WE DESPERATELY NEED THE INFLUENCE OF WOMEN WHO KNOW WHY THEY BELIEVE WHAT THEY BELIEVE, GROUNDED IN
For most of my Christian life, I have participated in some sort of Bible study, life group, or discipleship program. Some equipped me well for digging into God’s Word. Some left me frustrated with an overemphasis on feelings and a message of being “good enough,” or calling me “God’s princess” and never actually getting into any content with actual substance. So a few years ago, when I learned about Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, I knew I wanted to read it. It’s a relatively short book, but it is a book I have underlined and filled with notes. It’s the type of book I want to discuss over a cup of coffee with a few good friends. It is much more than a “how to” book. The words Jen Wilkin writes on pages 45-46 captures the essence of why I think every Christian woman should read this book:
"Bible literacy matters because it protects us from falling into error. Both the false teacher and the secular humanist rely on biblical ignorance for their messages to take root, and the modern church has proven fertile ground for those messages. Because we do not know our Bibles, we crumble at the most basic challenges to our worldview. Women and apathy eat away at our ranks. Women, in particular, are leaving the church in unprecedented numbers.
… Home, church, community, and country desperately need the influence of women who know why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. They desperately need the influence of women who love deeply and actively the God proclaimed in the Bible."
Sounds great, but it can also feel overwhelming. How do we really develop Biblical literacy in a world content with soundbites and Instagram quotes for daily devotions? Where can a woman who has not been equipped to study her Bible even start? I would suggest she start with Women of the Word.
Wilkin is passionate about getting women into the Word of God. She wants us to be unafraid of doing the hard but important work of really studying the Bible. In this book, she points out how many people, especially women, approach Bible study with only emotions, letting their hearts lead them, instead of engaging their minds and letting their minds then lead their hearts. On page 37, Wilkin writes, “We may have an earnest desire to build Bible literacy, but left untrained, we may develop habits of engaging the text that at best do nothing to increase literacy, and at worst actually work against it.”
"Many people approach Bible study with only emotions...instead of engaging their minds and letting their minds lead their hearts."
Through her book, she helps the reader to learn how to develop such habits.
How to approach the Bible
First, she gives a few different examples of unhelpful approaches to Bible study, including The Pinball Approach, The Magic 8 Ball Approach, and The Personal Shopper Approach. After addressing the ways Bible study can be hindered, Wilkin then spends much of the book explaining how (and why) to study the Bible with our minds and our hearts. We are to study with purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer. She starts off by emphasizing our need to understand the big picture of the Bible - the metanarrative - because we need to keep this in mind as we read and study Scripture. On page 54 Wilkin writes, “Our disconnect from the metanarrative of the Bible can render us much like a gardener who fails to recognize colored leaves as a sign of autumn rather than a sign of disease. When we are fuzzy about the Big Story, we may have difficulty finding continuity between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.” Getting readers to understand the elements of creation-fall-redemption-restoration is important.
5 important questions to ask
Jen then moves in her other sections of the book to help us learn how to understand the context of a passage and having patience when we encounter difficult verses. She emphasizes that studying the Bible is work, but at the same time she makes the skill of exegesis seem doable and not scary. Jen reassures her readers that the skills we learned in high school English class are the same skills we can use to dig into the Bible. She wants us to ask five questions about the section of Scripture we are studying: Who wrote it? When was it written? To whom was it written? In what style was it written? Why was it written? She then takes us through each of these questions, step by step.
Within the process section of her book, she informs us that the process should happen in the order of comprehension, interpretation, and application. This is an order many of us have mixed up, and we have often been taught to emphasize application above anything else. To be a good student of the Bible, we must first comprehend what we are reading. The Bible is primarily a book about God, not a book about us. Jen reminds us in her chapter on prayer that prayer “is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself.” (pg. 103) And that really is what we are pursuing in Bible study — a deeper understanding of the God of the Universe who chooses to have a relationship with us.
"The Bible is primarily a book about God, not a book about us."
Chapter eight of the book shows how to put together the steps she outlined in her book. Jen uses the New Testament book of James to show readers how a study using her approach would look. Chapter nine gives some help for teachers, as well as a few reasons why women need other women for teachers. She also points out that the calling to teach is not something anyone should take lightly, but “if the Lord has wired you to do it, you can trust he will supply you with the means.”
I do wish her book would give a few more examples of what this method of study would look like with other sections of Scripture other than only the book of James. When I was just starting out, I found myself wondering, “Am I doing this right?” I think going through Women of the Word with two or three others and then applying this process to a small book in the Bible would be an excellent thing to do to help with the parts of the process that still feel intimidating. (A quick sidenote: Jen Wilkin does offer many free Bible studies that will take you through how to use this method with several different books of the Bible. I highly recommend her 1, 2, 3 John study if you are finish Women of the Word and want a gentler way to begin the process.)
"Jen's book motivates me to want to know the Lord more through his Word."
I have read Women of the Word a few different times, mostly for personal study and assistance, but once with another woman as we attempted to help each other learn to better study God’s Word. Each time I read this book I think, “Everyone should read this book.” Yes, everyone. Even though the word “women” is in the title, and therefore the intended audience is women, anyone interested in understanding Bible study would benefit from the methods and truths within Jen’s book. Her book is gospel-centered and would be encouraging for any believer. Throughout the pages, she reminds us that we “become what we behold.” Jen writes:
"Whether passively or actively, we become conformed to the pattern we spend the most time studying.
Upon what is your gaze fixed? Your bank account? Your bathroom scale? Your child’s next accolade? Your dream kitchen? The latest blockbuster series? Your phone? It is the nature of this life that we must fight daily to make room in our line of sight for that which transcends. Many things hold a legitimate claim on our attention, but when our eyes are free from the two year old or the spreadsheet or the dinner dishes, where do we turn them? If we spend our time gazing only on lesser things, we will become like them, measuring our years in terms of human glory.
But here is good news: the One whom we most need to behold has made himself known." (p.151)
Jen’s book motivates me to want to know the Lord more through his word. She makes me realize that it is possible for any Christian to dig in with her heart and mind, engage with the Truth and become biblically literate, so that she can be salt and light in a world that needs the good news of Jesus.
Amanda MacBrayne lives in Oro Valley, AZ with her husband, Mike, and their two boys, Cole and Grady. She taught elementary-aged students for several years but now homeschools her own kids. She has a heart for special needs inclusive ministry and education, and she enjoys studying the Bible with other women.