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.

 


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.’


What is your church’s personality?

02/09/2013

This book was born out of experience of mismatches between pastors’ and churches’ temperaments. Phil Douglass has a deep understanding of Myers-Briggs MBTI and draws on its insights.

If a church’s ministry style is within one sector of a pastor’s ministry style [see wheel chart below], then the probability of a fruitful ministry is high. Obviously there are other important factors such as godliness, ministry competencies, theological convictions, and ministry experience. (xiii)

The building blocks of church personality are (pp 22-24):

  • Information Gathering: Practical vs Innovative P/I
  • Decision-making: Analytical vs Connectional A/C
  • Lifestyle: Structured vs Flexible S/F


Church Personality Wheel

These underpin the diagnostic tool and give a three letter combination of church personality type, with eight possible combinations.

There are no right or wrong church personalities, but each has its own temptations.

The eight types are (Ch 4, p. 28ff):

  • Fellowship PCS. These churches are conscientious, hardworking, but may resist disturbances to routine
  • Inspirational ICS. Put personal relationships ahead of ministry tasks;
  • Relational ICF. Focus on personal connections. Naturally care about people in their community
  • Entrepreneurial IAF. See every need as an opportunity for trying something different.
  • Strategizer IAS. Create models based on analysis and the past to formulate plans
  • Organizer PAS. Solve complex problems in methodical manner. Organised and competent.
  • Adventurous PAF. Respond quickly and are at their best in crisis. Value spontaneity.
  • Expressive PCF. Easygoing, optimistic

Chapters 5-12 examine each personality type in detail.

As we discover our church’s personality, we’re really discerning the gifts that the Lord has given to this particular church. While that cannot determine our ministry basics (word, prayer, fellowship), they will be crucial in explaining our ministry passions. When we, with wisdom, accept them as gifts from the head of the church, we find we are following his lead for what this church is to pursue among this community.

Neither this book nor the Myers-Briggs analysis that underlies it will tell us what to do. But they can help us to listen to one another, so that together we can be faithful in serving the Lord.

Philip Douglass, What is Your Church’s Personality: Discovering and Developing the Ministry Style of Your Church Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008.


Why We Belong: evangelical unity and denominational diversity

30/08/2013

Do denominations really matter? Should we look forward to a twenty-first century in which they cease to be important? Anthony Chute writes in his introduction that

For most outside the church, and increasingly many inside the church, denominational differences are viewed as nothing more than petty disagreements between strong-willed religious partisans. (p. 13)

But the brute fact remains that evangelical Christians have clear doctrinal beliefs that unite us as well as denominational distinctives of our own. In light of this, asks Chute,

…is there a way in which evangelical Christians can maintain their distinctive doctrinal beliefs while communicating to the church and the world that they have much more in common? (p. 15)

Six evangelicals each offer an apologia for their own denominational affiliation as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian. The editors supply essays on church unity, diversity, and the future of denominations.

The strengths of this work are two fold:

  1. It takes denominational identity seriously without making it ultimate. Those of us in denominations must wrestle with the question of identity whenever we need to contend for unity in the  truth within our communion (ie all the time).
  2. Each ‘apology’ presents their denominational identity at its best because (so we believe) evangelical belief is Christianity at its best. It is notable that each also contains a considerable element of personal testimony. Anthony Chute even opens his essay on denominations and their stories by observing that he became a Christian by faith (in following Christ to his cross) and a Baptist by sight (by following a Baptist girl to a Baptist Church)!

I want to comment briefly on just two chapters

Anglicanism – Gerald Bray

Gerald Bray’s chapter “Why I am an evangelical and an Anglican” explains that while some churches root their identity in a structure (Roman Catholicism and the Pope), most Protestant churches define themselves by a confession of faith. He is a little cheeky about Baptists when he says

A Lutheran will be expected to share the beliefs contained in the Formula of Concord, Presbyterians subscribe to the westminster Confession of Faith or one of its derivatives, Baptists reject infant baptism, and so on (p. 65)

While both confession and constitution are important to Anglicans, neither is definitive on its own. Our identity is a matter of tradition and ethos, which he expounds in a masterful historical and theological survey. His analysis is really first-class and leads to two observations about the nature of theological engagement:

  • Anglicans are, more than others, open to receiving truth from other theological traditions. In other words in order to say that we are right, we don’t feel the need to say that everyone else must be wrong. There are still theological boundaries given by the primacy of scripture interpreted by reason, tradition and experience. There is a serious weakness in Bray’s essay when he appears to defend an uncritical tolerance of diversity on the basis that errorists such as Bishops John Robinson, John Spong and David Jenkins have disappeared into the night. I disagree because the damage they caused remains in the church. They have indeed ruined whole households (Titus 1.11).
  • The Church of England (more than any other Anglican communion, and over against the other denominations mentioned in the book) experiences the debate about human sexuality as an internal debate, and this reflects the Anglican way of engaging with society. That is not to say that Bray or any other evangelical Anglican believes this internal debate is a recipe for long term denominational health – far from it. Rather it is to observe that this is a consequence of our stance of engagement in society that is not shared by other state churches. For instance the Lutheran Churches are so much more strongly state-controlled that the debate on this matter was settled for them by their parliament.

Presbyterianism

Bryan Chapell’s article is notable also for two features. First, he acknowledges that some bible-based arguments for Presbyterian polity are proof texts and in his testimony I am glad that leans on exegetically more sound texts which leave a focus on grace and the marks of a church.

Second, he is more tentative than others in advocating his preferred form of church government:

Such texts will often show that our present practices are a plausible or reasonable application of biblical principles for church government without necessarily proving that all differing practices are wrong, or that this practice is always right. (196).

I look forward to reading the essays on unity and diversity, and the future of denominations. Maybe more of this later.

Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity 

Anthony L. Chute (Editor), Christopher W. Morgan (Editor), Robert A. Peterson (Editor), Gerald Bray (Contributor), Bryan Chapell (Contributor), David S. Dockery (Contributor), Timothy George (Contributor), Bryan D. Klaus (Contributor), Douglas A. Sweeney (Contributor), Timothy C. Tennent (Contributor)

Full disclosure: this book was a gift of Robert Peterson to the class I am taking at Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis, MO.


The State of Africa – Martin Meredith

15/07/2013

Same taxi, different driver!

That about sums up the depressing story of post-independence Africa. Journalist Martin Meredith charts the history of each African nation from independence to the present day.

Africa is a puzzle: it is a beautiful continent rich in natural resources; new nations were born full of hopes that were soon dashed. One after another the experiments in democracy descended into dictatorship. The lie was that young African nations needed single party rule not democracy. The number of leaders who voluntarily handed over power (e.g. by losing an election) can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It’s a truly depressing story. The quote at the top is a reflection on a change of ruler in a West African state: nothing changes because the common people remain poor and the rulers become rich.

Meredith reserves a particular ire for the role of France in the Rwandan genocide. This feels like his longest section, which may reflect his greater experience of that conflict. It was a truly frightening glimpse into the darkness of which the human heart is capable.

The most depressing fact is that so little seems likely to change. The Africans I meet are good people, full of hope for their country. They loathe corruption and see at close quarters the misery it inflicts. But I can’t find a good answer to this question that I was asked:

‘we are hardworking, honest, and faithful to God. Why then are we still so poor?’

My reading of When Helping Hurts convinces me more than ever that the answers must lie with Africans themselves as well as with the developed world. I may be able to help them by building capacity; I can also help by provoking my own government’s conscience to look beyond our own interests and to the interests of others (cf. Philippians 2.4)

Martin Meredith The State of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence (Simon & Schuster)


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