A Quick Response to Jonathan Leeman image

A Quick Response to Jonathan Leeman

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Following my debate with John Piper and Tom Schreiner about preaching sermons, Jonathan Leeman has just posted a fascinating piece on the subject over at 9Marks. Essentially, he argues that the distinction drawn by me, Tim Keller and John Frame - big-T versus little-t teaching (me), authoritative versus non-authoritative teaching (Keller), special versus general teaching (Frame) - is consistent with a Presbyterian view of church government, but not with a congregationalist one. So congregationalists really shouldn't use it.

Now: I’m neither a congregationalist nor a Presbyterian, nor the son of either, and I don’t use the word “keys” anything like as often as many American Christians. (Like almost all Newfrontiers churches that I know of, we see elders as carrying unique but not exclusive authority in the congregation for teaching and discipline, we reject congregational voting, and we regard ourselves as self-governing but not independent. Oh, and we only baptise believers.) So in many ways I don’t have an axe to grind here, and I’d be happy to grant Jonathan his central point: congregationalists shouldn’t use arguments that are inconsistent with their polity in order to defend a practice they like. Fair enough.

The problem is, Jonathan writes as if the very distinction between two types of teaching within a church meeting (call them big-T and little-t, special and general, authoritative and not, or whatever) is itself inconsistent with congregationalist polity. His argument, I think, is that the only distinction between big-T and little-t is one of context: gathered church meetings are big-T, and everything else is little-t. This puts him at odds, not just with me, Keller and Frame, but also with Piper and Schreiner, who both distinguish (although admittedly in different ways) between the kinds of teaching everyone can do, and the kinds of teaching only some can do, when Christians are gathered together (as per Schreiner’s comments on 1 Cor 14:26 and co).

More problematically, Jonathan’s view that all teaching in Sunday gatherings is restricted to men means he has serious difficulties with a text like 1 Corinthians 14:26 (cf. Rom 12:7; Col 3:16; Heb 5:12), in which teaching is seen as one of many gifts to be used by anyone in the context of a gathered church meeting. As I see it, this is something of a smoking gun text for his “big-T is gathered, little-t is scattered” view, since the text explicitly says it is talking about those times “when you come together ...” (I’d be fascinated to hear how Jonathan reads the whole of 1 Corinthians 11-14 in this respect, in such a way as to preserve his view that all teaching in a church meeting is restricted to men.) Put simply, if you don’t see a big-T versus little-t distinction, you either have to restrict all teaching in gathered meetings, despite 1 Corinthians 14:26 and others (as Jonathan apparently does), or restrict none, despite 1 Timothy 2:12 and others (as egalitarians do). Sticky.

Obviously, the nature of that big-T versus little-t distinction, assuming it’s there, can be (and has been) understood in subtly different ways. From the discussions I’ve been part of in the last few weeks, I can see differences between the ways John Piper does it, Tom Schreiner does it, Tim Keller does it and I do it, and I’m not claiming that the fact such a distinction exists means that my explication of it is the right one. (I laid out the options I’m aware of in this post, although there may be others.) But exist it does, and we cannot understand the Pauline material, never mind the rest of the New Testament, without it. Some types of teaching are open to everyone in a Christian meeting, and some aren’t.

But again, as I’ve said before, don’t take my word for it. I’m only blogging, not Blogging.

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