Byrd is an author, speaker, blogger, podcaster, and former coffee-shop owner. She is a published author of several books and the cohost of Mortification of Spin podcast.
This book has a provocative title. It is much more than a response to the work of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW, https://cbmw.org/), although it surely is that. Byrd writes, “When we go to the riches in his Word, we don’t find a masculine and a feminine version, but one Bible to guide us all. We don’t find that our ultimate goal is biblical manhood or womanhood but complete, glorified resurrection to live eternally with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We don’t find a command anywhere in Scripture for all women to submit to all men. We don’t find directions for women to function as masculinity affirmers. We find that men and women are called together to the same mission: eternal communion with the triune God” (25). In short, “this book presents an alternative to all the resources marketed on biblical womanhood and manhood today, focusing on the reciprocity of the male and female voices in Scripture, the covenantal aspect to Bible reading and interpretation, and bearing the fruit of that in our church life” (25).
Byrd does not deny that there are differences between men and women; she denies that there are different Bibles, one for men and one for women. She is also not averse to marketing the Bible with different covers for men and women; she is concerned that one impact of different Bibles for men and women is that it “puts a lens of interpretation of God’s Word—the lens of biblical manhood and womanhood. The underlying message is that there is a men’s version and women’s version to read. There is a male and a female way to meditate on the Bible’s teaching. And this separates the sexes by our cultural gender paradigms” (41). This is almost certainly an unintended consequence of the marketing: “While the intentions of reaching men and women may be good, it conditions men and women to constant reflection on how God’s Word is relevant to their own sex. The emphasis is on the differences between men and women. I affirm that there are differences between men and women. God made male and female. But we need to be careful not to reduce us by our distinctions. . . . Men and women are not opposing beings; we are all human beings bearing the image of God” (41).
In “Why Not the Book of Boaz” and “Girls Interrupted,” she reads the stories of women in the Bible, pointing out how many named women are major characters in the work of redemption. Yet she constantly reminds the reader that these stories are not primarily about the human characters. She writes about the book of Ruth, “The book isn’t primarily about Ruth or Boaz or Naomi. It’s not primarily about the female voice or manhood or womanhood or patriarchy. It’s primarily about God” (52). Thus, the human characters and the male and female voices in the stories are the means of telling God’s story, and the humans should not be interpreted as the heroes of the stories.
In the chapter “Why Our Aim Is Not Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” she takes direct aim at Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton: Crossway, 1991, 2006]) and CBMW. She rightly points out the theological problems with an assertion of eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. For an excellent treatment of the issues involved, see D. Glenn Butner Jr., The Son Who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case against the Eternal Submission of the Son (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2018). Her criticism of the language of male and female roles is pointed: “We need to stop using the word role in reference to permanent fixed identity. Roles can change, especially in different cultures. My sexuality is not a role I play. I don’t need to act like a woman; I actually am a woman. Furthermore, role playing is neither our identity nor our eternal aim” (120).
She rightly calls the church to a focus on discipleship. Her focus on the community is correct: “What laypeople need to understand is that our time alone in Scripture is connected to our time with our brothers and sisters sitting under the preached Word. Church leadership should be helping us to understand that we aren’t disconnected individuals, detached from the whole history of the communion of the saints” (165). She is right to call for the church “to reform and renew how we look at discipleship as well as the contribution of women in discipleship” (161). But then she claims that only the church can make disciples: “Discipleship is the church’s commission. Parachurch organizations don’t make disciples. God makes disciples through the ministry, and, as a fruit of that, men and women tradents in his church” (161). Surely this is an overstatement. Churches and parachurch organizations can and should work together to make disciples. Pitting the two against each other is as unnecessary and mistaken as pitting men against women. She even takes aim at IF:Gathering (https://www.ifgathering.com/), claiming that this organization’s discipleship focus is misplaced: “I would not say that these leaders are directly telling women to use their parachurch ministry in place of church. But this mission, and their success, reveals that no one is noticing that discipleship belongs to the church” (157–58). Having had some involvement with this parachurch ministry I can attest that the leaders do encourage women to be active and serve in a local church.
The next chapter uses the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 to encourage the church to include women in the “creative and spiritual life in the church. We contribute literary expression and spiritual creativity. We must be in the heart of existence. We pass on the heritage of the tradition to future generations, a most vital task. We are to serve in roles that identify with knowledge of God’s Word. And this inclusion will affect our public image” (186; italics original). Then she asks the profound and important questions: “If you were to ask the women in your church if they are a valued part of the household of God in these ways, what would they say? When outsiders to the faith look at your church, is this the image they see of the men and women there” (186).
This is an important book. It is well documented; Byrd is familiar with the theological literature. It is well written and easily digested. It is provocative at times, pointed in its criticism and praise. It is well grounded in the Bible and historical theology. It is highly recommended to church leaders, whether complementarian or egalitarian.
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