(Note: most of this post had been written before the events and revelations of the past couple of days. I will write a separate follow-up based on those developments later).
In the sake of transparency, I need to be clear up front: my wife and I love Aimee Byrd. We have been immensely blessed by her work, both on Mortification of Spin and through her previous books No Little Women and Why Can’t We Be Friends. When she announced her newest book, Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I had high hopes for another knockout release, and Byrd did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, as it has been in the past, the criticism and projection against Byrd began as soon as the book’s title was revealed. Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is a direct reference to the classic Complementarian text Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the only difference being the preposition “from”. It was this one addition that sent Byrd’s opposition into their fiercest and wildest rage yet, with plenty of commentary and conclusions about the book appearing well before it was available.
While the title is provocative (and a brilliant marketing move), I do think the title is misleading and has perhaps caused far more drama that it has been worth. Originally titled The Church’s Yellow Wallpaper, Byrd’s book is neither a full frontal assault against complementarianism nor does it have much to do with the original book the title references. It is a critique of complementarianism and it is a critique of some of the bad complementarian teachings that came from the book, but it is also more than that.
Byrd’s contention is twofold: we have largely outsourced discipleship to organizations outside the church, and those organizations have defined “discipleship” along lines that Scripture does not. Her desire, as reflected by the book’s title, is to re-center discipleship back in the context of the church and towards being like Christ and not according to cultural standards promoted by parachurch organizations. In doing so, Byrd believes that a more biblical approach to discipleship will produce biblical manhood and womanhood as a fruit of conforming to Christ, and that focusing on biblical manhood and womanhood as the goal of discipleship stands the risk of missing both it’s stated goal and Christ himself.
That last point is perhaps the most controversial claim of the book, and has been the focus of much of the fury against it. Byrd is not saying, as many have unfairly suggested, that there are not gender-specific biblical standards that men and women ought to attain to (and indeed, she spends plenty of time fleshing out what those standards are in the book). What she is saying is that focusing exclusively on biblical manhood and womanhood does not guarantee true sanctification in discipleship, and that our standards for being “biblical” men and women may not actually be Christ’s standards, but our own standards and preferences that we have read back into Scripture and that Scripture does not actually prescribe.
Byrd’s position ought to be uncontroversial. Christ himself is our standard, and discipleship ought to primarily occur in the context of his church, which exists to glorify and worship him. When Christ is the standard we seek to attain, we will become the truest versions of biblical men and women that we could ever hope for. Sadly, because this strikes at the core reason for the existence of most complementarian parachurch organizations, there are strong incentives to keep the focus on selected fruits of discipleship and not Christ himself.
Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is neither the first nor the last book on this subject, but among all the books that have fought for better discipleship in the church on this topic, Byrd’s is among the best. Accessible, thought provoking, and full of Byrd’s usual wit and charm, I heartily recommend it to any Christian and believe it will be one of the best books released in 2020.