In Part 1, I talked about my early understandings (and misunderstandings) of the Proverbs 31 Woman. In Part 2, I shared some of the things I have learned about the theology underlying Proverbs 31. And in Part 3, I’m going to make my point (I promise).
First of all, to wrap up my previous posts, I think most of our modern studies on Proverbs 31 miss the point. The woman of Proverbs 31 is the capstone of the book of Proverbs, a literary device that pulls the whole teaching of Proverbs together. She is NOT a real person (we all know that, right?)–she is, as Bartholomew said, a paradigm of a wise person–a person who fears the Lord. As such, she is an example for everyone–women and men.
We’ve tended to break down Proverbs 31 and turn it into a to-do list for Christian women. But to do so not only takes the passage out of its context, it completely misses the point. The point is NOT that Godly women should rise before dawn, or purchase property, or run cottage industries, or make attractive clothes and furnishings for her family (though there is nothing inherently wrong with those things). The point is that those who live wisely, in the fear of the Lord, will enjoy a life of abundant peace (although that is never guaranteed, as other wisdom literature points out).
Now, MY point, but first, a question. Why didn’t someone tell me this when I was a young mother crushed under expectations I couldn’t attain?
The answer: the women who were teaching me DIDN’T KNOW.
Let’s be honest for a minute. Most popular Christian books for women don’t have a lot of theological meat on the bone. Most female Bible teachers don’t have much, if any, theological education. Most of our Bible studies are topical, about issues we consider “relevant”; we study books ABOUT the Bible (again, usually by people with little to no theological training) instead of digging into the Bible to see what it says.
And that stinks.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking topical studies (which I love) or under-educated Sunday School teachers (which I am!). I’m not saying that a person needs an MDiv to to present God’s word faithfully–far from it!
What DOES bother me is all the passionate, gifted female teachers who have never had a chance to follow their God-given passions and go deeper in their study of the Word, so they can communicate it to others. Seminary is expensive, and the employment outlook for female grads is still pretty dismal.
What DOES bother me is how hard it is for these gifted women to find mentors who can help them learn on their own, because most people with a theological education are men. We women can teach each other how to be good housekeepers–but can we teach each other Hebrew?
What DOES bother me is that we’re trying to feed ourselves off the theological crumbs of what the Bible has to say about women, when there’s a feast of sufficiency spread out on the table that we can’t seem to locate.
What DOES bother me is that many of us are starving, trying to clothe ourselves in shards of scripture that we sense, but don’t want to admit, are insufficient. Or at least our understanding of them is insufficient.
The new findings from Barna, that women, as a group, are leaving the church FASTER THAN MEN, bothers me too.
Do you think there’s a correlation?
We could blame a (negative) cultural shift for why women–most of whom still self-identify as born again Christians–are giving up on church attendance. Or, we could take a good, hard look inward and ask ourselves what we’re going to do about it.
Simple faith is a beautiful thing, but simple explanations just aren’t washing anymore. Nor should they. God has more for Christian women than most of our books express. He expects more from Christian women than most of our churches teach. God is not holding a checklist of things Christian women should do, or a ten-point manifesto of what women should be and believe. No, God wants nothing less than for us to love him with all of our HEART, SOUL, MIND, and STRENGTH, to take up our cross and follow him daily, wherever he leads.
That might look different from our traditional, culturally-informed version of Christian womanhood.
And perhaps, if we want to reach our changing world with the good news Jesus Christ brought for both men AND women, it had better.
So what to do?
What do you think?