Posted on Friday, December 16, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
What do you think about when you hear a book title like Paul and Gender? Maybe your first reaction is to wonder who would be writing on this topic, and you immediately pinpoint that this book must be written by an egalitarian---it is, by the way. Another related tendency may be to read this title as a book about Paul and women, and it is. But it’s also about men. It’s about Paul and gender, which includes both women and men, but nothing about women trapped inside men’s bodies, or any of the other 71  gender options recognized by Facebook. I learned a lot from Cynthia Long Westfall’s academic contribution to this topic.
Yes, I learned from an egalitarian. No, I am not an egalitarian. No, she didn’t convince me that Scripture supports the ordination of women. But her expositional, linguistic, and historical work sharpened my understanding of Paul and gender. And I wish I could read more of this quality in complementarian work as well. This isn’t a review of the book, in which case I would want to interact with some of the egalitarian teaching in it. Today I want to share one snap shot in the book. I do hope to write more of my understanding of what I see as an overall biblical argument for ordination of certain, qualified male elders later. But here I would like to highlight areas where complementarians can be sharpened. And one of those areas is in how we teach on Eph. 5:25-33.
While many will affirm that Paul is calling men to a sacrificial leadership in this text, maybe even using a term like servant-leader, the emphasis is usually placed on the wife’s call to submit to her husband. And so the teaching urges husbands to be Christ-like and wives to submit to their authority. This is presented as biblical manhood and womanhood. (However, as one stand-out complementarian example, Greg Beale is not so reductionist.) But Westfall teaches that in this passage men are called to model Christ by doing women’s work.
Westfall elaborates on the context of gender roles in the Greco-Roman world in which women were subjected to the sphere of low status domestic work. Women’s work was comparable to slave’s work. While women did have authority in the domestic sphere, men dominated the work in the public sphere. This is what is so fascinating about what Paul says in Eph. 5:25-33.
The nature of Christ’s actions toward the church and the husband’s action toward the wife in Ephesians 5:25-33 would have been understood as "women’s work." The representation of the church as the bride would have been effeminate, according to Greco-Roman values. Consequently, Paul is subverting male privilege in the home and church.  He promotes a model of servanthood and low status, consistent with the humility of Christ’s incarnation, precisely for men, who have power and position in the Greco-Roman social system. (23)
…When the husbands are addressed, the male role is not described in terms of the expected categories of responsibilities in the public domain of warrior, protector, provider, and patron. Instead, the imagery quickly shifts to household scenes of bathing, clothing (spinning and weaving), laundering, feeding, and nurturing, because Jesus is depicted as providing these services for the church, which is both his bride and his body. Bathing, spinning, weaving, and laundering were perpetual household needs, but the cleansing with water in 5:26 may include a figurative reference to a bride’s prenuptial washing, and the clothing and laundering (including spot removal, washing, and ironing) in 5:27 may refer to obtaining and maintaining a bride’s wedding clothes.
This description of Jesus’s sanctification of the church is often interpreted as being fulfilled in the future culminating marriage of the Lamb, but it is also an allusion to the expended metaphor of Yahweh’s past adoption and marital covenant with Israel (Ezek. 16:1-13). At birth and at puberty, neither a midwife nor a servant had love, pity, or compassion to care for the newborn Israel or to cleanse and cloth Israel when she reached puberty, so Yahweh performed these services for her.
The force of the metaphor must not be lost or confused: both the Old Testament imagery and Paul are portraying God, Christ, and the husband as performing services for a bride or wife. These services are constrained to the domestic realm through either the nature of the acts or the comparison to the personal care of the husband’s own body. (56-57)
Not only are female metaphors applied here for how a man is to love his wife, but also, as part of the church men are called Christ’s bride, adorned in feminine wedding garments. Westfall even suggests that in referring back to Gen. 2:24 and using that same metaphor of one flesh between Christ and the church, Paul “reverses the shame that was directly connected with the female’s sexual function in the Greco-Roman culture,” from one who was “shamed and dominated through penetration,” to “recast the female gender positively, in a way that reflects the evaluation of a woman in the creation account (Gen. 1:31)” (58-59).
It’s interesting how in an attempt to maintain biblical gender distinction many in our evangelical and Reformedish culture tend to stereotype roles for headship and submission, where Paul actually turns stereotypes upside down by using the very language of the culture to “equip male and female believers to follow Christ”:
Women needed to make adjustments to their identity and function in order to exercise power, conduct spiritual warfare like a warrior and a gladiator, and pursue spiritual goals like an athlete [something she addresses earlier in the chapter with biblical texts using male metaphors applied to all believers].  They needed to grow up to maturity rather than metaphorically remain in immaturity under a guardian. Men (including Paul) needed to make adjustments to their identity and function in order to recognize vulnerability, nurture other believers, quell aggression, and follow Christ in humility, suffering, and submission. We will see that Paul recognized gender differentiation, but that he continually referred to the creation account for his understanding and argument about how male and female operate in the ‘already and not yet’ eschatological Christian community. (59)
Posted on Thursday, December 08, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I would say that “authority” has been one of the top theological buzzwords of 2016. Much has been written about authority and submission in male/female relationships, authority and subordination between the Father and the Son, and on the authority of Scripture. I’ve written a good deal on the topic myself this year. Often I have seen authority claimed that is unauthorized. Other times I have agreed on authorization, but not in the meaning of how the word is being used. For a word that is being used so much, we better know what we mean when we are saying it.
One place where I have found a good definition and description of authority is in Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority After Babel. Before addressing interpretive authority for the Scriptures, Vanhoozer knows he needs to define authority and discuss how it relates to rationality. To do this, he begins with the principal of authority: the Triune God:
Authority is rightful say-so, the power to commend belief and command obedience. Authority is linked to authorship, for who has more right to say-so over something than the one who conceived and originated it? [He then references Rom. 13:1, Rom. 4:17, Gen. 6:18, 15:18, Exod. 19:5 and Deut. 7:6] All three persons of the Trinity are involved in everything that God does, creating and covenanting alike: omnia opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (all the external works of the Trinity are indivisible). This includes exercising authority. (85)
The all-knowing God is the creator of all things, therefore having rightful power to communicate authoritatively to his creatures. He knows what we are created for, and he knows how to get us there. Vanhoozer uses the illustration of a chess game, in that without the rules, the game is no fun and there is no real freedom to play chess. “It follows, then, that authority---rightful say-so---is not a coercive force but an enabling condition of free play.... Far from constraining human freedom, authority is a necessary condition for human flourishing” (85-86).  Vanhoozer bids us to think of a conductor for an orchestra, who is "unifying common action through rules binding for all" (87). He moves from teaching on the covenantal relationship of divine authority and human answerability to introduce the concept that “biblical authority orients freedom to the new reality that is Jesus Christ” (86).
Moving on to human relationships, Vanhoozer emphasizes that “’authorization’ is the key term. ‘To be an authority is to be authorized by something or someone beyond oneself’…(Rom. 13:1).... What authority authorizes is an office: ‘To have authority is to exercise an office and to do so because someone authorized it.’” (86). The author is concerned here to progress to his main point of who are authorized biblical interpreters. But he first wants to show how authority has been a theme early in the drama of Scripture. Adam and Eve were vice-regents, “ruled rulers,” under God’s command to “Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). And so Vanhoozer says, “’The most basic office we hold is that of divine image,’” noting that this “authority over the earth has nothing to do with imposing one’s will to power on creatures or creation. On the contrary, God authorized the first couple ‘to accomplish a particular task, to act in a particular capacity, to seek a particular end’” (87).
Adam and Eve failed to make that end, disordering authority when “they decided to do something for which they were not authorized.  The primal sin, however, was Adam’s failure to exercise oversight: the fall was both a violation of the law and an abdication of office” (88). Thankfully divine authority is restored in Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18, Eph. 1:20-21), who sums up all three of the offices of prophet, priest, and king that we see in the OT.
The authority principle of Christianity, I have said, is the Triune God in communicative action. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word who was with God and was God, made flesh---one of us. The Son sees, is, and does everything the Father sees, is, and does, with one exception: the Father eternally begets the Son; the Son is eternally begotten. Jesus alone is thus both able and authorized to reveal the Father: he is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). Stated differently: Jesus is God’s personal and eternal Word made human and historical. He is the eternal divine communicative activity---the light and life of God---become incarnate (Heb. 1:2). This explains why all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him: he is the divine Son in and through whom all things have been made (Col. 1:16) and remade---that is, made right and rightly ordered. (90)
Praise God we still have a particular task, to act in a particular capacity, to a particular end. How do we look at authority under the new inaugurated kingdom of God as we wait for its consummation? Vanhoozer continues to progress toward his answer regarding divine authority delegated in authorized interpretive communities of Scripture. But I wanted to back up to something he wrote about human relationships:
God’s Word authorizes certain ways human beings are to live together before him in order to flourish. This is worth pondering: the primary purpose of authority is to provide persons with what is needed to help others to flourish. (87)
I think this is something that Eph. 5 really gets at. We see a command for mutual submission, and under that, another call for wives to submit to their own husbands. That is so often emphasized without noticing how much is written to the husband there. Here we have Paul, with authorized say-so, calling husbands to service, using the language of domestic chores and self-denial, to point to the cross. Here is a responsibility for the husband to care for his wife in a manner that is radical to the Greco-Roman culture of that time (something I’m going to write more about soon), for her flourishing, just as Christ has given all to his church for her flourishing. This cannot be done without the cross. It requires complete humility, a dependence on God’s power rather than personal control. And as we think about what that flourishing looks like, we look forward to that Great Day of Christ’s return. We look toward an eternal service to God, in which men and women are co-heirs reigning with him (2 Tim. 2:12, 1 Cor. 6:2-3). That is our end, to God be the glory.
Posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
No Little Women is now for sale! Here is the Introduction:
We read books for different reasons. But whether we pick a fictional, historical, biographical, doctrinal, or self-help book, we are after a positive experience. There is something noble about reading—even if it isn’t quality reading—in an age that is captivated by visual media. Picking up a book comes with an intended purpose, one that requires more discipline than reading a blog article, perusing our social media news feeds, or even committing to watch a movie. Reading takes more work. And we want to be rewarded for it in some sense. What expectations do you have for this book? What do you hope to learn? That’s a question we will return to later. 
When we are talking about Christian books, we really expect results—positive results, even eternal results. And yet, as noble as the art of reading is, it is not neutral ground, not even in Christian publishing. This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations—the women. 
It’s good news, really. I’m not writing as someone offended or burned. I am an advocate for the local church. I am writing as one small person who represents this group of more than half the church. I am a woman. I am happy to be a woman who is a member of a faithful, confessional church. I’m not exactly young anymore; I’ve grown as a woman in this environment. And yet I’m not one of the women we look up to who are the most experienced in life and have so much wisdom to offer. I’m somewhere in between, having just celebrated my fortieth birthday, creeping up closer to my twentieth wedding anniversary, and having three children who are still in the home, albeit two of whom are going through the confusing teenage years. 
This seems to be a good time for reflection in life. I can look back at my own naïveté, bad circumstances, mistakes, sin, and occasional glimpses of providential obedience and good timing in the Christian life, and I am also at a good place to look ahead, hoping to wisely apply what I’ve learned, God willing, to my own family and to any who may care to learn from a semi-crazy, yet informed and venturing, sister in Christ. It’s also an interesting time in history for women and the church. While we believe we are in a more enlightened age than our ancestors, we are still trying to decipher and work our way through basic issues such as gender distinctiveness, sexuality, women’s roles in the church and home, family dynamics, discipleship, and the relationship between church and culture. I want to encourage readers that there is good news about all of these related and important issues in life. But as you already know, because you were obviously concerned enough to read at least this introduction, there is some critique that needs to be evaluated, even in the places where we would like to take refuge, such as Christian publications, parachurch organizations, Christian radio, blogs, and even the ministries we try to build in our own churches. 
Some of this is uncomfortable to talk about, but we aren’t called to be comfortable. So I’m not writing in some kind of alarmist tone. I am writing because I know that God has ordained that we often grow in a slow process. My own life is certainly representative of this fact. Some people seem to be blessed with a faster track to maturity. I have often learned the hard way. But I value that learning and don’t want to make it any harder than it has to be, especially for those who are younger than me. I want them to learn much quicker! Even so, younger people have a voice that we need to listen to as well. Whatever our age and experience, we are valuable to the church of Christ, and he wants each one of us to be competent in our knowledge of him and in our understanding of the gospel. I still have a long road ahead, Lord willing. 
Jesus Christ loves his church. That is the great news I want to share with you in this book. We believe that, right? In fact, Christ loves his church so much that he wants all of his church, including the women, to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13). And, of course, we believe that too. But how does Jesus do this for all of us? That is where we begin to have some differences. 
Our theological views about creation, gender, and the household context affect the way we think about women’s status, roles, and contributions to the church, home, and society. There has been a lot written on these topics, ranging from good to horrible. Many books written for women in the church, whether good or bad, are never read by the elders, pastors, or laymen. Women’s ministries have become a sort of separate entity in the church, and this is one of our biggest problems. 
As someone who speaks at women’s retreats in different churches, I have been blessed to meet many wonderful women who have great intentions to live faithful Christian lives. Talking with many competent women in the faith is always an encouragement, especially when I am able to witness their conversation and life examples. Yet I have also talked with many women in the church who lack important skills in discernment for discipleship. I’ve also talked and corresponded with numerous pastors who would like to serve the women in their congregations better and to encourage them in using their gifts. But often there isn’t clear communication between women’s ministries and church officers. All these conversations have led me to ask some questions that I aim to answer in this book. It is written both for women and for church officers, as well as for laymen who care about these matters:
How does God describe woman? 

Should the church have women’s ministries? 

Are women’s ministries the best way to serve the women 
in the church and for the women to serve in the church? 

Is every member of the church a minister? 

How does the church minister to every member? 

Are the women in the church being properly equipped in 
the Word? 

What happens when women teach bad theology? 

What are the responsibilities of the head of a household? 

Can men learn from women? 

Have we lost the skills to read for understanding? 

Is there a difference between preaching to (and pastoring) 
men and preaching to (and pastoring) women? 

What is our responsibility in sitting under the Word? 

This book is for the competent women who are seeking a better way, as well as for those of you who would like to become more competent, as God has called you to be. This book is also for pastors and elders who would like every member of their church to be well equipped in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. I hope that all men in general will be interested in this significant matter of women and the church. I write with my eyes on the new heavens and 

the new earth, where we will worship God together in resurrected bodies, forever praising our King. Our blessed Father has set his love on all his people, sent his Son into a fractured and broken world infested with sin, and bestowed on all those who believe in him new life in his Spirit. We are united in Christ. To God be the glory! 
The best pastors and elders I know are learners. While they have so much to teach us, God can use even a housewife theologian like me to get a conversation going on this important topic. You will see that the chapters in the first three parts of the book have subsections directly addressing church officers in relation to the material of that chapter. This doesn’t mean that pastors shouldn’t read the sections directly addressing women or that women shouldn’t read the sections addressed to church officers. I take this direct approach because we need to be listening to one another. Pastors, you need to hear what I am saying to the women, and women need to hear what I am saying to pastors. The whole book is meant for both men and women, laypeople and church officers, to read. 
The fourth part of the book is very practical for all readers, ending in a chapter addressing pastors on the topic of preaching to and pastoring women, with a subsection for women about sitting under the preached Word. My hope is that this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities. 
No Little Women is now available at Amazon and WTS Books.
Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Women are a prime target market for Christian publishers and bookstores. In 2014, a global consumer study found that during the previous year Christian book sales grew four times as fast as those of the secular market. And women are reading more than men, buying 72 percent of Christian fiction and 59 percent of Christian nonfiction books. Barna’s research in 2015 continued to show that women read more than men do, revealing that almost twice as many women as men read Christian nonfiction (No Little Women, 114). 
Christianity Today is now reporting on the doctrinal integrity of resources marketed to Christian women and how they are looking outside of the church to their favorite movements, speakers, and authors to be discipled. This reveals a pervasive lack of knowledge of the primary ministry of Word and sacrament, how any initiatives for laypeople fruitfully outflows from that, as well as a great need for elder-led women’s initiatives in the church to help women to disciple women under this ministry. And yet pastors are not always able to keep up with and be aware of what the women in their congregation are facing these days and what is in the so-called Christian market for them to read. This is why I wrote No Little Women, directly addressing both women and church officers throughout the book. We need to be listening to what we are saying to one another. I do hope this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities. Here is one excerpt that I write addressing church officers:
Pastors and Elders, What Kind of Women Do You Want in Your Church? 
Pastors and elders want thinking women in the church, right? And yet popular beliefs that came out of the nineteenth century’s cult of domesticity still seem to linger in the evangelical culture today. Back then, people taught that women’s brains were inferior to men’s intellectually and that women needed to reserve their energy and blood flow for reproductive purposes. These are ideas we usually joke about now, even to provoke a woman in innocent fun, because we know them to be scientifically proven false. And yet, even as the Reformed church is known for its more robust, theological teaching, there still seems to be some residue from the nineteenth-century worldview of a woman’s physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities. While we pay lip service to the importance of competent women in the church, there doesn’t seem to be much outrage over the quality of their resources. How can the officers of the church engage with the market of theological material for women? Here are a few suggestions to begin with. 
Realize That Women Are Thirsty to Learn—the Market Has!
More women than men are buying Christian books. Over six thousand women gathered for the first True Woman conference. The Gospel Coalition has also joined in to host biannual women’s conferences with big numbers. Also capitalizing on this momentum, another “movement” has sprung up, with the promise to disciple women of the new generation, called the IF: Gathering. Best-selling women’s author Jennie Allen “sensed God telling her to disciple a generation,” which led to other best-selling authors Ann Voskamp and Jen Hatmaker joining her in the establishment of the IF: Gathering. There are also the popular Women of Faith conferences that began back in 1986 and are well marketed and attended by thousands of women. They also have conferences for teens now. [Recently, Jen Hatmaker’s new Belong Tour made the headlines, with guest speaker Glennon Melton.] While this book has raised concerns about the commodification of women in publishing, movements, and coalitions, the impressive size of their events and resources points to the fact that women are eager to learn more as Christ’s disciples. That is really great news. 
Church officers should be paying attention to this, because the primary place where discipleship should be taking place is in the local church. Along with the conferences and events, there is another trend that has grown in women’s ministries, exemplified by Community Bible Studies (CBS) and Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). These are interdenominational, global organizations that focus on equipping Christians in Bible study. CBS and BSF started as a women’s Bible study but is no longer restricted to women. Many women who desire to be more disciplined and to go deeper in their Bible study have joined a local CBS or BSF group. While these are international organizations, local churches generally host their regular meetings. There are many benefits that can come from being a part of these organizations. The lessons are Word-centered, and they aim to equip leaders with Bible study skills to serve in their local churches. Since these organizations have the more narrow focus of studying the Bible in a local context, there isn’t as much of a problem with celebrity personalities and branding, which can easily overshadow and corrupt parachurch operations. The local leaders are volunteers, so there isn’t a financial factor that can cloud their judgment. 
Without discouraging women from being a part of these groups, I do want to ask some questions about how we can utilize the resources of and involvement in an interdenominational community study, parachurch ministries, and Christian publishing, while keeping the local church and its doctrinal distinctives as a priority in discipleship. Women are thirsty to learn and be discipled—so much so that we have looked outside of our local churches for help. That’s not a horrible thing—churches cannot do it all! Church officers need resources too, and parachurch organizations can help to provide them. 
With the mission of the local church in mind, we can look at these resources in their own context. The church is commissioned to make disciples through the ministry of Word and sacrament. You don’t want to outsource your discipling privileges and responsibilities to parachurch organizations, but you do want to encourage and incorporate the use of helpful resources and opportunities to further teach the women in your church. Capitalize on this wonderful desire that women have to learn, but help to equip them to be discerning, even within the evangelical culture around us. Parachurch organizations are supposed to serve the church and, in many cases, the outside community. It’s imperative that we keep the right perspective there, because they do it without the oversight of the officers of the church. 
Women Need to Have the Same Theological Standards as Men. (No Little Women, 126-129)
If you’re interested in reading more, No Little Women is now available to order and begins shipping tomorrow!
Posted on Monday, November 28, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
There are a lot of books out there about heaven. And we have a lot of questions about it.  We’ve seen a rise in popularity of heaven tourism books and many of us have rolled our eyes wondering why people read them with such interest. Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Home is a good alternative to offer to those who have been captivated with the Heaven is For Real accounts. Fitzpatrick models how a curious reader looks to Scripture as an authority for learning about heaven, along with researching what other serious teachers of the faith have written on the topic. 
I remember listening to an old Alison Krauss song with the lyrics, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I think this may be a reason that the heaven tourism books are so fascinating to some. They want to hear details that we don’t get until we die---without having to die. But the focus of Fitzpatrick’s book may touch on another reason---we are all homesick. Fitzpatrick suggests, “Perhaps Christians are the most consistently homesick people in the world because they know this world (as it is) isn’t their true home” (33).
She does point us to a material place as our final home, a new heavens and a new earth, but also highlights how our deepest longing for this home is because of who is there. There is a tension for the Christian because while we are new creations indwelt by the Holy Spirit, having prayerful access to the throne room of God, we still long to shed these sinful bodies and dwell with our Lord:
No amount of faith in God will change the fact that we are homesick exiles, pining for another place, a place where he is. Jesus is our homeland.
As Fitzpatrick is guided by the Word to teach on the heavens, where we go when we die, and what we look forward to after the resurrection, she also encourages the reader to use her imagination with this grounding of Scriptural truths. Because of this, there are speculative sections, admitted by the author, where readers may differ from her. And yet even where the reader may disagree, Fitzpatrick’s writing challenges both those who teach a disembodied view of heaven, as well as those who only think of our eternity in academic terms. 
Fitzpatrick’s strengths as a counselor certainly shine in this book, as she presses the reader with a forward-looking focus to the promises every believer is given. Acknowledging our homesickness to be with Christ, beholding the beatific vision, and reigning with him in our eternal home, the new heavens and the new earth, helps us to handle the tension between the already and the not yet. And it encourages us to persevere in the Christian life of faith and obedience until our God-given longings for him are consummated.
For these reasons, this is a book that many who were interested in the heaven tourism books may enjoy reading as well, with a much firmer Scriptural grounding.
Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
How do we read the Bible? This is a question that underlies some of the recent debates in Christianity. Many of these arguments, whether we are discussing the error of the Eternal Subordination of the Son, the latest statement by the Hatmakers declaring homosexual marriage holy, or some of the other strange teachings we’ve seen this year in the name of biblical manhood and womanhood, are made from a Biblicist reading of Scripture. I’ve read three books this year that have emphasized an important point regarding how Christians should read 
Holy Scripture: the Reformation cry “Scripture alone” does not mean that Scripture is alone (Reformed Catholicity, by Michael Allen and Scott Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, by Scott Swain, and Biblical Authority After Babel, by Kevin Vanhoozer). It also does not mean that we are to read it alone, isolated from the community of faith. Even when we are alone studying Scripture or having our quiet time, we read Scripture in the context of our “interpretive communities.”
I can’t cover this whole concept in a simple blog post, but I wanted to share this point because we need to be asking ourselves what interpretive communities we are placing ourselves in. Even Biblicists have the suppositions of others influencing their own so-called private judgment.  And ironically, while ostensibly being thankful to escape the trappings of Rome, many Protestants are looking outside of the church, to the parachurch, to form their theological interpretations, therefore creating their own quasi-magisterial authority---one that has no accountability or proper mode of retrieval and reform.  
The priesthood of all believers has been sabotaged. Kevin Vanhoozer reminds us that “far from being a pathology that accords authority to autonomous individuals, the royal priesthood of all believers---briefly the notion that all church members are ministers of God’s Word---is actually part of the pattern of authority, indeed, part of a triune economy of authority. ‘Royal’ signals authority, ‘priesthood’ signals interpretive community; ‘all believers’ signals that individuals are not autonomous agents but citizens of the gospel.” With all the buzz about authority in evangelical circles these days, it seems we are misplacing the “principal of authority (the Triune God speaking in the Scriptures)” and the “pattern of authority, which is to say the pattern of interpretive authority, an economy that identifies Jesus Christ alone as king but accords pride of interpretive place to his royal priesthood.” And so Vanhoozer emphasizes, “The church alone is the place where Christ rules over his kingdom and gives certain gifts for the building of his living temple” (Biblical Authority After Babel, 29).
Who is in your room with you during your quiet time? This is a vital question that is often left out when we talk about Bible interpretation. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with us, and these three books offer good teaching on his role in our Bible interpretation. But if we do want to follow the Spirit, then we must not ignore the way he works and the gifts he has given to the church. God did not leave us to an isolated reading of his Word, while desperately grasping for spiritual illumination of the text. The encounter Phillip had with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 is a good illustration of this.
For Christians, reading is an inherently communal enterprise. And reading is a communal enterprise for the same reason that Christianity is a communal enterprise. God’s purpose through Christ and covenant is not simply to reconcile individual believers to himself. When God reconciles individuals to himself, he also binds those individuals to one another, creating a new humanity and an independent body (Eph. 2.16; 1 Cor. 12.12ff). In God’s design, this body’s growth in the knowledge of God is not caused by God alone (Col. 2.19). Rather, the Lord nourishes his body and causes it to grow by the means of the body’s own proper agency and work. The church “edifies itself” (Eph. 4.16). The knowledge of the gospel’s God is a knowledge obtained and sustained “with all the saints” (Eph. 3.18, cf. 2 Tim. 3.14-15). For this reason, the Christian reader of Holy Scripture finds his place as a reader among the company of those who have been brought from death to life by the Word of God, gathered together in a common fellowship under the Lord’s guidance and teaching, and equipped by the Lord to instruct and edify one another in the shared faith. (Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, 100-101; Reformed Catholicity, 99-100)
Affirming that the church is a “creature of the Word” and that Scripture is the supreme authority over the church, Swain and Allen also remind us that the church is the subordinate servant, divinely authorized to serve Holy Scripture. This is God’s gift to us. “The church is that community created and authorized by the Word of God in order that it might obediently guard, discern, proclaim, and interpret the Word of God” (Trinity, Revelation, and Reading,103; Reformed Catholicity, 102). While we have the gift of authorized ministers, the whole church is made up of active traditioners, parents instructing children, congregants singing together in public worship, Christians edifying our neighbors, and encouraging and exhorting our brothers and sisters in the faith.
When I sit down to read my Bible, I remember that I am not alone. The Scripture is not alone either. I’m not only depending on the Spirit to work in me for that moment; I know that he has been working in the church universal through the centuries, preserving an orthodox profession and testifying to the truth of God’s Word. I know he is working in my local church, participating in this retrieval and Reformation, looking back to the church universal and “translat[ing] it into our new cultural contexts, thus enlarging our understanding of its achievement” (Vanhoozer, 25). I am thankful for the public reading and interpretation of Scripture in my church and for our confessions being faithfully handed down, serving as guardrails for me as I read. I reap the fruit of my interpretive community. The public teaching of the Word shapes my private reading. Scripture is a covenantal document, so Swain concludes, “Reading is therefore a living conversation between an eloquent Lord and his attentive servants, a conversation in which the reader is summoned to hear what the Spirit of Christ says to the churches (Rev. 2.7)” (Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, 139).
Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I was pleased to see Kate Shellnutt’s article for Christianity Today that calls for churches to look at what’s behind the Jen Hatmaker phenomenon. In it, she discusses the bigger story of transformation of women’s ministries. Finally, this is being addressed more! I certainly follow what Shellnutt meant and demonstrated by this. But I also wonder how much we’ve really transformed.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on women in American church history. One woman who particularly fascinates me is Anne Hutchinson. There is so much about this woman that I admire. And when I look at her story, I wonder if it could have ended differently if she were taken more seriously and shepherded by the church from the start. 
In No Little Women, I include a little about Anne’s story while connecting a thread that I see in a lot of women teachers---a claim to a special, authoritative revelation from God for their own voice to be heard. But there’s something else I notice about Anne’s story. The logistics of her teaching has many parallels to popular women’s ministry programs today. Here’s an excerpt from my book:
There is much about this woman to admire—particularly her desire to take theology seriously and to demonstrate how what we believe to be true about the person and work of Jesus Christ shapes our everyday living. Anne challenged the patriarchy in her day while also striving to live as a godly woman, wife, and mother. She was passionate to continue a discussion after a church sermon had ended, examining Scripture and even longing to engage more with the pastor about the doctrines he taught. She resisted the legalism, bad theology, and politics in England, to the point where, at forty-three years of age, she traveled with her family from England to the New World. Anne Hutchinson’s story is complicated and nuanced. The New World apparently wasn’t ready for a woman like her. In 1638, she was excommunicated from the Puritan church and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “denounced as a liar, a leper, and the Devil’s helper” (quotes from Divine Rebel, by Selma Williams, 185)
One of Anne’s tactics to be heard was to claim direct revelations from God. It was difficult for a woman’s views and contributions to be taken seriously, and this was a way to get even the men to listen. At first she appealed mainly to women, who would gather at her home to discuss John Cotton’s sermons. After all, she got the impression that Cotton preferred being isolated in his study to being bothered with such personal interactions. And “‘the godly magistrates and the elders of the church . . . winked at . . . her practice’ for several months, even though her audiences grew larger and larger till she was seen as accommodating in her cramped living room almost every woman in Boston, and some from neighboring towns too.” Why would the church officers wink at women who wanted to have more depth in their learning? Many of these women were attracted to Anne because they were “frustrated by the intellectual stagnation that was their lot as outsider” (96). Here we have the women kept at arm’s length from the ministry, left without oversight in a peripheral existence where it was no big deal what they were learning. But Anne’s message, accompanied by her special revelations from God, soon began reaching the men as well. In just two years, she had “the strongest constituency of any leader in the whole colony” (121). 
…Do we take women seriously?...This is a question worth examining with more insight than our first reactions may give. The women mentioned above are teachers who add an authority to their words and decisions based on alleged personal revelation from God. They may do this because they know that they wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise. When they add the weight of God’s personal revelation to their words, all of a sudden more people are listening. Do we really have to do that in order to attract attention to what we have to say? Will people interact with insights and opinions that are merely our own?
And, when we do interact, can we do it on the basis of what is said, not the personality or gender of who is saying it? If we take women seriously, we will want them to be good teachers of the Word. (145-146, 149)
I can’t help but look at Anne’s story as a prototype to many women’s ministries in the wider, evangelical church today.  Many women today are frustrated with the intellectual stagnation of our resources, prescribed roles, and the pushing of our voices to our own little side-wing of the church. The women’s voices are disconnected from the men’s. They are mostly relegated to talk pink-issue matters with other women. Women are still claiming special revelation from God to be heard. And now, after centuries of winking at all this, there’s outcry over the most popular influencers in women’s ministries. The winking is beginning to subside as those who are serious about orthodoxy are realizing that while these may be peripheral ministries, they are indeed affecting the local church. The whole congregation is showing up in Anne’s livingroom.
I do think this is a call for church officers to listen, to begin asking questions about women’s initiatives in their own church, to make sure that over half the church is not working separately, but as part of the covenant community, and to ponder how men and women of the church serve and disciple together under the ministry of Word and sacrament. There should be no little women in God's household. Jesus loves his church. Christ loves his church so much that he wants all of his church, including the women, to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13). And this is for the benefit of the entire body of Christ.
I attempt to get this conversation going in No Little Women. It is written for the competent women who are seeking a better way, as well as for those of you who would like to become more competent, as God has called you to be. This book is also for pastors and elders who would like every member of their church to be well equipped in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. I directly address church officers throughout the book. I hope that all men in general will be interested in this significant matter of women and the church. It releases the end of this month!
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

The Alliance has a unique opportunity to multiply your financial support this month. On November 18, for 24-hours only, we will once again be participating in the Lancaster Foundation ExtraOrdinary Give. Donations made to the Alliance through our ExtraOrdinary Give web page on that day will receive two matches! An Alliance donor is matching up to $10,000, dollar per dollar; in addition, the Lancaster Foundation and their presenting sponsors will stretch your gift even further with their $300,000 stretch pool. Mark your calendars, tell your friends, give extraordinary.

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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
This review is a little different for me. I’m torn. I’m frustrated. I’m wondering how in the world things will progress for evangelical women. Or maybe I should say Xvangelicals.
I picked up Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Love Warrior, from my library because I wanted to learn about other women. Some of them are my friends. I first saw excitement for Melton’s latest book announced by non-Christian friends on social media. I read the pitch for the book, about how Melton fought through bulimia and alcoholism to embrace motherhood, only to discover later in life that she would face the toughest rock bottom News of all---her husband was a serial adulterer. To cope with the unbearable agony, she wrote. She wrote and she wrote, and now she is sharing her story with all women because it is about self-discovery, love, mind, body, and soul. It’s about being a warrior. I knew the book would be a bestseller. 
But then Melton’s name popped up as a speaker in the latest Belong Tour, accompanied by other familiar names such as Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, and Nichole Nordeman. Wait. Glennon Doyle is speaking with this crowd? I didn’t know that she even identified as a Christian. I did know that her book was now part of Oprah’s book club. Now I want to learn more about the women packing arenas to follow the New Christian Women.
But I’ll be honest. I also began reading Love Warrior with a high dose of, “here we go again…” I was incredibly skeptical. To my surprise, I didn’t have to force myself to finish Melton’s book. It has substance. She nails the “hidden rules” of society that girls pick up on at a very young age. Her depiction of body image, performance as life, pain, premarital sex, addiction, fear, and helplessness is gritty and enlightening. Her encounters with both the Roman Catholic and conservative evangelical churches live up to our worst stereotypes. Melton is a brilliant observer. She’s a good writer. Her insights are engaging. And she’s terribly honest. Terribly. I don’t know if I’m using that word in a positive or negative way. There were times where I felt like Melton really over shared, and I wondered about her family, her friends, and her kids. Was this fair to them? But I kept reading. Her story lives up to page-turner status.
Of course women love her. Melton tears away all the masks. She shares dirt about herself that makes the tabloids seem boring. We can compare ourselves to her and think we aren’t so bad after all. And we are rooting for her. As Melton shares her unedited inner thoughts, we recognize them as our own---except, this woman with a really messed up history sounds a lot smarter than us. Her brutal self-examination calls us out as well. 
Melton isn’t the Christian author who makes you feel like you’re sitting across a table having a cup of coffee with her as you read. No. There’s nothing fluffy about her. And she’s no small talker. I like her. I’m embarrassed to admit this to myself, because Oprah.
But where is she going?
I wonder, as I’m reading this gritty book, how does she end up as a speaker in a Belong conference? There must be some sort of conversion story at the end of it all. 
There is. All of the sudden, I feel like I’m no longer reading Glennon Melton’s book, but rather a female version of Rob Bell. The book moves from substance to propaganda. Her gospel is universalism, mysticism, and social justice. Her conversion moment, her “unbecoming” or her “reunion,” is through an out-of-body experience during a class she took on breathing. And the careful framing of her words set up a protection against anyone who might want to mention the word sin, justification, or righteousness. She does use words like holiness, but not to describe God. Holiness is one’s own presence in sharing the truth of a moment. She describes grace, and on one hand I want to say, Yes! Yes, that’s it! Grace is more than we could have dreamed! She even understands that grace offered comes with great sacrifice, that “the price of love is high indeed.” But her message is that we are all forgiven already, all “totally, completely safe. The end of whatever road we choose will be redemption---love will win either way” (221).
I’m left wondering how to review this book.
I’m torn because while there are so many thoughtful, penetrating conversations we can have about this book, it ends with a church, and claims about God, his Word, man, and the gospel. Actually, there is very little of his Word (whittled down to one word in it) and no mention of Jesus. The book also ends with a strange renewal of her wedding vows. After both of them have fought to become the person's whom they've always wanted to be, they promise to stay together “today.” Wisdom may lead them in a different direction later, “and that is okay.” Earlier in the book, I would have understood that wisdom, as there was unfaithfulness and betrayal. But at this point, they have worked hard to not only restore their love, but also rather seem to have built it for the first time. And yet as real as she tries to make this higher love, in the end it has no covenant at all. The message that leads her back to her husband, to listen to her body, may in fact lead her away from him. 
I think of J. D. Vance’s recent memoir that is also gritty and also peppers in some critique of the Christian church. But he speaks as a seeker, not with a gospel ending. 
I looked Love Warrior up on Amazon, and it is not under any Christian genre headings. Melton’s topping the bestseller charts in sociology, relationships, and self-help. I do see that sells a book she co-wrote on the misuse of the Bible on homosexuality. So what do we do with the fact that she joined the Belong tour, which is described as “the successor, or reboot, of ‘Women of Faith’”? How do you review a secular book that ends with the author’s gospel message, which she is now sharing at so-called Christian conferences that pack way more seats than I could ever fathom?
I Interrupt this Review to Make an Announcement:
So as I’m writing this, it has been brought to my attention that Glennon Melton has just announced on Facebook that she has a new lover, a woman. In it, she adds:
Remember in Love Warrior how hard I struggled to understand what being in love meant?
I get it now.
I get it.
I am in love.
And I’m really, deeply happy
Today? For now?
Back to My Review
I’m no longer torn. I’m sad that women who are lost are leading many with them. I’m sad that orthodoxy has become offensive to Christians. I’m sad that there are many in the church who aren’t getting good teaching on Imago Dei. I’m sad that women are looking outside of the church to be discipled because they are starving for theological answers. I’m sad that we are being marketed to with such bad theology. I’m sad that these events and books are so popular because they are capitalizing on the church’s blind spots about humanity and the value of women in the household of God. I’m sad that unbelievers see this bad witness of the church and think that Oprah’s book club has a better gospel to offer. I’m sad that many in the conservative church draw the orthodox line in critiquing speakers and authors on homosexuality, and not way before that, on first order doctrines.
I like the word warrior. And I will continue to be that for the truth, because it is good and beautiful and holy and full of grace---grace even for sexual sin, grace even for unorthodoxy. But we have to repent. We have to turn away. We have to turn to the only One who loves us rightly, Jesus Christ. We need not be ashamed of who he is. Because grace really is costly, and he paid it all. I won’t settle for less. And because of this, we don’t have to pretend. We can be present. We can be real. We are the only ones who can!
And One More Thing
I can’t end this without a mention of the elephant that has been in the book the whole time I read it. And that is in the contradictions. As I read Melton preaching her message of true intimacy, tearing down masks, and moving beyond the shallow messages the world sells us, I can’t help but think of her special appearance to speak to a packed stadium of women who were just joking about buying new outfits for the conference. It all comes off gimmicky, performance as life. She speaks at Belong, but wouldn’t step foot in a church that upholds the inerrancy of Scripture. Those who believe what the Bible says about the one way to salvation do not belong. There is no listening to those who want to outreach with truth and love. She writes on and on about wholesome body image, and yet her profile picture on the back, inside cover reveals that a remarkably thin woman is writing this book. And while she mentions bleaching her hair as one of her pathetic attempts to follow the “hidden rules” of society so that she can appear sexy, I notice in her latest Facebook update that she is now a blonde again.  
And I feel betrayed. The substance that I was so attracted to throughout the first three quarters of the book pinpointed the messages of the sexual revolution with such clarity. But Melton ends the book with a Christianized version of that same movement. She ostensibly fights for family and is horrified that other women have been brought into her marriage, threatening her children’s gift of a mommy and daddy who love one another. But this book was just released in September and she is already pronouncing her love for another woman. That “today” in the renewal of her wedding vows must have really meant just today!
Where is the love warrior in this message?
Photo from Buzzfeed,from the Instagrams of Nichole Nordeman, Glennon Doyle Melton, Jen Hatmaker, and Belong Tour, via
Posted on Friday, November 11, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Women sometimes get the message that they are always supposed to be smiling and happy. After all, the Bible does tell all Christians that we are to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4) and to count it all joy when we meet trials (James 1:2). We see that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Gal. 5:22). But what if you struggle with depression? What if you are groaning within over a trial? Are Christians allowed to express these kinds of emotions? What are we supposed to do with them?
This is what Christina Fox confronts in her book A Heart Set Free. As someone who suffers off and on with depression herself, Fox is sensitive to the darker side of emotions. And she wants to encourage the believer that “the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings” (17).
In Part One, Fox discusses a whole host of emotions that women feel imprisoned by such as anxiety, shame, despair, worry, rejection, stress, and irritability, and looks at the different ways we try to handle them before revealing what our real problems and needs are. She speaks with understanding while taking the reader to the real issues behind her emotions and her greatest need in Christ. Fox depicts these emotions well and has a solid gospel presentation throughout the book. One concern I did have was the way she explains why we are emotional beings under the subtitle, The Origins of Despair:
Since God is an emotional being, we know that emotions have always existed. God feels emotions such as love, joy, peace, jealousy, anger, and sadness (Exod. 34:14, Rom. 1:18, Rom. 5:5, John 11:35). In fact, it was out of his great love and joy that He created us. He desired to share with us the same perfect love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed together from all eternity. (36)
While Fox gives us a good doctrine of salvation in her book, I hoped to see a more thorough doctrine of God here. I wish she had qualified these statements more, making the sharp distinction that God’s affections are not passionate and involuntary, as we know human emotions to be. What I mean by this is that God does not have emotions that are reactive and changing. He certainly isn’t stoic or apathetic, but his affections are sovereign, true, perfect, and cognitive. Classical theology refers to this as divine impassibility. Our emotions are not only cognitive, but also have physiological elements. It would have been helpful here to discuss the incarnation and how Jesus, as the God-man, fully took on our suffering. To be fair, Fox certainly introduces the role of Christ in her gospel sections; I am just referring to expanding upon this talk on emotions and God. And I do not think that Fox is specifically teaching that God is passible, but it could be read the wrong way and would have been good to insert some teaching on this in a book about emotions, especially here where she speaks of the internal acts of God.
The meat of the book introduces the Psalms of Lament as a way to express and shape our feelings, teach us more about God, reorient us to truth, and ultimately to trust and worship our great God. Fox begins this section with a chapter on Jesus and the Psalms, which helps to orient the reader from the beginning. She also breaks down the parts that compose the Psalms of Lament well, which leads to practical teaching about our own lamenting.
This book is a good introduction to the Psalms of Lament for those who battle powerful emotions that seem to rob them of their hope. Fox assures women that even strong people like David experienced powerful emotions and we can learn from how he cried out to God. Not only that, she shows how remembering God’s faithfulness helps us to overcome irrational as well as legitimate emotions. She teaches the believer how to speak the truth to herself, the importance of confession to God, and how to pray her own laments.
One important take away from Fox’s book is that we need to lament:
We need to lament not because we are without hope but because we have faith in God. We also need to lament so that we can enter into the pain we so often avoid in order to know the peace that God gives those who come to him in peace.” (78)
This is true not only for women, but for men as well. Hopefully this book will also help women to be more open with others when they are experiencing emotions that seem overwhelming. Our God is never overwhelmed. Fox shows well how the Psalms of Lament can teach us how to bring our emotions before God, leading to that fruit of joy in Christ that we so desperately long for.