Biblical Womanhood and Christian Living
Visiting the local Christian bookstore these days can prove disheartening if you are not searching for the latest self-help books or Christian culture icons. Spiritual classics, theology, and the like are relegated to a back corner, while best-sellers take the central shelves. I see a common theme woven through the most popular books, and it is not one I see in Scripture: It’s all about me. I must discover who I truly am to find ultimate fulfillment. I must know myself better. Not know God better. Not understand how to live in His will. The theme seems to be how to ensure that I have the best life possible.
One new book out is called Captivating, written by Stasi Eldredge and her famous “Wild at Heart” husband, John. I really did not know what to expect, beyond that it would delve into the heart needs John said that women had in his book: the desire to be pursued, to share an adventure, to unveil beauty. I have nothing against those desires per se. They are probably true of most girls.
However, my issue comes with the emphasis the book carries. By the third chapter, I felt very strongly about this review I would be writing. I kept reading, and by the time I finished (I read it straight through one morning while waiting at a doctor's appointment) I felt...empty. Captivating did not leave me with anything to ponder or by which to be encouraged. There were a lot of words, a lot of stories, and a lot of emotive language, but very little "meat." I hope my readers who like the book won't write off my reviews forever, because of this; please hear me out. This is very important.
This month I am reading Created to be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl, and, quite simply, it is unlike any book I have ever read or heard of. I have never bought a book to give someone else simply because they had to read it. I just tell them they ought to read it. This time I was buying copies and giving them to my soon-to-be-married friends and relatives—they have to read this book!
I mention this because the contrast between Captivating and Createdis astonishing. I did not come into the reading with a bias toward or against either book--though I knew that I disagreed with John Eldredge's theology on some points--but the same is true of Debi Pearl's.
To put it simply, here is my concern with Captivating:
Captivating emphasizes an unhealthy perspective on life by encouraging us to focus on ourselves. The whole book is about who we are, our needs, what we feel, what we want. I think it is dangerously self-absorbed and carries an unbiblical message that it is all about us.
Let me provide some examples.
The chapter titled "What Eve Alone Could Tell" had some feministic undertones. Some of what was written is in contradiction to the Word that the Eldredges sometimes quote. I had a rough time going through this chapter. I wanted badly to give the author the benefit of the doubt, and I kept looking at the excerpts that upset me and trying to see them in context. I will quote at length so that you can see I'm not just pulling random phrases and twisting them around.
Here are a few portions that may show what my concern is:
"She is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. Woman. In one last flourish creation comes to a finish not with Adam, but with Eve. She is the Master's finishing touch...Given the way that creation unfolds, how it builds to ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation?"
Whether intended or not, this exalts woman above man, and sets her above him in perfection, which is nonsense. I understand some women struggle with self-esteem, but even more, we all deal with pride, and I don't think that this is helping us find a balanced perspective if we are having an identity crisis. But it gets worse.
"She is God's final touch, his 'piece de resistance.' She fills a place in the world nothing and no one else can fill. Step to a window, ladies, if you can. Better still, find some place with a view. Look out across the earth and say to yourselves, 'The whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me'."
Mercy! This borders on blasphemy. I don't know what their point is here, but it is dangerous stuff. We do not find our worth and need for purpose in this sort of self-love talk, but in realizing we are nothing without our Creator, and all we have is by His good pleasure alone.
There is another part of the chapter that displays God in a way that I believe is false or at the very least, grossly unbalanced. The authors seek to compare woman to God, and say that God is expressed in unique ways through women. I quote:
"Not only does God long for us, but he longs to be loved by us. Oh, how we've missed this. How many of you see God as longing to be loved by you? We see him as strong and powerful, but not needing us, vulnerable to us, yearning to be desired. God wants to be loved. He wants to be a priority to someone. From cover to cover, from beginning to end, the cry of God's heart is, 'Why won't you choose Me?'"
They quote some verses here, but they take them too far, I think. They are not looking at the Bible as a whole and what it says of God. God does not need us! He did not create us to fill any void in Him. The Trinity experiences perfect and complete fellowship. We are made for His glory, not for his need. Exodus 15:11 says “Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength; indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved” (Ps. 93:1). Our God is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15)!
These passages in the Eldredges’ book weaken our God. They reduce Him to the level of an emotional woman. Please, let’s not take the comparison to such an extreme. It's gone too far.
The book quotes far more movies than Bible verses, and it often seems to draw lessons from the movies and offer them as truth, even though there is no support other than what our "hearts" tell us. Also, the translation of the Bible used is very unique--translated by one man a few years ago. It's called "Alter." What texts did he even look at? I was unable to find any explanation for his variance from the traditional translations. The wording he chooses is not accurate, and that bothers me.
Another problem with the book is that it mocks the role for which God has specifically created us and our very identity as helpmeets. At one point, the Eldredges discuss Genesis 2:18 and use their "Alter" translation again:
"The various attempts we have in English are ’helper‘ or ’companion‘ or the notorious ’help meet.’ Why are these translations so incredibly wimpy, boring, flat...disappointing? What is a help meet anyway? What little girl dances through the house singing, ’One day I shall be a helpmeet‘? Companion? A dog can be a companion. Helper? Sounds like Hamburger Helper."
This is offensive. Mrs. Eldredge is mocking the words in which we women find our purpose. I know many little girls who dream of someday being helpmeets! To be a companion is a very glorious thing. I challenge the insinuation that these words are wimpy and boring. Look at what Debi Pearl says about the phrase “help meet”:
"If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity, you are a ’good thing‘ (Prob. 18:22), a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you, and it is your purpose for existing."
Later she says: "When you are a helpmeet to your husband, you are a helper to Christ." Not quite “Hamburger Helper,” eh?
When you read Mrs. Eldredge’s words, a help meet is portrayed as a spiritually dead, going-through-the-motions waste. She writes, "Seriously now, picture the women we hold up as models of femininity in the church. They are sweet, they are helpful, they are busy, they are disciplined, they are composed...and they are tired."
There is definitely a disparaging tone in those words toward women who are helpful, disciplined, and sweet. As if serving God is not enough. We need more “fulfillment!” We need to remember we are the zenith of creation, reclaim our desires to experience adventure, be seductive (their words in several places--they try to soften the meaning), and to be adored. Please. There were other similar passages, but I did not mark them all. These should suffice to raise some serious red flags.
Study the women of the Bible who served the Lord. They were disciplined, worked with their hands, and served others gladly. The example of Dorcas in Acts 9:36 shows us this: “Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did.” The Proverbs 31 woman “works with her hands in delight…extends her hand to the poor; and she stretches out her hand to the needy” (Prov. 31:13 and 20). What does verse 30 of that chapter on virtuous womanhood state? It does not say that we find our ultimate purpose in life through a focus on ourselves. Instead, “a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Captivating does not praise a woman who fears the Lord and lives her life in service to Him and others.
For new believers, women who have had horrendous pasts, like Mrs. Eldredge, perhaps this book can be helpful. I still think there is a better alternative, though, and without the dangers, biting sarcasm, and annoyingly frequent references to movies, secular philosophers, etc.
Who knows, maybe someday things will change. For now, I'm setting Captivating aside and going with what I was created to be: a woman who pours out her life in service for others, who finds her greatest fulfillment in completing another, not in superseding another.
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