Positive Complementarianism

02/04/2014

Latimer Study 79 Positive Complementarianism: The key Biblical texts by Ben Cooper

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The debate about the role of women in the church turns on whether one’s role in ministry in church should ever depend on gender. Those who think not are described here as egalitarians, while those who hold women as equal but with different roles are termed complementarians. Ben Cooper helpfully distinguishes this theologically conservative position from social conservatives who seek to defend hierarchy or patriarchy.

The aim of this admirably short booklet is to commend the complementation view in a positive way, that is with a focus not only on what Scripture says women cannot or should not do, but on the positive side of that teaching too. This aim informs his selection of key texts, which alongside the obvious ‘gender’ texts of Genesis 1-3, Galatians 3,.28, 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Romans 16, and the pastoral passages of 1 Tim 2 and 3 includes passages form the Gospels and Titus 1. Cooper shows that the creation pattern was one of ‘benign asymmetry’ which is recovered in the NT teaching on how the church, the household of God, should live. This is in contrast to egalitarian views which either deny asymmetry in the original creation, or that it should be present in the new creation. It’s well done in a short span. The relative scarcity of footnotes keeps the text clear and simple, but I would NewImagehave like to see a reference to the long section in Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (IVP, 2003) that deals with the asymmetry of the male-female relationship in redemption.

Another helpful link is to the passages on leadership such as Matthew 20:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

A hierarchical view of leadership, in which leaders are necessarily better than others, makes the complementation claim that women are equal but not to be leaders within the church impossible to accept. Jesus’ words on leadership show that Christian leadership entails a lower status, not a higher status. Leadership is sacrificial, as shown supremely by our Shepherd himself, Jesus.

This is a good argument but I note that it has an interesting history. Evangelicals with a negative  experience of episcopacy (i.e. many conservative evangelicals) have used this sort of argument to say that since leaders are servants, ‘Bishops do not matter’ and can be ignored. This confuses status with power. Bishops have power, but are not to use it for status. They matter and we ignore them at our peril. This argument sidesteps the important debate about how evangelicals in an episcopally ordered church engage with bishops. And in a similar way we must not sidestep the important debate on how power and leadership are to be distributed between men and women in church; leadership matters, women matter, and neither can be ignored.

So this booklet is short, it’s good. I recommend it. It’s a great resource. Please can we have a similar one on the same-sex debate?

I note with interest the appearance of that peculiarly evangelical word ‘publicly’. It should be ‘publicly’ of course, but keeps cropping up because it looks like our other favourite word, ‘biblically’. Spellchecks take note!

Other resources on a similar topic:

Latimer Study 65 The New Testament and Slavery: Approaches and Implications by Mark Meynell.

Latimer Study 73 Plastic People: How Queer Theory is changing us by Peter Sanlon

Latimer Trust is an evangelical think-tank dedicated to providing biblical input and a considered response to significant issues within the Christian community and elsewhere.

I am a council, but not directly involved in editing the publications.


Hill & Hill Translating the Bible into Action

31/03/2014

What can parish ministry learn from missiology? Loads!

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What can first world ministry learn from those working cross-culturally in developing countries? Loads.

In Translating the Bible in Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in all Languages and Cultures (Piquant, 2008) Harriet Hill and Margaret Hill take us through seven areas involved in taking the Bible and putting it into practical use. It’s written in world english which means clear communication using a limited vocabulary. There is a french language translation Traduire La Bible en Actes: Manuel pour faire un bon usage de la Bible dans chaque langue et culture (Presses Bibliques Africaines, 2011)

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You don’t have to be working cross-culturally, or even in Africa to benefit from this book. We all face the same barriers to understanding and application. In the first section (after an introduction) the authors consider the theological foundations of language and culture. The key point for me is that real paradigm shifts happen when you’re reading in your mother tongue. Thus although you may be able to read in another language and gain content, there will always be far, far better engagement if you encounter the material in your ‘home’ language. This is a strong argument for Bible translation into local languages, and not settling for national languages (French, Portuguese, English, Swahili). A similar argument applies to the way the English language has changed since the seventeenth century (When the 1611 Authorised version of the Bible, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were published), and indeed since 1984 (when the NIV was published).

A particular challenge in many African countries, as elsewhere in the developing world, is multi-lingual churches, where the congregation is drawn from several tribal groups, and this topic forms the second main section. Yet this phenomenon has its European counterpart too. Within a single culture, there are gaps between the generations. And Great Britain is a multi-cultural nation: even in Somerset, surely one of the least ethnically mixed places in the UK, there are sizeable Polish and Portuguese communities.How do we aim to reach and include them? We are far behind our African brothers and sisters here!

Section three, Relevant Bible Use covers the basics of understanding the Bible and making pertinent application. It’s the reason I came across this book, because we distribute these on behalf of Langham Literature at the Langham Preaching seminars that I have been part of in francophone Africa. I particularly found the chapter on ‘Providing Necessary Background Information’ to be a helpful reminder of just how much knowledge we assume for interpreting the Bible.

Sharing faith is really helpful on doing so in oral contexts. You don’t have to be in a developing world to meet one: a sizeable number of people in the UK are functionally illiterate. (Section six on literacy deals with teaching literacy, especially with African context in mind). And if you think about it, an all-age Family Service is an oral context: we tell stories, use pictures and drama, and aim to communicate the message of the Bible in a way that engages all ages, all of the time. I would like to hear more of Chronological Bible Storying, and work out how Langham Preachers could apply their sound exegetical and hermeneutical skills to this setting.

Section five looks at using your gifts of music, art and drama – chapters that any church would do well to take on board. Finally section eight Passing it on helps the reader think through the logistics of launching a new product, usually a Bible translation. There is a helpful chapter about ‘Bringing about change’.

I would recommend this book for the following reasons

1. In any context, there are sound principles to help you translate the Bible into action. If, like me, you are basically an Anglophone but working with francophone people, the french translation is a great help.

2. In any context and including the West, it’s a great summary in simple language of key concepts of missiology and ministryt

3. It’s great to think about everyday ministry through new eyes. Pastor Simon’s situation is a million miles from my own: but the obstacles in people’s hearts and in his own are not really that different; and his resources are the same – biblical wisdom and good Christian friends.


There must be more to life than this!

24/03/2014

I’m not very good at reading Christians books that others have chosen for me. I like to pick my own books, thank you very much. I strongly prefer deciding which problems will be addressed in print.

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You might imagine my feelings when I was given a copy of There Must be More to Life than this: How to EXPERIENCE the God of the Bible in Everyday Life, by Barrie Lawrence (New Wine Press, 2012). What does my family think my life is missing that they should present me with this? Nevertheless, family diplomacy dictates that I should read, and this I have done.

Barrie Lawrence is a dentist (now retired) and more important, a Christian (still active) who came to a vibrant faith as a young student. He tells the story of his life and adventures in the first half of the book, and devotes the remainder to helping the reader share Barrie’s great Christian experience.

It’s the story of an ordinary person to whom extraordinary things happened. Barrie isn’t that ‘normal': he comes across as a larger than life character, full of ideas new ventures: dental practices, Christian bookshops, and new fellowships. And he drives a red Jaguar.

The story isn’t about him, but about his experience of knowing Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. He came to faith in Christ but the real turning point was in a charismatic experience that shaped his faith and understanding. He hears God speaking to him, he prayed and saw some striking miracles of healing; he is zealous to share his faith. I have to admit that he and I are probably complete opposites when it comes to temperament, and we would most likely wind each other up. Yet he’s hard to dislike! I also don’t fully share his charismatic leanings: but you can’t deny that here is a man gripped by God, and going for gold. It’s an edited account of his life, and although failures are acknowledged, it’s not clear how fully they have been dealt with. There are some loose ends: I’m not expecting a sequel, but is Wendy still on the scene?

The Christian hope is a glorious prospect of life lived as it is meant to be before the face of God and in the light of all his blessings. I’m also looking forward to being free from the power and presence of sin, which so clouds my heart. One of the things I can look forward to in glory is meeting Barrie Lawrence and saying, ‘Thank God that what we have in common in Christ so far outweighs our differences, and that we can rejoice together at the wonderful, wonderful grace of God.’

What I really want to know is whether the relative who gave me the book read it first. Maybe I should find a protect for engaging them in a spiritually meaningful conversation.

 


Lost in Translation – 1

20/03/2014

Last summer I was in the US and on Sunday evening attended a fine Presbyterian church. It is set in an affluent area, the buildings are immaculate, and everything was done to a

high standard. Unsurprisingly, the congregation were mostly what we Brits would call upper middle class – healthy, wealthy, scrubbed up and well dressed. And they were very, very friendly. My companions and I were intercepted several times on the way in and on the way out.

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It turns out that Francis Schaeffer pastored this church some time before he moved to l’Abri. (Schaeffer was a foundational thinker whose written works brought life to many reformed Christians). As we stood in the sanctuary chatting to a patrician couple (she had been a lifelong member), he said, “I bet Dr Schaeffer was not wearing his knickers when he preached here!’. I said nothing.*

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*Because I’m British. In American English, knickers are walking breeches. In British English they are an item of ladies underwear best not mentioned in church, especially to refined ladies old enough to be my mother. Unfortunately I will remember that remark every time I think of that church. And possibly of Dr Schaeffer.


Six Weeks

17/03/2014

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By the end of this year, I shall be heartily fed up with the First World War, the centenary of whose outbreak will be celebrated in August. Which makes it hard to imagine how Europe’s citizens felt after four years of war, toil, and bloodshed. John Lewis-Stempel’s Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War records, largely in their own words, the experiences of the junior officers on the front lines. Officers up to the rank of Captain lived with the men in the trenches, and led them into battle. They also led the many, lethal, patrols into No Man’s Land.

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Many of the officers, especially in the early part of the War, were very young, mere school-leavers. There was a method to this apparent madness: officers were needed in large numbers and at short notice: the Cadet Forces of Universities and Public Schools trained students and pupils for leadership, and their Old Boys were therefore readier material for rapid commissioning. In addition, the Public School system existed to buttress the very values upon which the officer class depended: self-reliance; paternalism; physical fitness; courage. Boarding school was excellent preparation for war, and public school was good for leaders. A steady diet of martial texts from the Classics fed a vision of service to one’s nation. Because they led from the front, young leaders faced heavier casualties than other officers and men: the six weeks of the book’s title is how long a young officer could hope to be on the front before suffering an injury or death.

As the war progressed, men from other social classes were promoted. At the end of the war these Temporary Gentlemen were expected to return to their trades. An officer was expected to put his men first (and their horses). While some grew up with a natural sense of command because they had servants, the rest earned their soldiers’  respect by the care they took to feed them, inspect their feet, look after their needs. Lewis-Stempel writes that this was in contrast to the practices in the French army, which suffered mutinies unknown to the British army. Incidentally, if anyone knows of a good treatment of France’s experience of the Great War, please let me know. (Ed Moll at St George’s Wembdon)

The officer’s care of his men has a Christian foundation:

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For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Even today the motto of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst is ‘Serve to Lead’ and seems to me to follow Jesus’ example of leadership through serving, without being servile. The young officers of the first war who grew up to put their men first, put this into gritty practice. Often they were rewarded by their men’s loyalty and courage. A larger-than-expected number of gallantry awards to Other Ranks was for rescuing wounded officers.

Many of the young officers became poets, and Lewis-Stempel selects judicious quotes. There are many more selections from letters home, often with a comment as to how many days later the author’s death followed. I want to commend this book because it is moving without being maudlin or manipulative. It brings the war to life without glorifying it in any way. I agree with the reviewer in Evangelicals Now who said, ‘If you only read one book about the First World War in this centenary year, let me suggest that this might be it.’


Parenting Part 2

14/03/2014

For part One of this post see here

 

3. Christian Parenting is about your Hopes

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When your child says, ‘Mum, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you’ what do you really hope they’ll say? And what do you most dread?

We’ve seen that the home is where children learn what is on your heart. So where is your heart? Remember Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). Parents unfailingly pass on their cherished values. What is your greatest hope for your children? That each is become doctor and not a dustman? That they get married and give you grandchildren? That they have economic well-being (or whatever the latest OFSTED target is)? Good table manners? What are you praying for your children? And when do you pray most earnestly for your children? Your crisis prayers will kick in when something you really value for your child is threatened: what is it that you treasure for them? Jesus told a parable in which a merchant sold everything he had to buy the pearl of great price (Matthew 13.45-46). We want the pearl too but often fail to sell everything: we long for our children to be disciples as long as they also gain a diploma, or a daughter-in-law, or a deposit for a house. Achievement, marriage and possessions are great blessings but terrible treasures compared to the gospel. 

There is another side to the treasure of grace. God showers undeserved mercy on us, and as parents we are called to mirror his grace in the way we love our children, initiating grace and unconditional love. They most need to know this when they have, or feel they have, disappointed us. Specifically, the child who knows your heart longs for them to walk with Christ, but has chosen to walk away for the moment. For all their gifts and achievements, they may feel they have disappointed you. They need to know of your unconditional commitment to love them and enjoy them, even as they know that behind the scenes you are praying for their return.

The long game will also help to determine how you tackle day-to-day situations. Instead of making it all up as you go along, keep thinking, ‘how will this decision now help my child treasure God above all else?’ Family life never stays the same and keeping track of your long term hopes will help you keep your bearings as you adapt to a fast-changing family life. As soon as you’ve worked out how to handle one stage of family life, your children grow into the next one! Change what you do, but never why you do it: you love your kids and want them to know and love the Lord Jesus. The way you train and discipline your children will change as they grow up; and the best time for a family meal and bible reading and prayer will change with family routines, but your end-goal remains always in sight. Parenting is a life-long task. There’s so much more to say. Don’t read it; hear it from other Christian families in your church with whom you can share and pray, laugh and weep. 

Even as I write this I am thoroughly daunted because I can’t do this on my own. Maybe you feel the same. Good! Our children will not be saved by works, ours or theirs. They will be saved by grace. My role as a parent is to live by grace and let them see me doing so. You can do it too.

 

4. Christian Parenting is about a whole lot of fun!

Don’t forget to enjoy your children! This is really important. There is a theological point here as well. If we truly believe that there is no better way to live than under the rule and blessing of Jesus Christ, then our lives as Christians should show it. And if you believe children to be a blessing from the Lord, then tell them; and thank him; and live in the light of it. Enjoy!

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Useful resource The Gospel Centred Family

This was first published on the Gospel Partnerships Blog

 


Parenting Part 1

13/03/2014

 

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Bringing up children is a great privilege and a very demanding role, perhaps the most demanding responsibility most of us will face. Parenting also comes with a big dollop of guilt; the more we care about the welfare of our children, the more we beat ourselves up about our failures. How do Christians aim high and stay in one piece? We do it in the same way as the rest of the Christian life: by keeping our sights fixed on God’s grace. Our parenting is modelled on God’s perfect parenting which means that when we’re stuck, we can look beyond programmes and experts and ask, ‘What does God do in a situation like this?’ This post (in two parts) gives some landmarks to look for if you feel in danger of losing your bearings as a Christian parent.

 

1. Christian Parenting is about the Home

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God has placed us in families, and the home is the centre of parenting operations. 

Deuteronomy’s instruction to parents embraces all of life when it says

“Teach [God's commands] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19–20).

The command to “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” isn’t a decorating tip so much as an injunction to let God’s law govern every part of the home, from the front gate to the kitchen door. Why is that so important? Because children learn about your faith by watching everything you do and listening to everything you say. They will hear the Bible story you read them, and watch as you pray with them at bedtime; but they will also observe how you deal with stress, sin, disappointment, conflict, spilt milk, and success. Their field-work in the laboratory of life will show them what really drives you – whether it’s the God of the Bible, or whether it’s an idol in your heart. 

This is daunting because it will expose the real you! The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has seen the worst, and still sets his love on you. The grace of God is what stands between you (and me) and hypocrisy. Because you are a sinner forgiven by sheer grace, you can admit your mistakes and failures to yourself; and then you can admit them (appropriately) to your children so that they can see what it is like to live under grace. Don’t forget to show them it’s great, by the way!

Children are not in the home all the time. As they grow up, the influence of school, clubs, and yes, church, grows. Those bodies are partners in the work of raising your kids, but remember that the responsibility is primarily yours. Don’t abdicate it! You may need the school’s help to teach maths; but have the confidence to help your children think morally about loving their neighours; you may benefit from the church’s partnership in nurturing your child’s faith, but don’t slide all the responsibility onto the youth worker or pastor. Work together!

Some children can’t live with their own families and it is better for them to be looked after by carers, foster-parents or relatives. Providing a stable, grace-filled home for a child who can’t have it from their own parents is a great gift.

 

2. Christian Parenting is about the Heart

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The family is like a greenhouse in which we prepare our young seedlings for life outside the family. The Bible’s word for this is training, as in: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

If you concentrate your training on behaviour, you will raise Pharisees. Because Bible-believing Christians often have high standards in this area, we can produce excellent Pharisees. Jesus does not call us to breed hypocritical pews-sitters whose polite exterior masks their seething resentment. Parenting is about the heart, and discipline is training or nurturing a child’s heart. So when you challenge your child’s behaviour, look to the heart; ask them what caused them to react as they did.  

Looking to the dust in your children’s hearts will expose the beams parked in your own heart: when you are angry at your children, is it really because they have done wrong? Or is it because their disobedience makes you feel weak? Or because you’re embarrassed in front of the other grown-ups? That is irrational and will exasperate your children. Confess your mixed motives to God and ask him to change your heart, even as you ask him to change your child’s heart.   

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Useful resource The Gospel Centred Family

 

This was first published on the Gospel Partnerships Blog


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