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I’ve read one of Aimee Byrd’s other books in the past. I’ve enjoyed her input on the Mortification of Spin podcast when I have listened. Some of our women heard her speak in a sister church a few years ago and came away encouraged.

51itsic-mul._sx326_bo1204203200_Her newest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, has been the center of controversy. Many of the claims didn’t seem about right. I had some people in the congregation, and others outside of the congregation ask me what I thought.

So, here I am reading the book. As I considered blogging about the book I realized I can’t do it justice in just one post. I’ll need to break this down to handle it wisely instead of with broad strokes.

What is interesting to me is the acknowledgments in which she thanks Bob Brady and Jonathan Master at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals for time they gave her as she began the project. She thanks the Alliance in general for allowing her to use materials from a conference they hosted. I don’t know all the reasons why they ended the official relationship but it seems strange to me. She compromises no first or second order beliefs. Her issues with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) are not new news. I think this book (I have 2 chapters left to read)affirms what I believe about the differences between men and women. It does that clearly, not obscurely.

  • She affirms there are gender differences.
  • She affirms that only qualified males should be ordained elders and pastors.

This means she qualifies for what I have long thought were the main tenets of “complementarianism”. Apparently she, nor I, are on the same end of the complementarian spectrum as many in the CBMW. She’s not fighting with the Bible (she affirms the authority of the Scriptures) but with the CBMW’s views, doctrinal statements and methodology to arrive at their conclusions.

I have never read all of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response of Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, aka the Big Blue Book. I read What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by Piper, which is his material from the Big Blue Book in more accessible form (my copy is a little purple book). It has been quite some time since I read it. Since then I’ve read a number of statements by Piper on this subject that seemed to espouse a view closer to patriarchy than my understanding of complementarianism. I thought his views shifted, but now realize they really didn’t.

This is to provide some background to my interaction with Byrd’s book, and therefore the views of CBMW. Just to be crystal clear my views are:

  • Men & women were created equally in the image of God.
  • Men & women enjoy gender differences beyond biology, yet those differences are not to be understood as absolute (like Men Are from Mars & Women Are from Venus) but on different sides of the spectrum.
  • God has made men as the head of the home.
  • God calls qualified men to serve as elders in His household.
  • Put negatively: men are not superior to women, and men are not in authority over women generally.

Byrd begins her book with an introduction that discusses Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. She will return to this story in each chapter since she views this as an apt metaphor for the problem she is pointing out.

Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper after suffering postpartum depression. Specialist Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s diagnosis was fashionable: she suffered from the pace of modern life. He prescribed rest therapy. Resting, she found herself getting worse instead of better. His diagnosis was rooted in traditional gender roles. He was forcing her into that gender role. Her main character, Jane, reflects her own condition and course of treatment. She does write secretly in her retreat cabin watched by her very traditional sister-in-law Jenny. She becomes fixed on the yellow wallpaper, and comes to believe that a woman is trapped in there. Eventually the narrator’s voice shifts to that woman, and her husband believes she’s gone mad.

“I’ve got out at last … in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper so you can’t put me back!” The Yellow Wallpaper

Byrd interprets the story, based on Gilman’s explanation, as a woman “trapped in traditional patriarchal structures of family, medicine and society that the yellow wallpaper in her confined room represented for her.” Byrd believes many Christian women are struggling with those traditional patriarchal structures of family and church today, and wonders if they are truly biblical. She is convinced that much of what passes for “biblical” is actually cultural.

“One of our biggest challenges is to actually see this yellow wallpaper’s scrawling patterns that are stifling the force of the biblical message and strangling the church’s witness and growth.”

It is in this context that she refers back to the definitions of manhood and womanhood asserted by CBMW to be “biblical”. She quotes from the Big Blue Book:

“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.”

You’ll notice that each is defined by their relationship to the other. Masculinity, for instance, seems to have nothing to do with how you treat other men. While your particular relationship to a person of the opposite sex may differ, you still provide the same basic response. This seems a bit reductionistic to say the least. This places both masculinity and femininity through “a filter of authority and submission, strength and neediness” that would appear to go beyond Scripture.

Remember, the Big Blue Book was a response to Evangelical Feminism. In debate, we tend to over-correct. I would say that the formulations are just that rather than a careful understanding of the Scriptures. She notes that as Christians we want to be moral people. More than that, but not less. However, “morality can sometimes be culturally constructed.” Just ask the Pharisees. Human beings have a tendency, flowing from the Fall and our corruption, to go beyond Scripture and add culture to biblical notions with equal authority. We substitute the man-made for the divinely-revealed. Women are more than affirmers of their men.

She rightly notes that many of us don’t undertake renovation projects because we are afraid of what we’ll find. I’ve removed wallpaper and it isn’t pretty and does some damage. But sometimes that wallpaper needs to GO! She believes that we need to remove the wallpaper so men and women can better understand what God says, and better relate to one another in healthy ways that honor God.

“And we have lost aim of what the church is for: preparing us for eternal communion with the triune God. We have taken discipleship out of the church, further separating God’s people by culturally constructed gender paradigms.”

She will repeatedly return to this theme of discipleship too. It is common in her books. One of the issues is the rise of parachurch ministries taking the place of the church instead of coming alongside the church, as well as “popular Biblicist interpretive methods.” Many of the CBMW founders use such methods (Matthew Emerson brings us similar concerns regarding Wayne Grudem in He Descended to the Dead). She wants to us utilize an interpretive method that is covenantal in nature including the historical and present communities of faith bounded by confessions. The irony is that many of those critical of Byrd would affirm a covenantal method over the Biblicist method used by Piper and Grudem.

In terms of her introduction she touches on some important subjects we do need to think about. Her concerns as expressed are:

  • The cultural traditions obscuring the biblical teaching about masculinity and femininity.
  • The breakdown of discipleship in many churches that lead many to depend on parachurch ministries, particularly gender-focused ones.
  • The faulty methods of biblical interpretation that produce faulty understandings of the Trinity used to support faulty understandings of the relationship between men and women.

To many, raising these questions makes her a feminist. After all, the Big Blue Book was written to combat feminism so the only person who’d have a problem with it must necessarily be a feminist. That is a faulty argument there. It is a logical fallacy meant to minimize the views of another.

While I’ve seen plenty of people accuse Byrd of being a feminist, I see no evidence for this charge through over 170 pages of this book. She’s trying to discern the truth under the authority of Scripture. This is a noble pursuit. She knows she is not coming at the Scripture without her own biases and interpretive grid. As we move forward, we’ll see if she succeeds. At times I think she does. At times she stumbles (in minor ways). At times she confuses. At times she misses a point. She does make some good points, and she doesn’t punt on the faith in the process. Nor does she give too much ground to egalitarians, aka the Christian Feminists.

By the way, let’s not confuse Christian Feminists with any of the various shades of Feminists. While I disagree with them, they are not “them” aka “the enemy.” My beloved professor Dr. Roger Nicole called himself a Christian Feminist. J.I. Packer, among many others, called him the greatest theologian of the 20th century.

The late R.C. Sproul expressed wanted to be as “liberal” as the Bible permitted him to be regarding women. As a result he rejected the ordination of women elders, even being forced out of the UPC for his views. He believed women could be deacons if it wasn’t a position of authority, as it is in the PCA. But R.C. had Joni and Elisabeth Elliot speak at his conferences.

Some may have a different default than Sproul, possibly being as conservative as the Bible permits them. This means there is a spectrum of complementarian views. The people to the left of you aren’t necessarily feminists, and the people to the right of you aren’t necessarily patriarchists. They might be, but that requires more questions to understand their actual positions.

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The world is filled with books on marriage. Many of them are not worth reading. But there has been a bunch of excellent books on marriage that have been released in the last few years. Add The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller (with his wife Kathy).

Tim is one of the best people for writing a book on marriage, from a biblical perspective, that non-Christians may actually read. He touches upon some of the more contemporary controversies here, clearly but without condemnation. I know some guys in our denomination love to hate on Keller as some great compromiser. I don’t see him that way. I just see him in a light similar to John Newton: clear as to what he believes but not using that to stick his finger in people’s eyes. He’d much rather win them to his position- that whole winsome thing. Not everyone is supposed to be Elijah, engaging in clear confrontations to expose the folly of false gods (though Keller did write a book on that).

Keller spends more time on cohabitation, bringing up studies which reveal how destructive it actually is to marriage.  He shows how the typical arguments used to justify the practice have no basis in facts. So he shows the foolishness of that particular sin in a variety of ways. Homosexual marriage is not tackled head on, but he consistently affirms the biblical view of man and woman. Contrary to what I’ve heard from some of the haters, there is a clear affirmation of complementarianism. But they distinguish the biblical doctrine from how some people practice it.  And that is good. We have to recognize that if will look different in different marriages and in different cultures.

The book is not perfect. There are, I think, so factual errors. Tim writes that Paul was never married. We don’t know that. He, as a Pharisee, was probably married at some point. But at the time of his work as an Apostle, he was single- probably widowed. But that is a small thing.

My only other complaint was the length of the chapters. They were quite long, about 25 pages each on average. I like to finish a chapter in a sitting, and due to my schedule that was a little more difficult with this book.

The book derived from sermons on marriage the Tim preached in 1991. The bulk of the book is drawn from Ephesians 5, but the Kellers draw on a number of resources to understand and apply the biblical teaching on marriage. They cover issues of love (romantic love, mature love and the acceptance of one another’s faults), how to look for a spouse and what to look for in one, gender differences and roles in marriage, sex and more. They walk thru some of the landmines, the idols of both traditional and progressive culture.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate romantic love. Such love ushers many people into the most satisfying and most frustrating relationship of their lives. Isn’t it odd how the same relationship can be both.

https://www.wtsbooks.com/common/images/97805/9780525952473.jpgRomantic love, I’ve often said, is how  God tricks us into getting married. Romantic love is temporary. It can’t last, and it was not meant to last. It often blinds us to the most serious faults and flaws of the other person. It puts us into a position where we have to choose if we will actually love the other person. What often happens is that people, no longer experiencing romantic love (we’ve fallen out of love, they say) and faced with the reality that they have to choose whether or not to love this other flawed person decide to jump ship to find romantic love under the illusion that next time it will last. Love is hard, for many reasons, but this, not romantic love, is the essence of marriage as Tim Keller writes in the third chapter of The Meaning of Marriage.

In the sixth chapter, Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller writes about the differences between the sexes. This is one of the things that makes marriage so satisfying and so frustrating. I’m guessing they decided to have Kathy write the chapter so it would sound softer as she communicates the reality of complementarianism in the Scriptures. She distinguishes that from traditionalism. She teaches the biblical truth, but reminds us that how past generations fleshed it out is not how we have to flesh it out. She makes some good points.

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