What Should We Study Now?
Diane Olinger and Patricia Clawson
Selecting a book to use for a women's study is often challenging, writes Nancy Hoffman of Redeemer OPC in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. "We do not want fluff. We do want to be challenged, but we want a book that is understandable to us. We want a book that we can relate to as women of God."
To help find materials, a questionnaire was sent to Orthodox Presbyterian pastors, who passed them on to those who lead women's studies in their churches. Some of the most recommended books are listed below. Most are written by Reformed writers, many of whom have other books available.
Bible Survey or Study
The Ancient Love Song, Finding Christ in the Old Testament, by Charles D. Drew. P&R Publishing, 203 pages with discussion questions.
Charles Drew, a PCA pastor, has written a book that "focuses on the Christology of the Old Testament with the hope and promises of the New Testament and Christ's return," notes Joan Yow of Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church in Purcellville, Virginia. "It is practical and his writing style is readable for all levels of maturity."
The Kingdom of God: A Guide for Old Testament Study, by Francis Breisch, Jr. Christian Schools International, 243 pages with discussion questions.
This is an Old Testament survey, from Genesis to Malachi, written as a high school textbook by a former OP minister. Each chapter provides an overview of the book being studied, followed by questions. According to Wendy Thomas of Immanuel OPC in West Allegheny, Pennsylvania, its main strength is its emphasis on looking at the Old Testament as preparation for the coming of Christ. Because it takes an academic approach, "we usually come back to it" after a few years.
Studies on 1 Peter, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, John, Proverbs 31, and Women in the Bible, by Jean Gaffin. Self-published. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mail copies with discussion questions.
Jean Gaffin is a member of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her studies "invoked a lot of discussion, and many women found it very applicable to everyday life and struggles," said Judi Werkema of Bethel OPC in Wheaton, Ill.
The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin, by Kris Lundgaard. P&R Publishing, 157 pages with discussion questions.
"This study presents the treasures of the Puritan John Owen's writings in a very readable form and uses vivid imagery to convey scriptural truths," writes Gabriela Reason of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania. "It is a good mix of theological and practical writing." The book focuses on the individual's battle against sin. The questions encourage self-reflection, but may be too personal for some groups.
Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone, by Elyse Fitzpatrick. P&R Publishing, 240 pages with discussion questions.
Elyse Fitzpatrick, a biblical counselor, writes that idolatry is at the heart of every besetting sin, which leaves some chapter questions better left for private reflection. Lynn Otto of Trinity OPC in Newberg, Oregon, notes that this book led women "to think differently and to desire God as their highest good (instead of thinking we had to have a number of other things to be happy, such as a house, a healthy husband ...)."
Discovering God in Stories from the Bible, by Philip Graham Ryken. Crossway Books, 216 pages with discussion questions.
"The book is true to Scripture, has clarity, is understandable but not superficial, points to Jesus, applies to our lives, is centered on God and Scripture texts, and each chapter can stand alone," writes Nancy Hoffman of Redeemer OPC in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. "The book focuses on the character of God, using particular passages of Scripture to instruct," she adds.
This book, written by a PCA pastor, may "lack depth" for some groups, Hoffman observes. "The text can be instructive to those who are new to the faith and edifying to those who are older in the faith."
Discovering God's Will, by Sinclair B. Ferguson. The Banner of Truth Trust, 125 pages.
Anne MacDonald of Second Parish OPC in Portland, Maine, highly recommends this book by Ferguson, currently an Associate Reformed Presbyterian pastor. Although the book lacks questions, it generates good discussion. MacDonald writes that some women studying the book "expressed relief at learning of the clearness and simplicity of God's will ... as revealed in Scripture."
The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, by G. I. Williamson. P&R Publishing, 2 volumes (158 + 161 pages) with discussion questions.
Written by an OP minister, this book takes readers through the Shorter Catechism question by question. "It really lends itself to a group study and discussion," says Wendy Thomas of Immanuel OPC in West Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
Focus on Women
Treasures of Encouragement: Women Helping Women in the Church, by Sharon W. Betters. P&R Publishing, 215 pages with discussion questions and a leader's guide.
This book, written by the executive director of MARK INC Ministries, is "a great aid to women in showing them how to do ministry to others," writes Elaine Monsma of Harvest OPC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I heard many women speak of ministering to other women as a result of our class discussionseven months after the class concluded." The book "emphasizes that God requires us as women to come alongside of one another and give encouragement."
"In a few instances, the Bible verses may have been stretched a bit to make the author's point," writes Monsma. Her "loose" language regarding how the Spirit guides believers was a concern to some.
The True Woman: The Beauty and Strength of a Godly Woman, by Susan Hunt. Crossway Books, 237 pages with discussion questions and a leader's guide.
Susan Hunt, formerly the director of Women's Ministries in the PCA, seeks to pass on the woman's legacy to the next generation. This book "is an excellent, biblically based exhortation to women to understand and fulfill the roles they were created and designed for," says Jean Nelson of Grace OPC in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. "One of the strengths of this book is its continual emphasis that a biblical 'true woman' can and should glorify God in her postmodern world."
Hunt's works have been criticized, however, for using nonbiblical language and "stretching" Bible verses.
Light for Your Path (series), by Carol J. Ruvolo. P&R Publishing or Deo Volente Publishing, several books with discussion questions.
Barbara Cottenden of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, appreciates the Reformed perspective of this series, written by an OPC member. She notes that it prompts women to read the Scriptures.
Some are troubled by Ruvolo's speculations about the thoughts and emotions of those in the biblical narrative. Joan Yow, of Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church in Purcellville, Virginia, reports that Ruvulo's books are an "easy read," yet provide plenty of opportunity to "dig deeper."
Discovering the Fullness of Worship, by Paul E. Engle. Great Commission Publications, 129 pages with discussion questions.
Diane Olinger of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania, says that this book, by a PCA minister, provides a good foundation for examining current questions about worship. It also offers practical suggestions for preparing for worship and improving one's private and corporate worship.
Both authors are members of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2006.