Aimee Byrd, aka Housewife Theologian, read my book and gave it a thoughtful review in a 2017 column on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website. She picked up my metaphor of relationship as a walk in the woods and, by her interaction with the text, walked with me a little while. Her concerns deserve a reply. So now, to these thickets, as she calls them.
I am very glad to hear how Ms. Byrd resonates with the first part of the book, in which I try to outline most of the main Biblical principles of gender. Among those that she likes is seeing how gender in the Bible matters in relationship. This is a very important principle but one, I would say, that constrains our understanding of gender in ways that Ms. Byrd does not like later in the book. Throughout her review, she seems more comfortable with my challenges to men than those to women.
Ms. Byrd is forthright in saying how the exposition I give of Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” is faulty. For justification, which understandably must be brief in her article, she helpfully references an article by another author. But this other author seems to me to deflect the main thrust of the argument onto a discussion of prepositions, which are not the issue, and himself writes from a pre-decided view that there is no asymmetry of authority before the fall. I would point out that interpreting “your desire shall be for your husband” to mean “desire to master him one way or another” is not an obscure exposition among Reformed writers, and that is because it has good reasons. Namely, the ambiguity of the merely thrice-used word translated “desire,” the identical construction with the identical word used by the Genesis author immediately in the next chapter with a very clear meaning, and the verse’s contrast of evils in the context of asymmetrical authority before the fall, all provide strong arguments for the view promoted in enGendered and by others.
Both men and women have an individual curse (thorny ground and painful child-bearing) and a curse in relation to each other, both about seizing power. We can certainly see post-fall men sinfully dominating wives. Do we not also see women both idolize their husbands and desire to manipulate them into service (and sometimes do both in rapid succession)? We might want to allow, then, that the verse explaining the fallen woman intends the latter as well as the former. At least the reading shouldn’t be dismissed.
But it is clear that Ms. Byrd’s most strongly felt objections are to the asymmetries explained in the second part of enGendered. For example, she writes,
Are there times when the responsibility of the head of a household to carry out God’s mission in their family will call for the husband to lovingly step in and contravene his wife’s prerogative? Yes, sometimes. But the goal here is one flesh union, which is an aligning of both of their prerogatives in their mission. This requires intimate knowing and consideration of one another.
This paragraph raises two good questions. Let me respond with what may be an underlying contention. enGendered is really asking: Is God’s command to be tolerated or celebrated? Should a husband take authority once in a while, and regrettably so, or should he be looking for opportunities to do so as a calling? I claim that marriages grow when he does the latter. The commands and examples of gender are not to be kept in a glass box, labeled with “Break and use only in the case of emergency.” They are for our everyday good.
Could a husband seeking to take charge lead to abuse? Certainly, when the authority is taken for selfish reasons rather than the benefit of his wife. Just as a woman’s gender could lead to abuse, as outlined in Genesis 3:16, whichever it means. But my goal is to enable couples to rejoice in God’s gift, not grudgingly admit that sometimes it’s necessary. Understanding gender rightly helps us come to that.
Her phrasing quoted above, “the goal here is one flesh union….This requires intimate knowing and consideration of one another” to me places the cart before the horse. The “intimate knowing” that both Ms. Byrd and I wish to see, that waterfall of one flesh union in the distance, does not come easy for couples. But it actually pours forth from gendered relations. That is God’s genius. The Bible calls us not to minimize the asymmetries, but to celebrate them. Then springs up the intimate knowing and consideration.
Let’s walk further along this trail in the next post, when I will answer Ms. Byrd’s other objections to the asymmetries.
Do you feel like walking this trail of celebrating gender differences?