Why the Church needs more focus on discipleship than 'biblical manhood and womanhood': author

Aimee Byrd, theologian and author with Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Aimee Byrd, theologian and author with Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals | Photo: Courtesy of Aimee Byrd

Whenever the subject of gender and the Church comes up, controversy seems to inevitably follow and for some, the way in which "biblical manhood and womanhood" has been taught has been detrimental to them.

Having experienced some of that dysfunction herself, author Aimee Byrd of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals emphasizes in her latest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, which was released on May 5, that discipleship is the main aim of the Church.

As evangelicals continue to debate who can and cannot serve in leadership positions in the Church, the vast majority must be trained to find their calling in God's Kingdom and in the Church, she maintains, and in order to do that the entire biblical metanarrative around conventional ideas regarding manhood and womanhood must be reengaged.

"What do we believe about what the Bible says about why we are made and where we're headed?" the author asks in recent video series from Zondervan about her book and what inspired it.

Byrd elaborated in a recent interview with The Christian Post that her goal was and is to reinvigorate the conversation about how churches approach their charge to disciple believers, particularly regarding male and female lay ministers, and how they teach and edify one other outside of specific offices where ordination is required. Unfortunately, she explained, some are now misrepresenting her work and making unfair characterizations about what she has written.

Byrd is also the co-host of the Mortification of Spin podcast and resides in Maryland with her family. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

CP: In light of the reckoning that has been happening within the wider culture in recent years as it pertains to male-female relations, everything from #metoo and #churchtoo, why do you think it is that whenever one dares touch the subject of gender in the Church it raises the hackles of everybody so much?

Byrd: I think there are multiple reasons for that. I try to do the best I can. But unfortunately, I have experienced some of the worst, which is pretty sad. When I'm talking about gender I'm immediately assigned by some a motive of having some sort of feminist agenda, a hidden agenda in my writing. There is a fear motivation, I think, behind some of it. They think we are trying to usurp authority from men.

I'm a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which has pretty conservative views of women. And I adhere to the confessions that my church subscribes to in my writing. The odd thing is, and it's really hard for me to communicate this level as a woman, but I am not writing about church leadership and who gets ordained. And when I do write about that I write and affirm what my denomination does. I'm writing about lay people and discipleship. And that's what so strange. At first I was naive enough to think, I wrote my first book about how women are theologians as well because anybody who engages in conversation or even thought about who God is ... is a theologian. And so I encouraged women to be good theologians and to sharpen their theology and to invest in that.

That was accepted pretty well. But I find that when you talk outside of the circles of women's ministry — and there are a lot of problems within women's ministry, like how we are marketed to, how condescending it really is, and how little we are invested in theologically — as soon as I get outside of that and talk about lay discipleship being invested in as same as the men and having our own theological contributions as sisters in the church, that's where the 'Hold up, Aimee' comes. And what I'm finding in some of the critiques of the book is that there is just a prevalent ontology of woman that she is by nature subservient to the man so, therefore, laywomen are subservient to laymen.

CP: We've previously spoken about women and their leadership abilities in the Church. Do you think that this ontology you're speaking of that continues to appear is in any way rooted in a flawed view of the Trinity, what is known as Eternal Subordination of the Son, where Jesus is eternally in submission to the Father, a view that has been held and espoused (to varying degrees) by some of your critics? Is this view of how the three Persons of the Godhead relate to each other projected onto human relationships, specifically how men relate to women?

Byrd: In the book, I make the case that the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which was edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, does make that case in some of its articles. I don't think necessarily that all the contributors of that book would make that case but the editors certainly included it all there. And then, what was surprising to me was that some who would emphatically push back against ESS are still making the case of natural theology and women's ontological subordination. That was odd to me to find that as well.

CP: What is the most urgent point you're emphasizing most in Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as it pertains to discipleship?

Byrd: Originally, I sought out to write the book about discipleship because in all my experiences, even in the Reformed church, which values education, in my speaking engagements all over the country, I'm finding that a lot of churches are lacking a vision for discipleship and have outsourced a lot of it to parachurch groups and are lacking training for disciples to teach each other. So I sought to write a book to come alongside the church and maybe lay out a vision of discipleship and have the elders use it as a sort of way to start training disciples, equipping them more. But as a woman writing about these things I found a roadblock — this whole woman thing. Me being a woman talking about it and also discipling women alongside of men and the differences in separation that are so saturated now in our church culture.

In talking with my editor, we decided that the roadblocks need to be addressed directly, and I kind of have that more direct voice in my writing anyway. So she encouraged me to do that. The book is sort of presented as an alternative to all the resources we have marketed to us in this evangelical so-called "biblical womanhood" culture.

My book focuses on three things: 1) the reciprocity of the male and female voices of Scripture, to how we read our Bible. 2) The covenantal aspect to Bible-reading and interpretation, the importance of our public community in the local church in the reading of Scripture. 3) Lastly, bearing the fruit of that, in our church life, so the great honor we have toward one another as brothers and sisters in God's house.

CP: You've gotten some favorable reviews and others are asking more pointed questions. What do you believe is the most unfair criticism you've received?

Byrd: There are two levels to it. There is an actual private Facebook group that had over 1,100 members there for a while before they started purging people who were sharing things in it. It's full of church officers from Reformed denominations and it was formed to combat the teachings of several women. I was added [among those several women] and became the No. 1 enemy, I guess. For over two years, this group has been harassing me and slandering and plotting against me.

A lot of them have anonymous accounts on Twitter and social media but now some of them are starting to write under their own name, accusing me of being a feminist and trying to take down the Reformed church with a terrible agenda ... they twist everything I say. They're not going to want to read it with any kind of understanding. They're just coming after me.

And then I think there's this other group that the unfairness I would say is that instead of addressing actual horrible things [as it relates] to biblical manhood and womanhood, they might say things like "Well yeah, there are some issues in the movement, but ..." and then they kind of want to critique me for what I didn't write. I didn't write the book that they wanted me to write. And so I need to answer these questions before I have any credibility to write what I did want to write.

That has been frustrating to me because I would like to have a good conversation. And I certainly don't think I'm the last word on any of this, that my book is just scratching the surface on these things. I know, principally, what I write is in line with my [denominational] confession so if I'm able to do that, and there are things that people maybe disagree with outside of that, what I write, and in the application of the Bible interpretation in there, that's great. Let's have a conversation about that. I even expect that. I wrote the book with discussion questions at the end. Talk through those things where you differ. Talk about the biblical principles we're holding in common here. I would love for that to happen but instead I'm getting: "You didn't talk about 1 Timothy 2." Well OK, but that's because this isn't a book about ordination. It's not about women being held up as a church officer. It's about laypeople.

No one is talking about the "one another" verses and the verses about all people being told that they need to be able to teach, all the stuff that I am talking about that is about discipleship. It's like they bypass all my main points. That's kind of insulting and frustrating to me as a conversation partner wanting my book to be discussed for what I did write.

And even in some areas where I talk about Lydia as a church plant of Paul, I ask questions that some people were asking. Was Lydia, then, a leader of church leaders after they left? I came to the conclusion that it appears that Luke was left behind by the use of first-person and third-person that he uses in Acts and therefore I believe that Luke was left behind, get started before more church officers are established, that they didn't leave Lydia, a new convert, to lead the whole church. And yet, I'm being accused everywhere of calling Lydia "a pastor." I don't get it.

I'm being accused of calling Junia an apostle with a capital A where I labor to show that I don't think she was an apostle with a capital A but we can't get beyond the fact that she is called "great among the apostles" [in Romans 15] with a lowercase a — people planting churches, all of the qualifications of the many people who were described as apostles.

CP: In other words they were apostolic in the truest sense of the word, meaning "sent one."

Byrd: Right, exactly. So those things are really frustrating. So people are really stumbling on, just talking about women serving in any kind of capacity like that.

I'm hearing from so many men and women have been struggling with this topic, who have been through some pretty bad junk in the church because of it, who are very appreciative of the book. And what's really burning on my heart here is that, yes, I had to [address] some critique in this book directly but what I'm really wanting to do is peel back that stuff and reveal what the Bible is really saying here, which is really rich and beautiful about God's love for His church and our great honor as disciples to communicate God's Word and then commune together as a church.

And so I would hope that while it is a controversial topic, but why let it set us back? It's really sad that it's that controversial and so I hope that people would get past that part of it and that even if you disagree with me, that we can have a calmer conversation about it. I don't have a secret agenda. I'm pretty direct.

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