In Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, she shines a light on bad theology that is creeping into households through church initiatives aimed at women. Previous to this work, she has authored Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013) and Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015). She both cohosts a podcast and blogs at The Mortification of Spin (www.alliancenet.org/mos).
Byrd is writing to all of those in the household of God, but throughout there is attention given to women as she encourages them to avoid becoming the little women of 2 Timothy 3:6. As a contrast, Byrd challenges women to increase their competency in all areas of the Christian life (pp. 14, 195–96). Additionally, there is special attention given to church officers who are in a position to equip women with theological training. Throughout her writing she has created subsections specifically addressed to them.
In the first of four sections, Byrd starts out presenting the problem she observes in both churches and Christian publishing, namely, a lack of discernment among women and a need for pastors who critically engage what women in their churches are reading (pp. 23, 47). She makes a case for both the value of women and the value of women knowing good theology. This is a vital part of their function as ezer. She borrows John McKinley’s definition of ezer calling women a “necessary ally.” Women are a necessary ally to men in their God-given mission as vice-regents on earth (p. 26). She also makes a case for the value of women learning about theology in broader categories than just issues related to womanhood (p. 52).
Next, Byrd examines the context in which women live and minister, specifically in both personal households and in the household of God, the church. Men are household managers and guard over household members’ understanding and practice of faith (p. 79). Women, as allies, are not simply supporting the manager, but are given gifts and skills that are a necessary part of the mission of the household (pp. 80, 87). Byrd then contemplates where women and women’s ministries fits in the structure. Out of this discussion, Byrd suggests women’s “initiatives” to be a more appropriate title than women’s “ministry” in order to protect the uniqueness of the “ministry” of the Word as dispensed by elders (p. 104). She describes a cascade effect that if elders are faithful to dispense good teaching to women then a natural outflow will be women teaching what is good to other women (p. 97).
Byrd also does a brief survey of current movements in women’s ministry. She critiques the propensity of women’s resources to filter theological studies through an unnecessary lens of biblical womanhood (pp. 122–23). She encourages women to read more broadly than women’s issues (p. 131). She also wants women to be held to the same high theological standards as men (p. 129).
In her third section, Byrd discusses some positive directions for women in the church. She says that while women are not called to teach as ordained officers of the church, still, “men ought to learn from women” (p. 139). As necessary allies, women offer valuable theological contributions to the church that ought to be taken seriously.
Finally, Byrd offers practical advice on how to be a discerning reader. She then offers a series of excerpts from popular Christian books for women and challenges the reader to utilize the principles of discernment she has presented (p. 237). She ends this section with advice for pastors as they preach to women, namely, that they would have high expectations concerning their maturity and that they would listen to them (p. 257). She then gives a challenge to women to listen well to pastors as they teach the Word (p. 273).
Byrd’s work exhibits two major strengths: her critique of Christian women’s publishing coupled with her advice on using discernment in reading. In Christian women’s publishing, she points out a ubiquitous error found in both recent best sellers and with women of American church history: “these women have all claimed to have received special revelation from God,” (p. 145). She gives examples of this error in various forms from popular authors: Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, and Sarah Young (pp. 147–48, 246–47). Other popular errors include “mysticism, New Age spirituality, the prosperity gospel, or just plain bad exposition” (p. 116). Byrd points out that the likability of the authors’ personalities have guarded them against necessary critiques, as well as a fear of hurting feelings (pp. 19, 115, 149). This has led to bad theology seeping in the back door of the household of God right through the front door of women’s ministries. She offers no safe haven away from critical evaluation even for those who may share similar theological convictions as her as seen in her critique of True Womanhood (pp. 124–26). This equal opportunity evaluation as well as the numerous examples of errors serves to show the considerable need for greater accountability and more dialogue concerning Christian women’s publishing.
Due to the wide variety of issues Byrd attempted to cover, not all received adequate attention. For example, her ideas on the usefulness and practical outworking of women’s “initiatives” in the household of God along with a thematic study of households in Scripture could each make separate books.
Overall, No Little Women is a thought-provoking book that challenges the household of God to be competent in their handling of Scripture.