In the last few BookNotes I've alerted you to new, important books about public justice, a wholistic gospel of radical reconciliation applied to the most burning issues of the day, a punchy set of reflections and liturgies around the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, and some heavy stuff about how to live out uncompromised faith in the late modern world of choice and change and increasingly secularization. A long review about two new books about the arts rounded out a flurry of what I take to be a truly stellar season of extraordinary books.
These are themes that are central to our work here. Justice, Bible study, historical and cultural analysis, and an attention to books about aesthetics and the arts.
I do hope you've read and shared those columns, helping us get the word out to churches and book clubs, study groups and classes. These books are simply too good to read solo. Get some friends, a cold drink or two, and turn some pages.
(And, please, if I might: I recently was in a professionally looking, pleasant Christian bookstore in another town, and they seemed not to have any of these books. I suppose you know that many of the large and most influential Christian bookstores chains just don't promote these kind of serious, important, thoughtful books. For them to get the sales they deserve, caring readers concerned about the state of religious publishing must share the reviews, support those stores that do carry these sorts of authors, helping them become known and their work discussed. We sometimes forget what our best friends and customers tell us, that the selection we curate here at Hearts & Minds is a bit unusual and that many bookstores just don't sell this stuff. Interestingly, few weeks back, Beth and I were in one of the nation's most iconic, wonderful, old, indie bookstores and, surprisingly, their religion section was pretty bad. We hate to pat ourselves on the back, but if you like what you see here, spread the word, and send us some orders!)
And now, I'm thrilled to tell you about a book that is one of the very best of the summer, one of the very best of the year, that we have long awaited, one that is on another theme that we are known for, a topic about which we have almost too many books: a Christian view of calling and career, vocation and work. However, it has a particular slant, a certain way into the conversation, that makes it nearly exceptional.
Allow us to tell you about A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World by Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books; $22.99.)
As you can tell, it is indeed about the integration of faith and daily work, informed by a solid and generative view of vocation. The primary audience of readers, I suppose, is women, as it is a book about the life of women in our culture, and the need for women to take up places in every zone of life and society; there is here much wise insight to be found and oodles of stories of Godly women doing good stuff and the struggles they uniquely face, but, over and over, I kept thinking that men and women should read this; that is, it is not only a book for women. Endorsers on the back - folks I really respect like Karen Swallow Prior and Dave Blanchard and Ed Stetzer and John Stackhouse and Tom Nelson - all insist it is for men and women and that, in the words of Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, "it will have a profound influence on women and men alike."
Actually, that Scott Sauls blurb actually says that he "prays that it will have a profound influence on women and men alike." We echo that prayer, as this is a matter of real urgency. I pray that this book becomes known. I sincerely pray it finds a wide readership within various denominations, various life stages, and among those with different callings into different stations in the world. We all need to hear the winsome but profound message of this finely crafted book.
In fact, the last chapter of A Woman's Place is called "Where Do We Go From Here: How All of Us Can Equip Women for Work." It is must reading for anyone involved in faith/work conversations or marketplace ministries, but is also useful for those within higher education -- she has a section for those who work at colleges or universities (she herself learned about good mentoring from helpful leaders at Calvin College.) There is a section for "bosses" and a section for church leaders offering them advice in a portion called "What All Churches Can Do." But I'm ahead of myself.
I will not rehearse here as I have often that our own bookstore was developed in part to equip Christian people to serve God in their work and callings, and that we have books that offer faith-based insight about what some call "public theology" or "Christian perspectives" in science, business, writing, parenting, art, law, engineering, teaching, architecture, journalism, and more. But these categories of books are woefully under-appreciated; Ms. Beaty's lovely call to serve God well in every area of life and her documentation of the growing faith and work movement, citing organizations and ministries (some which we have resourced) will be a fun reminder, a fresh call to engage, another piece adding up to some tipping point where churches become known for equipping members to take up a missional vision of work in the marketplace. Insofar as this really is part of our faithful response to the gospel, and insofar as we've neglected to really promote conversations and thinking about work-world discipleship, we simply must repent. This is not incidental or a curious tangent for the few, but central to our living out our faith, moving from Sunday to Monday, relating worship and work.
Beaty tells of good folks who are doing this well and, since it is a book about women's roles and unique obstacles to doing this these days, naturally, she tells the stories of women. She has interviewed dozens of women, led focus groups, researched ladies doing Kingdom work all over the country. Part of the benefit of A Woman's Place are the occasional two-page inserts, each telling the stories of this woman here or that one there, a teacher, a CEO of a fair trade import company, a stay at home mom, a filmmaker, a social science researcher, a YA novelist, a Native woman who started a leadership training organization, and more.
Ms. Beaty is a great reporter and writer (she is, by the way, the first woman and youngest ever Senior Editor of the globally-respected Christianity Today) so she has the writerly skill to artfully bring these mini-stories to life. They will be inspiring for anyone, I'd think, revealing how folks discern a call, move towards doing good stuff, and overcome (or at least cope with) hardships along the way. I loved these sidebar case studies of real women, although, truth be told, she tells even more stories on almost every other page. A Woman's Place, which is mature and thoughtful theologically with a fair amount of Biblical study and great quotes from very interesting sources, is just loaded with real-world examples and helpful case studies. In that regard, its tone and balance and style is nearly pitch perfect. I can't imagine anyone not liking it.
The stories and illustrations give real life heft to the urgency not only of visions of vocation and the call to be salt and light in careers and callings, but to the unique ways in which women must rise to these opportunities. There is a great chapter drawing on the best seller Leaning In called "Why 'Leaning In' is Good - But Not Enough." Her survey chapter "Women Have Always Worked" is very good, surprisingly informative, and truly interesting. Her chapter on ambition is excellent, and, although designed uniquely for women, I think it is useful for most of us. (Beaty wrote the forward to the wonderful memoir by Jen Pollock Michel, Teach Us To Want, a full book on women and ambition and it, too, is fabulously rich, insightful and rewarding for male readers! Gladly, Jen Michel makes a good appearance here as Beaty tells her story and offers a few quotes from her book.) Also happily, Beaty cites the lovely little "Frames" book by Kate Harris, Wonder Woman: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, an eloquent and sharp women who has, as part of that navigation, learned to embrace constraints.
This is brilliant stuff, and nearly revolutionary, for men and women. What does it mean to be human, to be aware of our creatureliness, by nature bound by space and time; limited? We cannot do it all, and men and women fail to attend to their limits at their own peril. (By the way, Mandy Smith is a female pastor and writer I greatly admire who wrote The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry, a book for pastors about honoring our God-given constraints. It is beautiful, honest, sobering, and nearly stunning in both its raw honesty and liberating grace. Zac Eskwine does a similarly good job ruminating on this topic in The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy In Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus but his book is flawed by the assumption that the pastor/readers are male.)
Again, Beaty is wise, drawing on healthy, often colorful writers. As a good writer herself - please note the rare Oxford commas in the subtitle on the book cover! - she knows how to pull a good quote and use it helpfully. Her own writing is substantive but full of wit, maybe just a step away from playful snark a time or two. It is not silly or edgy, but she does wisely use film and pop culture and helpful cultural allusions even as she draws on excellent theologians and serious scholars.
I mentioned that this book will be enjoyed by folks in different stages of life will find it beneficial. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Kara Powell, youth ministry specialist and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary says:
Women in all life stages will benefit from Katelyn Beaty's holistic and positive theology of work, whether that work is carpools or corporate board meetings - or both.
In my favorite and most eloquent book about vocation and calling, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Life's Purpose by Os Guinness, the famous author notes that the gospel so decisively transforms us and sends us as salt and light and leaven into the world so that we have disciples of Jesus serving in every zone of life and culture. As one chapter succinctly titles puts it, "Everyone, Everywhere, in Everything."
I learned decades ago from a book that Beaty does not cite, but I am sure she has read and absorbed, (Gender and Grace: Love Work and Parenting in a Changing World by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen) that in the generative Genesis creation narrative which offers the charter for full humanness, dignity, creativity, work, rest, and relationships, we learn that humans are made together in the image of God offers all of this equally to women and men. Some misread Genesis 1:26-28 as if it teaches that men are to work ("have dominion") and women are to raise families ("be fruitful and multiply.") Of course, as Van Leeuwen explained as powerfully as anyone, this is dead wrong. Men are to be engaged in family life (and it is not normative for males to be missing from the raising of boys and girls)and women are to be engaged in social life (and it is not normative for women to be missing from the running of corporations and governments.) Together we of different genders image God. The Genesis cultural mandate - create families and run the world as culture-makers! - is given to all. It is a hurt family that is devoid of men and it is a damaged culture that is devoid of women's leadership in social, business, educational, or political institutions.
And so, Beaty helps us think about healthy families and healthy workplaces and healthy steps towards cultural renewal, especially drawing out the gifts and strengths of women for home and the wider world both.
As the always interesting John Ortberg puts it:
Work is an essential part of being made in God's image, and women are essential image bearers. Katelyn Beaty's A Woman's Place brings reflection on Scripture and an informed mind to help answer the question implied by the title - a woman's place is to be an agent of shalom working with dignity and strength in all the spheres of God's redemptive plan for a flourishing creation.
I mentioned that I couldn't imagine anyone not like this excellent book. From those interested in the doctrines of calling and vocation to those involved in work-place ministry, those equipping believers to integrate faith and the quotidian things we do day by day to anyone interested in the role of women in church and world, this is a grand, delightful, thoughtful work.
But I must admit, there are some who will disapprove.
Beaty tackles head on, with succinct rebuttal and considerable grace, the wrong-headed views of Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Owen Strachen of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who insist that the Bible's ideal is that married women are to stay at home and not enter the work-world. Given the usual high level of scholarship exhibited by these sorts of conservative leaders, it is bold of this evangelical woman to refute them.
She is blunt:
Calling work masculine and relationships and networking feminine, as Mary Kassian has, threatens to keep women from knowing the good and holy purposes of work, whether inside the home or outside of it. Ultimately, such teachings keep women from understanding a crucial part of bearing God's image.
I will let readers discover how she handles basic Biblical matters (although she does draw on part-time Inkling, mystery writer and Oxford grad Dorothy Sayers, who wrote incisively and enduringly on work, and a small book called Are Women Human which we still stock!) The book is not primarily engaged in the work of Scriptural exegesis, but there is cogent and helpful Bible teaching.
Importantly (once again, possibly drawing somewhat on early work of Van Leeuwen) Katelyn Beaty looks at the social history of things, as well. She observes that:
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was founded in 1991 expressly to counter feminism's influence in the evangelical church. But maybe it's not the Feminist Revolution of the 1960s and '70s that has undermined the family unity. Maybe it's the Industrial Revolution."
What follows, then, is a brief but very helpful overview of an important bit of analysis with which we should all be familiar. You will learn a bit about the history of the division of labor, the rise of jobs away from the home, be inspired by her interesting observations, and be able to put these profound theological questions in a bigger context. It may stretch some readers out of their customary assumptions, but for many, it will be a sure delight.
I like how Amy Sherman - author of the must-read Kingdom Calling:Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (not to mention a fabulous chapter in Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life) - who describes not only the importance of Beaty's invitation for women to think about vocation and calling in this fresh way, but how she is able to address those who are hindrances to women. She suggests that A Woman's Place offers good answers and ways to move forward.
It give us:
Incisive commentary on cultural mores that have been overlaid on biblical texts should help the Christian community to pry off those faulty 'how it is' assumptions and free us to explore the reforms needed to get to 'how it ought to be.'
This is yet another reason we think this is one of the finest books of the year. It will help rekindle visions and hopes and dreams for many of us, it will remind us of glorious opportunities and some obstacles that, with faith and hope, we can overcome. It is a pleasant book to enjoy even if at times a challenging one. And it will help us get to 'how it ought to be.'
And who among us wouldn't be more sane if we take Beaty's advice about shifting our language away from "balancing" home and work and church to the languages of "integration" of various aspects of our one seamless life? Of course this is often, in our culture, particularly stressful for women, especially if there are young children in the home. Beaty is aware of this, of course, and offers creative ways to think about these complex lifestyle questions.
On the last pages of A Woman's Place Beaty tells again of Rev. Tom Nelson, a pastor we admire whose book Work Matters: Moving from Sunday Worship to Monday Work she described earlier. She helps us draw inspiration from the shifts in Nelson's church.
After a major theological shift around the eternal value of work, Tom noticed that Christ Community Church's "cultural icons and cultural language" began to shift. They began commissioning different individuals and different vocations, and they began using prayers to honor and bless labor. One of their regular benedictions - the prayer of blessing over worshippers at the end of a service - is Psalm 90:17:
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
Establish the work of our hands for us -
Yes, establish the words of our hands.
God made us rulers over the works
of his hands. As we go about our work he is mindful of us; he cares for us (Ps.
8). When we recover this vision for all Christians, I imagine that more and
more women will find God's favor resting upon them.
This is the sort of lovely and truthful and faithful stories
and implicit suggestions made within A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your
Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World. It is not just for women, and although
it may mostly be read by individual women or their book clubs and reading
circles - certainly it would make a great gift to young adult women, maybe a
recent college grad -- it will be
informative for older church leaders and anyone wanting to be reminded about
gender justice, opportunities for both women and men to serve the coming of God's
Kingdom, or for those who want to advance the growing conversation around the
meaning of vocation and calling. We couldn't be happier with this wonderful new
book, and hope you consider reading it. Do help us spread the word. Sadly, this one wasn't in that other shop I
visited the other day, and I doubt it is as widely available as it ought to
Let's go, Hearts & Minds friends: this is one of the best books of the year. Send us your orders today!
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