I came across a few books that are written by Christian women recently: Women and God by Kathleen Nielson, Telling the Gospel Through Story by Christine Dillon, Even Better Than Eden (and her podcast) by Nancy Guthrie, A New Day by Emma Scrivener. Before I met these books, I had a couple of bad experiences reading Christian books written by women. I’m not sure if I had read the wrong books at the wrong points of life or if there was something wrong with my understanding, I just didn’t appreciate them very much and had this lingering idea of “avoiding Christian books by women authors” at the back of my mind (shocking!). So I was a bit judgemental when I came to Women of the Word (the book that got the full force of my prejudice and judgemental-ness was Women and God, but thankfully that book softened my heart and calmed me down a bit).
I heard about Women of the Word through an interview on Ask Pastor John podcast in August this year. At the time, I was assigned the task of leading a seminar at JPCi Weekend Away (the November same year) on the topic of “Reading the Bible”. In the process of preparing for that, I had been struggling with John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally for months (I’ll explain my problem with that book in another post). However, Women of the Word showed me the big picture of studying the Bible and provided some overarching principles and tools which are immensely helpful. During the whole time I read the book, my question was: Why is this for women only? This is helpful for anyone who wants to read the Bible for themselves!
The aim of the book is to equip the readers with a study method. So in many ways, this book is similar to the excellent Dig Deeper series (read my reviews here and here). It does not explain the meaning of Bible passages for you; it teaches you how to do that yourself. It gives you a spoon (an illustration used by the author) to dig the mountain of biblical ignorance one spoonful at a time. You cannot imagine how excited I was when I read this. This is what I want! This is what I need! Also the need of so many international students during their brief time in Newcastle. Imagine how useful and fruitful this can be if they themselves are equipped for their own sake and when they take this method home around the world for the sake of the unreached!
Also the book is so thin (only 150+ pages)! I almost couldn’t believe it would do what it promised! I asked God to help me study the Bible, and this is one part of his multi-part answer to that prayer.
Here’s a summary of each chapter:
1. Turning Things Around
The author’s summary on page 34 is “God before me, mind before heart”. The first point is that the Bible is about God and not me. It might be an obvious point and we all know it. But we might still come to the Bible with the wrong questions in mind, ‘what should I do?’ ‘how do I make this decision?’ etc. Instead, we need to ask ‘what does this passage teach me about God’. The second point emphasises our mind and the knowledge of God. Our faith should not first and foremost be measured by or depend on our feelings and emotions. We are commanded to love the Lord with our mind as well as our heart. “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know”, therefore “finding greater pleasure in God will not result from pursuing more experiences of him, but from knowing him better”.
2. The Case for Bible Literacy
Firstly, this chapter gives the definition of Bible literacy and points out the danger of the “vagueness” of terms like “spending time in the Word”. Is our understanding and practice of “spending time in the Word” actually bearing fruit? I found that warning helpful. Then it lists the bad habits of Bible reading that we sometimes don’t realise. Lastly, it stresses the importance of Bible literacy. It’s as simple as know your Bible so you have a firm foundation to build your faith and Christian life on and do not give false teaching any chance. Simple but crucial.
3. Study with Purpose
Personally, I don’t think the chapter titles are the best. I don’t like people using words that start with the same letter (what it is called?) for the sake of it. This chapter, if you like a big word, is about the metanarrative of the Bible. We need to keep the bird’s-eye view and the big picture in mind wherever we parachute ourselves in the pages of the Bible. A few more resources on this topic that I found helpful (my recommendation, not the book’s):
- If you want to find out what the metanarrative/the big picture of the Bible is, one of the best books on the overview of the Bible is God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts. Also available as a free video course at clayton.tv/big with free handbooks and leaders’ manuals for small group Bible study.
- More on different levels of the context within the Bible, watch The Bible Project’s Plot in Biblical Narrative video. It’s so clear and concise, I haven’t seen a better job. The whole series of videos on How to Read the Bible are brilliant.
- Read about the Context Tool (chapter 3) and the Bible Timeline Tool (chapter 15) in Dig Deeper and see how this metanarrative works in action.
- Timothy Keller’s Preaching has two chapters on preaching the gospel and preaching Christ from all Scripture every time. Obviously, the book is about preaching and not personally studying God’s word but the principle is the same.
4. Studying with perspective
If you summarise the previous chapter as ‘studying with biblical context’, this chapter is about ‘studying with cultural and historical context’. The big word of this chapter is ‘exegesis’, which is the process of unearthing the original meaning of a passage in the ears of the original hearers in their historical and cultural background. It involves asking five ‘archaeological’ questions:
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- To whom was it written?
- In what style was it written?
- Why was it written?
I like the comparison between modern-day Roman citizens and modern-day Christians. You need to read it yourself to find out!
5. Study with Patience (my favourite chapter)
Frustration should be a natural and necessary element in the process of studying the Bible. Patience and discipline are much needed. Wrong expectations (e.g. ‘understanding the Bible should be effortless and instant’) can lead you astray. Study Bibles and commentaries need to stay in their place. There are some serious warnings in these pages that I’m very glad to receive.
6. Study with Process
This is the hands-on chapter! With the biblical context, the cultural and historical context in mind, as well as with patience and prayer (next chapter), this is the process you go through in any given passage:
- The comprehension question: “What does it say?”
- The interpretation question: “What does it mean?”
- The application question: “How should it change me?”
7. Study with Prayer
Pray a lot. Read John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally on this subject.
8. Pulling It All Together
A summary of the previous chapters and a worked example of the book of James.
9. Help for Teachers
It’s encouraging, inspirational and informative, especially for women teachers in churches. This book and a speaker I encountered recently made me consider a new way to serve fellow believers. I’m not sure where this leads me or how to get there, but it seems to me a correct direction to grow God’s Kingdom, so may his will be done.
I resonate with her comment on “follow the footnotes to see who shaped your author’s thinking. Then read what those people wrote as well. The footnotes are a gold mine for finding additional sources to consult.” It’s true for many of my familiar authors: with great passion, John Piper introduced to me William Tyndale, C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards and Mortimer Adler; Timothy Keller’s notes sections at the back of his books are almost as thick as the book itself, And so is this book, there are many resources I’ll be getting my hands on!
I think I’ll be fairer in judging women authors after this, but I’ll be stricter – it sets a pretty high standard for all the books to come! Happy reading!