The Trouble With Books About Biblical Womanhood

The other day, I took a picture of my latest read about biblical womanhood: Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian.

I posted it and then sat my phone down and went about my business. When I came back, my screen was lit up with notifications. The comments were rolling in: Have you read it yet? How is it? What an interesting title! I need this book. What does this author believe?

I had to laugh at the outcry. It just shows how polarizing the conversation about “women’s roles,” has become. The point that Lee-Barnewall makes throughout her work is one that I’ve felt but have not really had the words for:

“As I have spoken with both complementarians and egalitarians, I have noticed some things that many of them have in common. First is the conviction on both sides that this is an extremely vital issue for the church, the importance of which is reflected on the energy that is spent defending views and on the emotion with which these views are often presented. At the same time, however, there is a growing sense among many that neither position quite encapsulates what they sense is the biblical view, along with the desire to explore the topic beyond the bounds of the current positions.”

A lot of us are hungry for nuance in this discussion. But that nuance is often hindered by our rigid insistence on labels, tradition, and tribalism.

I see an example of that hindrance every time someone asks me to recommend a book about biblical womanhood.


The Trouble With Books

You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with book recommendations?”

Nothing. I give them all the time. I love to read  — I’m currently in the middle of four books. There is nothing like picking up a book to grab hold of an opportunity to learn something new. Through the pages of books, we’re able to be exposed to a variety of voices, perspectives, and advice.

When I was younger, I read every single book I could find on becoming a godly woman.

Most of those books were written from a strict complementarian perspective, so they all said the same thing, more or less. They focused on becoming an excellent wife, or being a Proverbs 31 woman, or being a Titus 2 woman. Some of the advice was truly helpful to me  — I remember their words as a married woman. Some of the advice was detrimental to me — I’m still trying to forget those words.

The trouble with books is that they offer us a sliver of intimacy without the full benefit of the relationship that comes along with discipleship. Their ideas are often helpful only when properly contextualized. Unlike the Scripture, which gives just the right amount of conviction and wisdom to its spirit-filled readers, a book has the smell of an author’s presuppositions all over it.

Also, unlike the scriptures, books are purely topical.


The Bigger Story

Wouldn’t it be great if the Bible was organized like an encyclopedia?

If we were having relationship questions, we could just flip to “r” and read every single applicable verse. If we wanted to know about womanhood, we would just go to the “w” and read away. We wouldn’t have to slog through an entire book of the Bible or chapter of that book to sort out the application: it would just be right there in our faces. 

But then, it would be about us, and not about the Son of God.

This is one of the downfalls of looking for the perfect book on biblical womanhood. We want to divorce “biblical” womanhood from the context of the Bible. To understand Christian womanhood apart from the crucified Christ. To be the heroines in our own stories instead of side-characters (albeit cherished ones) in the story of Jesus. 

This isn’t how every book reads. One of the reasons I enjoyed Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian is because it consistently pointed back to the broader context of the gospel, and refused to give a list of do’s and don’t’s for spirit-filled women. She leaves it to discerning women in their local bodies to interpret the full counsel of God’s Word through the appropriate lens.


The Smaller Story

I recently started writing a weekly column for Fathom Magazine. Every Thursday, Woman Enough will focus on different aspects of what it means to be a godly woman. I am so excited. I am so petrified.

This column is not a substitute for the diligent study of biblical principles on your own time. I don’t pretend to know every single answer to every single dilemma of womanhood that you might be facing. And even if I think I know, I could be wrong. I’m still learning and growing myself.

This column is me trying to tell tiny stories of womanhood that draw you into the bigger story of the gospel  — that draws you, above all, to the Scripture. This column is me trying to encourage you to see womanhood, not as a tiny, segmented box that we all have to fit into, but a gift from God that’s intricately woven into his story in creation.

It’s bigger than a single book I could ever recommend you. It’s bigger than a single article I could ever write.

Are there books that will show you glimpses of that truth? Absolutely. And columns, too, I hope. But know that this is truly only a glimpse. Only one picture in a gorgeous tapestry. If you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself discontent with womanhood that’s painted as battle lines drawn, or as neat little boxes that no one can actually fit into  — welcome. I’m so glad to tell you that you’re not alone. And that this story is bigger than both of us. It’s so big, it’s not even about us.

It’s about the one who made us.

I hope you’ll join me.

Become Known & Loved Through Christ’s Finished Work

Read my 5-day devotional and discover how an identity rooted in Jesus can defeat your shame and fear of failing to live up to extra-biblical expectations.

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