Tag Archives: #books

Tackling the hard questions about being a Christian woman

I’m a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to a lot of things. I don’t like Summer because its too hot. I don’t like Winter because it’s too cold. I like Spring because it’s juuuust right. I’m like this with films and books too. It’s a classic but it’s too long. It’s entertaining but it’s too fluffy.

Well, I read a lot of books about women, about Christianity and about christian women. I struggle sometimes because they are too academic, or they are written by someone who is well meaning and learned, but not with an eye to the realities of some of the chaos of life, or the reality of being a woman that is less than Utopian. But I also wince when they are too light-weight and not biblically grounded enough. It’s hard to find books that are just right.

I am always on the hunt for books about being a Christian woman in the real world that help me wrangle with how to be a Christian mum, how to process issues of the day, how to be a Christian (and a complementarian) in a secular workplace and how to exercise complementarianism as a single mum.

If you haven’t had to grapple with the complementarian and egalitarian issues as yet, here’s a quick overview: These are the two primary positions on male-female relationships. Egalitarians say that men and women are equal in value and equal in function. We are the same in every way, holding and exercising equal authority and with no barrier to any activity, including preaching. Complementarians say that men and women are equal in value and different in function. This stance says that men are tasked with primary authority and that we are made for, and (should) exercise, different functions. And while there are degrees within this position, this includes a restriction on some things, most notably holding positions of authority over men.

That’s a very thumbnail sketch but we’re talking the gist of things here.

Personally, I am a complementarian. In all my Bible and commentary reading, it still seems to me to be the most biblically correct position. This is different to my egalitarian sisters and I would just say that this difference of opinion does not define my relationship with them, as there is far more fundamentals that we agree on than issues that we don’t. There are many areas we can respectfully disagree and still rejoice in Christ together.

Where my complementarian belief leaves me personally though, is working through what is the biblical application in my real and (very) messy life.

I have read a lot of books that have been helpful. Notably Hannah Anderson’s Made for More, Courtney Reissig’s Accidental Feminist, Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design and Claire Smith’s God’s Good Design.

Kathleen Nielson’s book Women of God however, is an absolute cracker.

The tag line of the book is “Hard questions. Beautiful truth.” and it certainly lives up to this. Throughout the book, Nielson raises, and tackles, questions that have been in the forefront of my mind, and those of some of my Christian sisters, for a long time. Her style is to pose a question, answer it from the Bible, but then keep asking “But what about….”

This is the great encouragement in this book. She recognises that shallow or trite answers might be true, but as women’s lived experience is deeper, so must be the answers. So she keeps asking until she bottoms out each issue.

Sometimes they are not necessarily easy truths. For example, there is an order of creation and that can be a difficult truth to reconcile and live out when our inclinations might strain against it. But what Nielson does is help to put the question into context and, because she keeps asking questions, she can help us to understand the nuance and beauty of the truth as it is meant to be – not what we might immediately assume it to be.

As an example, she tackles the order of creation and how historically, church elders have assumed that meant that women were in some way inferior to men, or “limited in the way they bear the image of God – in comparison to the way men do.” What she then shows is that God’s creation of women revealed man’s great need (man’s alone-ness is the only thing in creation that is “not good”) and then reveals woman as God’s great gift to complete creation so that it was good.

But then she keeps going – how woman’s role as “helper” is in no way demeaning; how it is wrong to apply order of creation theology to a secular workplace, to which this Scripture does not speak; how the intentionality of order of creation places a burden on man as the teacher and leader – not because woman is incapable, but because that is what God has tasked man to do. “This makes sense:” says Nielson “to lead means to go out before, so that others follow. Eve cannot bear that leadership responsibility because she wasn’t there before.” That might seem like an accident of circumstance, but with God, there are no accidents – so we must look into what this order of creation means.

She notes strongly that man is cursed because he failed to perform his primary responsibility to lead. This doesn’t cancel out Eve’s sin, but Adam’s sin is equally bad. Her sin is giving in to temptation. His sin was that, as the first created, he was to obey God and lead his wife (which includes leading her in the one law of Eden about the tree, which was given to him before Eve was created). He failed. And he was cursed.

This starts putting things into perspective. Order is not about inferiority. Its actually much bigger. Its about God’s plan for all of creation. This is hard for us because we can’t conceptualise that big. And “we often live in a way that assigns value according to roles” and God didn’t ascribe value to each role – our value is completely equal. It is us who ascribes value to the different roles of men and women and that’s what we strain against.

That is not to say that our differing roles haven’t resulted in terrible realities for some women and Nielson acknowledges this terrible sinfulness in our clumsy and sometimes wicked application of Scripture. But her aim is to get back to what God intended. She does this in an engaging and accessible way and at the same time really excavating through layers of questions that we all have about difficult passages of the Bible in the Old and New Testaments, and how they are applied.

This is a great book for avid readers and newcomers to the subject alike. It is a great read and by the time I got to the end, I felt so much more informed about what complementarianism means in practical application – in real life. I would also say it is a worthwhile read whatever your position is as there is helpful biblical wisdom in here. Most of all though, this book left me feeling so much more informed on reading and applying biblical wisdom from God’s revelation on women and so much more confident about the person God created me to be.

The pitfalls of “Oh so relatable”

It’s nice when people say they like my stuff. I write about things because they are issues that I wrangle with, or because its bits of the Bible I like, or sometimes just because I’m a chronic over-sharer. But when people say “oh, she’s so relatable” I feel a little worried and I have to assess what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. Not because I don’t want to be relatable, but because “relatable” has taken on a meaning of its own these days.

To relate to someone used to simply mean, to empathise or make a connection with someone. “To relate” was a verb – a doing word. These days, to be relatable means showing characteristics, attitudes and behaviours that are considered “the norm”, or that are thought to be the position of the most people. Saying someone is relatable means they represent that majority. It’s a noun – something we ascribe to someone.

The trouble is that terms like “relatable” have become woven into our modern fabric of what is considered to be what normal and reasonable people think and feel. And that’s a judgement call based on what side of a particular issue you’re on.

No more so than in Christian circles. We are called to be growing disciples of Jesus who gather in His name and are a priesthood of believers, displaying His glory to the ends of the earth.

How we do that has been a matter of great conjecture throughout history.

On one end of the spectrum, you might have Humanity – by that I mean all compassion, all about the feels and the person. At the other end you have Theology – and by that I mean dry and lifeless and highly academic. On that spectrum then the application might end up as Relatable on the one side and Sanctimonious on the other. See my diagram below (and if you follow me regularly, you’ll know I do all my own graphics).

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If we are all about the Humanity, we can fall into the trap of thinking God just wants us to be happy, or that God is all about love (but forget the judgement for sin part). It can even make us so indistinguishable from the world – so relatable in fact – that we don’t look Christian at all.

On the other hand, if we all about the theology, we can forget that our churches are made of real life people who live in the real world with difficult jobs, and fractured relationships, and high anxiety and eating disorders and abuse and debt and all the things that go along with being a human. We can be so academic in our theology that we forget to care. We become sanctimonious, dolling out judgement from our ivory tower – forgetting that we are called to love as well as to teach and correct.

We need both Theology and Humanity. I don’t mean that we go half way and sit on the fence without going one way or the other. No, we are Christian and we will boast in Jesus Christ and that precludes fence sitting. It calls for boldness and it calls us to be active participants in the gospel.

How do we do that with Theology and Humanity? We need to know our scriptures so we can be discerning and wise in our own lives, and true and honest Christian brothers and sisters to each other. We need enough theology that we know when to correct each other and hold each other accountable, but we need enough Humanity so we can support each other in love and understand the context we are all coming from.

If I am a sanctimonious ass, I will not be able to talk to drug addicts or porn addicts or prisoners or people who are bonking outside of marriage, or divorcees, or transvestites, or people who have fallen away or drunkards or people who have been abused or gay people – or anyone who is outside what I think is proper.

If I am a relatable flake, my theology might be cherry picked to fit what will make people happy, or make them like me more. I might even not have a good grounding in the Bible, either because my focus is on the people rather than the scripture, or because I read it, but don’t study it theologically.

So I want to be relatable – but as a Christian would understand it. I want to re-define this term for Christians. We should be relatable in that we acknowledge our failings and flaws. We empathise with each other and seek to understand where we are coming from. We walk with people who are not the perfect model (which is about 100% of us!). This is what Jesus did – he walked with people. He sought out the people who were the opposite of the perfect model. He hung out with criminals and outsiders and foreigners. He talked to them. He loved them. He brought them along with him.

But he pulled no punches in his teaching. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He told them the truth.

Jesus was relatable (he was fully man as well as fully God). Jesus had humanity – he understood people and treated them with love and compassion. Jesus had the ultimate wisdom of theology – he taught clearly and explicitly what following meant, both in terms of our eternal salvation, as well as the cost to us in this life.

Our theology needs to be applied in real life contexts. That doesn’t mean we bend the theology to fit. But it does mean that we lift our theology off the page and apply it unique and individual situations – just like Jesus did.

So hopefully I am relatable in that I am a single mum of two boys, holding down a full time job, studying theology part time and writing instead of doing any housework. But hopefully I also apply what I am learning through Christ in wise and discerning ways – imperfectly, but trying.

To help us all do that, I can highly recommend some kind of formal study. There are heaps you can do online – and from any country:

There are others you can do on campus or by evenings/intensives (I’ve been doing a Bachelor of Theology by this method for the last 6 years at Sydney Missionary and Bible College):

And if you think that’s not for you – maybe think again. The last time I was at uni, we hand wrote our essays and laughed at why we would need this new-fangled thing called the “world wide web” when we had a library just over there!! That’s how fast the world has moved since the 90s. I’m just saying maybe you could do this, individually or with your study group.

But, in the meantime, if you want to do some more reading to supplement your Bible study, these authors are a good source (some are more nerdy than others, but its good to have a range, right?):

You can also keep up to date with conferences – my readers in other countries – please leave comments on good conferences where you are (although they also have online resources at some of these below)! In Australia:

So lets be real people, people. But let’s know our theology and lets live it, with obedience and wisdom and reverent awe, faith and joy – and with our eyes on him.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

 

Which book of the Bible should I choose?

What do you think?

I’m thinking about blogging through one book of the Bible – a chapter a week. People can follow on and post comments. That way anyone and everyone can engage and interact. Or, you can just follow along if you like.

The idea is to treat it a bit like an online Bible study. In the future this might develop as I find new and interesting ways to use features on my Facebook page, but right now I’d like to start this way to see how it works. I’d love to get some online fellowship going!!

SO – what book of the Bible should I choose? Is there a book you’d love to look at with other women? Is there a book you’re not that familiar with and would like to understand more? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or send me an email!

Ruth xx

PS if you want to engage on Facebook, here’s the link 🙂

https://m.facebook.com/meetmewhereiam/

Top 10 Christian books to feed your faith

I do love a Top 10, but sometimes they can get a bit same-y. I’m also always on the hunt for more good Christian books though. So here’s a list of 10 gems I’ve read, that you may not have seen on other lists. There’s a mix Christian living, theology, missions, history and biography so hopefully there’s something for everyone. I’ve added a link to where you can buy each book, and read more about it. Most books are available from Koorong in Australia. All are also available from Book Depository for non-Aussies.

1. One Forever by Rory Shiner (Matthias Media)

This is a short and easy read but it packs a punch. Shiner unpacks what it means to be “in Christ”. It’s something we say a lot, but do we really understand it? And, understand it in a way that truly impacts our emotions, thoughts and behaviours? I read this book across two afternoons but it stayed with me for ages as I processed it. It helped me look afresh at my relationship with Christ in a really profound and helpful way.

Very readable, under $10 AUD from Matthias Media – you can find it here if you want to buy.

2. Made for More by Hannah Anderson (Moody Publishers)

Hannah Anderson in American. I know how that sounds, but if you live outside of the US, usually we have a horrid habit of rolling our eyes a bit. We expect books from America to be a bit more “ra-ra-ra” than we’re used to. Well let me dispel the myth. Anderson’s book on living in God’s image is beautifully written, thought provoking, specific and practical. As I read, I got some very clear ideas about how to apply the teaching in my day to day life.

Readable, but worth taking some time over. Also a good candidate for reading with a friend or small group. You can get either hard copy or ebook here at Koorong or for the same price at Book Depository.

3. Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity By Paul Barnett (InterVarsity Press)

This is one for the history nerds (of which I am one), but is very readable for non-nerds! I get fascinated by the history of the earliest church and Paul Barnett is one of the best historians and writers in my view. He’s the kind of writer who writes history like it’s a story book. This book is completely enthralling and helped me to see so much more in the gospels and Acts by knowing the historical background and culture of the time.

Very readable but probably not for everyone. If you want to have a run at some history, this is a great place to start. If you’re already well versed in history, this is also a cracker. Barnett has that ability to reach a broad audience. You can get it at Koorong but sadly it’s a lot cheaper at Book Depository.

4. Tyndale by David Teems (Thomas Nelson Publishers)

OK this is history too, but it’s biography so it’s a big life story. Tyndale is one of the most influential people of all time – he translated the Bible into English. It was the 16th century in England and he was so devoted to God and to the Bible and to making it accessible to people, that he endured enormous hardship, persecution and exile (and eventual execution). He loved language and would not stop until he had faithfully translated the whole book. His efforts changed the world as it was known.

A stunningly written book. It changed my view of the pages of scripture itself and the hardship endured to allow people like me to read God’s word for myself.

This one is cheaper at Koorong where you can get the hard copy and ebook.

5. Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen (InterVarsity Press)

This one was a life changer for me. Gary Haugen worked for the US Department of Justice and was involved in the investigation into the Rwandan genocide. From such a horrific experience, he founded the International Justice Mission (which also now has an arm in Australia). IJM focuses on freeing people from slavery and servitude at the same time as working with legislators and police departments to remove corruption. He is an incredible man and IJM is an incredible organisation. This book brought me face to face with the hideous evil of the world, at the same time as the beauty of the gospel and its power to change things through us.

Very readable – a must-read for everyone. Only about $18 AUD from Koorong.

6. Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas (Authentic Media)

Another biography but boy is it worth it! William Wilberforce converted to Christianity in his twenties. It was the 18th century and the industrial revolution was beginning. The slave trade was going full tilt. Wilberforce’s story is a wonderful story of conversion and a faith in God that led him to doggedly pursue the abolition of the slave trade in England, and the emancipation of all slaves in the British colonies. It was a life long battle and what he achieved was nothing short of stunning.

Highly readable. Metaxas is a journalist and knows how to bring a story to his audience. Available at Koorong.

7. True Feelings by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre (Crossways Books)

An unexpected gem. I think I bought this on a whim and it sat on my shelf for ages. When I read it I was super sorry I hadn’t read it before. I hadn’t really read anything on this subject before and, being grandly emotional myself, I found it fascinating and really useful. I looked again at the splendid array of my emotions, and why God gave them to me, and how I can channel them most usefully.

Highly readable, I read this in a few sittings. Also a good candidate to read with a friend of or small group. Available at Koorong in hard copy and ebook.

8. Holiness by J. C. Ryle (Moody Press)

This was another life changing book. I read the abridged version but this was meaty enough. I was interested in how to live a holy life, and what that truly looked like. The first chunk of the book was about sin and at first I was a little annoyed at having to wade through stuff I “already knew”. But I didn’t know. And as I read on, I was convicted so heavily of my sin that as I got the holiness part, I was completely ready to take it on board. Holy living without the conviction of guilt is just fakery. I just loved this book on so many levels. It’s quite old so the language is a bit old fashioned, but it’s still very readable – the language is not so different that it made it difficult to read. It’s available at Koorong in the classics section.

9. The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges (NavPress Publishing)

This is a classic. Bridges also wrote Respectable Sins which is also brilliant. This takes the reader through the fruits of the spirit and how they may be cultivated in our hearts. I love Bridges easy style and non-judgemental approach when talking about less than godly behaviours. This is a good one to work through by yourself or in a small group. It’s one I go back to every few years as a helpful corrective and encouragement.

Super readable and available at Koorong as hard copy and ebook.

10. My Seventh Monsoon by Naomi Reed (Authentic Media)

This is a simple autobiographical account of a woman and her husband and their journey to Nepal as missionaries. The story is compelling as you see a God working clearly and tangibly in every step of their journey. I was impressed by Naomi’s fortitude and courage (as I am with any mission worker). What kept me transfixed though was the clear knowledge that God had gone before them.

Beautiful, enthralling, thrilling. Available at Koorong in hard copy and as an ebook. This is the first of three books detailing their mission work.