One of the books I discovered over the holidays is a collection of vignettes about the women of the New Testament. I was prepping for this year’s women’s Bible study at church and like any good teacher (who is consistently running just shy of deadline), my first stop was the Amazon search engine. I typed in “Women of the New Testament” and one of the first entries was written by, of all people, Abraham Kuyper. Apparently in the midst of reforming turn-of-the-century Dutch society, establishing an entire branch of theology, and pastoring multiple congregations, Kuyper also had time to write on women of the Bible. (Abraham Kuyper: Statesman, Theologian, and Father of the Modern Women’s Bible Study?)
I snagged a 1933 English edition (complete with “Suggested Questions for Study and Discussion”) for a little over a $1. Presumably Kuyper wrote his Women of the New Testament in the late 1800s (I couldn’t find an exact date), and so it’s not surprising that he affirms a fairly traditional understanding of womanhood. What is surprising, however, is that his traditionalism has been thoroughly informed by the gospel and in some respects, doesn’t look like traditionalism at all.
Take this gem from the chapter about Mary of Rome. In writing about the work a woman is called to as a Christian, Kuyper says:
A woman who really loves Jesus must place all she has upon His altar… therefore Jesus may expect that those who love Him exert their energies strenuously to help His sacred cause to prosper. In this matter, too, talents are too frequently buried; gifts are allowed to lie fallow, and energies to remain latent. This does not imply that a woman must forsake her home… but a woman frequently proves to be amazingly ingenious and energetic in the care of her husband and children. She should give full expression to that same ingenuity and energy in her endeavors for the Lord. (p.86)
He reiterates the same thought in discussing Priscilla, who with her husband Aquilla, actively taught and discipled early converts:
A woman such as Priscilla was, is a potent influence in any congregation to which she happens to belong, and we might wish that we could point out ten or twenty such women in each of our larger congregations. From her position in the Word of God, she affirms that a woman, also a married woman, has another calling besides those of dispatching daily duties and engaging in activities of mercy. A woman, too, must have faith, and that faith must borrow its strength from a knowledge of the truth… In that lies the strength of a Priscilla. She knows the truth, and knows how to present it with perfect clarity. Beside, she has the ingratiating tenderness of feminine appeal, a quality no man has… (p. 105).
There is a lot of debate about the role of women in Church and society. And while I’ll quickly identify as a conservative, I’ll also quickly admit that women who use their gifts to teach the Scripture—whether through writing or speaking—can sometimes feel like their femininity is a weakness. Teaching is something they do despite being women rather than an outgrowth of their full personhood which includes being a woman. But for Kuyper at least, Priscilla’s womanhood was an asset that allowed her to communicate the truth in a distinct way—in a way no man could.
Thinking about this reminded me of another woman I read about over the holidays who “expounded the way of God more perfectly.” For Christmas, my husband gave me a copy of Laura K. Simmons’ Creed without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers. (Don’t assume too much about us—he also gave me the first three seasons of Duck Dynasty, the juxtaposition of which reveals more about me than I care to admit.)
Dorothy Sayers is best known for her detective stories, but she was also an academic translator and lay theologian who actively argued for orthodox Christianity in the public sphere. Simmons writes that Sayers
had a unique combinations of talents: a keen theological sense coupled with tremendous writing skill and a concern for how ordinary people understand Christianity. In an increasingly complex and fragmented world, we need these gifts more than ever. (p.12)
So to all you Priscillas and Dorothys out there who have been gifted to communicate the word of God, do so; and do so out of your femininity. Do not be afraid of your curves or what Kuyper calls the “tenderness of feminine appeal.” Do not believe that you must adopt a masculine voice or be something other than you are to be heard. At the same time, do not hide behind your femininity; do not give yourself a pass for sloppy work or careless study because you are “a woman” and less may be expected of you in theological circles. You must do the work because, in the end, logic and clarity and beauty are not masculine concerns but human ones.
Do the work because you love Jesus and you are offering Him your talents and energies. Do the work and engage in it with all He has created you to be—including your womanhood. Remember that being a wife or mother or aunt or sister or niece or daughter is as much a part of God’s calling on you as your ability to teach His Word in the first place. Because if Abraham Kuyper has anything to say about it, your womanhood might just be the very means by which you communicate it best.