Monday, March 26, 2012

why women should read more theology (what I'm reading: Tony Reinke's Lit!)

Do you find it easy, or hard, to read books? Either way, this one's for you.

Top of the list of books I've read recently is Tony Reinke's Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. I'm an avid reader, and I learned heaps about what and how to read. If you struggle to read, I suspect you'll find this book even more helpful.

Maybe you want to read more, but don't know where to start. Maybe you love books, but your reading feels a little aimless. Reinke covers it all, first with a great theology of books, then with a whole heap of practical tips about how to choose and read books.

This week I've chosen a quote that encourages women to read theological books about Jesus. Next week, I'll go for the other end of the scale, and share something about why we should read novels. Just so you can't say I've left anything - or anyone - out!

Theologically weighty books about Christ are essential for the soul—for men and women. And although women purchase the majority of books released by Christian publishers, women are far less likely to read theological books, writes counselor and author Elyse Fitzpatrick. In her 2003 evaluation of the Christian publishing industry, she writes, “Many women are intimidated by the thought of studying something that is ‘theological’ in nature. They are afraid of being bored, looking foolish, becoming unattractive to men, or becoming divisive.”...

She confronts women who would rather read only novels as a way to escape personal disappointments, and who read these books to “build fantasy castles filled with knights on white steeds who will come to rescue her from her mundane, stressful, empty, or disappointing life.” Rather, she offers this challenge: “Let’s become known as a generation of women who delight in, tremble before, receive counsel from, drink, devour, digest, muse upon, and absolutely cherish God and the truth that He’s revealed about Himself and about ourselves. Let’s not worry about whether we look dumb or too smart.”...

If women commit to reading books of solid theology, their knowledge of Christ will grow..."This is the most delightful pursuit any woman could ever know."
(And who should you read? Reinke suggests, among others, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards, John Owen, JI Packer, Don Carson, John Stott, John Piper and CH Mahaney. On the topic of Christ, I'd add Tim Chester and Tim Keller. A good place to start is John Stott's The Cross of Christ and Tim Keller's King's Cross - or how about this one, which I haven't read, but it's by The Don, and that's all the recommendation I need: Don Carson's Scandalous: The cross and resurrection of Jesus.)

Quote is from Tony Reinke Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books pages 96-97.


Unknown said...

Spurgeon! Definitely Spurgeon. Reading him got me into reading theology.

And also John Macarthur. And JI Packer. And all the ones you already said. =)

Jean said... could I miss Spurgeon...thanks for adding that, Maddi! Every time I read a quote from him it changes my life, so I'm sure you're right! :)

I haven't read John Macarthur but I know he's good. And JI Packer was already on my list - of course! :) Knowing God, Knowing God, Knowing God...

Love Jean.

Tamie said...

I suspect part of the reason women don't read theological books is because they're largely written by men (as is the case with those in your list) and to an implicitly male audience.

And when women do write, they tend to write on practical themes like marriage and family - less on the theological topics of Calvin, Carson, Stott et al.

That's not to say women shouldn't or can't read those guys (of course!) but I wonder whether there's a real opportunity and need for theology written by women. I like Wendy Alsup's 'Practical Theology for Women' as a good place to start. My experience has been that it is accessible enough for women who had previously 'just read novels' and also gave them enough confidence and thirst that they then wanted to go further. But I'd love to see more!

Tamie said...

PS Do others have suggestions of women who write theology?

I've heard people mention Elyse Fitzpatrick, Nancy Guthrie, Elisabeth Elliott, Lydia Brownback? They're all American though and maybe write more devotional or practical material than theology?

Jean said...

Claire Smith (Aus), Carolyn McCulley (US), Sharon James (UK) - all excellent, all women's issues.

Kirten Birkett (Aus) - good on a range of stuff.

Nancie Guthrie (US?) - a helpful guide to Hebrews.

Elyse Fitzpatrick (US) - biblical counselling, Christian life; excellent.

Lots of other good ones on family life etc including Elisabeth Elliot and Edith Shaeffer.

Nothing I know of (except that Hebrews commentary and Wendy Alsup) on general theology, or theology of Christ, for women.

Seems like a bit of a gap when you think about it...

As you say, the guys are still well worth reading for us women. And there are some accessible ones among them. But you've raised an interesting question!

Rachael said...

What a great encouragement. Perhaps I'll yet finish all those books on my shelf.

Karen said...

Thanks for this encouragement Jean. I've been chatting to a few friends during the past week about why Christian women find it so hard to read Christian books (after very low numbers at our recent ladies book discussion). I was going to blog about it too. I think it takes practice and discipline to get into the habit of reading good Christian books, we don't seem to have any trouble reading other books that we want to read so I don't think it's necessarily a time or busy-ness problem.

We read John Macarthur's The Murder of Jesus for our last book chat. It was an excellent read in the Easter lead-up. I'd never found such a great weaving together of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus' death, and Macarthur linked back to many OT prophets as well.

Tamie said...

Yeah, those were the ones I could think of as well. It's not that women aren't writing, but the areas seem to be limited.

How do you think this relates to your earlier post about being a helper Jean? If a woman's life and ministries are to be so tied up in her husband's, ought we expect to see women writing much general theology at all?

Jean said...

It definitely looks like I need to add John Macarthur to my list - and read something by him! :)

Jean said...

Tamie, that is a great question and similar to what I've been pondering. I will get back to you on that one.

Jean said...

Hi Tamie,

I have a spare 10 minutes so will have a go at responding, but my thoughts are very unformed on this one.

Is it to do with us being "helpers"? I think so.

If our role is, in part, to support male teaching authority in the church and in the home, and to teach and train younger women in godly womanhood (Titus 2:3-5), this will inevitably affect us in all kinds of ways.

Being a theologically trained pastor who teaches the Bible every week clearly gives you a great base for writing theological books! There are very few who write the kinds of theological books about Jesus that will be read by many 1000s anyway. Given that the majority of women will get married, and will "help" their husbands in their studies and work, this will make it much harder for most of us to devote huge amounts of time to years of theology college and the kind of theological reading that would equip you to write a book, even if we have the inclination. Having written a PhD on theology, I'm painfully aware of how much reading and reflection it takes!

That's one reason why single women are more likely to stand out in the book-writing field, because they have the time and energy to do so (1 Cor 7).

As for the topics covered by women: if our job is to teach and train younger women in godly womanhood, this will tend to shape the kinds of topics we read and reflect about and teach on, and hence the kinds of books we write.

The gifted teachers and writers amongst us women aren't up the front of church every week, unfolding the whole counsel of God to a congregation. We are probably teaching women in smaller contexts. This will definitely include hard work on the Bible and theology: the person of Christ, the sovereignty of God etc. This is the necessary foundation for everything we say about godly living. But it's not our role to take primary responsibility to establish and defend the theological foundation for a church.

So yes, there are some women who write "pure" theology. More often, it's applied. And even more often, it's applied to women, because it's our responsibility to teach women.

Into that mix you also have to throw the distinctive nature of men and women as created by God. This is a harder topic to think and write about, because there's no clear biblical teaching that says, "God made men to generally have these strengths, and women to generally have these strengths". So you're in the field of speculation - and speculation that goes against the majority beliefs of our culture, too!

But it's probably true to say that women tend to be more relational. Men tend to be more task and work and "idea" oriented. God probably did make us like this to fulfil our roles! This will affect our strengths and the kinds of books we write. Of course, you will have some women who excel in the "ideas" field, and some men who really excel in the relational field. That's inevitable, and that's where we get a Kirsten Birkett or a Claire Smith - not to say they don't excel relationally too, just that they certainly excel with ideas!!

None of this lets the rest of us women off the hook of doing the hard work of thinking and understanding and teaching the Bible. It's not an excuse for intellectual laziness. Indeed, only a woman with a firm grasp of the character of God and the glories of the cross will have a firm foundation for her godly teaching, relating and living. She alone will "fear God" and will not "fear what is frightening" and thus will be able to serve God with all her heart in the roles he's given her (Prov 31, 1 Pet 3).

*Phew* Just a few random reflections. Feel free to add your own!

Love Jean.

Tamie said...

Thanks for your reflections Jean.

I think I probably see 'supporting male teaching authority in the church and home' as broader than letting men do the teaching to mixed congregations while women take care of the women.

I've been considering whether complementarity plays out at a different level from just which sphere we operate in or what we have responsibility for. In this case, it might be that women's theological reflection can enhances men's theological reflection as well. We see things differently; we have different perspectives. Even if men have the primary responsibility for theological clarity, they can be 'helped' by women's theological inputs. That's not to make women primarily responsible for theological teaching but to give them a role in contributing to and supporting it.

If this is the case, women's ministry isn't the only sphere for women's theological reflection. (Though obviously I'm not wanting to degrade or overlook women's ministry!)

So I wonder whether there's an aspect of complementarity of women to men in general that we're overlooking in our quest to be 'helper' to one man?

Jean said...

from Liz...

"I read Lit late last year, so thanks for the reminder of those things which I decided were a priority for my reading... I really enjoyed Lit and it has challenged me about what I read, why and how much time I allow for it.

One quick "typo" correction - should it be CJ Mahaney (not CH)?"

Oops - thanks Liz! :)

Jean said...

Hi Tamie,

I thoroughly agree with what you say here:

"It might be that women's theological reflection can enhances men's theological reflection as well. We see things differently; we have different perspectives. Even if men have the primary responsibility for theological clarity, they can be 'helped' by women's theological inputs. That's not to make women primarily responsible for theological teaching but to give them a role in contributing to and supporting it."

That's very helpfully put - thank you!

Yes, I agree. One of the unfortunate results of a kind of reactionary, knee-jerk complementarianism is that it can down this kind of mutual, theological encouragement between men and women. It can make women unwilling to speak up in front of men as brothers in Christ, even in contexts and ways that would be helpful; and men uncomfortable with or unwilling to listen to women and learn from them as sisters in Christ. Which is such a pity!

I love the "brother/sister" language and the richness of mutual encouragement it implies.
And you're right, although I'd never thought of it like this: writing books (or blog posts! :) ) can be one way to enable this kind of mutual encouragement.

You've given me a lot to think about...

Love Jean.

Jean said...

I meant "play down" not "down" :)