A review of Jen Wilkin's 'Women of the Word'
I don't typically like to read Christian books for women, by women because so many read less like serious books and more like casual blog posts. Featuring fragmented sentences, they favor humor over hermeneutics — in my experience. But they sell. A walk down the aisle at your local Christian bookstore shows that titles in the women's Bible studies and Christian growth categories are popular. Still, for all the studies, there remains a high level of biblical illiteracy. Enter Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word. This is a petite, readable, yet meaty book. It fed my soul by way of my mind. And that's what makes it different and valuable.
A women's Bible study teacher and mom who sits under the preaching of Matt Chandler at The Village Church in Texas, Wilkin didn't always approach the Bible this way.
"For years I tried to love God with my heart to the neglect of my mind," she writes, "not recognizing my need to grow in the knowledge of the 'I AM.' Any systematic study of the Bible felt mechanical, even a little like an act of faithlessness or an admission that the Holy Spirit's insight during a quiet time wasn't enough for me. But I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know."
Wilkin invites women on a challenging journey to learn how to study their Bibles for themselves, for the purpose of enlarging their hearts as well as obeying the God they love. The two are inextricably linked. But you might never know it.
Emotion Isn't Enough
In our day, strong emotions take center stage. "She loves Jesus!" seems to be a popular go-to defense of women bloggers, speakers and authors who profess faith in Christ, at the very point where they're professing something other than orthodox Christianity. But alone, a swell of emotion toward the divine is no measure of salvation. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
It's wonderful when someone's heart overflows with affection for the Lord, but emotion alone isn't enough. John Piper rightly says, "The apex of glorifying God is enjoying him with the heart. But this is an empty emotionalism where that joy is not awakened and sustained by true views of God for who he really is." The way we know God truly in our hearts is through the right use of our minds.
Women of the Word begins with 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." "This," Wilkin writes, "is a book about equipping women through Bible study."
Before she shows us how we should study our Bibles, she exposes ways we likely already do but shouldn't. Things like looking for Bible verses that make you feel better about your circumstances ("The Xanax Approach"), reading whatever verse appears when you open your Bible ("The Pinball Approach"), and reading books about the Bible, rather than the Bible itself ("The Telephone Game Approach"). She says this is the chapter "you don't want to read" because the unhelpful ways of reading the Bible she talks about hit so close to home.
While these ways of study may look like faithful Bible study, Wilkin shows why they're problematic. For example: "The Xanax Approach makes the Bible a book about me. I ask how the Bible can serve me, rather than how I can serve the God it proclaims."
The Pinball Approach forgets that "[t]he Bible was not written to be read…with no thought to cultural, historical, or textual context, authorship, or original intent of the passage in question." And "The Telephone Game" neglects the fact that "we're called to love the Lord our God with all of our mind, not John Piper's mind" or Beth Moore's or Kay Arthur's or whomever your go-to author is.
The rest of this short book shows readers how to faithfully study the Bible. She devotes one chapter each to what she calls the "Five P's of Sound Study": Purpose, Perspective, Patience, Process and Prayer.
Five P's of Sound Study
Beginning with Purpose, she explains that all of the parts and pieces of the Bible — the many books, chapters, distinct styles, and countless stories — work together in a unified purpose: "to expand our understanding of the reign and rule of God." Understanding this purpose, or as some theologians call it, "the Big Picture" of the Bible — creation, fall, redemption and restoration — shapes our purpose in reading it.
How would it change your reading of the Old Testament law and prophets, the poetry, the history, and the wisdom literature if, instead of being disjointed parts of a whole, you understood them as intentionally pointing to one overarching message?
Once we see the cohesion of the Bible's big story, we're ready to unearth the historical context of the different books of the Bible. This step Wilkin calls Perspective. "Not only do all sixty-six books of the Bible tell one sweeping story, but each of those sixty-six books tells its own story, reflecting the character of God through a particular historical and cultural lens.… If we take the time to learn the cultural and historical perspective for a book of the Bible, we will better understand how to interpret and value it." Women of the Word is full of practical help for gaining this needed perspective.
Step three is well-timed. All this work to understand God's Word requires Patience. Wilkin doesn't downplay the effort required. "Bible study, like most skills of any value, requires discipline." She knows well the tendency we all have when something gets hard: "We give up, or we look for a shortcut." Jesus shows us a better way, "As for [the seed] in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). She encourages women to "view our interaction with the Bible as a savings account … Bible study is an investment with a long-term payoff."
The most helpful bit of advice in this book came for me in step four: Study with a Process, because unless it's a library book, I can't read without my pen in hand. My Bible, however, poses a dilemma. I want to write in the margins. But it's the Bible. And I read it and re-read it, so even though I write sparingly, I'm running out of room. Still, I want to engage with it. Ask questions of it. And write down what I'm thinking when I read it. It is here, while explaining her method of study, as opposed to a freewheeling "what does this verse mean to me?" approach, that Wilkin advised printing out a double-spaced copy of the text you're studying in 12-point font (cutting and pasting from a site like Biblegateway.com). That way you have room to really mark up the text. Underline. Color-code. Draw arrows. I love this. With printout in hand, you can dive into the steps in Wilkin's process: comprehending, interpreting and applying the text of Scripture you're studying. She poses each step as a question you can ask of the text: "What does it say?" "What does it mean?" and "How should it change me?"
The final step, Prayer, is "the most important of them all," says Wilkin. "Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself."
Wilkin's call to work hard to know God is a supremely satisfying challenge because God is the longing of our souls. And it is in God's Word that we learn most clearly about Him. Piper says, "While all of God's creation serves to reveal him in some way, he has willed that the clearest and most authoritative knowledge of him this side of heaven come through his written Word, the Bible."
All women are called to study God's Word. This book not only invited me to learn to study, it showed me from Scripture why I must. God calls all believers to obey Paul's charge to Timothy to "rightly handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Wilkin's Women of the Word is a powerful tool and faithful guide for obeying that command.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.