My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Once I was leading a Bible study group and I encountered something in the Bible study that made me exceptionally nervous. A doctrine that had been clearly stated from our church pulpit was completely distorted in the book. It was to the point that the Bible study author said that this principle that I had been clearly taught did not exist. It was not major point of doctrine, but I was still nervous about how I would handle it. I wondered what the ladies would say and how I would deal with it. Then, on the night of Bible study, not a single lady brought the doctrinal error up. In fact, the prevailing topic that the ladies in my group wanted to discuss was the Bible study author’s clothing selections in the video lecture. . . . and such has been the case in more than one Bible study I have led in my ensuing years in women’s ministry. Although I’m not completely ready to give up on my church’s ladies Bible study, I will freely admit that I have often had the cynical thought that Bible study seems to be as much an excuse to get together and socialize as to truly study the Bible.
So, when I heard about Aimee Byrd’s book, “No Little Women,” on a blog that I follow, Byrd’s topic resonated with me. There are authors and publishers, many with good intentions, but others with the bottom line in mind, that are publishing many books that are at best light and fluffy, and at worst, harmful to the theological upbuilding and discernment of the very women that they claim to serve.
So, where does Byrd start?
Byrd starts by promoting the strong value of women. She gives very little time to explaining the position that is devaluing to women, but she strongly asserts the value of women, starting with their creation. In Byrd’s words, women are created to be a necessary ally to men, and as such, they have some clearly defined roles in relation to the men in their lives. Byrd also spends much time explaining how Eve sinfully violated her role as a necessary ally and acted like an enemy to Adam in the garden.
(Well, actually, if I wanted to start at the beginning of the book, I would start with her exegesis of 2 Timothy 3 and the passage where her title “no little women” is drawn from. You can read that yourself in the book 🙂 )
Once Byrd has established a woman’s scripturally defined role she begins to look at some more practical concerns. These include how the church ministers to every person, and why women’s ministries cannot take the place of regular ministry in the church. She explains that women’s ministries often take the place of regular service and growth for women in the church. In my experience, there are not truly many places for women to serve in the church outside of women’s ministry and dealing with young children, so often feel like some unwanted outcast that has no true place in the church. As someone with a teaching gift, I find that I often lack a place to teach at church, and women’s ministry groups sometimes help to provide an outlet for that calling. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why women’s ministry is so popular.
As someone with a teaching gift, I have participated, and currently have my main area of service at a parachurch organization. Byrd devotes some space to parachurch organizations, and she is very supportive of them, but wants to ask the question of how we can utilize these resources and still keep the local church as our priority. It’s a difficult tension and balancing act. However, I really love these words, “Women are thirsty to learn and be discipled–so much so that we have looked outside of our local churches for help. That’s not a horrible thing–churches cannot do it all! Church officers need resources too, and parachurch organizations can help to provide them.” I wonder if women would be better off belonging to some of the parachurch organizations, such as BSF or CBS, that put the focus on the words of the Bible instead of spending their money and discipleship time under the feet of specific popular authors.
Byrd devotes a whole chapter to the question of whether or not men can learn from women. She gives examples of prominent women in the Bible, and shows that, if we value women, women can have a meaningful role in teaching and writing that men should be able to learn from. The also spends some part of this chapter discussing women and sketchy theology because she finds that women are often not taken seriously and that their ideas are often not viewed critically under the scripture. The standards should be the same for anyone who teaches, and we should be able to correct faulty doctrinal lenses because teachers answer to God for the words that they say and write. These words have the opportunity to affect many lives.
So, as a part of the attempt to hold women to the same doctrinal standards as men (which is a good and necessary thing), Byrd then gives some answers to what women should be doing . She discusses feminism, complementarianism, and the impact that women have. Byrd circles back around to the ideas of necessary allies she expresses early in the book, and she comes full circle with what our roles are as necessary allies in the church, in discipleship, and in our homes.
Once Byrd has done this, she spends the final part of the book showing women some of the skills they need and how to use them to examine the books, teaching, and ideas that they come in contact with. She draws heavily from Adler and Van Doren’s “How to Read a Book” in this section, so if you’ve read their book, you might find yourself skimming some of this information. However, Byrd presents in a very gentle and fresh manner, as well as directly applying that to the questions that we should be asking about theology.
Then, she comes to a question I had been wanting her to answer the entire book, and that is “When do we know that this is book that we shouldn’t allow to speak to us?” Not surprisingly, Byrd does not give a definitive answer. She discusses the questions that we should ask about the authors and the books that we read, but shies away from clear recommendations. As a reader, I was hoping for something a little more definitive in recommendations for good, strong theology works written specifically with women’s concerns in mind, so I found myself a little disappointed with this ending.
However, she does take some snippets of passages from very famous and popular authors (Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Lisa TerKeurst, etc.) and hold up the snippets to show where they have come into false doctrinal claims and poor exegesis in their writings. That part is really quite interesting.
I don’t feel like I have all my questions answered that I came into the book with, but that does not mean that this is not the best book that I have read this year. I hope that I am able to apply what I have learned and to read some of her source books in hopes of learning a little more in areas where I did not feel that she addressed as well as others. To be perfectly blunt, this is a book that pokes a lot of holes into current women’s ministry, women’s literature and church roles, but does not always provide satisfying solutions going forward, and I hope that other authors can take the great things that Byrd has written and build upon it.
There are several minor issues that I feel the need to address at this point before I stop writing (even though I really feel like I still have only scratched the surface of interacting with her ideas).
The first is that Byrd writes from a strong Reformed perspective. Many people that I interact with will be turned off by that perspective, and they will be looking for doctrinal errors in Byrd’s writing. I highly recommend that those people look to the impact of the message and to her specific concerns with women’s ministry and the way that women are treated as second-class citizens in their ability to learn and teach the Bible. I think Christians all of theological persuasions will find some valuable information in this book.
Second is that those from egalitarian congregations are going to take offense at Byrd’s continued assertion that the roles of pastor and elder are not for women. Those women should look to their Bibles and see if they can truly find Biblical support for their positions because I don’t see any, and I would love to know where these egalitarian congregations derive their theology for who can be pastor, elder or deacon.
Third is that she takes some time to debunk the idea that certain forms of popular women’s products, such as Christian coloring books and Bible journaling make you closer to God. It’s what’s in vogue right now, and I get her arguments. I will say that I think there’s a component of worship to Bible journaling that Byrd does not get. However, I admit, as someone who has phased into and phased out of Bible journaling, that there is a strong materialistic, product driven component to Bible journaling, and that it has become its own industry. I know that’s not a good thing.
Fourth is that she holds up some very popular and influential authors and finds their doctrinal statements to be Biblically incorrect. Although I feel that this is a good thing, and I believe that we should look at all authors through the eyes of correct doctrine and not popularity, some readers are going to be offended. I also feel that there are some areas where one small snippet might not give a complete picture of these authors’ theological leanings and writings. Further research on my part is needed into these authors.
Fifth is that she acknowledges the fact that not all women who are Christians are wives and mothers and that these women are often overlooked and ignored by the church. Since I’m raising two daughters, this concern has been something that has become close to my heart. I never want them to feel that something is missing in their lives whether or not they ever get married or become mothers. I want them to feel their sufficiency in Christ. Despite Byrd’s acknowledgement, she gives no real recommendation for these women or for how women’s initiatives should handle Bible study groups where so many women are looking to be “the Proverbs 31 woman” or the “submissive wife.” There’s a whole group of women that normal women’s ministry is alienating, and those women need to be able to connect with other women on the basis of something outside their potential future husbands and progeny.
Sixth is her dislike of the use “ministry” for roles outside of the Biblically described roles for pastor and elders. I couldn’t agree more. It seems that lately everyone “has a ministry,” and when everyone has a ministry, the idea of what ministry truly is will be destroyed by it’s redefinition.
Overall, this is definitely the best book I’ve read so far this year, and I think that Byrd asks some hard questions. I am very excited to see a book that takes women and their theology so seriously. It’s not the norm in my experience. I think that men and women both often feel that women who are well-read and deep thinkers are lacking some basic form of femininity, and that’s an idea that just is not true. It is heartening to see Byrd take on such stereotypes head-on, and I applaud her for it.