John 2:4 broadly indicates that Jesus is warning his mother not to try to press in too hard and insist that Jesus inaugurate the full coming of the Kingdom of God, right there and then. Instead, Jesus performs the miracle as a sign that points towards the future coming of the Kingdom, a good example of typological interpretation of biblical prophecy at work within the Gospels themselves, whereby the miracle at the wedding at Cana is a “type” that looks forward to the full revelation of the heavenly wedding banquet, where Christ the bridegroom is united with his bride, the Church. The messianic times were breaking through into human history at the wedding of Cana, but it would not be until Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that the full impact of the Messiah’s coming would be felt.

The NET (New English Translation) notes that the verse here is actually using an idiomatic expression common in first century Greek, “Woman, what to me and to you.” This idiom suggests that the speaker is saying that the matter at hand is simply none of his or her business. In other words, Jesus is saying to Mary, “That is your business, how am I involved? My hour has not yet come.

McLaren begs to differ with all of this, suggesting that in verse 4 Jesus is being “a little bit cheeky” saying to his mother that he will not perform the miracle. However, later, upon seeing his mother’s insistence for Jesus to do something, Jesus gives into his mother’s wishes and performs the miracle anyway. In a sense, McLaren is saying that Jesus has made a mistake, then realizes his error, and then “changes his mind” and acts differently. For McLaren, this incident shows him just how human Jesus really was; that is, Jesus made “mistakes” and learns from them.

What exactly does McLaren mean by “mistakes” here? It is one thing to say that Jesus did not know everything. Mark 13:12 tells us explicitly that Jesus did not know exactly when the Kingdom would arrive in its fullness. In his humanity, Jesus set aside the divine attribute of omniscience, which explains how Jesus was able to learn, and increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV).

However, the problem here is the kind of “mistake” McLaren believes Jesus is making at the wedding of Cana. It implies, at least in my mind, that Jesus is at first a bit abrupt with his mother, then he realizes how he was in the wrong in doing so, and therefore he then rectifies the situation by performing the miracle anyway, as though Jesus was acting out some form of repentance.

Dear reader: Do you think Jesus, as the Son of God, who is without sin, would really behave this way?

Ponder that a bit before you read on about my year in review……

Clarke’s Blogging Year in Review…. a Series on “Historical Criticism” of the Bible

My primary focus in early 2022 was writing a multipart blog series on the “historical criticism” of the Bible. Simply put, “historical criticism” is about getting at the story “behind the text” of Scripture. Two current cultural trends prompted me to address this topic. First, the stunning decline of the mainline liberal Protestant church has created a new crisis in evangelical Christianity. Many mainline liberal Protestant churches, that stood on the corners of 20th century Main Street, are simply dying today, with rapidly aging congregations. Unless something disrupts the current trend, a number of the formerly largest Protestant denominations will cease to exist within the next few decades, or they will become minor cultural oddities.

As a result, more and more people who once populated the Protestant mainline are making their way into evangelical non-denominational and interdenominational churches.  While this may appear to be a boon for evangelicalism, in many ways the same problems that have taken down the Protestant mainline (and put them on the “sideline”) are now entering the evangelical megachurch world. Sociologists often associate this as a consequence of the rise of the “nones” and the “dones.

This ties into the second cultural trend, associated with the rise of social media. The current fascination with stories of “deconstruction” within evangelical Christianity showing up on Facebook, Instagram, etc., reveals the shallowness of much of American megachurch Christianity, and the failure to address the challenge posed by the “historical criticism” of the Bible, that is shaking many folks’ confidence in Scripture as God’s Word. Briefly stated, “deconstruction” refers to the experience of those raised in our churches, some of whom are simply asking good yet tough questions about Christianity. Admittedly, there are those who have been “deconstructing” , who yet remain in the faith. They find their Gospel footing again, and have a renewed confidence in the God of the Bible. We should be grateful for that.

However, there are others who are either walking away from the faith altogether, or redefining faith with meanings that differ significantly from any form of historic orthodox faith. Some call the latter challenge, of redefining faith, as part of the progressive Christianity movement.  The first post in the series begins here.

If the label “progressive Christianity” sounds unfamiliar or confusing to you, then I would recommend the following YouTube video dialogue between evangelical apologist Sean McDowell and self-described progressive Christian Brandan Robertson. McDowell is well-known in that he is a professor at Biola University and son of Josh McDowell. Brandan Robertson is less well-known, but he is a longtime progressive Christian blogger, who now looks up to a scholar like John Dominic Crossan as his mentor. Crossan was one of the popular scholars who participated in the Jesus Seminar of the 1990s (If you are not familiar with Crossan and his brand of “progressive Christianity,” I would recommend a YouTube video, on an atheist channel, MythVision, where Dr. Crossan is interviewed).

What is most interesting about this interview with Brandan Robertson is in how he redefines faith with meanings far afield from historic orthodox Christianity. He redefines terminology, such as “the Bible is inspired,” to mean something completely different from how evangelical and other historically orthodox Christians think about the inspiration of the Bible. While not all “progressive Christians” can be easily lumped into the same category, such as what Brandan Robertson describes about himself, a common feature in progressive Christianity is the redefining of classic Christian terminology, also including “resurrection,” “atonement,” “sin,” “hell,” “Jesus’ divine nature,” “second coming of Jesus,” “marriage,” “male,” “female,” etc., this list goes on, to mean things radically different from how historically orthodox Christians have viewed these things for 2000 years. For example, Brandan Robertson believes that when Luke 2:52 says that Jesus as a young boy “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man,” that this means that Jesus “made mistakes.” As in the story above about Brian McLaren, does this suggest that Brandan Robertson believes that Jesus sinned? Watch the video and decide for yourself:

While some efforts towards “progressive Christianity” can be positive, healthy reactions against a wooden, fear-based fundamentalism, other expressions of “progressive Christianity” are not.

What is new about this “progressive Christianity” movement is that it is not simply taking place in the dying liberal Protestant mainline. Rather, it is taking place right in the heart of evangelical megachurch Christianity. Brandan Robertson did not grow up in a mainline Protestant church, but rather, he is a graduate of Moody Bible College, a leading evangelical institution of higher education, and he has served as a pastor at a “nondenominational” or “interdenominational” church that markets itself as being “evangelical in style but radically progressive in the message.” This is not your grandmother’s fundamentalist church!!

I read several books in 2022 that dived into the story of “historical criticism” of the Bible, and various aspects of the “deconstruction” phenomena, and the progressive Christianity movement, which I blogged about in the “historical criticism” series:

  • A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age, by Steven Nadler. A look at the impact of a book written by Baruch Spinoza, which launched the modern study of “historical criticism.”
  • Three Skeptics and the Bible: La Peyrère, Hobbes, Spinoza, and the Reception of Modern Biblical Criticismby Jeffrey Murrow. Offers an excellent intellectual history of how “historical criticism” arose since the Protestant Reformation.
  • A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths, by John Barton. Barton is a liberal Anglican scholar at Oxford who wrote a very readable summary of how mainline liberal Protestants look at the Bible. Barton’s views are now becoming a common feature of progressive Christianity, that is seeping into evangelical megachurch Christianity today.
  • Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, by Bart Ehrman.  Ehrman is probably the most well-known critic of evangelical Christian faith writing today. My review of his book about the afterlife was by the far the longest and most detailed book review I wrote this past year…. and probably the most important.
  • Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Beliefby David Bentley Hart. D.B. Hart is perhaps one of most influential theologians living today (and one of the most entertaining writers I have ever read!). Some fifteen years ago, Hart was a champion of a Christian critique of the New Atheist movement in his Atheist Delusions, a book that was recommended to me by many evangelical friends of mine. Now Hart is an emboldened, and down-right dogmatic proponent of a Christian universalism. Despite his Eastern Orthodox background, the story of David Bentley Hart is the story of someone who started off on the right foot but who now has gone into a fully progressive Christianity direction.
  • Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle, by Paula Fredriksen. Paula Fredriksen, a world-class New Testament scholar, argues that Paul did not convert to Christianity such that he left his Judaism behind. Instead, Paul saw Christianity as the fulfillment of Old Testament Jewish promises. Even though Dr. Fredriksen does not share my evangelical Christian theological convictions, I contend that historically orthodox Christians can still learn something from her insights into Paul.

In 2023, I plan on digging into some more pressing issues related to “historical criticism” of the Bible. I wish more evangelically-minded churches would take this challenge more seriously. The future of the church, and the faith of our children depends on it.

More on the Debate about How Men and Women Can Flourish Together in Both the Church and in the Family

In 2022, I also did a two part series on the ever-present complementarian-egalitarian issue; i.e. about the role of women in the church and family, focusing on two different books:

In 2023, I plan on reading one more book on this topic and blog about it, as well as writing a blog series on the related topic of head coverings, as discussed in 1 Corinthians 11, which is a challenge for any Christian, complementarian or egalitarian. Then I want to move on to something else.

I would recommend Mike Winger’s YouTube series that covers the complementarian/egalitarian debate in-depth. Mike is a Christian apologist and a pastor, so he is not an academic by profession, which some critics fault him for. But he does a decent job covering the different views. He lands on the “moderate complementarian” side of the debate, not taking an extreme complementarian approach (like DeYoung), but he does not embrace egalitarianism (Peppiatt). Just a warning: many of Mike’s videos are long, but he is a good presenter, even if you do not agree with his conclusions, and I have listened to him for hours at a stretch.

Some egalitarian scholars have written some responses to his videos. I have not seen that many rebuttals from the more extreme complementarian direction yet, but I am sure that they will come, too. The debate just seems to go on… and on…. and on….and on…….. Some complementarian arguments I find are not very convincing, but on the other side, a number of egalitarian arguments are just as unconvincing, if not worse. I tend to land near Mike Winger, but I am more moderate than he is. A lot of extreme complementarians seem like they just want to double-down against any reasonably egalitarian argument that is actually pretty good. Like Mike, I really wanted to be convinced of egalitarianism, but I simply could not get there without thinking that the data was being distorted to an unfair degree by some egalitarian authors. I want to try to find some middle ground in this debate, but it just seems to be getting harder and harder as time goes on….. *SIGH*.

On the other hand, the controversy over gender in the church today has helped me to dig deeper into the Scriptures, in order to explore the answers found in God’s Word.

Back in the early 1990s, I heard an Eastern Orthodox bishop predict that the debate about gender within the church would be the defining theological debate for the next fifty years, paralleling the debate over the deity of Christ that eventually gave us the Nicene Creed in the 4th century. That was twenty years before public opinion in the West shifted dramatically on the question of same-sex marriage and before most people began to think seriously about transgender issues. Almost thirty years after hearing that prediction I have come to believe that this Eastern Orthodox bishop was 100% correct!!

Final Wrap-Up for 2022

In addition to what I described in my “end of the summer review“, I have a few more random book reviews:

Aside from listening to Audible and ChristianAudio.com books on my work commute, I have to say that YouTube is still where it is at to get excellent content regarding Christians apologetics.

Interestingly, one of the most well-known Christian apologists out there on YouTube, Cameron Bertuzzi, of Capturing Christianity, recently announced his conversion to Roman Catholicism, after having grown up in a Protestant charismatic church. It will be interesting to see where his spiritual journey takes him.

Now, the drumroll….. please…….


FINALLY, here is my book of the year, that I can recommend to every Christian who reads Veracity:

  • Why I Trust the Bible: Answers to Real Questions and Doubts People Have about the Bible, by Bill Mounce. Readable and practical. Dr. Mounce is a senior Bible translator, who has had an enormous impact on both the NIV and ESV bible translations, which are two of the most popular Bible translations available today. This is perhaps the best single volume you can get that addresses common issues faced by Christians today when sharing their faith and their confidence in the Bible.

Now a few more little “odds-and-ends”…. I have been enjoying the PourOver, a Christian summary of the news, without all of the vitriol of the 24-hour news cycle and social media madness. Recently, they recommended a new Bible app, Dwell, that I might try out for 2023.

Speaking of news, for years I was one of those loyal NPR (National Public Radio) listeners, who faithfully listened to NPR’s All Things Considered radio program almost every evening on my commute home from work. More than a few times I would have one of those “driveway moments,” as I continued to listen spellbound to one of NPR’s stories. I always knew that there was a bit of liberal bias in their reporting, but I thought they did at least a decent job interviewing someone on the “other side” of the issue.

That was quite a few years ago. My wife gave up on NPR before me and she still enjoys listening to World News Group’s The World and Everything In it. (I have had my concerns with World News Group, and still have some of them, but I must confess that their journalistic quality has managed to improve).

I gave up on NPR for two reasons, the main one because I started to shift to podcasts and audiobooks for my commute. The other reason was that I kept getting the sense that NPR stopped trying as much to enter into dialogue with diverse points of view. But this year, I learned that a whole cross-section of former NPR supporters, not just evangelical Christians like me, have given up on NPR, particularly over the past 5-7 years.

What amazes me is that the vast majority of this “I stopped listening to NPR when….” group are actually secular-minded or others with a liberal political bent. Apparently, NPR has gone so far to the cultural left that not even someone like my mother, who was a life-long political liberal, would be able to stand what has happened to NPR. Author and public-intellectual, Peter Boghossian, who would describe himself as a classic liberal and an atheist, put out a multi-episode podcast, All Things Re-Considered, featuring interviews with such former NPR listeners, and even former NPR employees, who have become disillusioned with NPR. The days of a widely trusted news journalist, like a Walter Cronkite, are sadly far behind us.

My book reading (or should I say, “listening”) list keeps growing, as we head into the New Year. But there are some really important issues found in these books that I believe will be of help to fellow Christians, that I hope to blog about further.

Well, that is my rambling update for 2022. Onwards to 2023!! Happy New Year!!

Oh, if you are still in the Christmas mood (or you are Eastern Orthodox, and just getting into it!), you might enjoy this bluegrass version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” & “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by the Petersons…… or if you are tired of winter, the Peterson’s have a new version of “Wayfaring Stranger”:

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:


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!!

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