No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, by Aimee Byrd, provides many practical challenges to female disciples and their leaders. It challenges women to become better equipped for ministry, learn and exercise discernment in their educational tools, and prompts them to take responsibility for becoming “good theologians with informed convictions” (178). However, because of the complementarian theology pushed in this book, it will prove to be a frustrating read for many egalitarians.
The book reminds women of their responsibility to study the Scriptures and challenges women to learn from commentaries, systematic and biblical theology books, church history books and devotionals written by women and men. The author encourages and inspires women to speak up about their need to learn, as well as their ability to teach and converse with others about theological topics. Likewise, male ministry leaders are prompted to oversee the teaching of women with the same level of enthusiasm and scholarship as the teaching of men. Elected leaders, elders, pastors and preachers of the local church (all assumed to be male) are encouraged to be more involved in the equipping of female church goers so that the women will be more prepared to direct ministries and possibly even teach men and women.
No Little Women would be beneficial for Christian men and women of a complementarian viewpoint, specifically if they were looking for ways to improve the education of women in their local church, and if they were willing to heed her advice. Her sense of urgency regarding the need for change is apparent, but she does not address the underlying issues for that change. Byrd requests that male leaders equip and listen to women, but the motives for the devalued educations and ministries for women are not discussed in the book. The subordination of Christian women to their male leaders and husbands is assumed and reassured throughout the book.
Byrd succeeds at providing many practical tips for listening, reading, learning, and discerning. She points out that Timothy sat under the teaching of two important women, and Paul values the teaching done by women. She then explains that Paul warned Timothy about the treacherous people who appear to be godly but who deny God’s power. In 2 Timothy 3:6-7 Paul states these people “are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires. (Such women are forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth).” Byrd points out that the word for “vulnerable women,” gynakikaria, could be translated as “little women.” She correctly warns of the “little women” who are in our churches and how we must work to better educate them lest the whole community be harmed.
I agree with Byrd’s assumption here. My personal experience has been that the practical and theological training for women in ministry is grossly insufficient, even among many staffs and ministry teams of egalitarian churches. I would also add there are many “little men” who suffer the same ailment. Likewise, all church leaders (male and female) have a responsibility to work with and inspire those to whom they minister.
Byrd has doctrinal differences with churches who ordain female ministers and those who claim to receive direct revelations from God. Depending on where one falls on the view of direct revelations from God, this may be offensive. I appreciated the call for readers to use discernment when reading any book and when listening to any sermon or speaker.
I applied my discernment skills when reading Byrd’s rendition of Adam and Eve’s relationship in the garden before the fall: “The text does not emphasize authority and submission, but unity in one flesh. This is not to say that Adam was not set as the head of the household, but the main point is unity” (70). Yes, the main point is unity (and equality), so why add the headship comment? Oddly, Byrd writes, “In a household that is set up properly, women should thrive alongside the men as they serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church” (87). How can a woman thrive if she is not answering her call and using her spiritual gifts for the betterment of the church body—especially if she has been called and gifted to preach, teach (men and women), and/or pastor?
Byrd builds her case for the significance of women in ministry with her interpretation of the word ezer found in Genesis 2:18.She translates this as “necessary ally.” She affirms that women derive their value from being created in the image of God. Additionally, she rightly reminds her readers that as necessary allies to men, women are responsible to help them carry out God’s mission and all that this entails. Her scholarship is good but then she misses the importance of an ezer being ‘face to face,’ (as an equal) with her helper. She leans on John McKinley’s (Biola University) definition that pushes “distinction and relatedness” (25). Byrd states, “Biblical headship is not a micromanaging role but is one that trusts in and points to a greater household manager” (72). She then connects the ideas of headship and household management to the structure and administration of the church. This idea is reiterated throughout the remainder of the book with statements about the importance of the ministry of the word and sacraments—and how these ministries have been designated for men only.
Ms. Byrd writes, “I would love for this book to help build up the entire church, both brothers and sisters in God’s household” (22). Sadly, I believe Aimee Byrd fails at this effort. The entire church cannot be “built up” if half of the congregants are simultaneously being told their roles in ministry are restricted according to their gender.