A Response To The “Great Debate,” Does God Exist?

Last week our church hosted a formal debate where friends, family and the wider community were invited to participate. The topic was on the rationality of the belief in God. My husband took the stance that it was rational to believe in God and the visiting professor took the opposite position. Overall, it was a great night, and such a beautiful opportunity to be under one roof with people who fundamentally disagree on key subjects, but yet be civil and welcoming to one another. I would say, it was a holy moment…

With that said, it does not mean I was not nervously sitting in my seat as the debate played out. I had my head bent for a lot of it, because I wanted to hear the words and judge the ideas on their own merit. I did not want to read into the facial expressions or body language. So with my phone open, I tried to take as unbiased notes as I could.

It did take some brain power to follow and process the arguments. I then found something to be lacking for me in clarity through the arguments being made, and that was the definition and subjective use of “evidence.” Professor Shapiro almost exclusively relied on physical evidence while Isaac relied more on the nonphysical. I found this to be troubling, because Shapiro was ultimately saying, because there is no physical evidence for God, all other evidence does not amount to anything. All that is real, is physical and nothing can exist beyond its boundaries. To his credit, he said that not knowing the cause of something is okay, and that it is presumptuous to think that we live in a universe where all things should be knowable. Yet, he objectively argued for the exclusivity of physical evidence as the ultimate and only decider of what is rational. It eventually became evident to me that God CANNOT exist in Shapiro’’s world…

Mongoose Vs. Cobra
Mongoose are known to be able to get the upper hand on Cobra’s. This is because they are immune to its poisonous bit and also, because they can jump around quickly to get out of the striking path. One day a bet is placed on who would win a fight between the two. People largely placed their bets on the mongoose because they know it’s abilities. Both animals are placed in a box and covered. When the cover is removed, the mongoose is found dead.

What happened?

We could postulate that the cobra just out witted and out maneuvered the mongoose. Although, technically true, if we took a step back and look at the bigger picture, we could see the mongoose from the start was at a disadvantage. It needs the room to jump around as its defense, but when a box is put over it, it’s hands has just been tied so to speak. Evidence for God’s existence cannot exist in Shapiro’s world, because he has limited the scope for what is possible. Anything leading beyond the physical realm will always be a mystery not to be solved or, declared unresolved until further conclusion. He concludes, if God is non physical, and the non physical does not exist, therefore God does not exist and belief in God is not rational.

Shapiro comes in with the assumption that the physical is all there is. To limit the human experience to only its physical nature, I believe is to diminish the complexity of humanity and the universe as a whole. The mind alone is a wonder in itself. Our consciousness alone testifies of the otherness of our experience. We make the mistake of taking one discipline (scientific method) or sense of examining the world and broad brush our whole experience to fit through that lens. When there are a whole host of others ways to interpret ourselves and the world around us.

I believe Shapiro makes this mistake of limiting the importance of other evidences for God’s existence. Until one is willing to remove the box that limits your scope, you will not be able to fully take advantage of the evidences around you, and see what is in plain sight….

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Journey to Ordination

At the age of 20, after graduating Bible college, I received my Minister’s License. At the time I thought it was a cool bonus prize, but I don’t remember caring much especially when the bill came to renew the following year. I took a pass, and had not looked back much since. Although, it might not have seemed obvious to those around me, at the time I did not have much ambition towards formal ministry.

After Bible College, traditional modes of Christian service were not on my agenda. I continued to serve in my local church, but I no longer sought for my vocation to be associated within an exclusively Christian context. I had ‘outgrown’ that desire. Those thoughts would take a back seat as our family grew and an opportunity came to us that I felt totally unprepared for. A town not too far away was looking for a Pastor. We had heard about this position months before, but neither of us wanted to go down that particular path. One day, the conversation about it became serious and I knew in my heart, that God was going to change our lives.

I was told exclusively by my husband on more than one occasion that he did not want to be a Pastor, so how did we end up serving in this exact position? Overall, I was a good sport, but embraced the role as his thing. I was still trying to find my way. Shortly after, we had our 2nd child and I finished my Associates in History. I started to long to do more and I applied for the Bachelors program in History while starting my own nonprofit to help others pursuing their education. I remember one day registering for classes and feeling so depressed. I had no clue what I was going to do with this degree because I had no desire to fulfill the roles that it pointed to. Through a series of events and a semester break, I ended up applying to an online program that would accept my credits from Bible College along with my Associate to finish my degree in one year. In doing so, it felt like the death of a dream. I cried before going through with it, my degree would be in Religion and Social Science. I would be starting right where I ended. It was in that moment I started to say yes to God.

As much as I tried to deny it, I could not run away from the call of God on my life to serve His body. I am now beginning to acknowledge and embrace this mission as an adult. I knew from my earliest memories that God was real and He was always very present to me. I never really latched on to any one profession I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ but , I knew whatever it was I wanted to serve Him. In high school I told my parents I wanted to be a missionary and at the time my mom in particular wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t mind. But along the way of trying to accomplish that goal I got sidetracked. During my time at Bible College I came to the realization that one didn’t have to be formally recognized as a minister in order to best serve God. He blessed us all with many gifts and talents and they were all to be used to serve Him. With this realization in mind I decided to serve Him outside of my safe context, the church. But it was there he was calling me too all along. I felt like it was a cop out to vocationally serve in the church, but the real cop out was not fully submitting myself to the God who knew me and what He purposed me for from before I was in my mother’s womb.

After side lining myself for so many years I had finally stepped out of the way. Accepting my purpose I felt like I could begin to run with better clarity. I felt free to become the person I was called to be. I began setting goals to accomplish and being ordained was one of them. For me, ordination, like baptism was a public declaration of the call of God and my acceptance and submission to His leading. At 29 years, I am now realizing the true value and gift this ‘bonus prize’ is and trying to redeem the time that my 20 year old self let slip away. I am now at home in the center of God’s will and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

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Humble Parenting

I grew up in a household and culture where your parents were always right. There was no such thing as a wrong motive, action or advice because they always knew best.
I vowed that I would never be prideful with my kids, and then I actually had them.

My oldest is only six and painfully insightful. I do not remember the situation, but I remember being angry about something and feeling justified in my actions until my daughter proved I was wrong. My instinct was to save face, but then I was reminded of the kind of example I wanted to set for my daughter when she is confronted with her wrong actions. Is this going to be a do as I say not as I do kind of household? There is nothing like being humbled in front of a six year old, but it was good medicine (although not very tasty) for my soul.

Sometimes as parents, we feel like we have to be this stallworth example to our children, but often the way we go about trying to paint this appearance can be detrimental. We often want to be like God to our children in the image of perfection, and when they call our bluff or we find ourselves in situations that expose our humanity we gird ourselves with pride. We might not say that we are always right, but we act like it.

The thing is, everyone else knows we are flawed (including our children) so who are we left fooling…ourselves. There is only one perfect being and that is God and the only other roles that are left are sinners and recovering sinners. By our example, let our children know that they will mess up, but instead of trying to cover it up, follow Christ in his humility and own up to your failures and move forward to make better decisions. Sometimes that is the hardest part, because we then are put into a position of being accountable to those we lead and that is a little uncomfortable. Good news is, if we teach our kids this way of life from an early stage, the level of shame and vulnerability we fear in exposing our weaknesses won’t be as daunting because we have already modeled and taught them the way of grace and humility. Jesus tells us those who are grace filled towards others will recipients of it as well.

If your parenting is seasoned with the fruit that comes from one that abides in God, then you have nothing to fear as far as your children using it as a tool against you. But if it is not, then there is no better time to start than now. Do not convince yourself otherwise. Believe it or not, your kids are watching and taking their cues from how you model it to them. So the next time you want to sweep your dirt under the rug, remember your children are watching and they are taking note. But most importantly your Heavenly Father is watching to see if you will follow Him in His example of humility or continue to build your own self-righteous kingdom. Choose the better way.

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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…

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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

Evidence Matters 1 – Cases Examined

There is a quote I once heard by Cecilia Payne that if your evidence is good and your logic is clear then you should stick with your conclusion. This has often challenged me to be more honest with my evidence, but once I have my evidence and have done the necessary checking, then I seek ways to show my conclusion as being true. There are some helpful principles that we can keep in mind to keep us honest with our views. 

Ask how many cases were examined? For instance, if someone says, “All Christians have had a certain experience,” are they really trying to say “all?” Instead, their statement can be drastically qualified to say, “Many Christians I know have had this experience.” However, if someone else comes forward and has done a fair assessment of Christians in general and their results are different, then we should go with the wider and fairer assessment. The point here is that the more cases studied, the better probability that the conclusion is accurate. As humans, we often do unfair and narrow assessments of a given subject. We find those who typically already agree with us and then we let them bolster our already hardened opinions. But, we could all use to be a bit more honest with ourselves. 

I remember years ago someone had said, “Lots of people are saying…” It was in reference to something taking place at the church we were going to at the time. The problem with this statement is two-fold. First, sometimes this phrase is used as a way of getting one’s way. The point is, that if many people are talking about the issue, then that must mean those many people are right and leadership should take action. Obviously, even if many people were talking about something it would not mean that they are right. However, the second major issue with this ends up being inflation. Likely, the “lot” stands for a few, and thus not a lot. Upon asking people “who are these many people talking?” The list is usually one or two people. Thus, in the end even the complainer can usually realize there is no case after all.  

At the end of the discussion about science, religion, or even someone’s mouth vomit 🙂 feel free to ask “How many cases?” or “Who is this referring to?” It makes everyone a lot more honest with their positions. 

Pastor Isaac

Compounding our Beliefs

What are the chances that your beliefs accurately represent reality? There are many factors that come into play, but one of them is when beliefs rely on other beliefs. If one belief is barely probable and the second one is barely probable, then combined they are improbable given some basic math. For instance.

Lately, I have been having conversations with Mormons and so I have been personally applying this to their case, but this can be applied to numerous beliefs. Therefore, please do not think I am picking on Mormonism, it just so happens that I have been conversing with Mormons lately. 🙂 

One of Mormonism’s cherished beliefs is that Joseph Smith received a Revelation to found the Mormon Church as the true Christian Institution in the 1800’s. There are three beliefs that are wrapped up in this foundational doctrine of Mormonism. The first, is that Joseph Smith at the age of 14 was given a revelation from God that other churches were false and he was to found the true one. The second, is that Christianity, shortly after the Apostles became corrupt and no one really had the truth since, (or at least not much of it). Third, that other Christian Churches did not have a claim on being “truly Christian.” 

Now, let’s take those beliefs one by one and input some possible numbers. 

  1. 14 Year Old Receives a Revelation from God which is just as significant as previous revelations. How should we rate this belief? Well, a typical Historical Christian approach to this is to give a belief like this a very low probability. The reason is because Jesus is the final revelation. Moreover, the Bible is not open to taking more candidates. Moreover, Galatians 1:8 warns us against receiving a different Gospel. Most Christian’s would likely give this a 1-10% chance. But, perhaps a Christian that is not well trained, might give this a higher percentage. Even more, perhaps if one is looking for a new revelation, the percentage could be higher. Let’s for the sake of the Mormon cause give this belief a 50% chance of being actual. In other words, let’s assume it is at least possible. 
  2. Christianity became corrupt after the Apostles. This belief with any casual study of Church history is flat out wrong. Thus, any historical perspective will grant this belief a really low percentage of likelihood. Say from 0-1%. Especially in light of Jesus’ words that he would always be with us. The Christianity of the first few centuries (at its best) was often a thing of beauty. Still, let’s assume that one could give larger credence to the Mormon proposal considering they are not as well informed. Therefore, let’s consider it at least a possibility, and also give it a percentage much higher than should be. Let’s again use 50%. 
  3. Other Christian communions were mostly and unusually corrupt as to necessitate this “new revelation.” Once again, this basically has to deny the historical case (as well as judge the hearts) of numerous Christian bodies who were faithfully preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and going into missions. This belief also has an unusually low probability. However, perhaps they were all wrong, so let’s give it an unusually high percentage. 50% chance of being the case.

Now, assuming that all three must be true simultaneously gives us some interesting numbers. Take out a calculator and multiple .5 x .5 and you will get .25, which is 25%. In other words, if only two of them had to be true at the same time for the whole to be true, then our probability for them combined is rather low. 25% is a low probability. In other words, it is unlikely to be the case. We however, are dealing with three beliefs that are wrapped up together. Grab your calculator one more time and multiple .5 x .5 x .5 and you will get .125, or 12.5%. At 12.5% we are in the highly improbable arena. And, let me point out once more, that this was being extremely favorable with each belief. I pushed the principle of charity to the edge in this assessment. Therefore the likelihood of all three actually being the case is something like 1%. 

Now it is your turn. Take one of your beliefs and try to become informed as to why you think it is the case. What are the various beliefs that are wrapped up together and how do you weigh out evidence to determine the likelihood of something being true or not?  Perhaps you could think about the opposite belief and ask the question as to the likelihood of that belief instead.

Either way, this approach is kind of fun. And, it teaches us one thing. That when beliefs rely upon each other, the likelihood of each being true goes down in relation to the total number. 

Keep Thinking

Pastor Isaac