Saturday, May 16, 2009

Practical Theology Indeed: Wendy Alsup's Practical Theology for Women

I've already given away two copies, have bought two more copies, and am planning on giving away another copy to a friend tomorrow. This evening I finished reading the book and was not disappointed. On the contrary, I hope to give away more copies, or at the least, continue recommending it.

I'm referring to Wendy Horger Alsup's Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives (Crossway, 2008).

Why did I give away this book prior to reading it, you may ask. Well, this question is absolutely fair. First, I am acquainted with Wendy from working at the same Christian camp back in the early 90s. Although it has been many years since that summer, I remember her as being a leader among the lady counselors and as having maintained a fine Christian testimony. Second, I had, in fact, read through the book very quickly (more like reading selected portions and skimming the rest) in order to get a feel for the book. I noticed that the direction of the book was substantive without being overburdened with anecdotal material. Rather, the chapters followed a simple and orderly progression considering three major headings: 1) What is Theology? 2) Who is Our God? 3) Communicating with Our God.

Now that I've gone through the book at a normal pace, I have found that my expectations have been exceeded. I don't get the sense that Wendy is out to make a name for herself, nor do I expect her to give Beth Moore, Kay Arthur and the likes a run for their money producing books for women. That said, if she does write more, I think that she would fill a great void in Bible study material.

God has clearly gifted Wendy to teach. Whereas some are great comedians or storytellers, Wendy is a teacher and you will see this in the way she has crafted this book. Stories and illustrations are at a minimum; used sparingly and purposefully. Rather, Wendy sets before the reader one of the simplest and most fruitful methods of Bible study. First, she turns the readers attention to the Bible over and over again. This point is worth highlighting, especially if any publishers are reading. Too few "Christian" books force you to read the Bible. Rather, they are full of the author's interpretation of the Bible, while Scripture references are left in parenthesis, or demoted to the footnotes. On the contrary, Wendy puts the texts in front of the reader (many texts throughout the book) so that you have to read them to follow her lesson. I must say that this was refreshing, and it is the key to the message of her book.

Second, she utilizes basic tools found in nearly every American household: a dictionary, Strong's Concordance, and alternate translations of the Bible. Some people forget about the dictionary, but defining difficult words is part of Bible Study 101. If you find that you don't understand a verse, don't let it be because you didn't look up the definition of an unfamiliar word. Also, on a basic lever, using a Strong's Concordance of the Bible will give the reader a basic idea of the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words. It may seem intimidating to some, but Strong's is very useful. It was one of my staple resources before I studied the Biblical languages and learned how to use other tools.

Finally, Wendy highlights the necessity of prayer. The third major division of this book, Communicating with Our God, is a superb treatise on prayer. I got a kick out of her take on persevering in prayer: "God is inviting us to nag him in prayer!" (131) I couldn't resist sharing that statement with my wife. All kidding aside, her exposition of the Lord's prayer is insightful, especially her comments on forgiveness.

In the beginning of this book, Wendy states her burden for women who will read this book. She writes,
No matter where our husbands, fathers, or pastors may be in their spiritual journey, when we ladies grow in our understanding of God's character and attributes, it can only be a blessing for our homes, or marriages, and our churches. (22)
The way that women (and men, of course) grow in their understanding of God is through prayerful study of the Scriptures! Wendy argues, "God forbid that women should avoid studying the deep things of the Word lest they surpass the understanding of the men in their lives!" (22) Amen, to that! What a privilege we all (male and female) have to dig deep into the Scriptures! Why settle for Dr. Phil or Oprah? Establish and grow your relationship with the God of the universe! Practical Theology for Women is a passionate plea for women to experience, enjoy, become enriched in, and edified through the study of God's living and active Word.

There are many highlights I would love to share (and, Yes, I learned a thing or two from this "woman's" book), but I'll share the following because it exposes Wendy's perspective--which is what we as readers are supposed to try to uncover as we read any book (right?). In chapter 14, What is the Word?, Wendy admits to a struggle that plagues me too. With regard to the treasure we have in the Scriptures, Wendy writes,
Personally, I have to fight the tendency to place the Word of God down in third place on my priority list, after wise counselors and good Christian books. I find it easier to seek wisdom from people or books rather than from God himself in his Word. However, this attitude works against me in the very areas I need help. No Christian book can claim to be the hammer that breaks the heart of stone. No wise counselor can claim the ability to judge the unspoken attitudes of our hearts. Only God's Word has this type of power, and we must avail ourselves of his revelation to us through his written Word. (135)
From the content of this book, to the organization of the material, to the manner in which this material is presented; this perspective is foundational. I am very glad to have read this book and it is one I will wholeheartedly recommend and give away to others.