Positive Complementarianism


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


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


What can parish ministry learn from missiology? Loads!


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)


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.

Bryan Chapell Christ Centered Preaching


Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon Baker Academic (2nd edn. 2005).

This is more than a standard text on preaching because of the author’s contribution in sharpening purpose with the Fallen Condition Focus.

First, it is a standard text on preaching, written to establish

… theological principles for redeeming the expository sermon from the well-intentioned but ill-conceived legalism that characterizes too much evangelical preaching” (p.  20)

This is a theme also close to the heart of Graeme Goldsworthy (see this post).

Second, it is a refreshing reminder on the basics of preaching and Chapell has a good turn of phrase. For instance, I liked his description of the need for unity in organising the sermon:

It is easier to catch a baseball than a handful of sand even if the two weigh about the same amount. (Ibid., p. 45)

The basic structure begins predictably enough with the principles (part 1) and preparation (part 2) of expository sermons; Part 3 ‘A theology of Christ-centered Messages’ is more interesting and the place for experienced preachers to begin.

I have already written about the Fallen Condition Focus FCF, so let me comment on Chapell’s twist on the these basic elements in a sermon:.

Theme (Unity)

A sermon must be about something; that is, it must have a theme. In the preaching tradition that I was brought up in, the theme is a summary of the passage with one main verb in the indicative (e.g. ‘God shows his love by sending Jesus); the aim summarises the application (we must love one another).

Chapell’s take on the theme marries the two because

The faulty proposition statement often tells us only 1) That something is true or 2) that something is required. (Thomas F Jones on p. 144).

So his theme sentences include a reason: ‘because God shows his love by sending Jesus, we are to love one another.’ this is more cumbersome, but if it contains some or all of the FCF it is potentially more powerful.

Chapell is more generous towards branches and subpoints than is de rigueur in my circles.

  • Branches occur when the theme sentence contains the words ‘and’ ‘but’ etc. indicating an inability to decide between options (not an exclusively Anglican trait, by the way);

Conjunctions in main-point statements indicate branches in a preacher’s thought. If a preacher does not intend to follow such branches in a sermon’s development, he should eliminate conjunctions from main-point statements (and propositions). (Ibid., pp. 264-65)

  • Subpoints are useful when they are necessary steps in the development of the main point; apart from that situation, I;m not sure I believe in subpoints. My rule of thumb is that if it can be illustrated, then it is a point, and if it can’t, the point is not clear. Subpoints must not be allowed to cloud the quest for clarity. The outline on p 157 (Faithfulness requires facing God’s enemies; obeying God’s word; seeing God’s hand) is not a main point, it’s a whole sermon with three points! But the outline on p. 159 ‘In what types of difficulties must we present Christ?’ Answer: in circumstantial/relational/spiritual difficulties’ aren’t points but different areas of application. They are analogous to Jay Adams’ counseling preaching waiting for the hearer at the points where they bail out:

When preaching, counseling preachers will know at which points excuse makers tend to bail out of sermons and will be waiting for them at the door. He will not let them leave so easily. J.E. Adams, Preaching With Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Jay Adams Library) (Zondervan, 1986), pp. 116-17)

Aim (Application)

Application is the present, personal consequence of scriptural truth (Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: p. 201)

On the same page, quoting David Veerman “Sermons: Apply Within,” Leadership (Spring 1990), 121:

Simply stated, application is answering two questions: So what? and Now what? The first question asks, “Why is this passage important to me?” The second asks, “What should I do about it today?”

Application must build on the FCF, so that it flows from what is prominent in the text rather than from what is prominent within the preacher’s mind. Applications must answer four key questions (214):

  • What does God require of me?
  • Where does he require it of me? We preachers must consider the pastoral situation in which applying the biblical truth will help, so that our sermons heal rather than burden the congregation. One way to do this is to ensure that the concepts and language of the explanation are allowed to frame the application. This is the concept of ‘expositional rain’. Some areas of application (217-8)
    1. Building proper relationships (with God, family, friends, coworkers, church people, etc.)
    2. Reconciling conflicts (in marriage, family, work, church, etc.)
    3. Handling difficult situations (stress, debt, unemployment, grief, fatigue, etc.)
    4. Overcoming weakness and sin (dishonesty, anger, addiction, lust, doubt, lack of discipline etc.)
    5. Lack or improper use of resources (time, treasures, talents, etc.)
    6. Meeting challenges and using opportunities (education, work in or out of church, witnessing, missions, etc.)
    7. Taking responsibility (home, church work, finances, future, etc.)
    8. Honoring [sic] God (worship, confession, prayer, devotions, not compartmentalizing life, etc.)
    9. Concern for social/world problems (poverty, racism, abortion, education, injustice, war, etc.)
  • Why must I do what he requires? We must be motivated by primarily by grace, not by guilt or greed.
  • How can I do what God requires?

Structure (outline)

Two helpful lists of essentials for a good outline and structure:

General Principles: (136ff.)

The outline must have

    • Unity
    • Brevity
    • Harmony (e.g. Parallelism)
    • Symmetry
    • Progression
    • Distinction (i.e. not blurring or overlapping points)
    • Culmination

If the sermon’s overall purpose does not become more and more evident as each point unfolds, a congregation rightly questions why the points were mentioned at all. (Ibid., p. 142)

Structure essentials: FORM (p. 162):

    • Faithful to the Text
    • Obvious from the text
    • Related to the FCF
    • Moving toward a climax

Illustration (and stories that move us to action)

Illustrations do more than lighten or clarify:

Because life experiences inform our souls, our psyches, and our thoughts, citations of such experiences function as basic tools of communication. Illustrations persuade, stimulate involvement, touch the heart, stir the will, and result in decisions. Thus the primary purpose of illustration is not to clarify but to motivate. (Ibid., p. 186) emphasis original

This is new to those of us who use illustrations to explain and clarify rather than to motivate. Yet it is inherent in the power of a story to motivate, especially if they are well told:

Good illustrations take story form. An illustration usually has an introduction, descriptive details, movement through crisis (i.e., creating suspense that leads to a climax), and a conclusion). (Ibid., p. 193)

It is ironic that John Stott is citied as an example of using illustrations. His preaching was lucid and logical, peppered with images; but he was known at All Souls for neither using not believing in illustrations!

Chapell’s tips on using illustrations (summarised from 203-4)

  • Get the facts straight
  • Beware of untrue or incredible illustrations
  • Maintain balance (i.e. not too many in a sermon)
  • Be real (appreciate the epic in the immediate).
  • Do not carelessly expose, embarrass or disclose
  • Poke fun at no-one but self. (And corollary: pat on the back everyone but self)
  • Share the spotlight: don’t always talk about yourself.
  • Demonstrate taste: “Birthing, blood, bedrooms, and bathrooms do not usually merit graphic description from the pulpit. When such references are needed, speak matter-of-factly and move along.” (Ibid., p. 104)
  • Finish what you begin i.e. don’t leave people wondering what happened to that little dog, or the boy in the hospital.

Redemptive Sermons and the FCF

Clear identification of a fallen condition automatically locks a preacher into a redemptive approach to the exposition of a passage. (Ibid., p. 299)


…preachers should make God’s redemptive work the content, the motive, and the power behind all biblical exposition. (Ibid., p. 327)

Amen to that!

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon 2nd Revised edition ed. Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2005.

Three letters that may revolutionise your preaching


Let me save you some time and point you to a great resource to improve your preaching.

1. Get Bryan Chapell’s Christ Centered Preaching (and this post, coming soon)

2. If you are a beginning preaching, read the whole thing through. It’s good on the basics.

3. If you are an experienced preacher, especially if you have been trained and versed in biblical preaching, look up the index and follow all the links to ‘Fallen Condition Focus (FCF)’. This is Chapell’s particular contribution to the field of preaching; I have found it a really helpful way to reach for the purpose for which we are to preach.

What is the FCF?

The FCF addresses what condition in fallen humanity required the Holy Spirit to cause this passage to be written. Thus the theme ‘God is Love’ may be true, but the FCF asks why this truth is required in this context: what has caused people to doubt or forget that God is Love?

The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him. (Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd Revised edition ed. (Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2005), p. 50)

The FCF is determined by addressing three questions: (p. 52)

  1. What does the text say?
  2. What spiritual concern(s) did the text address in its context?
  3. What spiritual concerns do listeners share in common with those to (or about) whom the text was written?

FCF and Application

The first beauty of the FCF is that it directs us to the application by showing us the problem that Christ addresses:

The fact that the message is focussed on an aspect of our fallenness precludes simplistic, human-centered solutions. If we could fix the problem with our own efforts, then we would not be truly fallen. Application that addresses an FCF … directs people to the presence and power of the Savior (Ibid., p. 54)

The preacher’s task is not to find novel ways to identify Christ in the text but

To show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ. (Ibid., p. 279)

FCF and Organisation

This then gives us the central purpose around which we can organise our sermon:

Only when we determine what the text requires of us as a consequence of the FCF the sermon addresses do we know how to focus, phrase and organize the explanation of the text. (Ibid., p. 105)

We can start straight away with the introduction:

Until preachers identify a fallen condition that makes is clear why a message is important and will be helpful for listeners’ walk with God, they give the average person no more incentive to listen than to attend a lecture on quantum physics. (Ibid., p. 241)

Just do it!

Maybe you can see how revolutionary this is: the FCF is a tool to keep us focused on preaching gospel not law: this is an engine for gospel-driven preaching.

Three Strands of Powerful Biblical Preaching


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:

John Piper The Supremacy of God in Preaching


The two lectures that make up the text of this book are concerned with making the glory of God our goal in preaching:

Is this what people take away from worship nowadays – a sense of God, a note of sovereign grace, a theme of panoramic glory, the grand object of God’s infinite Being? Do they enter for one hour in the week – not an excessive expectation – into an atmosphere of the holiness of God which leaves its aroma on their lives all week long? p. 22.

Two obstacles to the goal of preaching are the righteousness of God (how can he give his glory to sinners) and the pride of man (how can we give glory to God), and both are met in the cross of Christ. It “overcomes the objective, external obstacle of God’s righteous opposition to human pride, and it overcomes the subjective, internal obstacle of our proud opposition to God’s glory.

Our authority as preachers comes from the Scriptures with which God has entrusted us:

We are simply pulling rank on people when we tell them, and don’t show them from the text. p. 42.

Preaching and Perseverance

Preaching, following Jonathan Edwards here, is a grave task and the means God uses to enable the perseverance of the saints. It is a confirming ordinance more than a converting ordinance.

[Edwards] saw preaching as a means of grace to assist the saints to persevere, and perseverance as necessary for final salvation. Therefore every sermon is a “salvation sermon” – not just because of its aim to covert sinners, but also in its aim to preserve the holy affections of the saints and so enable them to confirm their calling and election, and be saved.Ibid., p. 80.

Again following Edwards, Piper ends with a list of ten marks of Good Preaching. Preacher, you and I must:

  • Aim to stir up holy affections [emotions] in the hearts of those who hear.
  • Enlighten the mind: “Heat and light; burning and shining; it is crucial to being light to the mind because affections that do not rise from the mind’s apprehension of truth that are not holy affections.” Ibid., p. 85.
  • Saturate with Scripture which means reading out and not merely citing them. (It was striking that Jay Adams’ book on preaching quoted every text cited, even if only as a footnote)
  • Use analogies and images. “[Edwards] knew that abstractions kindled few affections, and new affections was the goal of preaching.” (p. 88)
  • Use (biblical) threat and warning because the Bible does.
  • Plead for a response. “It is a tragedy to see pastors state the facts and then sit down. Good preaching pleads with people to respond to the word of God” Ibid., p. 95.
  • Probes the human heart, like surgery.
  • Yields to the Holy Spirit: “Good preaching is born of good praying” (100)
  • Is broken and tenderhearted. (For more on this see the more recent book by Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling (First edn, IVP, 2012) Chapter 8) and my review here.
  • Be intense.

Compelling preaching gives the impression that something very great is at stake … Lack of intensity in preaching can only communicate that the preacher does not believe or has never been seriously gripped by the reality of which he speaks – or that the subject matter is insignificant. Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 103.


Who but preachers will look out over the wasteland of secular culture and say, “Behold your God!”? Who will tell the people that God is great and greatly to be praised? Who will paint for them the landscape of God’s grandeur?… Who will cry out above every crisis, “Your God reigns!”? Ibid., p. 109.

John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching 2nd Revised edition ed. Kingsway Publications, 1998.



Paul Tripp Dangerous Calling


This book is written to confront the unhealthy shape of pastoral ministry when the preacher’s outer life does not match his inner life because he is not living by the grace he preaches to others. The danger this poses is heart-rendingly described by stories Tripp tells, beginning with his own. What’s frightening is that the disconnect between the public persona and the private man is widespread and so hard to spot. It makes me ask, ‘am I a different man in public and in private?’. (The answers my wife gave were encouraging and at the same time unexpected. You should try asking your wife the same question).

The clear signs of living in this danger zone, explored in following chapters, are to

  • Let ministry define identity: “My faith had become a professional calling” (22).
  • Let biblical and theological literacy define or substitute for maturity
  • Confuse success with God’s endorsement of a lifestyle.

Brokenness that has been healed by the Gospel is a great asset here:

You are most loving, patient, kind, and gracious when you are aware that there is no truth that you could give to another that you don’t desperately need yourself. You are most humble and gentle when you think the person you are ministering to is more like you than unlike you.(Tripp, Dangerous Calling, p. 23)

Worship requires change

Ministry, including preaching, must have change as its goal and not mere knowledge:

The content and theology of the word of God is not an end in itself but must be viewed as a means to an end. The intended end of this content is God-honoring, life-shaping worship. … When the Word of God, faithfully taught by the people of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, falls down, people become different. Lusting people become pure, fearful people become courageous, thieves become givers, demanding people become servants, angry people become peacemakers, complainers become thankful, and idolaters come joyfully to worship the one true God. (Ibid., p. 51)

Pastors need friends in Church

In his own words:

Is it biblical to tell pastors that they won’t be able to be friends with anyone, that they must live in an isolation that we would say is unhealthy for anyone else? (69)


How can we realistically expect someone in the middle of the sanctification process to live outside of one of God’s most important means of personal insight and growth and be spiritually healthy at the same time? (Ibid., p. 78)


[The pastor] is a member of the body of Christ who himself desperately needs the ministry of the very body he has been called to train and lead. (89)

This takes us on to the church which needs to be an ‘intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community’ (84).

Ministry is war!

Pastoral ministry is a war, and the war is waged within the pastor’s heart:

Pastoral ministry is always shaped by a war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God, which is fought on the field of your heart. The reason this war is so dangerous and deceptive is that you build both kingdoms in ministry by doing ministry!(Ibid., p. 98)

In Part 2, Tripp explores the different dangers:

  • Familiarity that leads to a loss of awe
  • Dirty Secrets by which he means fear which can only be conquered by a greater fear:

It is only when God looms larger than anything you are facing that you can be protected and practically freed from the fear that either paralyzes you or causes you to make foolish decisions. (Ibid., p. 129)

  • Mediocrity and specifically lack of preparation:

[Preaching] is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he stands up to communicate. You simply cannot do this without proper preparation, meditation, confession, and worship. (Ibid., p. 145)

  • Pride
  • Self Glory
  • Neglecting to feed oneself: “You have forgotten your dual identity when you forget that in addition to be an instrument of the work, you are also a recipient of it.” (193).

Tripp is persuasive and clear, and his remarks are pertinent to the pastoral situation. All this is about rebuilding spiritually healthy ministry which has integrity – which is God’s desire for our lives and our churches.

It is now clear to me that some of the most significant periods of ministry hardship were God-sent to pry the grip of my hands off my ministry…they were to tools God employed to rescue my ministry and to recapture my heart. (Ibid., p. 215)

Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling First ed. ivp, 2012.