Two books don't qualify as a pile. Three books don't really, either. Four books do. In recent months, I have accumulated a pile of thoughtful, substantive new books about women. I'd like to celebrate this good work, and to make a few general observations about four books and their authors.
1.) The four books are written by articulate, biblically grounded women from various cultural contexts. Carrie Sandom (Different by Design: God's Blueprint for Men and Women) serves in women's ministry at St. John's Church, Tunbridge Wells, UK, and trains women Bible teachers with Proclamation Trust and Cornhill Training Course in London. Diana Lynn Severance (Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History) is director of the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University, and has taught in a number of seminaries and universities. Claire Smith (God's Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women) is a well-respected writer and speaker in her homeland of Australia. Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (True Woman 101: Divine Design) hail respectively from Canada and the United States, and have both been blessed with thriving ministries. Kassian has published Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, and many know DeMoss through her radio ministry (Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him) as well as through bestseller books such as Lies Women Believe.
This is only a small smattering of the cultural and global diversity for which we long, as God's people. But it's encouraging. It's women's voices. It's women's voices from a few different countries and continents, and with quite different sets of experiences. It's a good addition to the mixed chorus of voices in the church.
2.) The authors of these four books share fundamental viewpoints but communicate those viewpoints in diverse ways. The books have in common a clear commitment to the complementarian teaching of Scripture (a commitment articulated in TGC's foundation documents). But the books deal with this teaching through a variety of approaches and emphases.
Different readers might prefer different approaches. Some of us might want to argue a point or two with one or another of these authors. We might not agree completely, and they might not agree completely with each other on various detailed applications and implications. Their approaches indeed vary. Claire Smith has written a book focused on rigorous study of key biblical texts---a book that is thorough and succinct in its analysis. Many will certainly find Smith's book refreshing and clarifying. True Woman 101 is a different category of book---a study guide for women, with eight lessons full of lively, colorful commentary through which the biblical teaching is delivered (along with additional resources available online). Many will certainly find this study captivating and convicting.
It's good for us to hear these different voices. It's also very good for us to hear these different voices' consistent affirmation of the basic biblical principles both of male and female equality before God, and of distinct, complementary male and female roles in church and marriage---principles rooted in creation and affirmed throughout Scripture.
3.) Most important, these four books are the work of women filled with God's Word and aiming to listen well (and to help others listen well) to that Word. Although each has a distinct voice and context, none uses her experience as the final determinant of her viewpoints; each aims primarily to light up truth according to God's Word.
It's helpful to note that none of these women spends all her time dealing with this one issue; these are women who clearly have worked to make themselves students and lovers of God's Word from beginning to end. Only when we are immersing ourselves in the whole Scriptures will we begin to be equipped to deal well with any one theme. Carrie Sandom shows the fruit of such immersion with a kind of biblical theology of men and women. Her book does not focus so much on deep textual analysis as on the broader picture---getting at the subject through more of an overview of the biblical storyline, and with a bit more discussion of societal issues and experiences. Many will certainly find her approach helpful and encouraging.
Diana Severance's book differs from the others in that it does not focus directly on studying the Word; her aim is to expose the (fascinating!) stories of Christian women throughout history, starting with New Testament times and then following the thread of believing women through the centuries to ours. She helps Christian women understand and value their heritage by illumining the significant role women have played in shaping it. Severance is doing church history, but she offers her words clearly in light of the Word that tells us what the church is all about. Part of her aim, as with all these authors in their own ways, is to clear away some of the common contemporary misconceptions that might inhibit our reading and rejoicing in Scripture's teaching about women and men.
These of course are just a few of the books "out there." We're surrounded these days by a steady flow of books on Christian views of men and women, offering perspectives both similar to and very different from these four. With so many voices coming from various angles, good questions to ask include:
- Is it clear that this writer's foundational commitment is to the authority of the Bible's words?
- Does this writer tend or not tend to add to the Bible's teaching, or to take away from the Bible's teaching?
- Does experience, crucial as it is, tend or not tend to get the first or final word?
- How evident is this writer's love for Jesus Christ and for the peace and purity of his church?
The issues are complex. We need to work hard to understand them biblically in times like these. That's one reason we can appreciate this particular pile of books; each one in the pile can help us get on with that work.
You'll meet some of these authors again through The Gospel Coalition. Carrie Sandom and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, for example, are among the plenary speakers at the June TGC women's conference in Orlando. The women's conference is not focused on gender issues; as we've put it, that conference is "for women but not all about women"! But we know these issues are prominent and crucial in our day, and we're thankful many thoughtful men and women are addressing them. May we all acknowledge and address these issues with God's grace and wisdom, and with our ears open to his Word.