(A)Typical Woman, by Abigail Dodds, is written to Christian women who may be struggling with what it means to be a woman in today’s world and/or may be confused and enticed by the messages and expectations for women from voices outside the church. Does it level the playing field to think of ourselves as simply human in the way that men are, “compartmentalizing” femininity as one, not very noteworthy, aspect of our identity? Or is there value in understanding the kinds of things God had in mind when He created women uniquely different from men? What are women missing when they compare themselves to men and find themselves wanting? What are the most important truths that should shape our identity?
Dodds explores these and other questions in a very readable volume, broken into short chapters perfectly structured for small groups, with discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
(A)Typical Woman is presented in three parts. Part One establishes our identity in Christ and unfolds how living in fullness as women uniquely reflects Christ. The chapters in this section outline the importance of seeing ourselves as Christian women, what it means to perceive oneself as wholly woman, the essential role of the Bible, and the glory of our unique bodies. In short, some of the foundational truths that should cause us to find joy in being (a)typical.
Part Two establishes the importance of understanding that God intends us to bring our essential womanhood to every role in which we’re placed. This section begins with a chapter about God’s sanctifying transformation, followed by encouraging chapters addressing single women, married women, mothers, working women, and the role of discipling other women.
Part Three opens our eyes to see the unique freedom and joy we have as women in Christ. These chapters explore what it means to be strong and to be “weak,” the strength of dependent women, the unique challenges of afflicted women, and finally the freedom we have when we live in Christ with joy.
When I picked up this book, I expected that it would be more confrontational, challenging the voices of society that press women to minimize their femininity and view themselves as equal to men in every aspect. This is not a confrontational book, and while I was a little disappointed at first, I came to feel Dodds is exercising great wisdom as she directs women’s eyes away from the lies of the world to the truth in which we will find our greatest joy. Dodds calmly takes us into the Word to be reminded of who we really are as Christian women and why we should be celebrating the unique ways God made us to reflect Him and His glory. She sums up her tone and approach well in her introduction: “I want women to be at peace as women, to be grateful for being made women, and to see it all as an essential part of Christ’s mission and work” (13). The more I read, the more I was grateful for this approach.
One of Dodd’s gifts is a winsome way of crafting a good illustration, and she sprinkles them generously throughout the book. Her own life has been “blessed” with extraordinary challenges, including a severely disabled child, yet one never gets the sense hard things have done anything except strengthen her faith, her dependence on God, and her joy in the life He has given her. Her faith, tested by so many trials, shines through so brightly it has a way of making you more eagerly alert to hear what this strong and joyful woman has to say about being contented as a woman in every circumstance.
Dodds is a thoughtful writer, and I really appreciate that the book is not filled with Christian cliché. One example is in the chapter on “Bible Women,” where she emphasizes the importance of reading the whole Bible to understand womanhood, not just focusing on the “women” passages and stories. When we immerse ourselves in the whole counsel of God, we see the “women” passages with new eyes (46).
I think my favorite chapter might be “Embodied Women.” She has a lovely illustration about a pregnant woman waiting with excitement to hear the sex of her child, but unlike the anticipation of hearing from a doctor, when we are born again into Christ, God doesn’t say, “It’s a girl,” but “It’s my girl” (48). In this chapter, Dodds beautifully addresses the concept of the “weaker” sex, helping us appreciate that being “weaker” is actually a gift, encouraging growth in maturity and faith, and is combined with being “fearless” in 1 Peter 3:6 in a poignant way. I also loved the way she described our bodies as being a home, and the natural gifts women are given to make a home for those in her family and sphere of influence (53).
Of course Dodds does address the “elephant in the room,” submission, and she does it well in the chapter on “Married Women.” She begins by pointing us first to the fact that we are all called to submission, even as Christ was, and He is our model for the spirit we should bring to this calling. She carefully clarifies that women are not called to submit to their husband’s sinful behavior or to the urge to sin. I was, however, waiting for her to address submission when no sin is involved, when a husband and wife strongly, but respectfully, disagree. I was a little let down that there wasn’t more pointed counsel for this eventuality.
If there is one “big” addition I would make to the book, it would be a greater emphasis on prayer. Dodds does such a good job reminding us to be grounded in Scripture, but in my own life Scripture has had its most sanctifying power as I have lifted my confusion, resentments, questions, and heartfelt desires in prayer. Prayer has clarified much for me and helped me as a woman, wife, and mother discern when to be quiet and when to speak, when to act, and when to wait. I understand it is impossible to emphasize everything that is important, but if Dodds ever feels called to expand her thoughts about the power of prayer, I will be first in line to read them!
There is so much gold to be mined in this book, whether reading it on your own or discussing it in a group. Without a doubt, women will be encouraged in their understanding of the unique and precious gift it is to be a woman even as they are more deeply centered in their life in Christ. It’s a wonderful thing to read chapter after chapter and at the end of each one saying, “I want more.” There is always more that can be said on any subject, but (A)Typical Woman provides plenty to inspire, to think about, and to clarify what it means to be a woman, especially an (a)typical woman in Christ.
Adrien Segal occasionally contributes articles to DesiringGod and other blogs. She is a wife, a mother of four, and Grandy to five.
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