No Little Women, Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd
Aimee Byrd, author and co-host of the Mortification of Spin podcast, is on a mission. She declares that everyone is a theologian, whether they know it or not, so “everyone in the church needs to be a good theologian” (p. 34). As the title implies Byrd is particularly desirous that women be equipped theologically so that they are not easy marks for false teachers who often target poorly taught women in the church (2 Timothy 3:6-7). Her exhortation is timely because a plethora of women’s ministries and books exist which are mere fluff (see pp. 116-120, 127-129), appeal to the desire to extrabiblically hear God’s voice (pp. 59, 145, 150) and teach false and even heretical doctrines. The antidote to these concerns is not to create women’s ministries as a separate entity (pp. 13, 19, 22, 48, 50-52, 91, 96-97, 104-106); nor to focus all women’s Bible studies on women’s issues (p. 75); it is to actually teach women solid theology (pp. 168-169) and discernment, especially as related to, books written for women (pp. 22-23, 47-50, 115-116, 198-251). Since false teachers counterfeit the Word of God (p. 35) everyone in the church, men and women, must be theologically equipped (pp. 53-63). Sadly however, women are often left out of this training, pushed into niche ministries (p. 91) in which ill-prepared women teach from books written by popular, yet questionable authors (Byrd mentions Sarah Young, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer as examples – pp. 147-150). It is no wonder that many Christian women are confused and that women’s ministries within the church sometimes become divisive.
Byrd interprets Genesis 2:18 to mean that women are the “necessary allies” of men (pp. 24-26, 109-110, 178-189, 196-201), and believes that it is the responsibility of the elders of the local church to lead and train women in ministry and theology (pp. 30-32, 46-52, 87, 96-98). Such training should not be outsourced to women’s organizations or popular women authors, but should be the intentional ministry of church leadership. The author resists books and ministries instructing women as if their spiritual life is fundamentally different from that of men (pp. 124). Along that line, books of value for women do not have to be written by women, nor do women have to constantly focus on women’s issues. Women should be taught substantial doctrine as much as men (pp. 130-132), and both need to engage their minds if they are to grow in biblical maturity (pp. 166-168). Toward that end Byrd suggests reading books, as opposed to blog articles and the like, as book reading requires more discipline and sharpens thinking (pp. 11, 202-206).
No Little Women is not all exhortation, however. Byrd offers hands-on instruction concerning how to read with discernment, using Mortimer J. Alder’s classic How to Read a Book as her base (pp. 201-218). This is followed by a large section dealing with honing and testing discernment skills (pp. 221-251), which are essential to combat the big-three dangerous ideas found in Christian books for women: ecumenicalism, claims of direct revelation and bad hermeneutics (pp. 234-237). And to top it off, Byrd offers current examples, taken from recent books, as test cases and opportunities for discernment development (pp. 237-251).
While this is the finest book I have ever read on women’s ministries there were two areas of concern. First Byrd is part of the confessional church (pp. 12, 47, 127), a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), promotes the creeds (pp. 54-56) and is a proponent of Covenantal Theology (pp. 171, 274). While these doctrinal distinctives are virtually unnoticed in No Little Women the reader needs to be aware of the author’s theological framework. More troubling is Byrd’s modified complimentalism. She rightly believes that women are not to be pastors or elders (pp. 138-140), nor are they to officially teach or preach to men (p. 138). However based on her interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-13, an interpretation shared by her OPC denomination (pp. 91-106), she believes that there is a distinction between the official ministry of the Word, which should be done only by pastors and elders within the local church, and “unofficial” preaching and teaching to men in different settings and venues. In other words, women can teach men but not officially “minister” the Word (pp. 137-161). Byrd writes, “Is there a difference between preaching God’s Word and reflecting on it, explaining it, writing about it, and even teaching it in a different setting? Yes! If it is done faithfully” (p. 138). And, “[Women] can teach a class and have male students” (p. 152). Nor does she have a problem with women teaching men in a parachurch setting such as a conference: “When it comes to parachurch conferences, it would make sense to ask both men and women who are qualified to speak on the topic at hand” (p. 156). It is fair to say that she draws these conclusions because she understands Ephesians 4:12 to state that official teaching/preaching by the elders, along with administering the sacraments, is “The ministry.” All other activities, including teaching, are not on the same level. She writes, “the ministry of the Word and sacrament administered by particular people who are ordained in the office of the ministry, is a gift from God by which we are all blessed” (p. 92). She continues, “We downplay the value of this amazing gift, and our need for it, when we call all our less formal programs and services ministries” (p. 93 italics in original). In order to distinguish the official office of ministry from other programs within the church, she suggests that these be called initiatives instead of ministries (pp. 104-105).
I do not believe Byrd can biblically support her positions in the later areas and the discerning reader will have to work through these. Nevertheless, No Little Women brings a lot of value to the table concerning ministering to women and women’s ministries. Pastors, elders and women church leaders would do well to give Byrd’s book a serious read.
No Little Women, Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2016) 278 pp., paper $11.50
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel