Book Review: Women of the Word, by Jen Wilkin
Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Crossway, 2014. 160 pps. $12.99.
Christian women often chitchat about homemaking or parenting or marriage—all of which are worthy topics to consider—but many times they leave theology, the study of God, to their preachers, elders, and husbands. Maybe it’s because they don’t consider it their “role” or their spiritual calling—or maybe they simply haven’t considered it at all. Others might trust in Christ and love the Lord, but they don’t see the use in studying their Bibles; after all, they hear God’s Word from the pulpit every week. Still others might consider the task of studying the full breadth of the Bible too daunting, especially in the face of other God-given responsibilities.
If I’m honest with myself, I think I find myself in the latter camp. See, I’ve been a Christian for less than a decade, and I find myself blessed (and busy!) with a husband in graduate school and three little ones. Just this week, I sat with a group of Christian women, ranging in age from silver-haired grandmothers to twenty-somethings with pregnant bellies. In response to one of the rabbit trails our conversation traveled down, one of the women, somewhere in the middle of that age spectrum, said something to the extent of “It’s not like any of us have anything on our to-do list.” And we all laughed. Heartily.
Because, of course, a Christian woman’s life is very full. Jobs, families, ministry responsibilities, and more seem to crowd out any possible study time, especially any comprehensive study of the whole Bible. After all, my ESV Study Bible is nearly 3,000 pages long. That’s a lot of studying!
But as I looked around at all of those women laughing about their crazy long to-do lists, I realized that maybe life is always going to feel busy? Maybe that’s not a good excuse for not digging into the Word in a meaningful way? Still, it does seem a formidable undertaking.
A BOOK FOR BIBLICAL LITERACY
And that’s where Jen Wilkin and her slim book Women of the Word comes in. The Dallas-based speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies writes in her introduction that this book is for women looking “to face squarely the mountain of their fragmented understanding of Scripture.”
Wilkin makes a convincing case for biblical literacy, which she defines as a steady movement toward knowledge and understanding. When we don’t take our Bible reading as seriously as we should, the result can be devastating. Wilkin writes, “Rather than acting as salt and light, we become bland contributions to the environments we inhabit and shape, indistinguishable from those who have never been changed by the gospel.” In other words, the stakes are high. The glory of Jesus Christ is in play.
THE PINBALL APPROACH
She also lists six less-than-helpful approaches to Bible reading, from the Xanax Approach, which treats the Bible as a self-help book, to the Magic 8 Ball Approach, which treats the Bible as a crystal ball: shake it, open it at random, and find answers to life’s most difficult questions! I’ll be honest again. I know better; I’ve been taught and discipled better, but right now I’m exhibiting Wilkin’s Pinball Approach, ricocheting from a few chapters in Exodus to a verse or two in the Psalms to some good ole passages in Philippians, with no real rhyme or reason.
All of these approaches, each a kind of cherry-picking, leads to a limited view of God and the Christian life. One way of addressing these problems is by employing a plan. Thankfully, Wilkin has one, and if you’re a fan of alliteration, you’ll like it all the more because she titles it the “Five P’s of Sound Study.”
THE FIVE Ps OF SOUND STUDY
Wilkin suggests we Study with Purpose by keeping the big picture of the Bible in mind when reading particular chapters or verses. We should also Study with Perspective by researching the context and with Patience by employing this fruit of the Spirit both in the weeds of Bible comprehension and in waiting for it to yield dividends.
Wilkin continues her plan and goes into fine detail when explaining how we are to Study with Process. Basically, she recommends three questions to guide our process: “What does the Scripture say?” “What does the Scripture mean?” and “How should the Scripture change me?”
Lastly, Wilkin recommends we Study with Prayer and, for a sixth and bonus P, with People.
A CHALLENGING CONCLUSION
The book concludes with a statement that is both challenging and a rallying cry: Women, like all people, become what they behold. Wilkin’s seventh-grade self longed to be like blond-haired Meg, so Wilkin studied her and bought clothes like her and adjusted her speech to sound like her. Christians, too, are called to be imitators, not of Meg, but of the lovely and completely worthy Christ, the Son of God. To do this, we need to actively study up on this God. To that end, Wilkin writes, “We will not wake up ten years from now and find we have passively taken on the character of God.”
That hits me like a soccer ball in the stomach, especially as I seek to be a good mom and a good wife and a light to the world and one who is worthy of the calling I have received.
Women of the Word is a prescient book that not only convicts women readers of the absolute necessity of theology, but also offers an accessible plan for correcting this shortcoming. Wilkin even goes a step further, presenting a vision for what will happen if Christian women do become faithful readers of His word. “Study well the contours of his face,” she writes. “Let gazing on his loveliness touch mind and heart. And be transformed.”
Starting Wilkin’s 5 Ps is one of my New Year’s resolutions, though, to be honest, the plan is not so formidable or daunting to prevent you from employing it in your quiet times tomorrow.