Denny Burk, the President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, reviewed my book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology and posted it online. I’m not really sure how to respond. It’s a very negative review, aggressive even. And I really think Burk can do better than this. A basic element in a review, especially one published in a journal, is to accurately describe what the book is about. Burk never does this. This reads like an ad hominem against my honesty and motive in writing, claiming that I am opening a doorway for those who don’t like what they see in certain versions of complementarianism to exit. He says I use well presented, but bad arguments to lead a whole generation of dissatisfied people out who already were looking for the door. And since I have identified this “pre-made audience” I don’t even need to bother with things like good exegesis. He compares me to Rob Bell and Donald Miller, saying that like them, in the end I will be forgettable only after having left behind a vast number of sheep who were led astray by my writing, which is according to Burk, a briefly held way-station on the movement from narrow complementarianism to egalitarianism.
It is difficult to respond to so many misrepresentations in a review that doesn’t even discuss what the book is about or what my actual arguments are in it. But I will give it a go by trying to address Burk’s arguments. First, a brief reminder of what the book is actually about. As I said in another response: I wrote a book highlighting how a contemporary movement has damaged the way that we disciple men and women in the church, focusing on the way we read scripture, the way we view discipleship, and our responsibilities to one another. I wanted to offer an alternative resource that is faithful to Scripture. In it, I show how the creators of this movement have some seriously faulty structures—from unorthodox teaching on the trinity to Aristotelian views of sex—used to subjugate women.
Burk states that a first read may look like I am presenting “a classic narrow complementarian position, but when you press into the details of Byrd’s argument, it looks like she may be going further than that.” First of all—I never identified myself as a narrow complementarian. I don’t even know what that means. So I am not trying to present as one. I am very clear about what my arguments are. But Burk basically tells the reader not to pay any attention to the words I am saying or arguments than I am making, but to look rather at whether I am quoting from any feminists or egalitarians in making them.* Burk does not engage with the actual arguments, as if egalitarians or feminists cannot be conversation partners. As if they never make any good points worth listening to. I think we need to read wider. I also quote extensively from Roman Catholics, but no one seems to be worried that I am secretly swimming the Tiber and taking a whole generation of “pre-made audience” with me. How come? And Burk leaves out that I quote from many complementarians as well, including Kent Hughes, G.K. Beale, Michael Morales, Scott Swain, Michael Allen, Michael Horton, Kelly Kapic, James Montgomery Boice, and more.
No one thought we had a secret agenda when Carl Trueman, Todd Pruitt, and I interviewed a feminist on the Mortification of Spin whom we shared some views about sex with. No one thought Trueman had a secret agenda when writing positively about and later engaging in an interview with lesbian feminist Camille Paglia. Why not?
Misrepresenting My Work
Burk moves on to even stranger logic that no one should pay attention to my argument against CBMW’s Nashville Statement because I supposedly hold to the same position as Revoice. He says that I affirm “exclusive, contractual marriage-like friendships” and “support same-sex romantic behavior.” I don’t even know if he is representing Revoice correctly there, but NOWHERE do I even come close to teaching this. Burk quotes from page 172 of my book to say that I am “commending ‘intimate but non-erotic’ relationships as ‘a great hope for those who suffer with same-sex attraction.’” That’s his argument. Wow. On that page I am talking about how men and women have other ways to relate to one another than merely romantically or erotically, that “the church needs to speak more into how we were created for communion with the triune God,” and that we are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters, “platonic—intimate but nonerotic—relationships,” as a “witness against the sexual revolution and for promoting one another’s holiness.” I am talking about not over-sexualizing, and Burk does just that in his misrepresentation of my work. He makes it sexual. I am talking about covenant community, not exclusive, contractual marriage-like friendships. Give me a break.
Burk takes aim that I mention women as church planters, and I use the word “leaders.” We have Prisca (Rom. 16:3-5), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Apphia (Philem. 1:2), and Lydia (Acts 16:40) all hosting churches in their homes. I ask, “What do we do with these women?” I am not suggesting that they are in authority over the church—why is there so much obsession with making sure I’m clear on who’s in charge? There are many forms of leadership. I do address the question of whether Lydia was leading the Philippian church plant, but do not come to the conclusion that Burk says I do—that she led the church until elders were put in place. Here is my actual writing:
Since Luke is the narrator of Acts, and he switches from the first to the third person narrative in describing Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s departure, it is likely he stayed behind. So it doesn’t look like Lydia, a new convert, was left on her own as a leader to care for the church. While it’s clear that Lydia was a strong ally to Paul in starting this church, her initiative to plant with him was accompanied by his teaching, as well as by the continued care and teaching of Luke. Surely Lydia was active as a disciple and in caring for the church that met in her home, but she was not left alone to lead the church. Additionally, we see Paul traveling back through Macedonia in Acts 20:1. And we see that by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, overseers and deacons were in place.
And, in light of my actual writing there, I’m certainly not implying that the women were being insubordinate. But I’m not sure what all the outrage means—that these women serving alongside the men were to continually wait on male directives for agency to serve? Lydia prevailed upon Paul, even as she certainly was respectful of his position as an Apostle. Luke likely led the church for a while. But did the women have no agency under his authority? Are we to think these wealthy women, leaders of their households who hosted churches, just made the communion bread? Like I recently wrote about, here is an example of Paul using power TO rather than power OVER, which is what his authority is ultimately aiming for—equipping the saints under the work of the ministry to communicate and commune in God’s word together.
Yes, I do say that prostatis, how Paul describes Phoebe, “almost always refers to a position of authority.” I show that with Scripture. But I balance that out, stating that her benefaction as a patron to Paul is mitigated by her role as an emissary (deacon) for Paul and the church of Cenchrae. It’s not an asymmetrical relationship. There’s a lot of beautiful reciprocity going on in those verses which I describe more in the book.
Burk, and many other complementarians, will disagree with what I see as the plain reading of the text about Junia as outstanding among the apostles—not one of the twelve “big A” Apostles, but as the other “small a” apostles in Scripture, Junia and Andronicus must have been eyewitnesses of Jesus who received direct commission from him. I talk about how we might consider how they are outstanding among those commissioned by Jesus, giving testimony to his life, his lordship, and his gospel in planting churches. I briefly address what Burk calls the “thorough debunking by complementarian scholars” of this position in the book. Even so, big whoop if we disagree on this. Good scholars who uphold the authority of Scripture do not agree on this.
Burk claims, with a page number, that I say women should be teaching and admonishing elders, that I show no concern for submission to male headship, and that I am encouraging women to behave like elders. That is simply not in my writing. Nope. I did mention that like Macrina with her brothers, women’s contributions are also valuable for training other theological leaders. Does Burk not read any theological contributions by women? Does he not learn from any women in conversation?
Women Can’t Teach
I don’t even have the space to address this. Brief version, Burk seems to think that 1 Tim. 2:12 means that women cannot ever teach men. This is not a canonical hermeneutic that is faithful to Scripture. Are we to ignore verses like Col. 3:16, Heb. 5:12, Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:31, 1 Cor. 14:1, & 26 or pretend that those are secretly only addressed to the men? Are we to ignore all of the instances in Scripture when women are teaching or giving direct and personal guidance to a man? Are we to cut out Hannah’s prayer and Mary’s magnificat? Are we to ignore the fact that the risen Christ first commissioned a woman to tell the gospel to his male disciples? Paul is addressing corporate worship in those verses in 1 Tim. 2. I didn’t address it because my book is about discipleship, not church office. There’s a lot we can discuss there, but we can’t deny the rest of the teaching in Scripture in doing it.
Downplaying and Dodging ESS
Burk then gets to that pesky unorthodox doctrine CBMW promoted by its teachers, on its website, in its books, and conferences, saying there is no connection between CBMW complementarianism and Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS)—nothing to see here. Well, I write about the connection in my book, and I’ve written about it online when Burk first became president of CBMW. Rather than retractions and apologies, Burk tried to act like they have no responsibility. In my article, What Denny Burk Could Do, I outline this. I encourage you to read it. I wrote it during the Trinity Debate in the summer of 2016, and nothing has changed (except redirection and creating a new Statement as another boundary marker CBMW can lead the way in). It addresses all of Burk’s excuse-making today just as strongly as then. There you will also find a link, using The Way Back Machine, showing that article that Burk says wasn’t on their website, but merely in their journal (not sure how that’s any better) and somehow doesn’t represent their position on ESS. In my book, I also point out blatant ESS in CBMW’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. CBMW, with Denny Burk as the new president, could have led the way in retracting and correcting all the unorthodox teaching which they promoted under the banner of complementarianism. Perhaps it’s CBMW who is leaving behind a vast number of sheep who were led astray by their writing, a way-station on the movement from wide complementarianism back to its Aristotelian roots.
Opening the Door
And now we are back to Burk’s conclusion that I am opening a doorway for those who don’t like what they see in certain versions of complementarianism to exit. I wonder why Burk doesn’t stop and reflect on why there would be a whole generation of dissatisfied people who already were looking for the door? Instead of reducing us to a pre-made audience, maybe Burk should listen to the concerns, hear how we’ve been devalued and reduced by our sexuality, silenced and told to stay in a domesticity that keeps us isolated at home, excluded from theological discourse, and vilified if we dare speak up.
You’re darn right I’m opening the door. We don’t have to fit under any labels as thick or thin complementarians or egalitarians or feminists. We can just be confessing Christians, faithful to Scripture without joining your movements. I’m peeling the yellow wallpaper because the women really are trapped inside of it. And it’s hurting Christ’s church.
*I did want to say something about the Intersex and Faith website he mentions that I reference in a footnote. I have been in conversation with one of its directors, Lianne Simon, a married woman with MGD that resulted in an intersex body, who upholds the Westminster Standards and has been long-standing members of both OPC and PCA churches. She confirmed with me that Intersex & Faith takes no public stand regarding Side A or Side B. She also has been writing against Burk’s assertion that a woman with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome or Swyer’s Syndrome, is male, in spite of their having female-typical external genitalia. She also affirmed to me that the OPC church she and her husband were members of were aware of her condition and history and were supportive—praise God for that.