Posted on Tuesday, September 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I'm excited to share the news that Beyond Authority and Submission, by Rachel Miller, is now available to order. MoS will air our prerecorded interview with her about the book soon. But since it's launch week, I wanted to share the Foreword to her book, which I was honored to write:
Rachel Miller is the perfect person to write this timely book that challenges the lens in which many in the church use to view the nature of men and women and their so-called roles in the church, home, and society. In the last thirty years, the church has been flooded with resources on biblical manhood and womanhood. I remember reading many of these resources when I first married, wanting to be a godly wife and to properly respond to the sexual revolution that is pervading our culture. I learned about some new movements in the church, such as complementarianism and egalitarianism, that worked to build a framework about what the Bible teaches regarding masculinity, femininity, and the contributions of men and women. These movements became polarizing for those who joined their councils, coalitions, and alliances, as their positions were taught as gospel truths. I found myself in an evangelical subculture that built a framework of authority and submission to describe the nature of men and women. Is this really what the Bible teaches? In looking for some fellow critical thinkers, I discovered Rachel’s blog, “A Daughter of the Reformation.” Her writing is a breath of fresh air.
Rachel is a laywoman. Maybe you are wondering what qualifies her to write such a book when there are so many distinguished pastors and scholars who have written on the topic of biblical manhood and womanhood. There are several reasons why an informed laywoman like Rachel has much to contribute to this discussion. First of all, Rachel has firm convictions upholding ordination of qualified men in the church and husbands as servant leaders in their homes.  While not aligning with a movement, Rachel does want to contribute as a complementary, reciprocal voice in response to the many we have read and heard. So, she is what we would consider a reforming voice within her own camp. If complementarianism truly is complementary, it should value this kind of engagement. Published resources for the church are meant to be thoughtfully engaged. Most authors do not presume to be the final voice on matters such as these, but rather aim to offer their interpretation of pertinent Scriptural principles in hopes to move forward in a biblical understanding of the sexes. Rachel’s book is a sharpening response from the pew.
Secondly, Rachel has nothing to personally gain. She is not aligned to any organization that will boost her status or career by offering a biblical way to view men and women beyond authority and submission. In fact, in speaking against the grain of many of her peers, it is a brave endeavor. One reason why it is so difficult to have these discussions is because most of the authors are aligned to organizations in which their livelihood is dependent on not budging from their framework.  Since Rachel is an ordinary laywoman, a faithful Christian who upholds the confessions of her church, and is not on the payroll of parachurch organization, she has more of a freedom to write from the conclusions of her historical research and biblical convictions. Perhaps instead I should say that she has nothing to lose. But, like the subject she is writing on, it’s a little more complicated than that. Writing against the accepted grain in your own circles comes with a price. Rachel has counted the cost and cares enough about the way men and women co-labor together to write this book.
And third, Rachel has already proven to be a discerning and helpful voice for men and women in the church. Before the infamous Trinity debate that kicked off in 2016 , Rachel Miller was writing articles on her blog, challenging the orthodoxy of the prevalent teaching of the eternal subordination of the Son, and its sister teaching, the eternal subordination of women. Rachel has followed the doctrine on authority and submission in the godhead and between the sexes, challenging its biblical grounds, before many of the scholars or pastors in her camp would speak out. Thankfully, we are now seeing a renewal of focus and resources being published on an orthodox teaching on the Trinity.
I am thankful for Rachel’s further contribution of this book, examining whether some of the ideas of the nature of men and women and our relationships in the home, church, and society are biblical traditions that have been faithfully handed down or are ones the church has picked up from the Greeks, Romans, and Victorians. Are our assumptions biblical or cultural? What if, in trying to be a Christian voice in response to the sexual revolution of the culture, the church has inadvertently been arguing from a different secular position? Should our framework for men and women be authority and submission, or can we return these categories to their proper place, while recovering a lens of unity, interdependence, and service for both men and women?
Maybe Rachel didn’t foresee just how fitting it was when she named her blog “A Daughter of the Reformation.” She lives according to the Reformation confessions that she upholds. One of those cries is Semper Reformanda, the church is always reforming. We continually need to align our teachings with the authority of the Scriptures. This is something all readers should be able to agree with. I commend this book to you as a valuable contribution to the continuing discussion on the nature, relationships, and value of men and women, with the expectation that it will be a catalyst for fruitful, biblical reform. 
Aimee Byrd
Posted on Thursday, July 11, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My friend Anna Anderson is one of my favorite theological conversation partners. I asked her if she would write a guest article for the blog on the connection between Proverbs 31, Ruth, and the Song of Songs. I'm honored to share it with my readers:
Why might we not recognize Ruth in the woman worthy of praise in Proverbs 31? Perhaps it is her poverty. She appears on the road from Moab without a bustling household---without a husband who trusts her, children who praise her, and servants whom she blesses. We see her with little means to creatively improve her lot---no wool or silk or linen. There is no mention of spindle or lamp, no money to invest in fields, vineyards, or foreign trade, yet, like the woman of Proverbs, she takes stock of her assets. The list is short: health and hands. Endowed with patient endurance, we find her ready to face what would readily lead many to despair, a life of beggary as a childless, widowed foreigner. And she is not just any foreigner, she is from a detested people formed not by theophany and divine favor, but incestuous rape. It is against these almost insurmountable odds that Ruth stands tall, a woman of valor, an ezer warrior from the other side of the tracks. In the Masoretic Text (MT) of the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Ruth falls between Proverbs and Song of Songs (SOS), a convenient placement to consider how Ruth measures up to the woman of valor in Proverbs 31 and the Shulamite lover of the Song. 
As the embodiment of the Proverbs 31 woman, she has no deficit. She is strong in the Lord and heads to the fields. She gathers grain, working with her hands. She brings her food from afar and sets the fruit of her labor before Naomi. (Is there anyone more needy and tragic than Naomi? Carolyn Custis James calls her the female Job amidst the ashes of poverty and shattered dreams: old, voiceless, and deemed a worthless burden to society [James, The Gospel of Ruth].) Naomi is not only esteemed but nourished and nurtured by Ruth's loving kindness. Ruth searches and finds the eyes of worthy Boaz attentive to her needs, and his admiration is cultivated by her virtue. Strength and honor are her clothing, and she becomes the object of Boaz's praise and desire. (And would any of us deny that we, a great multitude of her children, have risen up to bless her?) 
This brings us to the other side of Ruth in the MT canon, Song of Songs, where Ruth again might not come to mind at first glance. Is it because Ruth is not a young virgin but a barren widow? Is it because Boaz appears much older, an established businessman, and not a young, ruddy shepherd? Or maybe because a woman who takes courage and charge is difficult to reconcile with our thinking? If we take care to read well, I believe we will see a similarity between Ruth and the Shulamite. In Song of Songs, we have rapturous mutuality (Phipps, Genesis and Gender), harmony, and reciprocity. The Song stands against the Ancient Near Eastern concept of man as "bull" of the marriage bed (Dorsey, Literary Structure of the Old Testament). The number and force of the Shulamite's invitations to love are greater than the shepherd's. Hardly a thought, idea, or action is not attributed to both (Davidson, Flame of Yahweh). She draws; she leads; she gives; she awakens him. She commands him. We might note that the "desire" of the woman in Genesis 3:16, used only three times in the Hebrew Scriptures, is attributed in SOS 7:10 not to the woman, but to the man, as she exclaims, "I am my beloved's; and his desire is for me." This is in the context of her conquering him, imprisoning him with her tresses and ravishing him with her eyes (Davidson). Here the divine pronouncement concerning the consequences of Eve's sin can be seen in the light of a new day. Finally, it is remarkable that the Song is given to us without any explicit mention of children, as if the mutual pursuit and pleasuring themselves are fruitful within the bounds of covenantal love. The shepherd is invited to the locked garden to partake of its prepared delights. This is a "returning to the holy of holies of Eden's garden," where types embedded in marriage take us beyond our marriages to the consummation of time (Davidson). 
With this, we turn to Boaz's threshing floor. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, Ruth watches and "considers" before she moves. He has initiated kindness and deference, and she will respond by initiating marriage. In fact, Ruth demands Boaz take her under his wings (Block: NAS Commentary, Judges, Ruth). Block comments that here Ruth goes beyond the instructions of Naomi, calling us to see her boldness: "The reader stands back in awe, wondering what has possessed her. Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a man, a poor person making the demand of a rich man" and all this under the cloak of darkness where she lies at his feet, waiting. Like the Shulamite, she is washed, perfumed, and adorned. She is not proposing a night of illicit love. Rather, she is propositioning him for a lifetime of licit love. She has bid him come to her garden, to eat its choicest fruits, and the determination with which Boaz goes about sealing their union shows that he desires her and that she has captivated him (Ruth 3:18; SOS 4:9,16: 7:10 in comparison with Gen. 3:16b). 
It seems to me that Ruth, Proverbs 31, and Song of Songs together beckon us to broaden our understanding of "mature femininity" beyond merely "receiving, affirming, and nurturing worthy men's strengths" and leadership (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 46). Ruth as the woman of valor takes inventory of what God has placed in her hands and goes boldly to the field. She is not primed to affirm or nurture specifically male strength, but Naomi’s, to whom she has solemnly bound herself. Her self-effacing nobility draws the attention and admiration of Boaz who, in turn, receives, affirms, and nurtures her strength. In time, she responds by offering him her love. His response to her proposal leads him to the city gates, where he takes his seat and Ruth’s works find praise. Note the dynamism and flow of the movement, the harmony, the exalting crescendo, whose peak is not found in Ruth, but in Matthew 1, where both Ruth and Boaz take their seats in the gates of the New Covenant. In Ruth as Shulamite, we do not see the language of dominance, but harmony, love flowing in reciprocity between the lovers. This is not an appeal to abandon the headship of husbands over their own wives and the rule of qualified male elders in the church, but it is an appeal to all of us to take the assets that God has given us and apply them in receiving, affirming, and nurturing our neighbors' strengths. And it is a call to see in the Song the bride of Christ, one composed of many who bear His image, both male and female. They are the object of His desire and delight and the consummation of their union yields nothing less than the fullness of everything the Father determined to give his Son when, in eternity, he determined to give his Son a bride (Garcia).
Anna lives with her family is southern Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C. and pursuing a ThM at Greystone Institute. 
Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Apparently, some who have read my last article have interpreted it as me saying that it’s okay for men to be effeminate. This interpretation is kind of proving my point about the secular categories and framework of thinking within the church. And it illustrates that we do not view humans as having soul/body composite identities. This is concerning.
So no, that isn’t what my article was saying, nor is it a logical conclusion after reading my article. Maybe some readers are upset because they actually do understand the article’s conclusion that “effeminate men” isn’t even a proper category, and they emphatically disagree. I understand there is a lot of tension and fear in the church right now over sexuality issues. And I land on the same side morally as some of my concerned readers, even as I am trying to point out philosophical differences that I believe are more in line with a biblical and theological anthropology and eschatology. Rather than react in fear of the serious challenges to the church’s stance on sexuality and turn to the fairly new language of our culture, there are some basic, classic principles that can help guide us. “Effeminate” is employed in two ways in our culture and I do not like either. (And no, the King James Version of 1 Cor. 6:9 is not a proof text here, as it is about actual homosexual act of sodomy).
The first way---the one that concerns me the most---is an insult to men who do not fit into what our culture holds as ideal masculinity. Little boys are teased for being too sensitive. Their daddies grow over-concerned because they don’t like the so-called manly stuff like sports and hunting. Some of these boys grow up thinking maybe they aren’t masculine enough. They struggle with gender security. Some, as a result, struggle with gender identity. I will not give credence to this category of effeminate men because it is an offence to manhood.
The second way---the one that I believe is concerning my readers asking this question---is used in the gay community (and this is the big fear of those daddies above). This usage turns from an insult to an identity as some same-sex attracted men take on feminine stereotypes of our culture in their mannerisms, interests, and sometimes the way they dress. Reader, please understand, I am not saying this is no big deal. I am saying that this is an artificial identity. And we need to be communicating this well. No matter how much a man wants to pretend, he cannot truly be feminine. And this behavior grossly misunderstands the essence of the female and the concept of woman. I will not give credence to a category of effeminate men because it is an offense to womanhood.
As Pope John Paul II put it, “Women and men are the illustration of a biological, individual, personal, and spiritual complementarity. Femininity is the unique and specific characteristic of woman, as masculinity is of man” (Navarro-Valls, “To Promote Woman’s Equal Dignity,” 1.1). So, as I said in my last article, I don’t have to act a specific way to be a woman, as a woman my actions are feminine. It's that kind of language that leads to the concept of the effeminate man. My framework builds an argument against the reality of such a concept. When we use cultural stereotypes as essential elements of femininity and masculinity, we are reducing our brothers and sisters and missing out on God’s creative design of human beings as unique, unrepeatable people. Sister Prudence Allen suggests that men and women are not opposites sexes, but neighboring sexes. This doesn’t diminish the distinctions between men and women, but rather sees the holistic beauty of God’s design and opens the doors for men and women to serve one another by giving of themselves as complete whole people in synergetic and dynamic fellowship. 
Switching Gears To Talk About Gender
With that, I want to drop it down a gear and talk about how we use the word gender. I highly recommend Sister Prudence Allen’s three volumes on The Concept of Woman. One can really benefit even from reading the Introduction in Volume III. I’d like to share something from the beginning of her Introduction where she discusses the meaning of gender. Unlike the animals, we are, for the most part, differentiated by our contributions to generation. I say “for the most part” because due to the fall there are a small percentage of intersex people born. Although Aristotle taught some grave errors regarding the male and female distinction in generation, Allen points out that he was right in arguing that “’male’ signified one who generated in another, and ‘female,’ one who generated in itself.” She sorts through the confusion that we have in the usage of the word gender as it has drastically changed in meaning in the 20th century.
Very early in Western history the concept of gender identity was found hidden in its root, gen. The meaning of the root gen in its verb form is to produce or beget; in its noun form it refers to offspring or kin. This meaning is explicitly integrated into early Jewish history. A clear example, dated variously between 1400 BC and 900 BC, is found in Gen. 5:1, which begins: “This is the book of the generations of Adam”; it continues through verse 32, marking off different periods of history in recording the generations from Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, through to Noah and his sons. The root gen from the beginning of Judaism establishes the significance of history of a people living in continuity generation after generation. It incorporates the act of sexual intercourse, of a male and a female, of a man and a woman who become father and mother through their synergetic union. Thus, we can say, the concept of sex is inherently included within the concept of the root of generation, or gen. (6)
She cites further examples from Aristotle, and then the beginning of Matthew, where “in 1:1-16 that Latin word genuit, with the root gen (meaning ‘to beget, to generate, to father’), is repeated thirty-nine times.”
The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology records the continuation of the roots of these theological and philosophical concepts in the development of the English language. It includes the following rich, expanding language-family related to the root gen: “gender,” “genealogy,” “generate,” “generous” (nobly born), “genesis,” “genetic,” “gene,” “genial” (nuptial, productive, joyous), “genital” (external generative organs), “genitive” (grammatical possessor or source), “genius” (innate capacity, person possessing prevalent disposition of spirit), “genocide,” “gens,” “gentleman,” “gentlewoman,” genuine,” and “-geny” (mode of production). From this evidence alone, it would appear that the radical separation of the concept of the word “sex” from the concept of the word “gender” suggested by some twentieth century authors is artificial indeed. (7)
There's much I am skipping over, but what I am getting at here is that this framework is incapable of switching to a gear where effeminate men are sanctioned. Rather, it is only in a fractional (so-called) complementarity, where men and women “are described as contributing fractional portions to a relation that together add up to one single person” and where the language of separation between matter and form, body and soul/psyche, thrives that we see the artificial identity of the effeminate man. When we realize and uphold the integral complementarity between men and women, where we are “each considered as a whole person and together…synergetically create something or someone more,” our corresponding dignity will not be destroyed by sinful domination nor our significant distinctions disoriented by lust (Allen, 8 & 471). As Allen concludes, “This ontological complementarity of women and men has not only a philosophical foundation but also a theological foundation that begins on earth and continues through life and death to the resurrection of the body into eternity” (483).
Posted on Friday, June 21, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been provoked by something on Twitter recently and tempted to respond with my own provocative tweet. I’m trying to do less of that. While there used to be lamentations that too many people can write whatever they want on a blog post and, besides, people aren’t reading enough books, I enjoyed writing and reading blogs as a sort of public journaling. This is now being replaced by tweets and tweet threads. If thoughts were being condensed by blog-conscious word counts before, they are now further reduced to accommodate Twitter character limits. All we get is the punch line.
As tempted as I am to just throw out my own punch lines, I do want real conversation on some of these big, hot button issues battled out on Twitter. So, while I have been developing my thoughts on men and women and the church through some of my books, for the in between I’d rather think out loud in blog format than subtweets and punch line responses.
And there’s been a lot to respond to. But this week I saw this tweet going around, both positively and negatively shared, that is representative of many others I’ve passed by:
My punchline thought was, isn’t this the same kind of thinking perpetuated by the transgender movement? Isn’t the whole idea that men could be something other than men, and vice versa, the new, radical thinking of the sexual revolution? Is there a biological part of me that has a vagina and makes me a woman that’s different than my soul and psyche, which needs to make sure it acts like a woman? And what is it that I need to do as a woman to be a woman?
Now, I agree with CBMW that there are distinctions and differences between men and women. And we share some moral values. But CBMW has capitalized on this kind of language, using a word like “role,” which is a theater term meaning “playing a part,” to refer to performed ontological differences between men and women. To be a woman, I must be a certain way, play a certain role. So, when I see the president of CBMW tweeting a line from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood about men needing to be men and women needing to be women, I know what it means. The definition is provided and elaborated on in the book:
We see echoes of CBMW’s teaching of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ontological “roles” in the Trinity) here in its application for gender roles: men’s roles are active and potent---authoritarian. Women’s are parasitic and subservient. The heart of femininity merely means being masculinity affirmers. I wonder, where is the feminine? What distinct contribution does woman have?
As discussions on metaphysics and trinitarian theology are making a comeback, we also need to retrieve the essential, hylomorphic understanding of the body and soul that recognizes, as Sister Prudence Allen puts it, “the human being as a soul/body composite identity.” There are only two ways to image God as human beings: as male and as female. I think CBMW agrees with this, but their language and teaching on manhood and womanhood betrays them. There aren’t half-men, clueless as to how to earn their man card. There aren’t biologically identifiable women with male souls. We don’t need to force our sexual distinctions under an artificial ontological framework of authority and submission or under cultural stereotypes. I don’t have to act like a woman---I am a woman in whatever I do. We don’t need “masculine males” and “feminine females” as RBMW tells us. God has already created us as men and women, and he has also created us as unique persons. Let's talk about the meaningfulness of that.
And so this way of thinking makes me very cautious to join in using CBMW’s language to lead the way in talking about the serious issues the church needs to address regarding sexuality. While I might share some of the same concerns as them, I don’t align with CBMW’s teaching on men and women. I’m also still waiting for them to retract their teaching of ESS and their application of trinitarian “roles” for men to be men and women to be women. Our "sexuate installation" (as Julián Marías calls it) as men and women should move us toward communion of persons, where we are not actualized by what roles we play, but in fostering a mutual knowledge of one another which results in dynamic, fruitful reciprocity through the giving of ourselves through our differences. But there is no room for this in CBMW’s definitions of "mature" masculinity and femininity. There’s no dynamism because it’s all about male power, male say-so, and male agency. Complementarianism only boils down to who’s in charge.
I agree that we need to talk about what is meaningful about being men and women. Ironically, I think CBMW’s teaching on this is too thin to be called complementarian. If there is no reciprocity of voices, where’s the complementarity? I hope to reveal something much thicker in book form soon!
Posted on Monday, June 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Last week I had the pleasure of reading New Testament Scholar, Paula Gooder’s responsible work of historical imagination, Phoebe: A Story. In this historical fiction, Romans 16 comes alive. It begins with the last words of the letter to the Romans, “…to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” Phoebe is anxiously trying to get a feel of the response, as Stachys---whom you may recognize from Paul’s greetings in 16:9---is finishing his reading of the letter aloud to a gathering of people from the Roman house churches.
The reader hadn’t so much read the letter as performed it---his voice thundering in the opening paragraphs, thoughtful and careful in the middle, before dropping to a gentle, careful greeting at the end. As she awaited the Roman’s response, Phoebe’s anxiety grew and grew. In Corinth, Paul’s letters did not---to put it mildly---meet with universal acclaim. The receipt of a letter from Paul usually led to what the gentle and generous Gaius euphemistically termed a time of ‘vibrant discussion’; a ‘discussion’ that often ended when one group or another walked out and refused to return. So Phoebe had, unconsciously, held her breath as she waited to discover what form the reaction would take. She had prepared herself for almost anything, except for this: a deep silence. The quiet was such that the chirping of the cicadas felt stridently intrusive.
What does happen next? Paula Gooder combines biblical scholarship with historical imagination to help us enter that world, particularly through envisioning the life of Phoebe. In this, she weaves a story of how Phoebe ended up being a patron, what her life was like before she became a believer, the reasons she agrees to make this trip to Rome to deliver Paul’s epistle, how she aims to answer the questions the Roman Christians have about the letter, the time that she spends in Rome, the relationships she builds, and where she is going next. It is an excellent story. I don’t want to give away any of these details so that any interested readers can discover them turning the page as I did. But here are a few things I loved about the book:
Phoebe’s status in the church is often either downplayed or lionized. Gooder makes her a person again---one who is dealing with her sinful past and struggling with boldness in her faith, while also equipped to answer theological questions about Paul’s teaching. I love her character development throughout the book, and her relatability for any Christian striving to live a life of faith and obedience.
  • One of my favorite things about this book is the storytelling amongst the historical and created characters. As they are faced with decisions and challenges, or just in the mood for some storytelling, the characters pass down the traditions of the faith---the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as well as stories about them. We will recognize these conversations, as we have these teachings and stories in the pages of Scripture. But in the first century, they needed to be handed down. And so we see how this happened in Gooder’s book. We see that all of these Christians were tradents to the faith, active traditioners, often informally handing down the stories and teachings so familiar to us as they live life. It was really encouraging to me, as we are still called to this active traditioning in the Christian life today. 
  • The characters are great, from the tension between Junia and Phoebe; Aquilla’s sense of humor and banter with his wife; the wise, hard-working Stachy’s as a freed slave and scribe; and the complexity of Herodion’s introversion and brashness; to the created characters like Felix, Titus, and “Bibi.” Felix is my favorite. 
  • The carefulness of Gooder’s historical imagination. She really does have a great imagination, but it is informed by her extensive research on the geography, social history, time, and of course, biblical scholarship. The first part of the book is the story. But the second part of the book is extensive notes on her research. And it doesn’t function the same as endnotes---which are deplorable atrocities against a reader---but as snapshots of her research and how it weaves into the story. I enjoyed that section and appreciate how she gives resources to the reader who wants to go deeper on a given topic. She opens this section with an apologetic for the genre of the book, her aim in writing it, as well as where she took some liberties. Because of her great research combined with an excellent imagination, we get to learn more about the everyday life these people must have lived. We learn more about how they ate, about the class structures, patrons and clients, the life of slaves, the different communities in Rome, the politics, and the social life of the time. 
  • Like a good scholar, Good is careful with both historical and theological nuances. This plays out well in the scenery she sets, the discussions and debates among the characters, and is further explained in Part Two of the book. 
Here are a few caveats:
  • Gooder’s view of Romans is influenced by the New Perspective on Paul. This shows most when Herodion shares his testimony in Chapter Four, as he is complaining about how Paul’s letter will cause trouble for the Jewish believers. I appreciate that Gooder is upfront about this in Part Two. I do think it is better nuanced in the discussion in Chapter Four than many of the presentations of this theology. There is certainly some important contributions in research from NPP, even as I do not affirm it’s whole theological system. 
  • Readers will have different reactions to how Gooder paints some of our favorite people in Scripture. While I love how she makes Paul more “real,” I didn’t care for the way she portrays his interaction with the believers from Rome upon his arrival and imprisonment. She gives an explanation in Part Two, but my historical imagination would interpret that scenario differently.
  • Another area where I wanted something different is how she portrays Phoebe as more insecure than I would have envisioned in her authorized mission from Paul as the first interpreter of Romans. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I will say that I appreciate how Gooder’s portrayal reminds us of the complexity of people in general, even those who are given such weighty missions. But this is also what makes it a good historical fiction: provoking readers to interact with her writing and their own historical imagination.
  • There will also be some push back on how Gooder describes, or doesn’t describe, worship in these house churches. Maybe she is just leaving more for the historical imagination? This was, after all, such an early and transitional time in the church.
I recommend this book as a great summer read!
Posted on Friday, May 17, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am a member of an OPC church. When I tell people that, sometimes I feel the need to offer an apologetic, “It’s not like the image you have in your head of the fuddy-duddy, frozen chosens. We are a lively, hospitable community of believers.” It’s a healthy, thriving church with good doctrine, godly leadership, and a great body of brothers and sisters in the faith. So much so, that we attract Christians from different denominations into the OPC for the first time. Because of this, on the Sundays that we read the Apostles’ Creed together, sometimes visitors have questions. What do you mean by "the holy catholic church?” What are you saying about Christ descending to hell? We even have asterisks in the bulletin now, briefly explaining these two popular questions. This is the first time that some of these visitors have seen a creed confessed and they may have questions about the value of that as well.
This confusion does not make us want to stop this practice of confessing our faith in the same words as the early churches. It is exciting to share this practice with those who have been in a church maybe all their lives and never have been a part of putting words to worship, as Stanley Gale describes it in his little book, The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. The Apostles’ Creed gives us the core of the Christian confession of what we believe. “While Christian denominations feature their own emphases and nuances, the Creed spells out the core, the basics of the faith, the beating of the heart of the gospel” (3). Gale wrote his book as a way to familiarize the Christian faith, “as it unfolds in the profound simplicity of the Apostles’ Creed.” 
My pastor saw this need in our own church community and taught a Sunday school semester on the Apostles’ Creed. Gale’s book is another great resource, as it is a pastoral book that breaks down the confessions in the Creed in a devotional way. Even if you are familiar with the teaching in the Creed, it’s a great reminder that can be used devotionally leading us in praise for who God is and what he has done.
I love to hear my pastor ask us what we believe. So often in my own teaching, I have found many Christians have a hard time articulating their faith well. The Apostles’ Creed helps us. There is something beautiful in answering as a congregation, joining with the church historic in confessing our faith together. “The Creed is liturgical (to profess in community), catechetical (to teach), confessional (to express alignment), and missional (as a light to life in Christ)” (4). Everyone benefits from studying it. Along with his book, Gale has an accompanying workbook available so that the church can benefit from this resource as a tool for discipleship. 
And those first words of the Creed, “I believe,” should not be passed over as quickly as we may be tempted to in getting to the good stuff. I enjoyed that Gale opens with an entire chapter on the stand that we take in saying “I believe”, “weighty words expressing commitment and relationship with the God who has invited us to Himself…the beliefs of our invisible faith take shape when we clothe them with the statements of the Creed” (21-22).
Maybe your church has confessed the Creed every Sunday for as long as you can remember, and now it has just become routine for you. Gale’s book will help recover the meaningfulness in your profession, as every line of the Creed is packed with wonder. What a joy and honor it is to be a part of the Christian church, confessing our faith, and ending with a resounding “amen” together!
Posted on Thursday, May 09, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
One great consequence of the Trinity Debate of 2016, which started over the issue of CBMW leaders teaching an ontological, eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS/ERAS) and then applying that to men and women, is a resurgence of classical teaching on the Trinity and on the  importance of biblical theology over and against Biblicism. However, even as the overwhelming consensus was that those who teach ESS are not in line with confessional Nicene trinitarianism, there never was any retraction of the teaching from CBMW or the from leaders who taught it. This is something that I wrote about in the summer of 2016, hoping there would be retractions, corrections, and even apologies.
Here we are, three years later, with the current president of CBMW positively referencing and linking to an article written by the previous president, Owen Strachan, in regard to some controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention on whether women should ever instruct the church body. There are many issues brought up in Strachan’s article that provoke discussion. One main one, that is not the focus of my response here, is that Strachan is not only arguing for male ordination, or even to keep women out of the pulpit---he denounces the woman’s teaching contribution in the church whenever adult males will be among the recipients, saying “there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or ‘non-authoritative’ way.” And he’s not only talking about corporate worship either. I have so much to say about this, way too much to cover in one article.  
There’s also the question of Strachan’s account of Southern Baptist history. But I’m going to let that lie too…
What I want to address here, and what leads to his overarching conclusion stated above, is that Strachan’s argument is a rebranding of ESS. And it’s not subtle. Strachan’s argument rests on “divine order.” That might sound sensible at first, affirming a God of order. But pay attention to how he defines this: 
The man is created first in the Old Testament, and possesses what the New Testament will call headship over his wife. Adam is constituted the leader of his home; he is given authority in it, authority that is shaped in a Christlike way as the biblical story unfolds.
Again, I am going to hold myself back from addressing Strachan’s understanding of headship, his use of the word possess, and his reading a hierarchy in creation. (Sam Powell’s articles here and here is a start.)
Strachan begins the “divine order” with male hierarchy/authority in marriage, and then explains how that transfers to spiritual leadership:
On the basis of a man’s domestic leadership, men are called to provide spiritual leadership and protection of the church (1 Timothy 2:9-15). 
And then the kicker of all: he says that hierarchy is another word for divine order. He speaks of those who disagree with this divine order:
In evolutionary thought, there is no maker. There is no design. There is no telos (end) for humanity…
They know there are men and women, but they have heard little about divine design. But this design, this order, is vital. Grounded in theistic ontology itself, it is the very bedrock of Christian theology and the Christian worldview. You could say it this way: there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.
Where he writes “divine design”, Strachan links to his book co-authored with Gavin Peacock, one that was never retracted when under attention during the Trinity debate for its direct teaching of ESS and application to man and woman’s “corresponding” ontology as embodiments of authority and subordination. (He also links to his new book on a theology of mankind.) In case that was too subtle, Strachan spells it out for us, saying that this particular divine design, this vital order, is grounded in theistic ontology itselfthe very bedrock of Christian theology. He is not talking about processions here, since he made himself clear that hierarchy is divine order. ESS is “divine order.” Divine order is ESS. 
Nothing has changed except the spin. Complementarians, is this really the voice you want to represent your views of men and women---and even more importantly, the Triune God? This is the fruit of endorsing this teaching and then not pushing for the retractions. 
I do want to say something about order and creation. Man is created first. Strachan answers the question of why woman is created second, and why God even created woman and not just another man in the most reductionistic way as he praises God’s design. He makes it about hierarchy. Is that why woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7)?
Strachan is right about how we need to think about the telos of humanity. And this is exactly what God shows Adam in the creation of Eve. Mark Garcia has written well on this important topic:
The LORD could have created man and woman at the same time, but he did not, and the creation of woman second, rather than being a sign of inferiority to the first, is in Scripture an eschatological marker: the second is the glory of the first. She is created to be his eschatological glory. Instead of reducing her, it elevates her.
As my friend Anna put it, who has been a great conversation partner on hashing out all of this:
Woman as second represents the glorious second order. The goal of redeemed humanity is pictured in the prophets as domesticated and bucolic, feasting and reclining. We are gathered and nurtured by God, like a hen gathers her chicks. It is homecoming after war, where swords are beaten into plowshares. Yet what woman represents is descriptive, not prescriptive in this life. Deborah goes out to war, yet because she is a type of the second order, this is not normative. But she has not sinned. 
Rather than reduce God’s word and say woman is created second because she is subordinate, we need to see the whole redemptive story God is telling here. Woman was created second from man’s very side as his glory, meaning, when Adam sees Eve, he sees his telos as the bride of Christ, the church flowing out of Christ’s wounded side. Back to Anna:
Woman images the peace and nurture of the eternal city. Man, the guardian and protector of sacred space, images Christ who defeats all of his and our enemies and takes his bride.  And yet these are descriptive, not prescriptive categories.  Ruth protects and provides for Naomi and takes her husband, Boaz. Paul is a nurturing mother, and Christ is mother (a picture Yahweh in the OT), longing to gather her chicks. We cannot absolutize these as prescriptions and prohibitions.
So we don’t have to reduce Mary Magdalene’s act as a mere witness. The Lord Jesus Christ authorized her to go be an apostle to the apostles, as she has been known throught church history. We don’t downplay the women Paul calls co-workers, or the church planters, the prophets, or the ones who risked their necks for him. Like the picture we see in Romans 16, we can be thankful for men and women co-laborers serving under the fruit of the ministry with reciprocal voices and dynamic exchange. Not all contributions in the church are hierarchies. How can the men in the church grow in the teleological understanding of their humanness, as part of the collective bride of Christ, if they cannot learn from or be influenced by women?
Again, I haven’t even touched on the issue of ordination, and barely spoke of the additional notion regarding all the areas where lay men and women are responsible to instruct in the household of God. These are two separate, but connected issues that require much more space. I'm not saying Beth Moore should preach on Mother's Day. But why don’t complementarians go to Gen. 2:16, and start with the “keep/guard” vocation given to Adam and work from there, rather than reading a fictional hierarchy in creation? And why not embrace, in gratitude, woman as ezer, a corresponding strength and necessary ally in their joint mission, and a picture of his eschatological glory? Woman is an embodiment of this glory, a typology of the waters of life that we see the bride calling us to in Revelation 21:17. There are two ways of being human, man and woman. This calls for communion and reciprocity. Yes, there is order. And we can talk about the disagreements of where everyone stands on ordination, etc. But let’s not settle for calling a rebranded ESS teaching of the sexes “thunderously good.” 
Maybe we should all first focus on what our bedrock of Christian theology is.
Posted on Thursday, May 02, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
One of the fruits produced by the Trinity Debate of 2016 is renewed focus on the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century: Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Their theological works are pivotal in upholding an orthodox confession of the church, particularly in their work on the Trinity which led to the revised version of the Nicene Creed finalized at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Interestingly, Gregory of Nyssa wrote two books on his and Basil’s older sister, Macrina, giving us a bit of the story behind the story of their contribution to the church. As Lynn Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes point out, there is much theological work underneath these theological books, creedal statements, and councils. We see some of that in what Gregory shares about his sister. The Life of St. Macrina is his tribute to his sister after her death, and On the Soul and the Resurrection takes artistic liberty in writing about their conversation at her deathbed in philosophical, Socratic style. In this deep metaphysical and theological conversation on the nature of the soul, virtue, the resurrection, and beatific vision, Gregory is the pupil asking provocative questions, and Macrina is “the Teacher” imparting her great wisdom. In this genre of writing, the reader isn’t expected to believe this was the literal account of their conversation. But Gregory is sharing something about the impact and teaching in which his sister shaped his own life and theology.
Possibly the oldest of ten siblings, four of which are well-known, Macrina devoted herself to the Lord in a life of celibacy and to her family and community. Although content to modestly serve the Lord within the ascetic community she established, Gregory wanted the world to know about her great character, love of God’s Word, and teaching which really affected the future of Christ’s church. She was the backbone of the family. He shares instances in their adult lives where his older sister separately rebukes Basil for his pride and Gregory for his ingratitude, showing how they heeded her warnings and were the better for it. He portrays her as a philosopher on the level of Socrates. He compares her to the legendary Christian virgin, ascetic, martyr Thecla who was a follower of the apostle Paul. He explains that rather than live according to the wealthy lifestyle her family was accustomed, she persuaded her mother to join her in “put[ting] herself on equal footing with…and to share common life with all her maids, making them sisters and equals instead of slaves and servants” (26-27). When their father died around the same time their last brother was born, Gregory tells us that “she became everything for that child, father, teacher, guide, mother, counselor in every good,” raising him with a rigorous philosophical education. He describes Macrina as the clear-headed leader through grief when the family lost their godly brother Naucratis, having a “firm, unflinching spirit.” Not only that, when their beloved Basil died, Gregory says “she stood her ground like an undefeated athlete, who does not cringe at any point before the onslaught of misfortune.” He portrays her as a spiritual guide and teacher to their family and community, “to the highest limit of human virtue.” She’s self-sacrificing, loving, strong, learned, wise, and always seeking the face of Christ. Her service is not only domestic, but deeply intellectual and theological.
Gregory of Nyssa speaks briefly of his deathbed conversation with her in his tribute:
…my soul seemed to be almost outside of human nature, uplifted as it was by her words and set down inside the heavenly sanctuaries by the guidance of her discourse…
And were it not that my narrative was stretching out to infinity, I would record everything in order and way it happened: how she was lifted up by her discourse and spoke to me of her philosophy of the soul; how she explained the reason for life in the flesh, for what purpose man exists, how he is mortal, what is the source of death and what release there is from death back to life again. On all of these subjects, as if inspired by the Holy Spirit, she explained everything clearly and logically, her speech flowing on with complete ease as water is borne from some fountain-head downhill without anything to get in its way. (35-36) 
As he attempts this in On the Soul and the Resurrection, we see this male, in an even more direct way, take on the female voice to tell us the story behind the story---the story behind the strength he and his brothers had in their own work; the story behind their resolve to combat heresy and uphold a proper confession of the faith; the story behind the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed and the female voice that lurks behind it. By taking on his sister’s voice, Gregory is showing us more of the picture. “Thus we hear Macrina’s voice in Gregory’s theologically attuned writings and instructions on the monastic and ascetic ideal” (Cohick and Hughs, Christian Women in the Patristic World, 160). Her knowledge, strength, and resolve contributed to the work of her brothers. No, St. Macrina was never made a Doctor of the Church, but we see from Gregory’s writings that “woman’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.” (Christian Women, xxviii ).
Macrina is a tradent of the faith, communicating God’s Word and sharing communion in it. To her brothers she is “the teacher,” while Gregory makes her contribution visible to the church, revealing the story behind the story with her voice.
In reading The Life of Saint Macrina over again yesterday, I thought about how Macrina’s life is such a picture for the church, one that ever lived to behold the face of God, one that discipled and produced teachers of the Word, one that revealed the fruit of righteousness through discipline and suffering, the bride of Christ---strong--- joining him in exalting the humble, speaking to the fathers. She leads us to sing that song of songs that we all long to sing, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m almost through reading Mark Edmundson’s thought-provoking work, The Heart of Humanities: Reading, Writing, Teaching, and I just came across a line that really sums up the theme of his whole book: 
“’The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re not cool.’” 
He is quoting from Lester Bangs, a character in the movie Almost Famous. Lester is on the phone with his aspiring rock journalist friend, William Miller, who is telling him about the band members he is doing a profile on and how chummy they are being with him. “Don’t buy it, says Bangs. ‘They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.’” Bangs reminds his friend who he is and is not; but that’s a good thing, he says. “‘We’re uncool’” He wears it like a badge. Edmundson elaborates, “and though uncool people don’t get the girl, being uncool can help you develop a little spine. It’s too easy out there for the handsome and the hip---their work never lasts.” That’s when he lays down Lester Bangs’ line about the true currency of uncoolness. Edmundson builds on this, saying the best teachers are the uncool ones, “because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way everyone else does.”
The whole 459-page book really leads up to this line. When making the argument in "Why Read?", he laments that Americans are always watching screens which serve as narcotics to deaden our souls. And what are we watching?---the culture of cool. It’s all an advertisement. Even the actual commercials don’t describe the products anymore as much as the type of person they will supposedly make us. We are all expected to want to conform. In our postmillennial consumer culture, we “buy in order to be. Watch (coolly) so as to learn how to be worthy of being watched (while being cool).” This isn’t a currency we can trust. 
So, why read? Edmundson builds the case that reading good literature takes us into different worlds, offering us different truths. These too are truths that we must challenge, asking ourselves what it would mean to live accordingly. Good literature ignites the reciprocity of good readers who not only interpret the literature well, but let it interpret them. We discover our own preconceived notions, what is meaningful to us, and how we think about things. It’s all so uncool.
So is writing. “It usually means putting something down, looking in the mirror that is judgement, finding yourself ugly, and living with it.” I really could identify with the section where he discusses the rituals writers go through before they can get into the zone to do their work. Some of these protocols can be quite weird, he says, as we are trying to transition from a state of “habitual self”, which is the necessary state “we need to inhabit most of the time…Habitual self drives the car and gets bodies, including its own, to various places at agreed-on times. It gathers the groceries and chops them…it pays the bills and takes care of kids and parents and schmoozes at the post office. It takes obligations related to death and taxes with some degree of seriousness.
But habitual self cannot write to save its life.” Since habitual self sounds like a machine when it tries to write, many writers have rituals of trying to transition to reflective, creative-juices-flowing self.
As a side note, rereading that section diagnosed the manuscript hangover I have been experiencing this week. All this time that I have spent trying to get a book out of my head and onto paper is also an investment in transitioning from habitual self into another world of sorts. It’s a passionate world. And then you push the send button. Habitual world all feels so, well, more habitual than before. Do I dare speak my book life into a conversation? When I do, I notice how it all sounds so terribly uncool. The content in it challenges the conformity that I find myself living back in habitual world. 
Both Edmundson’s affirmation of the uncool and his entertaining riff on rituals to escape the habitual self speak to a purposeful move towards transformed consciousness---one that has currency and produces lasting work. This is encouraging. It also makes me reflect more on the evangelical subculture, especially as we see it unfold on our screens. Everyone wants to be cool, so much so that we look to our screens to tell us how to be. Christians are also on the alert against cool, even as we produce our own brand of it. Reformedish ministries and media often gain a following when they take a stand against a prevailing unbiblical conformity in the church. But what so often happens is a slide into constructing their own value systems in which their tribe is expected to conform. They too become just another brand with weakening currency. What may have originated with a strong spine, a challenging voice that needs to be heard, weakens as it builds likes and excludes others asking the difficult questions. Sadly, many intricacies to a conversation, debate, or issue get overlooked in the name of coolness, or faux belonging. Because that’s what coolness is. That’s what Lester Bangs was telling his friend: you don’t really belong; they don’t genuinely like you---the you I know. Don’t buy it.
Genuine community needs strong spines that continue to strength train. If the church is always reforming to Scripture, then we should expect periods where transformed consciousness is needed. Do we find genuine community in the evangelical subculture? We certainly don’t find it on our screens. True transformation happens when we are discipled in a local covenant community through the means of grace God provides to give us Christ and his blessings. There we find literature that has the power to interpret and transform us. And we can never exhaust our learning, discovery, and delight in it.
There is a type of conformity that is good. But it doesn’t result in the bland coolness of the culture. When we align ourselves in obedience to the good in which we have been created for we find true belonging, genuine community, and unique personhood. He gives us strong spines. Ones that bend, move, and stretch rather than grow stiff. And he authorizes us to speak of him.
Posted on Friday, March 22, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’ve been slacking on the blog, but I promise I’ve been writing. My manuscript for Zondervan is due April 1st, so that is where I’ve been investing much of my reading and writing time. Along with the enriching research I’ve been doing for my book, I have been reading some other books on the side. And since I miss blogging, I want to share good books, and my time is limited, I thought I’d offer some short recommendations. So, I’ll start off with two today and hopefully share two more next week:
I love how Alan Noble makes me think with this book. In Part One, he critiques our distracted, secular age and how technology and social media is affecting the way we view ourselves, our faith, and our world. With all of the choices and customizations before us, the gospel can easily be presented as just another personal preference like our diets, politics, and latest pet cause. “The challenge for the Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality” (30). Honing in on our obsession with self-fulfillment and life-as-performance on social media, Noble pinpoints how our online personalities portray how we want others to interpret us. What can subtly happen is that “our focus shifts from practicing our beliefs to signaling our beliefs to ourselves and others” (43). This affects our gospel witness as well, as it gets treated as “performance of our identity” rather than “punctur[ing] the buzz of modern life, the thinness of belief, the closed immanent frame, and our attempts at crafting identities and narratives of our own” (60).
Noble presses the reader to recognize our need for contemplation, meditation on Scripture, living in community, reorienting our desires, and honest self-evaluation. “If my foundation for knowing my place, purpose, and end in this world is on the basis of a self-discovered hidden identity that only I can verify and properly know, and that others are obligated to accept by virtue of being outside me and therefore are unable to judge, there is less space for collective human flourishing” (72). And so he spends the second half of the book calling us to be disruptive witnesses through disruptive personal habits, disruptive church practices, and disruptive cultural participation. “A disruptive witness denies the entire contemporary project of treating faith as a preference” (81). You’ll have to read it for yourself to learn more. It will be time well spent!
I took this one with me on a long flight and it totally consumed me. In the first half of the book, Carr writes her experience in present tense as her 18-year-old son begins to kind of unravel---she later describes it , quoting from Elyn Saks, as a sandcastle slowly losing sand as it recedes into the surf---from the person they’ve known since birth, his diagnosis of schizophrenia, trying to learn what it going on inside his brain, caring for him, and the desperate love of a parent. There are so many layers to this book: personal biography, faith, lament, navigating through insurance coverage, proper medical care, drug use (both prescribed and illegal), the function of church, the weight of each decision along the way, family dynamics, the nature of mental disorders, danger to self and others, misconceptions, and the gripping question of whether to commit a loved one to institutional care. Carr is raw in how she shares this, revealing her own weaknesses, insecurities, sin, and restoration. All the while, God is glorified in her writing---not in a forced, “I’m a Christian and so I have to sound put together” type of way, but in an absolute, coming to the end of herself, dependence on the God who loves Simonetta and her son more than she ever can, and a holding fast to the character of God and his promises even as she doesn’t know how all these broken pieces fit together.
The second half of the book serves to help the reader navigate through all she and her husband had to learn in the process of caring for a loved one with a mental illness. This section is not only helpful for families going through this, but churches and friends who want to love those families well. We are looking forward to interviewing Simonetta on the podcast. I recommend that you buy the book and read it for yourself.