Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: The Accidental Feminist

Courtney Reissig has gifted the world an excellent book on womanhood. From start to finish this book is a well-measured, winsome work given with grace for the sanctification of Christ’s Bride and clarifying of a Christocentric Complementarian vision.

This book is not about feminism. At least not primarily. This is a book about God; about Christ and his love, his righteousness—something which should be apparent from the subtitle “Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design,” but if you’re anything like me, that word “Feminist” becomes a bit distracting and you’re expecting a few more bared teeth, a few more claw scratches, and pages of ink spilled over those tired arguments offered on both sides of the evangelical sphere (and elsewhere); you’d expect the same exegetical arguments you’ve heard from your pastor on a Sunday or in conversation with that young college woman. But if that’s what you’re looking for—you won’t find it here. And yet I can’t say you’ll be disappointed either!

This book takes us where we’re at—men included—which is to say: it takes us as accidental feminists and tries to know and love God better.

With the caveat that “feminism is hard to pin down,” that “as culture has evolved, so has the concept of feminism…. To be a feminist today means different things for different people,” Reissig asserts her definition: “equality equals sameness,” and her definition plays out in “the idea that women should be able to be independent if they want to be.” (A definition broad enough and narrow enough to get us on the same page without alienating the outliers.) Truly though, this is accurate for every human—man and woman—since the fall; it is the original sin: I choose my own. This is a problem, but only, of course, if you believe that there is one who has authority over us—namely, God. With these assumptions laid, Reissig proceeds on two propositions: 1.) If we want to understand womanhood, we can’t rebel against the culture; we must seek the Word of God, and 2.) True freedom “is knowing that God had a good design when he created us male and female.” And these propositions set us up for the thesis of her book.

Thesis: “Our understanding of who God created us to be as women has everything to do with our display of him to a watching world.”

So again: this book is not about feminism as much as it is about God. The purpose of womanhood, of gender, is to reveal the God of creation. Does Reissig support her thesis? Yes, I believe she does. In her first chapter she buttresses her thesis with a ‘question of identity,’ short history of feminism, and explanation of God’s design in image, gender, and womanhood specifically. And really, it’s hard to dispute her trump card: if God is God, then God can do and require what he wants. Fortunately for readers, she explains this much more graciously in a way that accentuates the beauty of God and his wisdom. The second chapter continues the story post-fall, highlighting the tolls sin has taken on our will, and the remaining chapters clarify the implications for a God-centered vision of womanhood.

One of the strengths of this book is its approach. Reissig uses a systematic-cultural approach. In other words ‘worldview.’ She lets worldviews clash like ocean on a bluff and lets human experiences become enveloped in the spiritual realities. She is changing the way her readers view the world, not by giving atomized arguments from this or that text—since either side is adept at using the verses in question to further prove their own side. Her persuasive power comes not from Greek languages and ancient Canaanite homonyms, but from a big view of God who created the world and everything it. Reissig isn’t limited to the texts that deal with women, she is free to pull and consolidate all of Scripture into a supercharged punch that leaves you with almost no way to say “I don’t see it.” But the amazing thing is(!) this punch feels like a kiss; Reissig truly loves Christ and wants the world to see him because womanhood has everything to do with the way the world views the creator.

I look forward to the way this book advances the discussion. In order to argue against Reissig, the still-feminist would have to present a comprehensive worldview for ‘equality-equals-sameness’ in such a way that makes God ‘look better’ (that is to say more glorious) than he does here.

Reissig writes with evangelical women as her audience, but she does so in such a way that an ‘outsider’ could understand. She doesn’t presume much, and each of her chapters includes a “Restoration in My Life” section often highlighting subgroups of women who need ‘next steps’ or application points, and a study question section for individual or corporate use.

In later editions of this book, I can foresee improvement in an appendix format: “What about when the man isn’t behaving like a man/Jesus?” and “What about when life seems to require a switch of roles?”

I give this book 10/10 stars and recommend it to pretty much everyone. I see particular benefit for church leaders, women’s ministries, and engaged couples.

I received a free copy of this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program in exchange for my honest review.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon & Goodreads.

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