Faith,  Humility and Doxology

Is the Bible Good for Women? by Wendy Alsup: Book Review

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Gender related discussions are sometimes divisive, certainly complicated, and often confusing.  I have read many words over the years on the topic of Biblical womanhood in particular, and most of them have not been very helpful.

So often what is communicated either devalues women or devalues Scripture.  So often I seem to hear a culturally-dictated view of what it means to be feminine or masculine (with every sub-culture giving its own twist on the topic), instead of clear speaking where the Bible speaks and silence where the Bible is silent.

Often, too, discussions about what the Bible teaches about manhood and womanhood seem to devolve merely into discussions on marital roles, which can communicate a devaluing of both men and women apart from their married state.

Sometimes, I have even found myself secretly wondering if the Bible is really good for women.  There are some frankly difficult and even disturbing accounts in Scripture.  I choose to come to the Bible, however, on the assumption that where it makes me uncomfortable, I am the one who needs to change (either through understanding it more correctly, or repenting of my sin).  When the Creator speaks, His creation should be silent and humble before Him.

I also believe that God is good, and that I can trust Him.  I want to gain clarity in understanding what the Bible actually says about women.  But up until now, I’ve been left pretty dissatisfied by the explanations often given.

Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup book review

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Wendy Alsup’s book Is the Bible Good for Women? provided much needed “clarity and confidence through a Jesus-centered understanding of Scripture.”  I frankly went into reading the book prepared to dislike it (remember, I’ve heard a lot of nonsense already on this topic)!  But the more I read, the more I appreciated Alsup’s humble approach to Scripture, unwavering assertion of the value and rights and strength of women (and men), and thoughtful examination of some of the most difficult questions we face in Biblical interpretation.  In this book, Alsup communicates intelligently, logically, and humbly, emphasizing throughout a robust theology of Scripture.

Starting with the Big Picture

One of the most helpful things Alsup does is to start with a big picture analysis of the purpose and organizing principles of Scripture itself.  Instead of jumping immediately into an analysis of women’s rights and giving pat answers to tricky passages, she lays her foundation with a theology of the Bible as a whole.  She makes a clear case that all of Scripture is in fact talking about Jesus, whether in genres of law, prophecy, or history.  Instead of dividing the Bible up into distinct topical “file folders,” we must see that all of it hangs together and can interpret and explain itself.  She also differentiates between descriptive and prescriptive texts (the difference between telling something that happened versus telling what should be done).

Laying a foundation

Starting at creation, Alsup then looks at how the world was created to be.  Then, in discussing the fall, she looks at how everything was broken.  A clear understanding of creation/fall/redemption and Gospel fulfillment is very important in her later analysis of confusing passages.

Woman as Helper?

One of the most mind-blowing parts of this book was when she fleshed out what it means that woman was originally created as “helper.”  Has that description ever made you cringe a bit, if you’re a woman?  Our cultural connotation might bring up derogatory images like “the help,” and it doesn’t really sound like that great a gig.  Are we really supposed to believe that the Bible sets up men as the cool, really important ones, and we little women just come along and clean up and play a backseat role?  (Uh, no)

When you see how both genders were created specifically to bear the image of God together, (Gen 1-2) things start to become clearer.  It is not that man was created to be an image bearer of God and we women “merely” help out.  Man and woman together reflect the character of God.  The same Hebrew word for helper used to describe the woman in Genesis, Alsup explains, is the word used repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe God Himself as the Helper of His people!  For example, consider Deuteronomy 33:29: “Blessed are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?  He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.  Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.”  Alsup also discusses the implications that the Holy Spirit is also called the Helper.  If we as women are created to be the image bearer of God our Helper, it doesn’t sound very passive or weak to me!

Man and Woman are image bearers distinct from marriage

Another helpful part of Alsup’s analysis was looking at the way God created mankind both male and female, then established marriage, and ultimately will do away with marriage while retaining the male/female distinction.  Man and Woman are created to be image bearers of the Triune God (the 2 genders together are a fuller reflection than either gender on their own).  This will remain true even in Heaven.  Human marriage, however, will pass away (as Jesus teaches in Luke 20:35) in heaven, since it has always been a picture of the ultimate Groom and Bride, Christ and the Church.  Therefore, woman’s value – and man’s for that matter – is distinct from whether or not she or he is married.  Womanhood and manhood are not defined by marital roles.

Tricky Passages

After setting up the big picture, looking at the creation commissions given to humankind, and examining how descriptions of Heaven give us insight into this current fallen world, Alsup turns her attention to looking at the Old Testament law, difficult New Testament passages regarding women, and instructions given to men.  Are these good for women, too?

I feel like she dealt with these topics with humility and with great respect towards Christians of varying theological perspectives.  Where Scripture is clear and specific, so is Alsup, while not seeming to speak where Scripture is silent.  It’s actually interesting how much freedom and variety Scripture allows for in our applications of Biblical teaching!  Repeatedly Alsup uses Scripture to interpret Scripture, which I found so encouraging!

Is God good for women?

This is the title for Alsup’s final chapter, and in it she gets to the heart of the matter.  Alsup argues that creaturely dependence on God, followed by interdependence between the genders, is part of the created order.  Do we trust that God is good like He says He is?  Are we willing for Him to define what is good?  Are we, male and female, overly committed to our contemporary culture’s obsession with independence, or will we – again, both male and female – submit to the covenantal authority structures God has put in place?  If we are the one who is in authority, will we model humility, meekness, and sacrificial love as Christ did?

Conclusion

Wendy Alsup introduces her book with a humble willingness to enter into this baggage-filled conversation with readers who may come into a discussion of this topic with hesitation or even disbelief.  She acknowledges how often Scripture has been twisted and used by wicked people as a traumatic weapon to dehumanize and oppress others.  She herself has experienced some oppressive environments towards women within Christian culture.  But she calls her readers to come to the topic with an open mind and to consider what the Bible has to say for itself, not what others have claimed it says.

By starting with this high, Christ-centered view of Scripture, it seems she avoids many of the perverse or misguided approaches to discussions about gender.  Rather than going topically through the Bible, she views it all as a unified whole, beautifully summarized and explained in the person of Jesus Christ.

I still don’t completely understand everything the Bible says about women and men.  There are still questions I need to continue to process.  There are still commands that my stubborn heart doesn’t want to heed.  But Is the Bible Good for Women? lays out a God and a Scripture I can trust are for my good!  This will be a book I continue to think about and wrestle with for a while!

Whether you’re a Christian or not, I think this book could provide a helpful framework for understanding what the Bible actually teaches about the topic of women’s issues, justice, and protection.  Don’t skip around trying to find what Alsup says about a particular passage or idea.  Come with an open mind, see her framework of interpretation, and follow her logical argument from chapter to chapter.  You just might find yourself surprised to discover that the Bible is, indeed, good for women!


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Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 4, 7, 9, 12, and 14. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.

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