Let’s do better: Reflections on stirring the Byrd’s nest

If you interact on social media in Reformed circles, you are probably aware of the recent furore surrounding Aimee Byrd’s most recent book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The title is provocative, no doubt, and has led to a series of unfortunate events.

Shortly after the book was released, the Mortification of Spin (MoS) podcast—on which Aimee served as a long-time co-host—addressed the controversy surrounding the book. In typical MoS lighthearted fashion, Aimee’s co-hosts, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, admitted that the book was not quite the cesspool of unorthodoxy that many suggested it was. Unfortunately, many—including some in MoS’s own camp—disagreed.

Just a couple of days after the release of that episode, Jonathan Master, editorial director for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), posted an open letter of sorts on the Alliance’s website titled “Questions for Aimee.” The letter raises concerns from Master and other “readers who did not feel comfortable raising these concerns publicly.” Evidently, they were also not comfortable raising these concerns privately. As an outsider, this state of affairs is perplexing. MoS is a podcast of ACE. One would think that these questions could be addressed internally. Apparently not. Aimee was subsequently removed as an ACE contributor and as a MoS co-host.

Of course, ACE is not the only source of concerns. Opinions abound on social media—some public, some private—about Aimee’s writing. Sadly, many of these opinions reveal the simple truth that we can, and should, do better.

I have read the book. I don’t intend to review it here. There are plenty of reviews that can be found online. Better yet, the book is easily accessible for purchase. I want, instead, to put out some thoughts about the backlash, framing those thoughts around three suggestions as to how to read this book.

First, read the book. In the Land of Outrage, it is all-too-easy to draw firm opinions about someone’s writing without having actually read it. This happens far too often.

A few years ago, I had this precise complaint with the MoS team. In an episode critiquing Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Carl Trueman began by noting that he had not read the book, while Aimee admitted that she had read parts of it, a long time ago, but they proceeded to critique it anyway. It ended up being, in my estimation, a poor critique. Unfortunately, that seems to be the same case here.

From the criticisms I have seen of Aimee, and having read the book, I have to wonder whether many of her critics have even done her the curtesy of reading the book. Jonathan Master’s open letter is a case in point. Many of the questions he raises are either directly answered in the book or are completely beyond its scope. Aimee’s intention was not to address marriage or church leadership. She states from the outset that she holds to the Westminster standards and therefore affirms the need for qualified, male leadership in the church and the leadership of a husband in a marriage. That is not the burden of her book. Her burden is how men and women can speak into each other’s lives in a discipling way in the local church. The careful reader of the book will understand immediately that many of the criticisms tossed her way are beyond the scope of the book.

Second, read the book carefully. I’ll admit that Aimee has an interesting way with words at times. Some of her statements might understandably produce a visceral reaction in those who only skim the book—or only read opinions about the book.

Can you believe that Aimee considers the book of Ruth a “gynocentric interruption”? Doesn’t that just sound so feminist? The careful reader quickly discovers that those are not her words. Instead, she borrows the phrase from Richard Bauckham and, when the argument is read carefully, there is nothing inflammatory about it.

What about Aimee’s affirmation that Junia, a woman, was an apostle (Romans 16:7)? Does this not just highlight the fact that she is trying to undermine the biblical teaching of male-only ordination? That’s an understandable reaction—from those who do not bother to read her. A careful reading shows that she is doing nothing of the sort. Unfortunately, many seem to be unwilling to read the book carefully.

Third, read the book willingly. But that, I mean read it with willingness to answer the questions that it actually poses. If you want to read it as a means to garner ammunition to join the gunfight, don’t. Don’t read it to critique Aimee’s supposed rising feminism. Don’t read it to prove that she is leaning egalitarian. Read it to answer the questions that she actually poses. And what are those questions? They are questions that relate to the contributions of your church membership—particularly women in your membership. Are the women in your church being encouraged to study the Bible as disciples of Jesus Christ? Are they being encouraged to participate meaningfully in the life of the church? Is their contribution valued as disciples of Christ? Is there a healthy emphasis in your church about the need to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)? These, among others, are the questions we must be willing to answer as we wrestle with her contribution.

When Carl and Aimee offered their critique of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was concerned that they were critiquing far too much of what Josh Harris didn’t say than what he did say. Sadly, Aimee has become a victim of the same approach. It’s not fair. It’s not helpful. It’s not honouring to God. Let’s do better.

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