Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What Women Read

When was the last time you perused the aisles of your local bookstore, whether it be a Books-a-Million or a Lifeway? Did you take note of the books promoted, the top bestsellers, in each of the different categories? If so, what was the seemingly overarching theme in those books that tend to fly off the shelves? I was driving with a friend of mine to Lifeway several days ago when we had this conversation. She was picking up some books that she was going to be using at church for a Bible study young girls, and I simply came along for the ride (an excuse to get away from my desk). While waiting for the customer service guy to round up her books, we browsed the section dedicated to women, and my friend came across a paperback advertising "how to ensure that second date." How to ensure that second date?? It made me forget for a split second what kind of bookstore I was in.

Thus began our conversation and one that I have been thinking about ever since. I have been trying for several weeks now to come up with some answer to a question that has been bugging me. Since we were going to pick up her books, we started discussing all of the curriculum that is published for women. One only need walk two steps into a Christian bookstore to see the abundance of resources available to women. Books, study guides, prayer journals, whatever meets the fancy of a sentimental woman. Why, though, is there such an overwhelming trend in curriculum written for women? Do we see such materials published en masse for Christian men? There is something that draws the attention of women, something I may go so far as to say is marketable, and then keeps such related items selling at a rapid rate. Women are in general and by nature much more emotional and sentimental than men. This seems to be why there are prayer journals with flowery verses and quotes purchased by females without a similarly large assortment sold for men. There seems to be a greater emphasis on women's ministry in the church than ever before, whether they focus on scrapbooking or hospitality or the weekly Beth Moore Bible study.

Such wonder then leads me to another question, and one that seems much more serious than wondering about the aim of certain publishing companies: is the curriculum written for women any good? When I see a woman walking down the hallway of a church, equipped with Bible, journal, and study guide in hand, I cannot help but wonder about the material with which she is filling her mind. My friend and I were talking in the car that day while coming back from Lifeway about the books she bought for her girls at church, and she told me that she was already going through and making notes where there seemed to be either wrong emphasis on a theme or misuse of Scripture. I was encouraged by her concern for doing such work on her own as I could discern that it was from a sincere heart desiring to encourage these young girls to really learn Scripture and what it means and looks like to have a personal relationship with Him. I was also reminded of how many times individuals I have heard teach do not feel the need to study for themselves. They assume that the writer is accurate either by reputation or popularity of the material in other churches.

Why is this so crucial? Because women are sentimental and oftentimes need solid ground on which to base their emotional responses to various issues or circumstances. I attended a church recently wherein it seemed, based on their conversations, that the women involved in a particular Bible study were content to pour over the study guide rather than Scripture, and to memorize the "truths" from the author's pen without testing her words against the authoritative Word of God. This observation was not new, but instead seems like a fairly consistent pattern in many churches I have been involved with at one point or the other. Women tend to flock to curriculum, whether because of the author's name attached or because of the content or theme of the material.

This is not an opportunity for me to come out and advertise my own critique of certain curriculum specifically geared toward Christian women. This is simply me voicing my concern after observing over time the trends I see women following after, not just in home decorating or fashion, but even in our Christian bookstores. And as long as women are being fed with whatever our Christian culture is deeming as spiritual food, then such materials will continue filling shelves both in the stores and in homes.

Here are some questions worthy of asking yourself when choosing what to read either for a women's Bible study or for your own personal devotional time:
  • Does this book base its premise and overall purpose on the foundation of Scripture?
  • Does the author acknowledge and faithfully submit to the authority of Scripture?
  • Is there an understanding of sincere confession, repentance, and growth in personal sanctification?
  • What is the author's view of the Lord, and is the root and focus of the study always pointed toward Christ?
  • Who does the author say that I am as a woman in light of who the Lord says I am in His Word?
  • Does the author approach grace as an undeserved gift given to those whom the Lord has chosen?
  • What does the book or study encourage: beginning with the heart issues, or simply revamping your daily tasks and calendar to merely have the appearance of looking better?
  • Is there an emphasis on "hardcore pragmatic moralism, that calls wrong wrong and right right, but has no sense of the madness and slavery of the human heart, and no sense of the need for a Savior to invade the world and save us from ourselves"? (quote by David Powlison)

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,

Holy reverence, true humility;

Test our thoughts and our attitudes

In the radiance of Your purity.

Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see

Your majestic love and authority.

Words of pow'r that can never fail—

Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

(Keith & Kristyn Getty)


James and Christen said...

This is a great blog. Very thought provoking.

I have always been a big fan of ladies Bible studies. As I mentioned them to my mother-in-law she asked why there is always such a focus on women growing spiritually but not the men in the church. There are usually more women's Bible studies than men's. She & her husband have been very convicted that the church needs to focus more on training the men.

I thought it was a good comment and began to look at our church and the programs we were offering, who they were targeting and what the goal really was.

I think you are so right about people needing to hold their favorite author up to the authority of the Scripture. So often in a "Bible" study we don't even open our Bibles.

I really appreciated the question's you closed with.

Thanks - Christen

Amanda said...

(sigh) reading... I love to read but never do it! But, I will say that I have been doing great lately! I've almost finished one entire book! Yay!

Colorado Dreamin' said...

You have me thinking! And that was a strange title to be in a Christian book store. When I buy a book, one of the first things I look at is the dedication, if God is left out, I wonder. You do need toread a book with God guiding you so that you can see if it is God's truth or not. Good topic!

Adrian said...

I hate to say it, but I tend to pass by a lot of women's bible studies in the store because they really have no biblical standing or emphasis. As a single girl, this was especially difficult as I wanted books on how to be a godly single girl and not a girl dying for that second date. (By the way, I really appreciated Lauren Winner's Real Sex.) Although disappointed, I can't say I'm surprised by the lack of solid bible studies as the church culture as a whole is also going the way of satisfying self or living sacrificially.

Good point. You should write a book. ;)

Gretchen said...

You have made a clear and valid point. I realize it every single day while I'm working. That is why I do what I do. I find the good stuff and promote it through my blog and people I meet in the store. I put the good stuff on display and slip what we HAVE to have (which is not the best sometimes) in the cracks. Good job focusing on what we should ask ourselves about our reading material.

Women shop more. And spend more. So obviously they are targeted more. The book industry along with the rest.

anna said...

thanks dear friend, you are so encouraging! thanks for thinking of my family and my little new nephew this weekend!! He is doing really well and so is my ister! such a grace to be with them all this weekend! i'll see you in class tomorrow:)

hope you had a wonderful week too!

Ruth said...

Hi! I found you through jilly's design website--and found we have similar influences--it is great to meet a sister in the Lord through blogging! i loved this post--as i have thought much about the issue of discernment when it comes to reading. i am leading a group with ladies at church reading elyse fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart, and just finished, Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney--I'm sure you know about these! Blessings to


R. D. Bailey said...

The post is very relevant. It is however, nothing new. Also, please don't think it is all passive and unintentional sales of literary garbage. The enemies of true believers scheme to ruin the life of the ones for whom Christ died. Paul warns of this, especially for women, in II Timothy 3.

Check out my wife's blog.