Why I don’t read “Christian woman” self-help books

by Anna Blanch on September 27, 2012

I’ve read more of the “how can you be a godly Christian woman” in today’s world books than I care to admit. I acknowledged approaching this book with cynicism blooming. I admitted then that i’ve pretty much given up reading the “Christian woman self-help” kinds of books in light of realising that the women around me who love their communities, their churches, and their families have offered me far healthier and theologically complex models. I am fortunate to have woman around me I can look up to, admire, and who I can turn to for advice and support. I’m aware not all women have that. It is only now that I really feel that I have a set of mentors – both personal and professional. It is the first time in my life, where I’m not bereft of wisdom from wiser heads delivered by men and women, capable and humble – oh, so humble. My church in Scotland was the first church where noone has asked me why i’m not married or why i’m doing a PhD. Noone there blamed my propensity to move continents for my singleness (as if it were a curse to be born).

I am fortunate indeed. So although, I wrote about ‘Why it bugs me when the church tells me how to be a woman’, I am grateful to be have spent time in a space that encourages me to live boldly as a disciple of Christ.

I’ve long been a fan of the biblical model for the way in which I, as a woman, can flourish in my community. Don’t get me wrong there are books which have given me hope that books in the christian women empowerment genre are starting to gain some common sense. However, a books in this genre will always fall short if it seeks to speak into every woman’s life – we’re just too diverse a bunch for that. In my experience finding a few older women to mentor you is still one the best ways to mature as a christian woman. But it’s not a matter of relying on someone else telling you how to behave as if it’s a set of boxes to be ticked. Rachel Held Evans and Dianna Anderson have both written thoughtfully in the last year on how women can bully each other, or we can falsely use the bible as a club to beat each over the head.

I’m even more convinced that “traditional” models are problematic and worrisome.Woman get all sorts of unhelpful messages thrown at them every day that tear down their sense of worth, and bring before them a picture of what society says it means to be a woman, a mother, and to have a successful career that are twisted. We women often guilt ourselves and others into certain ways of seeing things too. We’ve got to give each other a break.

We need to take time to honor each other, build up, and encourage. We need to exhort without claiming to know the heart of another. We need to build up, to honour those around us who are Eshet chayil—woman of valor. To celebrate the gifts we have, to encourage women with the intellect and calling to study, to develop their gifts as teachers, and proclaimers of the word, to value the lessons hard fought in raising children, in serving communities, in seeking public office.

_200_360_Book.448.coverOne book I read recently that challenged my perceptions of the “Books for Christian women” genre was Lisa Harper’s Stumbling into Grace. Harper brings seminary training, the ability to write clearly and persuasively and a wicked sense of humour to the table and this is one book that challenges many of the stereotypes I am less than enamoured with. Harper is also a single woman engaged in travelling and speaking and so maybe I find myself associating with her on that level too.

I will say that the book is very American but given that Harper is, and so too her publisher, I guess that is both to be expected and understandable. Harper draws from a deep well of biblical and systematic theology, as well as ministry and life experience. Her willingness to acknowledge her clumsiness is so darn refreshing!
Have you read any books that you felt encouraged you as a Christian woman? What do you think it means to be in community with others in the church?

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