I literally just finished reading this amazing book (I was finishing it while giving my almost 2 year old lunch just now), and I had to sit down immediately to write this book review before my thoughts get jumbled up with other issues.
The book is entitled Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History written by Dr. Diana Lynn Severance, and my general synopsis is that you need to read this book this year. You’ve flooded your mind with Reformation history for the past year (or more), and this book goes through Church history also, but from the unique perspective of focusing on the roles and works of women in the Church throughout the course of time. So if Church history has been important to you recently, than you need to read this book.
Now, for the convincing details…
Dr. Severance divided her 312 page book into 12 chapters that span consecutively from the New Testament Era to the end of the 20th century. I was impressed by the number of women included in this work that included Roman slaves and aristocrats, Christian queens of Barbarian tribes and countries, martyrs, women devoted to the ascetic lifestyle, ministers, missionaries, and women who organized extremely influential para-church organizations that are still around today. Severance also paid careful attention to women writers throughout history (even including quotations from their works), thoughts and beliefs held about women from society and the Church leadership, and the evolving views of the Christian marriage, family, and home due to cultural and historical influences. I think Dr. Severance did an excellent job retelling a fascinating, although at times frustrating, history of women in the Church in an extremely objective manner. Her writing did not appear to gloss or sugarcoat the facts. She simply told “the good, the bad, and the ugly” in a straightforward manner.
In an effort to keep my words concise here and conclude, I want to highlight five points that made the biggest impression on me while I was reading.
- Reading about all of the incredible work done by Christian women throughout the centuries has my mind completely blown. I honestly didn’t know women did that much throughout Church history, and their ability to influence was also unbelievable given the restraints and difficulties they often faced. It was incredible to read about, and I honestly wish we heard more about these faithful saints along with the notable people we hear emphasized continually.
- The providence of God throughout the course of history is absolutely undeniable. His hand clearly “set the scene” for many works and acts of women within the Church.
- The craftiness and subtlety of Satan’s schemes was also incredibly visible while reading through this book. I can only compare it to the “By-path meadow” that lay alongside the narrow way in Pilgrim’s Progress. While some things women began to pick up were clearly erroneous, many other things were much more subtle and had far reaching consequences. And while some women had natural limits and boundaries in terms of how far they would progress, other women following after them did not yield to those same boundaries and limits, and it appears that they perished in their sins. We have a very crafty foe that we need to be aware of.
- When we talk about people falling off into the other side of the ditch, only to overcorrect themselves and fall into another ditch, the discussion of the role of women within the church is always veering off to one side or the other. This pendulum has been swinging for centuries, and after reading this book, the discussion today (especially in the PCA) is only a rehashing of the same discussion that has been occurring for hundreds of years. As the Word tells us in Ecclesiastes 1:10-11:
“Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.”
Knowing this, I think that we ought to be shrewd and discerning and search out this history, understand what happened, consider what didn’t happen, determine would should have happened, contemplate the prevailing thoughts and influences (including global, social, and cultural) of the day, ponder the ramifications of the actions and lack of action of all people included, and wisely determine a way forward so that God continues to be glorified in the lives of both men and women in the Church.
- Finally, this book cannot but help to stir up the faith of believers. The Church has always been filled with some incredibly broken and sinful people who have done amazing and awful things throughout history, both men and women. Yet and still, the Church is the bride of Christ, and the Spirit of God has and continues His work of building, purifying, and preserving the Church of Christ today. And regardless of how things have appeared, appear to be, and appear to be progressing towards, we have the promise from our Lord and Savior that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.
Our history looks really really messy, and women have been the victims, creators, sustainers, and maintainers of a lot of mess throughout the history of the church. Nevertheless, it is a history worth knowing that can only help us to gain wisdom, teach us discernment, show us the importance of holding fast to the truth of God’s Word, help us to stand steadfast against the onslaught of the enemy, and increase our faith in our Sovereign Lord who continues to accomplish His purposes in each of us and in spite of us. As I am equally as confident as Paul when he said to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
(and get this book!)