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Review: Practical Theology for Women

Recently I asked where the women are who can exegete the Bible and apply it in the real world. Since then, I’ve discovered that Resurgence (aka Mars Hill Church) have a women’s ministry. While it’s difficult to find on the internet, it is there! You can see an interview with the ‘Deacon in Charge of Women’s Training and Theology’, Wendy Alsup here. The ministry is called ‘Practical Theology for Women’ and so far I’ve found a book, a blog and some articles.

The book

Published by Re:Lit, ‘Practical Theology for Women’ asks women if they’ve ever thought that studying the attributes of God (theology) was just for seminary students or men. I’ve often heard women comment that they’re not cut out for theology. I suspect that’s because what is offered to them as ‘theology’ either looks too overwhelming, or simply irrelevant. However, as Wendy points out, an interest in theology, that is, the study of God,  “seems a very natural consequence of transformed lives.” And so this book is all about making theology accessible for women. The theology is not dumbed down or simplified (there’s even some Greek in there!), but from the typeface to the tone to the explanations given to the definition boxes, it constructs an environment that gives women confidence to pursue the study of God. It’s general theology but it’s aimed at women. Topics include the character of God, the Holy Spirit, discipline, sanctification, Scripture, and prayer.

This book doesn’t feel like an impersonal writer teaching me theology. The preface is Wendy’s story of faith and so as she writes, I feel like she’s a real human being and I’m more open to hearing from her. This relational approach to writing is enhanced by the tone of the whole book, which is warm and engaging. Wendy’s not preaching from her superior knowledge or experience. She draws the reader into her stories, because she has the same struggles but she worships the same great God.

The ‘practical’ of this book needs some clarification. It’s a book about how theology is relevant to our lives in a general way. This book won’t give you a theology of a particular issue. But it will teach you about who God is and apply that to universal issues such as trusting God or identity. This is a great little book for encouraging women to start a theological journey. It’s a wonderful way of empowering them to know and own their faith for themselves.

The blog

I found the blog of ‘Practical Theology for Women’ when a friend sent me the link on Facebook. I was pretty excited just by the title. Where the book lacks, the blog doesn’t. I think that’s to be expected. The application of theology to everyday life is more easily found in a blog, since it’s a more day-to-day reflection. It picks up on some more classical women’s issues as Wendy talks about her marriage, watching chick flicks and singleness, as well as continuing to hit general theological issues from a woman’s perspective — spiritual nourishment, discipline, etc.

I didn’t agree with everything she had to say, of course. And part of the nature of a blog is that it can be quickly rushed out feelings rather than well considered thoughts but here I found a woman who was keen think things through and apply the Bible to her life. I enjoyed the tone of the blog as well. She’s self-deprecating, describing the blog as a lecture to herself, which readers are welcome to read along with and be part of. It doesn’t suffer from the all-American-girl soppiness that so many other women’s ministry blogs do.

However, there is a distinct lack of biographical information about Wendy on the site, which I found inhibited my willingness to engage before I’d read the book and worked out the connection. One other problem — it’s difficult to find! It’s not linked from Resurgence, Mars Hill Church, etc. Perhaps anonymity is the point and that’s why there is minimal biographical info about Wendy but, since the blog has the same name as the book and the ministry, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be well publicised.

The articles

I found 5 articles by Wendy on the Resurgence website: ‘How to Ruin a Women’s ministry‘ and then four on ‘The Ideal Christian Woman‘. All five articles are short and succinct. I thought the first article was helpful and picked up on some pretty key issues for women’s ministry: getting priorities straight, not getting territorial, celebrating authority structures, celebrating and teaching broadly for and on different life stages and issues.

The four articles on ‘The Ideal Christian Woman’ stand in stark contrast to much other teaching about and to women from Mars Hill. Previously I have heard a great deal about role (choosing to stay at home and be a mum, being submissive to your husband, etc.) that did little to allay my fears that the perfect Christian woman is a wife and mother who bakes, wants to homeschool and has an 18 inch waist. The four articles are intentionally about breaking down the stereotypes of Christian women and replacing them with what Scripture teaches. They challenge women to get their hearts right. At times they lack specific application but they still ask good questions.

The verdict

‘Practical Theology for Women’ taps into something very powerful for women — what does theology mean for my life? It makes theology accessible and it equips women to think carefully about their faith, as well as offering some excellent directions.

‘Practical Theology for Women’ is not a practical theology of women. It talks about theology that is broader than just women’s issues, but it does so in a way that is accessible to women. However, I wonder whether at times the ‘practical’ is the overarching framework that drives the ‘theological’. For example, I’ve seen Wendy apply the question of trusting God to infertility, but I haven’t seen a theology for women of an issue like the ethics of birth and infertility or understanding femininity apart from motherhood. Perhaps that’s on the way.

One quibble I have may be broader than just ‘Practical Theology for Women’ — that women’s ministries are often theologically under-equipped because they suffer from a stereotype that women’s ministries are just about holding someone’s hand and praying with them (not that those aren’t important!). Wendy, like many of the other pastors at Mars Hill, she says, has not been formally theologically trained. On one hand, I love that. Part of what she’s trying to do is to show women that anyone can be theologically minded and she’s a great testament to that! But on the other hand I do think that there’s great value in leaders of a ministry taking the time out to get a formal theological education, less for the piece of paper and more for the dedicated and intentional time set aside to think through theology. Perhaps this is just academic snobbery but I suspect that we wouldn’t settle for the same in a men’s ministry.

‘Practical Theology for Women’ is a step in the right direction for women’s ministry. I’d love to see it become more visible. I’ve got the book and I’ll be recommending it. I’ve already subscribed to the blog.

Categories: Bible Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

5 replies

  1. Thank goodness, finally a book for women that isn’t all touchy feely. Heading out to the burbs today to pick up a copy. I will let you know what I really think.

  2. Would you recommend this book for seekers? Young adult women? Is it simple enough for new Christian women to understand and not be intimidated by?

    Thank you in advance!

  3. Hi Amberly

    The book is written for Christian women and speaks to them as such – for example, it exhorts women to rest in the care of their heavenly Father, explains to them what life in the Spirit looks like and speaks to them as co-heirs with Christ. So it’s not strictly written as an evangelistic book although there are certainly calls to trust God in it. So I’m not sure I’d give it to a seeker.

    But I would give it to young adult women – re:lit tend to do pretty groovy cover designs which help here and the content is certainly relevant and well applied for this age group.

    I think it would be OK for new Christian women. The language is certainly not intimidating, although any time you talk about God, there are obviously some pretty big concepts on view. So I’d say yes for new Christian women, although I’ always want to see new Christians paired up with an older Christian with whom they can talk books like this through as well!

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