"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
A Little Background... (Those with short attention spans may wish to read the bold print. ;)
I recently wrote in my journal:
"Father, Today I feel weary. The days are long; the work is hard. However, I don't think this weary feeling is unique to my circumstances. I know that I need only cast myself on You for Your burden is light. Father, please strengthen me for the work that remains and fill me with Your joy which is my strength. Draw near to me. Help me to bring glory and honor to You and to enjoy the beauty of my season. Life is hard but my days on earth are but a breath and I will be at rest with You. Help me to pour myself out for the sake of Your Kingdom as Christ gave Himself up for me" (My journal, 6-11-11.)
The next day, our Pastor preached a sermon about staying encouraged from Hebrews (which is yet another evidence of God's love and grace to me). He said that the Christian life is a strenuous race. How does one run with endurance? 1) Listen to the witnesses of faith. Of what are they witnesses? Of the faithfulness of God. 2) Fix your eyes on Jesus! Those who have gone before us have obeyed partially, but He has obeyed fully. Similarly, John Piper has made a case for the importance of reading Christian biography in "Brothers, Read Christian Biography". He notes that Christian biography is one excellent way to stir one another up to love and good works.
To that end, Feminine Threads serves as a good introduction to and survey of women throughout church history for any reader. Although it is a book about women, it is not primarily a book for women. It begins with the New Testament era, highlighting women in Jesus' genealogy and closes with women from modern times, such as Joni Eareckson Tada and Elisabeth Elliot. While this book includes many familiar names, there are also many with which most people will be unfamiliar.
Feminine Threads appears to be thoroughly researched, includes an extensive bibliography, is well documented, and notes resources (and web links) for further study. The author, Diana Lynn Severance, carefully selected many pertinent quotes, allowing the women "...to speak for themselves, from their letters, diaries, or published works" whenever possible (pg. 15).
Ms. Severance is balanced in her presentation of those who have gone before us; she does not merely write about the wonderful things they did but rather, like the Bible, is realistic about people's strengths and weaknesses. She also seeks to esteem God highly rather than elevating man and includes specific quotes where women have also sought to do the same.
One of the many strengths of this book is that Ms. Severance often brings Scripture to bear on the poor theology encountered in a study of this nature. While she does not go into great depth regarding specific errors, she is faithful to remark upon them and apply appropriate Scriptures, as needed. For example, Ms. Severance notes that many mystics began to interpret Scripture allegorically and placed more emphasis on their feelings rather than the truth of Scripture. Of this, she observes:
"The fire of the mystics balanced somewhat the aridity of the scholastic debate. Jesus had told the Samaritan woman (John 4) that worship was to be in spirit and in truth. Through 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 Scripture led to heresy" (pg 128, 132).
Additionally, Ms. Severance "...aims to equip the reader to refute the distortions of women in Christian history" and combat unbiblical, feminist thought. Feminine Threads will serve as a good discussion starter about the importance of knowing Scripture and Biblical doctrine.
It is evident that Ms. Severance strives to remain true to the facts and does not appear to embellish or sugarcoat the truth. That being said, the factual nature of this book makes it better suited for reading in small segments rather than attempting to read large portions at a time. There are helpful headings within each chapter that allow the reader to easily navigate and take breaks, as desired. The facts are interesting but presented in a matter-of-fact manner, in spite of a narrative style.
Feminine Threads provides encouragement to persevere as Clothilda when she urged her husband to recognize the Christian God (96) and as Monica as she prayed for her son, Augustine (pg. 73). May we primarily identify with Christ as Perpetua (pg. 44) and share "a vision for the Eternal...so that this world and its delights became worthless" (pg. 74) as Augustine and Monica. May each of our families be “...a little church, consecrated to Christ and wholly influenced and governed by His rules” (pg. 223) as Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.
The apostle Paul said:
"Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:17-21, ESV - emphasis added).
Through Feminine Threads, we are reminded of God's continued faithfulness and that He uses His children in spite of our many shortcomings. Of Christian women throughout the ages, Ms. Severance writes:
"They are specimens of the universal Christian life demanded of us all, lived by not a few; not perfect,...but being perfected; not...complete in any one; complete only in Him who is the Head and Life of all, and in His whole Body, which is the Church. Nor, thank God, are they records of a race and a life passed away. At this moment I could lead you into home after home around us now, blessed and hallowed by lives as Christ-like and humble and sweet" (pg. 10).
May we all strive to live such Christ-like lives because of the work of Christ on our behalf, because of His work within us, and because of all that awaits us in the coming Kingdom that Christ may not be reviled! May we "...not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9, ESV).