I finally sat down to read Aimee Byrd’s book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood today (birthday present). You may recall that a few weeks back I had written in defence of Aimee following some rather unpleasant goings on in an online facebook group. Well I thought it was important to sit down and read the book to see exactly what the controversy was about.
The title is a play on the title of a multi-author work called “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem it was an attempt to respond to feminism. The basis of its argument was that the Bible presents men and women as equal in nature but having distinct roles (complementarianism). Properly speaking, complementarianism limits this to marriage and church so that husbands are “heads” and leadership is male but within the Biblical Manhood And Womanhood worldview this does seem to extend to a view among some that women are generally to submit to men. This is where Aimee takes issue. She sees women trivialised and the purpose of men and women generally to live to God’s glory subordinates to this sub goal. Aimee writes as a complementarian herself and given that some have responded to her criticisms by denying this, it is important to emphasise that there is no evidence in the book of her abandoning that position.
What the book is really doing is joining with “Worthy” by Fitpatrick and Schumacher to reset the dial a little. It starts with a Biblical survey with a page Turner story that introduces us to Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Junia, Phoebe and many more women. The aim at this stage is simply to show us that the Bible is a book for everyone that should be read properly and doesn’t need special men’s and women’s versions to help us do so.
Then she takes time to engage with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in areas where she thinks they have gone astray placing their own statements above Gospel and Scriptural priorities.
Finally she makes an appeal for a reoeientation towards healthy church life. In reality there should be little controversial here. She is not calling for women’s ordination. She has strong words for our over reliance on the parachurch. She wants to see men and women properly taught and discipled in their local churches. She envisions a priesthood of all believers that does not descend into individualism. At this stage I would be hearing some hearty amends. Indeed this is a book to enjoy.
Further, those seeking to colour Aimee as some friend of radical feminism, a gateway drug to egalitarianism have misjudged her. Indeed I would advise to my egalitarian friends not to read this book looking for an ally. However do read it with an open mind to there being another option to choose from if you want to value both mem and women in God’s family in a Scripture honouring way.
I have one quibble and one serious disagreement to offer. The quibble is that she writes from a context that distinguishes laity from clergy so those of us from non clerical traditions will have to do some re-contextualising.
My main disagreement is over her bug-bear with the ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) controversy. Why? Well I think she has been quick to write off a carefully researched and argued theological view as unorthodox. I have explained elsewhere why ESS although having a number of problems including its clumsy unhelpful label is well within orthodoxy and indeed more helpful to our understanding of the Trinity than some other modern takes. Indeed I would suggest that the image of the Son as equal with the father but willingly submitting is potentially a helpful guard against some of the excesses of hierarchialism. I feel at this point in the book her engagement lacks both the care and indeed charitable approach we see elsewhere in it.
However overall I found her to be persuasive in her main argument. I may be biased here as I argued in my own MTh dissertation that some of the CBMW arguments seemed more rooted in a particular time and geographically framed culture than in either Scripture or historical reality.
We need to engage with people like Aimee, to listen and learn from her and to reflect on the questions we raise. One does not need to agree with all (or indeed any) of her conclusions to respect and engage with the contribution she is making to a helpful debate.
As part of being informed by the debate, do go back and read the original book edited by Piper and Grudem. It may have its problems but there are also a lot of useful gems in it as Byrd acknowledges.
I would encourage you to read this alongside “Worthy.”