Should women teach? Only if we don't tell anyone!

Take a cursory glance at the subject of complementarianism and you would be excused for making the assumption that it represents a single set of beliefs regarding the role of men and women in the church.

Begin a dialogue with church leaders who claim to hold to this theology, however, and you will see that behind the united front there are a myriad of views on offer.

Here is the problem as I see it:

Most of the key teachers on the subject (Gruden et al) speak of the bible prohibiting women in three main areas: senior church leadership, teaching ministry, and government within the home.

For sure Grudem's supplementary explanations hold less and less water the further you probe*, but at a surface level the teaching is firm: women cannot be elders/pastors/ministers, they cannot teach the main body of the church, and they cannot usurp the 'natural' order of male leadership in the home.

Judging from the dialogue I have had with leaders in local churches the situation is not quite so well defined.

Most of these local church leaders talk of the limitation to women as only being in the area of eldership.

Teaching, evangelism, small group leadership, youth work, it seems are all open to both sexes.

Given that the complementarian position is primarily a theological one it seems somewhat disingenuous of local church leaders to pay lip service to such teaching by maintaining male elderships, whilst in practice 'using' women to fulfil much of the churches ministry on the ground.

I have repeatedly tried to put this point to leaders (male) only for it to be dismissed as not important because, in their view at least, women have enough freedom within which to fulfil their destiny.

So here is the problem:

When pressed on why they hold to the limitation of women the call is always made to scripture.

When pressed, however, about how women might fulfil their gifts/calling we are offered examples of how women are released in the local church: in essence saying that there is no cause for concern.

Now correct me if I am wrong but is this not an example of male leaders wanting to have their ecclesiological cake and eating it.

On the one hand the theological position is that women should not lead or teach but at a local level they can do so given the right set of circumstances.

And what are those circumstances:

1. We don't call her an elder

2. She only teaches young people, kids, women, or the unchurched (apparently evangelists and missionaries can be female).

Or (I suspect this is probably the truth in most cases)

3. Nobody in head office gets to hear about it.

Either way the situation seems untenable and plain wrong at so many levels.

If you are going to say that women should not teach then don't pretend that the bible somehow means it is ok if she is speaking to kids or if she is on the mission field.

If you are saying that women should not lead then don't fudge the issue by saying that she can lead when it is convenient for the church to do so but not otherwise.

If, however, you are going to view these scriptures as having some contextual meaning (which in practice you obviously do) don't condemn us egalitarians for daring see a wider more liberating context for all of God's children.

My concern is that church leaders find such things too inconvenient to consider at the moment so they give a theological nod to the theology whilst adopting a more pragmatic approach on the the ground.

My hope is that the continued presentation of an egalitarian position will eventually make the issue impossible to ignore.

* Wayne Grudem agrees that it is ok for women to write books but he prefers to see that as having a chat over coffee rather than teaching.

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel according to Quincy

I am sad to say that I am old enough to remember the first showing of the TV programmed Quincy starring Jack Clugman back in 1976. The star was 54 years old and could be considered middle-aged as the pilot aired.

A regular component of the show, as with many of the other series of that particular decade, regularly set the male lead in a relationship with various women much younger than himself (see the opening title shots for proof of this).

Many movies followed a similar pattern in presenting a culture in which older men always got the younger women.

One can't help but imagine that back then most of the producers, writers, and directors were all middle-aged men; if so it would be in their own interest to present such things as acceptable.

In and of itself it might not seem an important fact but it does show the link between those in power and the culture they produce.

This brings me to the complementarian gang of pastors currently occupying a position of vocal influence upon the evangelical church.

Pastor Mark Driscoll and others are the guys (literally) in positions of power and as such they have a responsibility to help set the right culture.

It is in their continued interest to maintain the status quo in their particular brand of church; men making the rules in favour of a male dominated culture - sound familiar.

As a man (and a middle-aged one at that) I can only imagine the pain felt by any woman trying to fulfil her gift in one of these churches. It saddens me that so many of the men who have a voice have remained silent and allowed the prevailing culture to stand.

Looking at the re-runs of Quincy and other similar shows they look remarkably out dated and somewhat ridiculous now.

I hope that one day we will look back on the complementarian argument in a similar way; but given the recent resurgence in such teaching it will take women and men of courage to make a stand for the type of freedom implicit in the gospel story.

Nicer Than God

Following Mark Driscoll's recent effemigate comments about worship leaders and his subsequent less than apologetic climb down, it seems that some in the Christian bloggasphere are getting pangs of sympathy for the Seatle beefcake of a pastor.

Some have even claimed he is the 'probably one of the most uncharitably & unfairly read USA Evangelicals'.

Others have started to call Pastor Mark a brother again hoping that his non-apology is a sign that he is willing to change.

It is at this point that most good-thinking Christians start to feel the effects of having a conscience again and begin to question whether they should back off from offering any further criticism.

Whilst I too understand these feelings I have a gut feeling that the issues raised by Pastor Mark's regular comments and theological ideas are too important to fall under the axe of Christian reasonableness.

I am quite sure that both those who advocated slavery and those who currently discriminating against women, gays, and seemingly effeminate looking worship leaders have the ability to sound nice and decent when the need arises.

I can't help thinking that Pastor Mark's response is more of a fillip towards his constituency rather than an apology to those who he has offended.

I understand the need to follow biblical patterns in the way we conduct our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ but that is no excuse for becoming nicer than God and ignoring partiality where it raises it's ugly head.

Rooted Openness


The Big Story and the Irreducible Core

Having just lived through the relatively tumultuous storm of Hellgate during which the Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Rob Bell asked some very awkward questions.

The more vocal wing of the evangelical church in the USA responded with the sort of outrage usually reserved for lefty liberals rather than one of their own.

In what seemed to resemble a Monty Python scene, the calvanistic big guns exclaimed 'He's not an evangelical, he's a very naughty boy!'

The speed and manner with which they disowned him suggests they were already waiting for a moment to issue divorce papers.

What saddens me most about the whole issue is that it became almost impossible to have a sensible conversation about the subject without the feeling that you too were being both labelled and dismissed in the process.

In a world that loves labels it is quite difficult to continue a dialogue without looking for suitable terms to describe the position you occupy.

Whether you use Evangelical, Calvinist, Arminian, Liberal, Emergent, or other it must be seen that belief exists as more of a spectrum than distinct groupings.

People like Brian Mclaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell have attempted to provide a vocabulary for those who are exploring what is perceived as a more progressive theology.

Other voices have worked hard to limit the effect of what appeared to be a growing movement away from the centre of a traditional evangelical position. Of course even this is more of a spectrum than a definitive ecclesiological standpoint.

There have been others, in particular Jim Belcher in his book Deep Church, who have tried to navigate a middle ground in the hope of presenting a third way.

I enjoyed Jim's book but again felt that another title didn't fully reflect the spectrum of belief described.

I understand that we do need titles and descriptions in order to locate various beliefs in a framework that allows us to address the issues concerned in a meaningful and productive way.

A further problem encountered when trying to navigate these waters is that the UK scene is significantly different to the US. In this regard some of the language and reference points offered need to interpreted for a different context.

Having studied this subject for some time (even before I heard the phrase emergent) I want to offer some thoughts on my own way of navigation.

I have chosen the two motifs of Rootedness and Openness to best describe my approach. I have long felt that the best way of finding location on the theological and ecclesiological landscape is to occupy a place of tension between two ideas.

In doing so one is free from the fear of both stagnation and excess.

Jim Belcher offers something of this but probably falls victim to an urge to affirm a prescribed tradition. I don't mean this in a critical way but just as an observation.

My suggestion of rooted-openness attempts to offer both the acknowledgement of the need for defined reference points and the understanding that there will always be a spectrum of belief.


For my own context I have attempted to describe an irreducible core of belief that is rooted in both the biblical narratives and the testimony of the historic church.

In one sense, because this is a highly personal process and by nature has to be contexualised, it should not matter to anyone else what prescription I have given to this.

In practice however, and because our faith is intended to be of a corporate nature, we will always need to offer explanation so that others can learn from our journey and we can learn from them.

For me the central component of this irreducible core is the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I would locate this centrality in a Trinitarian understanding of the story.

There are, of course, other elements to this core but this is not important for what I am attempting to describe here at this moment.

What matters here most is that we begin a journey to discover our own irreducible core in which we might become rooted.

It seems to me that churches that develop a core that is too wide at this point risk including ideas that limit the possibility of discussion both within the group and with other churches.

I would include here ideas such as eschatology and ecclesiology that are often held with an unhealthy reverence.

Either way I would encourage you to discover an irreducible core within which you can put down roots.


It seems all too easy for us to close our minds too quickly to conflicting voices. I feel this has happened recently in response to Rob Bell. I am not sure that on every point I fully agree with Rob but I do eagerly welcome his input. He has provided a vocabulary for many within the church who have struggled with certain presumptions made of scripture.

It is my assessment that all Rob really said was that it is possible to both uphold the bible and see things in a different way to that traditionally delivered within evangelicalism.

He gives room for ideas often ignored by much of the evangelical church. He has often been accused of being vague on some issues but that is the point; some of the ideas we have counted as definitive are up for discussion. Why are we so frightened of such dialogue?

I would like to suggest that we develop an openness to the possibility of a bigger story. Brian Mclaren suggests such when he offers the idea that God could have been communicating with the native American indians long before Europeans brought the stories of Jesus.

What perhaps saddens me most is that many of those who offer a criticism to the likes of McLaren, Bell, and Pagitt fail to offer a view on such ideas, preferring to speak against the very idea of raising questions about perceived evangelical belief.

Further than this such critics often fail to address the questions raised prefering to simple accuse others of questioning God when they are in fact questioning a theology.

Whatever theological position we hold we must always agree that our beliefs will never fully explain God; otherwise our beliefs themselves would become an idol.

In this regard it is perhaps not the question or questioner who should be exposed but our inability to conceive that others might hold valid opposing views when seeking to find an explanation for God, life, and the universe.

Openness leaves room for an understanding of God in ways outside of both our experience and theological construct. Holding this in tension with a Rootedness in an irreducible core centred on the person of Jesus Christ brings a check to how far my openness might take me.

You may well see the above as an attempt to decry existing theological and ecclesiological labels only to replace them with alternatives. This is a constant danger in such an exercise as this.

I believe however that introducing the idea of a spectrum of belief held in tension between two seemingly opposite locations allows for a broader discussion than the mere acceptance of a single label. Hopefully this understanding of spectrum might act as an antedote to much of the tribal theological turf wars we continue to see.

In truth I believe that behind all labels is the kind of spectrum of which I write. My goal is to encourage us to develop a new conversation as we admit this to be true.

If we enquire of the term evangelical for example we will soon discover that it has the possibility of revealing a variety of spectrums behind this seemingly definitive label.

One can be an Evangelical Charismatic or an Evangelical calvinist. In actuality these may or may not be mutually exclusive, however the fact of their existence reveals the probability of a spectrum of belief.

Where to now?

I believe this to be a highly personal journey that is best done in community, through the influence biblical narrative, the teachings of the church, the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Some of my findings may well cause others to cry 'He's not an evangelical, he's a very naughty boy!' but that is a risk I am willing to take.

I will endeavour to discover what it means to be rooted in the historic Christian faith whilst being open to the enormity of God's salvation story for all of his creation.

I hope to find others on a similar path with whom I can travel.

Francis Chan and a Humble View of Eternal Punishment

As Francis Chan releases his antidote to Rob Bell's controversial best seller it seems that some have been drawn in by the humble and conciliatory style of his promotional video. Don't be fooled by the tone however this is a fine example of sophistry.

He employs the sophists skills of presenting an argument that is hard to disagree with only to deliver a conclusion that is not really connected with his original thrust. It goes like this:

1. It's good to study

2. Study is a humbling process

3. This is a very important subject

4. Some people have spoken about it with a lack of care

5. God's ways are not our ways

6. We need to be careful

All the way through these points his hearers nod in agreement - what is there to disagree with.

He then goes on to present a Calvinistic understanding of the subject as if this is the only way in which we can be true to his previous points.

It is sophistry because you can agree with his first points and still come to a different theological view point.

His humble style is appealing but not necessarily affirmation that he is right. Yet it is this style and his initial points that make people think that his conclusion must be correct not the veracity of his conclusion.

I look forward to reading the book for more humble calvinistic insights.