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Posts Tagged ‘CBMW’


Some of you thought this would never end. But all things, good and bad, come to an end this side of the eschaton. Then everything, good and bad, will be eternal.

This will cover the last chapter and some final thoughts concerning Aimee Byrd’s recent and controversial book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are going to peel back the yellow wall paper one last time. The final chapter is called When Paul Passes Phoebe the Baton.

As you can likely tell from that title, Byrd returns to Phoebe and Paul’s commendation of her to the church in Rome. She draws on James Montgomery Boice to say that she likely had traveling companions since it was generally unsafe for women to travel alone in the ancient world. Paul is wanting to identify the courier of the epistle: Phoebe.

Interestingly she also notes that Paul may have taken quite some time to write the letter, perhaps having rough drafts, editing, dictation and so forth. She depends on E. Randolph Richards book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. I was surprised that someone wrote a book on such a niche subject, but I shouldn’t be I suppose. This seems to overly stress the human authorship and minimize (at best) the divine authorship. I don’t generally conceive of the Holy Spirit needing Paul to edit and utilize rough drafts. But this is a rabbit trail since the Spirit is not super-intending this blog post.

Sacred Siblingship

Byrd gets this phraseology from Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society. Her arguments are based on Reidar Aasgaard’s “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!” Christian Siblingship in Paul (again thinking people write about the oddest things). It was a powerful social institution. Siblings of the opposite sex could talk to one another in public, and show some affection prohibited to lovers. Paul uses this to reveal the type of bond Christians should have, a very counter-cultural bond. She explores some of the reasons for this bond in families. Sibling obligations were distinctive and yet fluid. “Factors such as age, gender, skill, and birth order all contributed to authority and responsibility both in the household and public spheres.” She notes that sisters often mediated between fathers and sons. The longest relationship you’d have in life was the sibling relationship.

Some of those calls were painful

Family was important to Jesus, but not more important than the Father and those spiritually united to him. Jesus did provide for his mother at his death. As we think of Phoebe, Paul is saying “she’s one of us!” not just someone paid to carry a letter for me. Byrd again returns to her theory that Phoebe was astute and full of theological vigor, capable of answering any questions like the old Ligonier phone room.

She makes much of the fact that a woman could carry the letter to Rome, and the theory she was there to answer questions too (meaning instructing them in what Paul means). In like fashion, Byrd introduces us to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s older sister Macrina. Belonging to a convent she was apparently theologically astute and Gregory indicates that she was influential in his life and theology.

“We see from Gregory’s writings that ‘women’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.”

Sisters can communicate God’s Word. This sister by blood and spirit taught her younger brothers, not only as children but as adults. They didn’t silence her as a mere woman. They valued her as a person and her input or ideas.

Then Byrd engages in “historical imagination” with Richard Bauckham regarding Junia also mentioned in Romans 16. I call it speculative, and the difference may or may not be more than semantic. There are translation/interpretative differences: she is either well known as an apostle (lower case, not the office) or well known by the Apostles. Chrysostom seems to indicate in his homily on this text that she was “worthy of the appellation of apostle!” She would be part of a church planting team sent out (hence apostles). PC(USA) author Kenneth Bailey seems to view her as an Apostle, at least of sorts, arguing she was witness to Jesus’ ministry (he seems to be reading our technical use back into the text). Bauckman gets more speculative in arguing that Junia is the Greek name for the Jewess Joanna who was married to Herod’s steward. As part of Herod’s court, she and her husband likely had connections in Rome, and perhaps were missionaries to Rome later.

I don’t want to get too detailed in this. The gist is that women were engaged in the church planting project. What role they played is uncertain. What is certain to me is that Byrd is confusing “apostles” with “Apostles”. She thinks that this speculation poses a problem for complementarian churches. I don’t think it does for me as a complementarian-in-search-of-a-new-name. As laypeople, some were sent to plant churches in accordance with the gospel of the Apostles (given to them by Jesus, obviously). The word in Greek is not used exclusively for the office. We must look at how it is used to see its meaning in a particular case. So, this doesn’t mean that women had authority and office. We do see that they provided resources and engaged in evangelism as well as discipleship. At times we clearly see women like Prisca alongside her husband working to disciple men. We do see women commissioned and sent onto the mission field, and this is a good thing.

Peel and Reveal

She’s calling us to evaluate our views and the practices of our congregations. She uses clutter blindness as an illustration. We become blind to the clutter around us (like in my office) after time passes. I discussed this with someone today: broken or misplaced items become normalized after about 30 days. So fix or put those things away in timely fashion.

We really can’t see the yellow wallpaper because we are so used to it. Evaluate the practices to be sure you aren’t just falling into a cultural trap (either egalitarian or patriarchical). This isn’t limited to issues of gender. There are many things that are cultural that can be mistaken for biblical mandate. We can be blind to the racial insensitivity or worse in our churches because it has been there for so long. She quotes Upton Sinclair as saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”.

Byrd notes there about 60 “one another” passages in the Scripture which include aspects of discipleship. These passages are second plural, and are not gendered. The people who fulfill them are gendered. And so we minister as a man or woman to a brother or sister, father or mother, or son or daughter.

“Siblingship is the very framework that will help us to uphold distinction without reduction. We have unique responsibilities and contributions to our sexes because women will never be brothers and men will never be sisters.”

She reminds us of the difference between tradition and traditionalism. She’s not wanting to get rid of tradition but traditionalism (I’m taking her at her word).

Summary Thoughts:

  • Haley Carruthers crossing the finish line in London (Business Insider)

    While she affirms male headship in the church (only male elders) she more assumes it than proves it. She refers to Genesis 2 in a footnote. There is no mention of Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 2-3.

  • At times she heavily depends on one source for pages at a time. Many of those oft repeated sources are egalitarian scholars. It can sound like idiosyncratic viewpoints that she has picked up rather commonly held and understood.
  • She brings up lots of material and concerns from other books of hers. The main new contribution is issues concerning the CBMW in terms of how they reduce masculinity and femininity to authority based on ESS. This is based on a Biblicist approach to understanding Scripture.
  • She also attacks their problematic process of trying to discern what women can and cannot do in a local church. I wish she was more clear about some of the practices that she thinks are cultural additions (traditionalism) but she seems to want us to think it through.
  • In terms of Jonathan Haidt’s social intuition theory, she doesn’t seem to address the elephant as much as the rider.
  • At times she is selective. For instance, she reminds us that Miriam led others in song after the parting of the Red Sea in judgment-salvation. Byrd does not mention that she led the women, and in the chorus that Moses had already been singing. As a result it sounds like overstating the case through the selectivity. I said this in less than a paragraph, so it doesn’t take long. She also left out that Miriam was struck with leprosy when she and Aaron complained about Moses marrying the Cushite woman.

This is a good book that brings up a variety of good points. At times it seems like she’s trying to do too much and so the reasoning isn’t as clear as I’d like.

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Recovering the Responsibility of Every Believer is the final section of Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Byrd has been addressing what is wrong, and why it is wrong. Now are her attempts to move the church forward. The first chapter asks the question: Is This the Way It Was Supposed to Be?

Byrd begins with wanting you to put yourself in Martha’s shoes with Jesus coming over for dinner. That Jesus was coming to their home was remarkable in itself. On the streets rabbis and women wouldn’t speak. Mishnah, Aboth 1:5 says: “The wise men say: ‘Who speaks much with a woman draws down misfortune on himself, neglects the words of the law, and finally earns hell.” In other words, not only was it not worth their time, but was seen as a detriment and to be avoided. Women were not part of theological conversations, or political ones.

Having Jesus over violated some of the cultural boundaries that had been established. Jesus didn’t seem to be bound by cultural boundaries; recognizing them for what they were, and were not. While there were no women Apostles, there were women contributing to his ministry and traveling with them at times. But for as bold as Martha was in inviting him over, she kept to the kitchen when Jesus came over. But Mary didn’t. This in a culture when there was opposition to teaching a woman Torah. Some rabbis would teach women enough Torah to know their place, but not all of the Torah. Jesus, on the other hand, told Martha that Mary had chosen the one thing necessary. It was necessary for her to sit and be taught by Jesus. She was a disciple, not merely an interested bystander. Mary, and Martha, had a vested interest in sitting at the feet of Jesus. Women were welcome!

Jesus’ involvement with women reveals that in His kingdom women mattered. He healed women, talked with them in public, and taught them. He traveled with them, and received support from them. This leads to some difficult questions because some churches seem to keep women are arm’s length or only in certain roles.

“Many churches thus limit, in ways they do not limit for laymen, the capacity for laywomen to learn deeply and to teach. … Are the laywomen disciples in your church serving in the same capacity as the laymen?”

Notice what she is saying there. She is talking about laypeople, as distinct from officers. Are men and women able to do the same things in your congregation, or have you decided somethings are for men and some for women?

She returns to the idea of the ezer and the necessary ally. Adam cannot fulfill his mission without Eve, and not just the baby-making part. Women exist for more than bearing and raising children. Since they are members of the church by grace, just like the men, they should be discipled as necessary allies. They are not to be considered “optional, subordinate assistants.” Byrd tries to balance the reality of church offices and the priesthood of believers who get their hands dirty with the work of ministry.

Paul recognized a number of women for their work in the early church. In addition to Phoebe we find Prisca, Chloe, Nympha, Apphia, Lydia, and Junia. This is in addition to the Marys recognized in the Gospels for their role in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Many of them hosted church meetings (I’m not convinced that means leading the church, as Byrd says about Lydia).

We also see that often women were among the first people Paul recognized in his letters. The custom of the day was ordering reflected the status or influence of the individuals. You put the more important people first.

Do we value women like that in our churches? Do we trust women like that in our churches?

The Silence of Women?

1 Corinthians 11-14 give us a glimpse of worship in the early church. What it says about women is important, and part of how Christians today view the participation of women in church life, and the worship service. At the heart of this is 1 Corinthians 14:34 which some people take as absolute and the final and only word on this subject.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

This is universal, as indicated by “in all the churches”. But this passage is part of a larger context. That seems to be ignored by many who minimize the role of women in church and worship. Why do I say that? Well, because in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about women prophesying and praying in the corporate worship service. Is this a conflict or contradiction? Not if we understand them in context.

Some argue that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is being ironic, and that if they were to pray and prophesy they should wear a head covering. But they don’t actually (the argument goes), as we see in 1 Corinthians 14. If he’d written that they were to be silent before saying they pray and prophesy, I could maybe understand this. Because of this strange way of looking at 1 Corinthians 11-14, Byrd talks about those places in many towns called Spook Hill when it feels like the car is rolling uphill. I lived near one in central FL. Things get “spooky” when we talk about these texts. “The landscape can be deceiving.”

The issue has to be resolved by examining the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 which is the evaluation of the prophecies. Byrd follows an number of people including the other Keller, Kathy, as well as Stephen Um (a PCA pastor) and Ben Witherington in seeing the silence limited to the judging of the prophesies which is the exercise of authority (in keeping with 1 Tim. 2:12). They were not exercising teaching authority. They were not to speak when that was happening. But they could pray and prophesy while wearing the sign of authority. This implies that whatever the prophecy was, it was not authoritative and needed to be examined by the elders to see if it was consistent with the Scripture and teaching they had.

As Christians all contribute to the worship service (not just the men), they are to act in love (1 Cor. 13 is the hub of all this). Every Christian gets spiritual gifts, having been baptized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12) and they are not distributed by sex. Don’t confuse gifts with office. All Christians were encourage to sing, to pray, to prophesy or speak in tongues (assuming there was an interpreter). When it came time for the prophecies to be judged, the women were to be silent. The silence was tied to a particular time in the service for the exercise of authority.

“Upholding the proper order of worship, respecting the officers of the church, and refraining from noninspired speech that disrupts worship all fall short under the command all fall under the command of the Lord to love- the very thing Christians should be known for. And these are lasting principles for the church today.”

Consequences for Worshiping Together

The church is the household of God. We should treat fellow members with affection and respect. That they did this was misinterpreted by many critics of the church. The early church was accused of incest, among other things. The imaginations of unbelievers had run wild. But instead of following the cultural practices of their culture, the Christians treated each other as brother and sister, with a pure affection for one another rather than avoidance or keeping a proper social distance.

This was a function of their identity in Christ, in whom there is neither male nor female. They are equal in His eyes, and equally sons and heirs of salvation. None are second class citizens. The shared a heavenly citizenship that shaped their social interactions. This is what led to some of the persecution they experienced.

Peel and Reveal

Byrd returns to the question of what men and women can do in a worship service. “Have we properly retrieved what the early church has passed down?” She wonders if there is something particularly masculine about collecting the offering. You might say that’s for the deacons, and in the PCA you’d be wrong. It is their responsibility to plan and organize it, but they don’t have to execute it (BCO 9-2). Women can technically be asked to help with it. We sometimes use unordained men to help if there aren’t enough deacons. We could, theoretically, as laywomen to help too. Then again, maybe they don’t want to be bothered.

Remember, Paul encouraged full member participation in most of the worship service. Whether or not our worship services reflect this matters in terms of how we are seen by the world. In the early church the participation of women was seen as scandalous by the world. Today the lack of participation of women in some churches is seen as scandalous by the world.

“Whatever our stance is on ordination, these are the questions we should be asking. And yet for some reason, even when we discuss the contributions of laypeople, the church is still stuck on this problem of women and where to draw the line. As one article published in CBMW News put it, “But What Should Women Do in the Church?”

This article by Grudem is mis-titled, in my opinion. “Should” isn’t the same as “can”, and this should be about what they “can” do. Grudem proceeds to list 83 different types of service in the church and evaluate them with guidance from the Danvers Statement. His personal lines are even stricter (at that time anyway). He discusses hierarchies of authority and influence. In this view, women shouldn’t have authority or influence over men. How exactly should a woman ask a men to set up a table for a pot lock, I wonder. Must she go to her husband and ask her to tell the man to put in a particular place? Is that actually authority? Does the man have to do it or face church discipline?

“We would define authority in general as the right and power and responsibility to give directions to another.” Piper and Grudem

In this way they separate laymen from laywomen ontologically and allow laymen to exercise authority in the church but not women except over kids, and maybe other women. This would all imply that no one is under the authority of the Session and being asked by them to fulfill that task or function. Any authority is delegated authority or responsibility. My wife has plenty of delegated authority at home.

Peeling Back Yellow Fractions

Byrd argues that these lists of hierarchy fall into a similar error as the egalitarians. These lines can be quite arbitrary and not reflective of Scripture, just as the egalitarian lines are not reflective of Scripture. The CBMW reveals a fractional complementarianism, broken down by what women can and cannot do. Most of this section is a series of questions. She plays the interrogator instead of providing the answers. She wants us to work through it.

This gets back to how one views women. In 1 Corinthians 11 a wife is her husband’s glory. In terms of creation she came from Adam’s side just as the Church comes from Christ’s wounded side. Together Adam and Eve were to fulfill the creation mandates. There was no division of labor based on gender. In heaven there will be no such division of labor either.

“Now let’s return to CBMW’s definition of authority … Is authorization (authority?) an ontological right that belongs to a particular sex, a power bestowed on men to always have the say-so in all things? … While church officers have a distinct authorization in teaching and ruling, brothers and sisters who hear the Word of our Groom are authorized as a priesthood under this ministry to testify to Jesus to one another.”

Time for a story. During a pastoral transition I applied for a job with a national insurance company. I was called for a series of interviews in another city. I brought CavWife and we enjoyed some time without the 2 kids. In my first interview I discovered that I had uploaded the wrong resume. I had uploaded the one for church positions which mentioned male headship in home and church. The woman interviewing me wanted to know if I could work for a woman boss. Well, I’ve worked for a number of them in the past (and would in the future as well) and never had an issue submitting to a woman in school or the workplace. If I struggled it was about what they asked me to do, not due to their gender. Women can exercise authority over men, and we need to stop arguing that they can’t. That is NOT biblical manhood and womanhood. That is closer to the oppression of women in the past.

The question we need to be asking is what are only ordained officers allowed to do. The rest would be left open to laypeople at the discretion of the Session (elders). Convictions produce practices, and our practices reveal our convictions.

I’ll give Aimee Byrd the final word today.

“What corresponding strength do your women have to offer? Rather than bury and hide what the Lord has given under an imaginary line on a hierarchical list, how can your church be counter-culturally capable as opposed to some of the accepted teachings of so-called biblical manhood and womanhood in evangelicalism? Why is this necessary?”

 

 

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Aimee Byrd’s 6th chapter, The Great Divorce That You Didn’t See Coming, addresses the problem of parachurch ministries and the discipleship being farmed out to them. This should not be be taken to mean that she is against parachurch ministries, but that she is advocating for the centrality of the church and its mission.

Parachurch ministries are intended to work alongside (para) and supplement the church, not to replace or supplant the church. When churches fail to do their job, people often turn to parachurch ministries to fill the gaps. As someone who used to work in a parachurch ministry, I understand this and lament that so many churches aren’t engaging and serving their people well. In our consumeristic age, many affiliate with parachurch ministries that are more visible and dynamic than the local church. A study a few years ago explained this in terms of people who were parts of parachurch ministries in high school and college still wanting similar ministry instead of the style employed by local congregations.

Byrd discusses a conversation with a friend who attends a local congregation but doesn’t think she needs it in light of the availability of her favorite celebrity pastor’s sermons. This problem has grown with the advent of the live streaming era thanks to Covid-19. It is great that those sermons are available to edify us and others but many rely on them or put a higher priority on them than their local pastor. In other words there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian life. This indicates a breakdown in discipleship.

Others women she knows talk about discipling people who don’t go to their church. I understand if there is a pre-existing relationship but generally agree with Byrd’s concerns.

She is building on the previous chapter and points to the disconnect among many church members. She notes we should be friends, but not lovers, with the parachurch ministry (an odd metaphor). Many come to faith through parachurch ministries. Some have turned to them to be discipled. There is plenty of bad ecclesiology in our midst. Byrd notes that she knows leaders in parachurch ministries who are not members of a local church.

“But the popular mind-set is that while church is still recognized as important, the real ministry is taking place outside the church.”

Why Discipleship Is Leaving the Church

Byrd shifts to the reasons for this shift. She mentions the couple that splits when everyone thinks the marriage was strong. The couple has put on a happy face, but behind closed doors they have drifted apart or become combative. In congregations, people can feel forgotten and neglected so they begin to look for fellowship and opportunities to grow elsewhere. Others feel unneeded by their congregations, and want a way to serve but can’t find one. Some of these people change churches, but others stay and look to a parachurch ministry to meet this need.

So, these are two groups. There are those who seek from parachurch ministries the investment and growth that should be given from the local church. There are those who develop their own ministries to others disconnected from the local church.

We do need to be careful. Some parachurch ministries exist to help people serve in the local church. They really view themselves as coming alongside, being partners with the local church. Some, sadly, are people who have been hurt by the local church and don’t see themselves as partners so much as substitutes.

She mentions IF-Gatherings ministries which says “Discipleship is what we’re about.” This ministry has reached over a million women. Thousands of women attend their conferences. In some cases they take the place of discipleship in the local church, and for other people they supplement and assist local church ministry. The problem isn’t the ministry but how people utilize them.

“Church leaders, laypeople, and parachurch ministries need to stop and ask what our responsibilities are and how God’s people are discipled.”

Byrd thinks there needs to be an RDT or DTR (depending where you are from): a talk to define the relationship. This is not simply to chastise parachurch ministries, but also to prompt church officers to be more engaged. We need to engage the Word together and make sure people are providing and looking for discipleship in all the right places.

The Problem of Biblicism

She brings up the Biblicist method of teaching Scripture. I’m not sure how true that is, but in the case of CBMW many of the leaders do use such a method. I’m surprised this didn’t come up earlier, particularly when she was addressing ESS. As I noted in an earlier post, Matthew Emerson provides a fairly lengthy critique of Grudem’s Biblicist method of interpretation that leads him to some faulty conclusions (He Decended to the Dead, pp. 5-17, 67-74). ESS would be one of them, as well as denying that Jesus descended to the dead. But Byrd does address this here because Piper and Grudem are not the only ones who use this kind of method to interpret the Bible.

“Biblicists rightly uphold the authority of Scripture but often read the Bible with a narrow, flat lense of interpretation, zooming in on the words in the texts themselves while missing the history, context, and confessing tradition of the faith. Biblicists emphasize proof texting over a comprehensive biblical theology. What often happens unintentionally is that the Biblicist readers become their own authority, since they often don’t notice they are also looking through their own lens of preconceived theological assumptions.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote there, but Byrd briefly discusses what is wrong with such a method (ignoring historical context, theological context as well as the interpretive history) and the end result of becoming one’s own authority. Your interpretation becomes THE interpretation with no one to correct you. We see this, in my opinion, with Piper’s permanent marriage view, as well as ESS. Byrd brings it back to ESS as well. “Biblicists employ a fundamentalist approach to God’s Word that doesn’t take into account how the church and the Scriptures go hand in hand.” She warns that “Biblicist doesn’t mean biblical.”

Many parachurch ministries are vulnerable to this precisely because they don’t have confessions of faith, or if they do it is minimal and lowest common denominator in nature. It becomes an interpretive community of 1 or 20, rather than the whole church through time.

Byrd is concerned that they mimic the church despite not having the same ecclesiastical offices. They have a board, typically following a business model. Yet they have “worship services” in their conferences. They sing songs, but there is generally no call to worship, confession of sin or faith, no sacraments etc. Some don’t allow women to speak even though they aren’t the church. As a result there are exclusively women’s parachurch ministries where gifted women get to contribute.

The Covenantal Context of Discipleship

Byrd advocates for the covenantal context of discipleship. The visible church is a covenant community. We’ve made promises to teach all as Christ commanded.

This is what makes some of the criticism she’s received from Reformed leaders confusing. She affirms qualified male elders in the church. She wants women to be discipled too. And she sees this in a covenantal context. This is all good, man. It seems an area of disagreement is maximized and the many areas of agreement are minimized.

She continues to bring out the Swain and Vanhoozer as she affirms that reading, and interpretation, is a communal exercise. I don’t just read the Bible with Jesus. We see the extremes here. Some think they don’t need to learn how to interpret the Bible, just pray. Others think it is so hard they won’t even try. Often the quiet time becomes a strange mystical experience utterly divorced from confessional boundaries, teachers of the present and past, as well as biblical theology. She advocates for more dogmatics, or systematic theology, to be taught to women. This is a common theme in her books.

Peel and Reveal

Rather than affirm historic confessions (like say, Ligonier did), many ministries form their own statements of faith. The CBMW did this with the Danvers Statement (which includes ESS). These statements, she argues, often further their own agenda and existence. This is true when you look at the introduction to the Danvers Statement.

“Parachurch often reinforces bad gender tropes, outfitting and amplifying many of the divisions between men and women in the church.”

In this context she returns to the use of “roles” by the CBMW. Yes, it should not be applied to “an ontological creational norm that women are subordinate to men.” As I noted, I don’t agree with her isolation of one meaning of the word, but I agree with Byrd that they fill their books, conferences, Bible studies and resources with erroneous stereotypes of men and women.

The problem didn’t stay limited to the CBMW. She notes that Southern Seminary has adopted the Danvers Statement to which employees must subscribe. Sadly, contrary to my vote, the PCA also adopted the Nashville Statement as if our own confessional material was insufficient. Yes, it does include the new terminology of recent days, but I think it clearly lacks the precision of the Westminster Standards. It affirms but does not define gender differences in Article 4. However, this is still written while affirming ESS as the basis for subordination.

“I belong to a church that already subscribes to historically faithful orthodox confessions. I am thankful that I don’t need to worry over signing additional statements with questionable theology.”

From here Byrd shifts to revealing who is exhorted to church. She brings up a number of “one another” texts that encourage Christians (not separated by sex) to exhort and teach one another. She notes “Laywomen in the Scriptures are not addressed as subordinate to laymen.” This is the view that riles up some people who embrace the CBMW view of men and women in terms of authority and submission rooted in ontology. These many verses she lists do not have qualifiers to limit the teaching of women. She then claims “It would be disobedient to Scripture to withhold women from teaching.” She certainly points out a theological oddity, not to be confused with a geographical oddity. As we apply the analogy of Scripture (WCF, I)the clear passages interpret the unclear, not the other way around. She will get to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 in the next chapter. Even if you want to say a woman should be silent in the church, the context is the corporate worship service. That would not prohibit a woman from acting like any other lay person in a Bible study or Sunday School class.

She then shifts her attention back to parachurch ministries in general.

“We should not confuse the authority given to church officers with the authority of board members. We should not confuse the worship service, where God promises to bless us in Christ, with the classroom or the conference stage.”

She reminds us it is “helpful to distinguish between primary doctrinal issues, secondary issues, and even third-order issues of differences.” Oddly she footnotes an Al Mohler, of the aforementioned Southern Seminary, article from 2005 called “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity”. There is also a book by Gavin Ortlund called Finding the Right Hill to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage on this subject. She doesn’t say it, but most of what we discuss as differences between men and women would fall under third-order issues since they are not covered in ecumenical confessions of faith. As a result, we should allow one another latitude on that which is not clearly defined in Scripture (like the office of elder is). Parachurch ministries shouldn’t be organized around such third-order issues. It seems like straining at the gnat.

Parachurch ministries can come alongside the local church to help it fulfill its mission, rather than seek to fulfill that mission for it. What is drawing her ire is the later.

This chapter does advance her overall argument. It does point out some of the serious issues people should have with the CBMW, and some other parachurch ministries. Not everyone will agree with her statements. The question is, are those differences biblical or cultural? Are we sure?

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I want to start with a story or two. Two.

Saturday a friend of mine died. Years ago he attended a PCA church in Orlando where a friend of mine was a pastor on staff. This friend raised concerns to me about this PCA pastor based on some lectures he gave on women in the church. At the time I didn’t share his concerns about my other friend. I didn’t think he was moving toward egalitarianism. A few years later this pastor friend moved cross country to serve on the staff of a church that would eventually leave the PCA and fully embrace egalitarianism. My friend did “slide” into egalitarianism, but may have hid it since he credited one of our professors. My late friend was right, and I missed it.

In my first pastorate one of the influential women gave me a book to read. She was on the search committee that called me. She had been auditing courses at RTS Orlando. She led our women’s ministry. The book was Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church, which is clearly egalitarian. Earlier she’d given me insightful articles from Kenneth Bailey. This book was less than insightful contrary to the positive blurbs by respected men, but it was insightful into this friend’s trajectory. It broke my heart when she and her husband left the church and began to attend a PC(USA) church (now ECO).

Sometimes you can see it coming, and sometimes it is more subtle. Some people claim they see Aimee Byrd well on the road to egalitarian. I’m not so sure. My foresight, obviously, is not perfect including in this area. But the issue may be their adherence to the CBMW formulation of complementarianism.

Cognitive Dissonance

Today we’ll look at the beginning of the Part 2: Recovering Our Mission. The first chapter in this section is Why Our Aim Is Not Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She begins this with part of her story. She was married a month after graduating from college and began to read books to help her become “the perfect Christian wife.” This was when she read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aka the Big Blue Book. She was seeking a “biblical understanding of the sexes.” There were parts that were hard for her to accept, but she trusted the radio shows that spoke well of the book. “That’s what I wanted to be: good and conservative.” She was not comfortable with “some” of the teachings in the book. Not all. Not most. Some. She assumed she’d understand them better as she matured.

“I do want to note that there are plenty of helpful teachings in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, written by authors who have benefited the church in numerous ways.”

Over time, however, “more and more strange teachings on femininity and masculinity have emerged under the rubric of biblical manhood and womanhood.” She is not alone in thinking this. She mentions some of them earlier in this book, and they concerned me when I read them years ago. I thought they were aberrations but now realize my understanding of complementarianism is not on the same side of the spectrum as theirs. I was concerned when Piper thought women shouldn’t be police officers because that involves authority over men (“Should Women Be Police Officers?” August 13, 2015). In that article he mentioned teaching in colleges as well. Byrd also notes a place where Piper discusses a woman being careful in giving a lost man directions lest we undermine his sense of masculinity. Sorry, I don’t get it. I simply want to get to my destination, and apart from verbal abuse I’m not guarding my sense of masculinity.

Eternal Submission of the Son

Where she goes here is more fundamental, however. She came across a CBMW document expressing ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). This view states that in the ontological Trinity, the Son submits to the Father. This view is not expressed in any of the major creeds and confessions. We do recognize that in the economic Trinity, the Son as Messiah submits to the Father on our behalf. The first speaks to the Son in his essence, the second to the Son in his office as Redeemer.

She pursued conversations with representatives of CBMW including the president at the time. In books, members of the CBMW continued to assert this view. It shows up in the ESV Study Bible as well. This view is used as the basis for their version of complementarianism: men and women are both human (equal in essence) but women submit to men (different in role/function).

I don’t believe in ESS nor agree with its use by CBMW to defend an erroneous view of men and women. In Ephesians 5, wives submit to their own husbands, not men in general. Women are not inferior to men due to their gender, not to submit to men in general. In the 10 commandments, we are to honor our parents meaning that sons (even as adults) are to honor their mothers. Mothers don’t submit to adult sons.

Back to Byrd’s book from that aside. She tried to address this publicly as well. As she tells it no one was listening. Then Liam Goligher did a guest post on her blog on this subject and the can of worms was opened. ESS became a big internet controversy.

Okay. At this point I wondered if she wants credit for exposing this heterodoxy, simply wants to say no one took her seriously or both. Goligher was more than a “housewife theologian” and had more gravitas. That he was a man can also play into it. But there seem to be some sour grapes at work in this too.

She then brings it back to the Big, Blue Book. Once again she notes there is good material in there, but also some disconcerting material as well. There is a big problem when the differences between men and women are reduced to “one of ontological authority and submission.” I’ve always understood this as patriarchy, not complementarianism. While she mentions Denny Burke, Owen Strachan and others, her focus is on Wayne Grudem who has been a big advocate for this deviant view of the Trinity, including in his work on the ESV Study Bible notes. I was disappointed to see Ligon Duncan so earnestly affirming the updated version of the Big, Blue Book such that communicating the doctrines and applications taught in it were essential to Christian discipleship.

“While I wholeheartedly affirm distinction between sexes, I am convinced that our choices are not between CBMW complementarianism and vague androgynous discipleship.”

She is raising serious issues here. In my opinion she is right. I’ll let her speak for herself:

“Nowhere does Scripture state that all women submit to all men. … And it is difficult for a laywoman like me, who does see some theological teaching for God outfitting qualified men for an office to see this kind of reductive teaching and call it complementarianism. … My femininity is not defined by how I look for and nurture male leadership in my neighbors, coworkers, or mail carriers. I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God, but I do not reduce the rights and obligations in a household to mere authority and submission roles. … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”

She affirms that church office is reserved for qualified men. She refers to Genesis 2 in the footnote, but overlooks 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is puzzling, frankly.

In the next section she’s wondering if we’ve baptized “chivalry” and made it biblical manhood. I think she is onto something with this. Like the Pharisees added to the laws regarding the Sabbath and used the corban principle to avoid caring for parents, we can add cultural understandings to our biblical understanding in a way that is inappropriate and confusing. She quotes Sarah Coakley as noting that the point of headship “is not executive dictatorship but responsibility for the “well-being of the whole.”” She uses John McKinley’s “necessary ally”, though I prefer Allender and Longman’s “intimate ally”.

To be fair, in What’s the Difference?, Piper’s contribution to the Big, Blue Book, he mentions men listening to their wives to gain input. The “definition” expresses “benevolent responsibility”. But we do need to emphasize, I think, the partnership of marriage. Headship in Ephesians 5 is sacrificial and for the well-being of the wife. Back to Genesis 2, she is an ally in our God-given mission. Being a man or woman can not be reduced to authority/submission. There is a bit of overlap in their expression of this relationship, but their foundation is quite different.

Restoring the Imago Dei

I think she takes too much time expressing the fact that our goal in discipleship is not masculinity or femininity but conformance to Christ (Romans 8). At a few points that will be different. But the goal is being a mature human being, restoration of the image of God (Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3).

“Christian men and women don’t strive for so-called biblical masculinity or femininity, but Christlikeness. Rather than striving to prove our sexuality, the tone of our sexuality will express itself as we do this. … I do not need to do something in a certain way to be feminine. I simply am feminine because I am female.”

She sees some benefit to exclusive studies for men and women. There are “shared experiences and responsibilities within our sex.” (She probably should use “gender” in these instances.) Her concern is that we take this too far too often, as though we can only be discipled separately. Drawing on Phillip Payne’s material she asserts (rightly) that both men and women received authority over earth and creatures. Unlike in the pagan cultures around them, men were supposed to leave their family of origin to cleave to his spouse. In pagan countries she shifted from her family to his.

In Mark David Walton’s article for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood these gender distinctions (authority & submission) remain for all eternity since they are ontological. Women, in this view, would eternally submit to men even though both are made in the image of God.

Peel and Reveal

She goes off her on “role”. She does this, in my opinion, in a reductionistic way. She focuses on the definition derived from the playhouse. As a result she wants us to stop using this in discussing men and women. She’ll also do this in chapter 6. But according to dictionary.com the 2nd definition is “proper or customary function” and the third is the sociological use (pertinent here!) “the rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status.” That status should not be “woman” but “wife”. Not “man” but “husband” and “church officer”.

She seems to be going after both ESS and expressions of complementarianism at the same time. She does not clearly delineate between the two but goes back and forth between them. They are related, but distinct. This is a weakness of hers or at least this chapter.

And then she returns to norms. “I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality.” But in this section she seeks to get metaphysical and philosophical. She depends on Sister Prudence Allen in pp. 124-30, and frankly I’m lost. Philosophy is not my strong point, and I’m not familiar with this philosopher. I got “fractional complementarity” and “integral complementarity”. She brings in Pope John Paul II, as well as Paul Zanacanaro and Julian Marias. In all this I couldn’t tell if she was using them positively (she does say they think more thoroughly and biblically) or negatively (since their conclusion sounds remarkably like Piper and Grudem). Just call me Vinnie because “I’m soooo confused.”

The peel and reveal section seems to waste the good and important material she covered in the body of the chapter. There are serious problems in the theological basis for the CBMW version of complementarianism, and therefore serious problems in how they understand masculinity and femininity in relationship to one another. She could have done a better job delineating her points of agreement with CBMW since there are some.

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In the second chapter of Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, on the subject of recovering how we read the Bible, Aimee Byrd asks “Why Not the Book of Boaz?”.

She is talking about the book of Ruth which is squeezed between Judges and 1 Samuel. It is the first book in the Bible that we come across named for a woman. This is a little book with a big message.

Ruth was not simply a woman, but a Moabite woman who had been married to an sojourning Israelite who died. Moabites were bad news. Their tribe originated from Lot’s child from his daughter after she got him drunk (Gen. 19). Born of incest they were known to be immoral. They were also prohibited from entering Israelite worship (Deut. 23:3), in part for hiring Balaam to curse Israel, and then following his advice to send women to seduce the men into false worship (Numbers 22-23, 25).

Yes, a book of the Bible named after a Moabite widow. This Moabite widow converted to the worship of YHWH and went back to Israel with her mother-in-law to take care of her.

Byrd wants to show us how the female voice functions in Scripture. Ruth doesn’t seem to fit the mold of biblical womanhood (though some memes try to make her fit it by ignoring some things). While the “male voice” arrives at the end of the book, the majority of the book focuses on Ruth. It focuses on “the plight of women in ancient culture- it exposes their difficulties and it shows us a faithful, brave woman who took initiative to rescue her family, as well as an honorable response from Boaz.” Ruth is not passive, waiting for Boaz, or anyone else to take care of Naomi. She takes initiative, and this is seen as a good thing (Boaz commends her!) particularly when we discover who her great-grandson is going to be.

She is reliant on Bauckham and Carolyn Custis James as numerous footnotes reveal. Most of this is helpful. One time, at least, it is less than helpful but confusing. “This male voice is quote not … in order to undermine the female voice of the narrative, but on the contrary, in order to be exposed by the female voice of the narrative as pitifully inadequate in its androcentric selectivity.” It doesn’t undermine her voice! That I get and agree with. I’m not sure what he means by that last phrase about being exposed as inadequate. The patrilineal records complement and explain the significance of the this story: David!

Rumors had probably spread about David and his sketchy origins (the politics of personal destruction is not a new concept). But the truth was this woman was a godly woman who did right by her adopted faith and her distressed mother-in-law. This defends her honor and his.

“The Bible isn’t a book of masculine history. There is women’s literature in Scripture! … We don’t need to take these gynocentric stories out and publish them in books for women’s ministries. All of Scripture is meant for coed reading and understanding.”

She also argues that Ruth is not just about Ruth. “Naomi’s situation parallels Israel’s.” This takes place during the decline of Israel during the time of the Judges. Her husband did what was right in his own eyes by moving his family to Moab during a famine, and allowing his two sons to marry Moabite women despite the prohibition of the Law. He betrayed his name which declared “My God is King”. This book is a study of hesed, covenant faithfulness as displayed not only by Ruth but also Boaz and ultimately by YHWH.

Hesed is driven, not by duty or legal obligations, but by bone-deep commitment- a loyal, selfless love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one wants has the right to expect or ask of them …” quoting Carolyn Custis James

One of the things we should see in Ruth is that “God put man and woman on this earth, and he intends to use both sexes in his mission.” This woman is “in the world” and working in the fields. She’s “bringing home the bacon”. Ruth’s faith and commitment is contrasted with Naomi’s despair and grief. God used a strong woman to preserve Naomi and keep the line alive that would produce the Seed that crushes the head of the serpent.

Rembrandt

Ruth is not a feminist icon. She’s not fighting the system of patriarchy. She is a woman committed to fulfilling her vows. Ruth does, however, not fit into many of the categories of femininity expressed by some complementarians, especially the CBMW. Piper and Grudem’s definition of femininity doesn’t seem to fit Ruth. She’s not waiting for a man to show initiative. This seems to be the point Byrd wants to make in this chapter. Godly women in the Bible don’t match the Big Blue Book’s definition.

After my a recent memorial service for my mother, we had lunch with my side of the family. Due to my mother’s long-term illness it had been a few years since CavWife saw my side of the family, particularly my sister-in-law. My brother’s wife related that mine was a “bad ass” because she stood up to my mother. My wife is strong. Not headstrong or domineering, but strong. She knows who she is and wants to do what is right. She wasn’t waiting for me to “take the lead” and deal with my mother. She was gentle but firm, not abrasive.

Byrd doesn’t stop with Ruth, so to speak. She reminds us that Boaz’s mother was a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. Like Ruth, she came to faith in the God of Israel, protected her family by protecting the spies. She became a member of God’s household. Knowing her likely prepared Boaz to welcome a kindred spirit in Ruth.

When Byrd begins to peel back the wallpaper (back to the metaphor), she wants us to see “women played an active role alongside men in passing down the history and teachings of God’s covenant people as tradents of the faith.” She doesn’t want to make more of this than it is; or less.

“Women aren’t left out. They aren’t ignored; they are heard. They are more than heard; they contribute.”

Additionally, the book of Ruth functions to provide a critical eye for today’s church. The issue is how God’s hesed works among His people. She wants us to see that He works through both men and women to reveal His hesed. Too often we are concerned with what women are “permitted” to do (and she’ll get back to this often). Our lists, at the very least, need to be evaluated by Scripture. Another way of putting this is asking if godly women in Scripture fit the list. Scripture is more important than the list.

The question I wrote at the bottom of the page at the end of this chapter is: “God gives women a voice to be used. Will we listen?”

I got some push back on my previous blog post. People seem to think Byrd is saying that women need women to “interpret” the Bible to them. Or that they cannot read Calvin or other theology. Byrd is saying the opposite! She doesn’t want theology dumbed down for women. She quotes a variety of male authors and teachers in this book. She’s not reading fluff.

In some ways Byrd is an example she wants others to follow: forsake the fluff and eat the meat of the Word. But she’s also saying that a woman doesn’t learn the breadth and depth of Scripture and theology to teach 3rd graders. She thinks God raises up both men and women to teach in Christ’s church.

She not wanting us to look for the feminine voice like it is a needle in the haystack. It is pretty clear. It is not meant to compete with the rest of Scripture but to complement it.

She hasn’t done any exegesis of any of the important passages involving this topic yet. In a later chapter she deals with 1 Corinthians 11-14. I hope she deals with 1 Timothy 2 in the final chapter (since she hadn’t thus far).

But so far we’ve seen:

  •  A godly king seek the wisdom of a prophetess to whom he listened for the good of the nation.
  • Women quoted in Scripture whose words and/or actions that inform and shape our faith.
  • Books of the Bible, written from a woman’s perspective, show us strong women who change the fortunes of God’s people, in His providence.
  • The Bible’s portraits of godly women don’t match the definition of mature femininity put forward by the CBMW.

Let me end with a story. As a new Christian I worked in a bookstore. Utterly clueless, I bought a Hal Lindsey book or two. I became a dispensational pre-millennialist. I advocated for the position. I was sure this was right. However, over time as I read and re-read the Bible I was filled with increasing cognitive dissonance. I found that my views didn’t make the most sense of the Scripture.

I was at a crossroads. Would I stick to Lindsey and company’s interpretation or would I change my view to one more consistent with Scripture? I chose the latter option.

As a more mature Christian, I submit to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a summary of what the Bible teaches. I believe it is consistent with Scripture, and it provides healthy boundaries for me. This standard doesn’t address these issues. I want to go where the Scripture leads as I affirm that the church is Reformed and always reforming.

Don’t panic. This is not the slippery slope of feminism or liberalism. It is an expression of sola Scriptura. The Scriptures do teach that only qualified men are to be elders (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1), and that the husband is the head of his own wife (Ephesians 5). These are non-negotiables.

What I am discovering is not that my views are changing, but that my views (which I’ve held for many years and taught from the pulpit) are not in synch with the CBMW’s understanding of masculinity and femininity on key points. This will be developed in further posts.

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