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Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Aimee Byrd (Zondervan, 2020).

*Update: For a review that is better than mine, providing a broader sense of what the book is about, with helpful quotes/excerpts, see HERE.

Finally, my promised review, delayed for a couple reasons – one being a carpal tunnel type problem with my hand, and the other is that this book was so good that I feel a bit nervous, even now, that I will not adequately describe it to you. This is a very important book, 5 stars, and as one review states: “This book could provide the gender reset that evangelical churches have needed for a long time.”  I agree.

Aimee Byrd’s audience for this book is primarily church leaders, although concerned lay people (like myself) will certainly appreciate it. This is the first book I’ve read in a long time, that when I finished reading it, I wanted to turn to page 1 and start reading the book again. The book is simply that enlightening! It carefully explained and analyzed things that have bothered and concerned me for years. The book is a bit theological in places, but the issues are explained for anyone lacking in knowledge. It covers a lot of ground, yet it is focused, and skillfully connects the dots of related issues as the book unfolds.

What this book is not…It is not about whether women can be ordained or have the position of senior pastor/elder. I saw a critical review that expressed “surprise at the omission of certain texts [1 Timothy 2] that are salient to the concerns of the book.” Umm? Byrd could not have been more clear that the book is not about that. Rather her book is about the voice of women in the church, and how their voice, discipleship, and service in the church has been sidelined and restricted far more than in biblical times, Old and New Testament alike. Something has gone terribly wrong in the church and Christian culture in recent years.

Actually, you could say the theme of this book is Christian discipleship. The church is to be discipling men and women, equipping them for ministry, and this has been hindered and hampered by the “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement that developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The intention of the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1991) and CBMW were good, as they observed disconcerting trends in culture that indeed needed to be addressed by the church, but things went wrong. Note the title of Byrd’s book adds the word FROM to the title.

Even if you have never heard of this movement, you have nonetheless been influenced by it! It became broadly influential in evangelicalism – affecting churches, publishing houses, and parachurch ministries. I’ve been in a mainline church (United Methodist) about 6 years now and observed evidence of its influence even among them! (Sigh)

Aimee Byrd is clear that she does not believe in gender sameness, that men and women are distinct, and the book is neither man-bashing nor woman-empowering.

Byrd diplomatically and graciously points out problems with these teachings and results of it. Examples are given, so you cannot accuse Byrd of being unfair or exaggerating. Some downright strange and troubling ideas have flowed from the so-called biblical manhood and womanhood movement! These things can no longer be ignored or swept under the carpet.

Besides that, it “divided” men and women in the church in a variety of ways. Instead of learning and serving together in the church as co-laborers for the gospel, the body of Christ ended up like two bodies. A gender ghetto developed, false dichotomies made, and the church suffered as a result. Men and women have been reduced to simplistic stereotypes, unable to function in the fullness that God intended for them as men and women, faithfully reflecting their Creator.

Women in particular have been fed a diet of anemic teaching. The book carefully looks at a study Bible for men and a study Bible for women, and notes how the Bible ends up interpreted through a lens of biblical manhood and womanhood (and an accompanying lens of authority and submission). We have forgotten basic Bible interpretation methods and lost focus on our Lord Jesus Christ.

Instead of growing in the likeness of Jesus, the main concern is to grow into a biblical woman or man. You would think Jesus taught one set of virtues for women and another set for men! No. Jesus did not do such. Again, this is not about gender sameness, but we will become a truly “biblical” man or woman when we are striving to be like Christ.

Lest you think this is mostly a critical and negative book, it is not. It shares enough examples to make the problems evident, but does not do so in excess. Much of the book is “positive” in that it highlights the voices of women in the Bible. Despite the cultural backdrop of Bible times being patriarchal, women are utilized in surprising ways. We can fail to see what is there in regards to women, and the book skillfully brings this out.

Some women in Scripture, deemed faithful and good examples, would be seen as rebellious by the modern day “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement. Also, we clearly see women in the Bible, particularly in the early New Testament church, doing things that are forbidden in many evangelical churches today! How can this be? Women were an active part of Christ’s earthly ministry and the early church, and were not shuffled to the side, treated as a separate entity to do exclusive women’s ministry.

The book presents a robust theology of the church and our ultimate purpose. Men and women need each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that the church brought together Jews and gentiles, slave and free, women and men. The “biblical” manhood and womanhood movement divides the church in a way that is not biblical! Men and women both bear the image of God, and when half the image is sidelined or voiceless or undervalued, the church ends up with a truncated or imbalanced view of the God we worship together. We must recover and return to a better way. The mission of the church is at stake!

On that note, the book has a worthwhile section about the telos or purpose of men and women, and Byrd interacts with a number of Christian writings from traditions outside the evangelical camp. After this section she notes: “The above concept of man and woman is far more robust than I have seen in either complementarian or egalitarian teaching.” (page 130)  She is right. Complementarians reduce the personhood of men and women, while egalitarians have just not delved into this sufficiently.

I highly recommend this book. The end of each chapter has thoughtful questions to help you reflect on the content. Throughout the book, but particularly at the end, there are challenging questions for male leaders to help them perceive whether they are truly valuing and utilizing women in their church.

There is also discussion about whether laymen and laywomen are being treated differently. Remember, the book is not about ordination, and is more about discipleship and service in the church. Some things may be limited to those in ordained ministry, but too often laymen are doing things that laywoman are forbidden to do. If a layman can do it, why can’t a laywoman?

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What happens: When a Woman Challenges “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” ? Read this review for a glimpse!