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The contents of this book report were shared at the October Table Talk – “Neither Chauvinism Nor Radical Feminism”

Courtney Reissig, The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 176 pages.

Review by Matina Bishop, October 2017

Introduction:

I’m very grateful for reading this book and being able to share it with you guys. There’s a lot of good insight that Reissig drives home on the issue of feminism and womanhood. So let’s jump right into it.

The Author’s Thesis

I believe the author has two points that make up her main purpose for writing the book:

1. Radical Feminism – She seeks to point out how radical feminism has negatively influenced us and how we view womanhood. By titling her book – The Accidental Feminist – she uses some wordplay to explain that basically every American Christian woman in our generation is an accidental feminist since we have in some way held to or still hold to some feministic teaching. Although we may not flat out call ourselves feminists, we have embraced much of its teaching without even realizing it. Therefore, we are accidental feminists.

2. Radical Delight – As a result of this reality, the author’s second point is to restore our delight in God’s good design for us as women. Hence the subtitle. She uses Scripture to point us back to God’s design for women in the home and in the church, both single and married. And she highlights the fact that not only is God good, but His purpose in creating us as women (different but equal to men) is also good. So, as women in Christ we are blessed beyond measure, not because we are women but because we are women saved by the grace of God!

I want to share some details from the book that the author uses to strongly support why she would call us accidental feminists.

Passages in the Book that Strongly Support Premise #1 (Radical Feminism)

1. A brief history of American feminism:

First-wave feminism – Feminism started as a movement seeking to give women good options and rights including:

A. The right to vote

B. The right to own property

C. The right to make independent decisions

It started as a rebellion against men oppressing women by giving them an unequal footing in society. But the author quickly goes on to point out that “the movement wasn’t just about true oppression.” She references Carolyn McCulley’s book – Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World – saying, “The first wave of feminism, also known as the suffragist movement, cared about additional issues, like the reformation of Christianity and a woman’s property rights in marriage. For many first-wave feminists, men were a problem. This attitude led to rebellion” (p.17).

Second-wave feminism – As feminism won women the right to vote it had grown into an ideology promoting personal autonomy and freedom from men. Feminists continued to rebel against cultural expectations of women. More women were rebelling against the ‘typical’ housewife image. “In the 1950s and 1960s, the rebellion was against the caricature of the ‘typical’ housewife (think June Cleaver). By the 1970s, women were entering the workforce in droves, demanding equal pay for work, and further seeking to make a mark for themselves as autonomous beings” (p.17).

You can start to see more negative language there. but the author is careful not to leave out the positive advances of second-wave feminism, like:

A. Equal pay for work

B. Sexual harassment laws put in place in the workplace

Ultimately, women came out of the home and into the workforce, seeking purpose and identity outside of a husband and children. The author says consequentially, “What feminism did was slowly erase the differences between men and women.” Asserting that “equality now means sameness. If men and women are truly equal, then, according to feminism, that equality assumes no distinction in how they live. In today’s society, the equality of men and women means there are very few differences when it comes to what they can or should do. Now that equality means sameness, it doesn’t matter who’s the leader in a relationship.” Today “women can vote, own property, and have their own credit cards, but that is not all that feminism accomplished for women. The idea that women have complete control over their own lives is what led to the seminal Roe v. Wade case, effectively legalizing abortion-on-demand in America.”

Third-wave feminism – The second wave of feminism moved into third-wave feminism, which the author describes as a “hyper-rebellion.” Now, feminism not only embraced autonomy, but also sexual freedom. The author says, “Feminism began as an ideology that promised equality and freedom from the control of men. It has become an ideology that tells women they can use their power, sexuality, and freedom to influence men.­”

2. The Result of the Feminist Movement:

A. More ways for women to express and fulfill their personal desires

B. Moving away from the importance of the home to the importance of a career

C. Women can have it all: a successful career and a happy family (if they desire to have one)

D. Most importantly, the result of radical feminism is this new idea that since women are equal to men they can therefore do anything that men do (maybe even better)

3. How and why we are all accidental feminists:

We are accidental feminists because “in our hearts we want autonomy, independence, and freedom from authority.” The author says of herself, “I wanted to be the master of my own destiny. I wanted to do something I defined as meaningful, and keeping a home and raising a family was not on my list of world-changing life goals.” You see how feminism can be found in some dark corner of our hearts. The author says she used to think keeping a home and raising a family was NOT a world-changing goal, but it really is! In feminism we find a lot of backward teaching that’s unbiblical at its core.

Ultimately we are bucking up against authority. Without Christ’s work in our lives we don’t want to submit to anyone, not even God. The author points out the fact that “feminism is in the core of our hearts apart from the saving work of the shed blood of Christ, and not simply because we are militant against male authority, but primarily because we are opposed to the greatest authority of all, our Creator.”

This is why we must recognize how radical feminism has influenced us and return to a biblical understanding of womanhood.

Passages that Strongly Support Premise #2 (Radical Delight)

Seeing how feminism has had negative effects on us we need to be restored to a biblical understanding of our gender as females. It’s important to note that our identity is not found in our gender, but rather in the God who created us as women. As Christian women we find our identity in Christ. When we try to define our own identity apart from Christ and God’s Word we always come up short and empty handed.

The author points out that the Bible teaches that our gender as women is described in our roles as helpers and lifegivers. In Genesis we find the first woman in the Bible being called a helper and ‘the mother of all living.’ And these two characteristics have implications for all women: married, single, with or without children, young, and old.

Women as helpers – I really like the example that the author gives when explaining women as helpers. Listen to what she says, “The Holy Spirit exists to make the Father look great and to support and strengthen the work of the Son. To be defined as a helper in these terms is in no way derogatory. It is in fact showcasing further our value as image-bearers. We image God by being a helper to our husbands. We image God by being a helper in our churches. We image God by being a helper with our roommates and coworkers.” She goes on to explain that to be a helper is to encourage, strengthen, comfort, and support others, especially those in authority over you.

Women as lifegivers – As we nurture life both inside and out of the womb. The author quotes Susan Hunt, who says, “Mothers give life, not just birth… we impact life in a myriad of mothering roles.”

These distinctions set us apart as women and carry weight as they have significance for how we live. If God’s good design for women is for us to be helpers and lifegivers, it’s to the praise of His glory and for our good. We are created in God’s image and this fact affects every area of our lives especially our gifts and desires.

Biblical understanding of feminism and the gospel – So we have to approach the ideology of feminism with the gospel and that’s exactly what the author does. She says, “Feminism claims to be the answer for the oppression of women, but nothing frees women like the gospel of Jesus Christ. Restoring our delight in God’s design means nothing if we aren’t trusting in Christ alone for he forgiveness of our sins and our only hope for righteousness. A biblical woman is rooted in the finished work of Christ. A biblical woman knows that the only way she is going to live for God and live as his image-bearer is through the merit of his Son.” So she concludes that “the ultimate mark of womanhood is hoping in God alone.” Therefore, the gospel is feminism’s greatest foe!

In Light of the Author’s Purpose, Here Are the Issues That She Addresses

1. The impact feminism has on our relationships with men and children and how the Bible views our relationship with them

2. God’s design for marriage including headship, submission, and why marriage is good

3. Biblical purity and modesty in an overtly sexual society

4. The home and why the Bible’s command for a woman to be busy at home matters

5. Jesus’ finished work on the cross as our hope for living according to his calling for us as women

6. Women’s roles in the church

As the author addresses these things, she also points out a number of lies:

1. Womanhood is culturally learned, not something inherent to us as created beings

2. Men and women are interchangeable in their functions on the earth

3. Gender is irrelevant to the practical outworkings of our daily lives

4. Submission is a means to make women brainless doormats; it takes away a woman’s voice and removes her ability to have opinions; therefore, a woman is always compelled to obey her husband, praise her husband, and never utter a critical word to her husband regardless of his treatment of her

5. Submission as limiting a woman’s personality – if she’s more of an outspoken person being submissive will only stifle her ability to freely speak her mind

As I read the book I thought of some other lies that can creep into our minds:

1. It’s not fair that the husband gets to have the final say

2. I will be unhappy a lot when I get married because I won’t get to make my own decisions or get what I want

3. Therefore, God is not really good to me if He made me a woman and I have to deal with and endure these unfair situations

4. Therefore, marriage is not worth it; it’s not freeing, it’s demeaning

It is personally important for me to combat these lies with the truth of Scripture in order to honor God by upholding God’s Word in spite of our culture today or even what I may feel at any given moment.

Additionally, I want to show a watching world how living according to the Bible is good for me and those around me and that it brings blessing.

Detailed Negative Implications of Feminism (the statements below are excerpts from the book along with my own words)

1. Feminism has changed the way women relate to men by mainly moving women (specifically wives) from a place of dependence to independence. This idea often muddies the waters of what it looks like for a wife to be a helpmate to her husband and to submit to him in a loving manner.

2. Feminism has also confused women in their attempts at relating to men.

3. Feminism gave women options, and with those options came the ability to ‘control’ fertility. Or, at least, seemingly control it. Our culture now views children as an obstacle to true happiness and success. [But] God values children, and he values the family.

4. Feminism told women they could have it all. They could have the husband, kids, career, nice house, and anything else they wanted. It even promised them that they could have it on their own timetable.

5. One of the subtle ways feminism has affected our psyches, even the most conservative among us, is in our ‘just wait until you’re ready for kids’ mentality.

6. Betty Friedan [a feminist] wanted women to be free of the mess of marriage caused by isolation, lack of self-awareness, and bondage to their husbands and children. When Friedan and other second-wave feminists stated that attachment to a man was a hindrance to personal autonomy and self-awareness, marriage became a lower priority for the impressionable women who were coming up after them.

7. Sexual freedom as defined by third-wave feminism was the last great frontier for women’s issues. You may not even realize it, but the complete redefinition of sexuality, gender, and morality is in part a product of third-wave feminism. Freedom of choice now means the freedom to choose any expression of love and morality and not be judged for it.

8. “While Friedan’s diagnosis of misplaced identity was correct, she simply replaced one idol with another. Now the workplace is the identity. What a woman accomplishes in society is what defines her. The issues lie in the fact that these things [motherhood or career success] were never meant to fulfill us.

9. Feminism says that women want something more. Women don’t want to be just housewives or just moms.

10. Feminism promised to give women options that were better than what they had been previously offered. This has led to women believing they should be able to do anything they want in the local church. And when confronted with the biblical pattern for church leadership or service in the church, feminism pushes women to do more and assert their rights.

11. Just as feminism has told women that anything a man can do, women can do just the same, it has encouraged women to clamor only for what men do, and to belittle ‘traditional’ women’s activities. In the church, women often conclude that the gifts of service are not as important as the gifts of teaching. In the same way that the message of feminism sometimes maligns motherhood and marriage, the message of feminism in the church sometimes maligns the gifts of service that so many of God’s people joyfully possess.

12. Feminism maintains that equality necessitates role interchangeability – a woman cannot be a man’s equal unless she can assume the same role as he does. This philosophy of egalitarianism is well on its way to thorough acceptance in the evangelical church.

Marriage & Motherhood Restored

1. Motherhood is a good thing and a blessing from God. It is a good desire to want children. The very fact that you were created as female means that you were designed to be a mother or to use your mothering abilities. As Christian women, we are uniquely given the great opportunity to train the next generation to love God, his Word, and his people.

2. You are never ready for marriage and children. Getting married and having kids are the most life-altering, soul-enriching, exhausting, sanctifying, crazy, wonderful things you will ever do. And they are gifts from God.

3. The marriage relationship exists to tell a story about the pivotal event of human history – our salvation.

4. Your heart should be oriented toward the home. That will look different due to the season of life that you’re in.

5. Any understanding of our role in the home must first be in the fact that our identity is never to be found there. It is to be found in Christ. Being a stay at home mom isn’t supposed to completely satisfy us either. It’s a matter of identity and we must find our identity in Christ alone.

6. There’s purpose in a life of domesticity. The home is a place where the family works together to accomplish God’s purposes.

Biblical Submission Restored

1. Submission is strength under control, it’s bridled strength. It’s a willing decision to bridle your strength out of respect for your husband, but ultimately out of obedience to God and reverence for his Word.

2. It’s important to note that everyone is called to some form of submission. When men lead their wives like Christ, they are sacrificing their desire for the good of another. When wives submit, they are sacrificing their ‘rights’ in obedience to Christ.

3. Christ is our perfect model of submission. Christ had every right to exert his power and extol his competency as God, yet he humbled himself, bridled his strength and authority, and submitted to the Father (Ph. 2:6-8).

4. At the end of the day your submission is ultimately to God, not your husband. God has given him the responsibility of leadership, and sometimes it means he makes a decision you don’t agree with.

Women in the Church

1. The church is a place where God’s people work together, each individual in accordance to their role and calling, to accomplish God’s purposes.

2. When we hear Paul’s command for women to be silent, it does not apply to all aspects of the church, but only one office – the office of pastor/elder. This office is not restricted to men; it is restricted to ‘qualified men’. That means that many men will not quality for this kind of service too.

3. However, women can share their teaching gifts in the church in a number of biblical ways: by leading a small group Bible study, leading a prayer ministry, writing Bible study curriculum, teaching children’s Sunday school, training other women in Bible study, teaching at a women’s conference or retreat, mentoring younger woman, and the list goes on.

4. How we relate to one another as men and women and carry out our distinctive roles in the local church speaks volumes about the gospel and about God’s Word.

5. There is a place for all of us in our local church. And not just a place, but a necessary purpose. Women matter in God’s economy, whether you teach in front of others or serve quietly behind the scenes.

Conclusion

Yes I like the book! I was personally encouraged by the way the writer laid out the negative results of radical feminism (especially on Christian women) while using Scripture to expose the lies and share what “Thus sayeth the LORD” on the matters at hand.

As this book addresses women in the church, the author highlights why the restriction to teach from the pulpit to men is freeing for women, not debilitating. It frees us to intentionally seek to teach other women and our children.

As for women’s roles in the home, though the world has experienced an upside down kind of change to these roles, godly women can hold firm to God’s truth seeking to glorify Him and bless their families and extended Christian family. As Christian women we don’t need to shy away from seeking to be workers at home but must not find our identity or worth in it (i.e our husbands and children).

God’s design for the roles of men and women in the home and the church are good and able to bless the body as a whole and honor God!

Reading this book has helped me to see my own tendencies to act as an accidental feminist and to recognize it for what it is, sin (namely pride and selfishness). I was also encouraged in knowing that I can confess my sin and God is faithful to forgive! And that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

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Married or Soon-to-be-Married Couples at Immanuel:

Family Life is doing a one day event on Saturday, August 2nd, at the Allstate Arena called I Still Do. Andrea and I went to a Family Life Weekend to Remember Conference many years ago and though some aspects of these types of things can be cheesy, overall we found it was a really helpful time. We are planning to go to this and wanted to invite along couples from church. It would be great to hang out together while thinking about our marriages.

Let me know if you’re interested. If we get 5 couples we can get a group rate – about $40 for the day and a lunch!

For the Sake of the Name,

Nathan

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