Review: Women of the Word

I just finished Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. Having grown up in the church and Christian schools, I was curious to see how much of it would be helpful for me. And the answer? Yes.

Wilkin writes as one who has worked to study the Bible. She doesn't ask readers to do anything she doesn't demonstrate. A book about studying the Bible could very easily have read like a textbook, but Women of the Word is more about knowing and loving God with both our hearts and our heads.

"We live in a time when the Bible is largely regarded as a book for our own edification, through which the Holy Spirit will simply reveal truth to those willing to give it a few minutes' attention a day."

We often come to God's word asking it to tell us who we are or what we should do, and expecting emotional gratification out of it. But if, as Wilkin argues, the Bible is about God (not us), and we are commanded to love God with both our hearts and our minds, then it's no wonder that we don't get exactly what we want out of reading the word of God.

The book presents five P's to guide our time in Scripture, with practical ideas of how to accomplish each:

  • Purpose

  • Perspective

  • Patience

  • Process

  • Prayer

Wilkin spotlights our desire for ease and simplicity in reading God's word, which often takes us to devotionals. It seems that women like to substitute devotionals for the Bible because we resign ourselves to the idea that the author knows more than we ever will, and we justify it by telling ourselves that it has a little Scripture in it. But fair-weather devotional reading will never result in Bible literacy. As she notes, false teachers count on their followers knowing just a little bit of the Bible, because they can turn those few verses into a seemingly consistent message that is antithetical to the gospel, God's word, and God Himself. (Think of the prosperity gospel, which essentially says that God will do good for me if I do good for Him. You can find a few verses that support that theory, but it falls to pieces with even the slightest reading of the verses before and after.)

"The preponderance of devotional material available to us bears evidence to our love for the neatly-wrapped package: a spiritual insight paired with a few verses and an application point or two. We approach our 'time in the Word' like the drive-through at McDonald's: 'I've only got a few minutes. Give me something quick and easy to fill me up.'"

The book's approach to helping us grow in Bible literacy by studying Scripture helps us do a few very important things:

  • It puts God at the center of the story;

  • It takes a 30,000 foot view to see how the Bible tells one story;

  • It helps us understand the original context of a particular passage;

  • All these things put together help us apply it to both the overall purpose and the nitty-gritty of our lives.

"What if the passage of Scripture you are fighting to understand today suddenly makes sense to you when you need it most, ten years from now?"

I am surprised at how helpful the book is for me, and I'm starting to put some of her ideas to work. Most of them aren't new to me, but everything put together helps me see how I can know God's word and God Himself better.

In short, I highly recommend Women of the Word to every Christian woman - new believers and longtime Christians alike. In fact, I highly recommend grabbing a few friends and reading the book together, then putting it into practice by studying the Bible together.

Review: The Measure of Success

Carolyn McCulley has been a favorite author of mine for a few years. She's in her fifties, unmarried, and talks about Jesus in a straight-forward, unflowery way. I appreciate that. Her most recent book, The Measure of Success, is co-authored by Nora Shank, and aims at the complicated topic of women and work. McCulley and Shank write about work as women who work hard at what they do, whether it's owning a small business or raising little people.

"Our culture believes that we are self-made people and that we can achieve whatever we want to do. But the Bible emphasizes over and over again that we are merely recipients of grace. All that we have is a gift from God."

The book is broken into three sections: the story of work (history), the theology of work, and the life cycle of work.

"God has a purpose for our productivity. He uses our daily labors as a means of grace to other people and a way to learn more about Him."

Sadly, I can imagine many women setting aside the book in the history section, not because it isn't helpful, but because readers may not sense any immediate application. It describes the livelihood of the home, which was the center of business for millennia, as well as the slow shift from men and women working at home to finding work outside the home in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, of course, the Mommy Wars have drawn lines in the sand, attempting to force women to make a choice between career and family. This history of work is extraordinarily helpful as women navigate cultural expectations. McCulley and Shank intentionally take no side in this debate, but acknowledge that work inside the home and work outside the home are both work. I could imagine their position to be a relief to countless women who are wracked by guilt or indecision. One of the most helpful points of the book is on ambition. McCulley and Shank argue that women don't pursue ambition. They refer to the overused (and often misused) Proverbs 31 woman, pointing out that much of her description comes from her ambition to be resourceful and wise to the benefit of her family. Sure, the passage talks about her beauty and how highly people think of her, but McCulley and Shank strongly fight against limiting her description to those items. Instead, they paint a picture of a woman who works hard, is resourceful, and intentionally thinks of ways to care for her family -- even taking risks for the kingdom of God and for her family.

"Christian women should be eager to develop their gifts (husband, children, spiritual gifts), widen their opportunities (professionally and personally), extend their influence (in the church and community)... so that in everything they do they can bring glory to God."

In short, I highly recommend this book to every woman seeking to honor the Lord in her work.