No Part-Time Pastors

I recently attended an event at my seminary alma mater for bi-vocational pastors. The event included panelists who had years of bi-vocational ministry experience. One of the panelists said something that struck a chord with me:

“There are no part-time pastors.”

As a bi-vocational pastor I work about 20-25 hours/week “for the church.” I average a bit more hours/week for my job as a project manager in the aviation industry. My “church work” is split between attending services and meetings, teaching preparation and prayer, planning, communication, and a slew of other miscellaneous activities. Since I don’t spend 40+ hours a week doing these tasks it would make sense to call me a part-time pastor, just as it would also be fair to say that I’m a part-time project manager.

This panelist would disagree.

The language “part-time pastor” and, to a lesser degree, even “bi-vocational” ministry, implies that our lives fit into neatly discrete categories. Yesterday at church I was a pastor. When I go into work this morning, I’ll be a project manager. On Tuesday night, I’m a father. In fact, my identity as a pastor/father/project manager, is far more integrated than that.

In pastoring, I’m a father and a project manager. My wife and kids (and anyone else in my home: that’s another post) are my first line of ministry, not separate from it. The lessons I learn from project management help me become a better leader. My experience at my job informs how I read Scripture and preach sermons.

In project management, I’m a pastor and a father. I don’t mean that I preach sermons at work. It does mean that I seek to live out my Christian witness by working hard with honesty, kindness, and calm. It means that I see my job as a way to supplement my income in order to free up the church to pay others or participate in other ministries. Neither is my project management separate from my duties as a husband and father. On its most basic level, my job enables me to provide for the needs of my family.

I allocate my hours in a “part-time” way but not my identity.* So long as I am called to these roles then, I am always a pastor even if I’m not doing traditionally pastoral tasks. My bi-vocational ministry role is simply one of the ways in which I pastor.

(* At its deepest level, my identity exists completely apart from these roles. My identity is in Christ, a truth that endures long after these particular roles will have ceased.)

Not how, but who?

Over the years people have approached me to ask me about my bi-vocational role. Some have expressed interest in entering into bi-vocational ministry. Some are already in a secular field and are interested in adding a ministry role. Some are preparing for ministry but see the benefits of bi-vocational ministry. How, I asked the panelists, should I counsel others to discern their call?

One of the panelists offered me this: Instead of asking if you’re called to bi-vocational ministry or not, ask who you are being called to serve. This is the story of my call. I did not, at the beginning of my ministry, feel called to bi-vocational ministry as such. But I was called to serve at my current church and that meant, initially by necessity, that I was called to serve in a bi-vocational role.

Right now, our church probably has the budget for a single “full-time” pastor should we choose, but we believe it is more strategic for gospel ministry to have a leadership team made up of multiple “part-timers” and then rely heavily on a church family all pulling together on the same gospel mission.

There are a number of reasons for this strategic approach, and it might not always make sense for our church, but it does right now. And, more importantly, it’s an example of how the “who” comes before the “how.” As a pastor, I am called to serve my church and the best way I know how to do that, is through bi-vocational ministry.

“Why do they feel the need… ?”

Most of the time, when I tell people that we are a host family for Safe Families for Children I receive a positive response. People see the value of the ministry and are glad to hear we are playing a part in it. Sometimes, though, we hear (directly or indirectly) a critique like this: “Why do you/they feel the need to do this?”

For those who aren’t familiar: Safe Families is a ministry that provides homes for kids whose families are in crisis. Perhaps the closest reference for most people is foster care, except that Safe Families is more of an alternative to foster care when the crisis is temporary. The parents don’t lose any parental rights, and participation is fully voluntary on both sides. Parents can pull out at any time and host families don’t get paid.

My family serves as a host family, so sometimes we have an extra child living at our house. That’s the case right now.

We don’t go it alone. We’re supported by others in our church, and even from people in other local churches. This community is essential to our ability to participate. It’s hard work, but it’s doable.

Then comes the critique: “Why do you feel the need to take care of someone else’s kid? You have your own children, your own set of responsibilities, your own set of cares. Why should you add someone else’s cares to your life? Is it responsible? Do you think you have to solve the world’s problems? Can’t someone else do it?”

Part of me wants to get angry: Hey, we’re trying to do something good here and you’re criticizing us?

But part of me understands the critique and sees the legitimacy of it. After all, our motivations could be poor: We could have a “Messiah complex” imagining that it all depends on us to take care of the needs of the world. We could think that this “good work” somehow merits salvation! Or, we could be acting irresponsibly, neglecting our own children so that we can look good to others of feel good about ourselves.

By God’s grace, I don’t believe that those are our motives. So why do we participate in Safe Families?

For me, it’s less because of a sense of need and more a sense of gratitude.

God has showered his grace on us. He has saved us, forgiven our sins, adopted us as his children, and welcomed us into the family of God. On top of those spiritual benefits he has given us material blessings. We have a warm house. We have sufficient food. We have enough money. We have stability, rooms, and resources. We have energy and health. In other words, we have been blessed not only with our daily bread, but with daily bread to share.

When you realize your blessing, it makes sense to share that blessing with others. That’s why we are a host family.

Not everyone is called to be a Safe Families host family. Most aren’t. But as we looked at the need (children in unsafe environments) and the benefit (providing stability in a family crisis) and the set of resources we have been blessed with, it just fit. Add, on top of that, the commands of God to love and serve our neighbors and the gratitude that comes from God’s grace, and it just makes sense for us.

“Raised to life for our justification” … Why do we need the resurrection to be justified?

In my circle of Christianity, when we talk about salvation, we tend to focus all our attention on the cross and neglect the role of the resurrection. Exhibit A is a book sitting on my shelf called The Cross and Salvation: 500+ pages of robust biblical and systematic theology on the doctrine of salvation. I was unable to find a single chapter or paragraph that dealt with the role the resurrection plays in salvation.

The book is excellent, but this lack of emphasis doesn’t seem to square with Paul and Peter’s emphasis on the resurrection. The resurrection played a key role in Peter’s early preaching and Paul saw it as essential (Romans 4:25, 5:10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

It can be easy to believe that the entire salvation story is summed up in the cross: Humans sinned. Jesus paid for that sin. Since Jesus paid for that sin, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God, freed from the final judgment. In this story, the resurrection isn’t necessary. Or, it is only in this sense that it is evidence that what happened on the cross really matters.

On closer inspection, though, that’s not the “entire” salvation story after all.

The Whole Story:

So, why does the resurrection matter for salvation? What’s the whole story?

I want to tell three different and familiar stories.

First, there’s the story of humanity. We were made to live in communion with God, stewarding the earth for one another’s flourishing and God’s glory. Instead of living under his rule we tried (and try) to usurp his throne… and suffer disastrous consequences. This life of disobedience leads to death. This is the story of Adam.

Second, there’s the story of Jesus. At the incarnation Christ entered the story of humanity. He took on flesh. He faced the devil. He endured hunger and temptation. But, unlike the story of every human the preceded or followed him, he was obedient. He was even obedient to death on the cross.

Jesus took on himself, and completed within his own body, the story of humanity. On the cross he took the death that humans deserve. He took Adam’s death. But Jesus’s story doesn’t end there. He is raised from the dead to new life. He ascends to the throne of God.

Now here’s the third story: The story of little “Adams” who, through faith, move from being “in” Adam, to being “in” Christ. Jesus took our story – and our punishment – so that we could take his story – and his life.

When I’m “in” Jesus, I get his story. I get his death and I get his life. I die with him and I am raised with him. Because I die with him, my sins are forgiven. Because I live with him, I receive a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine, then, what salvation would look like if Jesus was never raised from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead we could share in his death, but not in his resurrection. We could die with him, but not live with him. Without the resurrection, Jesus’s story is incomplete and so is our salvation.

On the Logic of Romans 4:25

This post started while I was reading through Romans with an eye towards Easter. In my reading I came across this puzzling text: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

I opened up John Stott’s commentary on Romans. It offered me this important reminder: Paul believed that we were “justified” at the moment we believed God “who raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (Romans 4:24). In Paul’s language we are justified when we believe God. We are justified by Jesus’s blood (Romans 5:9). And, Jesus was “raised… our justification.” How do these pieces fit together?

Paul equates justification with “being credited righteousness.” We are credited righteousness when we believe God. But how can we sinners be credited righteousness? It can’t happen through works (“there is none righteous”). It has to come as a gift from God. It has to come from Jesus. It has to come through his obedient life, his death, which atones for our sins, and his resurrection, which is the “new life” by which we share in Jesus’s life.

We can’t stop reading Romans after 5:8. Romans 5:9ff spells out a present/future salvation that is only available because Jesus was raised from the dead. We are justified through his blood (5:9), but we also “shall be saved through his life” (5:10)! His life here is the life available in the power of the resurrection, with which we come to share when we have faith: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4). “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5).

The Christian life without the resurrection

It might seem hard to imagine Christianity without the resurrection, but I fear that sometimes our preaching – if we neglect the resurrection – can lead to a Christian life without the power of the resurrection. How many people have walked down an aisle or said the sinners prayer with a shortened gospel story, a story that tells of the forgiveness of sins, but doesn’t tell of the new life available in Jesus, that invites us to share in Jesus’s death, but not in his resurrection, that rejoices in Jesus our Savior but ignores his life-giving Spirit? May it not be.

This Easter, rejoice in the full story of salvation. Rejoice in the cross. Oh, may we never neglect the cross! But rejoice also in the resurrection, not just as proof of the power of the cross, but as power to live in the life of Jesus.

Six observations on Jesus, the Sabbath, and the Law

Six observations on Jesus, the Sabbath, and the Law:

1.       Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

The gospels tell several stories about Jesus offending the religious leaders of the time by “working” on the Sabbath. Sometimes that work involved plucking grain, which the Pharisees would have interpreted as harvesting (Mark 2:23-27), but more often it involved healing someone (Mark 3:1-6, John 5:1-15).

Part of me wants Jesus to defend himself by arguing that he’s not really working, but that’s not what happens. Instead he appeals to his divine authority (John 5:16-18). In Mark 2:27, for instance, Jesus states “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

2.       Jesus saw the Sabbath as a life-preserving gift

Does this mean that Jesus was “above the law” or that he was a “law breaker”? In one sense, Jesus is above the law since he is the author of it. But in another sense, he placed himself under the law, in full submission to the Father. In the end, there can be no contradiction between Jesus and the law, since it would make God out to be a liar, or unfaithful, or both.

No, Jesus was not a law breaker and he was not breaking the Sabbath law as the Pharisees supposed. His actions and words hinged on his interpretation of the Sabbath. The Pharisees had made the Sabbath a burden, adding rules upon rules and interpreting Old Testament commands in the strictest possible sense.

Jesus, however, saw the Sabbath as a life-preserving event. He saw the Sabbath as a way for God to bless his people, to preserve their lives in the land, to grant them rest from their toil, to experience a day of Eden in a fallen world.

3.       Jesus used the Sabbath as an opportunity to do good, to save life

When Jesus says he is the Lord of the Sabbath he means first, that he is the author of the Sabbath and, following that, that he can authoritatively interpret its meaning. That explains his actions. If he saw the Sabbath as a gift from God to preserve life, then it makes sense that he would specifically use it to heal those who need him.

In the Mark passage Jesus asks the religious leaders “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) The leaders, who had clung to a strict (and false) interpretation of the law are offended by Jesus and plot to kill him (Mark 3:6). Jesus, on the other hand, fulfills the purpose of the Sabbath to do good, to save life.

4.       The Law, if obeyed, is a life-preserving gift

This brings up a broader question: What is the purpose of the law? Like the Sabbath command specifically, the law was given as a life-preserving gift to Israel.

I’m not quite sure I have chosen the right word to describe the law as “life-preserving” so please allow me to expand on what I mean. God is the giver of life. He is the Creator, the sustainer, and the redeemer.

He gave Israel the law so that through the law they might experience life as God intended. For instance, when Moses set before Israel the choice between life and death he was setting before them obedience and disobedience. In choosing obedience to the law they were choosing God. In choosing God, they were choosing life.

The Bible, then, can speak of the law giving life: “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul” (Psalm 19:7), and it does so through connecting the faithful with the very heart and life of the Law Giver.

But here a problem arises: No one is faithful to the law – at least not consistently and not in our inmost beings. The law preserves life only if we obey it. For those who disobey the law it is not a means of blessing. Instead, it becomes a curse. Not that the law itself is bad, but in our disobedience of the law we forsake God and reject him and, in doing so, we forsake the very One who gives us life.

5.       Jesus fulfills the Law, and so can give us life

Here’s the good news: Jesus fulfilled the whole law, and not just the letter of the law. Jesus fulfilled the spirit of the Sabbath by giving life on the Sabbath. He fulfilled the spirit of the law by loving God with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving his neighbors as himself.

As the one who fulfilled the whole law, he qualified himself as the one who could not only preserve life but save life and give life. In his death he took our curse. Through his life he can give us blessing, the blessing of his life.

6.       In Jesus, we find Sabbath rest

The question remains, then, what is our relationship to the Sabbath?

Jesus does not “unhitch” himself from the law, nor does he leave it unchanged. Instead, he “fulfills” the law. For instance, through his sacrifice he fulfills the sacrificial system, therefore making it obsolete. The law is not repudiated, but completed. In the same way, by making us clean through his death he does away with ceremonial food laws intended to keep God’s people ceremonially clean. He can, therefore, declare all foods clean.

I don’t think we have the precedent to rule Sabbath rest obsolete in the same way we can with the sacrificial system and the ceremonial food laws. However, I don’t think that Jesus has left the Sabbath law unchanged.

For instance, we can see that very early on Christians began setting aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day. This was the day that Jesus rose from the dead and in it Christians find a new sort of rest, the rest of God’s redemption. I also take as evidence Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Jesus fulfills the Sabbath and in him we find the reality to which the Sabbath points. How, then, should Christians celebrate Sabbath rest? Let me say, first, that I am in process here and cannot either speak from great expertise or experience. Nevertheless, here are some observations about which I am fairly confident.

·         Find rest in Jesus by accepting the life-giving gift of salvation.

·         Set aside time to worship God and remember that he is the Creator and Savior.

·         Trust God with your work. Intentionally rest as a way of practically trust the work of God.

·         Take warning from Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees. Don’t view the Sabbath as a burden which must be followed to the strict letter of the law. View it, instead, as a gift from a good God.

5 tips to starting a consistent Bible reading habit

Most Christians I know want to read the Bible more but struggle to establish a consistent Bible reading habit. They start with the best of intentions and maybe even succeed for a few days or weeks, but they’re never able to establish the kind of routine necessary to make the habit stick. This has been me at different seasons in my life.

I just finished reading the bestselling book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. Clear has written this book to help anyone establish and stick with good habits and break bad habits. The book applies to all kinds of habits, and Clear never specifically mentions the habits of Bible reading and prayer. He does, however, talk a lot about meditation. And, if you mentally replace “meditation” with “spiritual discipline” you wind up with a reasonably solid guide for spiritual growth – so long as you add a spiritual dimension to his otherwise thoroughly materialistic worldview.

I read this book primarily through my pastoral lens and, with that in mind, I wanted to share six practical pieces of advice for anyone who struggles with starting or sticking with a Bible reading habit (or any other spiritual discipline).

#1 Connect it with your Identity as a follower of Jesus

Clear talks about three levels of transformation: Outcomes, process, and identity.

·         Outcome: What tangible changes do you hope to see? Do you want to be closer to God? Do you want to know and love him more?

·         Process: How are you going to achieve that outcome? Reading and meditating on God’s word is one path God has given us.

·         Identity: What kind of person are you?

Changes in outcome come from changes in process. Long term changes in outcome only come through a change in identity. I am a follower of Jesus therefore I want to seek him through Scripture and prayer. If we disconnect our identity from our process then the process (the habit) isn’t going to last. Focus, first, on your identity, on the person you are and the person you want to become.

#2 Write down when and where you are going to read your Bible and pray

Studies have shown that when people say or write down when and where they are going to perform a habit, their chance of performing that habit goes up significantly. Clear calls this writing an “implementation intention.” Here’s the formula: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]. Try writing down something like: “I will read a chapter from the Bible at 6:30 am in my living room.”

A variance of this is called “habit stacking.” Habit stacking involves connecting an existing habit to a new habit. For instance, you already have the habit of brushing your teeth so your intention statement could be “I will read a verse from the book of Proverbs after I brush my teeth.” This is effective because the first part of habit formation is the cue, the thing that reminds you to perform your habit. The existing habit (brushing your teeth) becomes the cue for the habit you want to form (reading your Bible).

#3 Modify your environment

Much of our behavior is shaped by our environment so we can effectively modify our behavior by modifying our environment. For instance, if we want to get rid of a bad habit, we try to make the cues for that bad habit invisible. We might move the back of sweets out of sight if we want to improve our eating habits. Conversely, to add a good habit, make the cues for that habit as obvious as possible. For instance, if you want to read your Bible each morning, at night put your Bible at the table where you eat breakfast. If you read it at night, keep your Bible on your nightstand.

#4 Make it easy

This is important when starting a new habit. Habit formation takes repetitions, so if we make that habit too hard, too soon, we won’t stick with it long enough to make it automatic.

Clear recommends following a 2-minute rule. Only perform the habit for 2 minutes. For those new to reading the Bible, this might mean just reading a few verses each day and saying a quick prayer.

Once the habit has been established through repetition, begin increasing how much you read and how long you pray.

#5 Track your Bible reading and don’t miss two days in a row

Clear recommends using a “habit tracker” which could be something as simple as a calendar. Every time you perform a habit (read the Bible) mark an X on that day. Tracking helps keep it at the forefront of our minds and also gives a sense of accomplishment.

Related to this is the principle of keeping the streak alive. Missing one day won’t hurt, but if those misses stack up you can quickly derail. Clear recommends that you try to never miss the habit two days in a row. For instance, if your plan is to work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and you miss Wednesday, make sure you don’t miss Friday. This helps keep habits alive.

I recommend daily Bible reading – or perhaps Bible reading on weekdays. If you want to establish a Bible reading habit and you miss a day, that’s Ok. But to keep the habit going, try not to miss the next day.

Grace and the Spirit

Atomic Habits offers advice is practical and wise but, especially for the spiritual disciplines, we cannot approach this with a purely practical mindset, otherwise we will sink into a worldly and ultimately self-oriented mindset.

Our relationship with God is built solely on his grace. His Spirit that works in us to transform us into the likeness of his Son. Nevertheless, God has given us minds and bodies which work in certain ways. We are embodied followers of Jesus, and we do well to use those minds to the best of our abilities to seek and to serve Him.
Book Recommendations

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators)

Food Won’t Save You

Food Matters

My diet has changed drastically from when I worked as a manager at Burger King in college. The changes came in a series of shifts that my wife and I made in response to health issues her or I have faced over the past decade and a half. The most recent shift happened about two weeks ago. In an attempt to lower my blood pressure without medication I have been cutting out more sugary foods and adding more spinach, celery, and kale. I have even choked down a couple bottles of beet juice.

What we eat matters and it matters a lot. It matters for our health. From a Christian perspective, it matters to God. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. How we treat our bodies isn’t just a question of health or disease, but a question of obedience or sin. We obey Jesus when we eat food that nourishes our bodies and prepares us for embodied works of service.

If we relegate obedience to the spiritual/cognitive realm, we fall into the platonic error of imagining that the body is unimportant. Our bodies matter to God. Therefore, what we put into our bodies matters to God.

Food Idolatry

False worship means worshipping the created thing instead of the Creator, worshipping the gift instead of the giver. For a health-conscious culture, and for health-conscious Christians, this is a real danger. “Worship” is a funny word that we often associate with specifically spiritual practices like singing and prayer, but here I mean something more expansive. We “worship” food when we mentally grant it divine attributes, when we come to believe that it can save us.

For some, food is the answer to all our problems: We seek the right diet to improve our health, our mood, and our body image. There’s an important aspect of truth here. Better food can make your life measurably better (and bad food can make your life measurably worse).

But food has its limitations. It won’t fix your relationships. It won’t give you peace with God. It can’t protect you from tragedy. Even for what it sets out to do – to make our bodies healthy – it is only one aspect of a whole matrix of complex factors: genetics, germs, environment, community, exercise, etc.

If you put your hope in food, it’s eventually going to let you down. You might make aging a little less painful, but you cannot stop the inevitable.

A healthy perspective on food

I don’t think that we’re left between the false dichotomy of saying either that “food is the most important thing” or “food doesn’t matter.” No, we need to simply view food for what it is: A good gift from a good Giver. That enables us to receive it with thanksgiving.

Note Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:3-5

“[False teachers] forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

God is good and he has given us the blessing of good food. That food, and the bodily benefits it confers, do not point to themselves, they point us back to our Creator. This perspective on food calibrates our expectations about what food can and cannot do.

The Food that Saves

Jesus said some shocking things while he was on earth, and perhaps one of his most shocking statements centers around food.

Jesus had just finished feeding 5,000 men with just a handful of loaves and fishes and a great crowd was following him asking him questions. That’s when he drops this bomb:

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:48-51

Thinking that Jesus was advocating some sort of cannibalism the people questioned him amongst themselves. To that, Jesus doubled-down:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:53-54

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the story concludes with this statement: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66).

My Catholic brothers and sisters say that Jesus is talking about the Eucharist and that eating the bread of the Eucharist really is eating Jesus’s flesh in obedience to his words in John 6.

Personally, I think that Jesus pointed us away from this interpretation when he states: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63).

What, then, is the logic of Jesus’s words? Simply this: We need Jesus. Specifically, we need his life and the eternal nourishment that he offers. The manna God gave Israel from heaven was a good gift and it sustained them in the wilderness, but it could not save them from death. It did, however, point them to the One who could.

Jesus is the bread of heaven. He is the food that saves. How do we “consume” this food? “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).

The Rest of the Sermon. Or, an Important New/Old Clarification

I couldn’t properly finish my sermon this morning thanks to what has to be one of my most embarrassing moments in preaching – the distinct feeling that I was very close to fainting. In order avoid making a bigger scene, I “landed the plane” rather quickly and sat down.

Preaching in Mark 2:18-22, the main point of the sermon was rather simple: We cannot simply patch Jesus onto our old lives. We need to be open to his transformational work. We need him to make us new.

In this passage the key distinction is between “old” and “new”, where the “old” represents those who rejected Jesus and the “new” represented Jesus and those who, by faith, receive him.

But here I feel like I need to make a clarification I didn’t have a chance to make this morning. We could misunderstand Jesus’s teaching to mean something like this: What is New in time is superior to what is Old.

In other words, we could take up a position of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” This is the idea that modern is greater than ancient, the new idea greater than the old, the novel technique greater than tradition, what comes later is greater than what came before. In doing so, we could become unmoored from the anchor of our faith, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” (Ephesians 4:14) No, even though the Bible speaks about the superiority of the New, chronology is not exactly what is in mind.

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

Consider this passage from Ephesians. First, you’ll notice that there is a chronology here. Paul speaks of their former way of life. In time, the Ephesians heard the gospel, believed, and confessed their faith. However, chronology is only part of the equation.

What really makes something new is its relation to God: “Put on the new self, created to be like God.” What makes something old is its relation to the self apart from Christ: “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” Notice that there is a possible progression in both directions – a continual corruption of the old self, or a renewal of the new. Both happen in chronological time, but only one can properly be called “new” in this sense.

God, in time, makes things new. Indeed, he is making all things new: A new people, a new creation. But not everything new is of God. That means that we are free to mine the ancient, the historical, even the traditional, for the beautiful “new” treasures God has in store for us.