Editor’s note: The following book review appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Eikon.
Susan Hunt. The True Woman: The Beauty and Strength of a Godly Woman, Updated Edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
The True Woman by Susan Hunt has been accurately regarded as a classic since its publication in 1997. The updated 2019 edition at the very least serves to remind us to revisit this volume. To paraphrase the author, the concepts have not changed but her understanding of them has definitely expanded. Readers who seek to learn from her wise teaching are the beneficiaries of her updated thoughts and illustrations in this new edition. If making the case to be a true woman according to biblical standards was considered countercultural twenty-three years ago, it is off the charts now in the midst of our sweeping societal changes.
The book is organized into three sections. Part one sets up the thesis well and is titled The True Woman Versus The New Woman. Hunt succinctly posits her argument, “the true woman is a reflection of her redemption” (30) and “a reflection of God’s glory” (43). As God’s image-bearers who have been rescued and redeemed, we have the privilege to live our days on this earth as women. We should rejoice in that truth daily as we seek to be true reflections of our wise and good Creator.
Hunt reminds us that the concept of being a “true woman” dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when it was widely understood and needed little explanation. But that was when most women relied on God’s infallible Word and the indwelling Spirit and not their own experience. Hunt asks a good question: “Is the loss of true womanhood a basic cause for our current cultural poverty and confusion?” (34). The urgency for us to recapture what we lost cannot be overstated. Hunt provides compelling arguments about the responsibility that each of us bears. Our commitment to biblical truth and sound theology cannot be replaced by anything the world has to offer.
In part two, Hunt presents specific characteristics of the true woman and is titled Her Identity. Steeped in rich theology and pertinent quotes from trusted theologians, Hunt walks her readers through the beautiful process of redemption in Christ and shows that our desire to build relationships and community filled with compassion will flow as a result. Part three, titled Her Virtue, looks at four key, albeit controversial virtues that the true woman possesses. Careful consideration is given to piety, purity, domesticity, and submission. Each section is chock full of scriptural references as well as illustrations and quotes. The chapters end with helpful summaries and personal reflection questions that could be used by an individual reader, for mentoring, or even in a small group setting.
Perhaps some younger readers have passed over this work as just another book by a pastor’s wife from a complementarian perspective. It is so much more than that. Clearly, it was thrust into the spotlight when Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth met with Susan Hunt and others and penned the True Woman Manifesto in 2008 that has now been signed by tens of thousands of us. Nancy wrote the forward to the new edition of The True Woman and called Susan Hunt “the grandmother of the True Woman movement” (15). Now widowed and in her eightieth year of life, Susan Hunt truly has impacted so many of us, especially by way of this book, but also with her other works including By Design and Spiritual Mothering among others. I have long recommended the book she wrote with her son, Richie, titled Big Truths for Little Kids, for use in catechizing children. We used it with our kids, but as a devout Baptist, I will admit that I had to cut and paste in a few sections.
This book is not a quick read and can feel a bit overly formatted with lots of vignettes and some long quotes. I will admit I prefer some of the “reflecting redemptions” essays by guests, included at the end of each chapter in the original version, but I understand the author’s desire to freshen up this new edition with contemporary entries. I do wish she had devoted at least some ink to the issue of modesty when discussing the virtues. It is certainly a biblical issue and one that is becoming increasingly abandoned in our culture with each passing day, and, sadly, not given enough consideration by many women professing godliness as well. She carefully treats the subject of submission and provides a clarifying definition (215) that flies in the face of so many misconceptions we regularly encounter.
You may want to run out and purchase a copy of John Angell James’ Female Piety from 1853 after reading so many pertinent quotes from it in this book, including one at the start of each chapter. Or you may reach for the classic Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss which is also repeatedly quoted. The addition of the Scripture index to this edition is helpful. Susan Hunt references passages from over forty books of the Bible in her hundreds of quotes. No wonder it is such a great book!
I practically wore out my highlighter as I read this new edition. It is not that the content is brand new to us but it is stated in such a way that rings true and causes the reader to want to remember why the points are so critical. Perhaps my favorite section dealt with pride and purity (178-181). Pride is not exactly what you might think one would highlight from a book that is perceived to be all about biblical femininity. Yet it was particularly compelling and convicting as I daily deal with the tendency to be prideful instead of being filled with humility and gratitude.
Giants of the faith like D. James Kennedy and Elisabeth Elliot highly commended the first edition of The True Woman. I am so glad Susan Hunt agreed to update it slightly but left it largely unchanged. Many books on biblical femininity have been published since 1997 and many more are likely in the works even now. Yet this book is one of those unusual and trustworthy works that we as biblical women should make a point to reread annually. It gets to the heart of biblical femininity at the outset but makes a beeline to the gospel with clearly-stated truth backed up by hundreds of Scripture references. There’s no time for silly stories or trite comparisons of men and women that try to convince us that we really are better off being female. No fluff here. We really did not need an updated edition to point us to the serious state of the true woman versus the new woman but it’s a nice reminder that even with a new cover, this book is like an old friend. Newly treasured quotes yet to be discovered await. Admonitions to be heeded and applied to the climate of the current day will emerge. Encouragement that is desperately needed now more than ever as we walk against the prevailing opinion of our times feels like a soothing balm. The subtitle sums it up well. This book delivers what it promises as it aptly makes the case for us to embrace both the beauty and the strength of a godly woman—a true woman.
Mary K. Mohler is the Director of the Seminary Wives Institute at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.