To be honest, as a Christian woman I don’t read Christian books intended for Christian women. I find them to be (often) legalistic in approach to womanhood: focusing on the function of my womanhood (typically translated in terms of mother and a wife) rather than looking at me as a whole person. Surely I am more than the few organs constituting my reproductive system and my relation to my husband. Surely I was as fully human when I was single and twenty-eight as I am now at forty, married, and the mother of three children. So, when I received an e-mail offering me a copy of Katelyn Beaty’s book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, I rolled my eyes and went to hit the delete button: No, thank you. But something stopped me, and I replied yes to the free copy. I’m glad I did; Beaty’s book is rescue from the maelstrom of Christian books written for Christian women.
Beaty’s goal in writing this book is to create (new) dialogue with new language about the role of work in the life of the Christian woman and to call attention to the reality of the inner turmoil so many Christian women suffer, as they contemplate both the function of their form and the set of gifts God has given them apart from the function of their form. Beaty accomplishes this goal in three ways.
First, in chapters 1 through 3, she articulates in no uncertain terms that she (the reader) has been created as a co-vice-regent alongside man and has been given the gift of work in having dominion over creation. This incorporates more than merely her womb and her status as “wife.” This gift of work is none other than part of the image of God—who is a creative and working God—given to our first parents when they were created. As Beaty writes, “We were meant to work so that flourishing, wholeness, and delight would spread to the furthest reaches of creation” (78).
Second, in chapter 4, Beaty brings to the table a much needed look at the history of women at work. Take even the briefest of looks at world history and you’ll see that women have worked not merely as wives and child-bearers but alongside man on the land. The western part of United States, where I live, was settled on the backs of women as well as men. Beaty also rightly challenges the errant gender theology of evangelical theologians such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem (et al.) who actively propagate gender-specific spheres by proclaiming that men are to work and be the breadwinners and women are to remain at home (even when they don’t have children) and not work. An emphasis on the separation of spheres according to gender is bringing more death than life to both Christian men and women.
Third, Beaty highlights the beauty that is the totality of being a woman. In chapter 5, she exhorts her reader that being female is a good thing, and that a woman’s femininity is beautiful and adds dimension to the world alongside the male and his masculinity. As women, we should be women and not men in the work world, because it shouldn’t look like “working like a woman is a liability or source of shame” (140). In chapter 6, she reinforces the beauty that is childbearing and childrearing and calls into question the archaic and patriarchal molds that form the workplace. With current business practices dealing with maternal (and paternal) demands the way they are (paltry), it is difficult for moms (and dads) to maintain an integrated work/home life. Sometimes the system needs to be dismantled in order for a better system to be created in its place. Beaty articulates that along with being the child-bearer, a woman is given gifts and talents unique to her and separate from child-bearing; this is an important point to make. For a stay-at-home-mom to have work separate from childbearing and rearing is not only beneficial to her but to her children: they will be able to leave and initiate their own lives apart from her without worry and concern that mom will have nothing when they are gone. In chapter 7, she articulates the beauty and fruitfulness that stems beyond procreation and incorporates the single woman’s contribution to society and the world. She also addresses the problem of the church’s inability to meet the needs of single people, in general, and single women who work, in specific.
Her last move is a call to ambition: highlighting the good that is ambition (unselfish ambition), and how it can be a good used to encourage women to pursue their work-related aspirations. We were created to work, and our work rightly oriented toward God and his creation glorifies God. We have been equipped (all of us, men and women) in both common and unique ways to serve creation and our neighbor and bring glory to God.
Beaty’s argument throughout the book is well articulated and coherent. However, there is an oversight: Beaty makes no mention of the doctrine of justification. While Beaty exhorts her reader to see work in a different light—beautiful, reflecting the Imago Dei, reflecting our humanity, and feeding our sense of purpose and identity in life—I’m left wondering how that happens. Two things need to happen: I need to be brought to death (by the law) and be recreated (by the gospel), and I need work to be transformed from toil. In hearing the word of the law, I am brought to death because I see that I am toiling, trying to justify myself by my works, that I am finding my identity, purpose, and self in my works. From this I need relief, and that relief is wrought through the death that comes from the word of the law—not only from the word of the law but also by the second and final word, the word of the gospel, which brings me (as a new creation) into new and full life in union with Christ by faith in Christ apart from my works. By hearing the word of the gospel, I am given true existence and a true identity that is mine always apart from my works, because my identity and purpose is found in the One who died for my sins and was raised for my justification (Rom. 4:25). In having my works separated from me in death and recreation, I am given back my works. In the event of justification (hearing the word of absolution proclaimed to me), work (toiling) is removed from me and from the seat of judgment over me (domination) and put in its proper place: under my dominion; toil becomes work and is a blessing to the creation and my neighbor and to me. The doctrine of justification is the missing linchpin in Beaty’s argument.
Even in light of this oversight, I can wholeheartedly say that A Woman’s Place, from beginning to end, delivers a much needed breath of fresh air to Christian women who have wrestled, are wrestling, or will wrestle with the tension that comes part and parcel with being a woman in the twenty-first century. We are women who may be able to be wives and bear children, but we are also gifted human beings capable of much variety of work. This book is a categorical “must-read” for Christians, men and women alike.
Lauren R. E. Larkin (MDiv, STM) is currently a doctoral candidate at Universität Zürich in systematic theology and social ethics. She is married and stays at home with her two boys and her daughter. She regularly contributes to the theological blogs Mockingbird and Key Life, and she is one-half of Ezer Uncaged (www.ezeruncaged.com).