Book Review: Womanly Dominion: More Than a Gentle and Quiet Spirit
Maureen Dowd, an influential columnist for the New York Times, recently suggested that feminism is not working for women. In a piece entitled “Blue Is the New Black,” published in September 2009, she wrote
In the early ’70s, breaking out of the domestic cocoon, leaving their mothers’ circumscribed lives behind, young women felt exhilarated and bold. But the more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved….According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.
This piece—and the growing body of studies and literature like it—honestly poses the question, Do women in a modern world, faced with complex choices previous generations could not imagine, have to be unhappy? Is there a calling in which women can find lasting happiness?
Mark Chanski, a Reformed Baptist pastor in Holland, Michigan, thinks there is. The author of the excellent Manly Dominion (Calvary, 2007), Chanski has recently published Womanly Dominion,a companion text to his treatise on biblical manhood. In 200 crisp, scripturally saturated pages, Chanski charts an engaging course for Christian womanhood in a feminist age.
WOMANLY DOMINION: CHRISTIAN WOMANHOOD IN A FEMINIST AGE
The text’s central metaphor is a soccer game. A futbol enthusiast, Chanski exhorts women to “play your position” in a cultural climate that encourages rebellion against biblical gender roles.
Chanski grounds his argument in the dominion texts of Genesis 1:27-28, and this dominion-based approach shapes his perspective on biblical womanhood at every turn. Early on, he urges that
Godly women, made in the image of God, mustdaily tell themselves: “Win it!” to the glory of God. [Women] must for the long haul, for the entire game, contest after contest, resolve to put forth maximum effort to rule and subdue their daily challenges, so help them God. (21)
From the stories he shares, Chanski’s own wife seems to fit this mold. At one point, he recounts her constant activity devoted to the welfare of her family:
My bride of 25 years strikingly imitates her subduing God. I constantly stand in appreciative awe of her extensive and detailed calendars and to-do lists. Dianne diligently plots out her week with calculated premeditation. She synchronizes her short term goals with the annual and monthly calendar appointments. Out of this she forges to-do lists for each day of the week. Then she relentlessly crosses out those task challenges one by one….With this vigorous spirit, my wife subdues the chaos and overcomes the obstacles before her, creating order and stability in our family’s otherwise disheveled world. (29)
I can testify to a similar experience in my own home. As Dianne Chanski and so many other Christian women do, my wife works quietly at a number of thankless tasks, honoring the Lord, refuting by her daily life false stereotypes and straw (wo)men.
There is much to chew on in the book, which will be highly useful for parents training daughters, men seeking to learn more about biblical womanhood, and more. Here are a few of the subjects it tackles:
- The inspiring effect of unknown mothers of famous men (42)
- The struggles of single mothers (127)
- Training girls to develop their minds without acquiescing to the vocational expectations of the culture (148)
- A balanced but honest approach to appearance, including Chanski’s exhortation to women to take care of their bodies without obsessing over looks (173)
- Helpful words for single women who want to be married (186)
- Commentary on girls and athletics (213)
MATTERS TO THINK OVER
I would point out just a few quibbles. Womanly Dominion, in my opinion, would benefit from increased reference to modern commentators who share Chanski’s perspective (there are many). Also, while Chanski’s sports metaphors may play well with some women, others will struggle to comprehend them.
There is a more significant matter to mention regarding the text. The book needs a stronger grounding in the gospel as the means to achieve the life of womanly dominion. This is not to say that Chanski does not comprehend the importance of the gospel in his writing and ministry. It is also not to say that the book does not reference in numerous places the importance of the gospel, the gracious providence of God, and the role of the Holy Spirit in supernaturally creating a spirit of dominion in women (see, for example, 120-21, 150-51, 182-84, 190-91). The gospel is in this text; the power of God is regularly referenced in this text.
But this already helpful book would grow considerably stronger by weaving a gospel perspective throughout the book, rather than just mentioning it in passing late in the book. It’s not enough to preach Genesis 1:27-28. Rather, it needs to be preached from the very beginning through a gospel grid. Maybe something like this: “Let’s confess that we haven’t fulfilled our dominion. But Christ has, which is great news! You no longer have to justify yourself by beingthe perfect Proverbs 31 woman. Now, resting entirely in his grace and freedom, let’s win it!” Only the gospel creates a spirit of dominion and empowers women to triumph over their sin and discouragement in living to the glory of God. Without such a mini-biblical theology, it is regrettably possible that some women might be intimidated or even feel condemned by Chanski’s bold style and frequent imperatives.
I have no doubt that Chanski believes this gospel and grounds his life and ministry in it. And one need not—must not—sacrifice exhortation on the altar of encouragement. But the gospel needs to occupy the center of this text, in terms of both content and hermeneutics.
THE LIFE OF WOMANLY DOMINION: NOT EASY BUT WORTH IT
Chanski nowhere suggests that the life of womanly dominion is easy. He makes it clear that women who are called to marriage, homemaking, and motherhood will face challenges, sometimes significant ones. Raising children is hard. Running a home is difficult, especially with a busy husband. Stresses from a hundred directions can swallow up joy and contentment.
Faced with these realities, Chanski does not mince words. Neither does he sidestep difficult issues such as sports, daycare, and working outside of the home, which Christians sometimes avoid, yet which faithfulness to Scripture calls us to think through. Indeed, the weight of these realities makes it all the more necessary that women constantly remember the vivifying power of the gospel and apply it to their circumstances, their challenges, their temptations.
With the caveats noted above, Womanly Dominion is a useful book. It may bless the church most by showing us that it is not choice for its own sake that will bless women and bring them happiness. Only making the right choice—living according to passages such as Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and Titus 2—can satisfy these ends. If that seems rather simple, perhaps it is because the Lord made it so, in order that women of varied backgrounds, gifts, and times might experience the joy of living for Christ as a woman of dominion through the power of the indwelling Spirit.
Owen Strachan is Instructor of Christian Theology at Boyce College. He is the author of the five-volume Essential Edwards Collection (with Doug Sweeney; Moody, 2010).
 In fact, this review was developed in close consultation with Mrs. Strachan.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.