Aimee Byrd’s book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is an invitation for churches to identify and move beyond the negative impact of the biblical manhood and womanhood movement. In Byrd’s opinion, this movement was the response of some Christian denominations to the sexual revolution of the 1960s that sought to create parameters around appropriate expressions of what it means to be male and female. She is inviting church leaders to identify and correct any areas of inequality in training women to participate in church ministry. Byrd is a blogger, author, and speaker on these topics, and the book is meant to be accessible to complementarian and egalitarian readers alike.
This book is positioned as a restoration project (23). Specifically, she roots her discussion in the definitions of masculinity and femininity that were put forward by John Piper and Wayne Grudem in their book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Byrd affirms that there are differences in genders and that she appreciates the complementarian position. But she is drawing to light assumptions that have been ingrained in Christian men and women from this movement that are hindering full participation in church life.
The book is structured to address those hindrances in three distinct sections starting with “Recovering the Way We Read Scripture.” Here Byrd considers the subtle conditioning of men and women through the marketing of specific “women’s” and “men’s” study Bibles. The Bible is intentionally written with both feminine and masculine voices. In her perspective, we are diminishing the beauty of the Christian message by assigning and understanding women’s roles in relationship to their service to men. One example she highlights is the Book of Ruth, which is mostly written with a feminine voice, and as such invites readers to see the strength and multidimensional nature of God. If the church had a better grasp of how often women’s voices are elevated in Scripture, it would be easier to understand that the Bible, while written in patriarchal contexts, does not affirm patriarchy itself.
Next is “Recovering Our Mission,” which seems to be Byrd’s motivation for taking up this message. If the church continues to focus on defining and shaping biblical manhood and womanhood, it detracts from the main purpose of church life, while also neglecting discipleship. She believes this main mission is “preparing us for eternal communion with the triune God.” (26) Her dissatisfaction with the current definition of complementarianism is the emphasis on authority and submission as its two cornerstones (116). Rather, she is advocating that men and women are to serve God together in mutuality under the guidance and leadership of male church authority (146) and in the context of the local church.
The last section is “Recovering the Responsibility of Every Believer.” Based on the biblical stories she draws to the reader’s attention throughout the book, it is valid to wonder if women and men have achieved their fullest potential in relationship to one another. She advocates for a strong sibling-like allyship between men and women where women are celebrated for their intellectual ability and contribution to the church and men are able to live more fully into their gentle and nurturing sides. She invites readers and churches to righteously imagine what submission in mutual respect for all men and women can open up within their church traditions. It is only by starting here that we can live into her statement that we are all “active traditions, retrievers, and reformers, receiving God’s Word as it has been historically confessed through his Spirit and making it common to others.” (234)
Overall, I appreciate Byrd’s biblical commentary on reading the Bible with attention to the interplay of the masculine and feminine voices. She highlights how the collateral damage in the constant debate around narrowly defining biblical womanhood and manhood is usually the woman in the pew who is desperately trying to be a biblical woman but does not feel like she fits within the categorical limits placed on her. I believe Byrd can go much further in advocating for the equality of men and women, but this book is likely radical for her church tradition. I believe she makes a lot of political assumptions while stating that the book is apolitical, which are barriers to hearing her actual message. She does not see herself as egalitarian and is not willing to hold up egalitarianism as the way forward for the church. Therefore, I would not recommend this book to someone who is firmly in that camp because I do not believe it offers many new arguments. If someone is just starting to examine gender assumptions in a complementarian environment, this book may be a potential resource.