John W. Mahaffy
Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance Is Not Purity, by Aimee Byrd. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2018, x + 248 pages, $14.99, paper.
How does the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, living in the world but not of it, maintain her faithfulness to her Lord and her distinctiveness from the world? Among other things, she emphasizes sexual purity as she lives in the hypersexualized culture of North America.
Ironically, as Aimee Byrd argues, the church can be more influenced by the culture than she realizes:
Unfortunately, as eager as the conservative church is to speak out against the sexual revolution and gender identity theories, she often appears just as reductive as the culture surrounding her when it comes to representing our communion with God in our communion with one another. But Scripture tells us over and over again that Christian men and women are more than friends—we are brothers and sisters in Christ. (14)
In a well-intentioned effort to avoid sin, Christians too frequently fall into a default position of treating members of the opposite sex as an occasion for temptation. That flattens who we are—images of God, redeemed in the Lord Jesus Christ. As the subtitle notes, “avoidance is not purity.” Byrd is critical of an unthinking application of the so-called “Billy Graham (or, more recently, Pence) rule” as the standard for handling relationships between men and women.
It is not only the humanistic culture that defines people in terms of their sexuality. In a strange reaction some Christians do something similar:
A major language shift has taken place, and our thinking is changing with it. Evangelicals in the purity culture have moved from discussing sexual behavior as a fruit and outworking of being made in the image of God and of Christian holiness, to focusing on sexual purity commitments as the core of our identity. (64)
One reason I bought the book was to see for myself whether pre-publication fears aired on social media were correct: that this book would destroy barriers and open the door to immoral behavior. Those concerns are unjustified. Byrd repeatedly warns against temptation and emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries appropriate to our situations. She upholds the biblical positions that men are called to the office of elder and that husbands are to exercise leadership in marriage. And she is correct in reminding us that in both cases, it is servant leadership.
Although a factor in my purchase was to read for myself rather than depend on secondhand reports, I was blessed with more than I expected. Byrd does not simply decry a sub-Christian manner of treating one another. She describes the way that the Bible treats believers as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and traces how that worked out in the early church. She emphasizes scriptural teaching on purity: “If purity is preeminently about our communion with God, then we can pursue holiness in others and ourselves while abhorring sin” (69).
We are not just brothers and sisters, we, Christian men and women alike, are that because we are the Father’s adopted sons in Christ. Byrd makes helpful use of David B. Garner’s Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (2017). She takes us to the heart of what purity means:
Because we are adopted sons in the Son, and our hope lies in full glorification and Christlikeness, we are called to purify ourselves. What does that mean? We cannot do this without Christ, who is our purity. But what does that mean? It means that we don’t purify ourselves through abstinence. We purify ourselves by fixing our hope on Jesus Christ, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). (71)
Byrd has a refreshing emphasis on the importance of public worship and the official ministry of the Word. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions. One won’t agree with every point she makes, but the book could well be used to help groups in the church develop their understanding of who they are in Christ. That theological growth is important for us, helping us to relate to one another in biblical ways. It also helps the church image to the world something of what redemption involves. Byrd’s burden is for the Lord and his church:
Friendship points to our truest friend and advocate, Jesus Christ. And he cannot be cheapened. Furthermore, friendship points to the mission of our triune God: eternal communion with his people. Is your church a picture of this? (232)
John W. Mahaffy serves as the pastor of Trinity Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Newberg, Oregon. Ordained Servant Online, February 2019.