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(Wo)men of the Word

Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word is not just the best book on Bible study for women that I have read; it is the best book on Bible study for anybody that I have read. Jen is a marvellous Bible teacher who wrote one of my favourite books of last year, None Like Him, and in this book she addresses one of the issues that we all need to talk about but rarely do: the fact that an awful lot of "Bible Study" is really nothing of the kind. In a short, crisp and strikingly insightful book, she explains what happens when a lot of women (and, if my experience is anything to go by, a lot of men as well) get together to study the Bible, and then she talks through how we can do it in a way that will actually increase our understanding of Scripture. It's a simple masterclass that I'm likely to be returning to again and again.

After an introductory chapter in which she talks about two “turnarounds” that need to happen as we engage with God’s Word (God before Me, Mind before Heart), Jen’s most on-the-nose chapter describes what happens when women “spend time in the Word.” There is the Xanax Approach (look for encouraging and reassuring verses), Pinball (read whatever text you flip to), Magic 8 Ball (ask the Bible a question and expect random verses to answer it), the Personal Shopper Approach (“I want to know about being a godly woman or how to deal with self-esteem issues, but I don’t know where to find verses about that, so I let [insert famous Bible teacher here] do the legwork for me”), Chinese Whispers (read books about the Bible, not the Bible), and Jack Sprat (avoiding the parts we don’t like). In place of these common methods, she challenges us to study the Bible with the five Ps:

Purpose: the Bible is about God, its Big Story is one of creation, fall, redemption and restoration, and “our purpose in studying must be to look for that Big Story each time we go to the Scriptures.”

Perspective: who wrote it? when? to whom? in what style? why? “The Bible’s historical and cultural context is there for the digging, but only those believers with a sense of their small place in redemptive history are likely to dig with diligence.”

Patience: we read the Bible cumulatively, over a lifetime, rather than expecting an immediate download of experience and revelation every time we open it. Good Bible study is like a carefully prepared meal, rather than the drive-thru at McDonalds.

Process: “a good literacy-builder honours the learning process by moving through three distinct stages of understanding: comprehension (what does it say?), interpretation (what does it mean?), and application (how should it change me?)

Prayer: during, before and after. Praise, admit, request, thank. “Prayer invokes the fellowship of the Trinity in your study time, a sweet and necessary fellowship for any student of the Word.”

These are the headlines, obviously, but each chapter is also full of practical recommendations, resources, anecdotes and illustrations that make the book live, and she concludes with a helpful chapter aimed at women teachers.

Women of the Word is not a hermeneutics textbook, but it’s a helpful guide. It is not an introduction to having quiet times or doing biblical theology, but it will get you started in both. It does not tell you how to lead a life group, but it would be an invaluable help if you already were. It is not directly written as fuel for your personal devotions, but it certainly fuelled mine. It is not pitched at men, but men (as well, of course, as women) should read it anyway. Jen has quickly become one of those women whose stuff I always want to read, and I’m sure the same is true for others. If you want to start, you can get it here.

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