Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What’s Wrong with Women’s Bible Studies?

For better or for worse, much of contemporary American theology is market-driven. That is to say what is widely published, widely advertised, and widely read is all too often what is sufficiently tantalizing rather than what is sufficiently orthodox. Too many publishers of Bible study materials realize that women are ready consumers, especially when it comes to anything which may serve to support their perception of their spiritual journeys. Too often these materials rely upon stereotypes of women and what they desire from Bible study, play to these stereotypes, and coax women further down the road of crass self-centeredness, and general vapidity, all under the guise of growing closer to God. One would think that Lutheran women, those who walk the lonely way, to borrow Hermann Sasse's phrase, would be immune to the silliness which permeates the field of women's study materials, but this is hardly the case. One need only to look at the recommended reading for the Lutheran Women's Leadership Institute to see how far afield Bible study for Lutheran women has gone.

What's wrong with using materials from non-Lutheran sources? This is a question often posed to me, generally with the caveat that we may glean from these sources the "good" stuff, excising the problematic portions. This view is exactly the problem. It seems clear to me that anyone who would favor most of the people on this list is probably ill-equipped to decipher sound Biblical theology. It's a harsh statement, I know, but it's the truth. That is not to say that one couldn't, hypothetically, study Beth Moore or Rick Warren, with a mind toward spotting the difficulties in their respective theologies, my criticism is really leveled at those who think they are capable of sifting through the trash, when they are still electing to feed people trash. This is akin to turning down a fresh and perfectly cooked steak in favor of a Big Mac and claiming that really they're very similar because they both contain beef (maybe). Once you've claimed the Big Mac is really equivalent to the steak (you just need to remove the extra buns and unidentifiable sauce), you've already demonstrated you don't know what you're talking about, and I know not to approach you for culinary advice.

"But really we're talking about the same Jesus, and yes I know that Baptists don't believe in the sacraments, but that's secondary." Yet another statement I often hear (are we spotting the problem yet?). Okay, ladies, the sacraments aren't some nice little add-on Jesus gave us to make our day a little better, brighter, or happier. They're our lifeblood, quite literally. Can someone be saved without the sacraments? Yeah, I suppose, but why are you even asking the question? That is like discussing whether or not you could, hypothetically, hike Everest in a cute pair of Cole Haan sling-backs. You could, I guess, but you'll probably lose a couple toes to frostbite. Our pastors don't harp on the sacraments in their preaching and teaching, and actually pour them into our mouths and on to our heads because they couldn't think of anything more creative to do this Sunday. They do it because it's what Jesus gave them to do! They are tasked with pouring Jesus into our ears and into our mouths, so we may have certainty in His work applied to each of us individually. You really want to hear about how you can be a better person rather than being given Christ, in His body and blood, for you and the forgiveness of your sins? Believe it or not self-esteem is not a more pressing need than salvation. And, believe it or not, the two really aren't connected. How you feel about yourself has little to do with whether or not Jesus died for you. Sacramental theology is not just about these two (three?) rituals in which the church engages on a fairly regular basis, they are about the promises of God given to us, the promise of Christ Himself for us. Rather than trying to feel Christ in your heart (the bedrock of all asacramental theology) how about you receive Him in your mouth—given and shed for you. Really to reject Christ in the sacrament is to be of a different spirit, as the God who is not flesh for us is of no avail to us.

Next, "but women don't want to study heavy theology, they want something lighter and happier." Sigh. Again and again I find this actually isn't the case. Women think this is what they want because it's what they've been told, but I also know a lot of women who won't attend a women's Bible study because they're tired of talking about Jesus' gift of a good manicure, or why God is like chocolate (yes, two studies I actually sat in on). Believe it or not ladies, you are intelligent, you do have a brain, and you can apply your brain to the study of God's Word. It won't hurt, promise. Next, if you don't want to study heavy theology, and theology isn't really interesting to you, then perhaps you should, I don't know, step out of the way and let your PASTOR lead the study, after all, it seems he has received the call to do so.

Why do women's Bible study materials exist in the first place? Honestly, I haven't a clue. I really think it's just market-driven theology which I referenced in the first paragraph. Women will buy things because they are especially for women, are marketed for them, and so create a profit for publishing houses. I think the claim that we need general studies for women (as opposed to studies for issues which are specific to women) is entirely bogus. The difference between a Bible study for men and one for women is that if the leader really likes you she might bring chocolate. Yeah, there I go with the stereotype that all women like chocolate, but my point is that the material isn't different simply because it's for a different gender. There isn't a feminine view of the message of Scripture which is distinct from the masculine view. I'm sorry ladies, but Jesus didn't give you some special message which can only be decoded if you have a uterus. The truth is all Scripture is about Christ and His work for us. There isn't a women's gospel and a men's gospel. Does this mean that it's inappropriate to have a time of Bible study where only the women gather together? No. Women do tend to be more open, more honest, and fellowship a little easier when it is only women. Just as men like to have "man time" (read: hunting trips) women like to have time where it's just us girls. This is fine, but PASTORS, for the love of the women in your church, pay attention to what they're studying. If you are not going to lead the study, then ensure that the woman who is knows her stuff, and always be aware of what they are studying.

This problem is not just a women's problem. It's not simply that I'm whining because I don't fit in at any women's Bible study because I will ALWAYS choose Chemnitz over Warren, but rather is expressed as concern for the church as a whole. My concern is for the women who absorb this stuff, and as a result have no grasp of the faith which has been once and for all delivered to the saints, and who then catechize their children with Evangelical assumptions in mind. The truth is that we can talk about male headship until we're blue in the face, but the fact is that a lot of fathers are absent, either from the household, or from church, or both, and women have stepped into their roles taking defacto headship. Now we have children, both boys and girls, raised to believe that feelings trump truth every day of the week. Lord, have mercy.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you Ellie! You're right on!

  2. Ellie,
    I do wish you could post on a regular basis as you have some powerful stuff here.

  3. Excellently written...profoundly accurate and timely..."settings of gold and silver"...thank you!

    Pastor Dave

  4. WOW !!! And I'm not even Lutheran! Agree 100%