Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Reflection: Women of the Word

I finally found some time to read Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word. Between my seminary schedule and my own teaching, I just didn't have the time until this past week. Since many have recommended this book, I thought I would have a look, and I was even able to borrow one rather than buying something I don't have room for on my sagging book shelves.

Jen Wilkin, herself a Bible teacher, writes with a very easy, engaging style. She introduces the subject matter with personal stories which lead into the topic at hand. She comes across as a very likeable person, and her love and passion for the study of God's word is evident. Her goal in writing this book is to help others learn to study the Bible on their own. We have a treasure in God's Word, and we should know it, study it, and allow it to change us. That message was very clear, which I was I thankful for.

I was also thankful that she emphasizes that the Bible is not about us. It's a book about God. When we begin to read the Bible with the immediate reaction that it's about us, not only will we misunderstand it, we could actually misinterpret it. Wilkin makes it abundantly clear that this is a book about God, not us.

She presents her approach using an alliterative outline:
  • Study with Purpose - getting an overview of the entire Bible; the big picture.
  • Study with Perspective - understanding context
  • Study with Patience - remember it takes time
  • Study with Process - following a plan
  • Study with Prayer - incorporating prayer with our study
A chapter at the end, "Putting It Altogether," Wilkin gives an example of how to put the principles into practice, using the book of James. I thought this was a very good idea. For those who are more "learn by doing," seeing someone put things into practice is very helpful.

This is a book for beginners. It encourages women to see the need for biblical literacy and to pursue a purposed, pro-active approach to study. I think this would be a great tool to get someone started, but ultimately, if she is looking for more information or more discussion about specific interpretive principles, she would need to add to her resources. If it's introduction you're looking for, this book would work well. The strength of the book is in encouraging a student to take a structured approach to Bible study rather than just reading with no set goal in mind. For some, this may be a new way of studying, and Wilkin provides lots of encouragement to get started.

While I really enjoyed the book, there are two little quibbles I had. First, in "Study With Perspective," Wilkin lays out the types/styles of biblical literature. She mentions narrative, parables/storytelling, law, poetry, and wisdom literature, and prophecy, she does not include the genre of epistle. The New Testament letters are a very specific kind of literature, and given the amount of doctrine taught within them (and the potential for misinterpretation), a distinction should be made. In discussing her example of James, she mentions that it is like wisdom literature, but first and foremost, it is an epistle, and that means we approach it with a certain set of principles.

Second, I felt there could be more guidance in teaching interpretation. There is a process by which we have to bridge the context of original audience/author and bring it into our context. The tools were given, i.e., looking up cross-references, paraphrasing (although, I think paraphrasing, which includes interpreting, is much more difficult than she made it seem), but there could have been more discussion about how these things help us make that interpretive journey. I don't think it would be too onerous for a beginner. Even having another example, using a different genre of Scripture, would have given more guidance. We certainly don't interpret Psalms in the way we do James.

That said, I think this is a great tool to introduce women to Bible study. It doesn't take long to read, is not expensive, and it's a pleasant read. For those getting their feet wet, it would be a good introduction. Last week, here at Out of the Ordinary, we talked about summer reading, and this would be a good book to start with.

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