Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am currently reading a fascinating book, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, by Richard Bauckham.  In it, he makes the case that biblical feminists are wrong in regarding the canon of Scripture “as a hopelessly patriarchal construction.” There is so much to mine out of his self-described painstaking historical work in this book.  One thing I really appreciate is the overarching theme that the named women in the gospels and the Scriptures as a whole are not merely tokens thrown in as props, accidental vestiges that somehow slipped through the canonical process without getting suppressed, or a patronizing general recognition to the contribution of women. His work respects “the fact that these women and their stories are remarkable for their particularity, rather than for their typicality or representativeness” (xix).
Throughout Scripture, we get snap shots from a woman’s perspective and experience, which is strange to say considering its male writers. Bauckham brilliantly introduces the idea of “gynocentric interruption of the dominant androcentricity of Scripture” in his first chapter The Book of Ruth as Key to Gynocentric Reading of Scripture:
Andre Brink’s novel The Wall of the Plague is written in the first person. The novelist is a male Afrikaner, the “I” of the narrative is a “coloured” (mixed race) South African woman. The thoroughgoing adoption of a female character’s perspective is intensified by vivid accounts even of distinctively female physical experience. But in the concluding short section of the novel the voice changes.  The woman’s South African white male lover speaks, and in the last two pages of the work reveals that he, not she, has written the story, as an attempt to “imagine what it would be like to be you.” As he approaches the task of writing the narrative the reader has just completed, he fears failure: “how can I, how dare I presume to form you from my rib?...To do justice to you an essential injustice is required. That is the heart of my dilemma. I can never be you: yet in order to be myself I must imagine what it is like to be you.” By this ingenious device of two levels of fictional authorship, the real author distances himself from the attempt he has made to imagine what it is like to be this woman. It is, after all, only a white male’s attempt to imagine what it is like to be a mixed-race woman. But readers have known this all along. How does the final revelation function for them? Is it the author’s bid to preempt their charge that he has not been fully successful? More seriously, what it does is to acknowledge, within the imaginative world the novel has created, the readers’ consciousness that behind the female voice lurks the male author…as it is, the revelation draws this knowledge into the world of the novel itself and makes into an inner-textual reality the tension between extra-textual knowledge and world that they have never entirely been able to escape. (2)
Likewise, Bauckham shows us that in Ruth we have the female voice, an Israelite woman’s perspective on ancient Israelite society, until the last few verses.  “Thus the book of Ruth, its conclusion tells us, is the kind of story that official, masculine history leaves out.” Bauckham goes on to highlight other gynocentric interruptions in Scripture, where the female voice dominates, not to compete with the man’s, but to complement it, exposing “the narrative as pitifully inadequate in its androcentric selectivity” (11). The female voice in the Song of Songs highlights the mutuality of the lovers. The book of Esther has a predominately female voice. Even in parts of Genesis we see the matriarch voices interrupting the more dominant perspectives of the patriarchs, “throw[ing] light on their androcentric contexts. This will occur in different ways, depending on whether the women are, like Deborah, historically exceptional, in the sense that probably few women played such roles historically, or, like Hannah, textually exceptional, in the sense that they make visible what is normally invisible in the texts” (13).
As you can see, this book is about more than the named women in the gospels! But he does get there, making some fascinating connections along the way. Next week, I hope to highlight one of those connections, between Rahab and the Canaanite woman who is healed in Matthew 15:21-28.
But Chapter One was such a breath of fresh air. Often, I am corrected when I speak of a woman’s perspective. Even Dorothy Sayers makes the argument downplaying such a thing as a feminine perspective as just the perspective of a fellow human being. And while I’m with Sayers partly here, especially in her emphasis that women should not have to deal with constantly being assessed by our femaleness, I do think that our contributions and even our presence as females offers a multifaceted asymmetrical balance when centered on truth. We are adding more than just the perspective of another human being, but not less. We see this missing both when we are stereotyped and when we are absent altogether. 
And so later in the book Bauckham refers to women as active traditioners in the handing down of the faith. He rightly concludes his first chapter affirming the purposeful inclusion of these gynocentric texts. “Rather than viewing these texts as surprising survivors of the attempt to suppress such literature, we may reasonably suppose that the importance of women in the grassroots process of canonical selection led to their inclusion precisely as women’s literature, in order to counterbalance the androcentrism of the rest of Scripture” (16).
Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Humble Roots is a different kind of book. Hannah Anderson has written a refreshing approach to a virtue we would all love to be called, but so rarely want to pursue. A book like this almost seems wrong to review. When I saw that Hannah was writing about humility, I thought, “Wow, she is brave.” And this is true; Hannah is a brave woman. But this isn’t the kind of book you think it is.
Hannah isn’t just telling us that we need to be humble and then telling us how to do it. She challenges what we think about humility. For example, we often gauge our humility by how we feel. But Hannah reminds us:
Remember that humility, itself, is not an emotional state. Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result. We may feel certain things because of this understanding---we may feel safe in the care of our Creator or we may feel fear when we disobey Him---but these emotions are the result of our reverence for God. (103)
This is what Hannah does in her book---she uses horticultural illustrations to teach a proper understanding of who God is, and who we are as a result. And it’s beautiful. In the end, we aren’t shamed or brought low, but elevated by our joy in the Lord.
Don’t label this as a women’s book. Humility isn’t a woman’s issue; it’s a human issue. Hannah writes with a feminine perspective that both men and women can learn from. Her theology in each chapter is also taught with experience in the different horticultural illustrations that lend so well to the topic. 
It’s also a personal book. Hannah sought to answer her own questions about humility in this project as she finds herself in “the throes of responsible adulthood.” Unfortunately, her vocations of caring for her family, serving the church as a pastor’s wife, and pursuing good work kept her mind reeling at night and she was unable to turn it off and go to sleep. And so in her pursuit for rest, Hannah found joy in her humble roots. She explains that the goal of this book “is to understand how pride manifests itself in anxiety and restlessness; and how humility frees us from the cycle of stress, performance, and competition” (12). She aims for the reader to “see how humility---how knowing ourselves as creatures---also help us see the extent of our pride in our everyday choices, from how we use social media to how we give and receive compliments” (11). 
In successfully fulfilling this aim, Hannah makes important connections to teach us about emotional humility, wisdom and humility, humility that is productive, a humility that takes risks, that is thankfully repentant, and that faces death and finds true rest. I love how Hannah ends the book with the answers to her opening questions about the struggle she was having getting to sleep every night:
“In many ways, the act of sleep is itself a spiritual act, an act of humility.  To sleep, we must stop our work. To sleep, we must lay out bodies down. To sleep, we must trust another to care for us…
“Through practicing this trust every night, He is teaching us how to trust Him when He finally calls us to Himself.” (204-205) 
It reminded me of a talk Carl Trueman did on mortality at King’s College titled, “Each Day Dies with Sleep.” We are not God. Christians can rest in this blessing. Trueman reflected on how our understanding of our mortality is critical to how we live our everyday lives. Anderson explains this so well in her book, showing many of the ways our Creator teaches us about his care in creation, by dealing honestly with the curse from the fall, and by teaching us to be good stewards of all that God has created and entrusted to us under his sovereign providence with an eye towards the resurrection.
I read this book in two days due to a tight schedule I’m following and my desire to help get the word out about Hannah’s new book. But I plan on coming back to Humble Roots for the respite it will continually give.

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul

Posted on Monday, October 31, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’ve enjoyed Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith for some time now. However, it’s not exactly a book to recommend for someone new to adding a systematic theology to his or her library. Thankfully, Horton realized this as well and has done the work to make another version for the serious layperson. I’ve recently been able to look through his Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples, and will now be recommending it when asked about where to start with systematic theology. 
First of all, I love that Horton’s introduction is an aim to answer the question, Why Study Theology? And in this description, he sets up the coordinates for the rest of the book: drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship:
All of our faith and practice arise out of the drama of Scripture, the “big story” that traces the plot of history from creation to consummation, with Christ as its Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And out of the throbbing verbs of this unfolding drama God reveals stable nouns---doctrines. From what God does in history we are taught certain things about who he is and what it means to be created in his image, fallen, and redeemed, renewed, and glorified in union with Christ. As the Father creates his church, in his Son and by his Spirit, we come to realize what this covenant community is and what it means to belong to it; what kind of future is promised to us in Christ, and how we are to live here and now in light of it all. The drama and the doctrine provoke us to praise and worship---doxology---and together these three coordinates give us a new way of living in the world as disciples. (16)
With these coordinates in place, Horton gives us a pilgrim theology so that we too enter “into a long, ongoing conversation, one that we didn’t begin” (14).  
One of Horton’s strengths is that he can teach at both an academic and a popular level. This work of theology is presented in an accessible way for a wider audience of serious learners. And we should all want to be serious learners. Horton doesn’t water anything down, rather, he gives us the meat that he’s already tenderized and cut into manageable portions. So the reader will learn new vocabulary, the important words in each chapter being boldfaced. At the end of each chapter are a review of key terms, key distinctions, and key questions for the individual reader or study group to work through for further understanding. He provides helpful charts and highlights these key distinctions in each chapter.
I love that Horton uses these key distinctions to help the reader learn discernment. At the end of the book, there is short section on why this is important, along with a summary of all those distinctions he taught throughout the book and the page numbers to go back and find them on. There is also a glossary of terms in the back of the book, another helpful chart applying the coordinates from drama to doctrine, and a Scripture index. Not only that, you can cruise over to the Zondervan website to get more teaching and study resources for both teachers and students.
But it gets even better: Zondervan has the Pilgrim Theology ebook on sale this week for only $7.99. There’s just no excuse not to have a good systematic theology book that provides a great biblical and historical explanation of the Reformed faith, the Pilgrim’s faith, on your bookshelf. The Christian Faith ebook is also on sale for $8.99. These are excellent prices! While you are at the website, also notice Michael Bird’s new book, What Christians Ought to Believe is on sale as well.
Posted on Friday, October 28, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My social media newsfeed lit up last night with a Christianity Today article covering the story that Lifeway has pulled bestselling author Jen Hatmaker’s books over her recent statement affirming homosexuality:
The Southern Baptist chain stated Thursday that the author’s statements “contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines,” and it has discontinued selling her books in its 185 stores or online. Spokesman Marty King said:
In the past, LifeWay Christian Resources published several resources with Jen Hatmaker. In a recent interview, she voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage—changes which contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.
My newsfeed was divided between people who are celebrating this stance and who are upset over this decision. And I find myself annoyed over the whole thing. While I affirm that the Bible clearly shows that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman and that homosexuality is a sin, I still find myself scratching my head over Lifeway’s “doctrinal guidelines.” Why is Lifeway, or any of us, surprised at Jen Hatmaker’s statement? 
Lifeway had no problem profiting from the sales many copies of her other books. In fact, their bestseller’s list tells me that they have low doctrinal guidelines when it comes to selling so-called Christian books. These books err on primary doctrines: who God is, the message of salvation, the word of God, and what the Bible says about man. And the books that are sold in the “women’s” genre can be the worst offenders. So those who read from Lifeway’s bestsellers of Christian books to women have already been conditioned to have a low view of God, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel. I have already opined over and over that Hatmaker has offended in these very ways. 
So, I wonder, what are Lifeway’s doctrinal guidelines to a statement like this:
Consequently, I have heard more sermons, talks, messages, and lectures on Christianity than can possibly be impactful. I have spent half my life listening to someone else talk about God. Because of this history, I’ve developed something of an immunity to sermons. . . . 
Teaching by example, radical obedience, justice, mercy, activism, and sacrifice wholly inspires me. I am at that place where “well done” trumps “well said.”
That is an interesting take on the preached Word and its effectiveness. We see from a statement like this one from Hatmaker’s bestselling book, 7, that for years Lifeway has been promoting a view that authoritative, transforming teaching is not from the preached Word, but from man’s actions. She could have taken an opportunity to teach about how faith without works is dead, that by participating in the ordinary means of the preached Word and the sacraments we are putting ourselves where God has promised to bless us in Christ, and how that should then produce the fruit of righteousness and good works as we are sent out into the world with the benediction. But since Hatmaker teaches a priority of our good works over receiving God’s Word to his covenant people, it’s no wonder that she would now proclaim that man gets to decide what is good when it comes to our sexuality. Why are we surprised?
Later in her book, Hatmaker shares a monastic practice called seven sacred pauses: 
Each pause has a focus, and like Wiederkehr explains, “Each day we are summoned to be creators of the present moment. Artists know the value of white space. Sometimes what isn’t there enables us to see what is. Perhaps you are being called to the spiritual practice of bringing a little of the white space—of nada—into your workday. There in that white space you will find your soul waiting for you. Allow the anointing rhythm of the hours to touch and teach you each day.”
We should ask some discerning questions here. Does Scripture ever even insinuate that we need to find our souls? Are we to be taught by something as vague as anointing rhythms that we need to seek out each day? Are we to empty ourselves, creating a white space, in order to gain our souls? What does this even mean? 
Over three years ago, I wrote an article after Hatmaker announced her “new tribe,” the IF: Gathering, again, asking some discerning questions. This movement aims to disciple women outside of the context of church. The language Hatmaker used in that announcement was full of red flags.
But Hatmaker’s doctrine on all these matters made it through Lifeway’s guidelines. I’m curious about how homosexuality is the marker of orthodoxy. What message are we really sending to homosexuals? We don’t care what our Christian authors teach about God and his Word, but we are going to take a stand when they start making statements about your lifestyle being acceptable---that’s where we draw the line.
I’m not only speaking of Lifeway here. This latest just illustrates something very bothersome---more than that---very dangerous. The reason I care about social issues and sexuality is because of my doctrine of God and salvation. I know that God is true and that he is good. I know that I can trust his Word and I know that he can change hearts and he can forgive the worst of sinners. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be bold in calling a sin, sin. But if we care about homosexuals, and if we care about anyone else, we will want them to hear the true gospel message. Hatmaker now proclaims to love homosexuals more than Christians who rightly say that they are living in sin. And yet her message to them will lead only to despair. 
This is the same message she has been teaching for years.
We have got to care more about the teaching that is marketed to our churches. What is Lifeway really taking a stand for? If you are perpetuating the teaching of a higher view of man than God, don’t get righteous when it comes to the social issues, because it comes off as self-righteousness, not God’s righteousness. 
Posted on Thursday, October 06, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Here is an issue I struggle with. And it is a wisdom issue. It’s strange to realize that, because the wisdom I’m speaking about is the proper times to share wisdom. I’m finding this is getting more difficult as I am parenting teenagers. They don’t always appreciate their mom and dad’s wisdom like I thought they would. It’s difficult to know the best timing, the best words, and the best opportunities to share it. This is especially true when it comes to the spiritual truths that we so want to encourage and exhort them in. It’s also the case with other family members or friends. It’s an important art in being a good wife as well. There’s a fine line between being helpful and being a nag.
And then there’s me. I struggle with not wanting to hear wisdom when it is inconvenient for me. And part of that wisdom is that it’s not all up to me. I’m not God.
This is where I received some unexpected wisdom from Liam Goligher’s sermon series on Esther. It wasn’t unexpected to receive wisdom from Liam, but I got some bonus wisdom in his rabbit trails. I highly recommend that you listen to the series.
When he got to the part where Mordecai advises Esther not to reveal her Jewish ancestry, Liam shared, “God gave to her the wisdom that she needed to survive.” He then talked about his frustration in reading a commentator who taught that Esther didn’t have the courage to take a stand for her faith. He refuted this teaching saying, “This teenager, who is on her own and surrounded in an armed camp by soldiers, doesn’t stand a chance.”
And then Liam dropped that wisdom that is hard for me to learn: “Sometimes the way of wisdom is not to say anything until the appropriate time.”
He turns to Peter, who gives wisdom to wives with unbelieving husbands: “Win them without words.” This is such a difficult text. Without words? The gospel is an announcement. Christians are people of the Word. And we know that our lives are not the gospel. But they should adorn the gospel. People often use this “without words” argument as a pass to not take a stand for the truth of God’s word when we really should, or to not bother sharing the gospel if we just lead good lives. But Liam explains the wisdom of a patient faith that waits on the Lord for the right time to speak:
“If you’re in a close personal friendship with people or in a marriage, or at home with parents, or siblings who are not Christians, you rabbiting on all the time about Jesus is really going to get up their nose and make them more hostile to Jesus. In close relationships like that, you’re better to wait, and Peter goes on to say this actually further down that chapter…wait until you’re asked and then be ready to say something. Wait until you’re asked. And Esther was given the wisdom to wait.
We need that wisdom to wait as well, “especially when you are living with people everyday, and especially when the people you’re with aren’t believers."
“The great temptation that we face as Christian people is to talk too much, and to talk a lot about spiritual things to people who are not ready to hear it too much. And when you’re up close and personal, whether it’s with your unbelieving husband or your children who are going through a rebellious period in their teens and they don’t want to talk about anything, the danger is that you let your mouth run with it and you start talking. And what you do is you push them away, make life harder for them, you wish them to wish they don’t want to be there anymore because you’re talking too much and forcing it on them. What we find in Esther, what we find in Mordecai, is that they learn the wisdom, the wisdom that Joseph learned, as he quietly slips into Egyptian life, the wisdom of Moses in the court of Pharaoh growing up, of Daniel in Babylon, and of Paul before the Roman empire, showing respect and wisdom before the powers that be. 
But we don’t just stay quiet forever. Esther didn’t stay quiet either. Liam reminds us that Peter didn’t stop with “without words.” “Until you get to the place where your speaking will make the maximum impact….’always being ready to give a reason for the hope you have to anyone who asks you.' …Answer their questions, but be careful not to besiege them with your ideas at inappropriate moments.”
This is hard for me. And yes, there are differences when we are communicating with believers and unbelievers. I often struggle the most with the right times to speak with believers at different levels of maturity. With teenagers in the house, it’s a different dynamic than it is with young children or with adults. I still need to remember that they are not ready to hear some of the deeper spiritual truths that I’m ready to share. Trust me, I wish they were. But God knows more than I do, and I need to be sensitive to their maturity levels. Again, there’s a fine line between responsible, godly parenting, and forcing “wisdom” on them.
And that is why I am so thankful for the Christian practices that we share. We are blessed to be called out of the world and into the assembly of the saints every Sunday to hear God speak to us through the preached Word. And God’s word is active and powerful, not just for mature Christians or for new converts, but for all of us in between. I’m thankful for the nourishment we receive in all the sacraments. I’m thankful for the practices of Sunday school and bible study that our church offers, and how that is a regular part of life for the Christian. I’m thankful for the support and encouragement from my brothers and sisters in the Lord. And I’m thankful for family devotions, prayers together, and all those bedtime tuck-in moments that shape us. I’m thankful that I can ask for wisdom and the Lord promises to give it. Most of all, I’m thankful that even when I blow it (which is more often than I’d like to think) by running my mouth too much or not speaking up when I should, I’m not the one whom God is counting on to save and sanctify my children, my family, or my friends. It’s a blessing that I get to be a part of it, but I’m learning about a patient faith that waits on the Lord for my own sanctification and all those he loves.
Posted on Monday, September 26, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup posted Part One of what looks like an engaging three part series on the new, permanent ESV translation of Gen. 3:16 and 4:7. 
Here are two standout paragraphs to whet your palette as to why this is important:
But more than simply creating confusion, the change to Genesis 3:16 is significant because it touches the pinched nerve that is gendered relationships in the evangelical church. While all of Scripture is necessary to life and godliness, Genesis 3:16 has particular bearing on the gender conversation because it helps to frame our understanding of the difficulties that men and women face after the Fall. And how we understand the brokenness of the world drives the solutions that we try to reach. This is not simply a matter of differing opinions about the proper translation of an isolated passage of Scripture. Set in the middle of the account of the Fall, Genesis 3:16 identifies and thus guides the nature and challenges to women’s spiritual formation in a post-Fall world. Translating this passage accurately has both academic and pastoral implications.
We can only reach and sustain a conservative reading of gender through a conservative approach to translation. If the Scripture is not carefully guarded from sociological constructs (both conservative and liberal), we risk losing the very authority on which we base our understanding of gender.  How can we call the Church and the world to reflect the Scriptural teaching on gender if we lose the Scripture itself? Without the Scripture, liberalism devolves into androgyny and conservatism into misogyny.
They also open with a great illustration for why laywomen would be able to engage in such an undertaking as Bible translation.
Take a look at the whole article here.
Posted on Thursday, September 22, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Building off of our important discussion about traditional doctrine on this week’s Mortification of Spin podcast, I want to address something I see in a lot of popular level Christian books. There is a false notion among evangelicals that we can either trust in the ordinary means of grace and the church’s creedal catechetical tradition, or we can be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. The notion is that we can follow an old custom or we can follow the Source himself.
And so much of this teaching on following the Spirit sounds a lot like the game of telephone. In the game of telephone, one person passes along a message by whispering in another person’s ear. That person then whispers what they think they’ve heard to another ear, and this continues with the goal for the final receiver of the message to try and speak the original message. If you’ve ever played telephone, you know how silly the message can end up. Likewise, to some Christians the idea of following the Spirit goes something like this:  Jesus is calling, his Holy Spirit will deliver the important personal message, and now you need to obey this inner voice and then figure out which Scripture supports it. We may even do some lucky dipping, hoping the Spirit will lead us to our devotion for the day by the “providence” of where our Bible randomly opens and to where our finger falls.  Then maybe we’ll have that light bulb moment of clarity.
We all know the Spirit’s work is important, but many are unclear how to follow the Spirit. Do we take prayerful walks and wait on his leading? Is that how we receive his teaching? Do we clear our minds and wait for his prompting? Can we quiet ourselves enough to hear God’s whisper? Can others authoritatively deliver a personal message to us through the Spirit?
Many of you will agree that this is not exactly how the Spirit works.  But how does he then? A more sophisticated approach may be to point to the Spirit’s illumination in our private reading and interpretation of Scripture. But this sort of Biblicism can also be misleading. I will get into that with more detail in a later post, but it's worth mentioning now that there is more to the Spirit’s work in our receiving God’s word than meeting us during our personal devotion and biblical studies. 
Both the charismatic and the conservative, more subtle teaching on the Holy Spirit and God’s word cuts us off from the Trinitarian work in communicating God’s word to the whole communion of the saints.  And for some reason this exciting teaching often comes off as as a spiritual buzz kill. I am referring to church tradition and ordinary means of grace. 
Michael Allen and Scot Swain address the relationship between the Holy Spirit and church traditioning in their book Reformed Catholicity, emphasizing the importance of understanding that the Spirit’s identity as teacher to the church flows from his “eternal identity as the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (26). In John 16:13-15 we see that the Spirit of truth’s mission to his church expresses the outgoing nature in the Godhead. He isn’t just a Spirit with truths to share with us; he is the truth. His being, which is the same substance with the Father and the Son, is truth. Allen and Swain remind us, “This divine truth…is not something that the Spirit possesses, as a message that is distinguishable from its messenger. Truth is what the Sprit is: ‘The Spirit is the truth’ (1 John 5:6; cf. John 14:6)”  (30).
In the inner life of the Trinity there is a distinguishing, outgoing order---one where the Son proceeds from the Father and the Sprit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Derek Rishmawey refers to this eternal procession, not as “some event long past, but…God’s presently perfect overflowing liveliness. (Every now and then you find a tweet that spins gold.) In this order, the Spirit hears and “receives from the Son that which belongs to his own nature” (30). He is outgoing, overflowing. As a reflection of this procession, he then speaks and proclaims his self-knowledge to his church in the economy of salvation. The Spirit is God; therefore he comprehends the thoughts of God. And he communicates truth to his people. 
But unlike the game of telephone, the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely speak a message to us, hoping we can decipher it. And he doesn’t leave us to our own private judgment in interpretation when we read Scripture. He is life giving, making us new creations as he dwells with us. He creates the very faith we need to hear his voice in his Word. He doesn’t merely dwell detached with individual believers, but with his entire covenant community of saints.
How does he do this? “The Spirit causes the prophets and apostles first to ‘understand’ and then to ‘impart’ the ‘secret hidden wisdom of God’ in ‘words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:7, 12-13) with the result that, in hearing the prophetic and apostolic writings, we hear ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev. 3:6)” (32).  By his work of inspiration, we are given the Holy Scriptures, and “by his work of illumination, the Spirit completes the movement of divine self-manifestation by causing the divine wisdom published in the prophetic and apostolic writings to be received and confessed by the church” (32). 
Since God has communicated this way and Christ promised that his Spirit would abide with his church forever (John 16:14), Swain and Allen confidently identify the church as the “school of Christ” which “holds the promise of theological flourishing” (33). God has connected the work of his Spirit to his ordinary means of grace.
The Spirit’s work is so much richer than the low view we often give him. “The Spirit, who hears and speaks the truth within God’s Triune life, creates, sustains, and directs a fellowship that hears and speaks truth within history” (34). Notice that it isn’t a privatized truth for a single individual, or even a single church, but to the whole church within history. This is where traditioning comes in.
We aren’t talking about an old custom of extra teaching that becomes outdated. We are talking about the “Spirit-enabled”, passing down from one generation to another, “reception of Scripture” (36).
I’ll close with Allen and Swain’s quoting Herman Bavinck’s beautiful description of this:
After Jesus completed his work, he sent forth the Holy Spirit who, while adding nothing new to the revelation, still guides the church into the truth (John 16:12-15) until it passes through all diversity and arrives at the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 3:18, 19: 4:13). In this sense, there is a good, true, and glorious tradition. It is the method by which the Holy Spirit causes the truth of Scripture to pass into the consciousness and the life of the church. Scripture, after all, is only a means, not the goal. The goal is that, instructed by Scripture, the church will freely and independently make known “the wonderful deeds of him who called it out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The external word is the instrument, the internal word the aim. Scripture will have reached its destination when all have been taught by the Lord and are filled with the Holy Spirit. (36)
Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Alastair Roberts wrote a thoughtful response to my First Things article, where I disagreed with Glenn Stanton’s Why Men and Women Are Not Equal. I am thankful for this interaction to my article, and there is much in Roberts’ response that I wholeheartedly agree with. His is the kind of writing on gender that produces real fruit, for which I am grateful to see.
And yet much of his response is a rebuttal to my writing, which I am a little confused about. He makes three points where I failed in my response. He also believes that I misread Stanton and wrongly critiqued him. 
Stanton’s article, which I believe Byrd misrepresents as suggesting that women are the holders of virtue, grounds its case in an account of the empirical nature of men, arguing that men have a particular tendency to certain vices, which social relations with women help to curb. 
This is where I am scratching my head. I was responding to Stanton’s clear affirmation that, “the most powerful and important influence women have had on our nation’s founding, growth, and success is this: They make men behave. All their other important contributions are secondary.” This is profoundly insulting to read. I recognized familiar evangelical tropes in Stanton’s argument. Even his title, Why Women and Men Are Not Equal, foreshadows his point that women are the more virtuous sex.
Roberts, on the other hand, does not make this argument, but rather wants to uphold the empirical differences between the sexes and the benefits of recognizing them. To that, there is much that we can agree on. Roberts’ article has far different arguments than Stanton’s. Do men and women have different challenges and strengths when it comes to virtue? Do we learn more about maleness as we see them relate to women? This is worth exploring. But I was compelled to counter Stanton’s claim that one sex is more virtuous than the other---specifically, is women’s greatest contribution to society to make men behave? 
I would like to respond to the three areas where Roberts observes that I’ve failed:
First, she fails to attend to the pronounced empirical differences between men and women as groups that Stanton highlighted. 
Roberts says that while I give the impression that yes, there are differences between the sexes; I downplay this as if our statuses are indifferent, choosing to focus on divinely commanded gender roles. He continues, “Christian teaching, however, is better understood as a clarification and intensification of internal beckonings of being that we experience as men and women within the world, or as the expression of a music for which our natures are discovered to be the proper resonance chamber.”
I will admit that sometimes I do downplay the differences between the sexes, as I am constantly bombarded with a stereotype rather than true engagement. This is where I see a major weakness in the empirical argument. And I disagree that Christian teaching is better understood by clarifying internal beckonings. How is Christian teaching better understood? By the clear teaching of Scripture. The Christian message, the gospel message of salvation, is outside of us. It is an announcement to both men and women, not to use our virtuous gifting to help the other sex, but of the Son of God coming as our Savior because no one is holy without the Lord. Internal beckonings can get us into a lot of trouble. Even for believers, the Spirit always confirms his leading by the Word. That is how Christian teaching is better understood, by the means of grace God has given his church.*
But I do agree with Roberts that there are observable differences in the sexes, and that our hormonal makeup affects those differences. This isn’t something I addressed in my article. I’ve written a lot, particularly in two of my books, on how women have influence over men. Studies show that we have a relational gift, that people disclose more about themselves and have more intimate communication when women are involved in the dialogue. Our propensity for intimate conversation helps us to be persuasive to others. But this can also be used in a very sinful way. It can be both a strength and a weakness when manipulated to serve ourselves.
Roberts points out an obvious proof that men are more prone to aggressive violence: “the vast majority of every single nation’s prison population is male.” Men have higher levels of testosterone that can perpetuate aggression and they are physically stronger, more able to execute that aggression. Again, this can be both a strength or a weakness, one used to cultivate and protect family and society, or to serve their own passions. Men and women are to help one another, as our differences are both challenges and strengths. But I can’t go as far as to say this:
Tying men to women and children harnesses men’s energies to the construction and protection of society, where otherwise they might run amok. Where men are not tied to women in such a manner, men often try to prove their masculinity in destructive and socially damaging ways. 
I guess this is where Roberts is agreeing with Stanton that women make men behave and that is our contribution to society. But this is where his jail argument falls apart. Are these men incarcerated because they didn’t have women to harness their energies? Many of these incarcerated men only have women in their lives, single moms who’ve raised them and likely a girlfriend with babies or a wife. Here are a few statistics I have pulled showing that it is a lack of a strong male figure, their father, which has contributed to their violence:
85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
So I do agree that marriage, with both a wife and a husband, is beneficial to society. This benefits singles as well, as they too come from a family. And we see this in the cultural mandate. But it isn’t just because of a woman’s influence or virtue, as these statistics show. We need men with virtue to step up as fathers. This is a real crisis in our culture today. There are many women in abusive relationships who are hurt by this assertion that their virtue should influence their spouse’s sexual impulses and aggressive energies. Rather than inward beckonings, we need to uphold and promote law in society. Marriage between one man and one woman is a part of that. So is incarcerating men who are violent.
I do agree with Roberts’ assertion not to be forgetful of nature. This is why I appreciate a real gentleman, men who use their strength in respect for women. Real gentlemen have more than manners when a woman walks in a room, as Stanton endorses in his article. Men with integrity aren’t to pretend to be virtuous when in front of a woman. And a woman needs discernment on whether that behavior is a reflection of virtue that they are exercising, or if they are instead temporarily pretending.  We are not merely sexual temptresses that motivate men to behave. That is not what Roberts or Stanton are saying; however that is a deduction to the reasoning of the power that women supposedly have to change a man’s behavior when they walk into a room. That is a valid empirical observation to the temporary behavior of men around women.
Second, she handles historical understandings of gender roles as if unalloyed ideology, rather than as practical attempts to respond to and address prevailing social realities, realities that arose in part on account of natural differences between the sexes. 
I am going to be most brief with this argument, as I can only cover so much in one article. Sure, historical understandings of gender roles may be practical attempts to respond to and address prevailing social realities, but that doesn’t negate the fact that many have fallen into damaging ideologies to which I was contesting. Rachel Miller has already written a good article on this, and I have reviewed an excellent book on one area where it has affected evangelicalism. I saw a lot of that same language in Stanton’s article, and am verifiably concerned that gender becomes an ideological commodity when we frame our arguments this way.
Third, she restricts her biblical analysis to an unclear term in relative isolation, rather than seeking to ascertain the larger biblical picture.
Byrd’s case rests in part upon an interpretation of the Hebrew terms ezer kenegdoin Genesis 2:18. Unfortunately, rendering this as ‘necessary ally’ doesn’t tell us all that much about the way that men and women are actually to relate…  It is far more illuminating to observe the manner in which Scripture describes the relation between men and women functioning and failing. As we study this, the manner in which the woman is the man’s ‘necessary ally’ will become more clearly apparent.
Yes, I did not have the space to expand on this important interpretation, where Scripture shows women’s contribution. But I did introduce it to contrast a biblical description with competing ideologies. There is important work that needs to be done here that can’t be covered adequately in a blog article. I write extensively on it in my next book. And yet No Little Women is written in hopes that many others will contribute, as I scratch the surface demonstrating how Scripture further reveals women functioning as both allies and opponents. 
Women do have moral suasion over men. But it can go either way. Women are indeed necessary. Our sexuality is necessary. We shouldn’t flatten our differences. I agree with Roberts’ exhortation here. But in a gender neutralizing society, Christians need to turn to God’s Word, over and above empirical observation, to how we are called to contribute.
John McKinley outlines seven ways in which women functioned as necessary allies in Scripture, and conversely when sin caused them to function as opponents instead. I expand upon and interact with these in a chapter of No Little Women
Roberts concludes reiterating that he is not claiming that women are more virtuous than men. I wish Stanton did the same. That is why I wrote my original response. Scripture doesn’t tell us who is more virtuous, or to look to a particular sex for this virtue. We are all told to look to Christ for what we so desperately need. Stanton’s assertion then distracts us from these other important discussions on gender that Roberts wants us to have.
*Thanks to E.J. Hutchinson's critique on that paragraph that led me to add some clarification.
Posted on Thursday, September 01, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Todd has written a great article about no longer identifying with the complementarian movement due to its troubling teachings, but confidently being able to stand as a confessionalist when asked about his position on men and women and the church. Although most agree that this is a secondary order of doctrine, it does affect the way we worship and so there are some visible divisions in that way. However, because it is a secondary order of doctrine, and because I too stand on the platform of speaking from the confessions of the Reformed church, I do think that I can learn from egalitarians who hold to orthodox positions on first order issues of doctrine.
Before being accused of changing my confessional stance, I am not saying that I am becoming an egalitarian. I am saying that I can learn and be sharpened from particular writings from egalitarians---even when it comes to writing on gender. 
And this is a weakness that I have seen among complementarians who demonize all egalitarians as people we should never read. Sadly, many of the topics I would like to learn more about are not written by complementarians. Today I want to introduce one. 
Whenever men or women bring up Phoebe, complementarians get uncomfortable. And the Phoebe argument is a hot button issue when it comes to deacons. So this deacon issue can overshadow some other implications from this part of Paul’s epistle. Michael Bird writes about some of those in his little book, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts (is that not the best title ever?). In Romans 16:1-2, we discover that Phoebe serves as the envoy of Paul’s letter: 
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Paul also describes her as a benefactor to him and many others. Bird expands on what the role of a letter carrier was in antiquity, as well as patron-client relationships. He asks some good questions:
If the Romans had any questions about the letter, such as: like “What is the righteousness of God?” or “Who is this wretched man that Paul refers to about halfway through?” then who do you think would be the first person they would ask? (20)
Bird raises another provocative question, suggesting the likelihood of Pheobe reading this letter to the Roman church. I don’t know, Scripture doesn’t tell us. I would imagine an elder of the church would do that. But given her relationship with Paul, and his trust in her to deliver this important epistle, I would agree that she had to at the very least be answering some questions. This is not a church officer role, but certainly involves teaching. Then he drops the doozy:
Think about it, people. This is Romans---Paul’s attempt to prevent a potentially fractured cluster of house churches in Rome from dividing over debates about the Jewish law. This is Paul’s effort to return to Jerusalem with all of the Gentile churches behind him. This is Paul’s one chance to garner support from the Roman churches for a mission to Spain. This is Romans, his greatest letter-essay, the most influential letter in the history of Western thought, and the singularly greatest piece of Christian theology. Now, if Paul was opposed to women teaching men anytime and anywhere, why on earth would he send a woman like Pheobe to deliver this vitally important letter and to be his personal representative in Rome? Why not Timothy, Titus, or any other dude? (21)
Recently, Bird posted this excerpt from Richard Longenecker’s NIGTC Romans commentary on his blog:
Phoebe had been Paul’s patron during his ministry at Corinth, had most likely heard from his own lips the contents of the letter as it was being formulated, and must have had some part in discussing with Paul and other Christians of that area at least a few portions of the letter – and therefore would have been in a position to explain to the Christians at Rome (1) what Paul was saying in the various sections of the letter, (2) what he meant by what he proclaimed in each of those sections, and (3) how he expected certain important sections of his letter to be worked out in practice in the particular situations at Rome. Probably Phoebe should be viewed as the first commentator to others on Paul’s letter to Rome, And without a doubt, every commentator, teacher, or preacher on Romans would profit immensely from a transcript of Phoebe’s explanations of what Paul wrote in this letter before actually having to write or speak on it themselves” (1064-65).
Yes, too bad we do not have that commentary, Phoebe on Romans. But there is a reason we don’t. Phoebe was not to overshadow the inspired Words of Scripture by any means. But her role in its delivery is not something to downplay. I wrote about it as well in my upcoming book, No Little Women:
Donald Grey Barnhouse writes, “Never was there a greater burden carried by such tender hands. The theological history of the church through the centuries was in the manuscript which she brought with her. The Reformation was in that baggage. The blessing of multitudes in our day was carried in those parchments.” (quoted in James Montgomery Boice’s Romans, 1913). Again, we see a woman sharing profound theology with God’s people. James Montgomery Boice points out that it was likely Phoebe had others traveling with her given the unsafe conditions for women to travel alone in the ancient world, which makes it all the more significant that she is the prominent one delivering the epistle. Phoebe was probably simultaneously traveling for business of some sort, which is why Paul would also tell the church in Rome to help her in any way she may need during her stay…
Paul does refer to Phoebe as his prostatis, translated patron. She was likely a prominent woman who assisted Paul with both social and financial means as a necessary ally in his ministry. Being that she is from a church in Corinth by a seaport, she may have assisted many who have travelled through the area with lodging and other means.
But in addition to Phoebe, Paul mentions eight other women in this section of greeting. “Moreover, five of these women---Prisca (v. 3), Junia (v. 7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (v. 12), and Persis (v. 12)---are commended for their labor ‘in the Lord.’” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 927). This list of greetings reveals something about Paul’s ministry and his relationships. He isn’t one of those theologians who would prefer to give someone a handful of money rather than spending so much of his precious time outside of his study.*  Paul’s ministry isn’t only about the sermons and the writing that he would so valuably contribute. He valued his relationships and depended on the work of many in his ministry. Among the many are women, “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (16:3). We see these women functioning as ezers, or necessary allies, in provisional, hospitable, life-threatening, hardworking, nurturing, and loving ways, not through a peripheral wing of the household, but alongside of the men. This closing section of Paul’s epistle reveals a beautiful picture of the fruit of the ministry of Word and sacrament, doesn’t it? And this is just a small screen shot taken from the farewell closing of one epistle! (From Chapter 4, How the Church Ministers to Every Member). 
These are not women that we should feel uncomfortable talking about. There’s a lot to learn here. I would love for more complementarians to be writing about this.
* A reference to a quote from John Cotton in Selma R. Williams, Divine Rebel (NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981), 95.
Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
An article was brought to my attention on Saturday that was spreading like wildfire on Facebook. The article, Why Man and Woman Are Not Equal, already had over 11K shares (now it it’s almost up to 13K). The fact that the writer, Glenn Stanton, is the director of family formation studies at the Focus on the Family may explain some of the popularity. But when I read the article, I felt like we are never going to get out of the crazy cycle of evangelical gender tropes.
Sure, I wanted to agree with Stanton as I first began reading. There are differences between men and women, and we need to value these distinctions against a culture that is dominated by the sexual revolution and wants to paint gender as a fluid concept. And I agree with the title to a point. Men and women are not equal in all things. We are equal in value and worth. Both genders are made in the image of God. But, for starters, men can’t have babies. And they are physically stronger than women. They have greater muscle mass, broader shoulders, and a stronger grip. And although I want to be careful of stereotyping, there are some differences in our hormonal and psychological make-up. 
The author chose to focus on a particular identifier to reveal that men and women are not equal. And at first glance, women may be happy to read this, as he is certainly elevating them:
Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.
He continues to show how women are the holders of all virtue, contributing to society by “making men behave,” and that “the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male,” because wives make men more loving, nurturing, and willing to provide, therefore contributing more to society.
On Monday Morning I discovered that this article was being shared in my circles on blogs and social media. Poor Andrew Wilson just threw it out there on Twitter with a question for discussion. Hannah Anderson and I took the bait, and bounced off of one another about our concerns. I immediately thought of Sara Moslener’s book Virgin Nation, which traces the sexual purity movement in America, showing how it developed as an ideology linked to national security. This is the sort of branding I was reading in Stanton’s article. And from books like Moslener’s and the further research I have done of the cult of domesticity, I am able to pick up on this language pretty easily now.
Interestingly, before the first wave of feminism, women were viewed as the morally inferior sex. Because Eve was the first person deceived, women were not to be trusted. But with the turn of the 19th century, gender roles make a reversal. Now all of the sudden women became the morally superior sex. 
But was society the better for it?:
Women exploited their newfound status as moral superiors to extend their power beyond the domestic sphere and control the sexual behavior of men. Moslener connects the reversal of the female status as moral superiors in first wave feminism to the political movements fueled by evangelical tropes of manhood and womanhood…
Yet as women gained spiritual, social, and political influence, men began to feel threatened by a feminization of theology.
This is when the whole wave of muscular Christianity began to take root. The thing is, when you make either sex the holder of virtue, you are doing a lot of damage. Gender becomes an ideological commodity, a power struggle begins, and then there is an equally disturbing reaction.
But we already know the truth. Women are also sinners, and men don’t need to marry to be virtuous. Were Jesus and Paul just exceptions? No, “worthy” men are expected to be virtuous on their own. And they are to depend on the One who actually lived a righteous life as they strive for holiness, not on a woman. I will give Stanton a nod in agreement that men may adjust their behavior when a woman comes into the room. Women do that some too. But manners aren’t always virtuous; they can be very manipulative. Men aren’t to pretend to be virtuous when in front of women; they are called to be virtuous at all times. 
Just think for a moment---if this gender trope were true, why are we letting any men in leadership? But no, this is just Victorian era ideology skipping the record again. When we put the burden of virtue on one gender, these power dynamics go into play. Stanton is trying to replace the equality argument that is used in the fight for societal power today with a virtue argument that has already played out over and over again.
So I ask again, what compromises are we making to advance our own ideologies? Women and men need one another. Singles are also created for relationship in the covenant community, friendships, family roles, at work and school, and in loving their neighbor. And as Hannah pointed out in our Twitter conversation, this kind of reduction hinders real spiritual formation and discipleship. Women don’t need to play the virtue card to get a seat at the significance table. We can’t hijack the language of holiness that way. Men and women both need to sit under the preached Word, as a covenant community. We all need to hear God’s pure and holy law, accompanied by the gospel announcement. We cheapen both God’s common grace to all as well as his salvific work of holiness, calling sinners to repentance, and his work of salvation, sanctification, and glorification when we stereotype in this way. Women are a wonderful sex, but they are a horrible substitute for a savior.