Book Review: No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd takes the title of No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God from 2 Timothy 3:6-7:

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Other translations use the descriptors “gullible,” “foolish,” “idle,” “silly” women. She says the literal translation is “little women” or “small women” and “was a term of contempt” (p. 23).

“Of course, Paul is not making a blanket statement about all women” (p. 21). “Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. His writing in Scripture shows a high view of women and much appreciation for their service. I wish we could all be the kind of woman who is praised in his writing. And Paul is not saying men are never gullible. He is saying that a particular type of immature woman was being targeted by false teachers looking to manipulate and infect households” (pp. 23-24).

In pondering why women would be such a target, she discusses the value of women, first of all from having been made in God’s image, but also in having been created as a helper. Sometimes we bristle at that word “helper,” but the word is also used of God “as a ‘helper’ to Israel throughout the Old Testament” and this word “communicates great strength” (pp 24-25). She quotes one author’s interpretation of the word for helper, ezer, as a “necessary ally”  which “brings into view the joint mission for which the male and female are created to rule God’s earthly kingdom” (p. 26). It emphasizes their relatedness to each other and dependence on each other.

To get to Adam, Satan went after a target of value to him. It is no surprise, then, that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers, ill-placed priorities, felt needs, fear tactics, and coping mechanisms, to divert them from resting in Christ and in God’s wisdom, provision, and sovereignty” (p. 26).

In these days, this often happens via women’s ministries and books targeted to women.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? Have we made any progress in equipping our women to distinguish truth from error in what they are reading? Do the women in your church actually have the skills to lead a Bible study? Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives?” (p. 22).

No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian. We all have an understanding about who God is and what he has done. The question is whether or not our views are based on what he has revealed in his Word about himself. And yet many women are either turned off or intimidated by doctrine” (p. 53) (emphasis mine).

Further complicating the problem is that sometimes pastors are unaware of what is being taught in women’s Bible studies, or, in some cases she cites, concerns women bring up to pastors about the books they’re reading are dismissed as if they don’t matter. I appreciate that she encourages pastors and leaders not just to give women’s ministry leaders lists of approved and disapproved authors, but to engage their questions and concerns and teach them how to be discerning in their reading.

Aimee delves further into what it means to be a “necessary ally,” why women should be theologically robust, how church leaders can help, how to be more discerning in our reading. She goes into church and feminist history to a degree. She demonstrates that, though a woman is not to hold an authoritative office over men, that doesn’t mean men can never learn from women (e.g, Hannah and Mary’s prayers are theologically rich and recorded as inspired Scripture, Priscilla is named with her husband Aquila as having “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more accurately,” Abigail reasoned with and appealed to David, diverting him from killing her household). She discusses different levels of doctrines: there are core ones that not to believe is heresy, such as the inspiration of the Bible, who Jesus is, how one can be saved, etc. But there are secondary ones that we might disagree over yet acknowledge that the other person knows and loves God, and we might benefit from their teaching while not necessarily agreeing with every little point. She has one section where she takes excerpts from popular books for Christian women and shows how to ask questions of them to discern what they are saying and how it lines up with Scripture.

I very much appreciate that she summarizes well after a section of writing. Not many non-fiction authors do this any more: maybe they feel they’ll bore the reader. But it helps me for the author to step back every now and then and review in a more concise form what they’ve just been talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind the flow of the book and the connection between individual chapters and the overall point, so it helps when an author does that occasionally.

I have multitudes of places marked, much more than I can share in this already-long review, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

The reason why so many people have an aversion to theology may be that it takes fitness. Returning to Hebrews 10:23, holding fast to anything requires fitness. It requires exercise, conditioning, stamina. We are exhorted to hold fast to our confession of hope because there is always something working against our fight for spiritual health and growth. John Owen picks up on this, saying that these two words insinuate an opposing force–we could even say a “great danger.” “To ‘hold fast’ implies the putting forth our utmost strength and endeavors in so doing.” This is going to take awareness and a real fight. Faith is a gift of God, but it is a fighting grace. To be fit theologically, we must be conditioned by God’s Word, exercising this gift actively by living a life of faith and obedience (pp. 57-58).

Sometimes we get so invested in our favorite authors and teachers that we have trouble separating their personalities from the content of their teaching. How do you handle it when your favorite books or speakers are challenged by constructive criticism? Do you take it personally? Do you think you have any blind spots when it comes to reading with discernment? (p. 64).

Our evangelical culture is one that promotes tolerance and love. But it isn’t loving to tolerate bad teaching in the church. Love requires the work of guarding the Word of the One who is truly loving. He loves us enough to be direct about holiness, sin, and the way to everlasting life. We have a responsibility to discern the teaching of those who eagerly wish to disciple others (p. 87).

We need to be careful not to be led by our sentiments to the detriment of our competency in God’s Word (p. 166).

Discernment is necessary in our relationships and in all of our learning. We are to pursue truth, and that means we have to distinguish truth from error (p. 201).

Aren’t we striving for unity? Of course we are! But what is it that unites us? We have a beautiful prayer recorded in Scripture, offered by Jesus for the unity of his church (see John 17:11). In it, he prays for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). To sanctify means to set apart. So we see that Christ’s disciples were to be set apart by his word….We can be united only by the truth; anything else is superficial. God’s Word is the truth! And yet there is a setting apart, as truth needs to be separated from lies and errors (pp. 221-222).

But isn’t love the most important thing? [Quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:37-39, ties back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5.] So yes, love is of extreme importance–not only with our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well (p. 222, emphasis mine).

[After quoting Galatians 1:6-9 about letting those be accursed who bring a false doctrine] Those are very strong words. But they are loving words! It isn’t loving to accept any teaching in the church that is damning to our souls (p. 229).

What they believe to be true about God and themselves will shape their everyday decision making and behavior. But, more than that, it is an eternal matter. Impress the truth upon both the women and the men that they are theologians. We all have some sort of knowledge about God. The question is whether we are good theologians or poor ones. We are called to a life of faith and obedience. How does the knowledge of who the Lord is and what he has done on our behalf affect us? (p. 269).

If you’ve read here long, you know I take sound doctrine seriously, and I agree with what Aimee says about the need to read, understand, believe, obey, and teach what God says. I, too, have been saddened or dismayed by some of the problems in some of the most popular Christian books marketed to women. So I am very happy to see the emphases in this book on robust theology and discernment.

However, there are a few areas where I’d disagree with Aimee, though they all fall under secondary issues.

She wonders if there is any need for separate women’s ministries at all, and if there is, she feels they should be called initiatives rather than ministries. She feels that calling every other endeavor in church a “ministry” takes away from the ministry of the preaching of the Word of God, from which everything else we do in church should flow. I agree that the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry, but I have no problem with a women’s ministry or children’s ministry or prison ministry. The Bible does teach that we are all supposed to minister to others, and I have never had the example or even the thought that these other ministries of the church are competing with or downplaying preaching.

Somewhat connected with that, she quotes Hannah Anderson’s Made for More as saying, “When we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being ‘women,’ we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.” I have not read Hannah’s book, but I don’t have a problem with a women’s ministry’s focus primarily concerned with Christian womanhood. A lot of what older women are instructed to teach younger women in Titus 2 has specifically to do with their womanhood, yet it is all within the context of sound doctrine (verse 1). I’ve been involved with women’s ministries for most of my adult life, and they’ve mostly been set up with monthly or quarterly meetings built around fellowship and outreach with occasional Bible studies at other times. The preached Word that we receive in other services during the week (4 or more for many of us) forms the basis and context for what we do in the women’s ministries. Having a women’s ministry built around Christian womanhood does not necessarily mean that we’re elevating that above knowing Christ: we’re seeking how to be the kind of women He wants us to be under the leadership of Titus 2 older women.

In a section about Adam and Eve, she states that “They were to expand the garden-temple, and therefore God’s presence, to the outermost parts of the world” (p. 68). I have a question mark under “God’s presence.” He is already everywhere. I’ve never heard this as a part of their instruction to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Later in this section she faults Eve for being “hospitable to the enemy, allowing the Serpent to converse with her in the garden-temple” (p. 69). Is talking to him being hospitable? And did she even know he was an enemy at that point? I’ve often wondered about this scene. She shows no surprise that a serpent speaks to her. Did all animals speak then? I don’t know. It seems to be a real serpent as opposed to a figurative one (like the dragon or beast in Revelation. We take them as figurative representations of real people with dragonish and beastly characters) because the curse in Genesis 3:14-15 has him crawling on his belly like a snake. Granted, when he started questioning and twisting God’s Word, that should have raised a red flag for Eve, and maybe that’s all that Aimee means, that Eve should not have kept listening to the snake at that point. But she seems to find a lot of fault with both Adam and Eve long before the Bible charges them with sin.

In a discussion of our unity with Christ, with His being the head and we His body, she makes the statement, “Christ has united himself in such a way to his church that we can be called the total Christ, or the one Christ!” (p. 171). While I agree with everything else she said about our union with Him, this statement bothers me, but I would need to ponder it more than I have.

Aimee writes from a Reformed perspective, and I am not Reformed, so we would have some differences there. Some day I really should write out why, but it would take too long to get into all of it here.

There are a couple of areas I wish she had gone into more, such as why we believe the canon of Scripture is closed and there is no new revelation at this time and hermeneutics (principles for Bible interpretation), as those are two areas of error in a lot of popular books.

But overall, I found much food for thought and much I agreed with thoroughly. I thought this was a very helpful book and I highly recommend it for every woman who wants to be strong in the faith rather than a spiritually immature or “little” woman.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman, Carole‘s Books You Loved)

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: No Little Women

  1. This does sound like an interesting book, full of things I’d agree with and a few I wouldn’t. I like books that challenge my own thinking though. And I agree with you that I like authors who summarize their chapters. It really helps me lock in what they said, and sometimes realize that I missed some important points and I need to return to the chapter to re-read. 🙂

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  4. This is such a helpful review. I’ve been looking at this book and wondering if it’s something I should invest in. So glad that Aimee is advocating for good theology among women and a solid purpose for women’s ministry in the church!
    Thanks for the hard work of distilling her thoughts for us here!

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