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.

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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.


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.


Three Strands of Powerful Biblical Preaching

03/06/2013

Neil Powell in his blog a faith to live by helpfully distinguishes three strands to powerful biblical preaching, under these three names:

  • Biblical preaching is preaching that is faithful to the text.The key issue is what does this text say?
  • Gospel centred preaching has the focus of showing how this text speaks of Jesus Christ, wherever it is drawn from in Scripture. The key issue is now what does this text say about Jesus Christ?
  • Gospel driven preaching looks to the Gospel to enable us to obey the text. Remember that the Gospel is a message of grace, but if our sermon says, ‘try harder!’ or some variation on that theme, we preach law. Gospel Powered Preaching asks how the Gospel enables us to become the people God wants us to be. The Gospel is the enabling part of the application. The key issue now becomes, ‘what does this text say about Jesus Christ so that he may enable me to glorify God?’.
Some resources for each focus include:

Archbishop Justin Welby by Andrew Atherstone

27/05/2013

In the weeks between the announcement of Justin Welby’s appointment as leader of the Church of England, eminent historian Andrew Atherstone worked feverishly to produce this well-researched mini-biography of the new Archbishop. The book has, I am told, sold well and it deserves to. Here are a couple of brief comments on what I read.

1. He has a gospel

Justin Welby came to Christ because he responded to the gospel message. When he was working in parish ministry, men and women came to Christ because he shared the gospel with them. He was known as ‘Mr Alpha’ because of the numerous courses he led.

Justin Welby’s writing are confined to two areas; his parish magazine in Southam, and articles on corporate finance. I was impressed at his boldness, clarity and compassion in his magazine articles. The gospel message was articulate as it addressed contemporary issues. Justin began in the evangelical tradition. He has added to these foundations from other theological traditions but apparently not withdrawn from them. Atherstone does a good job of uncovering the foundations.

2. He approaches conflict through relationship

A major part of his work at Coventry was in conflict resolution, both around the world and closer to home. A key element is building relationships so that there is a safe space for opposing sides to be heard. This is no Nietzschean dialectic: it’s getting to the heart of the issue. The Church of England and the Anglican communion is full of ‘issues’ (what we used to call ‘problems’). It is clear to me that he will tackle the conflicts that arise by encouraging both sides to build relationships and talk around a table. Lobbing grenades from entrenched positions will not get his attention. This is good news, and while the positions are polarised, we will need to work to disagree in relationship with our fellow Anglicans.

I need those two as well: a gospel, and a commitment to engage with opponents through relationship.

Andrew Atherstone is Latimer Trust Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury

by Andrew Atherstone


Graeme Goldsworthy – Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

22/04/2013

Christ the Key

Anyone who has heard, let alone attempted, Christian preaching from the Old Testament will know that there are more pitfalls than clear pathways. They key to holding the whole Scripture together, and therefore to preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture is Jesus Christ:

It is vital for us to remember that our reference point is Jesus of Nazareth as he is testified to by Holy Scripture. The apostolic testimony to him shapes our approach to the Bible as a whole.

Therefore the goal of every sermon must reflect the goal of every scripture:

How does this passage of Scripture, and consequently my sermon, testify to Christ?

The whole bible is united in testifying to Christ. That does not mean that the whole Bible speaks of him in the same way; but neither does it mean that any part (including the family trees!) is irrelevant to us.

Macrotypology

While there are individual texts that testify directly to Christ (e.g. Isaiah 7.14 and so on), the majority of texts, especially in the OT, testify by means of macrotypology in which whole epochs of revelation are fulfilled in Christ: from Creation to the Schism we find the Kingdom in history: in this epoch “the major thrust of the narrative as a whole is the revelation of blessing in the form of the promise and its fulfilment in the kingdom of David and Solomon”. From the Schism to the return from Exile it’s the Kingdom in prophecy, and in the New Testament, the Kingdom fulfilled in Christ. In other words we work out how the whole text may safely be related to the current day by looking at it in large chunks, hence macrotypology.

Dale Ralph David in The Word Became Fresh says something similar:

I think Jesus is teaching that all parts of the Old Testament testify to the Messiah in his suffering and glory, but I do not think Jesus is saying that every Old Testament passage/text bears witness to him. Jesus referred to the things written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms – he did not say that every passage spoke of him (v. 44). Therefore I do not feel compelled to make every Old Testament (narrative) passage point to Christ in some way because I do not think Christ himself requires it.

Preaching Christ in Every Sermon

Davis at this points differs from Goldsworthy to whom the gospel of Christ is so essential to Christian application that Christ must be the subject of every sermon. Merely theocentric sermons are not enough, for Goldsworthy. Preaching without the gospel of grace

… is at best an exercise in wishful and pietistic thinking. It is at worst demonic in its Christ-denying legalism.

Our imperatives must never be separated from the Gospel indicatives:

We can preach our heart out on texts about what we ought to be, what makes a mature church, or what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives, but if we do not constantly, in every sermon, show the link between the Spirit’s work in us to Christ’s work for us, we will distort the message and send people away with a natural theology of salvation by works.

(Davis would not advocate Christ-less preaching! But Goldsworthy would not consider an aspect of God’s being (e.g. His Sovereignty) a sufficient topic for a sermon if it came at the expense of linking this to Christ).

Preaching Christ from every text

The second half of the book works through every major section of the Bible, applying the macrotypology. Even the New testament must be placed in theological context. Here’s an understatement:

The placing of the Gospels in biblical -theological context is not something that automatically happens

Keeping God on the throne

The nub of it all is that the hero of the Bible is God, and specifically his saving work in Jesus Christ. We preach the Bible faithfully when we place Him in the centre, and ourselves on the receiving end:

The exemplary sermon is more inclined to ask, “How does this character (or event) testify to my existence?” By contrast the redemptive-historical approach is more inclined to ask, “How does this event (or character) testify to Christ?”

Graeme Goldsworthy Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (IVP, 2000).

Dale Ralph Davis, The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach From Old Testament Narrative Texts Mentor, 2006.