The Garden, Temptation, and Lent

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Throughout some of Christian history, The Garden of Eden has been looked at as a “Perfect Place.” Adam and Eve also as “Perfect People.” This interpretation is especially popular in America and Western Christianity. This Perfect View (as I will call it) has one of the most influential theologians in history in its favor. Augustine, who lived in the late 300’s. This man heavily influenced much of Catholic and Evangelical Christian Theology today. The Perfect View is so popular that few people are aware of a more original (and hence earlier too) understanding of the Garden and Adam and Eve.

The more biblical view avoids the word “perfect” and uses the Bible’s own word for the Garden and Adam and Eve. The Bible calls them “Good” (Genesis 1:31), but never perfect. Goodness has more to do with simplicity and basic humanness than it does some heavenly perfection. There are reasons that defining the garden and first humans as perfect should be avoided. Doing so we run into nearly insurmountable difficulties. Among them are 1) How did sin enter a perfect place? 2) How could perfect people choose sin? Perfection makes things hard here. But, the Simple Goodness View can get the job done.

In the Simple Goodness View, humans could not really be perfect at the outset. Humans are species that by definition are a growing and developing kind of thing. The very concept of people or humanness necessitates that they must be able to grow and mature. In other words, Adam and Eve were not pre-downloaded with all the necessary information that they would always need. God had them on a growth track. And, seemingly, the way to grow is to interact with the natural world through decisions. Opportunities to decide can build human maturity. Decisions can make us great vessels for God or corrupted vessels of sin.  

This brings us to the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” This “tree” has much to do with choice. Adam and Eve (because they are human) must have the opportunity to work on their growth. This means decisions. This possibly even means faltering. I myself do not think that God was surprised by Adam and Eve sinning. In my mind, this seems to be a possibility from the outset for all those training for godliness and growing in understanding.

The possibility of temptation is woven into the fabricate of a good world that human creatures get to make decisions in. Tim Bergman mentioned to me on Sunday that he often teaches in his Bible Seminars that temptation is “the thought to satisfy a good desire in the wrong way.” In other words, Adam and Eve’s curiosity and desire to know were good desires, but they were fulfilled in a timing and place that was not good for them. We can say the same thing about our own temptations. For an easy example, the desire to enjoy some chocolate is good. However, if one goes about stealing chocolate to fulfill that desire, or perhaps gorges on it constantly, then we would fault the route of fulfillment.  

Now to us who are also human. Lent reminds us of the good desires of Jesus for food, worship, and trusting in God that the devil wanted to use for evil.  We human creatures get “trees” or opportunities to decide how we will fulfill our desires for good things. Like Jesus, we must order our desires. Will we go about them in good and maturing ways or in detrimental and de-maturing ways? This is the challenge of any Garden. This is the challenge for all humanity. This is the opportunity of Lent!

Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?

Used with Permission from Natasha Bouchette @

Is Ash Wednesday Biblical? Yes. In what way? In every way. How so? For dozens of verses come together under the heading of this one day that kicks off, perhaps, the most Biblical season of the Church.

Let’s ask a question which might frame this discussion. Is it good for people to come together for an extra day to hear God’s word, sing God’s praises, repent, and begin a corporate fast? YES! These are what Ash Wednesday (and Lent) are about. So, what about those Ashes?

Ashes are to remind us of repentance and mortality. Our forefather Abraham said, “…I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Joshua and his Elders, “put dust on their heads” (Joshua 7:6). Tamar, who was violated, “put ashes on her head” as she wept through her pain (2 Samuel 13:19). In Nehemiah 9:1 Gods people “were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads…and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” But wait, there’s more.

Mordecai, whom God used to save Israel, “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry” (Esther 4:1). Two verses later all the Jews did the same (Esther 4:3). It says of Job in 42:6 that he did, “repent in dust and ashes.” For the Prophet Daniel, “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). In the book of Jonah God even accepts the Ninevites King who repents the same way Israel did, “and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6).  Jesus recognizes the history of God’s people Israel and the validity of that form of repentance by saying, “Woe to you…For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). But wait, there is still more.  

On Ash Wednesday we say, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” This exact phrase comes to us from Genesis 3:19 which says, “For out of it you were taken (from the ground). For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Few phrases could be truer. In Genesis 2:7 we learn how we started (dust). In Psalm 103:14-16 we learn our end (back to dust), “For he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone. And its place remembers it no more.” Ecclesiastes 3:20 makes this clearer, “all go to one place; all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

Let’s be clear here. I do not think that all Christians everywhere for all time are commanded that they must celebrate Ash Wednesday. What I am saying is that any Christian who does (and many who don’t should be open to it), find themselves on footing that goes back to the beginning where people repent with a reminder of ashes and dust nearby. This special day kicks off our super-biblical focus of Christ’s death (see all the Gospels).

The next time someone asks you if Ash Wednesday (or Lent for that matter) is Biblical. You can say, “It most surely is!”

Sunday Sermon – Correction and Expansion

After Sunday morning my wife brought out a few critiques of my sermon. My wife loves history, so when I wade into that realm I usually get more approvals or disapprovals than other weeks :). My wife and I have a good relationship on truth matters. We are both critical of each others thoughts on these matters, and I think this is an important model for the Church as well.

My reason for commenting on some of her thoughts here for everyone else, is because I tend to despise it when preachers and pastors overstep in their preaching. I see this enough and it drives me up a wall. Therefore, when I overstep I try to amend or clarify. We are supposed to be truth people, so we should make it clear when wrong or offering too narrow of a point.

  1. Other Religions – In first service I talked about “our love and relationships” with other religions and our ability to befriend them. I made this comment to make room for my then forthcoming critique of Islam. My wife’s concern was over the word “our.” Living Water does not formally have relations with other religious bodies and people. Therefore, she thought I should say “My” (as in Isaac’s) considering I do. This would not have given a false impression or overexaggerated sense of what Living Water does with other religions.

My Explanation:  I used the word “our” in a way to show that “Christians” do have relationships with other religious groups, and we at Living Water can lead the way. Perhaps I overstepped a bit here and should have been more specific, but there is room for the phrase broadly. Moreover, as a church we have set the tone for our relationships with other religions through our past visits to the Mosque, our invitation of an Atheist to debate in our sanctuary, and our general care when discussing other religious beliefs during questions and answer sessions. Therefore, I felt comfortable drawing on this heritage in speaking for us as a church. Moreover, since we had visitors in the congregation Sunday, my intent was to build a way of discussing a sensitive matter. If those visiting can know that our discussing truth matters is distinct from our treatment of human beings, I think it opens them up to hearing the ideas better.

  1. Slavery and Christians – In discussing slavery on Sunday I made a statement that the Evangelicals and Quakers were the first to start an anti-slavery movement. My wife’s point was that I needed to be more specific (or less) because the anti-slavery movements in Great Britain likely included other kinds of Christians too.

My explanation:

In this case my wife is right. I should have said, “Christians (in general) were the first to start an anti-slavery movement.” This would have encompassed Great Britain’s early beginnings, which was composed of more Christians than just Evangelicals and Quakers which I cited. When I was saying this statement, I was thinking of a quote from the book “What’s So Great about Christianity” by Dinesh D’souza. But, I failed to remember one word. Quaker and Evangelical Christians were the first to start and Anti-slavery movement in “America,” and not outright. Checking the quote again makes that clear.  

The point of this was to say that despite individual Christian’s failures over the centuries, Christianity is the reason for the kind of morality that opposed and worked to end Slavery. This is a tangible sign that Christian moral expression has the strength to achieve great heights and that Christians were the first. My wife was right. Thanks Sweetie.

To develop this even further, it might not hurt to point out that even though slavery was allowed in Old Testament times, the progression of the view that all people are made in the Image of God, made Christians very critical of the practice. In the letter of Philemon in the New Testament, Paul is writing to a slave owner who became a Christian. Paul has been traveling with the slave owners slave for some time in common work for the Gospel. Now, he was supposed to return him, but he is sending him back a bit late. Paul uses a neat rhetorical trick in this letter to affirm the societal rights of the slave over to be a master over him, but then subverts those rights by saying that we all have only one master, the Lord Jesus Christ. For a universally practiced thing like slavery, these are very audacious words thousands of years ago. Christian moral teaching is that all people are made in the image of God, and this is the foundation for why slavery cannot be a Christian practice.   

  1. Islam and Development of Ideas – On Sunday I talked about the difference between the Quran and the Bible. I mentioned how the Quran was a static dictated revelation and the Bible was a progressive revelation. My wife thought that the point may have been too narrow, because there has been some internal updating that took place in the Quran, and thus that looks like progress.

My Explanation: Here is where I stand by my point, but I do want to offer a longer explanation to make sense of what Vachelle is pointing out. It is correct to say that the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, is not a progressive document toward Allah (their word for God). Everything given about Allah is final. In fact, in Islam, it is a great heresy to say that any updating of Revelation can take place for Allah. It is a very important distinction between Christians and Muslims. However, what my wife is referring to is that some factions of Muslims do have an abrogation system. In other words, some Muslims think that some earlier verses have been abrogated/exchanged for later verses.

This abrogation system however has more to do with social mores than it does for the nature or character of Allah. Therefore, I intend my point to be taken about the Quran and Allah himself, and I could have made this a bit clearer on Sunday. Moreover, I also talked about accommodation. Namely, that the God of the universe (and the Bible) has accommodated himself early on, to help people grow in their understanding of him and their own moral development. This is not the case in Islam. Accommodation is not how Allah shows himself in Islamic understanding.

Now, historically speaking, Muhammad the founder of Islam did not get his Revelation all at once. He got it in stages. Moreover, many of the supposed revelations that he got from Allah updated based on the needs or wants that stood before him or his army. So, in the one case they were not allowed to raid caravans, and then in the latter case they were given “new” revelation that allowed them to raid caravans and receive that wealth. In my conversations with Muslims on this development (which to me shows that there was personal views of Muhammad being made into “revelations”) they are not comfortable with the idea of development. The exception to this comes when Muslims are trying to convince Christians who don’t know better to convert.  

Now, let’s talk about Christians for a second.  There are plenty of Christians that have not become comfortable with the idea of progressive revelation in the Bible. Even though historical Christianity and Judaism rely on that as a basic fact of their religion, plenty of Christians act as if the Bible was dictated right from the mouth of God on every word. This is often at the crux of many classes I have taught about Scripture.

The full Christian view of Scripture (the Bible) is that it is truly the product of God and truly the product of humanity simultaneously. This is akin to Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is truly God and truly man simultaneously. Therefore, there are real human elements in the Bible. This is not something to be ashamed of.  It is something to be grateful for. It can make better sense of how we have an updated understanding of who God is through the centuries of Scripture. Moreover, we can offer contextual answers as to why something was written 3500 years ago to make sense of things. Muslims are left with thinking that their book has no or almost no human influence. But, then they are stuck in the insuperable puzzles of making sense of a supposedly “perfect dictation” that changes based on Muhammad’s needs. These are hard logical troubles indeed for them.

Let me lay out some of the other ways that Christians think through the human and divine composition of Scripture.

  1. Sovereignty – one way of thinking through these elements is remembering because God knows everything, he can know who is going to write what and when in advance. Therefore, human authors in their human recordings can actually be bringing about the kind of revelation that God desires in an entirely human way, while it also being what God wanted humanity to know. This perspective based off of God’s foreknowledge is well represented by the great scholar William Lane Craig.
  2. Authorization – One of the largest ways we see God’s Revelation to us in the Bible is by authorization. For example, most of what Moses wrote in the first 5 books of the Bible has to do with him being God’s authorized agent. In other words, God chooses Moses to help lead his people Israel, and what Moses brings about or writes, since he is God’s authorized agent, is also what God brings about. This a bit like the President and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is not receiving everything the President says in perfect verbatim language or handing it in a verbatim way. However, She/He represents America and the President. What they say, is what the President says. They are operating in the capacity of authorized agent for a greater authority. This can solve the human/divine composition.
  3. Appropriation – Lastly, we come to appropriation. This is kind of a cool way of understanding how some of Scripture can be the product of humanity and God’s product too. Let’s use an example in language regarding the Packers. Perhaps Stephany tells her family, “I am going to the Packer Game this weekend.” Then, her husband Andy, agreeing with the phrase and also happens to be going to the same game, responds, “Me too!” Now, Andy did not literally say, “I am going to the packer game this weekend.” But, he did piggy back (or appropriate) Stephany’s sentence, and make it work for him to say the same thing. God can do the same thing with human authors. They can write some true or accurate about God or deal with a situation in a congregation, and then God can piggy back (or appropriate) it for his causes and make it speak for him. These last two that I mention are well represented by the Philosopher Nicolaus Wolterstorff.

Anyway…this is more than most of you cared to know. But, I think it might help us grow in our understanding of the Bible and other religions too. 

God Bless, Pastor Isaac


What is Lent about? My one-word answer is JESUS. Here are eleven questions and answers that seek to draw out the meaning of this great upcoming Church season.

  1. What is Lent? A way to adopt practices and attitudes that realize the suffering and death of Christ.
  2. Why Suffering and Death? The suffering and death of Jesus is the focal point of God’s activity in the earth. Nearly half of the Gospel of Mark and large percentages of the other Gospels are reporting Jesus’ suffering and death. Churches everywhere must do a better job of keeping that focus.
  3. What do we do? We fast/pray for 40 of the next 46 days (starting March 6th). Sundays are always a break day. Christians have always thought that Sunday is a unique day (cause of the resurrection) even during the Lent season. Therefore, whatever you are fasting (and you get to decide) you can feel free to not fast on Sundays.
  4. Why Ashes? There is no direct Biblical command for or against getting ashes placed on our heads. However, I have found Ash Wednesday weaved together a wide array of biblical themes all at once. The phrase, “from dust we came and to dust we shall return,” reminds us of the double reality that God used the natural earth to develop his human creatures, and one day their bodies shall go back into the earth. Moreover, especially in the Old Testament, we see the nation of Israel and other nations repent in “sackcloth and ashes.”
  5. What else are we doing? Well, the sanctuary is going to look pretty stark. All of the Christmas lights and backdrop are coming down for this season. In a sense, as we take on the attitude of fasting, prayer, suffering, and death, our environment is going to reflect that nakedness. At least partially. Moreover, we have some special songs that are going to be functioning also as prayers through the Lent Season.
  6. Isn’t all of this kind of grim? Are we not supposed to celebrate? Well, yes, sort of. However, there are so many Scriptural themes that remind us that God is still present through the suffering and sorrowful. People need this season! I find that plenty of Christians find this season an exercise in renewal. A broadening of their awareness that Sunday morning is not only supposed to be honored with a smile, but with one’s brokenness and suffering too.
  7. Is Lent Catholic? Lent predates the solidification of any one denomination. Thus, it is not expressly a Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran activity. It is a universal way for Christians everywhere to focus on the most central person of the faith, Jesus.
  8. What else can this season offer me? Well, in a sense this is the wrong question. JFK would flip the question. However, perhaps broadly speaking I can offer an answer. 1) It can balance out all of the misdirected emphasis in the body of Christ on “pet” doctrines and teachings. There is no other Gospel but one that includes the suffering and death of Jesus. 2) It can remind us that God is near to the sufferer. 3) It challenges our way of having power. Christ gives his life instead of taking others. This is a most powerful demonstration of God’s activity.
  9. Are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Holy Days of Obligation? In the ‘non-catholic world’ we do not typically have Holy Days of Obligation. However, I do personally hope that you come with a spirit to embrace physically what our faith brings about spiritually on these days.
  10. Where do the Ashes come from? On Palm Sunday each year (the week before Easter) we wave palms and sing Hosanna. Then, we dry the palms, burn them, and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday the next year. There is a cyclical and renewal process to all things that we participate in when we get ashes on our foreheads.
  11. What is the most funny story pastor Isaac has from Ash Wednesday? Come March 6th to find out. 😊 Or…I suppose you could listen online later too. Truly, Wednesday I will be sharing some, but we also have a special guest joining to help lead this service. Candace (who many of you remember has led worship before in the past), has a wonderful gift for teaching and leading and she will join me in leading this great service of Ashes. 

Pastor Isaac

What about Andy Stanley?

As some of you may have heard, Andy Stanley has been under a bit of criticism lately from some regarding a sermon he preached. In the sermon he talked about how the Old Testament is not entirely in place any more, and some had taken the comments to be saying that the Old Testament has no value for us today. Since we use Andy Stanley’s sermons and lessons in Men of Fire, I thought it might not be a bad idea to offer some knowledge on this subject, and while we can still feel good about using his materials.

A Little History

My first time in reading about Andy Stanley being under a little bit of criticism was when I read a First Things (A prominent journal) article a couple months ago. The article did give some good history on the use of the Old Testament throughout the life of the church. But, it’s criticisms of Andy were a bit much. The article can be found here.

Back in the second century, a man by the name of Marcion rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the Gospel’s for Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. The Churches got together and unanimously agreed that Marcion was incorrect. It also was a good impetus for churches to clarify their own position that the Old Testament was inspired Scripture and which books each of the churches really knew to be Inspired in the New Testament.

Today there are some in the wider Christian world that sound a bit like Marcion from time to time. Even though they believe the whole Bible is inspired, they place Paul’s letters in a sort of pristine place of use over the rest of the books. These Christians are Dispensationalists. At Living Water (as well as true blue historical biblical Christianity) are not Dispensationalist.

Critics have gone a bit far…

I do think the critiques have gone a bit far on this. I myself have a much more integrated view of Old and New Testaments, than does Andy. But, I think his comments in the Relevant Magazine article do a good job of explaining that the complaint many have had regarding Andy’s small comment, were part of a much larger sermon series. The point is that many have misjudged the sermon. I myself don’t like people lifting comments quickly from my sermons, but rather like them being taken as a whole. The link to Andy’s interview with Relevant is here…and I encourage you to read through it to see his perspective.  

A little more theology

Andy seems to be in line with plenty of thinkers in evangelical and charismatic contexts, who have a much stronger sense of separation between the two testaments than integration. Martin Luther himself has some similarities to these thinkers. Moreover, there has been some debate on how to think through ‘what is still in place in the Old Testament and what is not’ for most of the last 2000 years. The major views to be rejected are anything that denies the Old Testament being Inspired Scripture, or anything that denies it is still useful to us today. Andy affirms a very high view of inspiration, infallibility, and usefulness, so it seems critics are clearly missing the point.

Most Christians agree that some things were fulfilled in Jesus. For instance, we no longer practice sacrifices, circumcision, Israelite priests, etc. Thus, even though the force of the Old Testament is always in place, there were some aspects that were fulfilled when Jesus came and died on the cross.  

What about Andy?

Andy is no Marcion follower…so the critics have gone too far. As I already said, I have a more integrated view of the Old Testament and New Testament than does Andy, but his own approach is not “out there.” Millions of evangelicals hold his view. 

Why we can stick with Andy?

We can stick with Andy for several reasons. 1) He is not a Marcionite. 2) His approach really speaks to people who are outside the church and works as a great outreach. 3) Even if we would ever disagree with something he says, we can wear our ‘big boy pants’ and have a great theological conversation about it. In a situation like this, I prefer ‘learning’ over ‘sanctioning’ where appropriate. And, right now we have nothing to sanction…but if we ever did, we could use it to talk about where we are different and distinct.

Consumer Worship

Often times before I write about a subject, I generally like to take a day, a week or more to gather my thoughts. I read scripture, other commentators, reflect on my life experiences and synthesize it all together. By the time I’m ready to write I feel like I have somewhat internalized the matter and can provide a decent opinion. This is not one of those times. This is one of those subjects where I feel woefully inadequate to communicate in a way that is meaningful to the reader and simultaneously honoring to God. But I will attempt to do so anyway.

The concept of worship, for most in the Evangelical and Charismatic world prompts one to think about the music sung at church. In more traditional circles the word is used in reference to the whole service. Either way, we get the gist that this is supposed to be an act towards God…or do we?

Growing up, I was often apart of churches that boasted high energy singing and preaching. It was usually engaging and dare I say at times entertaining. Then I found myself in a context that no longer catered to the concert style worship I enjoyed. I was forced to learn how to read a hymnal as I repeatedly got lost after the first line! Was God even present? My worship goosebumps had long since gone and there seem to be no ‘shouting’ points in the sermons. This experience had me questioning, what was worship all about?

Many churchgoers select where they choose to worship by the style of music offered, the charisma of the pastor, the beautiful building or the complimentary coffee available at the gift shop, among other things. None of these offerings in and of themselves are wrong. Who doesn’t want to sing along or try not to fall asleep during a sermon? I can only speak for myself, but I’ve had seasons where I found myself bored and not getting much out of the service. The novelty had worn off, so I would show up later and later or some weeks not at all. Was God as bored as I was, because we were not connecting like we were when the they were playing my favorite songs and preaching engaging sermons.

Regularly we approach God during times of worship as a consumer. We come not ready to give but to take. We come with a list of subconscious needs demanding they be met in order for us to properly worship, but do we even understand what worship is?

What is worship?

Jesus once said that true worship was done in spirit and truth. Truth by definition is objective. It is transcendent of our subjective opinions and preferences, just as the spirit is to the material world. True worship transcends my favorite songs, charismatic sermons and social entanglements. Can these elements be conduits? Absolutely, but too often it is made to be the object of our glory. So what is the essence of worship?

Whether defined in Hebrew, Greek, or English it all points to humbling oneself in the presence of one who is greater. It is an act of giving honor to one who is worthy. Worship, by definition reinforces the separation and otherness of God and man, because there is always the distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped. Worship is not a partnership of equals, but God in his wondrous love, bows down to receive our offering. In this, He gives of Himself, which brings about our healing, gives us vision and proclaims truth, which can only be found in Him. But before you can experience true worship, you can have no other gods before Him. There is no room for self-glorification.

During times of worship we must never allow ourselves to simply be the ‘audience’ to what is happening in front and around us. We are to be a part of the giving of ourselves as a love offering to our Lord. After all, who is supposed to be doing the worshipping? So the next time you find yourself in a place of worship, stop looking around for how your needs can be catered to, and ask yourself, what have I to give to the one who has given His all…

For more blog check out:

Submitted by: Vachelle Fleming


Women in Ministry 1 – Experience

The subject of women in ministry comes up in church life. Especially when people from one Christian background are getting involved in a church from another Christian background. People want to know a given church’s viewpoint on women in ministry. Now, to be sure, at some level most people realize that this is not the very center of the faith. The center of The Faith is the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, there are many people who have a passionate view about this subject. I thought I would offer some of my thoughts.

The first area to cover (strangely) is not the Bible, but rather ‘experience’ and the various reasons people offer on this subject. Most often, even before I can offer Biblical perspective on this subject to individuals, they have experiences that they wish to share with me. And, just in case you wondered, my other blogs forthcoming on this subject will be dealing with the Biblical material on the subject. I encourage you to take a look as they develop.

Still, when the topic comes up I usually hear something like, “Well, I could not imagine a woman being in leadership?” Or “I saw a woman in a ministerial role before and it did not go that well.” Or “Women are very emotional, and emotions don’t work well in a Pastoral role.”

Let’s be clear on these points. Every one of them can be countered by another person with a positive experience with a woman in a leadership position. For instance, I personally know women in ministerial roles that do well and lead the charge effectively. Whose experience wins the day? Moreover, on the emotional end, I think that varies between each person (whether male or female). And, having emotion does not disqualify one from leading or serving in Christ’s kingdom. In fact, there are avenues where emotional intelligence, especially in ministry is very important. Therefore, one could say that women (at least those called) will handle ministry very effectively as God sees fit.  

My only point with this assessment is that experience or the reasons that are sometimes offered against women in ministry cut both ways, and prove little. In fact, we can take this one step further and apply the same reasons used against women being in leadership roles and apply them to some men. For instance, I have seen plenty of men do poorly in leadership in Christianity. Does that discount men? Moreover, I have seen some men who are fairly emotional or perhaps non-emotional, does that disqualify men in general? Of course not. The same of women.  

Therefore, before we get into the Biblical material, we best be aware that our experiences cut both ways. Moreover, they do little to invalidate women from ministry in general. 

Pastor Isaac

Evidence Matters 2- Works Righteousness?

Not only can we examine the number of cases (previous blog), we can also ask how representative was the evidence? In other words, how much like the real world was the evidence that was examined? If the cases studied do not reflect what is actually happening in the world, then the conclusion will not hold true. In the case of some views on the Bible, they are a reflection more of one’s own perceptions than of the ancient context. 

In this case, a Bible Study example might be understanding Bible verses in their own context. If we take something as if it was written in our own context, or perhaps our assumptions about the ancient context are wrong, then a lot changes with certain verses. Over the last 30 or more years, E.P. Sanders studies on Ancient Palestine have reformed how Christians look at subjects that the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles address. The big one is justification. For the most part, these backdrop studies have enriched some difficult territory of theology, and all because we are clearer on Palestinian Judaism. In other words the evidence we now have is more representative of those times/contexts that what many have worked from previously. 

One of the biggest discoveries was that ancient Judaism never looked their Old Testament laws as some kind “works righteousness” pathway. Many Christians often say, “Well that was the Old Testament, this is the New Testament.” Then, they move to tell you that the Old Testament was about laws and the New Testament is about grace. However, this could not be further from the truth. Christians too should recognize that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. Moreover, things like laws and social mores were available in their communities as the very grace of God. They had to figure out how to live in community and God was a big part of this. 

Now, why this really matters is that as Reformers like Martin Luther and others claimed that the Catholic Church was basically making the same error as early Judaism. That meant, that all of Paul’s discussions on “works” are talking about any and every “good work” done by a Christian. Many in the Protestant world still cringe when someone tells them that Jesus or Paul wanted their followers to “do good works.” They like to repeat that the just shall live by faith or it is by grace through faith so that no one can boast. All of that is in the Bible, to be sure, but good works in general are the outworking of our justification. Luther himself saw this, and that is why his argument was against specific good works that Catholicism was calling good works (such as rosaries etc). He was very clear that anything Jesus commanded to do was a good work and should be done (See his book on Good Works).

What E.P. Sanders works has done, is to highlight that “doing good” is the extension of our relationships with God, and not something that one is trying to earn their place in heaven. Moreover, it helps us to see the Jews as not trying to work their way to heaven, like so many have claimed. Instead, they were relying on the grace of God and they even relied on their election by God. Jews were not notching their belts making sure they could go to heaven when they died. They were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah who would set this world back to rights.

So…as we have had more representative information come through ancient studies, it has affected the way we look at how Jesus lived in the first century, what Judaism was back then, and how to view Paul’s complex discussion on Law, good works, and grace. . 

Pastor Isaac