If you are a woman who claims to follow Christ, you need to read this book. Today. I don’t know the last time I devoured a book as quickly as this one, because it is so powerful and important to the idea of biblical womanhood. Rebekah Merkle has taken the much-argued notion of biblical femininity, spun it into crystal clarity, and laid it out in a challenging way for all.
Christian Woman: Who Are We?
What is a Christian woman? I would hope that you, dear sister, reading this post, would identify yourself first and foremost as a follower of Jesus Christ. But then what? What does it truly mean to be a woman in 2017 who lives for Jesus? Does Scripture even address such a thing?
I know women who have climbed the corporate ladder. I know women who lead in churches, as pastors and worship leaders. I know women who wear pearls and heels while they mix drinks for their husband when he gets home from work every evening. I know women who are artists, teachers, carpenters, bakers, actresses, insurance agents, and just about everything in between.
But are we as women fulfilling our commands from God? Mrs. Merkle sets out the answer this very question. However, we women are so distracted from both the creation mandate and the great commission. She states, “I happen to think that the role of women is massively important and incredibly fundamental to the mission God has given us, and I were the devil I would definitely make the goal of distracting women one of my primary objects” (Kindle location 198).
History of Feminism
Written within the past year, this is a current issues book. Mrs. Merkle is not writing about some past-historical-time-gone-by idea of what it might have meant to be a woman. She is writing about the here and now. But the here and now of being a woman has been dramatically shaped by the rise and influence of three waves of feminism. “Feminism has wormed its way so deep into our cultural consciousness that we see women as having only two main options in front of them” (Kindle location 226).
If you don’t really understand the rise of feminism in American culture, you don’t really understand how devastatingly damaging it has been to women, especially women in the church. Mrs. Merkle takes a brief tour of the history of feminism, and this is one of the most important features of the book.
First wave feminism was designed to earn women the right to vote, in order to outlaw alcohol consumption. Strangely, I’m good with both of those things, as I’ve never seen anyone take a drink and make a good decision. However, I am not so keen on the other branch of first wave feminism, which occurred courtesy of Margaret Sanger. Sanger had the goal of “liberation from children and the duties they entail, liberation from the natural consequences of sex, and inevitably, from the restrictions of traditional sexual morality” (Kindle location 418). The founder of Planned Parenthood, she was “an advocate for eugenics and the enforced sterilization of the unfit” (Kindle location 446). So began the successful quest to divorce women from the God-created role of motherhood.
The second wave of feminism took place in the 1960s. Homemaking, once something that demanded a wide ranging set of skills, and actual daily hard work, was eased by the inventions and progress of post World War II. Women were bored. Betty Friedan published an article called “The Feminine Mystique” describing just how unhappy and bored the American housewife really was. She compared immaturity to “femininity itself. Women needed to leave behind the feminine in order to become fully human” (Kindle location 507). Women who embraced the feminine were looked down upon, as someone to be pitied, and the women who stepped outside of the home were heralded as the ones who found “fulfillment” in their careers.
At this point, Merkle asks a fascinatingly thought-provoking question: “If, in her misery and unhappiness, America had fallen to her knees instead of throwing herself into the pursuit of licentiousness, would there have been any resultant change in the way women were viewed?” (Kindle location 606).
Today we are living in third wave feminism. The ultimate result of feminism is opulent self-centeredness, which is the antithesis to everything Jesus Christ is. It’s caged in terms like “fulfillment,” “satisfaction,” and “happiness,” but what it boils down to is women ultimately placing themselves ahead of their husbands, their children, and Christ. Anyone who chooses to place themselves willingly under submission to Christ, or under submission to their husband, is shamed, mocked, ridiculed, and made to feel “less-than,” in direct contradiction to the Word of God.
So What Do Christian Women Do?
This is where the rubber meets the road in this book. I was challenged multiple ways, and I don’t think I am a particularly unhappy or unfulfilled woman. I enjoy being at home, I enjoy homeschooling our child, I rarely bemoan the sacrifices we make so I can do those things. And yet, the final two sections of the book were eye-opening and inspiring.
In the third section of the her book, Mrs. Merkle goes through God’s design for women, laying out scriptural differences between men and women. Just because God created women to be different from men does not mean women are inferior to men. I think many women today, especially in the church, need to hear this truth over and over and over again. Different does not inherently mean less than.
Women are afraid that God has boring things in store for us, if we “just” stay home, “just” become mothers, “just” submit to our husbands. “I’m pretty sure that we’ll find that what God has created us for is far more breathtaking, crazy, scary, and glorious than we have wanted to assume” (Kindle location 860). Shortly after penning this statement, Mrs. Merkel gives a fabulous example of trying to use a knife as a can-opener, or treating a thoroughbred racehorse as a “My Little Pony.”
Are you a knife trying to be a can-opener? Are you a racehorse treating yourself like a toy pony?
She also tackles the very issue of motherhood. Now, as a barren woman, I am always hyper-sensitive to books that cover this topic. I cannot have children. I already feel guilty enough about this, even though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt God has a plan, and the adoption of our son was it. So I was thrilled to read her treatise on motherhood, how not everyone is called to be a wife and/or mother, but that women who are Christians and choose not to have children in lieu of a career are violating God’s command to fill the earth. Our culture is in full-scale rebellion against God. Amen! DON’T STOP READING! She also balances this with the fact that women aren’t just made to have babies, and we aren’t just made to work: we are made to do both.
Helping your husband is not a dirty word. I have to pause here and say that I absolutely adore Mrs. Merkle’s sense of humor. She handles the infiltration of feminism into Christianity in a powerful way with a great turn of phrase over and over again. Ultimately, though, she lands on the side of the fact that women glorify God when we obey His commands by submitting to our husbands. And if you really want to get it, read the section on totem poles, crowns, and Philippians 2.
The “How To” Part
The last section of the book was revolutionary for me. In fact, I was driven to repentance and I have already changed some things around in my home. Mrs. Merkle begins this part by saying, “…recapturing a true understanding of femininity would be intense, challenging, scary, fulfilling, and culturally transformative” (Kindle location 1114). She then gives concrete examples on how to recapture biblical femininity.
First, the most encouraging thing she wrote, for me, was that the woman is the center of the home. She says, “Here’s your job-nail it” (Kindle location 1142). I might have an engraving made of that. For real. If there is no wife, there is no household.
Just let that sink in.
If you are the woman in the household, your God-given task is to manage your household. And your household then becomes the city on the hill, the light to the dark world.
What a privilege and opportunity.
She then challenges the woman’s attitude: are you like an insolent child who picks up their shoes while stomping, fussing, and complaining? Or do you have a happy heart in your service to God?
Conviction. “When God tells you what to do, hop up and cheerfully do what He’s asked of you. Embracing your role at home with a fussy heart, a fat-face, and a floppy walk is not the same thing as obeying” (Kindle location 1156). Wow.
Also convicting was this: “We need to stop thinking of home as a triviality and begin seeing how deeply profound and fundamental it is” (Kindle location 1206). When anything begins to pull you away from “your people,” which is your home, you are not honoring God. Work is not inherently bad, but where is your priority? It should be on your home, and on your people.
Mrs. Merkle covers all the different roles of women: single, married, married with children, grandmother, never married, widowed, etc. There is not one Christ focused woman who cannot benefit from reading this book. She covers all of us.
This is a very long review. I could go on, and I am not kidding when I say this book has had a profound effect on me as a wife, mother, homemaker, and woman. Culture is powerful, and it’s hard not to buy into the lies it feeds us. But now I feel even more grounded in Scripture, and in my conviction that my family is my primary ministry. I can serve my family better, and by doing so, I will better be honoring God.
If you identify as a feminist of any sort, this book will grate against your nerves, but I encourage you, especially, to thoughtfully and carefully read it. Read the history of feminism, and pray about whether you can truly reconcile the principles of feminism with Scriptural Truth.
If you are putting your career ahead of your husband and your children, this book will cause angst. Read it anyway, and then read it again. Check your priorities against those of Scriptural Truth. I work from home and had some serious gut-checking to do.
Above all, if you are a woman struggling with your place in God’s design, read this book. Today. I promise it will help.
“But I am arguing that a sloppy, lazy, underachieving attitude is not glorifying to God and is not a joyful or fulfilling approach to life” (Kindle location 1365).
Merkle, Rebekah. Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2016.