Friday, November 6, 2015

7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas

So the stories of these great women show us that men and women are not interchangeable. There are things men can and should do that women cannot, and there are things that women can and should do that men cannot. So comparing men and women is something like comparing apples and oranges, except apples and oranges are actually far more like each other than are men and women. Apples and oranges can exist without each other, but men and women cannot. Men and women were deliberately designed to be different. Indeed we are specifically created as complements to each other, as different halves of a whole, and that whole reflects the glory of God.
Eric Metaxas. Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness (Kindle Locations 157-161). Thomas Nelson.
Every time I settle into one of Eric Metaxas' introductions to his books, it feels like opening a door to a new and exciting place. His words ring true, bringing a clear, forceful realignment to the emotionally-charged arguments about the role of men and women in Christian society. I would give this book a high rating just for the introduction alone, in which he explains how these women are great not because they equal men, but because they used the skills and influence God gave them, in partnership with men, to fulfil an entirely different God-given role.

7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness offers a look into some exciting well-known and lesser-known giants of the Christian faith. Every one of them can clarify and expand our understanding of women's roles today. Each woman has a different key focus, sure to deepen your ambition on what it means to be a follower of God. Metaxas keeps it subtle and lets you draw conclusions for yourself., but as I thought over each section, I could easily catch the main points, and I felt a deep excitement for being a woman as I read.

Book Description (from Thomas Nelson)
In his eagerly anticipated follow-up to the enormously successful Seven Men, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas gives us seven captivating portraits of some of history's greatest women, each of whom changed the course of history by following God's call upon their lives-as women.
Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages-Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks-is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God's call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr's death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn-writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks' deep sense of justice and unshakable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century's greatest social movement.
Writing in his trademark conversational and engaging style, Eric Metaxas reveals how the other extraordinary women in this book achieved their greatness, inspiring readers to lives shaped by the truth of the gospel.

My Thoughts
This book gave me so many varied reactions of excitement, inspiration, confusion, indifference, that I'm going to run through each woman individually and briefly discuss them. Overall, I came away from this book having been given a feast of things to dwell on and wrestle with. I received another intellectually stimulating offering from Metaxas' careful scholarly work. And I caught a deeper vision on how I can live my life for Christ.

Joan of Arc
Most people are distressed by Joan of Arc hearing voices in her head and then having every prediction of those voices come true. I must confess, the most distressing fact to me was that the slight mentions of Earl of Warwick weren't as positive as I would have wished them to be. I know, rather a small point to quibble with. Overall, I thought a woman like her would have benefited from more time and in-depth consideration, but I appreciated the fact that Metaxas portrayed her as a girl who found great strength in an extraordinary time simply through her unswerving commitment to obedience. Strength is not found in bucking trends and breaking molds and believing in ourselves. It's found in obeying God's direction for our lives, and viewing obedience as our only option, even in the face of fear or impossibilities. 

Susanna Wesley
This brave, dedicated mama was my second-favorite of all the women in this book. I could deeply relate to the philosophy of discipline and love with which she raised her children. She took great pains to give them a thinking education, writing her own curriculum when she couldn't find books to suit her. She raised them in the fear of God and prayer. And all of them grew up loving her and walking in her faith. Ironically, it was through the constant abdication and harsh control of their father that the children went through great heartache. But even Samuel Wesley, really pitiful husband that he was, respected his wife and told his children to honor her for her example. I want to be a mother like her someday, though I certainly hope for a much better family situation.

Hannah More
Hannah More was my favorite. While I think of Susanna Wesley in regards to my future, Hannah More very much speaks to my present. She was a single women who used her gift of writing to stir hearts toward social reform, exalt Christ, and encourage many friends through correspondence. She was a productive women who valued the arts and also valued connections with Christians and non-Christians alike who could help her reform society. She worked with Wilberforce and many others for the abolition of the slave trade and enjoyed friendships with men like Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole in her pursuit of the arts. Her example of forming partnerships with people of a wide variety of beliefs was challenging and helpful. I hope to study her life further and gain some more insights from it.

Saint Maria of Paris
I'll admit, I really wrestled with this one. I didn't fully accept Metaxas' comparison that she was a Bonhoeffer counterpart in the Orthodox church, using that to explain away her unconventional habits of smoking and drinking as a nun. Her life was fraught with relational fracture, divorcing twice, having a child out of wedlock, and losing children to death. God used her greatly to minister to the poor, and not every one of his instruments has to fit into a nice neat mold of respectability. But I still wrestle with the way her sins were handled--the acceptance, almost glossing over, of those very glaring errors. Perhaps his skill as a biographer is presenting the truth without commentary. I can certainly value that. But I need more time and mental pondering to fully appreciate this choice, especially as it seemed similar to Mother Theresa in reaching out to the poor.

Corrie Ten Boom
All in all, this was the one that left me most disappointed. Perhaps because I'm so familiar with Corrie, but it felt like a rushed inclusion of disjointed, over-familiar anecdotes. The miracle with the Bible, the bottle of vitamins--there was very little new or necessary here, and the writing style felt dull and not quite as tight and professional as the others. It's almost as if this one got the last rush before the deadline, or it was so familiar it wasn't given as much care and attention as the others. That may be my own feeling coming away from it, and perhaps on a second read some of those impressions would be done away with. But I did find fascinating one particular sentence where Metaxas said "But the work for which God had spent fifty years preparing Corrie was about to begin." I never considered how long God may use a season of preparation before he sets someone to doing the actual work. That stopped me mid-sentence to consider further.

Rosa Parks
This quiet little woman stood up for civil rights on a bus, sparking a huge movement for the equal treatment of black Americans. Her story inspired me for its challenge of justice and courage.
But the Bible had a social mandate in its message too, one that taught Rosa that “people should stand up for rights, just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.” It was not enough to pray and say that one trusted God. Sometimes trusting God meant taking action too.
Eric Metaxas. Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness (Kindle Locations 2613-2616). Thomas Nelson.
She knew it wasn't just enough to preach a message, or to quietly take oppression. She could have stood up and moved to another seat; in the end a bus seat is a small thing. But if she had, thousands of blacks would have been mistreated for years and years longer. Obeying God through that moment of fear when the bus driver asked her to move brought a harvest of good fruit. But it wasn't easy to come by. It took over a year of perseverance, sacrifice, suffering, and standing for right on the part of the black people before any kind of social reform was seen in the courts. Sometimes being a Christian means standing up to oppression, but it always involves suffering for a time.

Mother Teresa
Reaching out to the untouchables. That's something that many of us in the Church are afraid to do. In India, Mother Teresa reached out to the untouchables of leprosy, unwanted children, diseases--saying everyone needed to be loved as they were dying. When she came to the West, she was concerned by the 'untouchables' of a different kind. Here, she observed people shunned and abandoned for their spiritual struggles: drugs, alcohol, abortion. There are still untouchables in Western society today. Her story makes me yearn that the Church would understand and mobilize in reaching out to the people who we so often refuse to offer the truth and love of Christ.

This book is a deeply inspiring look at the role of visionary women in the church throughout the centuries. It is beautiful for its honest portrait of mixed beliefs, different lives, and different callings to live out the Bible. I heartily enjoyed it. Some of the issues I had with research and writing were explained in the acknowledgements, where Metaxas mentions he didn't do all the research or rough-drafting of the book. While that didn't affect the overall quality, there were places I could tell this was the case. For that reason I wouldn't give it a complete five-start rating, but it's definitely a must-have addition to the Metaxas shelf in your personal library.

*I received a free copy of this ebook from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.*

4 comments:

  1. I'd like to read this one someday, too. Great review. Metaxes picked some women to write about that many people don't think of right away. :)

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    1. I think you will really, really enjoy this one. :) There's another on Goodreads that I saw recently that I'd like to read as well: Fifty Remarkable Women in Church History, by Richard M. Hannula--Suzannah reviewed it on Vintage Novels. :)

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  2. Great review! "Strength is not found in bucking trends and breaking molds and believing in ourselves. It's found in obeying God's direction for our lives, and viewing obedience as our only option, even in the face of fear or impossibilities." That is so true! And it's something Christians need to remember in today's culture where rebellion is viewed as a good thing.

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    1. Yes. That truth shone so clearly in Joan's life--she was a quiet girl most of the time, and obedience shapes history far better than rebellion. :)

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