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Entries in Women (43)


"Just for women"

I'm in the final pages of Rebecca Stark's book The Good Portion: God, The Doctrine of God for Every Woman. It was entirely what I anticipated: writing full of depth yet not inaccessible, and writing that could be read easily by a man and a woman. She is a careful teacher of truths, and uses illustrations well. And her illustrations are not the kind that are specifically tailored to women, which I like. Even though the subtitle of this book indicates it is for women, it is a book men can read. I plan to write more about this later at Out of the Ordinary.

I am torn between two positions on books that are "doctrine for women." On the one hand, I am disappointed at the notion that doctrine must be pared down for a woman, as if she can't understand a book of doctrine written for a general audience. I know that is not the intention with this series of books, however. This series of books is to encourage women that doctrine is for them, too. 

That brings me to the other side of the argument: as much as I find it disappointing that women must have their own source of doctrinal books, I am thankful that there are those who see that women need doctrine. I'm thankful that Christian Focus has two books in this series. I wrote about Keri Folmar's contribution here

I still struggle to understand where the notion came from that women don't need doctrine. It is clearly an idea we have come to embrace. I have met my share of women over the years who have said, "I just need the Bible; I don't need theology." Thinking theologically has been given as the task for pastors and men. I have not studied the history of women in the Church enough to come to a conclusion about that. And so far, I have not come across anyone who has explained it adequately to me. I think that question must be explored in a context larger than just women, and one that investigates an attitude of anti-intellectualism in general.

I do have days when I would like to take women by the shoulders, and give a (gentle!) shake and say: "Doctrine is what will equip you when the hard times come!" All of the "how to's" and encouragement about being a more productive this, or a more efficient that won't do it. Those are just distractions.

So, while I feel sad that women need to be told that doctrine is for them, I am glad for books that do just that. Hopefully, this series of books will encourage women to realize that they don't have to read books that are "just for women."


Becoming an ordinary theologian

I beleve R.C. Sproul when he said that everyone is a theologian. It was Sproul who showed me that theology is not for the professional alone. About eighteen years ago, I felt a lot of frustration when it came to things happening in my local church. Frustration can lead to grumbling, and grumbling is not helpful.

I determined that I needed to be more gracious with others. But did I understand grace? I didn't really think I did, so I set out to learn. At that time, in the old days when people used catalogues, I found myself in possession of one from Ligioner. In and among the titles there, I found one called Grace Unknown. Now, that sounded promising. I had already read The Holiness of God, and I liked R.C. Sproul, so I bought it. It was a turning point. Theology was exciting, and while it would often make me more frustrated, the process of searching was good for what ails a frustrated person.

This kind of probing, of course, was not always met with the enthusiasm that I had for it. I remember sitting with a gentleman at one point and shared with him that I was reading Stephen Charnock. He looked at me with total surprise and said it didn't seem like a book women would like to read. It wasn't just men who were perplexed. Other women did not always understand why I would rather read Charnock instead of the current popular women's book. The answer is simply that the book which was popular for women wasn't helping me understand what I wanted to understand.

Once I started reading Sproul and other authors, I realized that theologians were not just the guys with the doctorates writing scholarly papers. Theologians are everywhere. And once I began blogging, I discovered quite a few women who were also embracing the identity of ordinary theologian. In recent years, there have been a few more books written by women that go beyond practical living advice and get to the heart of the issue. One I can think of is Hannah Anderson's Made for More, exploring what it means being created in God's image. Keri Folmar wrote The Good Portion, which discusses the doctrine of Scripture. It's encouraging to see women writing about deep theological issues. One of my favourite authors is Karen Jobes, and if you begin probing into more academic circles, there are more women writing about theology. We also have to remember that women are not required to read only women authors. We need to read good authors who have done their work regardless of whether they are men or women.

Ordinary theologians have been around a long time. While some of the currently popular female authors were still in college or perhaps even high school, we were trying to raise young children while plumbing the depths of doctrine and God's Word. Long before Christianity Today launched its Her.meneutics blog, there were those of us who, without the aid of Twitter and Facebook, were seeking.

When we find a treasure, we feel excited. We want to share it with others. We may even think we're the first ones to discover it. But usually, someone else has already been where we are. And that is an exciting thing. Growing in Christ is a communal thing; we don't do it alone. We may feel alone, but there are always others out there. 


What can I give the younger women at my church?

A few weeks ago, one of the younger women at my church who attended my Sunday school class asked me if I would be teaching again in September. Alas, I am not, simply because teaching every week is a lot of work, and with seminary, I can't give it my all. Instead, I share duties in another class. I miss those young women, but even while I am not among them as much, I'm thinking regularly about how I can best serve them. 

Many of the young women I know were once my students when I taught teens and worked in the youth group. I have watched them grow up; I care about them. As a teacher and older woman, I want to serve to the best of my ability. In that light, my thoughts centre on two things.

Biblical Content

I can offer them biblical content. That means when I teach, I work hard to prepare a lesson which is sound; which focuses on the text; which points them to Christ; which fosters in them a desire to learn more. I prefer to put together something myself. I have used prepared material in the past, but ultimately, I end up deviating from it to suit my particular group. What I like to do now is find a couple of commentaries to see how they break down a book of the Bible and then compare it to my own study, and go from there.

I don't use "book studies." Books are great, and I love them. There are issues I'm interested in reading about and doctrines which I want to understand. A book study, while enjoyable for a group, is not the same as a Bible study. When I teach women, I want to teach the Bible, not someone else's thoughts and conclusions about a topic. Some books written for women about issues contain less interaction with biblical content and more personal conviction. I really want young women to be biblically literate, so that means using the Bible. 


I can be accountable to younger women. That means they must know me and I must take an intereset in their lives. I must be willing to confess my own weaknesses, mistakes, and be comfortable saying, "I don't know," if I just don't know. I also must let them see my joy in study and in Christ. Something I am consciously working on is being careful on social media. If I'm on Facebook ranting and being combative, what kind of example is that?

I'm becoming more convicted about investing in our own local churches. I would rather see the young women at my church turn to the women in their immediate lives; people in their local church or the women in their families. The kind of accountability face to face relationships provide is much deeper than being accountable to a woman one will never meet. It's too easy to just put your computer to sleep, turn off your notifications, and simply leave that online connection behind. It's not so easy to walk away from someone who comes to us on Sunday morning, touches our shoulder, and speak to us.

As servants of Christ, the greatest thing we can offer him is ourselves. That is also the best thing to offer women. We an give our time and study of God's word and we can give them our attention and love. On a local level, that is a great gift. It may cost me time and I may have to sacrifice, but ultimately, it's best for me and for the younger women.


The "real" older woman

I belong to a Facebook group of theologically-minded women on Facebook. I don't usually join such groups, but I joined this one. I don't participate in a lot of the discussions, but when I saw one about young people walking away from biblical teaching, I had to say something.

Experience Makes a Difference

During that Facebook discussion, I was talking to a woman whose children were 16 and under, and we were talking past one another, which was frustrating. She was perplexed when I asked her the age of her children, and the reason I did was because I have found there is a difference in discussion between women whose children are grown and women whose children are younger. Experience can make a big difference.

I have a friend who recently lost her son. I can offer prayer, love, and support, and even try to be empathetic, but I have no concept of the depth of her grief. Nor can I fully understand my friend who is a widow. Any counsel I have is purely theoretical. Now, if you want to talk about young people rebelling, I can do that, because I have been there.

The Sun Will Come Up

We want our children to embrace biblical truth, and the fear of them walking away from it can turn us into micromanagers. We may feel that we must "do" something to prevent the unthinkable. We may tend to treat spiritual training like making their bed, putting their toys away, and brushing their teeth; like a checklist. But spiritual training is much different. At some point, our children must take responsibility for their faith. When my children were younger, I was guilty of micromanaging, and it was borne out of my own fear. I was afraid of them turning away from biblical teaching; afraid of what would happen.

What happened is that the sun came up the next day. I learned that life goes on, that God is gracious, that he still loves me despite what happens with my children. I did not disappear. I was okay. When our kids turn away from biblical truth, we're still their parents, and we still love them and still speak the truth, even if they don't act on what we've told them. I wish when my kids were teenagers, I'd had someone who took me aside and said, "I've been there, too; you'll be okay."


It is true that every woman is an older woman to someone, but I am coming to understand that there is something special about the real older woman: the one who is 60, 70, or 80. She has time on her side. She has lived through a variety of experiences and seen God's faithfulness through them. Much of our maturity is born out of struggle and suffering, and the woman who is truly older has had those opportunities. A 28 year old woman is an older woman to a teenager, but when I think about how immature I was at 28, and think back to some of the counsel I gave, I see that it was a lot of twaddle. I didn't know as much as I think I did.

I am blessed to have real older women in my life and I am seeing that there is no replacement for the simple life experience they have. I have not lost my parents, or a child, or a spouse. I am healthy, and have had a happy marriage for 30 years. Any struggles I have are really minor. Compared to what they have endured, I have had very little struggle. I have a friend who has lost both a child and her husband, as well as siblings and both parents. There is wisdom she has which I just don't have yet. Yes, we are an older woman to someone, but it's not the same as what a real older woman has to offer.

There are times when experience doesn't count for much; in fact, sometimes, relying on experience can lead us astray. In the case of older woman, experience is important. It is what makes a woman a real older woman.


Women in the news

While I was on vacation, and scanned Twitter briefly at intervals, I did notice an exchange of articles about women and blogging. I am not generally a reader of Christianity Today, but I did see a couple articles from that direction, but I only quickly skimmed them. I'm aware of the conversation going on, but it has not grabbed my attention. However, when I saw the title of one article, something along the lines of who is in charge of Christian blogging, my immediate thought was, "Whoever manages to generate the most attention."

I did read this morning an article that Tim Challies linked, from RNS. There were some interesting observations; interesting enough for me to break my own self-imposed rule that I don't use my blog to critique other blog articles. This isn't a critique, however. It's more an observation which arose from the article.

In the article, Hannah Anderson compares the way women go about leading to the way men go about leading. She concludes:

From moral decision-making to leadership styles, women, in general, work with an eye toward relationships and cooperation while men operate more impersonally and individualistically.

When I read that, I thought, "That is not me."

I am a leader in my local church. I take on responsibility quite naturally, and when I am given it it, I work to give it 100% of my attention. But I don't work with relationships and co-operation in mind. I am not a dictator, but when I go about leading, I am not so much concerned with gathering a group or forming community as I am in simply doing the job given to me and working with integrity. In fact, I tend to avoid groups of women. Maybe it is a hangup from my past, or maybe it is the result of having mostly male friends as a child and being the only girl in the family, but I am more prone to backing up from a group of women than I am in embracing it. Seeing pictures of women at conferences, smiling and happy together makes me feel a little melancholy at times, because that has not been my experience, yet everyone keeps telling me that it is the goal I am supposed to aspire to. 

This often frustrates me. The current "leaders" in the Christian blog world who are debating about who is in charge don't really speak for me. Many are much younger than I am, and have few similar experiences to mine. I am Canadian; most are from the U.S. And yes, that makes a difference. I cannot help but think that there is a particular socio-economic similarity among those leaders, and I wonder how women from other backgrounds react to what is written. This also leaves me wondering a bigger question: should women be seeking to be led by women they will never know? With whom there is no personal accountability? This is a basic question, of course, and one that is always left there in the background while at the same time, we actually do allow ourselves to be led. This has troubled me lately, as I am seeing more and more the potential downside of putting too much emotional energy into online relationships.

Questions are good. I've never been one to avoid asking questions. My questions don't revolve so much around who is in charge of the blog world, or which women are the leaders. Rather it is how much does my interest in such leadership influence my relationship to Christ? Is it more distracting than helpful?