What Food Is For

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Real Food and True Womanhood 201

When my children were babies, I determined that nary a French fry nor a nugget would ever taint their tender stomachs. But as they grew into high-maintenance toddlers and preschoolers, some days would wear me down and I’d pull into a drive through to buy ten dollars worth of kiddy joy and mom relief like any other sentient woman. The shiny packaging and suboptimal contents would be greeted with songs of exultation, even as I died inside with guilt over my nutritional hypocrisy.

As the years passed, my commitment to pushing back against the constant pressure of BigBurger didn’t change, but my strategy did. Partnering with my meat and potatoes loving husband, we christened two Fridays a month “Make Your Own Burger” night. We invested in some essential tools – a sturdy Weber grill, a high end deep fat fryer, and a French fry cutter. We stocked up on high quality ingredients and fixings – grass fed beef, brioche buns, even truffle salt for the French fries. After nearly a decade bi-monthly messes and grease of elbows and other sources, my kids are almost totally deaf and blind to the siren symbols of the Golden Arches, red arrows, and all the rest. They know the difference between the taste and the composition of homemade food vs. mass produced, and know why they like homemade better

I got a taste of how that same kind of difference applies to women’s Bible studies when I spent two and a half days at a Simeon Trust workshop on Biblical exposition last year. The Simeon Trust has been teaching the principles of expositional preaching and teaching to both pastors and laypeople in ministry for well over ten years. In their workshops for women, they walk women tasked with leading Bible study and other ministry to women in their churches through basic principles of biblical exposition, help them hone their own skills so that they can grow beyond being fed what others have prepared, to studying and preparing texts to serve to others on their own.

Over the course of two and a half days, we worked our way through the entire book of Titus, learning fundamental expositional disciplines such as:

  • Staying on the line of the text, neither straying above or below it
  • Letting the Bible shape our framework, instead of the other way around
  • Apprehending a text’s structure to uncover its emphasis
  • Looking for the melodic line of the book to inform each passage in it
  • Travelling through the Cross (looking for natural connections between the text and the gospel)

We put these disciplines to work as we presented expositions of small portions of the book of Titus to one another during our small group time. We also sat together as a large group as the different Simeon Trust leaders lead us through longer expositions of selected passages.

Because God is sovereign and, obviously, has a sense of humor, one of the passages I was assigned to deliver was Titus 2:1-11. In the past, overexposure to cheesy, eisegeted-to-death approaches to this section have lead me to give it a rather wide berth in my personal study. Forced now to grapple with it in earnest, my discomfiture gave way to actual delight as I worked this passage through the grid of the expositional principles we’d been taught. Read in its historical and literary context, with the melodic line of “Not like this, but like this, because God our Savior has done this” running through it, Paul’s exhortations read as representative examples of gospel-grounded-transformation as an active defense against cultural capitulation. Washed, renewed, justified and made heirs of grace, not by our own works, but by God’s mercy, all of us are both called and equipped to live within our particular contexts in a way that displays to the world what’s been done for us. Our temporal circumstances may be similar to, or different from, those of ancient Crete. But the same God who was Savior of the Christians of Titus’ day has saved us as well, and it is that salvation which should shape our actions and attitudes, not the particular culture in which we each live.

On the drive home from the workshop, I pondered the insights I’d gained, not just regarding principles of expositional teaching, but also how those principles unlocked the significance of the book of Titus to my own life in a way that had previously eluded me. Why had so many previous studies left me more frustrated than filled with faith? A package waiting for me at my desk when I got home offered at least one possible answer.

Prior to attending the workshop, I had been kindly invited to participate in a study of Titus 2 using the latest study from True Woman ministries. Titled “True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood”, the study takes the same Titus 2 passage I was assigned at the Simeon Trust, and expands it into a ten week study. Replete with colorful decorations, illustrations and stories, it’s an attractive book to leaf through. But a deeper read revealed how consistently it differed from, and even contradicted, the Simeon Trust Bible study approach.

Where the Simeon Trust taught me to begin with, and never veer long from, reading and rereading and rereading a passage (and the ones that surround it), True Womanhood 201 literally pushed the passage to the margins of the study, so that the numerous invitations to “read the verses in the margins” really grated. The bulk of the study was comprised of stories (some extra-biblical riffs on Bible characters), personal anecdotes, and commentary from the authors. Some written exercises invited helpful personal meditation. But many others were remarkably simplistic, involving checklists, true/false questions and even crossword puzzles. When I offered the book to my 12 and 14-year-old daughters to look at, they both asked “why a book about womanhood had so much stuff for girls in it.” I couldn’t easily answer them.

Questions frequently veered off the line of the text, for example, leapfrogging Paul’s admonition to wives to love their husbands into an awkward exercise about how single women could be husband-lovers by not leading their friend’s husbands into temptation. With supporting verses plucked from all over the Bible, the melodic line of Titus was muted, the context was muddled, and the Cross was far from the study’s center (although by no means absent). The center was, instead, the framework of biblical womanhood, so that the text was set up as a model for all women in all places and times, rather than as a model for how the Christian women of Crete should live out the gospel in the midst of the culture they were in. This framework was what shaped the reading of each passage, the structure, and the content of the entire study.

Even more concerning in light of the recent Trinity debates, week 8 of the study, problematically titled “Disposition”, repeats the same concerning arguments about submission found in True Woman 101 (reviewed here by Rachel Miller). Instead of treating submission as a functional and situational component of a specific relational context (i.e. marriage), the authors argue that submission is ontologically inherent to womanhood in general. Grounding their argument in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, the authors state, “….women are uniquely created to shine the spotlight on the ‘submissive to God’ part of the Jesus story.” Consequently, as with the preceding study, True Woman 201 is beautifully wrapped, but contains less than optimal ingredients.

A natural response to such a book would possibly be to simply put it down and keep looking for other ones. Indeed, at a closing Q and A session at the Simeon Trust, one participant asked about wisdom strategies for choosing Bible study materials, whether for individuals or for groups. One of the leader’s answers was obvious and yet unexpected.

“Why not make your own?”

And that’s what I’ve started to do, for my girls’ sake as well as my own.

With my daughters now well past preschool age (praise be to God), I ‘ve struggled to find Bible study resources for them that are age appropriate (but not cheesy) and theologically rich (but not dull as dirt). When I say struggled, I really mean “totally failed”. So this week, as my dear girls made their way back to school with varying degrees of joy, I pulled out the notes and study questions from my time at the Simeon Trust, and started the beginnings of a 3 week study on Titus for high school aged girls. I’m sure it will be difficult, and messy, but I’m confident the effort will be as beneficial spiritually as much as my previous efforts were nutritionally.

In the meantime, all this food talk has made me hungry. I think I’ll go read the book of Titus.

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Book Review – “Made For More”

People often talk about food memories – remembrances of a loved (or not loved) meal that left an impression long after the dishes have been cleared. More powerful for me, though, are book memories. Certain books, read at certain seasons of my life, dramatically changed my thinking, my vocabulary and my choices, sometimes by freeing me from wrong thinking about God, or orienting me towards the kind of right thinking that produces a deeper love for God and joy in my identity in Him, or both. To a list that includes John Piper’s “Finally Alive” and David Needham’s “ Birthright”, I can now add “Made For More.”

In Made For More, Hannah Anderson considers the question many women ask regularly – “Who am I?” and proposes that the usual answers –wife, mother, single, married, black white – overlook the most essential answer. Women are people, made in the image of God. With Romans 11:36 as the book’s backdrop (“For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things), Anderson lays out how returning to this fundamental understanding of our identity as image bearers provides a foundation for the flourishing of our secondary identities that is simultaneously more solid and more freeing.

The book is divided into three sections, each with a central idea:

From Him – To understand what it means to be made in God’s image, we need to know who this God is whose image we bear.

Through Him – Pursuing God through the person and work of Christ revealed in all of Scripture, not merely what Anderson calls “the pink passages” (pg. 105), enlarges and deepens our capacity for being true image bearers in a way that will flow into every area of our life, including the identities described in those passages.

To Him – Living as image bearers in a fallen world means that we will both stumble and fall, and that we will grow in both desire and ability to be more like the One whom we were made to image, until the day we see God and are made fully new.

All three sections are strong, but the middle section on the character of God was the section that was most moving to me, and the one that prompted the most thought. Aspects of God’s character such as His love, His grace and His all-encompassing wisdom are laid out as traits with which our characters are to to be infused holistically, not mediated or distilled through roles like wife or mother. For example, in the chapter on Lady Wisdom, Anderson challenges the line of thinking found in some evangelical circles that the goal of women’s education should to be to equip them for homemaking or educating their children at home. Rather, Anderson argues, the goal of learning should be to know fully the One who is the Logos, the embodiment of all knowledge. As a woman whose work at home lately has been partly focused on sweating (sometimes literally, albeit happily) over balancing chemical equations as homework for a master’s degree in nutritional science, this affirmation that the pursuit of learning simply to pursue more of the mind and character of God is not selfish, but in fact important, was both liberating and motivating.

The concepts Anderson describes are deep, and perhaps familiar to some, but what makes them compelling is the way in which they’re described. Readers familiar with the tenets of Christian theology will recognize the creation / fall / redemption structure of the book, and the descriptions of such fundamental doctrines as justification, sanctification and the imputed righteousness of Christ. But Anderson chooses to focus on the implications and out workings of these doctrines, without often calling them out by name. In doing so, this book will serve those for whom those terms have become so familiar that the beauty behind them is in need of rediscovery.   And it will also serve readers for whom doctrinal and theological terminology seems intimidating.

Anderson delivers on this front particularly well, because while the content of “Made For More is beautiful in and of itself, so too is her style of writing. She has a remarkable ability to condense a wealth of insight into a single sentence or phrase. Of our attempts to justify ourselves through the law she writes “ Legalism is trying to be an image bearer without relying on the Image.” Of the oft-quoted passage in 1 Timothy 5 regarding a woman’s need to do good works she reminds us that “…we forget that we can never understand what it means to be women of good works until we first learn about the goodness of a God who works on our behalf.” When ideas are presented as succinctly as this (in both the text and the footnotes), they have a way of lingering in ones mind long after the book has been closed. Indeed, I have found myself thinking about, and even referring to, many kinds of people, from my children to the customers in Costco who try my patience, as “image bearers” far more often than before. This has in turn altered my behavior before them in more God-honoring ways. And that is entirely Anderson’s aim.

When a book is written as well as this one is, about a topic Anderson makes plain is worthy of reexamination, it’s easy to identify many different types of people who would benefit from it. Women in all seasons of life, especially those who have found themselves in a situation where their hopes and expectations for a particular identity are being tested, will certainly find much in “Made For More” to both comfort and challenge them. But this is not a book only for women. Husbands looking to live out 1 Peter 3:7 in an intentional manner will be given real help in that effort. Pastors looking for ways to inform their preaching and ministry to women will find themselves challenged to think more holistically about how all of the Bible speaks to women for all of their life.

I even think this a book to be offered, strategically, to women who are not yet Christians, but who are coming to the end of the world’s arguments for self-realization, and are discovering them sorely wanting. While Anderson’s focus is more broadly on the implications of the gospel than the gospel directly, those implications are described so winningly that the entire book reads as an invitation a life of true flourishing and freedom, not of confinement to aspirations to roles and identities that can never ultimately satisfy. It is a life that, as she shows clearly, can only come from new life in the perfect image bearer – Jesus Christ Himself.

Because every person is an image bearer, any person can read this book and be challenged and blessed by it. It is highly recommended.