A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Ryan Speck
I am reformed. Therefore, I naturally value and take seriously the call to reform my views to what the Bible actually teaches on any subject. I have been challenged often enough in my life to realize some of my views have grown out of human traditions arising from worldly culture, not from the Bible. Certainly, Aimee Byrd’s book challenges readers to examine their views regarding masculinity and femininity. Byrd raises questions such as: Are your views culturally ingrained or Biblically based? Do you have an improper view of women, their value, and critical contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ? Do men in church leadership oppress or suppress the contribution of women in the Church? Are women free to minister and lead according to God’s call upon their lives? These are all valuable questions that Byrd raises—questions that deserve Biblical answers.
Unfortunately, Byrd does not provide orthodox Biblical answers to these questions. Instead, she generally asks leading questions, which she answers upon very shaky grounds. For example, she asks whether “men and women benefit equally from God’s Word” (p. 41)—a question that seems to run as a thread throughout her work. Such a question assumes a premise, and if you agree simply to answer her question (instead of challenging the question itself), then you concede the premise. In fact, according to Byrd: “Everyone would answer, ‘Of course we do!’” (p. 41). According to Byrd, then, everyone must validate the premise she has assumed by asking this question. Yet, what exactly is the premise of the question? I think it is something like this: Since men and women are equally intelligent and capable, then men and women can equally understand the Word of God. Since men and women can understand the Word of God equally, men and women should equally teach one another their insights into the Word of God.
Yet, understanding the Word of God is not simply a function of intelligence and diligence. The Word is spiritually discerned (e.g., 1 Corinthians 2:14). The Spirit of God provides insight into the Word, and He gives greater and lesser insight into the Word of God as He sees fit. The Spirit of God is not obligated to give men and women equal understanding of the Word of God. In fact, God has called husbands to lead their wives in understanding the Word of God (e.g., Ephesians 5:24-27; 1 Corinthians 14:35), and He has called male pastors and elders to lead their congregations in understanding the Word of God (e.g., Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). If God has called these men to this work, will He not equip them to fulfill this role? Will He not give them His Spirit to understand His Word in order to lead those under their authority to understand as well? The world of interpretation is not divided by the sexes, and understanding is not simply a function of intelligence and study. The Lord grants insights by His Spirit to those He has called to lead in teaching His Word. Those leaders are men. Not all men are called to lead in this way—and not all men are called to lead all women—but all who are called to lead in this way are men. Further, every Godly woman is under the authority of specific men with regard to understanding the Word of God. If you are a Christian woman who is obeying the Word of God, for example, you will be attending a church, and you will be under the authority of male leaders called and equipped by God to teach you the Word of God. These leaders should understand the Word better than you because the Spirit has equipped them to do so in order to minister to you. If they do not, there is a real problem. The answer to that problem is not, however, to acknowledge women as coactive laborers in the Word ministry.
Now, certainly, the Spirit gives insight into the Word as He wills. Certainly, therefore, illumined by the Spirit, women can have greater insight into the Word of God than men. That is the Spirit’s sovereign prerogative. However, since the Spirit authorizes and equips men to lead households and churches, we rightly anticipate that He will grant husbands, fathers, and church officers greater insight into the Word in order that they may humbly minister the truth to their household or congregation. When He does not, it is an anomaly. When the Spirit grants deeper insight to a wife, a mother, or a female congregant (or male congregant, for that matter) than to their male leaders—He will have a good reason for this anomaly. However, the premise of Byrd’s question (whether men and women equally benefit from the Word) does not account for the work of the Spirit; it only divides the world according to sex, demanding we grant that men and women equally benefit from the Word (which leads to equality in teaching that Word). I do not believe, therefore, that Byrd has especially profound insight into the Scriptural teaching on this doctrine.
In fact, throughout this book, Byrd frames the questions and discussions upon very shaky, even false premises that, if implicitly accepted, slant the reader away from the Biblical truth. She seems ever to be asking and answering the wrong questions, which, if we validate (by agreeing to answer “yes” or “no” with her), we assume her premises and are led down her paths. Yet, where do those paths lead? Does she lead us into the real Biblical truth about womanhood and manhood? Does she peel away the wallpaper of male traditions that are not Biblically based? No, I think not. Rather, the more I read her book and researched the matter, the more questionable I found her arguments and conclusions to be.
First, consider how Byrd handles the arguments of her opponents. When Byrd describes the alleged un-Biblical positions against which she argues, for example, she does not cite the original sources but characterizes (or caricatures?) their positions. Consider how she characterizes their positions as contrasted with their own words:
- Byrd, p. 22, “. . . if a mailman comes to the door and a woman answers, he needs to be thinking about how his leadership is affirmed as a man in their interaction.” What the cited source actually says: “The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way the husband will, but he will be a man” (https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-women-be-police-officers, accessed 9-12-20 (1:57-2:02).
- Byrd, p. 22, “Or if a man is lost driving in a neighborhood and the only person he can find outside is a woman, the book considers how he can ask for directions from her without his masculinity suffering.” Actual quote: “For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised” (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. Piper and Grudem, p. 50).
- Byrd, p. 105, after citing The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s definitions of masculinity and femininity: “Nowhere does Scripture state that all women submit to all men.” What are those definitions? Here, Byrd actually quotes them for us: “‘At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships’” (pp. 104-105). However deficient you might consider their definitions, they are not arguing that all women submit to all men, as far as I can tell. Rather, they even doubly qualify the statement, noting women rightly receive leadership from “worthy men” according to “differing relationships.” Do they insist all women submit to all men? They never said that; only Byrd said that.
Simply from these above citations, do you believe she has fairly characterized her opponents? Further, consider that the first two references I note above consist of brief quotes, which I have supplied. Why did she not quote the original arguments, instead of interpreting them for the reader? It is one thing for an author to quote her opponents, then to exposit her understanding of those citations. However, it is quite different for an author to cite her opponents’ arguments simply by characterizing them according to her own highly questionable interpretation. Unless readers do the work of digging up every one of her references, they would tend to accept her interpretation at face value and become indignant alongside her, aghast at the obvious folly of her opponents! Yet, perhaps, upon further consideration, readers will find their indignation to be hollow and vain because Byrd has caricatured her opponents. Such a manner of dealing with one’s opponents does not engender trust in her work.
Second, Byrd misinterprets Biblical passages referring to women’s roles in the church. In presenting her case for women to have leadership and teachings roles in the church, Byrd cites a variety of women: Huldah, Ruth, Shiphrah and Puah, Achsah, Deborah, Phoebe, Lydia, etc. Yet, I found her interpretation of the role of these women to be quite false at points. For example, Byrd argued that Huldah “‘was arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah . . .’” (p. 46). Huldah had authority to grant authority to God’s Word?! Huldah had authority over God’s Word, then? This teaching fits into Roman Catholicism, perhaps, but not into Protestant doctrine. Truly, this is a shocking statement and exposes profound ignorance in Byrd’s view of the Bible. No person grants “authoritative status” to God’s Word. As the Confessional Standard of her own denomination makes clear, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1.4). We humbly receive the Word as authoritative; we do not grant authoritative status to God’s Word.
At the same time, it is true that Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; cf. 2 Chronicles 34:22) gives complementarians pause, demanding that we consider how and why God would grant Huldah the role of prophet—not the male leaders available in that day. Certainly, a female prophet was not the norm but an anomaly. So, why would Josiah go to a prophetess? Byrd herself has made clear how male-dominated Jewish culture was—to the point of despising women, refusing even to let women learn the Bible, much less proclaim prophetic truths. Yet, here is a king going to a woman, whom God has provided. Why? Josiah has just re-discovered the Bible (in the process of renovating the Temple). The Word has been read to him, and he now realizes how fiercely God’s wrath must burn against Israel! Immediately, he longs to know what God has to say to Israel. Going to Huldah, then, emphasizes his humility and the genuineness of his repentance. If God provides a woman prophet (an anomaly and easily despised by Israel), Josiah’s people will go to her! Perhaps, then, one lesson for male leaders from Huldah is this: If the Spirit gives any woman insight into the Scriptures, we must hear and receive the truth from her (not despising her as a “subordinate”). For example, I have been rightly rebuked by my wife many times. Likewise, women in the church where I minister have rebuked me also, bringing me to repentance so that I confess to my sisters in Christ how I have sinned and ask for their forgiveness. Yet, however you interpret and apply the lesson of the prophetess Huldah, it is certainly outside of orthodoxy to interpret and apply the work Huldah as Byrd does. Byrd does not rightly teach God’s Word here. Byrd is no Huldah.
In another example, Byrd is not content to make Phoebe a deaconess, but Phoebe becomes the official expositor of the book of Romans (p. 147). Likewise, Byrd considers Junia to be an apostle, which means it is wise to have “a coed team of apostles” planting churches (p. 227). Frankly, Byrd’s handling of Scripture is not trustworthy, is not sound.
Third, what is conspicuously absent from her book is any discussion of some of the clearest passages in Scripture that declare God’s view on the inter-relationship of men and women in terms of authority and submission (particularly in marriage and in the Church). You will search in vain for a discussion of wives submitting to their husbands; no, these passages are not referenced (e.g., Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18). What does Byrd make of 1 Timothy 2:11-15? You will search the book in vain to find out. It is simply astonishing that some of the most pointed passages on the very subject Byrd addresses are simply missing. No, rather, Byrd picks and chooses bits of Biblical evidence that she patches together into a slanted view of Biblical manhood and womanhood.
When Byrd does address a clear passage (a rarity), her conclusions are, frankly, at times baffling. For example, when discussing 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Byrd concludes that this prohibition (against women speaking in church, calling wives to ask their husbands at home instead) essentially refers to a non-gender specific principle “‘of silence and respect shown when another person is speaking’” (p. 198). I suppose, then, that confused men should also ask their wives at home? Is it “shameful” for men to speak in church also, then (1 Corinthians 14:35)? Should we turn the Biblical statement on its head? Perhaps 1 Timothy 2:11-15 could shed more light on the matter, as it drives the principle of women remaining silent in church back to God’s creation order. However, for Byrd, apparently, the creation of man and woman did not establish a hierarchy of authority in marriage and the church. For, according to Byrd, God made the woman to be a “necessary ally,” not really a “helper” (p. 188). Again, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 figures into this discussion, but Byrd doesn’t touch that passage. I can understand why; it doesn’t fit her narrative.
In fact, perhaps we should not even be looking to the Bible to tell us how to be men or women? “There are no exhortations in Scripture for men to be masculine and women to be feminine” (p. 111). “I simply am feminine because I am female” (p. 114). Apparently, then, God’s command for women not to wear men’s clothing and vice-versa is nonsensical (e.g., Deuteronomy 22:5)? After all, what I wear is masculine because I am male. Likewise, let us extend the argument: What I do is Christian because I am a Christian. No need for the Bible to teach me what it means to be a Christian, then.
What does Byrd desire to accomplish by this book? What is her goal? What is it that she wants women in the Church to be free to do—what male oppression does she intend to peel away? Apparently, she would have women leading in church planting (forming a group of coed apostles is wise in her eyes, pp. 192, 226-227). She would have women teaching mixed-gender theology classes, since “active traditioning in testifying to and passing down the faith” is “a coed endeavor” (p.70; cf. pp. 173-174). She would have women writing commentaries and study Bibles for men (pp. 40-41). She would have women leading in public Scripture reading and prayer (p. 232). She desires that women should be on boards of parachurch organizations and keynote speakers at their conferences (p. 161). Etc. Her driving concern appears to be for women to take leadership roles in teaching God’s Word. After all, don’t men and women benefit equally from the Word of God?
Aimee Byrd attempts to assume a prophetic role over against the church, especially against its leadership (p. 19). If the church would but listen to her, especially the leaders, the church could tear off the wallpaper (her metaphor) and move into a healthy space, where previously oppressed women would happily take their proper, prominent leadership and teaching role. It is important to note, however, that God raises up prophets at critical times in the life of His Church—times when gross immorality reigns. One wonders why God would raise up a prophetess today in order to declare to His Church the need to promote and advance the authority and power of women? Is that, truly, the Church’s grievous sin today? Is inequality between the sexes the rampant immorality found in the church today? Or, perhaps, in an age when socialistic class struggle predominates the landscape (where one oppressed class is set in opposition to the historically empowered class to create or deepen division), a book commanding the church to consider the class of women over against the class of men is not so much prophetic and boldly fighting against the current of the age as it is persistently pushing us into it.
Someone might object: Is that what she really does in this book, though? Isn’t that an unfair critique? Consider the primary question running through the book, namely, Do men and women equally benefit from the Bible? Have you ever thought in those terms, dividing men and women into separate groups and asking whether both groups are equally benefitting from the Bible? Or, consider her use of gynocentric interruptions—what she calls female speakers interrupting “the dominant male focused” Scripture (p. 43). Have you ever thought of female voices in the Scriptures in those terms—as women interrupting men? Why would we think in these terms—unless we were determined to divide classes of people and set men against women un-necessarily?
If you want an aggressive challenge to the orthodox view of manhood and womanhood, read this book. Byrd will challenge your orthodox views.
Buy the books
RECOVERING FROM BIBLICAL MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD: HOW THE CHURCH NEEDS TO REDISCOVER HER PURPOSE, by Aimee Byrd