Tag Archives: books

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

One last look at 2020….

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

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

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

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

Next, let me talk about some blog posts….

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

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

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

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

Back to reality now….

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

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

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

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


Top 21 Books of the Decade

As we pass on towards a new decade….

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

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

Best Books I Read in 2019

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

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

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

Onward to a new decade!!


Best Books of 2018

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


Clarke’s Books of 2016… and a Quick Year in Review

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. Moving past the culture wars to love people with biblical truth.

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. My book of the year for 2016.

Christians are people of the “Word,” so it really is a good thing for Christians to practice the discipline of good reading. However, I do not get a chance to read as much as I would like to do. Thankfully, Audible.com and ChristianAudio.com supplement my hunger for good books, as I commute to work or try to knock out my “honey-do” list at home on Saturdays. So, I would like to offer a brief review of some of the books that have helped shape me over the past year (also, I have a quick year in review below):

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, Preston Sprinkle. The best book I have read this year on a controversial topic, and probably the best book ever on this particular topic. Sprinkle has the right combination of pastoral sensitivity to hurting people and an orthodox reading of Scripture, that I simply have not found in other books on same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage. If you care about people who struggle with gay and lesbian questions, or you struggle yourself, you need to read this book. I introduced the book here on Veracity.

When a Jew Rules the World, Joel Richardson. As with the topic of creation, I find that an obsessive preoccupation with the “End Times,” including the topic of national Israel, tends to invite a type of unnecessary dogmatism that preemptively shuts down conversation among Christians, where there is honest, principled disagreement regarding the interpretation of the Bible. Richardson’s book is a spirited defense of premillennialism, written at a popular level, with a definite future for national, ethnic Israel in view.  But Richardson does not fit the caricature of dispensationalism I learned some years ago in college, that sees itself as the one and only way to read the Bible. He shook my categories! Richardson has his convictions, but he seems willing to rethink certain elements of popular prophecy that do not have sufficient Biblical backing in his view. I am not wholly convinced by Richardson, in how he reads certain passages of Scripture, he is more obsessive about the “End Times” than I think is necessary, and he goes a bit over-the-top in linking amillennialism with antisemitism in church history. Nevertheless, I confess that he has given me a lot to think about, and he has encouraged me to keep a more open mind. I will hopefully get back to blogging on the topic of Christian Zionism in 2017. Look here for a detailed review I wrote on Veracity.

We Belong to the Land, Elias Chacour. Chacour is a Palestinian Christian in Israel, and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, who for the past fifty years has sought for justice and reconciliation between Palestinian Christians and non-Christian Israelis. This is a fairly brief book, composed mostly of short essays chronicling Chacour’s story since the 1960s. But it helps to give a different Christian perspective to the Middle East conflict, that most American Christians know next to nothing about. Chacour was instrumental in building schools for Palestinian Christian children, at a time when many Israelis resisted such efforts. If you are bothered by Joel Richardson, read Elias Chacour for an antidote.

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan. I have become friends with some guys from Turkey, and I have wanted to learn more about World War One, and the Middle East. If you want to understand what is going on in that part of the world today, including some of the history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this British historian, Eugene Rogan, is a fascinating and yet still scholarly story teller, of how that part of the world has gotten into the mess that it is in right now.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture, John Walton and Craig Keener. An excellent resource that I use almost all of the time now in studying the Bible. A lot of popular Bible teaching today fails to properly appreciate the original context of the Biblical writer and the original audience. As John Walton succinctly puts it, “The Bible was written for us but not to us.” If you use this alongside a good study Bible, it will give you a lifetime of insight into understanding God’s Word. It serves as the perfect complement to my ESV Study Bible.

The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, Aviya Kushner. Written by an orthodox Jew, Kushner writes about the fascinating world of Bible translation, from the perspective of someone who grew up reading the Bible in Hebrew. She intersperses her discussion of different passages of the Hebrew Bible with a colorful and personal travelogue of sorts. Though not a Christian, I learned a lot about some of the ambiguities in Bible translation from Kushner, which ironically gave me a greater appreciation for God’s Word, the Bible. Some of Kushner’s family survived the Holocaust, making the story even more compelling.

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law. In preparing a Bible study in Romans for both a small group Bible study and an Adult Bible class, I soon learned that the Old Testament Scripture quotations Paul makes in his letter do not always match the text we have in our English Old Testament translations. When God Spoke Greek opened my eyes to understanding the crucial role that the Greek Septuagint, that the Apostle used, has in helping us to understand things like Biblical inspiration. They did not teach me this stuff in seminary, but they should have. It was like a mini-revolution in how I looked at the Bible. It also helped me to see why some evangelicals have been drawn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, but that is another subject! See this review on Veracity.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Ronald Bainton. A classic that every Christian should read, particularly since we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation next year

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And to top things off, here is a quick review of the year 2016 for me. Last year, I put up a “Top Posts of the Year 2015,” but I only have a few things to add for this year, so this is why I focus mainly on the books I have read.

Of course, the biggest story of the year is the 2016 American Presidential election. Many Christians are optimistic, whereas others are apprehensive. I do not think anyone really knows yet for sure what it all means. I guess we will all start to know something within a few months. Here are just a few of the other notable, thoughtful events and Internet postings of 2016 that quickly come to mind:

  • The Andy Stanley preaching controversies. The famous pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta, who is also the son of Charles Stanley, another influential American pastor, has ignited a contentious debate among evangelical leaders: Should preaching be geared primarily towards the believer or the non-believer? But while this is a significant debate here, the discussion also reveals a disturbing, underlying trend in the church: Much of the critique of Stanley has come from selected “soundbites” from his sermons, without sufficient attention paid to “fact checking” the various claims made about Stanley. Have evangelicals succumbed to the temptation of simply passing information on about other Christians, without properly verifying the truth of these claims? What does this tell us about how we treat the Bible? Do we really study the Bible, in context, or do we just rely on Scriptural “soundbites?”
  • The confused evangelical response to LGBTQ concerns. Most Christians I know believe (as I do) that things like gay marriage and transgenderism are not part of God’s original design and purposes, but they are perplexed in knowing how to respond and care for real flesh and blood people who struggle with these issues.

 


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