Being an attentive observer of the whole Aimee Byrd saga that has rocked the Reformed slice of social media, I cannot help but be grieved about what has played out over recent weeks. Aimee Byrd released a controversial book called Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in May and the Reformed internet lost it. Reason and civility jettisoned.
Now, I understand that Byrd’s book was intentionally controversial in many respects. The title itself is an obvious rib to the watershed Complementarian title, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Having finished Byrd’s book two weeks ago, I can say that I have some substantial concerns in both her approach and exegetical arguments. However, that is for, perhaps, another time.
What I think is of much greater significance is how such disagreement has been aired in public. These days, it has become a common perception that social media has become an unhelpful medium to Christians, one where no quarter is extended and none asked, where the very worst of our nature takes root and finds expression. Truly, this has now become demonstrably evident.
When the initial concerns of Byrd’s book were raised, Aimee and her co-hosts of the popular Reformed podcast Mortification of Spin (Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt) which sought to cover what the book attempts to do. Several days later, some questions were put to Aimee on Reformation21 which were put to her relatively anonymously. While the post was by Jonathan Master, he represented a number of people who, for unknown reasons, chose not to raise their concerns publicly. Aimee on her then blog, Housewife Theologian, also hosted on Reformation21, chose not to, either rightly or wrongly, provide a response.
Fast forward to last week, and it is now understood that Aimee Byrd has been terminated from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, apparently with very little communication conveyed to her. Now, I understand if Aimee’s position is seen as a deviation from the platform, but, and taking Aimee at her word here, if she was terminated in the way that she has stated, then I think it is beholden of the Alliance to make an apology. Not necessarily a reinstatement, but a public apology nevertheless.
However, much more problematic and the actual focus of my attention and cause of my grief is that it is has come to light how Aimee has been treated by a number of individuals who, quite frankly, should know better. Not in that they have disagreed with her, but in how they have disagreed. For example, it has become clear that members of Facebook group that purports to be Reformed, and comprising a membership of over 500 individuals, have been actively mocking her and making disparaging comments about her appearance, about her voice, and about her husband. This is in addition to a number of comments made about her on twitter, Amazon, and elsewhere. I’d prefer not to link to the site where screenshots have been posted, but I will say that many of the comments are arrogant, boastful, and proud. All the hallmarks of immaturity.
And that is what it boils down. Immaturity.
I have observed, over the past decade, a Confessional divergence from the Young, Restless and Reformed movement, a movement which has embraced Confessional theology (for this I am heartened) but has retained the toxic and crass immaturity that was evident with such individuals such as Driscoll, an almost frat mentality. Individuals that love reading Bavinck, Berkhof, Vos, and Witsius, alongside Owen, Boston, and Watson and wrestling with their theological potency but lack the same sobriety and self-control that these individuals expressed through their lives.
I am concerned that in these crowds where memes and ridicule of others, friendly or not, comprise the lion’s share of activity, that there is a real lack of a cultivation of Godliness and Christian love. I am worried that if this is not rectified through a desire for the right orthopraxis alongside the right orthodoxy, that this movement will be completely antithetical to not only the Confessional title it claims, but to the Christian faith itself.
If we purport to be in agreement to the Confessions than we need to realise what that means in not only our theology but also as reflected in our lives. Confessional theology echos and reaffirms Scripture in that we must seek to love others, especially those who are also in the faith. This does not mean we can’t actively disagree with others, but it’s realising that if and when we disagree, that it needs to happen in a courteous and charitable fashion.
Now, obviously, for heretics, we cannot but denounce any issue which seeks to undermine the orthodox faith in the strongest language. However, Byrd is no heretic. She professes to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and as far as I am aware is in good standing in her local church which is part of the OPC. This alone ought to mean that theologically there is much common ground even if there is disagreement with her view of complementarianism. Yet, the tirades that Byrd has been the recipient of is almost equivalent to some of the choicest words that Luther had in store for the Papacy.
How we can think this is okay is beyond any stretch of logic. Scripture implores us to treat others, who are made in the same image of our creator, with love. Christ is absolutely clear when in John 13:35, he states: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Paul, likewise, tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.” And this is in addition to the general love we are called to exhibit to our neighbours.
These do not talk about loving only those who are in complete theological agreement, it does not talk about loving only those who are the easiest to love. No—Christians are called to reflect love through patience, through a lack of arrogance, and certainly not by finding joy through the degrading of others. If we have ever acted contrary to what Scriptures say, then we need to recognise it, confess it, and accordingly repent of it. There is no room for pride in a Christian.
If you claim to be Reformed, and have acted in a way where you spend more time reading theology and ridiculing people than you do about cultivating your own holiness, then you need to grow up. I say that not to denigrate, but in the real desire and hope that you will jettison the immaturity you have exhibited and instead look to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, making “every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7). I hope you will grow up so that your lived theology is reflective of your spoken theology.
And learn to disagree well. If you feel someone’s theology is wrong or problematic but not especially heretical, then learn to speak in a way that is courteous but still reflective of that real concern. This is how we we are called to lovingly speak to others, especially other image-bearers. If you’ve ever put someone down in a way that was full of ridicule and for a few laughs, then please realise this is not okay despite the general acceptance of it within modern society. Grow up and remember the ninth commandment kinda matters.
P.S.—Even if they are heretics, and there’s plenty of those these days, perhaps learn how to attack an argument and not the person.