nine must reads by Christian women

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans

In a way, I think this book has been covered thoroughly already. People have reviewed it from every possible angle: positivenegative, and ridiculous. I am not going to write another review that says what others have said better.

In brief, I loved this book. Rachel manages to share a great deal of women’s history and their treatment around the world, language studies, and analysis  of contemporary culture in a conversational way. She draws the reader in and even though she is very serious about this topic, she still doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her sense of humor (often self-deprecating) and her realness seep through every page. I really appreciated the way she shared the ups and the downs of trying so many things. I also appreciated the compassionate way she shared the stories of the amazing women she met along the way.

My one criticism of the book is that Rachel didn’t clearly differentiate between the extreme patriarchy movement and more moderate complementarian movement. Rachel talks about this here, and adds more information that was originally cut from the book because of space constraints. I think this addition to the material helps, and she has indicated she hopes to flesh this out in future editions of the book.

One final note: Those who disagree with Rachel’s views on women in the church have jumped to many wrongheaded conclusions about her motivations and her intentions for this project. Sadly, they have not taken care to limit their critique to her ideas. They have also attacked her personally. Character assassinations only serve to portray the attackers as fearful and desperate. They also show these people to be devoid of the courtesy and humanity we should expect from anyone, but especially from a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s bad enough to see this happening in the political arena. It’s even more repulsive coming from people of faith.

In light of the controversy, I want to add this: I know Rachel personally. We traveled to Bolivia on a World Vision bloggers’ team last summer. She was nearly finished with the year-long project at that point, and we had many fascinating conversations about what she was learning. Rachel loves God. She wrote this book in hopes that by taking a more every-day approachable tack, people outside academia (read: normal every day people like me) could wade through the contradicting rhetoric about women and Christianity. She did not set out to make a mockery of faith, Christians, or the Bible.

Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Justis James

Carolyn makes my list twice, and with good reason. She is a social justice advocate, scholar, speaker, and prolific writer. Her bio on the Whitby Forum where she is featured says,

“Carolyn Custis James (M.A. in Biblical Studies) is an evangelical thinker who loves God enough to break the rules—rules of cultural convention which attempt to domesticate the gospel message of the Bible. Carolyn is president of WhitbyForum, a ministry dedicated to addressing the deeper needs which confront both women and men as they endeavor to extend God’s kingdom together in a messy and complicated world.”

In this book, Carolyn examines what the Bible teaches about men, women, and how they are to work together. As she explains in her chapter on Genesis, God’s instructions for women are not passive. I wish every Christian would read this book!

“Kenegdo” indicates that the woman is a match for the man – like the South Pole to his North Pole, literally “as in front of him.” 

“Ezer” refers to a strong military ally. If you look through the rest of Scripture,ezer is used twice for women (both in Genesis 2), three times to describe those Israel turned to for military aid, and sixteen times to describe God as helper of his people Israel in a military context. 

For a more detailed discussion of this book, see this post I wrote on A Deeper Story  and this response to the question “What Is a Girl or Boy Worth?”

A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle by Sara Gaston Barton

Sara’s book takes what Carolyn teaches in “Half the Church” and illustrates how understanding God’s call on her has played out in her own life. She has worked as a missionary in Uganda, campus minister at Rochester College, and instructor in Rochester’s early college program for academically gifted teens from urban environments. I can relate to her story because she is part of a loose association of churches that is still working out their position on women in leadership, and she is committed to staying and serving inside rather than leaving. I respect her for that, as I have made similar choices.

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Justis James

Carolyn wrote her thesis on the book of Ruth, and in her research she uncovered a deeper narrative than the love story we most commonly associate with this  book. As the back cover states, “Three lives converge in a powerful alliance that transforms their lives and changes the world. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz discover God makes much of broken lives, that he calls men and women to serve him together, and that he’s counting on his daughters to build his kingdom.”

Naomi emerges as a female Job, lamenting her losses and taking action to change the tragic course of her life. Ruth is no demure passive female either; her story shocking and utterly counter-cultural, and yet she is held up as an example of a woman who follows Yahweh. Boaz himself is more than a fairy-tale Prince Charming. Carolyn shows us how much he sacrificed and how much he gained by making the choice to collaborate with Ruth and Naomi. This book will change how you read the story of Ruth, how you see God, and how you see yourself in your own life.

I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith

I first discovered Angie Smith several years ago when a friend shared a post of Angie’s. This post was one of the first she wrote after she and her husband Todd learned that the child they were expecting suffered from a fatal condition. She blogged through the rest of the pregnancy, sharing the ups and downs of that waiting period, the agonizing decisions about delivery and funeral, telling their older two daughters, and begging God to spare the life of their baby.

This book shares more of the story, far more than she shared on the blog. She paints in living color what it’s like to be a Christian and come face to face with the pain and loss we experience in life. Their daughter Audrey was born and died on April 7, 2008, just six months before our Elli died. Reading Angie’s lament and watching her cling to her Abba Father through the grief helped me mourn and grieve as well. I sobbed my way through many of the chapters, but it was a cathartic weeping. This book would be excellent for a mother who has lost a child, or for her friends.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

Three years ago, my faith was a pile of rubble. A pastor friend of mine encouraged me to pick up some spiritual memoirs. She told me that God uses stories to reach us, so read some stories about people’s faith. She recommended Anne’s book “Traveling Mercies,” and I’m so glad I listened.

Anne Lamott’s reverent irreverence makes me laugh. In this book, she shares good and the bad of her childhood, her coming of age, the mess she made of her life, and how God plucked her out of alcoholism and gave her a new quirky little family in an Episcopal church. Her stories are hilarious when they aren’t heartbreaking, and the perspectives she shares are invaluable.

Heads up: this book covers Anne’s journey into faith from an alcoholic, promiscuous background. She grew up in a broken family. And she doesn’t sugar-coat any of it (she is crass, blunt, and liberal with her “bad” words). The beauty in her story is the way the depths to which she sank contrasts sharply with the work God has done in her since.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

Ann’s book is like Rachel’s in that everyone has written about it and covered it from every angle, from the serious to the ridiculous. I loved it, I love her, and I love her poetic lyrical writing style. In some ways, her story is like Angie’s — it’s a story of loss, of the deepest kind of pain, and of God finding her in it and helping her through it. God is no genie in a bottle or get out of jail free card for Ann. God is here, in and through the pain.

Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters–and How to Talk About It by Krista Tippett

Krista’s book is another spiritual memoir that I return to time and again for her calm wisdom and gentle candor. I have underlined many passages of this book, particularly enjoying her example of how to talk about spirituality with people of different perspectives without intensifying the conflicts that surround religion. She is the creator of public radio’s “On Being” (formerly “Speaking of Faith”) broadcast, in which she interviews people from all faiths on a variety of topics. She doesn’t have an ax to grind. She listens, she learns, and she shares in the book how and what she did. This is one to read and re-read.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist

My friend Laura introduced me to Shauna’s books this past summer. Bittersweet is Shauna’s story of change of every sort: changing faith, changing family, relocation, and changing lives. She weaves the thread of finding grace through it all. I love the way she tells stories, and love how she is able to laugh at herself. I find myself relating in particular to the stories she tells about church — working in church, leaving church, and starting over.

***

Now, I know many women have written a great deal of fantastic books. I limited this list to books I’ve read myself and that resonated with me. It’s entirely subjective. I’d love to know which women-authored books on faith have touched you. Please share them in the comments!