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About the Author
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is the host and teacher for Revive Our Hearts, a daily radio program for women heard on 250 stations. Since 1979, she has served on the staff of Life Action Ministries in Niles, Michigan. She has authored or coauthored eighteen books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, A Place of Quiet Rest, and Seeking Him.
Read an Excerpt
To a certain extent, woman is the conservator of her nation's welfare. Her virtue, if firm and uncorrupted, will stand sentinel over that of the empire.
I am thrilled with the plethora of books, tapes, videos, and magazines that are helping Christians think biblically and strategically as we live out our faith in a post-Christian culture. But as I read, listen, and watch, I wonder if a foundational essential for salting culture has been missed. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville discovered this secret ingredient when he traveled through the United States in 1831. He wrote about it in his classic work Democracy in America: "No free communities ever existed without morals, and ... morals are the work of woman. Consequently, whatever affects the condition of women, their habits and their opinions, has great political importance in my eyes."
The nineteenth-century preacher John Angell James was also aware of woman's position as the heart of culture:
The greatest influence on earth, whether for good or for evil, is possessed by woman. Let us study the history of by-gone ages, the state of barbarism and civilization; of the east and the west, of Paganism and Christianity; of antiquity and the middle ages; of the mediaeval and modern times; and we shall find that there is nothing which more decidedly separates them than the condition of woman.
I can almost hear the groans of women. "Where are the men today who place such high value on womanhood?" Some have chosen to land on that question and write books filled with examples of how men have disappointed, discouraged, distressed, degraded, and disgraced women. But that is blame-shifting. The painful reality is that the question is not: "Where are men like Tocqueville and James?" The question is: "Where are the true women who are having such a magnanimous magnetism on our culture?"
The Real Thing
But what is meant by the term "the true woman"?
The dictionary defines true as "consistent with fact or reality; exactly conforming to a rule, standard, or pattern." Some of the meanings of the Greek words translated as "true," "truly," and "truth" in the New Testament include unconcealed, actual, true to fact, real, ideal, genuine, since re, the reality lying at the basis of an appearance, and the manifested veritable essence of a matter.
The true woman is the real thing. She is a genuine, authentic masterpiece. The Master has set eternity in her heart and is conforming her to his own image. There is consistency in her outward behavior because it is dictated by the reality of her inner life. That reality is her redemption.
The true woman is a reflection of her redemption.
Since the fall of Adam, and until Christ returns, there cannot be a thoroughly true reflection of his image. Sin brings confusion, pandemonium, and death to the soul, and its remnants haunt us even after we are born again. But the radical entrance of grace into the heart brings life, order, and sanity. By the transforming power of the gospel, the Christian woman is empowered by God's Spirit to give an increasingly true reflection of her Savior and thus to be a true woman.
"True womanhood" was the accepted and expected concept of womanhood in mid-nineteenth-century America. Women's books and magazines cultivated and propagated this concept. According to Barbara Welter, "Authors who addressed themselves to the subject of women in the mid-nineteenth century used this phrase as frequently as writers on religion mentioned God. Neither group felt it necessary to define their favorite terms; they simply assumed — with some justification — that readers would intuitively understand exactly what they meant."
I first read of the true-woman concept in No Place for Truth. In this book, David Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes:
Moralists and campaigners in the nineteenth century almost invariably addressed their pleas and admonitions to women, to the hands that rocked the cradles. Men, it seemed, were beyond redemption unless their womenfolk could get to them. Carousing and cavorting were accepted as an inevitable part of being male, but it was felt that if women were in some way to fall as well, the very fabric of society would be rent. For this peculiar role in the world, women were not sequestered away from wickedness, as was often the case in Europe, but ... were encouraged to develop the strength of mind and independence of thought without which their innocence would soon be overcome.
Various attributes characterized the nineteenth-century true woman. Welter summarizes these into "four cardinal virtues — piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity." Provocative words to say the least! Part of our task will be to determine if these are biblical virtues. If they are, then we must dismantle our twentieth-century definitions of these words and discover the biblical definitions.
Then and Now
Imagine living in mid-nineteenth-century culture where you would be out of sync if you opposed this standard. Let me jumpstart your imaginings by quoting from some books and magazines of that era.
Imagine sitting in your doctor's office scanning your favorite magazine, The Lady at Home, and reading:
... even if we cannot reform the world in a moment, we can begin the work by reforming ourselves and our households — It is woman's mission. Let her not look away from her own little family circle for the means of producing moral and social reforms, but begin at home.
Imagine sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and a new book by a favorite male author and reading:
Every woman, whether rich or poor, married or single, has a circle of influence, within which, according to her character, she is exerting a certain amount of power for good or harm. Every woman, by her virtue or her vice; by her folly or her wisdom; by her levity or her dignity, is adding something to our national elevation or degradation.
Imagine your daughter perusing a catalog from Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary and being "promised an education that would render women handmaidens to the gospel and provide them with tools they could use 'in the great task of renovating the world.'"
Imagine getting a copy of the much-talked-about Democracy in America and reading:
If I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.
It sounds idyllic.
But that is not the time in history when God placed us on this planet. That was then; this is now.
Fast forward from the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century and imagine ...
My friend Ruth returning to teach high school after thirteen years as a stay-at-home mom:
I knew intellectually about the notion of truth being relative, but I was not prepared for the reality of the results of this philosophy. In a discussion about cheating, I told the students they should not cheat because it was wrong. They could not connect with what I was saying. They looked at me incredulously and asked, "Why?"
Imagine faithful Christian parents being told by their teenage daughter that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. It is an easy way to "get rid of the problem," and she thinks their objections are just another ploy to control her.
Imagine my young friend Jennifer, along with seventeen other students in a high school health class in a conservative suburban community, being asked if they think it is wrong for an unmarried couple to live together. Jennifer and five others said yes. Two-thirds saw no problem with this arrangement.
Imagine a Re-imagining Conference billed as "A Global Conference by Women; for Women and Men," where conference participants reportedly explored ways to "re-imagine" God in nontraditional ways. One speaker told the group, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all. I think Jesus came for life and to show us something about life. ... I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff...." Participants worshiped the divine in each other by marking red dots on their foreheads to signify their divinity and then bowing to each other in an act of reverence. They sang songs to the goddess Sophia, the source of their divinity, the creator who dwells within them and unleashes within them their divine power.
Imagine a United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, where, according to Dr. James Dobson:
The delegates from the United States, Canada and the European Union lived up to expectations. They focused on redesigning the family, reordering the way males and females interrelate, promoting "reproductive rights for women," distributing condoms and safe-sex nonsense to kids, propagating "homosexual and lesbian rights," weakening parental authority, undermining "patriarchal" religious teachings and spreading feminist ideology to every nation on earth.
Workshops at the conference included "Lesbian Flirtation Techniques Workshop" and "How Religious Fundamentalism Helps the Spread of AIDS."
Obviously the reasons for such a contrast between then and now are complex. But the question must be asked: Is the loss of true womanhood a basic cause for our current cultural poverty and confusion? It seems undeniable that it is at least a contributor. Which forces another question: Could the recapturing of true womanhood be a contributor to, or dare we dream, a catalyst for reforming and reshaping culture?
The true-woman concept is much broader than the husband-and-wife relationship. We will see that the virtues of true womanhood are biblical virtues that cross all cultural, situational, and generational boundaries and go to the heart of the covenant community of faith. But first let me build a case for the urgency for women of biblical faith to give a true reflection of our redemption by maintaining a firm and uncorrupted virtue that "will stand sentinel over that of the empire" at this time in history.
Cultural chaos is nothing new. Since Adam and Eve plunged humanity into sin, there have been two kingdoms warring over territorial rights. The territory is the human heart, and the issue is who will rule. There is no demilitarized zone. The enemy of our souls is ruthless, deceptive, and dazzling. He cunningly adapts to each generation and location. But in God's providence, this is the time in history and the place on the globe that he has placed us. This is the time and place that we are to reflect our redemption. So what characterizes our time?
Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, gave a trenchant critique in Forbes magazine. Her critique is noteworthy because her vantage point affords her the opportunity to observe and participate in the broader secular culture. In a sense, this is a view from within. Noonan writes: "The life of people on earth is obviously much better than it was 500 years ago. ... But we are not happier. I believe we are just cleaner, more attractive sad people than we used to be."
After cataloging some reasons people today are discontented, Noonan declares:
It is embarrassing to live in the most comfortable time in the history of man and not be happy. We all have so much!
... I find myself thinking of Auden's words about the average man in 1939, as darkness gathered over Europe. ... Auden called his era the "age of anxiety." I think what was at the heart of the dread in those days, just a few years into modern times, was that we could tell we were beginning to lose God — banishing him from the scene, from our consciousness, losing the assumption that he was part of the daily drama, or its maker. And it is a terrible thing when people lose God. Life is difficult and people are afraid, and to be without God is to lose man's great source of consolation and coherence....
I don't think it is unconnected to the boomers' predicament that as a country we were losing God just as they were being born.
At the same time, a huge revolution in human expectation was beginning to shape our lives, the salient feature of which is the expectation of happiness....
Somewhere in the seventies, or the sixties, we started expecting to be happy, and changed our lives (left town, left families, switched jobs) if we were not. And society strained and cracked in the storm.
I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated — that, in a way, life is overrated. We have lost, somehow, a sense of mystery — about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such — unhappiness. The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness — if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches — you are despairing.
After this piercing analysis of our time, Noonan concludes on a note of what sounds to me to be sad resignation:
It's odd to accuse boomers of reticence, but I think we have been reticent, at least in this:
When we talk about the difficulties of our lives and how our country has changed, we become embarrassed and feel ... dotty. Like someone's old aunt rocking on the porch and talking about the good old days. And so most of us keep quiet, raise our children as best we can, go to the cocktail party, eat our cake, go to work and take the vacation.
We have removed ourselves from leadership, we professional white-collar boomers. We have recused ourselves from a world we never made. We turn our attention to the arts and entertainment, to watching and supporting them or contributing to them, because they are the only places we can imagine progress. And to money, hoping that it will keep us safe.
The oddity of our time is the juxtaposition of Peggy Noonan's commentary and the rise of evangelicalism. On the one hand there is this discontent and reticent resignation, and on the other hand we hear staggering statistics about the growth of evangelicalism. David Wells comments on this:
The vast growth in evangelically minded people in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s should by now have revolutionized American culture. With a third of American adults now claiming to have experienced spiritual rebirth, a powerful countercurrent of morality growing out of a powerful and alternative worldview should have been unleashed in factories, offices, and boardrooms, in the media, universities, and professions, from one end of the country to the other. The results should by now be unmistakable. Secular values should be reeling, and those who are their proponents should be very troubled. But as it turns out, all of this swelling of the evangelical ranks has passed unnoticed in the culture. It has simply been absorbed and tamed. ... This surely is an odd circumstance. Here is a corner of the religious world that has learned from the social scientists how to grow itself, that is sprouting huge megachurches that look like shopping malls for the religious, that can count in its own society the moneyed and powerful, and yet it causes not so much as a ripple. ... Thus it is that both American culture and American evangelicalism have come to share the same fate, both basking in the same stunning, outward success while stricken by a painful vacuity, an emptiness in their respective centers. ... In the one there are no moral absolutes, and in the other there is no theology.
This is our time. This is our opportunity. There is a vacuum of moral leadership. There is decadence and despair. There is a shallowness of theology that has produced a superficial lifestyle among Christians. But woman is the keeper of the moral atmosphere. She sets the moral compass. But not just any woman.
The author of Female Piety understood this:
Man is neither safe in himself, nor profitable to others, when he lives dissociated from that benign influence which is to be found in woman's presence and character. ... But it is not woman, gay, frivolous, and unbelieving, or woman separated from those divine teachings which make all hearts wise, that can lay claim to the exercise of such an influence. But when she adds to the traits of sympathy, forbearance, and warm affection, which characterize her, the strength and wisdom of a well-cultivated intellect, and the still higher attributes of religious faith and holy love, it is not easy to limit the good she may do in all situations, and in all periods of life.
A Band-Aid approach will not suffice. Our moment in history demands women who know their time, but who are not controlled or manipulated by their time. Our time begs for women of biblical faith who can exert a reforming influence on culture.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The True Woman"
Copyright © 2019 Susan Hunt.
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
Introduction: Twenty-Two Years Later 17
Part 1 The True Woman Versus the New Woman
1 Her Time 29
2 Her Standard 49
Part 2 Her Identity
3 A Recipient of Redemption 71
4 A Reflection of Redemption 93
5 A Cultivator of Community 111
6 A Channel of Compassion 133
Part 3 Her Virtue
7 Piety 149
8 Purity 167
9 Domesticity 187
10 Submission 205
The True Woman Manifesto 233
About the Author 239
General Index 247
Scripture Index 251
What People are Saying About This
“Susan Hunt is a friend and mentor to many, including myself. In The True Woman, she comes alongside women to encourage and equip them with a theological framework to live out their womanhood to the glory of God. May Susan’s exhortations here equip another generation of women to reflect their redemption in their home, church, work, and community.”
Christina Fox, Women’s Ministry Advisor, Presbyterian Churches of America; retreat speaker; author, A Heart Set Free; Closer Than a Sister; and Idols of a Mother’s Heart
“‘True (adjective): genuine, faithful, steadfast, consistent, and loyal.’ If you desire to understand these characteristics of your true God and long for these words to be a descriptor of your life, then you have picked up the right book. Susan Hunt courageously unpacks the multifaceted dimensions of the calling of a true woman. I have seen firsthand how this book has stood the test of time, not only in its content but also in the contours of the life of its author.”
Karen Hodge, Coordinator of Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Church in America; coauthor, Life-giving Leadership and Transformed
“Certain books stand the test of time and serve as guidebooks for the next generation. Susan Hunt’s The True Woman is such a book. A classic ‘must-read.’ Bold, countercultural, and more relevant than ever.”
Mary A. Kassian,author, Girls Gone Wise
“In this book, Susan Hunt articulates profound biblical truths clearly, from a heart nurtured for many years under the authority of Scripture. You will be challenged to think more biblically about God’s redemptive calling and to become a ‘cultivator of true community.’ These are the marks of the true womana beacon of hope and faith. As the wife of a minister for over forty years, I am thankful for this invaluable resource.”
Karen Loritts, speaker; coauthor, Your Marriage Today . . . and Tomorrow