Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Christian Femininity 101

It's always a little awkward reviewing books by Christian authors. Well, it's always awkward reviewing any book if you picture the author standing over your shoulder. But when it's a Christian author, there is a certain pressure to say something nice.

Meanwhile, I don't have any caveats about the book I'm about to review. That is, in contrast to the last book I reviewed (which had a questionable tone), I don't find anything unedifying in this one.

I had seen Elizabeth George's A Woman After God's Own Heart* recommended on various blogs and in women's circles. I was ordering some Christian books anyway and decided to add it to my "cart." The cover says "over 900,000 copies sold," and the author explains her wish that her readers will carry a copy around with them.

Suffice it to say, my expectations were high as I cracked open the pink cover. In the introduction, Elizabeth George promises "practical insights about what it means to follow God in every area of life...(p.12)"

full post/-

This book falls under the "inspirational," but non-academic category. To be fair, the author states at the beginning that her goal is to give practical advice, and she is clearly well-read as she references a range of sources here and there and notes that she enjoys reading. But as I dove in, I had to ask myself if I really needed to be reading a book like this. Sometimes I wonder whether books about women's issues are really necessary. And they do serve a certain purpose, but I certainly wouldn't want to overdo it.

I think maybe this book just wasn't what I needed for my current season in life. Looking around my bedroom, you might disagree. Okay, I do need improvement. But I'm not married, don't have kids, and don't have my own household to run. Although I need discipline to take care of certain tasks, there are only so many options for how to do things in a 1-room apartment. There is no place for a filing cabinet with color-coded folders. Every once in a while I empty my 3 shelves, try to get rid of something, and then try to squeeze it all back in. Voila. Elizabeth George's time management tips are also too contextualized, not helpful for a single woman.

Here were a few points that I wasn't sure I agreed with:

  • -"Always stick to plan A" (p.258) Yeah right! You can't always control everything. Of course it's good to not be distracted, but it doesn't mean we should pass up everything that's not written and color-coded on our calendar!
  • No unscheduled phone calls. "Interruptions by people without appointments" are described by the author's husband as a "time robber." (p.171)Yes, it is hard for kids when Mom's on the phone and there's no telling when she'll get off. I have work and other people waiting for me, too. But it is possible to give someone 5-10 minutes of your time without scheduling it. Maybe you don't get to wash your hair that night, or you don't get to bed on time. So what? You should always be ready to rearrange your schedule for someone in need.
  • There was also a little quote about priorities that slightly freaked me out.
"One way to simplify your moment-by-moment decision-making might be to assign your priorities these numbers: #1-God, #2-Your husband, #3-Your children, #4-Your home, #5-Your spiritual growth, #6-Your ministry activities, #7- Other activities. Let me show you how this works.
Your children (#3) have just arrived home from school, and you're praying and snacking and talking together about the day. The phone rings. It's not your husband (#2), which means it is either a ministry (#6), a friend (#7), or a salesperson. The decision is simple. You don't leave the #3 priority to tend to the #6 or #7 (or even lower) priority. Be sweet and be kind...but be firm and be brief. Make arrangements for a call back. Quickly ask the salesperson to remove your name and number from his or her call list. Don't lose this important time with your children! (270-271)"
Now, she does go on to admit that these principles may sound harsh and could be abandoned in an emergency (p.272). I suppose all of us go through a sort of "triage" when deciding where to focus our attention. Yet her method seems a little extreme. I could think of a few other solutions to the situation above, so it's not like there is always the same singular right answer.

A Woman After God's Own Heart contains some pretty basic ideas about growing spiritually. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters because she was using all these examples to encourage readers to do the obvious: read the Bible and pray.

"What happens when you and I do slip away to be with God in study and prayer? We receive. We take in. We are nurtured and fed. We ensure our spiritual health and growth. When we spend time with Christ, He supplies us with strength and encourages us in the pursuit of His way."(p.32) Christ-centered? Yes. Earth-shattering? Not really.

The end of each chapter has some thoughts to ponder and pray about, but admittedly I skipped over them. You can also buy a study guide to go with the book.

Again, this is not a bad book and there was nothing wrong with author's attitude. Maybe I'll revisit her ideas in the future.

*George, Elizabeth. A Woman After God's Own Heart. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.


  1. Wow! I have the distinct feeling that I wouldn't even LIKE this woman! (Let alone want to carry her book around with me.) What about a person whose mind just does not work like that?

    And her idea of prioritizing??? What if the person on the phone was your husband's mother? Where does that fit? Or your children's teacher? Or, your pastor...he's not exactly God, but he might carry God's message for you - but what if his message this day is not a spirtual one, but turns out to be, "How do you use the coffee pot in the hospitality cupboard?" do you tell him to make an appointment and you'll give him that information when it is convenient to you? (And what does that teach your children about courtesty to people? Using a sales person as the example, isn't exactly fair. I'd do the same to him if I were just sitting doing nothing!)

    And what kind of husband would want his wife's attention when one of his children needed it more?

    Prioritizing IS hard....and I know I make mistakes daily. But, I think the Christian woman should be relying on the prompting of the Spirit in any instance rather than the list of ready-made priorities - simply because it just isn't that clear-cut in real life. (Or perhaps because my priority - like St. Paul's - is to do my best to be all things to all people...and that certainly means not hurting their feelings.)

    Does she consider level-of-importance in her prioritizing at all? If her husband is on the phone just shooting the breeze because he's stuck in traffic, does she ignore her sobbing child? Or a depressed neighbor? I just gravitate to the hot spots, I guess.

    I could probably be argumentative about the other points you related, too, but I won't take over your blog!

  2. It goes back to what I said sometime ago about Christian recording musicians. Most of them do not really give a rip about loving their neighbor as themselves. It's all about making money for them. Self exaltation and self indulgence. Same is true for the "Christian writers".

    America, having a strong anglo-saxon influence, strikes me funny as a nation of achievers and conquerors. Thus, books like this one, many centuries later, are written. And will be written yet.

    How different it is from Paul's that a woman must be silent at the church. And if she doesn't understand something, she has to ask her husband.

    American women, in general, irritate me. There are quite a few Christian women leaders that, I believe, will give an account to Jesus on the judgement day for being sloppy leaders. They preach heresies. I have noticed, over the years, that women are more prone to adhere to heresies than men are. I guess it goes back to the Garden of Eden.

    I hope I do not come across chauvinistic.

  3. It's funny, it turns out that the same author wrote a book called "A Young Woman After God's Own Heart" (along with several others), so maybe that is the one that was recommended to me and would seem more relevant.

    But Annie, as your reaction confirms, her methods are not for everyone. I do think she was trying to be helpful from a "Titus 2" viewpoint, even though her style is different from mine.

    As I mentioned in the original post, I do wonder what place these kinds of books should have in my life.

    Having some less quality books out there is the downside to having freedom of speech in our country. Anyone can get published...if not in book form, then on the Internet, at least. It's a consequence of freedom, but I'm glad we have that freedom. It just means that as consumers of the media, we have to use discernment.

  4. I relate with this very much. I used to be very much into the Christian, feminine devotional type books, but I've realized how little they've really contributed to my life. Their themes are consistent and usually less than profound. Now, I read very few Christian books. That sounds bad, but I just reached a point where I outgrew them. Now, if I want to read something Christian I read the Bible itself. I'm really not that into individual's interpretations of biblical texts - I'd rather do that myself, thank you. Unless its Mother Teresa or C.S. Lewis or someone of real caliber and authority, I'm basically uninterested.

    As for Elizabeth George, I'll have to agree. I've read several of her books, and they've always left me with a sense of, "Is this all there is?" Her practicality is also her downfall, I think. I don't have anything against her really, but there was a certain patronizing tone and basic theme, that everything fits in these nice little boxes with wrapping paper and bows, to each of the books I've read. Also, while I hesitate to say that I think on a more "profound" plane than she does, I will say that she is much more of a details person and I'm much more into big-picture issues.

  5. P.S.

    Re: the Young Woman book, I read it a couple of years ago and it was basically just the same concepts discussed in the original work stepped up a notch. I think it focuses on more of the teenage crowd, also.

    I think you are probably getting the idea that I don't recommend it! :-)

  6. With women's books, I feel that on the one hand I don't want to be flooding my mind with those topics. On the other hand, if I think about the issues anyway, maybe it's good to read a book to help me organize my thoughts more. But in general I don't find them overly stimulating from an intellectual standpoint.

    I do a lot of reading Christian books and reviewing them, and I find that I always have some sort of complaint, and wish that one book would be perfect. And then I remember the So I know what you mean. I read commentary sometimes, especially if it contains historical information...but sometimes we just need to let the Word speak for itself, without someone else's interpretation tainting our learning environment.


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