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.