Review: Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

I just finished reading Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Aimee Byrd. I read this book because I first learned about Aimee on the Worthy podcast, hosted by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher. This review is much shorter than it could or should be. I’m won’t be able to cover all of the important content but want to highlight a few important arguments of the book.

Byrd, who subscribes to male-only ordination, set out to confront some of the teaching and application that has come out of the biblical manhood and womanhood movement, the origin of which we can trace back to the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Since then, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has been developed and publishes a journal, blog articles, books, and hosts their own conferences.

Byrd’s primary goal was pretty simple. Her book seeks to show that men and women are on equal footing in the body of Christ. They follow the same Jesus, read the same Bible, and are both responsible to be active, faithful witnesses to the faith. Whether you are for male-only ordination or not, if you are a Christian, you should believe and practice this, she argues. I agree. 

Byrd’s overall concern could perhaps be summed up like this: we have segregated God’s word, and therefore God’s people, making certain aspects of it relevant to men and other parts to women. This has created separate discipleship tracks in the church: one for men and another for women.

Byrd examines popular gender-specific devotional Bibles to prove this, focusing on the ESV devotional Bibles for men and women. These publications have perpetuated the fuzzy idea of men’s and women’s “roles” in the church and home. They also give priority and authority to men: there are no women contributors to the men’s devotional Bible, but there are men who contribute to the women’s devotional Bible.

Byrd’s heart comes across clearly. She wants us to realize that the Bible does call us to biblical “manhood” and “womanhood,” but conformity to Christ regardless of gender.

Byrd shows how the biblical manhood and womanhood movement, spearheaded by CBMW, has perpetuated this segregation between women and men in the church. According to CBMW, women exist to support, encourage, and hold up men as leaders (chapter 4). For example, in Piper and Grudem’s book, biblical femininity is defined as “a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s different relationships” (p. 105).

Byrd points out that Scripture simply never states that all women must submit to all men, but the biblical manhood and womanhood movement would make us believe as much. She shows convincingly that this movement believes women are second-class disciples who do not and should not receive the same training and equipping opportunities as men. 

Conversely, Byrd takes us from one Scripture to the next (particularly in chapters 3 and 4) to show how the Bible “takes us behind the scenes and gives us a story behind the story through the female voice…implementing women as tradents of the faith” (p. 73). Ruth, the Egyptian midwives, Deborah, Rahab, and Mary are just a few examples that show “patriarchy is not the Bible’s message…[but that] it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (p. 56).

One of the primary theological problems Byrd finds in the CBMW is the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son, or ESS for short. I won’t take a deep dive into this doctrine here, but in a nutshell ESS is the belief that the Son, the second Person of the trinity, has always been in subordination and submission to the Father. The CBMW uses this as the foundation for their view of gender roles. Of course, this is a doctrine at odds with the church councils of Nicea (AD 325) and Constantinople (381), summarized in the Nicene Creed. Byrd circles back to this throughout the book. Unfortunately, the CBMW has allowed room in their movement on different views of the Trinity, but not how men and women function in the church (pp. 120-121).

As Byrd closes the book, she write beautifully of two women’s co-laborship with Paul: Junia and Phoebe. We meet these women in Romans 16. Phoebe was the courier of the letter to the Romans and Junia is even identified as “renowned among the apostles” along with Andronicus. While churches today are arguing about whether or not woman can make an announcement or pass out bulletins, Paul commends these women for their ministry (p. 213).

Phoebe, as the courier of the letter, was thus authorized to not only deliver but communicate (i.e. instruct) what was in the letter that the Romans may not have understood. At the very least, this reveals Paul’s heart to include women in global, apostolic work. It reminds us that “having a coed team of apostles in Rome sounds wisely strategic in reaching the diverse men and women” who lived there. It’s a lesson we ought not forget today.

I do have two gentle critiques. More like pet peeves that I hope won’t detract the reader from the content of the book.

First, It was much more academic than I expected and wonder if that will work against Byrd in the long run. Why? Because while many of the men who are behind the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood movement are academics, the people who have been influenced by their writings, sermons, and conferences are not professional theologians. They are everyday, ordinary Christians.

Second, Byrd is an Orthodox Presbyterian. And, oh, does that come through clearly! In my estimation, she has too narrow of a view of “the church,” reducing much of her focus to local fellowships and what happens during a Sunday morning liturgy. She also places a very high emphasis on church officers, as a presbyterian would—an emphasis that I think the New Testament doesn’t even give. (But that’s another post entirely).

If you, reader, are the average “layperson,” let me encourage you press in and not get hung up on the academic tone and institutional preferences of the author. Press on and engage with her actual arguments without setting up and destroying straw men (or women).

Overall, I’m happy to recommend Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. No matter your position on gender roles in the home, church, or world, if you are a Christian or church leader, you need to wrestle with the issues and problems Byrd brings to light. And I hope you do.

Life Reviews

Good Mood Bad Mood Review

Charles D. Hodges, M.D. Good Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar DisorderWapwallopen, Pennsylvania: Shepherd Press, 2013. 192 pp. $13.95.

Americans are being diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder at a breakneck pace. In this provocative, clarifying, and Christ-centered book, Dr. Charles Hodges attempts to peel back the layers of common solutions to depression, and offers a compelling, biblical alternative.

Dr. Hodges has been practicing medicine for nearly forty years and has witnessed the changing landscape of depression/bipolar in the Western medical community. If you want the lowdown in a word, this is a good book. Dr. Hodges has done his homework, both medically and biblically. He’s not just throwing out pithy Bible verses, and he’s not just citing Christian doctors to prove his point. He explains some key Scriptures about the darkness of life. He also provides quite a bit of medical research to get to the bottom of a serious problem in modern medicine when it comes to diagnosing and treating depression.

Dr. Hodges summarizes the history of depression, including how it has been is diagnosed and is normally treated. Depression is always a subjective diagnosis, and research has shown that there is no proof that “chemical imbalances” cause depression. In fact, “There has never been a peer-reviewed, published journal article that proves that a serotonin deficiency is the cause of any mental disorder” (45). The current medications (like Prozac, et al.) simply create an abnormal state that patients prefer to the symptoms of depression. Dr. Hodges also examines a number of recent studies that showed placebos were just as effective, if not more, than antidepressants in depressed persons (48-49). The case for a disease-model of depression has, in reality, zero evidence.

So what is going on with all these people who are depressed? Dr. Hodges argues that they are experiencing extreme sadness. This sadness is no different than what people have been experiencing for thousands of years. When someone is labeled “depressed” or as having “bipolar” by a medical professional, they are given license to play the victim (112). “The biggest problem with labeling is that we quit looking for an answer. Once we have the label, we have the answer” (154). Dr. Hodges points us away from label-based medicine and counseling, and works toward building a gospel-centered framework for sadness. The good news is that Jesus cares deeply for those who are sad.

Dr. Hodges proposes that, at bottom, a depressed person has been denied something (e.g. health, wealth, friends, etc.) they wanted. In other words, they have been worshiping an idol, not God. Nearly all cases of diagnosed depression occur because of loss–sometimes small, sometimes extreme. Loss is a normal part of life. The important thing to focus on is how will we respond to it. Dr. Hodges argues that this sadness is a gift of God given to drive us further into the gospel of grace (chs. 6-7). In other words, sadness drives us to repentance and trust (two sides of the same coin). This is the major theme in the latter half of the book. When we can learn to repent and live by grace instead of labels, we will be thankful for the sadness in our life (ch. 10). In a way, this book is a “theology of sadness” from the perspective of a doctor-theologian.

While Dr. Hodges understands depression to be a form of severe sadness than can only be solved with the gospel, he has a helpful appendix that explains how several diseases can affect a person’s mood.

The book is confident in its conclusions, yet gentle in its approach. Just like a good doctor. It is far from technical. I have no medical training or background, yet did not find myself lost at any point. At the same time, it is not simplistic or elemental. Doctors will have to wrestle with this book’s solution to the most common mental disorders of our day. Finally, doctors, pastors, counselors, parents, depressed persons, and friends of depressed persons will be helped by this book. I trust that if you read it, you will find it illuminating, convicting, encouraging, hopeful, and freeing. And if you know someone who is depressed, share the ideas from this book with them. They will not be disappointed.

Life Reviews Theology

The Utter Relief of Holiness Review

John Eldredge. The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Plagues Us. New York: Faith Works 2013. 208 pp. $19.99.

Reviewer’s Note: At the outset, let me say that this is the first John Eldredge book I have read. I am not unfamiliar with the claims that Eldredge is a bad Bible teacher at best and a heretic at worst. The point of this review isn’t to put those kinds of labels on him, but to simply examine his take on holiness as presented in his recent book. At the same time, I have read excerpts of other works from Eldredge and, as a discerning reviewer should do, I advise you to exercise extreme caution with Eldredge’s teachings. I hope my review will reveal why I feel this way.

In The Utter Relief of Holiness, John Eldredge attempts to convince Christians of the necessity of holiness and aid them in the practice of holiness. His goal is to “recover a vision of what holiness actually is,” trusting that a true vision would “absolutely captivate” Christians and be “an utter relief” (18-19). Why an utter relief? Because when we are holy, we will live the way we were made to live.

The book’s greatest strength is the focus on motive and heart idols. Holiness is not about faking it; legalism isn’t the road to holiness (50). “Holiness…is a matter of the heart” (52). Repentance is a key to holiness, and Eldredge says we must not focus on external repentance, but on what our heart desires (63). For example, at the end of a long day, the box of donuts calls your name. You long for comfort, and that is a good desire. Donuts aren’t the problem; the direction of your heart is. Holiness is recognizing your need to repent that you long for a false comfort rather than Christ, the only one who can really comfort you (121). In the end, to be holy we must honestly ask if we are looking to something for comfort, assurance, validation, pleasure, etc. over and above what God is for us (173).

Eldredge also rightly tells us that before conversion, the Christian had no choice but to sin. Because of the cross, however, we now can fight in the battle against sin. “Without the cross, sin would simply rule in us and over us unchallenged” (104). Christ purchased holiness for us: “Because of the work of Christ for us and in us, we now have the possibility of living a life filled with the captivating goodness of Jesus” (104). The cross must be the springboard for personal holiness, and Eldredge leaps off of this foundation well.

Finally, I commend Eldredge because he makes it clear that we can actually advance in holiness. Meditating on what Christ has accomplished in the gospel should lead to Spirit-empowered work and transformation. In other words, we need to put forth some effort in pursuing holiness and we should see progress. We need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we can do so because it is God who works in us (112).

The shortcomings, however, severely outweigh these positives. In order to keep this review of manageable length, I’ll mention three of them.

First, Eldredge ignores imputed righteousness as the foundation for holiness in favor of imparted righteousness. In chapter 8, “What God Did for You in Jesus,” Eldredge rightly states that “in order to begin experience [holiness]…we need a basic understanding of what has been accomplished on our behalf” (99). After listing five truths of what Christ purchased for us in his death and resurrection, he then writes that the greatest news in heaven or on earth is that “the life of Jesus Christ has been imparted into your being” (103). Earlier in the book, Eldredge said, “The hope of Christianity is that we get to live life like Jesus…The way he does this is to give us his goodness; impart it to us” (42-43). Again, “His beautiful goodness can be ours…He does this by giving us his goodness; he imparts it to us” (179). Imparted righteousness (a Wesleyan doctrine) states that when God regenerates people, there is a righteous principle given to them to strive for holiness. Peter does state that Christians have partaken of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Christ is in believers by the Spirit who empowers Christians to progressively grow in holiness.

Yet Eldredge unhelpfully ignores the biblical and true foundation for holiness: the imputed righteousness of Christ. If a believer’s hope is in the fact that he gets to live the life of Jesus, he will be severely frustrated and disappointed. Biblically, however, the Christian’s hope is on the grace of God supremely revealed in the gospel, namely that God no longer counts his sins against him but has “made [Jesus] to be sin” so that sinners might “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is not a righteousness we must to “live” each day. It is a righteousness revealed by faith—which is our only true hope (Rom. 1:17). Imputed righteousness is not a righteousness that fluctuates in daily practice. It is one that is given as a gift and received by faith and cannot be taken away. It is a perfect righteousness and one that hides the believer with Christ before the Father (Col. 3:3). This must be the foundation and fuel for holiness.

Second, Eldredge ignores the cosmic scope of holiness. He rightly emphasizes that God is restoring all of creation (17), but incredibly he neglects the fact that at the center of God’s cosmic restoration program is the church: God’s community of people called to live together and love each other. Holiness is a community project: the local church must be essential if holiness is to be a reality in an individual’s life. Eldredge ignores the church’s role and plugs his Wild at Heart retreats multiple times (53, 133, 158, 167). He fails to mention any corporate means of grace (public worship, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, small group fellowship/accountability, etc), and actually equates “the Church” with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day (154).

Third, the picture Eldredge paints of holiness is almost entirely drawn from Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels. Of course, this is a fine place to examine holiness par excellence! Yet Eldredge fails to expound on the majestic and glorious pictures of God’s holiness in the Old Testament. At best, Eldredge limits the revelation of God’s holiness, implying that the picture of God in the Old Testament is not as compelling as Jesus in the New Testament. Indeed, this could insinuate that the Old Testament is irrelevant or even unnecessary as we seek to understand God’s holiness.

Eldredge does many good things in this book. He paints a compelling picture of holiness. He emphasizes the importance of motive, walking the tight line of legalism and license. He is also clear that holiness means making God our treasure (see 171). When I analyze a book, though, I try to ask, “Would I hand this book to another person who’s dealing with this issue?” Unfortunately, Eldredge is unclear, unhelpful, or incomplete in too many areas for me to give this book to another Christian, particularly one who is a recent convert.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


The Heart of Evangelsim

I just finished reading The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs, founder and Resident Scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary.  This is perhaps the best and fullest piece I have read on evangelism.

Woven throughout the book is what Barrs feels to be the seven principles of communicating the gospel.  They are: showing respect, building bridges for the gospel, understanding what others believe, speaking the right language, reasoned persuasion, clarifying the good news, and challenging the heart and mind.  Don’t let this list fool you.  This isn’t just “Seven Steps to Convert a Non-Believer.”  Barrs is personal, delicate, and Scriptural as he writes.  The title of the book is most definitely what Barrs is getting at.

Perhaps this book was encouraging and challenging to me because I’m in a context in South Africa that doesn’t lend well to prepared, memorized presentations of the gospel.  South Africa isn’t that far from America, or even Europe.  Relationships need to be built up and established.

Regarding those memorized summaries of the gospel, Barrs writes, “I must be ready to have a genuine conversation with the individual before me rather than giving him or her ‘the pitch’ as if I am a salesman who is eager to get through my presentation as quickly as possible and make my sale” (p. 176).

I think that Christians oftentimes just want to “get to the gospel” and they act as if that is the only important thing we can say to a person.  Consider Jesus himself who sometimes didn’t clearly explain the gospel (such as with the young rich man in Luke 18, as one example).  Barrs says, “Every conversation Jesus had was different, for Jesus treated the people He met as individuals” (p. 177).  In other words, not every conversation can get to the gospel by opening up a tract or reciting what we learned when we were seven years old.

This book is so rich in its detail that I can’t write about everything in it (that would be a really long review).  The bottom line is that Barrs challenges the traditional 1980s Christian “way of doing evangelism” by calling us to live life with and around non-Christians, understanding and respecting what they believe, and being wise and discerning about how to reach each person as a unique individual made in the image of God.


The Pleasures of God by John Piper

I’m going to try to start giving brief reviews of books after I read them.  It’s mostly for my benefit to remember what I read, but nevertheless, I’m sure you might find it helpful.  I just finished The Pleasures of God by John Piper.

Piper takes his thesis from Henry Scougal: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (18).  And in 340 pages, Piper argues that God’s soul is the most worthy and excellent and therefore God himself is the primary object of his love.  Our object of love, therefore, should be ultimately God himself.

Why is this not narcissism on God’s part?  Isn’t God selfish to honor himself above, say, people?  Well, if he loved us more than himself, God would be breaking the first commandment!  Piper writes, “So God’s first love is rooted in the value of his holy name, not the value of a sinful people.  And because it is, there is hope for the sinful people — since they are not the ground of their salvation, God’s name is.  Do you see why the God-centeredness of God is the ground of the gospel? (105).

The ten chapters cover God’s pleasure in: his Son, all that God does, his creation, his fame, election, bruising his Son, those who hope in him, obedience and justice, and concealing himself from the wise and revealing himself to children.

The three most stirring chapters for me were chapters four through six: His Fame, Election, and the Bruising of His Son.  In chapter 4, the main thrust is that God works for his name, his reputation, his glory.  Piper talks a lot about missions in this chapter, and on page 110, he wrote, “The aim of missions is to bring about the obedience of faith among all the unreached peoples of the world.  But that is not the ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal — even of faith and obedience — is ‘for the sake of his name.’ The fame of Christ, the reputation of Christ is what burned in the heart of the apostle Paul.”

Piper includes the chapter on election, he says, because its goal is to magnify God and “take all boasting off of man and focus all boasting on God” (137).  In chapter six, on the bruising of Christ, Piper wonderfully lays out the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  Most of this chapter discusses George MacDonald’s folly of rejecting our righteousness based on Christ’s suffering.  “Why couldn’t God just let bygones be bygones?” Piper asks.  “Because God loves the honor of his name.  He will not act as though sin, which belittles his glory, didn’t matter (161).  Therefore, Christ took the punishment so sinners could be redeemed.

This is one of Piper’s easier reads, perhaps because it is redundant (in a good way).  Some parts are heavy, such as the chapters on election and God’s concealing and revealing himself.  Still, every word points you to the greatest thing in the universe — God — and all the pleasure he has in his glorious self.