Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Feminine Threads

When I initially flipped through the book my first impression was that Feminine Threads was a bit dry, but upon beginning the first chapter, this was not at all correct. The author, Diana Severance, PhD, Rice University,  encapsulates the information in the “Women in Church History” courses she taught.  The book is easy-to-read, providing just enough detail to whet the appetite to learn more about church history and the ladies featured.  I found myself really wanting to learn additional details about some of the women highlighted in this book.  Diana provides ample resources for those wishing to study these stories in depth.  The bibliography is 22 pages in length. 

Feminine Threads has twelve chapters, each chapter covering a historical era beginning with the women in the Bible and ending with Christian women in the twentieth century, such as Ruth Bell Graham and Joni Eareckson Tada. The book weaves together the stories of women from all walks of life such as martyrs, mystics, homemakers, queens, and nuns.  As it ties their stories together it reveals who influenced whom.  I found the earlier chapters most fascinating as it was reading information I was not at all familiar with.  Unfortunately I'm quite ignorant when it comes to church history.   

I appreciated the disclaimer preceding the first chapter that reminded readers “Christian history includes admirable and questionable individuals.  The reader is encouraged to discerningly use the truths of Scripture to evaluate the lives of the numerous women in Feminine Threads.”  The flaws of the ladies featured are not glossed over by any means.  The only role model we can trust is our Savior.  Humans are fallible. I actually found the information about doctrinal errors and human weaknesses fascinating.  It confirmed there is “no new thing under the sun.”   

The book begins with how Jesus treated women: with honor, dignity and respect. Throughout the chapters this attitude of honor and respect for women and the importance of family and the sanctity of life are found in those who made the Bible their authority.  Diana presents a very biblical (howbeit presently unpopular) perspective in keeping with what the Bible’s teaches regarding the woman’s role in the church:  “Paul recognized women shared in the spiritual gifts of the Church,and could pray and prophesy in church, yet the women were not to have authority over a man or to teach authoritatively.”  (I Cor. 12:28, Eph. 2:20, 4:11, Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; I Cor. 11:5) She notes that “by grasping at authority and position for women in the Church, many fail to realize that in Christianity, the position of a humble servant - of washing the saints’ feet as Jesus did-is the highest position.”  

It’s amazing to see the roots of feminism several hundred years ago.  Feminine Threads confirms that women have always struggled with their role since Eve’s curse.  Submission to our husbands goes against human nature.  Submission to God’s Word also goes against human nature.   Spiritual disaster has always ensued when the church begins to veer away from the Bible’s authority.  From adjusting the age of widows accepted into the church from 60 to 50 to the more recent trend of ordaining female ministers, it’s amazing how quickly those who call themselves "Christians” can depart from the truth presented in God’s Word.  I suppose it should come as no surprise considering what Paul stated in Galatians 1:6: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”

Severance traces the threads of asceticism, Mariolotry, Antinomianism, feminism and the Social Gospel, in addition to many other doctrines.  She shows how celibacy was revered during the Middle Ages and the Reformation caused the pendulum to be swung to the other end of the spectrum.   The book is interspersed with direct quotes and bits of poetry and prose.  I learned new information about doctrinal errors, church history and the beginnings of most denominations. Some of these interesting facts include:
  • By the 3rd century there were penalties for breaking the vow of virginity since the Church “considered those who married after taking a vow guilty of bigamy.”     
  • That the parallel between the first and last Adam in Romans 5:12-21 was “expanded to a parallel between Eve and Mary” and led to the beginning of the veneration and eventually the worship of Mary
  • That at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 clerical celibacy was instituted by the Roman Catholic Church.  Priests were required to divorce their wives and their children became illegitimate.
  • The mystic Hildegard of Bingen suffered from migraines that were likely the source of her “visions of light.”  
  • That the First Great Awakening was more Calvinistic while the Second One was more Arminian.
  • Charles Finney was the creator of the “anxious bench” which led to the oft-used “altar call”
The lesson I took from Feminine Threads is how easily we add tradition and personal preference to our belief system.  Diana notes that "Jesus had told the Samaritan women (John 4) that worship was to be in spirit and in truth. Throughout the history of the Church the pendulum has often swung between one and the other.  Exclusive focus on the truth at times produced an intellectual dryness that quenched the spirit.  Exclusive focus on the spirit apart from the truth of the Scripture led to heresy." 

This book was an excellent reminder for me to re-examine what I consider doctrine and ensure it is indeed based on what is found in God’ Word.  “Sola scriptura” must be my motto.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and my one complaint is that I wish it had an index.  I read several sections to my husband, which is highly unusual.   I couldn’t read this book without a highlighter. Thank you, Diana, for an excellent read.  I plan to eventually teach through this book with my daughter. 

Disclaimer: Christian Focus Publications provided a complimentary copy of this book to me.  I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.   I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255:“Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is always good to reexamine what we believe as far as doctrine goes. Even though al my beliefs are based on scripture, they do change a bit on how I few things. Scripture never changes but our doctrinal beliefs can.


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