A Review of “Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood” by Aimee Byrd

 

The hype and drama surrounding the release of this book was massive. It caused some men to huddle together in groups and blast Aimee Byrd in private conversations (which were later justly exposed). It caused lots of hang-wringing and accusations that Byrd was a liberal progressive trying to undermine conservative theology. Having read the book I can honestly say that such drama is excessive. Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is less controversial than many have suggested.

The book’s eight chapters are broken down across three parts. Part one focuses on the way we read Scripture. Here Byrd examines the way Bible studies are promoted to men and women uniquely, and she argues that while men and women are obviously different they don’t need separate Bibles. Part two focuses on the mission of the church. Here she argues that we have been co-opted by the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood agenda and have lost sight of what the mission and purpose of the church actually is. Part three, rounds out the book by focusing particularly on what female discipleship in the church ought to look like. Despite the consternation many have over the book, the primary focus is actually on discipleship. That’s hardly controversial.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t a challenge to the modern church or to the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood movement. It certainly is. Byrd does not agree with the narrow definition of gender roles that the movement has developed and promoted. She thinks such a definition is incompatible with Scripture and undermines the discipleship of women in the church. She makes a compelling case in this book, though it is not a sufficient case. In fact, one of my major complaints with the book is that it really doesn’t challenge the narrow Complimentarian movement at its core. She hits on some important issues, addresses bad theology, bad verbiage, and bad practice in some pockets, but it’s not a robust critique. I would have expected that a book titled Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would have focused more attention on such critiques. She avoids addressing some key Scriptures that are utilized to advocate for a narrow Complimentarianism, and this limits the effect of her overall critique. The book is, however, primarily about discipleship and so perhaps the title is not as fitting to the focus of the book as it seems.

The book’s real benefit is in offering fresh perspective on the church’s practice in relation to discipling women. She utilizes the symbolism of the 1892 book Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. The book is a sort of porto-feminist critique of the oppression of women under the guise of care and compassion. Byrd uses the symbolism to show that the church often appears to be caring for women in the way that they teach and train women, but their approach feels more like an oppression than an actual discipleship. She urges the church, then, to peel back the yellow wallpaper and free women to truly learn theology. Her critiques here are valuable because we are so use to looking at the yellow wallpaper we rarely see what we are doing and not doing in our discipleship efforts. She offers fresh perspective that allows us to more accurately evaluate, and hopefully, make adjustments. She is not calling for a feminist theology here, or for women pastors, but she is legitimately challenging the ways in which much of the modern church limits the theological education of women, and therefore the theological benefit of women in the church.

In many ways I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. Byrd is not some scary liberal out to overthrow the church or upend conservative theology and polity. I am something of a “soft Complimentarian,” so perhaps I found the book more palatable than others, but overall it doesn’t seem very controversial. The proper discipleship of women ought to be something that all churches can support. Byrd helps us to spell out what that looks like and does, in my opinion, a commendable job. Now, I hope she writes something more thoroughly critiquing the narrow view of Complimentarianism – i.e. something a tiny bit more controversial.

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