Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review: Women of the Word

Women of the Word. Jen Wilkin. 2014. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Women of the Word: How To Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin is a wonderful and practical book. I absolutely loved, loved, loved this one! I loved the author's passion for the subject: equipping women through Bible study.
We don’t know our Bibles like we need to— some of us who are new to the faith don’t know them at all, and many of us who have been in the church for decades are scarcely better off.
After discussing several wrong ways to read the Bible, Wilkin shares with readers her tips for how to read and study the Bible.

Wilkin argues that there are two main wrong ways to read the Bible. The first, she says, is making the Bible about us and not God.
I believed that I should read the Bible to teach me how to live and to assure me that I was loved and forgiven. I believed it was a roadmap for life, and that in any given circumstance, someone who truly knew how to read and interpret it could find a passage to give comfort or guidance. I believed the purpose of the Bible was to help me.
She continues,
The Bible does tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there can be no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. He is the only reference point that is reliable. So, when I read that God is longsuffering, I realize that I am not longsuffering. When I read that God is slow to anger, I realize that I am quick to anger. When I read that God is just, I realize that I am unjust. Seeing who he is shows me who I am in a true light. A vision of God high and lifted up reveals to me my sin and increases my love for him. Grief and love lead to genuine repentance, and I begin to be conformed to the image of the One I behold. If I read the Bible looking for myself in the text before I look for God there, I may indeed learn that I should not be selfish. I may even try harder not to be selfish. But until I see my selfishness through the lens of the utter unselfishness of God, I have not properly understood its sinfulness. The Bible is a book about God.
The second way people misread the Bible is to put the heart--the emotions--before the mind. 
Letting my heart guide my study meant that I looked for the Bible to make me feel a certain way when I read it. I wanted it to give me peace, comfort, or hope. I wanted it to make me feel closer to God. I wanted it to give me assurance about tough choices. Because I wanted the Bible to engage my emotions, I spent little time in books like Leviticus or Numbers and much time in books like the Psalms and the Gospels.
Emotions should not be ruling our spiritual life. After all, emotions come and go. They vary greatly day by day, week by week. Emotions are a good thing, but balance and understanding are very much needed!
I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know. This is the message of Romans 12:2-3— not that the mind alone affects transformation, but that the path to transformation runs from the mind to the heart, and not the other way around.
Wilkin calls for readers to grow in Bible literacy. What is "Bible literacy"? She defines it in this way:
Bible literacy occurs when a person has access to a Bible in a language she understands and is steadily moving toward knowledge and understanding of the text… Bible literacy stitches patchwork knowledge into a seamless garment of understanding.
Are you biblically literate? If not, you might have a few bad habits to break. She discusses many bad habits in her book. These are habits that are oh-so-easy to fall in, perhaps, but a bit trickier to break.

  • The Xanax Approach (The Xanax Approach treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better. Whether aided by a devotional book or just the topical index in my Bible, I pronounce my time in the Word successful if I can say, “Wow. That was really comforting.”)
  • The Pinball Approach (Lacking a preference or any guidance about what to read, I read whatever Scripture I happen to turn to. Hey, it’s all good, right? I’ll just ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me through whatever verse I flip to.)
  • The Magic 8 Ball Approach (The Bible is not magical and it does not serve our whims, nor is its primary function to answer our questions. The Magic 8 Ball Approach misconstrues the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word, demanding that the Bible tell us what to do rather than who to be.)
  • The Personal Shopper Approach (We ricochet from passage to passage, gaining fragmentary knowledge of many books of the Bible but mastery of none. Topical studies do hold potential to help us grow, but we risk something by calling them “Bible studies.”)
  • The Telephone Game Approach (We read books about the Bible instead of reading the Bible itself.)
  • The Jack Sprat Approach (I take this approach when I engage in “picky eating” with the Word of God. I read the New Testament, but other than Psalms and Proverbs, I avoid the Old Testament, or I read books with characters, plots, or topics I can easily identify with.)

Most of the book is devoted to sharing "the Five P's of Sound Study." Wilkin's book is extremely practical. It not only tells you why you should be reading your Bible, but how you should be reading and studying your Bible. The tips are detailed enough that they are easy to understand or follow.

What are the five P's?

  • Study with Purpose (our purpose in studying must be to look for that Big Story each time we go to the Scriptures. We should study asking not just what a particular portion of Scripture wants to tell us, but how that portion of Scripture is telling us the Big Story of the Bible as a whole. Studying the Bible with purpose means keeping its overarching message in view at all times, whether we are in the Old Testament or the New, whether we are in the Minor Prophets or the Gospels.)
  • Study with Perspective (each of those sixty-six books tells its own story, reflecting the character of God through a particular historical and cultural lens. This lens gives us the necessary perspective we need to understand a text correctly. If we take the time to learn the cultural and historical perspective for a book of the Bible, we will better understand how to interpret and value it.)
  • Study with Patience (But sound Bible study is rooted in a celebration of delayed gratification. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect— across weeks, months, years— so that the interrelation of one part of Scripture to another reveals itself slowly and gracefully, like a dust cloth slipping inch by inch from the face of a masterpiece.)
  • Study with Process (The process I want to introduce asks you, the student, to carry the burden of not just reading, but owning the text, and then of attempting interpretation and application on your own. Only after you have done so will this process direct you to look to the opinions and scholarship of others for help. Comprehension asks, “What does it say?” Interpretation asks, “What does it mean?” Application asks, “How should it change me?”)
  • Study with Prayer (Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself.)

There is a dedicated chapter for each. These are wonderful chapters. I especially LOVED the chapter "Study with Prayer." She walks you through praying before study, during study, and after study. She uses the acronym PART. (Praise, Admit, Request, Thank).

The last two chapters are interesting. The eighth chapter illustrates how a reader might use all 5 P's. This chapter is all about giving a behind-the-scenes look at what Bible study is all about. Since readers may be completely unfamiliar with how Bible Study is done, this one is quite helpful. After all, it can be overwhelming to try to learn something new, to acquire a new skill. It can feel like WORK. The example she uses for this chapter is James. The ninth chapter is written for those who are currently teaching or who are thinking about becoming Bible teachers. This chapter is again very practical and packed full of information.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


twiga92 said...

I loved this book also!

Susanne said...

Wow, this sounds like a really good resource! I'm looking for it at the bookstore!

Becky said...

Susanne, Amazon says it releases now mid-July. A few weeks ago, I was almost sure it released the end of May! But it is a good book, and well worth the wait of a few weeks!

Twiga92, I'm glad you enjoyed this one! It was so refreshing to read this one!!!