A brief reply to Mark Keown’s, Should Women Lead Churches and Preach?

Recently a friend sent me a link to Mark Keown’s blog post “Should Women Lead Churches and Preach?”

In general, Mark’s post didn’t state anything significantly new and revolutionary in the world of egalitarian/complementarian debates. What he writes, for the most part, has been stated by many others who hold an egalitarian view.

Let me state at the outset there are many who would use the term complementarian to describe themselves who are really patriarchy and from whom I would have no fellowship. They say stupid things about what the Bible supposedly claims about woman, the home, the church and society. Their views and practices are unbiblical and harmful.

However, Mark’s post is very unhelpful as well. For, at least three reasons.

  • Due to his lack of reference to and interaction with the best of complementarian representatives, one could sadly conclude that Mark’s arguments here have never been addressed from Scripture by anyone and therefore you’d be an idiot to think differently than he does. I know it is only a blog post. Yet, one should, at least show an awareness of the literature and give some indication that there are Christians who love Jesus, the Bible and woman who have come to different conclusions.

Here are just a few examples of excellent books which address every argument raised in Mark’s post:

Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian : A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate

Different by Design : God’s Blueprint for Men and Women

God’s Good Design : What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women

Notice the above three books are all written by woman, each solidly exegetical, each familiar with the historical arguments and current debates.

Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (a collection of essays, one written by a female scholar)

Here are a few items written by the husband/wife duo of Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger:

God, Marriage, and Family : Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation

God’s Design for Man and Woman : A Biblical-Theological Survey

Women in the Church : An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

Jesus and the Feminists : Who Do They Say That He Is?

Notice that none of the above authors, as far as I am aware, are connected to CBMW. I say that simply to point out that there are solid, robust, complementarian authors and scholars from a variety of sources. I haven’t even included Amiee Byrd and Carl Trueman, who are both complementarian, yet who stirred up a hornet’s nest last year in critiquing CBMW and others in how they often defend their complementarian views.

  • Mark makes this statement near the beginning of his post, “However, for women who are called to ministry, this is essential to their identity in Christ, and it cannot be treated as a secondary issue. It is a primary issue where Christian identity is concerned.”

I find this statement concerning on a number of levels which have nothing to do with gender.

As a Christian my identity is in Christ. It’s not in my vocation, my role as husband, father, etc.

As someone in full-time Christian ministry it is critical that they never begin to think that their identity is tied up in their ministry or their ministerial role.

For someone training future ministers it would be critical to constantly remind them of this. To send anyone out into ministry where they are thinking that their ministry or ministerial role is where they find their identity is to set them up for great disappointment, frustration, and failure.

  • In the last few sentences, just before Mark’s concluding paragraph he makes the following statement, “We may be standing in the way of the Spirit if we block women from ministry. We may be like the Pharisees who thought Jesus was ministering under the power of Satan. Jesus warned them that a sin against the Spirit is the ultimate sin for which there is no forgiveness. That is worth thinking about.”

To give credit where credit is due, this is certainly an original contribution, as far as I am aware, in the whole egalitarian/complementarian debate.

Essentially all of the authors above, and everyone who has ever been a part of Jesus’ church who place some limits on when and how woman can serve in the church may be guilty of the “unpardonable sin”! Wow!

I’ve read some strong statements by both egalitarian and complementarian authors before. I’ve read statements by complementarians that embarrass me. I’ve never read anywhere such an unfounded and frankly ridiculous statement by contributors to this debate on either side.

There is no possible way one can defend this conclusion exegetically. If one handles such an important part of the Gospel’s teaching – “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” – with such a casual and indefensible approach, why on earth should anyone listen to how they handle the rest of Scripture?

To be frank, Mark, suggesting that brothers and sisters in Christ whom you disagree with as potentially guilty of committing the “unpardonable sin” is a serious matter. I obviously have quibbles with the rest of your post, but this kind of statement is beyond excuse. I would beg you to reconsider your words.


A Minister’s Burden by John Newton

This is my favourite John Newton poem…

A Minister’s Burden
(John Newton)

What contradictions meet
In ministers’ employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace.

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?

The Savior’s dying love,
The soul’s amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray and strive, the rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners’ hearts.

If some small hope appears,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived.
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

On what has now been sown,
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.

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Posted by on 10/03/2017 in Current Issues


Luke (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament) by Alan Thompson

A friend just notified me of the release of his new book as part of the excellent “Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament” series.
If you are a student or pastor this volume will be extremely helpful.
“In line with the vision of Murray J. Harris, who originated the EGGNT series, Alan Thompson’s fine volume on Luke succinctly provides judicious explanation of the Greek syntax, structure, grammatical options, the flow of the argument, and more. This volume will be a gold mine for students and pastors alike who are keeping up their Greek while studying this Gospel closely. Highly recommended.”

—D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and president, The Gospel Coalition

“Luke is the longest gospel in Scripture and getting good grammatical help for his inspired work can be hard. That is no longer the case. Luke’s Gospel in the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series by Alan Thompson provides a series of careful observations about the Greek that can help you negotiate the terrain. A wonderful tool.”

– Darrell L. Bock, executive director of cultural engagement, Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement and senior research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

Purchase from Book Depository or Amazon
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Posted by on 04/03/2017 in Current Issues


A Wedding Sermon for an Arranged Marriage

On Saturday morning, 25 February 2017 I had the wonderful privilege to preaching at the wedding ceremony for a lovely Indian/New Zealand girl we’ve known or nearly 9 years and her husband, also from India. This was a glorious, Christian, arranged marriage.

Here is what I said…

“The Big Picture”: A Covenant 

It is a tremendous privilege to be here today and to participate in this beautiful wedding ceremony. We’ve been blessed to know XX and the YY family for about nine years, I think. Their friendship has been a blessing to us in many ways over these years, but nothing really compares to the honour of our being here today and being a part of this wedding.

I just met ZZ Tuesday! Yet, I’ve heard about him, obviously for several months. I am compelled to give thanks to the Lord for His marvellous grace in bringing these two young people together.

And who can’t stand in amazement at this scene. An Irishman and an American serving together to perform the wedding ceremony of a young Indian couple in New Zealand! Go figure. If the family of God isn’t amazing, I don’t know what is!

I now have the awesome privilege or speaking to all of us from God’s Word on this wonderful institution of marriage. Marriage, of course, was God’s idea. The Bible begins with a marriage (between Adam and Eve) and ends with a marriage (between Christ and His bride – the Church). So it would make sense for us to look into God’s Word to see His good purposes for this wonderful part of His creation. There are many places in God’s word where we find clear precepts on the role of a husband, the role of a wife and the purpose of marriage. The Song of Solomon is an entire book dedicated to the marriage relationship.

However I want to think together of the “big picture,” what it is that essentially makes a marriage a marriage.

This is vitally important for this generation. We now live in a world, at least in the West, where one of the most radical and countercultural actions a person can undertake is to stand publically and declare that marriage is between one man and one woman for one lifetime.

Perhaps for some, considering this together for the next few minutes will be particularly helpful because of the background to this particular marriage. As, I assume all of you here are aware, this is an arranged marriage. For most who come from a Western culture this is very unusual. Even for some from an Indian culture this is perhaps seen as a leftover from a more backward generation.

In India there is even another term, “Love Marriage” to describe kind of the opposite of an “Arranged Marriage”. I find that interesting and telling. The term “Love Marriage”, though Indian, accurately describes Western culture’s understanding of the basis of marriage – love. This has formed the basis over the last three generations in the West to argue for the acceptance of everything from easy divorce, to same-sex marriage, to cohabitation, and everything in between. Love is preached as the foundation on which marriage is built.

But is it? This is a Christian wedding. We are committed, this couple is committed, to understanding all of life through the lens of God’s Word. What does God say is the foundation of and basis for marriage. Let me suggest, once we understand that, everything changes! More than that, this particular marriage, in my opinion becomes seriously cool!

Ephesians 5:22-33:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

30 because we are members of his body.

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The image God uses to describe and define a marriage is a covenant. This is so often overlooked and yet so very essential in understanding God’s purpose and design for marriage.

Tim Keller has written:

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances. What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows.

When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)

I find that quote quite amazing coming from man who pastors in the West – perhaps one could argue the most Western of Western cities, New York City.

It is actually quite refreshing to consider how an arranged marriage doesn’t have a lot of the cultural entrapments he is speaking about here that generally accompany Western practices of dating, engagement, etc.

Marriage, biblically, isn’t about love or based on love – certainly not love as it is generally understood by our Western culture.

At the same time, can I speak to you as a Westerner? Each culture has its own entrapments. Those aspects of the culture which, in the best of cases, are not necessarily bad but when not filtered through Scripture can blind us towards God’s good purposes for us.

Consider Paul’s amazing words in Ephesians 5:31-33:

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Notice marriage isn’t about pleasing your parents or church leaders or to conform to any other cultural norms or expectations anymore than marriage is about some weak cultural version of love.

Quite startling and shocking really, to any culture – marriage isn’t really primarily about us at all!

My marriage, understood biblically, isn’t primarily about me or my wife. This marriage today isn’t primarily about XX or ZZ, or their parents, or their church leaders, or anyone else’s expectations.

The truth is any of those things, though in and of themselves mostly good, are all too small of a thing for marriage to picture. You see that’s just it, marriage is a picture. A picture points to something greater than itself.

No one who has seen a picture of the Taj Mahal goes there in real life and expects to see something less amazing than the photo. No one who has seen a picture of New Zealand’s Southern Alps goes a tour of the South Island expecting to see something rather drab and boring.

Of course not, that would be nonsense. The picture though beautiful is nothing compared to the thing it represents and points to.

This is even more true for this beautiful thing called marriage. Created by God, according to Paul from Creation itself (in Ephesians 5:31 he quotes Genesis 2), to be a picture of something even more beautiful and amazing! And the thing more beautiful and amazing isn’t our love or a child pleasing their parents or a couple submitting to their church or any of those things which may be aspects of our individual cultures but not ultimately big enough for the glory that marriage is meant to display for the watching world.

Why is this the case? Why is marriage, according to God more about the covenant and less about each of you individually or your collected needs being met?

God has designed marriage to be about something else. To be about someone else. It is designed by God to picture the covenantal relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Here are another author’s comments on this passage:

“Unbeknownst to the people of Moses’ day (it was a mystery), marriage was designed by God from the beginning to be a picture or parable of the relationship between Christ and the church. Back when God was planning what marriage would be like, He planned it for this great purpose: it would give a beautiful earthly picture of the relationship that would someday come about between Christ and His church. This was not known to people for many generations, and that is why Paul can call it a “mystery”. But now in the NT age Paul reveals this mystery, and it is amazing… This means that when Paul wanted to tell the Ephesians about marriage, he did not just hunt around for a helpful analogy and suddenly think that “Christ and the church” might be a good teaching illustration. No, it was much more fundamental than that: Paul saw that when God designed the original marriage, He already had Christ and the church in mind. This is one of God’s great purposes in marriage: to picture the relationship between Christ and His redeemed people forever.” (George Knight, Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

This is why our marriages are founded on a covenant sealed with vows – a promise.

Christ’s covenant with his bride is not based on performance. He does not commit to loving us only as long as we meet His needs or perform up to His standard. He as covenanted Himself to us despite our sin, in spite of our failings. His love for us is rooted in His promise of faithfulness.

Similarly, God calls us to image this covenant in our covenant of marriage. Our marriage must be based on, founded on our covenant of promise. It cannot be based on emotional sentimentality, the other person’s performance, or our needs getting met.

Emotions, needs, performance, etc. will all change. They will come and go. What will sustain, maintain, and provided the soil for everything else to grow in our marriages is the covenant.

Hear John Piper’s words on this:

“Marriage was designed from the beginning to display the new covenant between Christ and the church… The very essence of this new covenant is that Christ passes over the sins of his bride. His bride is free from shame not because she is perfect, but because she has no fear that her lover will condemn her or shame her because of her sin. The foundation of covenant keeping love between a man and a woman is the unbroken covenant between them and God – God governing them for their good and they enjoying him in that security and relying on him.” (Piper, John. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009, pgs. 33-35.)

Here’s the hope in this…

The same Gospel that unites us in covenant to Christ and makes us part of His bride; the same Gospel our marriages are to picture, is the same Gospel that enables us to keep our promise and find joy in our covenant.

Because your sins are forgiven in Christ, because you have confessed your sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation you know what it is like to receive covenant love. Love and forgiveness offered freely.

Therefore, in Christ you can offer free covenant love and forgiveness towards each other.

Hear again the words of Tim Keller on this:

“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us…

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is. . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)

You see, the gospel tells us and reminds us that the thing which is essential for a successful marriage is totally different than anything our, or any culture, will tell us – forgiveness.

ZZ and XX are here today to declare to all of us that they have both individually placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. They both came to a specific place in their lives when they understood they were sinners and destined to spend eternity in a real place called Hell forever.

The parallel is unavoidable. Just as it is impossible to avoid Hell and to spend eternity in heaven without God’s forgiveness of our sins that Christ’s death provides; it is impossible to navigate through the maze of marriage and a life together in marital unity without the giving of and the seeking of forgiveness from one another. The gospel makes it possible to live this out within the covenant of marriage.

Today we are celebrating the union of ZZ and XX in marriage. We are also rejoicing in the eternal forgiveness of their sins, and the hope of forgiveness within their marriage that this forgiveness in Christ provides.

I know that today the thing that would bring ZZ and XX the most joy would not be receiving some gift from you. Rather, if you are here and you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, if you have not asked for and received His forgiveness for your sins; they would receive the greatest joy in knowing that you have received the free gift that is available to all who will receive it.

Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”


Posted by on 25/02/2017 in Current Issues


New Zealand Health Select Committee on Euthanasia

This Friday, 28 October 2016, the Health Select Committee on Euthanasia will receive verbal submissions from the public in Christchurch.

This is the next step in a process which began last year with written submissions where individuals were able to tick a box indicating their willingness to also speak before the Health Select Committee.

Each person who speaks before the committee is given five minutes. In my five minutes I intend to say the following:

I want to thank the committee for this opportunity to speak in opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia in New Zealand. 

I want to thank the committee for this opportunity to speak in opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia in New Zealand. 

Post-Hippocratic World

People are to be valued vs. Utilitarianism

For over 2,000 years of human history medical professionals across the world, spanning diverse cultures pledged themselves to some version of the Hippocratic Oath. This ancient code reads, in part:

“I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgement, and I will do no harm or injustice to them.

I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

In purity and according to divine law will I carry out my life and my art.”[1]

With the advent of the field of bioethics, a very modern area of study, along with numerous other seismic shifts in Western culture we now live in a post- Hippocratic world. Utilitarianism rules the day.

Human beings are no longer universally valued as having inherent dignity and worth. They are seen has having value only in relation to their perceived, relative contribution to society.

This current debate on Euthanasia is not happening in a vacuum. We have arrived at this point due to the slow erosion of society’s conscience where people are only people if others conclude they offer something of value.

The façade of Governmental regulations

Promises and intentions vs. Reality

Our Government bodies are not immune to this utilitarian thinking. Decisions are made based on values determined by economics and social Darwinian ethics.

We are presented with a façade built of promises and intentions to guarantee close scrutiny and ensure no abuse will take place. The very idea that some can publicly discuss the idea of helping someone kill themselves and this is considered as potentially helpful to society is deeply troubling.

Yet, we are not left to our imaginations or even supposed “slippery slope” arguments to suggest this is something which no amount of government regulation can control. There isn’t a single example in human history where the door to Assisted Suicide has been opened upon a society and that same government which opened the door is capable of keeping it opened “only so far and no more.”

When the door was opened upon Germany and Austria it took a war to close it again!

We see today in Holland and Belgium where all the promises of government regulation lead. It is now legal to euthanise a child of any age in Belgium. The Groningen University Medical Centre in Holland has developed a three step protocol which has been published without criticism in the New England Journal of Medicine providing a simple process whereby a doctor can determine after a safe, live birth whether a child’s life should be terminated with impunity.[2]

Social Hypocrisy

Suicide prevention vs. Assisted Suicide

Finally, the social hypocrisy in New Zealand is palatable. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen, almost daily, articles and media releases regarding the staggering suicide statistics in New Zealand – Canterbury ranks at the top.

With this there is a great outcry and concern for those who are suffering and would consider the tragic step of ending their own life. I applaud this outcry. As a family who has been directly affected by suicide I long to see those who are at such a place receive the help and assistance they need.

At the same time the public debate of these two issues is equally staggering. What is the intended outcome?

If you are considering suicide are to call an 0800 helpline and in doing so will you hear something like, “If you are contemplating taking you own life, please press #1 for help. If you would like assistance in taking your life, please press #2 for the number of a local clinic which will prescribe an end of life treatment. Thank you for calling.”

The time is past for us as a culture and society to stop talking about people, image bearers of God as commodities. Objects that can be assigned value based on any criteria other than the fact they are fully human.

The time is past for us to stop insulting the countless palliative care doctors and nurses who tirelessly care for those precious members of our society, who are dying, to ensure their value and dignity is never compromised by labelling the sanctioned killing of others as “death with dignity”.

You who serve in public office have an obligation to represent and use your voice to defend the most vulnerable.

I pray you will.



I highly recommend the following book:

Smith, Wesley J. Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. San Francisco, Calif: Encounter Books, 2016.

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Posted by on 24/10/2016 in Current Issues


Imago Dei: How the “doctrine of man” is being undermined today and why it matters

Recently I presented a seminar on this topic at the 2016 SI Stand for the Gospel Conference. This Saturday I will present, essentially the same seminar, at a conference in Christchurch called “Confident Christianity“.

I’m providing a link here to a handout that I will use and others might find helpful.

Imago Dei: How the “doctrine of man” is being undermined today and why it matters

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Posted by on 04/05/2016 in Current Issues


2016 Reading Plan

Over the past several years I have selected a larger series or several larger volumes to read slowly through the year. Items that I probably wouldn’t just sit down and read otherwise.

For 2016 I plan to read the following volumes:

  1. The Church of Christ : A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline and Government of the Christian Church (I have about 600 pages still to read from 2015).
  2. The King in His Beauty : A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (700+ pages)
  3. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (800+ pages)

About 40 pages per day, five days a week, for 10 months (Feb-Nov) should get me through these volumes. 🙂

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Posted by on 01/02/2016 in Current Issues

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