White Horse Inn Modern Reformation

“Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by Aimee Byrd

Published Monday, May 11, 2020 By Rachel Green Miller

I’ve always loved to read. When I was in college, I took literature classes for fun. In one of those classes, we read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. If you’ve ever read it, chances are you still remember the disturbing and compelling story. If you haven’t read it, it’s a short story about a young Victorian woman suffering from postpartum depression whose physician husband prescribes a “rest cure” to treat her.

In the late 1800s, doctors often prescribed a “rest cure” for anxiety or depression. The treatment centered on a long period of mental, physical, and emotional inactivity. The young woman in the story is supposed to stay in her room by herself and do nothing. She’s not allowed to care for her child or read or do anything. The story describes her descent into madness as she stares at the oppressive yellow wallpaper in her room day in and day out.

Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” after her own experiences with postpartum depression and “rest cure” treatment. The story is meant to draw attention to the way doctors and Victorian society mistreated and undervalued women. While such treatment was intended to help women, the cure was worse than the “disease.”

So, what does this 19th Century story have to do with a 21st Century book on Christian women and men? In her latest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, Aimee Byrd uses the motif of the yellow wallpaper to illustrate how certain beliefs about biblical manhood and womanhood have hidden and obscured what the Bible teaches about men and women in the church. Byrd wants to equip us to recognize the yellow wallpaper in the church and to peel it away to “reveal the beauty and unity in God’s Word.”[1] Her concern is that “we don’t often see the yellow wallpaper because it was established as a hedge against real threats to God’s people.”[2]

What are some examples of the church’s yellow wallpaper? To counteract the sexual revolution and aspects of second-wave feminism, some conservative Christians formed organizations such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. These groups attempted to create Biblical definitions for masculinity and femininity. Unfortunately, these definitions often relied more on Victorian stereotypes of masculinity and femininity than the Scriptures.

Consequently, masculine and feminine were defined in terms of authority and submission. Masculinity is authority, leadership, initiative, and strength. In contrast, femininity is submission, responsiveness, deference, and softness. Authority and submission became the lens through which Biblical manhood and womanhood, and consequently all of Scripture, are viewed. As a result, women are often overlooked and undervalued in our churches.

It’s important to note that Byrd doesn’t deny the genuine challenges that the church faces. Our secular society continues to attack what the Bible teaches about gender, sexuality, marriage, family, and church leadership. Byrd affirms the orthodox, confessional, Biblical teaching on these issues. She writes:

God made man and woman: he instituted marriage to be a unity between one man and one woman; sex is a fruit of this unifying bond; and life is a gift from God. Men and women are not androgynous. Gender is not fluid … Men and women are very much alike. And yet they are also distinct.[3]

She also writes, “I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”[4]

Byrd is also not trying to tear down or destroy the church. Peeling away the yellow wallpaper of extra-biblical beliefs about men and women will strengthen the church, not harm it:

If we peel this yellow wallpaper of contradictions away, we are not going to take down the walls with it. Proactive investment [in men and women] following biblical convictions will help the whole church flourish. It will help church leaders, not sabotage their authority. It will also be a witness for the world to see how we are called to communion with the triune God and with one another.[5]

Byrd’s goal in writing this book is to remind us of the unity we have as believers. Men and women are made in God’s image. Male and female believers are united to Christ and together form Christ’s body and bride. We have one Bible written to all of us, and we have a shared purpose: to glorify God and proclaim the gospel:

In Scripture we don’t find that our ultimate goal is as narrow as biblical manhood or biblical womanhood, but complete, glorified resurrection to live eternally with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. … We find that men and women are called together in the same mission: eternal communion with the triune God. Both men and women are to pursue the same virtues as we await our ultimate blessedness, the beatific vision—to behold Christ![6]

Because of our unity and our interdependence, churches should be proactive in teaching and discipling women. We need to invest in women and utilize the gifts God has given to women in our churches:

When we look at each other, when we listen to each other, when we cooperate, promoting holiness, men and women are affirming and participating in our ultimate purpose. Oriented in Christ, this kind of communion is truly meaningful … We are brothers and sisters in Christ, placed in a dynamic, synergetic, fruit-bearing communion.[7]

Byrd frequently reminds us that women are necessary allies. We need the gifts, insights, and contributions of women in our churches. As lay members of the church, women, as well as men, are essential in the life of the church and the work of the gospel. Which brings us to the question Byrd asks us to consider, “If you were to ask the women in your church if they are a valued part of the household of God in these ways, what would they say?”[8]

Are we incorporating women in the life of the church as necessary allies, or have we allowed the yellow wallpaper of “biblical manhood and womanhood” to distract us from the complementarity of the sexes we see in Scripture? Is there room in our churches for Mary, Lydia, and Priscilla? Are women encouraged to sit at Jesus’s feet and learn, and are we willing to learn from women when they contribute to our discussions?

Byrd’s book is a welcome addition to the current conversations on the importance of women in the life of the church. We need to be aware of the yellow wallpaper in our churches, and we need to peel away these extra-biblical beliefs that obscure the beauty of the Scriptures. The world around us needs to hear the truth of who we are as men and women made in His image, and it needs men and women as witnesses to the truth of the gospel. I’m thankful for Byrd’s work and highly recommend this book. It will bless and strengthen men, women, and churches, if we’re willing to listen.

[1] Byrd, 19. (Page numbers from Advanced Reader Copy)

[2] Byrd, 19

[3] Byrd, 19

[4] Byrd, 105

[5] Byrd, 42

[6] Byrd, 109

[7] Byrd, 130

[8] Byrd, 190

 

Reviewed by Rachel Green Miller, who is the author of Beyond Authority and Submission.  She is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a popular blogger at A Daughter of the Reformation.

 

 

[1] Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 19. (Page numbers from Advanced Reader Copy)

[2] Byrd, 19

[3] Byrd, 19

[4] Byrd, 105

[5] Byrd, 42

[6] Byrd, 109

[7] Byrd, 130

[8] Byrd, 190

  • Rachel Green Miller