Contemporary Christianity provides us with a picture of godly womanhood that revolves around a multitude of sweet nothings. I have spent most of my time on earth entrenched in Western church culture and this is the bulk of what I learned about “biblical womanhood” for the first nineteen years of my life:
Preserve your virginity. Do your devotions and say your bedtime prayers. Learn to bake. Write letters to your future husband. Work in the church nursery and sing in the choir. Post Instagram pictures with brush script coffee mugs next to your Bible opened to Proverbs 31.
Don’t tell anyone if you’re struggling with pornography. Don’t ask questions about the things that seem inconsistent in Scripture. Don’t be outspoken about theological issues.
The expectations that the contemporary church has for women are both crushing and pitifully insubstantial at the same time. These hoops we are supposed to jump through contribute very little, in reality, to our edification and to the glorification of God. Our successes in these areas may give us some sense of being close to Christ, but it does not often produce lasting knowledge and conviction of who he truly is outside of our perceptions and preferences. These hollow expectations are just not sufficient. They leave us empty. They can’t stand up to the pains, disappointments, failures, and challenges of life lived in the context of earthly corruption.
What we need more of in the contemporary church is women who are willing to both ask hard questions about God and get their hands dirty while digging for solid, biblically-consistent answers. We need to be willing to look up and learn big words when common ones do not have the capacity to explain the things of a great God. We need women who would rather devote thirty minutes of their day to deep Bible study than to mindless social media indulgences. We need to choose more “meaty” books over the same kinds of devotional or self-help books that we naturally gravitate to over and over.
I don’t say this in a spirit of legalism. We can’t condemn one system of works-based womanhood in order to establish another in its place. We’re no more likely to be redeemed by theological knowledge than by the length of our skirts. But we are obligated as children of God, both sons and daughters, to care about the things of God. We have to exercise our minds to know about Him, as He is revealed in Scripture and revered throughout church history, in order to love Him with our emotions.
What exactly has been the barrier to this in the lives of modern Christian women? Feminists would probably say that patriarchal society has prevented women from having access to same theological knowledge that men have had, and perhaps this has been true in some contexts. But I think the broader problem is this fear in the undercurrent of church life that says theology is unnecessary – or worse, harmful – because it does not provide us with the things we feel a desperate need for in everyday life. Although I never doubted the general importance of theology after I first learned what it is, I have always gone through periods of doubt where I question what it has to do with here and now. It can be hard to tear down modern culture’s wall between faith and facts and trust that eternal truths and invisible realities have a real bearing on the everyday tasks, emotions, and responsibilities that form our perspective of life.
But we need to understand that theology is not about dusty books or debates or lecture halls. The mom whose children seem hopelessly disobedient will be blessed to learn the ins and outs of original sin and the process of sanctification. The woman who is a full time student or employee needs to have a good theology of work and family obligation. The wife who feels burdened by the demands of marriage and the monotony of housework needs to know exactly how people are changed spiritually when they encounter beauty, order, and stability in the home. The single woman needs a right perspective of the local church and the sovereignty of God.
Christ’s gospel is grander than the individual aspects and seasons of our lives. It molds us to its image and rejects our attempts to use it as an ornament rather than an authority. It is not primarily about us . . . so theology is not about us, either. At the same time, it does point us to the reality that there is something, or Someone, more magnificent than the mundanity we so often get lost in. The thing that blows me away the more I come to know the Lord is that this magnificence is not seen in spite of ordinary life, but right in the midst of it.
So this is the purpose of the domestic theologian: She joyfully accepts the parameters and stations God has prescribed to her as a woman made in his image, and she seeks to know, love, and display his character in whatever capacities she has been given as a human and an individual. The environments of her home, her heart, and her mind point straight to him. She refuses to fear the hard work of acquiring godly knowledge, and she humbly submits this knowledge to the authority of Scripture and its command to extend grace along the journey (Col. 3:12). She knows that being a theologian isn’t about having a following or being a pastor, but about considering and praising the character of God and seeing it demonstrated in the lives of ordinary, sinful people.
The contemporary church desperately needs more women like this. And I pray that my sisters who read this will join me as the Lord breaks and re-molds me into a woman who pursues him with both her heart and her mind . . . amidst the working, cleaning, training, failing, and learning that makes up my exceptionally ordinary life.