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Nurturing Theologically Rich Women’s Initiatives in Your Church

Aimee Byrd

The OPC values robust theological teaching. This is evident in the confession (Westminster) to which our denomination subscribes and the investment we put into our preachers. However, one area where this may not be as noticeable is in women’s initiatives. I am thankful that the OPC esteems the offices of the ministry, which is why I want to encourage the officers of the church to become more invested in the women’s groups that study together.

Please do not misunderstand. I know that women are valued in the OPC. The invitation to write this article reveals an interest in equipping women with good resources and helping pastors and elders gain awareness of what is being marketed to women. Whether women in your church are gathering together for a study, or shopping for their own personal reading and growth, they have become a valued target market for the so-called Christian publishing industry. From Bible studies to personal growth books, there is now a copious supply of resources available for women. The Christian bookstore can be a dangerous place to enter without proper discernment. And we do not want the women’s study groups in the church to be dangerous places to enter without proper discernment.

Unfortunately, I have seen this become an issue even in OPC and PCA churches. And I don’t think that it is because of the preaching. I have done a fair amount of traveling, speaking at women’s retreats for Presbyterian, Baptist, non-denominational churches, and more. It is such a blessing to meet and talk with so many Christian women who desire to grow in God’s Word. However, it is also disheartening to see women, across the board, caught up in poor theology. And it often causes discord in the church. Many of these women are under good preaching, and they claim to have a high view of Scripture. And yet some of the material they are studying with other women in the church, or reading for their own personal growth, contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. How can this be? Why are numerous women embracing false teaching?

While good preaching is imperative, I think this is also a shepherding issue for pastors and elders. A pastor loves to hear that his congregation is taking initiative to learn more about what Scripture teaches. It’s a challenge sometimes to find people who love to read. But what are they reading, and how are they processing the information?

I like to compare this situation to the wake up call parents had when the television talk shows and news networks conducted faux abduction investigations, revealing the inadequacies of the whole “stranger danger” message. No matter how confident these parents felt about their talks with their children about never going off with a stranger under any condition, the whole “I lost my puppy, could you help me find him” guise worked every time. The problem is that predators are very friendly; they don’t look like the monsters that their parents make them out to be. What child wouldn’t want to help a smiley guy with a picture find man's best friend?

My illustration isn’t meant to compare women with children. I am talking more about a shepherd and his sheep. This really applies to the whole congregation because there are plenty of men reading and promoting harmful doctrine as well. But I’m writing to talk specifically about women’s resources. When a top-selling Christian author, who belongs to a big church, who has adopted children from third world countries, and who relates to the everyday Christian woman, offers a “stimulating” study on how to help “overwhelmed women” with an “underwhelmed soul,” she sure doesn’t look like the image we may have of a false teacher.[1] These great qualities easily distract a reader from asking discerning questions about how the gospel is presented and how God’s Word is being handled.

If pastors and elders become more aware of the books that are being marketed to their congregations, it will be time well spent. What are the top-sellers in the Christian bookstore, and how faithful are they to God’s Word? What is their appeal? Why would some of your congregants be attracted to their teaching? This does take a lot of shepherding, because it also takes an invested relationship between elders and the congregation.

But the investment doesn’t need to be as daunting and time-consuming as it may appear. Of course, pastors want to spend most of their time being enriched by good teaching. This should be the case for all of us in God’s church. Are there a few people in your congregation who may know the Christian market well and can help you in this area? Are you acquainted with some trusted websites and publications that you could refer to for book reviews? What if you were to ask some theologically sharp women in your church to read one or two books a year for review?

And yet, there’s something even more important than offering book reviews for congregants to read, and that is teaching them how to read. That may sound superfluous, but many in the church are lacking the skill to read a book critically these days. False teachers do not come waving “We want to wreck your theology” signs. Many appear to have their lives more together than we do. So it is imperative to teach the discernment skills for what to look for in a book. What does it say about who God is, who man is, and the message of the gospel? How can we evaluate how the author is handling the Word of God? What is the conversation going on between the author and the reader?

Reading is an active engagement. In How to Read a Book,[2] authors Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren compare the reader to a baseball catcher. While the writer is sending a message, readers are not passive. They need to receive the pitch, discerning whether it is a fastball, curveball, or knuckleball. And recognizing a changeup or screwball may take some conditioning.

Some Recommended Resources

Women have indeed become a profitable target-market for Christian publishers. But I don’t want to end this article talking about all the bad books marketed to us. There has been a resurgence of great books written by women, for women. If you have women in your church who are interested in studying the books in the Old Testament, Nancy Guthrie’s five part series, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament,[3] is outstanding. The Old Testament can be intimidating to teach, especially if you do not have any formal education. But Guthrie has provided a great resource for teachers, or even for private study, with tables and maps to help the reader gain an understanding of the historical context from which the book is written. Guthrie is faithful to the meaning of the text, highlighting the main themes while helpfully breaking down the important details. What I like best about this series is the author’s zeal to show how the Old Testament Scriptures point to Christ. Readers will finish the study enriched by Guthrie’s teaching. She also provides discussion questions for the ten-week studies and accompanying videos for the group studies. The one complaint I have heard about the videos is that they are a bit redundant if everyone is reading the book.

Nancy Guthrie has written many good books. She is also a great resource for bereaving families. Her work here comes from her own painful experience that drove her to find comfort in God’s Word. Her book Holding on to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God [4] has been a help to many grieving families. And while on the topic of bereavement, Jessalyn Hutto has written a helpful, small book, Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb,[5] for women who have suffered a miscarriage. These are great resources to offer to women in your church.

Kathleen Nielson’s Living Word [6] Bible study series is worth noting. I love how these books are spiral bound and have the feel of a notebook that the reader can write in. Along with great teaching, the benefit of using Nielson’s studies is that she constantly forces the reader to go digging in the biblical text herself to find the meaning of the text. She doesn’t prepackage her teaching into easily digestible bites, but rather teaches the reader to be a student of the Word. Nielson is not aiming to be an “answer person,” but a teacher, and she does that well. She also has a section at the end called “Notes for Leaders” that will help your teachers do the same.

The issue of biblical distinctions between manhood and womanhood has been more pressing in the church lately. One book that I have found refreshing to read in this area is Hannah Anderson’s Made for More.[7] What I appreciate about this book is how, as a conservative, Anderson does not write in an over-correcting way against feminism by focusing more on men’s and women’s roles as the subject matter rather than Christ. She begins with our identity as beings made in the image of God, and how that is true for both men and women. She then moves to our differences, and how we depend on one another to fully reflect God’s image. This isn’t a book that cherry picks all the “pink” verses to teach biblical womanhood, but one that covers the big picture of the fall, redemption, and restoration as it teaches about our blessing and distinctiveness as women. Hannah Anderson is an engaging writer who is a joy to read.

Another favorite of mine is Melissa Kruger’s book on contentment, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World.[8] When I first picked this book up, I thought that it was only written for a certain type of woman. I quickly realized how beneficial it is for every woman in the church to read. Kruger writes like a friend who wants to help you find your satisfaction in Christ. While it is convicting, her book encourages weary women with the richness of the gospel.

Both Melissa Kruger and Gloria Furman have written gospel-centered books for new moms. Kruger’s Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood [9] is an eleven-week devotional Bible study for busy moms, who of course still need to be nurtured in the Word throughout the week. What I like about this book is Kruger’s reminder that we aren’t to be more concerned with what we are doing as busy moms, than with what we are becoming in Christ. The study isn’t about how to be a better mom, but on being a disciple of Christ as a mom. Gloria Furman’s Glimpses of Grace[10] helps moms find those glimpses of God’s kindness to us in our everyday living. She offers a short, easy read that focuses on living our lives to the glory and praise of God. This is a needed encouragement for every mom. These are good books to give new moms, or mothers who are beginning to learn more about the faith. Also, Jen Wilkin has written a helpful book for beginners in Bible study called Women of the Word.[11]

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s just a few suggestions. And I am encouraged to know that there are more great books for women in the making. But women shouldn’t just read books written by women, specifically for women. And this is an issue that I think is worth discussing. While I do think that it is valuable for women to have resources like this, I am afraid that women’s groups are getting pigeonholed into a target market that is quite limited. Wouldn’t it be great to have a women’s group reading through some of the Puritans, or the theologically robust books that have stood the test of time? In fact, I was first introduced to the doctrines of grace while reading a Jonathan Edwards sermon,[12] and so identified with his account of wrestling with God’s sovereignty in his Memoirs.[13]

Encouraging Readers

Let me encourage you. People love to be invited—even to read sometimes! Make personal recommendations to your congregants, including the women. Ask them what they are reading. When a pastor or elder conversationally asks, “Have you read any good books lately?” that makes an impact. If she has read something worthwhile, she will be excited to share about it. This will help you get to know what the women in your church are interested to learn about and give you a gauge of what they are reading. It will also show them that you care about that sort of thing. And if she hasn’t read anything lately, maybe she will walk away with a notion to crack something open. In that case, this is an opportunity to give a suggestion.

Maybe some of you are reading this, wishing that you had more women readers in your church. For those who have trouble finding time and interest to read, I like to suggest Cruciform Press books. They have published a range of unintimidating books on interesting topics. Each book is about a hundred pages or less. The church can subscribe to get their bimonthly releases and offer them in the library. Go to their website[14] to find books on identity in Christ, backsliding, miscarriage, with titles like: Sexual Detox, The Company We Keep, and Cruciform: Living a Cross-Shaped Life, to name a few.

Another way I like to get women into reading is through biographies. Crossway[15] has a wonderful series, Theologians on the Christian Life, on influential theological figures from history. Not only will they be reading about the lives of, for example, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, John Owen, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they will be learning about the teaching of these ministers and benefit from its influence on the reader’s own Christian life. Also, Karen Swallow Prior has written a fascinating biography on Hannah More, Fierce Convictions,[16] that will cause the reader to think about her own convictions. Another good recent biography written about a woman is Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes[17] by Ian Murray.

A related complaint I often hear from women is that they are having a hard time getting into their Bible reading throughout the week. Often it is because they are lacking direction in reading. It may be helpful to recommend a devotional commentary for them.P&R’s series on Reformed Expository Commentaries[18] may be helpful. Each author of these commentaries is a pastor-scholar who has first preached through the book in the pulpit ministry of his church. The commentaries are broken down into short chapters that enrich daily Bible reading.

With all these resources at our fingertips, women have no reason to settle for the theologically trite studies that are marketed to them! Let’s be active in showing the women in our churches that who they decide to learn from matters, not only in the pew on Sunday morning, but also in the books they are reading.

Endnotes

[1] For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands,” Books at a Glance, February 4, 2015,: http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/the-best-yes-making-wise-decisions-in-the-midst-of-endless-demands-by-lysa-terkeurst.

[2] Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), 5.

[3] See https://www.crossway.org/books/?newnotable=All&series=Seeing+Jesus+in+the+Old+Testament. For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “The Word of the Lord, Seeing Jesus in the Prophets,” Books at a Glance, August 27, 2014, http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/the-word-of-the-lord-seeing-jesus-in-the-prophets-by-nancy-guthrie.

[4] Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2002).

[5] Jessalyn Hutto, Inheritance of Tears (Minneapolis: Cruciform, 2015). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Inheritance of Tears,” Housewife Theologian, March 12, 2015, http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/housewife-theologian/inheritance-of-tears#.ViUebrTatUQ.

[6] See http://www.prpbooks.com/blog/2013/09/kathleen-nielsons-living-word-bible-studies/#sthash.efv0Az7F.dpbs. For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Book Review: Nehemiah, Rebuilt and Rebuilding,” Housewife Theologian, Feb. 7, 2012, http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/housewife-theologian/book-review-3#.ViUf6rTatUQ.

[7] Hannah Anderson, Made for More (Chicago: Moody, 2014). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image,” Books at a Glance, June 6, 2014, http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/made-for-more-an-invitation-to-live-in-gods-image-by-hannah-anderson.

[8] Mellissa Kruger, The Envy of Eve (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2012). For a short reflection I wrote on it, see Aimee Byrd, “Reading Reflection,” Housewife Theologian, April 2, 2012, http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/housewife-theologian/reading-reflection-64#.ViUuhLTatUQ.

[9] Mellissa Kruger, Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook, 2015). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood: an Eleven-Week Devotional Bible Study by Melissa Kruger,” Books at a Glance, July 13, 2015, http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/walking-with-god-in-the-season-of-motherhood-an-eleven-week-devotional-bible-study-by-melissa-kruger.

[10] Gloria Furman, Glimpses of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Glimpses of Grace,” Housewife Theologian, June 3, 2013, http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/housewife-theologian/glimpses-of-grace#.Vl4oY0s_OF5.

[11] Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, “Books at a Glance, July 14, 2014, http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/women-of-the-word-how-to-study-the-bible-with-both-our-hearts-and-our-minds-by-jen-wilkin.

[12] Jonathan Edwards, The True Believer (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2001), 104–65.

[13] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), liv–lv.

[14] https://cruciformpress.com.

[15] See https://www.crossway.org/books/?newnotable=All&series=Theologians+on+the+Christian+Life.

[16] Karen Swallow Prior, The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014).

[17] Ian Murray, Beauty for Ashes (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015). For my review, see Aimee Byrd, “Amy Carmichael, ‘Beauty for Ashes’: A Biography, Books at a Glance, March 23, 2015, http://booksataglance.com/book-reviews/amy-carmichael-beauty-for-ashes-a-biography.

[18] See http://www.prpbooks.com/search?query=Reformed+Expository+commentary&records=10.

Aimee Byrd is a member of New Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland, married with three children, author of Housewife Theologian and Theological Fitness, and is a cohost on The Mortification of Spin podcast. Ordained Servant Online, December 2015.

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