Seeking to rediscover the full reality of what it means to be female, this book looks to God’s Word as the foundation to help Christian women to live out their callings as free and authentic members of Christ's mission.
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About the Author
Abigail Dodds (BA, Bethel University) is a wife and mother of five children. She writes and teaches Bible studies for the women at Bethlehem Baptist Church, where her husband, Tom, serves as an elder. She contributes to desiringGod.org and blogs at her personal site, hopeandstay.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Meaning of Words: Christian and Woman
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
Language has this tendency to morph and change over time. It's not necessarily a bad thing; new words are created and others become outdated, so a woman saying "I pray thee" in the eighteenth century now would simply say "please." The meaning isn't lost in the change. But not all language can or should morph. There are some words that God has given us to hold onto. They're his words for things. Christian and woman are two of those words. No doubt both of them have fallen on hard times.
Someone could choose to write about a number of other words that God has given us, so why pick those two? I suppose because of how relevant they are for me and how far I've had to come in my understanding of them, even as I live them — and how far I still have to go. When God names something, he imbues it with his created and assigned meaning, and it's a fearful thing to go around changing the name or the meaning of something authored by God. It just so happens that he's called me "Christian" and "woman." And if you're reading this, it's likely what he has called you too.
I increasingly encounter Christian women who are unacquainted with the breadth and depth of the terms and how they relate, settling for caricatures, shadows, and distortions. And as I grow in my understanding of the two terms, I find that while it is possible to be a woman and not a Christian, it is not possible, for me, to be a Christian as anything other than a woman. That may be ridiculously obvious, but we live in an age where the obvious is obscure.
Even those who call themselves "Christian" can be confusing in their messages about these words' meanings, from articles to books to women's talks to sermons. Some agree with each other; some strongly disagree. How do we sort out these competing messages among Christians? How do we hold on to what's true and let the chaff blow away? I know of only one way: the wisdom given by God's Holy Spirit through the potent dosing of God's Word in the midst of God's people. If our convictions and our very lives are not breathed out by God's Spirit, rooted in his Word, we will be confused by the mass of articulate, funny, and appealing messages that come at us. We will likely gravitate toward the ones that most resonate with our personal preferences. Or our sin bent.
Bravery with the World or the Word?
I'm partly distressed over the state of Christian women. I see women who have abandoned their reason, their moral agency, and their God-fearing courage to follow people who tell them just what they want to hear (messages that are strikingly similar to the trends of our time), attending online churchy clubs and plastering half-true platitudes all over social media. I see women's conferences filled with relatable personalities, side-splitting monologues, and new false doctrines that are actually as old as the garden of Eden and Eve herself.
They revere a self-styled bravery that is anything but brave, "courageously" calling sin beautiful in agreement with the world, rather than standing firm in the minority of Bible-believing people who must set themselves stable and steadfast in each era's cultural tornado. Empathy is their idol; feelings the new Baal. They imagine that the sorrow and distancing of fellow Christians from them is proof of their solidarity with Jesus, when really it's the fruit of a desperate and impossible friendship with the world that God's children are forbidden to take part in. And we can't be surprised by it. Not only because all of us are sinful, but because in some places the church has become a bastion of the perfect rather than the gathering of the needy. This has sounded a dissonant note in the hearts of many women, causing them to search out new interpretations on truth. Let's beckon them home. Not to the hollow, culturally Christian tombs called "church" — polished on the outside but dead where it counts — but to the incomparable, uncompromising Jesus, the true Shepherd of the sheep.
I'm also encouraged. I'm encouraged by the women who show up to study God's Word week in and week out, young women who are sick to death of the fluff, who know that a half-truth is more dangerous than a full-out lie and refuse to remain infants in their thinking. I'm encouraged by women who, rather than follow their feelings, lead those feelings around by the sound of God's voice in the Bible. This book is for them. And it's for the rest of us who need a refresher course that blows gospel air into our stale hearts, reminding us what life in Christ as a woman looks like.
To some, Christian means nothing more than being born south of the Mason-Dixon Line to folks who used to go to church, and there's a plaque on a pew somewhere to prove it. Where I'm from in Minnesota, being a Christian means being nice and indirect, never disagreeing with people except in the cloak of passive-aggressiveness. Many of us opt for adjectives to help give clarity to the word Christian, such as serious, Bible-believing, born-again, evangelical, Reformed, and so on. Some toss it in the dust bin and try to think up a cool-sounding synonym.
The word woman is equally distressing, if not more. In our society, being a woman is increasingly based on our sense of ourselves rather than on what God has assigned us to be, so it's hard to know what is meant by the term. Among some feminists, a woman is someone with few, if any, meaningful differences from man — except that she likely views women as a victim of "gendered society." Her biology is of little to no significance; her mind is everything — as if our female minds can overcome gender, which even secular science reminds us is not the case. This echo of Gnosticism makes bodies irrelevant and embraces a mind-over-matter dictum.
What we have left is a woman whose intellect is detached from her body, who tries to ignore biological and physical reality. This can account for women vying for a spot on men's sports teams, with an absolutized belief that they can be whatever they put their mind to. It also accounts for those, perhaps few, eager for a place in military combat. And it even accounts for bright women who try to detach from their bodies to use them for sex, money, and power.
The transgender thinking goes farther, not ignoring reality but actively redefining it. For some people who consider themselves transgender, most famously showcased by Bruce Jenner's change to Caitlyn, becoming a woman may mean wearing feminine clothes, having plastic surgeries to construct womanly anatomy, taking hormones and drugs to suppress other hormones, and speaking in a womanly voice, with a hyper-feminine affect. In other words, and with no sense of irony, being a woman is often the opposite of what it means to modern feminists.
It is alarming to some older feminists that their labor to bring forth a better world for women ended up giving birth to a movement that seeks the annihilation of women altogether. The younger generation doesn't seem to mind, however, and are quickly working to bridge the gap between feminism and transgenderism, so that Bruce Jenner's expression of transgenderism (a man becoming super feminine in mostly superficial ways) is less in vogue than the logical next step of genderlessness, or genderqueer identity. One detail that we should observe is that the movement toward gender fluidity in all its forms harms women and children. It harms men too. But it is insidious in how it removes protection and creates added vulnerability for women and children. The attempt to abolish or blur the sexes will fail, as nature — that is, our Father's world — has a way of being intractable. But in the trying, many women are being and will be damaged by themselves or others.
Recycled Sin, Repeated History, Unchanging Christ
These cultural winds should not shock us, nor should they produce in us knee-jerk reactions as though sin, especially sexual sin, were a new or foreign idea. It's been around from the beginning. My own sinfulness, my own proclivities toward evil, ensure my compassion for those who have not received Christ as Lord and are walking in darkness (Eph. 2:1–3). And the pain and confusion men and women experience as they spend their lives feeling shackled by their sex, or defined by sexual orientation or an unwanted fixation on an internal sense of gender, should secure our action to bring the gospel to them. The pain and confusion we all experience before coming to Christ is inextricably linked with our hatred and rejection of God, which is also a type of hatred of ourselves. We hate what God has done — he has made us a particular way, and we want to be self-makers (Rom. 1:24–25). The gospel is the only hope of peace for all of us.
Within Christianity, we also see some moving toward defining femaleness as a role that we inhabit rather than as an ontological, whole-person category. It is as though we relegate our sex to our uterus and uniquely female parts, the same way we relegate our womanhood to the passages of Scripture that directly address women rather than understanding that the XX chromosomes span head, shoulders, knees, and toes — and that we are always addressed as women, whether directly or indirectly, in a broad sense, by all of Scripture.
Thankfully God's spoken Word, the Bible, and his spoken word in creation give substance to these words — Christian and woman — with all the precision and clarity that the world, which has closed its eyes to "the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20), needs. And both have done so through the ages, undeterred as new waves of so-called enlightenment crash against their unchanging shoreline.
If the roots of our ideals for Christian women can be traced to an imaginary 1950s suburban utopia or the pride of the antebellum era or Jane Austen's clever Lizzy Bennett or reactionary feminism or career-driven urban centers or any place other than in the one man, Jesus Christ, the fruit on our tree will be rotten. There is only one seed out of which Christian women grow, and that seed isn't an American ideal; it is the imperishable seed of Christ, and it is able to grow in every place and people in the world.
Our Christianity and our womanhood are two things that aren't going away. Don't you think it's worth our time to try to understand them the way God does?
1. What is your understanding of the word Christian? Who and what define it for you?
2. What is your understanding of the word woman? Who and what define it for you?
3. How does the culture around you define these words? Do those definitions match with God's definitions?CHAPTER 2
The End Is the Beginning
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17
... even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4
When most of us come to Christ, we know relatively little about him. Likely we haven't even read all of his Book. But what we do know is indescribably good news, and it is enough to secure our eternal devotion.
What we know when we come to Christ is the end of the story, as far as the Bible is concerned. We know the gospel, which came into full view in the last third of Scripture. Even those of us raised on Scripture, when we come to Christ, our coming is still located at the end of the Book. And as we find ourselves new, reborn, and in Christ, having begun at the end, we go back and learn or relearn all about God's story — his creation, his plan, his promises — which has now become our story. We read how Christ was there from the beginning and that God made everything through Christ (John 1:1–3), how we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph.1:4), how Christ was everywhere (Luke 24:27) — popping up visibly and invisibly — and how that's now our family history. It's like children asking to hear the story of how they were born and how their parents and grandparents met. They need someone else to recount it or show them the photo albums or baby books. And they never, ever get tired of hearing it.
So rather than understand ourselves as first women and all that entails and then Christians, it actually works the opposite way. Without Christ, we can know what we ought to be as women because of the clear signs given to us in creation and in our created bodies, but we will be powerless to be what we ought. Even more than that, we will be at war with God and his creation. We must first be found in Christ in order to humbly and happily receive both the revelation of God's world and his Word. We can never come to the Old Testament, even the creation account, and expect to understand it rightly without the revelation of Jesus Christ. That's who the whole book is about, after all. So that's where we begin.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is something a young child can understand, but its complexity and ramifications are inexhaustible. It is that God, who created everything and everyone (Gen. 1:1), sent his Son (1 John 4:14), who is also God (John 8:58), to earth to be born as a man named Jesus(Matt. 1:21). He did this out of his great love for us (Eph. 2:4), because our sin made us his enemies; his Son Jesus came to make peace for us (Rom. 5:1, 10). The way Jesus made this peace was by living a holy, perfect, and sinless life (2 Cor.5:21), then being crucified by wicked people like us and dying a terrible death on a cross (Luke 23). When he died, he took the punishment for all the sins of those who put their trust in him — past, present, and future (Rom. 3:21–26). He was buried in a tomb, and three days later, God raised him from the dead, and he appeared to many in his resurrected body (Acts 2:32; 1 Cor. 15:6). Then God took him up to heaven, where Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father (Luke 24:51; Col. 3:1).
All who repent of their sin, die to themselves, and believe in him are given eternal life and the righteousness of Christ (Luke24:47; Rom. 6:5–14). They are also given God's Holy Spirit, who was sent as a helper for us, to guide us in the truth (John14:16–17). And even in this life, our lives are now lived in thedeath-conquering Christ, as though eternity has already begun (Col. 3:3–4). We are transformed, brand new, and born-again(2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:3).
This is the gospel. It is the end of the story — which is just where all good stories really begin.
An Onion or an Apple Tree
There's a real risk for us though, even as we embrace the gospel, that we will make it a story that's mainly about us. Our self-discovery, our journey, our triumph. We Christians have this knack for cramming the gospel into one short act of a play that merely enhances the bigger epic tale starring yours truly. We all crave self-knowledge: "Who am I?" or for some, "What's unique about me?" And we tend to make those the central plot points of our lives.
The process of discovery often looks like an attempt to climb inside our belly buttons and peer through any cracks to the innards. Maybe then we'll know who we are and why we're special. We think of ourselves like an onion with oh-so-many layers, and as we peel them back, we are as beguiled as Mr. Tumnus in C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "'Yes,' said Mr. Tumnus, 'like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.'" But rather than being in the real Narnia beholding better glory after better glory, we're utterly captivated by the navel-lint idol of self. Even those of us who don't like ourselves are often still captive to the fixation of self.
The inundation of online personality tests is enough to keep us busily navel gazing for days on end. We can unearth what Disney princess best matches our disposition, whether we are an introvert or an extrovert and the vast ways we've been misunderstood as a result of that. We can discover our strengths and learn that our Myers-Briggs type has us in the rare 1 percent of personalities! And even more, we can share our newfound knowledge of self with all our Facebook friends, so they too can revel in us. I suppose we could call it navel-gazing's underbelly. But real self-knowledge comes from knowing God, from looking out, not in.
So how do we rightfully acknowledge the actual categories of our lives that exist and make us uniquely us without engaging in a narcissistic fixation on Ten Things Every Introvert Needs from Others to Be Happy? We really are composed of something — the sum of the life we've lived, our roles and talents. In that scheme, our onion layers might include categories such as daughter, sister, friend, victim, mom, wife, single, divorced, musician, expert of such and such, communicator, and on and on, depending on the sum of your life experience, talents, and roles. And if you're a Christian, you may think of the most foundational layer or the core of the onion as "Christian," and that layer is the key component of who you are.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "(A)Typical Woman"
Copyright © 2019 Abigail Dodds.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Women Through And Through-In Christ
1 The Meaning of Words: Christian and Woman 19
2 The End Is the Beginning 27
3 Wholly Women 33
4 Bible Women 43
5 Embodied Women 47
6 (A)Typical Women 59
Part 2 Women In All We Do-In Christ
7 Transforming Women 67
8 Single Women 73
9 Married Women 79
10 Mothering Women 89
11 Working Women 97
12 Discipling Women 105
Part 3 Fearless And Free Women-In Christ
13 Strong and Weak Women 113
14 Dependent Women 119
15 Afflicted Women 125
16 Free Women 133
17 The Infinite Christ in Finite Women 143
General Index 155
Scripture Index 159
What People are Saying About This
“God is calling Christian women not to be typical, but to be faithful, joyful, and fruitfulin a hundred significant good works prepared before the universe existed. Abigail Dodds is a proven voice for truth among today’s cacophony of counsel for women. Her passion is that women love being God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated women. This is not the portrait of womanhood painted by the world. Therefore, she is not calling for something easy, but something courageous. I hope you consider her challenge.”
John Piper, Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary; author, Desiring God
“(A)Typical Woman reminds readers to break the mold of Christian stereotypes while resisting the untrue, pliable ideas of the world. This was a deep, thought-provoking read that challenges us to find our identity in Christ alone.”
Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler, Cofounders, Risen Motherhood
“Abigail Dodds presents a gospel-centered and gospel-saturated approach to the topic of womanhood. She points women to our identity in Christ and encourages, challenges, and exhorts us to live in light of our union with Christ. This book is for any woman in any season.”
Kristin Schmucker, Founder and CEO, The Daily Grace Co.; Bible study author
“I believe every Christian woman will benefit from reading (A)Typical Woman. In it, Abigail Dodds gently corrects false beliefs about womanhood, encouraging us to embrace God’s true design for Christian women by centering our entire person around Christ. Dodds’s words refreshed and encouraged me not only to embrace but to actually enjoy my design as a woman of God.”
Hunter Beless, Founder and Executive Director, Journeywomen podcast
“Our generation suffers from amnesia. We don’t remember who we are or why we were created, and that is why, sadly, we have settled for a distorted reality. This book is an elixir against the terrible disease that causes us to forget who we are as women and what our womanhood is really about. I invite you to read it to discover the truth or to remember it. This book is a timely reminder of truth to women living in a forgetful generation. In (A)Typical Woman, Abigail Dodds’s words are filled with truth, grace, and great insight.”
Betsy Gómez, Blogger, Revive Our Hearts Hispanic Outreach