3 dangers in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2

3 dangers with interpreting this passage

As a young Christian, I became convinced of a complementarian position when it came to women in leadership. In any argument 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was my trump card. It was so clear that anyone who disagreed was clearly denying the authority of scripture and was driven by a culture-pleasing and ultimately liberal agenda. Though I respect my many friends who hold a complementarian position due to their reading of scripture and their conscience I have changed my mind. I am not alone in this change: Howard Marshall, Chris Wright, John Ortberg, Ron Sider and Bill Hybels have made the same journey. In such a short article it’s not possible to solve all the controversies surrounding this passage, so I’ll merely ask some framing questions to help us navigate the pitfalls this verse creates.

Here’s the passage in question:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.


  1. Edit 1 Timothy 2:11-12 out of scripture, dismissing Paul as sexist

All scripture is God-breathed. That means it carries the weight and authority of God behind it. Some of my complementarian heroes accuse egalitarians of not taking scripture seriously. To be honest they have a point: but only about some egalitarians. I have heard many times that we can ignore Paul because he was obviously a misogynist. I have also heard people argue that we can ignore Paul and prioritise Jesus. But this is not an option for an evangelical egalitarian because of our doctrine of scripture. The scriptures are not a random collection of the thoughts and suggestions of certain ancient people as to how one might like to do church. No, we believe that scripture is breathed out by God which means that when we ignore scripture we are ignoring God. Paul is not speaking his own views or opinions – he is being used by God to communicate His word to God’s church.

  1. Use 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as a lens through which to interpret every discussion of women in leadership

J.I. Packer argues clearly that “scripture must interpret scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others”[1].

We don’t try and interpret a Bible text in isolation – we need to allow the rest of scripture to inform and temper the limits of the interpretation of a text. For example: Paul talks about the baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29– it would be wrong to build a theology of posthumous salvation from this verse when the scriptures are silent on this issue. Of course, holding the whole of scripture in our minds when we interpret any one part is difficult to do.


3. We ignore the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the letter itself

This verse is more complex to interpret than immediately meets the eye.

i) No one believes that a woman’s salvation is guaranteed through physical childbirth – the climax of the argument in v.15.

ii) I have yet to visit a church that consistently applied the prohibition of gold jewellery for women (v.9), the lifting up of hands for men in prayer (v.8) and the restriction of women from leadership roles (v.12). There are clearly time bound contextual elements in this passage that do not apply across all times and all cultures and universalising one without the others is very selective.

iii) An argument back to creation is not a deal-closer. There are two problems with arguing the mention of Adam and Eve means this is a creation ordinance. First, Paul argues from creation that women should cover their heads in worship and that men should uncover their heads in worship (in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9), but most interpreters understand the specific issue of head coverings is culturally and time bound and so does not apply today. Second, Paul’s argument is also from the Fall – it is at the Fall that Eve was deceived and “became a sinner” and the events of the Fall are being undone by the redeeming work of Christ. Also when it comes to the Fall the rest of Paul’s reflections do not pick out Eve as more culpable than Adam. (see Romans 5:14).

Finally, the specific challenges Paul addresses in the letter cannot be ignored.

As Scholer argues: “1 Timothy should be understood as an occasional ad hoc letter directed specifically towards enabling Timothy and the church to avoid and combat the false teachers and teaching in Ephesus.”

Paul’s prohibition of women in leadership in 1 Timothy was due to the specific challenges Timothy faced in Ephesus. For me this makes sense of the ministry that Paul encourages in women such as Junia, Euodia, Syntche and Priscilla. I remain convinced that those women that God has called and gifted for leadership roles within the church should be encouraged and empowered to use these gifts to the glory of God.

[1] Packer, J.I. (1958) Fundamentalism and the Word of God, IVP, p.103

This blog was first published for Sophia Network’s blog.

You may also like:

1. Tim Keller, women in leadership and ignoring your own rules.
2. Learning from women in leadership – inspiring quotations from women leaders.

Photo credit Photoree. Alyssa L. Miller


Is Christianity Supposed to be Masculine?

Thank God for John Piper

I am grateful for the ministry of John Piper. His book “Desiring God” challenged my thinking as a teenager. His book “Let the nations be glad” provided quotes and hints when I was recruiting student evangelists to travel with my wife and I to go to Albania. The generosity of the Desiring God team kept me in supply of teaching tapes (do you remember tapes?) when we were living on virtually nothing. I appreciate Piper’s emphasis on expository preaching, his commitment to passionate charismatic worship, his concern to demonstrate God’s kingdom in social transformation, his desire for Christians to think deeply about their faith and his advocacy for the church to make adoption part of our mission in the world.

I have many friends who are ardent admirers of Piper’s work, however many of them would be selective about their endorsement of him. For example some love his commitment to reformed doctrine but not the charismatic style of worship he employs. Some love his commitment to Penal Substitution but would not share his passion for racial reconciliation. Many love his commitment to expository preaching but not his use of pre-recorded videos that he shows in place of live preaching in his churches. Many of my conservative Anglican friends are happy to endorse his theology except in the area of baptism not to mention his views on alcoholic abstinence. Others would admire his advocacy for Eternal Conscious Torment while being quietly critical of his church’s commitment to social transformation. In other words not all conservative evangelicals share all of John Piper’s views. They rightfully admire his many gifts whilst respectfully choosing to disagree with aspects of his theology and practice.

I share their admiration and respect their decision to dissent from some of his views, and I beg to do the same. Please read the following comments as a critique of one partuclar aspect of John Piper’s teaching, and not a character assassination of the man himself. I chose not to blog off the back of the headlines that came out of the Bethlehem Pastor’s conference, but now that the full text of Piper’s address is freely available I would like to offer my comments on his concept of ‘masculine Christianity’. They are my comments not those of the Evangelical Alliance for whom I work. As an Alliance we believe there are evangelicals on both sides of the debate surrounding the appropriate roles of women and men in church leadership.

Is God Male?

Piper writes: “God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).”

John Piper is not claiming here that God is male – that would be to confer sexual identity that is not appropriate for our Triune God. But Piper is underlining the number of times God uses male metaphors to describe himself, suggesting that God uses male metaphors pervasively. Although he does not claim that these male metaphors are used exclusively, he chooses not to mention that God also uses quite a lot of feminine metaphors. Even a quick google search will get you the following:

  • God as mother bear: Hosea 13:8 “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open”
  • God as midwife: Psalm 22:9 “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you . . .”
  • Jesus as mother hen: Matthew 23:37 “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”
  • God as mother: Deuteronomy 32:18: “You deserted the Rock, who bore you. You forgot the God who gave you birth.”
  • God as mother: Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
  • God as mother: Job 38:29: “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens… ?”
  • God as mother in labour: Isaiah 42:14 “But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant:.”

Piper seems to imply that because God uses the word ‘Man’ to describe both male and female, masculinity is some how superior. But Steve Holmes Senior Lecturer in Theology at St Andrews University would suggest an alternative understanding:

Both Hebrew and Greek have specific words meaning ‘male human being’ and ‘human being’.

In Hebrew Adam = human being; ish/enosh = male human being; in Greek anthropos = human being; aner = male human being), although in both cases the generic word seems occasionally to be used for the specific meaning. Adam is used in Gen.1:26, where the contrast is with animals, and 1Sam 15:29, where the contrast is with God – the meaning here must be generic; similarly, anthropos is used in a generic sense in Mt 4:19, 12:12; 1Cor. 15:39; Gal. 1:12; …). Finally, this is interesting: ‘Commenting on Gen. 5:2, Rabbi Simeon taught that “God does not make his abode in any place where male and female are not found together; nor are blessings found save in such a place, as it is written: ‘And he blessed them and called their name Man on the day that they were created.‘ Note that it says them and their name, not him and his name. The male is not even called man until he is united with the female”’

No one can refute that Jesus was a man and he called 12 male apostles but what inferences are we supposed to make from this? Should we infer from the fact that they were all Jewish that Christianity should be culturally Jewish in its current expression? Should we evangelicals infer from Jesus’ singleness that Christianity should be primarily single in its focus (with a proof text from 1 Corinthians 11 to offer in favour of its superiority)? The nature of the exegetical process of moving from what was to what ought to be is a difficult one. Prooftexting and ignoring large amounts of other biblical evidence is not sufficient. In my opinion it is a theologically unhelpful step to move from the observation that Jesus was a man to the premise that Christianity should be masculine. This is as flawed as saying because Jesus was a young single Jew so Christianity should be singularly Jewish and youthful.


It is also an interesting conflation to move from leadership in the church (1 Tim 2:2) to leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-23), without acknowledging that the flow of the argument begins in the conveniently ignored Ephesians 5:21.


Here are Piper’s 8 reasons why Christianity should be masculine. His arguments are based not on scripture but on the life and ministry of JC Ryle. My reflections are also included.

Responding to Piper’s Eight Traits of a Masculine Ministry

“Of all the helpful things that could be said about the life and ministry of J. C. Ryle, the theme of this conference is governing what I will focus on, namely, “The Value of a Masculine Ministry”—which I tried to define at the beginning. What I hope to do is illustrate the nature of this “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” with eight traits of such a ministry from the life and ministry of J. C. Ryle.”

1. A masculine ministry believes that it is more fitting that men take the lash of criticism that must come in a public ministry, than to unnecessarily expose women to this assault.

Is Piper implying that women could not or should not endure such assaults? The point is not that godly women can’t endure criticism, but that godly men prefer to take it for them. This sounds chivalrous, like a gentleman opening a door for a lady or a man offering his seat on public transport to a pregnant woman. But it is very hard to find a biblical precedent that would argue that men should offer to take criticism in place of women. This feels like a culturally bound preference being turned into a reason to limit women from taking leadership roles.

Listen how ridiculous this line of reasoning sounds when applied to ethnicity: (As an Asian I’ll pick my own race as an example) “Christianity should have a Caucasian feel because we want to stop Asians from having to carry the burden of fierce criticism. For this reason we should discourage Asians from being in leadership.” Does that sound as patronizing to you as it does to me?

I have met many “thick skinned” women who seem to be able to brush off criticism and many “thin skinned” men who can’t. By the grace of God there is a great diversity of personality types and to label all men as better at taking criticism seems to me reductionistic.


2. A masculine ministry seizes on full-orbed, biblical doctrine with a view to teaching it to the church and pressing it with courage into the lives of the people.

Again Piper nuances his position “The point of calling this failure of doctrinal nerve an unmanly failure is not that women can’t grasp and hold fast to the great doctrines of the faith. They can and should. The point is that when the foundations of the church are crumbling, the men should not stand still and wait for women to seize the tools and brick and mortar. And women should expect their men to be at the forefront of rebuilding the ruins.”

Piper rightfully recognizes that there are many women who can grasp and hold on to clear doctrine (brilliant), but he still argues that men should step up and not let the women “seize” the tools first. In my opinion if the foundations are crumbling we need all hands on deck to sort things out. In New Testament times with the apostles still alive God raised up godly women teachers to teach the scriptures and press it home. Priscilla (and her husband Aquilla – unusually Priscilla is named first which many have argued points to her taking the lead in the teaching) were happy to take Apollos aside and make sure he has grasped the foundations of the faith. Junias is a woman who is described as an apostle (See John Stott Message of Romans, IVP for more). Again this expectation that women would want their men to go before them and sort this out reads more like a cultural gender ascription, such as arguing women expect men to go and fix the car or mow the lawn. This reads more like a fundamentalist approach to culture as Os Guiness describes it:

“fundamentalism is not a tradition; it is essentially modern reaction to the modern world… What it does it reassert a lost world, a once intact but no longer taken for granted cultural reality; and in doing so, it both romanticizes the past, with its messiness airbrushed away, and radicalizes the present with its overlay of psychological defiance and cultural militancy.” Os Guiness, The Case for Civility, Harper One, p. 95

There is a danger that instead of engaging with cultural change biblically we just revert back to a romanticized past era. It is telling that these comments are coming in a homage to JC Ryle not a biblical exposition. Ryle’s life is rightfully celebrated but there is no room for the contextualization of Ryle’s example into a new cultural situation.


3. A masculine ministry brings out the more rugged aspects of the Christian life and presses them on the conscience of the church with a demeanor that accords with their proportion in Scripture.

This is strange language indeed: “the more rugged aspects of the Christian life”. What about the more tender aspects of the Christian life? What about the more refined aspects? Why are we putting a filter on the whole counsel of God? Do we want a masculine Christianity or do we want Christianity? Surely our aim should be to understand the scriptures as best we can in our cultural context. Is Piper asking me to filter out the parts of scripture which command us to be compassionate, tender, gracious because they might be deemed effeminate? I don’t want to deliberately cut the revelation of God in Christ down so that it echoes my cultural bias or my preference for a certain style of Christianity. Dr Piper is very vocal about his love for the scriptures so I struggle to understand why he would encourage this deliberate distortion of God’s word.

Piper concedes that women could do this, but he claims the theme of Christian warfare and other rugged aspects of biblical theology and life should draw the men of the church to take them up in the spirit of a protective warrior in his family and “tribe,” rather than expecting the women to take on the spirit of a combatant for the sake of the church. This language of protective warrior reminds me of John Eldridge’s book Wild at Heart rather than the scriptures which actually happen to have quite enough examples of rugged and fierce women. Perhaps Piper’s words would have more biblical tenacity if he had said “the spirit of a protective warrior like Deborah, or Jael or Queen Esther?”

4. A masculine ministry takes up heavy and painful realities in the Bible, and puts them forward to those who may not want to hear them.

By this Piper finds a way to get to one of the subjects he feels very passionately about. I was at the 3rd Lausanne Gathering in Cape town where Dr Piper managed to make Hell the central theme of his exposition of Ephesians 3. Piper’s point here is that men should spare women the burden of having to talk about hell with other people. Again this has no biblical mandate at all and is more like a cultural preference. Piper usually encourages women to be involved in evangelism and judging on my listening to his preaching I would have thought he would expect evangelism to include a fair bit about hell, so this point makes very little sense unless Piper would prefer women didn’t evangelise and left that to the men too or they should evangelise but not talk about Hell.

5. A masculine ministry heralds the truth of Scripture, with urgency and forcefulness and penetrating conviction, to the world and in the regular worship services of the church.

I understand and respect Piper’s opinion that women shouldn’t preach. I disagree. But in this instance his argument here is not based on scripture but something else. His point is that godly men know intuitively, by the masculine nature implanted by God, that turning the hearts of men and women to God with that kind of authoritative speaking is the responsibility of men. Piper seems to be arguing that somehow God speaks to men directly through their masculine nature. I don’t think I can find any biblical references to the idea of the masculine nature having a revelatory status – this is about as useful as saying. “Asians know intuitively by the Asian nature implanted in them by God that turning the hearts of men and women to God is the responsibility of Asians and not Caucasians.” No.

6. A masculine ministry welcomes the challenges and costs of strong, courageous leadership without complaint or self-pity with a view to putting in place principles and structures and plans and people to carry a whole church into joyful fruitfulness.

This statement implies that women lack courage or are more likely to indulge in complaint or self pity. This is such an unhelpful slur on women I find it hard to believe he wrote it. In my cultural context I have seen many more women demonstrating these kinds of qualities than men and I don’t think this has anything to do with gender at all.

7. A masculine ministry publicly and privately advocates for the vital and manifold ministries of women in the life and mission of the church.

Brilliant. I agree totally. Piper highlights Ryle’s drawing attention to the fact that in Romans 16, 11 out of 28 names that Paul gives special mention to are women. (He quietly bypasses the fact that one of them is ‘Junia’ most likely a female apostle and Priscilla the woman with the guts to challenge Apollos on his doctrine.) But to say that Christianity should have an overall masculine feel but that includes encouraging the ministries of women is hypocritical. Why should the Christian faith take on a particular gender? Should it also take on a particular cultural form? Say an Asian flavor? Should it take on a class too? Should it take on a middle class flavor? Should it have an accent? No. Surely it should contextualize and follow Paul’s desire to become all things to all people?

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

8. A masculine ministry models for the church the protection, nourishing, and cherishing of a wife and children as part of the high calling of leadership.


We want to encourage the family in ministry. We know that many ministers are single so we shouldn’t want to elevate the status of the married above the single. But again the cultural assumptions being made of what a marriage looks like is interesting. Proverbs 30 has a woman doing a lot of providing and nourishing and cherishing of her husband.

Is Christianity supposed to be masculine?

The gospel is good news for all people. If the Christian faith feels predominantly masculine I don’t think that helps us to put into practice the need to contextualise the eschatological identity of the church as the Bride of Christ. (A masculine bride is an interesting conundrum Piper has chosen not to grapple with).

Paul is very clear that the gospel relativises the cultural and gender hierarchies that used to separate the ancient world

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:9-12

For Paul it would seem that a predominantly masculine Christianity would betray the logic that Christ is all and in all. In fact it is interesting that the traits that Paul mentions to describe the people of God here (renewed, holy, beloved, compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient) aren’t those that Piper mentions for his masculine Christianity. Piper’s selective reading of scripture means he could end up promoting a deformed Christianity rather than a fully biblical one. Something I am sure he would not wish to see.

In my church we have several families where believing wives attend church without their unbelieving husbands. There are no men who attend without their wives. This trend in the UK has led many of us to try to wonder why the women are often being attracted more than the men. I am passionate about finding ways to show that the gospel is equally relevant for men as for women, that church is equally welcoming for men and women, and that our faith is as challenging for men as it is for women. However promoting a ‘masculine Christianity’ is not the way forward. If our churches don’t demonstrate the love of God to all people, if we appear more sexist than our culture, if we don’t check whether our cultural assumptions are driving us more than biblical faithfulness then we are in danger of doing great damage to the reputation of the gospel. Something I am sure Dr Piper does not want to do.

I am open to being corrected – please leave comments below.

Women, Men and Twitter Part 2

This is part 2 of a blog about women,men and leadership in the church.

My twitter stream has been populated with an ongoing conversation about women in leadership in the church. For the past 15 years I have been on a long journey from a Complementarian to an Egalitarian position. (see previous blog for definitions). When I was a complementarian I had no desire or practice of abusing women, demeaning them or insulting them. I was trying to be faithful to the scriptures and believed that the Bible taught clearly that men and women were of co-equal value but have different roles.

I have been a convinced egalitarian for the past 8 years or so and I have come to believe that there are good exegetical grounds for seeing that women did have leadership roles in the early church and that they can have today because any restrictions Paul may have sanctioned had cultural and apologetic reasons for being in place. See this interesting piece by Graham Cole from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

There is also a very helpful book that Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry wrote together coming from very different theological positions. It is a model of gracious and robust dialogue. (more on graciousness another time…)

But I still believe that there are many men and women who are saved by Gods grace, that value Gods word and who are not intrinsically sexist or abusive who hold to a complementarian viewpoint. ( Of course we all need to continually check ourselves for racist or sexist tendencies wherever we are in this debate.) I cannot and will not break fellowship with them or refuse to worship or do mission together. I disagree with them, I am willing to have frank and robust discussion with them but I still count them as family. I have been talking a lot about meeting in the middle – and perhaps the language of middle ground may not be helpful. So let me try and explore what I am trying to work through.

One tweet from a friend that haunts me is this: Would you take a middle ground position on slavery or racism?

That is a telling tweet in this conversation and leaves me asking a few questions. (I am not seeking to criticise this tweet which was made in a long conversation. But to wrestle with the challenge of it and to respond to it.)

Is a complementarian understanding of the role of women equivalent to racism and slavery?

As a man some would argue that I can’t understand the experience of exclusion and injustice that many women feel on this issue. And they have a valid point. I cannot possibly understand what it is like to have your calling in life questioned or to feel marginalised because of who you are. But as an Asian who has experienced racism I can relate a little bit to what prejudice feels like.

I am not sure we can equate this issue with slavery as there are options – in the western context we can choose to be part of a church that is egalitarian and not stay within denominations and tribes that don’t allow the full expression of women with leadership and teaching giftings. Slaves have no choices at all so I am not sure they are comparable. As for racism there is no biblical justifiable warrant for this at all – although i dont agree with complementarians I believe they can make a case for it from scripture.

2. Is the idea of building common ground actually counterproductive to genuine change?

My argument has often been that though there are different opinions and this is an issue of great importance this is not an issue of things pertaining to salvation in other words someone that takes a different view from me on women in leadership is still in the kingdom. They are not to be considered a member of a heretical cult – like the mormons or the Jehovahs witnesses. This issue falls into the same area as baptism. As a convinced Baptist I believe the scriptures are pretty clear that believers should be baptised. I have many friends and family who take a very different view following either a Anglican or Presbyterian view of infant baptism. Many of my Anglican friends have a biblical case showing a real desire to submit their views to the authority of scripture. I cannot see that case at all. In the light of this I could:

a) write them off as people who have ignored scripture and have entered the slippery slope to liberalism/strong ( this line of argument is the way that the complementarians such as Wayne Grudem reads the egalitarian / complimentarian divide)

b) write them off as people who obviously dont care about mission and justice – as surely this is antithetical to the grace of the gospel which is offered to all people independent of their family or tribe or upbringing (this is the line that some egalitarians take the debate as for them to deny women leadership roles is an issue of the justice that the gospel brings.

c) agree that this is an important but not a gospel issue and so we can find ways of working together and to study the scriptures together in a way that we can help eachother to come to a deeper understanding of Gods will.

This is how evangelicalism was birthed – when Anglicans and Baptists joined together to fight slavery. I believe as we meet as brothers and sisters with humility and respect for eachother and a firm commitment to God’s word there’s more chance of change than if we retreat into polarized silos. I am looking for common ground in the polarised groups in a bid not to settle for a lowest common denominator middle ground – but to establish common ground that there can be any chance of a conversation that could possibly lead to change.

A friend of mine put it well – in the Northern Ireland peace process – someone had to start talking to terrorists. I can only imagine what a costly decision that was as both sides had clearly entrenched and deeply felt hurts. So many loved ones lost, so many injured, as Bono put it;

And the battles just begun
Theres many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters
Torn apart

But someone decided that rather than allow the war to continue to claim lives, there needed to be a peace process. The war within evangelicalism over this issue does no one any good. We shoot at eachother and as a result lives are damaged, ministries crippled and the gospel is not demonstrated or proclaimed as it should be. I am trying to find a way forward. Peace does not have to mean that egalitarians are the only ones that have to compromise – thats not peace. I am looking for a way to establish some common ground and praying for Gods spirit to empower us to do what scripture demands of us all (Ephesians 4:3):

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace

Jenny Baker has written a helpful post and is right to make sure that both sides are willing to the effort. So I am calling both sides to come and converse as sisters and brothers and lets work this one through.

Any ideas on ways forward or do we have to settle for a divided church / polarised church. Ideas welcome…

More to come… on graciousness, christians against sexism and more…

Women, Men, Church & Twitter – part 1

Twitter Debate

I have been wrestling this week with the memories of an intense Twitter conversation I was part of on the train on the way to Durham University. On reflection twitter is an interesting place to try and have a theological conversation – the advantage is that its public which means we can interact with people who are not in our normal “hermeneutical circle” who will help us to think things through from another perspective. On the other hand the disadvantage is that its very public and restricted to 140 characters which means its difficult for anyone to nuance the contributions and so its easy to go for the cheap shot, the cutting response or the pithy soundbite.

So I am sorry if my tweets were unhelpful in any way.

The twitter conversation was on the gifts and role of women in the church – something I am very interested in and have been working hard to try and help people from different tribes to try and listen to eachother and engage with eachother graciously about. As you are no doubt aware the conversation is very polarised. Complementarians argue that

“In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.”

Some express this very forcibly and have made it central to their teaching for example Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Some seem to argue that if you are not a complimentarian then you are basically a feminist liberal.

Egalitarians argue that:

Some egalitarians have made this central to their teaching and some seem to argue that if you are not egalitarian then you are a chauvinist who oppresses women and denies their true humanity.

Both extremes make this an issue of biblical orthodoxy – the complementarians arguing its about the authority of scripture and the authority of Christ while the egalitarians often emphasise that justice and power of the gospel are at stake.

I know there are evangelical Christians on both sides of the debate. I know there are good and bad arguments being used by both sides. I know there are actually a range of egalitarian and complimentarian positions. There are “hard” and “soft” proponents. There are those that are lead more by the scripture than by the culture and those that are lead more by the culture than the scripture – on both sides. I know there are people that have been hurt on both sides of this debate, and I recognise that women who have felt their God given calling have been dismissed have been particularly hurt.

My hope is that we can build a centre ground coalition that champions the centrality of the gospel, the authority of scripture and a gracious respect and honouring of women and the recognition of the need for a hermeneutic of humility when it comes to the scriptures and a spirit of generosity when it comes to those we disagree with. I want to start a peace process – not just that we agree to disagree but that we find a way through an issue that is splitting the church right down the middle…

I’d love to know why you think this is the issue that is dividing the church at the moment?

… More coming soon

just posted part 2 here.

Lausanne Live Blog Day 6

Sorry for the lack of live blog yesterday. I had some challenges with the internet…

Day 6 Final morning Bible reading

I came in late after a helpful conversation with one of the English delegation. He was upset about the negative tone of some of the blogs that have been posted. I hope readers will have picked up my desire to rejoice in the great things in the programme of the event and to ask questions of some of things that have been going on. I hope I have not been judge, jury and executioner of the congress. I am sorry if I have come across as this. I am very happy to receive comments about things I have written that may have been unfair. The delegate wanted the bloggers to talk about the highlights which for him had been the corridor conversations and the new networks that are happening outside of the main sessions. He was very critical of what had taken place in the main sessions – but delighted by what has been happening outside of them. As someone that was live blogging only the plenary sessions I think it’s worth a few comments about what has happened outside of them.

The informal time has been a highlight not just for this conference but for any conference. I have really enjoyed meeting up with old friends from Albania, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, Zimbabwe as well as making new friends from the USA, Sudan, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka. There is an incredible excitement walking through the conference centre – it is an extrovert’s dream come through as you could be queuing up to get some food and end up chatting to someone who is doing the same kind of ministry as you in a different continent or while browsing the bookshop you’ll end up chatting with another customer and discover you know 3 people in common on three different continents. There’s been an openness to prayer in those contexts too – I enjoyed praying with a brother from Togo unsure about what God wants for him next, after only meeting him for 3 minutes. Its great to walk past people praying together in the enormous walkways of this majestic looking convention centre.


On the last day of the conference we are being lead in prayer for China, thanking God for their faithfulness in their prayers for us.

Now we are being introduced to the incredibly multicultural sung worship leading team. Now we sing “Lord of Lord and King of Kings” in different languages – the group sing each verse in a different language and we echo “Hallelujah” nice touch guys. At the same time we are being presented with commemorative certificates for being part of the conference. I also get a nice piece of artwork for doing my 6 min presentation. Nice touch – thanks for that guys. We also get a DVD with all of the conference video clips on it – again very well thought through – and professionally presented.

Bible Poverty

We watch a video about ending bible poverty – with a testimony from a Russian young man who has been converted through receiving a Bible at his school in Siberia 1992. “Thank you to those people that shared this book with me, maybe they have forgotten about that moment – I have not” It’s a lovely video – real well shot.

Michel Kemonge from Cameroon is now on stage talking about the need to eradicate Bible poverty. The United nations will not take responsibility for Bible poverty. It is our responsibility before God and before man to share the treasure of the scriptures. We need a commitment to the Bible use in our lives. We need to prophetically challenge the ungodly social norms and respond with compassion. We need to invest in the youth so that the emerging generations can engage with the scriptures.

We are now directed to a commitment to eradicate Bible poverty – we are asked to stand and pray together.

“Lord you promised that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the water covers the sea. We promise to play our part so that your word may be fulfilled sooner rather than later.”

David Oginde – Kenya is now on the stage.

“put on the full armour of God” is the theme for today he says. We are reading ephesians 6:10-24. This passage is a lot shorter than the Pentecostal preacher from Kenya had to look at yesterday : Ephesians 4:13-

Ramez and Rebecca Atallah the General Secretary of the Bible Society

Ramez makes an apology in French that he will be speaing in English. Rebecca translates and then apologises to the women listeners that ramez will do most of the speaking but she will be speaking later on. Rebecca prays for her husband asking that they not rely on their natural gifts but on the power of the Holy Spirit. She then goes and sits alone on a stool on the stage just to the side of the pulpit.

Ramez tells the story of a prayer meeting in the 1970s that Lindsay Brown was at as Operation Mobilisation prayed for a ship to do their ministry. Youth For Christ then considered a competitor with OM had been raising some money for their own ship and the deal had fallen through and so they were donating

Ephesians 1 – the blessing

Ephesians 2 – when God reconciles people with himself he also integrates them into his church

Ephesians 3 – we learned about how the church declares glory of God to the devil by suffering.

Ephesians 4 – church need to be marked by faitfulness to the word and for unity

Ephesians 5 -the church needs to be distinct in its lifestyle and relationships

Ephesians 6 – today

Section 1 Our responsibility

Finally after all you have heard about the gospel – be strong not weaklings. Don’t abandon the faith. Put on the whole armour of God so we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

Many Christians don’t withstand the devil’s schemes. Lets pray together for 2 minutes in silent prayer for them. (brave move from Ramez to give up 2 mins of preaching time to pray – this is longer than any stretch of time we had at the prayer meeting last night). Ramez says “don’t worry about the time – as programme chair – I am deducting these minutes from the talk time. ( The clock at the back hasn’t reset though…)

We hear a practical example:
How did God’s power overcome the power of evil in a very poor district in Egypt. In 1982 Rebecca everyone in this village lived at the same level – they lived amongst their garbage, there was no services except for drug or booze. (we see some pictures on the screen.) In garbage village people thought of themselves as garbage. There are high rise buildings , services, markets – (we see an incredibly different place on the screen.) In one generation this change has taken place. One person did this by God’s strength. He lead his garbage man to the lord and then he went with them to their garbage village and many people came to faith and many miracles were done. He had prayer supporters who prayed everyday for this family. Soon there were enough believers in the village that the coptic orthodox church built a church for them and the lay man that lead his garbage man to the lord became its pastor. Father Simon. The believers worked with Father Simon to build a school. They became great recyclers – they were still garbage collectors but world class recyclers.

They built these cave churches – the biggest one seats 20 000 people. The largest church in the middle east. 1 Corinthians 1:27 God took the weak things of this world to shame the strong. Now they are doing a great ministry amongst the disabled.

Section 2 God’s equipment

Essentail Values – truth, righteousness, intgegrity. The shoes of the gospel of peace. The church needs peacemakers in the church and outside. In this conference we have seen a CEO and a high school graduate have served this conference humbly together.

Essential Beliefs – the shield of faith – we have to have faith to envision in his name task ahead of us. He offers us salvation (the helmet of salvation)

Essential Resources – the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The Bible unites people. We use the book to give ourselves an opening in the country – we sell the Bible in Egypt to make it available.

We are to pray on all occasions, for all people and all kinds of different prayer. Paul ask for prayers to be bold . Even Paul needs it. Paul ask for boldness not for comfort and safety. Is this your passion? Is this mine? May we stand together for God’s glory. Amen.

We have a table discussion – we wonder if the genius of this passage is that Paul has been pushing for reconciliation and unity in his letter – between jew and gentile especially. That by identifying the real enemy that we need to fight there is a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality. So by identifying the “principalities and powers” as the enemy it should draw us together in greater unity. The devil seems to be the only unreconcilabe, unredeemed person in the universe so it is fitting to fight against him.

We enjoy some time together to pray as a table – the use of tables to meet around and consistent groups have been great – really enjoyed spending time with Jake from India, Knut from Norway, John from Jamaica and Reagan from Sudan.

Today we are going to look at how to use God’s weapons not the worlds.

We are doing individual study.

(This was an encouraging model sermon – integrating in prayer, men and women working together, some great visuals and good story telling. Sadly because time was so short – we didn’t really get below the surface reading of the text. I felt that this Bible reading did not have an agenda to it. There has been an interesting dilemma this week as they have tried to connect a general theme and the Bible readings together – this may have put the Bible readers under pressure to work the theme into the text. Ramez and Rebecca did a great job overall, they preached with integrity, passion and clarity – but it missed some bite – it felt like an introductory level study.)

Plenary session

John Stott Video

John Stott’s double listening – listening to the word and the world. Most christians listen to the word but not the world. “It comes more natural to shout the gospel at a distance than to involve themselves in their lives” Christ is the model and the message for evangelism.

John Stott has had a lifetime friendship with Billy Graham, Billy asked John Stott to be the chief architect of the Lausanne 1.

Its moving to think about the impact of Stott’s life – his legacy is imense.

The Pentecostal twang of Billy Graham and the measured Etonian tones of John Stott are poles apart – yet they together have had a huge impact . They have been faithful to the call of God in their generation – they lay down an enourmous challenge to the rest of us.

Doug Birdsall- President of Lausanne Movement

There is an apology about the Latin American video shown at the Lausanne congress. Doug very graciously apologises and thanks the Latin Americans for their generousity and patience.

We live in an age of single issue politics, we are seeking to develop a culture of grace. We do not want this event to be about a single issue.

There have been 4 invitations for people to host Lausanne 4 – but we are undecided about whether there should be a fourth event. We want to be light on our feet but not over institutionalised. Reliable, Strategic and continually committed to developing younger leaders.

Many have said “I will never attend a conference again, unless it contains table groups”.


28 full time intepreters (clap for their work)

Trying to create an environment not just a programme.

The focus is on partnership today.

The focus is on partnership today.

David Ruiz from latin america

We hear who wants to correct the picture of Latin America that was portrayed in the video. He talks of a vibrant church and mission agency. We have work together to make unity possible – we prefer to serve ourselves. He speaks to us from 1 Cor 15:58. It’s difficult to hear the talk from the press room.

We are hearing about some exciting coalitions in Algeria. Next the large scale sports collaborations at major events like the Olympics and the World Cup. There is a partnership field guide which is a Lausanne document to encourage good practice amongst missional partnerships.

Leslie Segraves and Chad Segraves a US couple are on stage.

John 17 has been a theme passage for this couple, they had it preached on their wedding day. They co-founded 10 years ago an interdenominational mission agency – aiming to help the unity of the denominations and generations. They try to work in partnerships between the west and indigenous people movements. Through their marriage and organisations they are trying to get men and women working together. Lesslie explains when she was at a missionary conference speaking, leaving her husband at home. “What are your husband’s spiritual gifts that allow him to do his ministry,” she was asked. when I heard this I felt excluded and isolated. The unity of male and females is a keep part of how we will see the world won.

In the creation God made men and women equal and to have shared dominion. The fall changes this but in Christ these are renewed. We are committed to releasing women into church planting. As a man I fight against the fall when I seek to empower my sisters in the body of Christ to use every gift they have received in the body of Christ – including teaching, training and leading. Am I teachable? My role is not to hold onto my own power

As a woman I have learned that I work against the fall when I use every gift that God has given me. The church can be a very restrictive place. I cannot let other people’s restrictions be a limit to my obedience. (loud claps). On Delhi university campus a young woman came up to us and said “in Hinduism and Islam – we are taught that men are higher than women – in your religion what is your beliefs about male and female relationships and how is this practiced?”

(Fascinating – the only upfront deliberate expression of male and female roles has been a clearly egalitarian one. This was what this couple was asked to speak about – this was not snuck into a section of the conference by someone seeking to grind an axe. I would read this was a clear statement of intent for the Lausanne Congress on the complimentarian / egalitarian issue. )

Now some tap dancing / street dance with an african twist – with a rap – it’s pretty good – well done guys.

Raymond Fung

is preaching partnership with passion.The world is in a holitic mess it needs a holistic gospel.

He prays for humility in the Asian church and not triumphalism.

Mission is from everywhere to everywhere – arrogance and self pity will be the two things that prevent us from pursuing real partnerships. No one nation has all the answers or the resources to finish the missionary task. I pray that there will be true long lasting, authentic friendships that will offer reconciliation to the world.

There’s an interview on stage involving Femi from Africa and Brenda from America.
“we need to ask questions like what are native Americans saying to the global church”
“the day of the superhero is over for the evangelical movement – we need new partnerships”