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Reviews

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.

Categories
Ministry

How Can We Best Change Culture?

What good do missionaries accomplish in the wider culture when their primary focus is on calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus? In a recent blog post over at Desiring God, John Piper connects the dots between spreading the gospel and seeing renewal in societal structures and systems.

Piper points out that sociologist Robert Woodbury published his findings about missionary impact around the world after a decade of research. Woodbury found that the greatest change in culture occurred where “conversionary Protestants” had a presence. While Woodbury did not explicitly define “conversionary Protestants,” Piper concluded that they must  be “missionaries…who believe that to be saved from sin and judgment one must convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ.” I think this is a right definition.

In all the conversation about cultural renewal or societal transformation or whatever you want to call it, Christians are often divided on how best to go about it. Woodbury’s research provides outstanding insight. Piper sees a “significant implication” in the research, and he points out what the implication is. He hits the nail on the head:

[T]he way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.

There is a biblical reason for this. The only acts of love and justice that count with God are the fruit of conversion. If repentance toward God and faith in Jesus does not precede our good works, then the works themselves are part of man’s rebellion, not part of his worship.

If we understand mission, conversion, and cultural renewal this way, we will have an impact on culture, but we will go about it by seeking internal, Spirit-wrought, grace-driven internal change. We won’t neglect the social, political, and personal needs, but these things won’t consume all our energy–or even the majority of it. We will focus our time, energy, and resources on seeing people converted to Jesus. And as we see people turn from sin and idolatry to Jesus, we will see re-ordered love and re-ordered lives and pockets of culture changed for the better.

Take a minute and read Piper’s whole post.

Categories
Life Theology

My Theological Journey

Over the past several months, I have reflected on my journey toward a gospel centered, Reformed theology.  It’s fascinating to me to listen to other people’s conversion-to-Jesus stories. But I also love hearing stories of theological development, particularly, what God used to draw them to one theological persuasion or the other. That’s what this post is about: my theological journey, or conversion, if you will.

In the summer of 2006, I went on a mission trip to San Diego (rough place for a mission trip). Before that, I would have never called myself a Calvinist. I grew up in a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, had a healthy fervor for “free will,” and generally had no knowledge of what Reformed theology was all about (but knew it was wrong, obviously!). On that fateful mission trip everything changed. I was given a copy of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your LifeThis book came with a weight of glory that is still hard for me to describe. I was also given a CD (yes, a CD) of a Piper message from Passion 2000. The book and sermon motivated me to be centered on the person and work of Jesus in everything. I wanted to hear more from this Piper guy, so I dug into his blogs, sermons, and other books when I got home. Desiring God showed me that glorifying Jesus by treasuring him was the point of Christianity. God Is the Gospel opened my eyes to see that the gospel is not just about the gift of forgiveness, but about the gift of getting God himself. If you know anything about Piper, you know everything he writes or says is saturated with Bible and God’s glory and sovereignty. I feasted on it. By God’s design, John Piper is the main reason I am persuaded by Reformed theology and Christian Hedonism.

During my senior year of college, 2006-2007, I was preparing to join staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Our campus director, Bill Kollar, encouraged me to buy a book to help me understand the grand narrative of the Bible. I loved systematic theology–I had been given a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem earlier in the year–but this idea of biblical theology (big picture narrative stuff) was foreign to me. The book was by Vaughn Roberts, a British Anglican. I had thought Anglicans were weird (and wrong), and Brits even more so. The book was called God’s Big Picture. I devoured it, finding joy in one-plot storyline of Scripture. Today, it’s probably one of my most-recommended beginner resources.

As I shopped for Roberts’ book on Amazon, I found one in the “related” section called Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by another Anglican, this one an Australian named Graeme Goldsworthy. I was intrigued by this “gospel-centered” phrase, thinking, That’s what I want to be. So I bought the book. Yet unlike with Roberts, I was devoured by Goldsworthy. I couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t until some four years later in 2011 that I finally finished–and loved–the book. Happening upon Goldsworthy’s text was the first time I had seen or heard the term “gospel-centered.” The Gospel Coalition had not been founded yet; but Goldsworthy, as I found out, was one of scores pastors and scholars, dead and alive, who were “gospel-centered” before it was cool. I wanted to learn from them. Luther. Calvin. Edwards. Spurgeon. Stott. Lloyd-Jones. Packer. Sproul. Bridges. Keller. Carson. And, of course, Piper. 

Finally, two major things shaped me during my short time as a Campus Crusade staff. First, my Cru staff team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We weren’t a “Reformed” campus ministry, but we might as well have been. This team was committed to a high view of God and a low view of man, deep theological reflection, and a greater understanding of the gospel and conversion than the Four Spiritual Laws (what Cru is often known for).

Second, I was asked to write a series of Bible studies on 1 and 2 Samuel. Crusade (now called Cru) was making a theological shift at the time to be more Christ-centered in their discipleship material. Keith Johnson, director of theological education and development for Cru, Tim Henderson, Cru director at Penn State, and Bill Kollar, were so gracious to disciple me to see Christ and his gospel as the solution to every Scripture passage. Keith had me read a few chapters in Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preachinga book that changed my whole approach to preaching a teaching. In the end, writing those studies proved to be one of the richest theological and practical exercises I have ever done.

By the time I went to South Africa with Cru in 2009, I was at home with Reformed theology, and the gospel-centeredness was beginning to settle. This gospel element, thankfully, taught me to not be a Reformed jerk (I am not immune, but I am growing!). It was either immediately before or after that trip (I can’t remember), that I read Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God and Counterfeit GodsBoth books were helpful for diagnosing the heart-source of my jerkiness and gave me biblical, gospel-centered ways of dealing with it.

There’s so much more, but I am sure 900 words is enough for you. God has been so gracious to lead me theologically (and practically!) and the journey is not done–which is the most exciting part of all!

What about you? How has God shaped you theologically, and what did he use to get you to that point?

Categories
Theology

After Darkness Light: A Video about John Calvin

Watch this 6-minute video from John Piper about John Calvin’s ministry in Geneva, Switzerland.

HT: Desiring God

Categories
Theology

Preaching is “Heralding a Message”

John Piper explains what preaching is, and, in his explanation, heralds the good news of the King:

HT: Desiring God