Damsels In Distress: Biblical Solutions to Problems Women Face
In a world saturated with psychological approaches to problems, women are often encouraged toward a distorted view of themselves and their struggles. The self-help aisle of the local bookstore is an aisle filled with man-centered approaches to a myriad of human problems. At best, these approaches often put Band-Aids on mortal wounds. Following her earlier works including The Excellent Wife, Becoming a Titus 2 Woman, and Attitudes of a Transformed Heart, Martha Peace advances a very different approach to change than that of the world. In her eleven chapters, Martha draws upon her years of counseling women and attempts to identify some of the most common issues that women face. Her central purpose is to present biblical solutions that provide lasting change in these issues, drawing from God's authoritative and inerrant instruction in Scripture. Her thesis is that God has indeed provided all the resources we need to deal with our problems: a renewed heart, the Scriptures, knowledge of God's character, and the discipleship of fellow believers.
Through her experiences teaching seminars, ladies' groups, leading Bible Studies both locally and internationally, as well as teaching biblical counseling at the collegiate level, she has identified some of the key issues with which women struggle. Several common issues that surfaced which women have with other people include gossip and slander, idolatrous emotional attachments, manipulation, and hurt feelings. Even as she identifies these issues, and how they relate to others, she challenges the reader to deal with any "log in their own eye" along the way.
Gossip and slander. We are drawn to it like ants to a picnic. Whether it is young men standing around a water cooler at work or your mother telling you in a telephone conversation, gossip and slander are common sinful afflictions...They destroy friendships, decimate reputations, and dishonor our Lord. They split churches, saturate public opinion, and sabotage our Christian witness.
Whether revealed in a study of the Proverbs or the book of James, the Bible clearly identifies these insidious sins. Martha carries the reader through 17 biblical principles that enable us to break through the denial resulting from our minimization of these common sin patterns, and to help us acknowledge the serious problems resulting from them. Included is the shocking reality that these patterns characterize those who have been abandoned to their own depravity and how Scripture names slander among evils that defile us. She goes deeper than outward behavior and points out how these sins begin in the heart, and offers guidance on how a Christian can respond biblically when sinned against in this way.
Idolatrous emotional attachments are those relationships that involve inordinate emotional longings for another person and a belief that you cannot live without them.
A discussion of relational sins can quickly lead into uncomfortable topics. Common patterns exist that can lead women into such relationships, which often involve sin such as immorality. These patterns bring overwhelming emotions and rationalization to appease one's conscience. However, such relationships are not limited to immorality, even female friendships can lead to such sinful patterns. Martha discusses the root sin of lust for what one feels the relationship will offer, and the idolatry that turns us from the Lord. Yet, she brings the hope of the gospel to bear on this sin and carries the reader through the repentance process.
Sinful manipulation is using your words and/or countenance to bully or persuade another person to let you have your way. If you cannot have your way, you can at least punish the other person in the process.
With strong scriptural support, Martha coaches the reader through the tactics of manipulation commonly employed by individuals who insist on having things their way. She challenges the reader to identify the "log in their own eye," as well as provides powerful examples to help the reader recognize manipulative tactics used by others. Included are helpful examples of godly responses to manipulation, for those who are lacking the necessary skills to counter it.
You show love to God by obeying His Word, and you show love to the other person by being kind, patient, and not playing over and over in your mind what he or she has done. As a Christian you will be vindicated either now or in eternity...
The first section of the work ends with a discussion of hurt feelings. She distinguishes between intentional and unintentional hurts. She advises the reader on righteous responses to hurt and warns against sinful assumptions and judging someone's motivations, which in essence is placing oneself in the place of God. Encouraging the reader away from a man-centered approach to this problem, we are challenged toward seeking the glory God in our response to the hurts we receive from others, and--first and foremost--to believe the best intentions. A particular strength of this chapter is the discussion of the church discipline process, beginning with a brother or sister privately going to the one who they feel has sinned against them and progressing to the level of taking the dispute to the church (cf. Matt.18:15-20).
The next three chapters are devoted to problems with ourselves. She spends time discussing the problem of vanity, pointing to the distinction in scripture between external and internal adornment. Tackling this issue is timely in light of the excessive cultural preoccupation by both genders with physical appearance. She adequately highlights a number of internal character qualities that are pleasing to the Lord. The physical challenges of womanhood are also explored in this section, and the reader is encouraged to take an honest look at sin's interplay with the emotional flux of hormones. The section ends with a chapter devoted to legalism and the improper use of God's law toward which sinful human nature gravitates. Legalism leaves little room for love as the Scripture defines it (cf. 1 Cor. 13), and becomes a breeding ground for self-righteousness.
Problems with the world are explored, beginning with a brief history of the feminist movement. This movement appeals to the man-centeredness of our sinful nature, while encouraging a kind-of "victim mentality." Highlighted is a focus on a sense of identity from things outside of God. It appeals to women who have felt unfulfilled in their roles in marriage and motherhood, and who are encouraged by the feminists to find fulfillment by alternate means, in education or achievement. Neither will satisfy. She discusses the dangerous rewrites of truth that have occurred by a number of feminists, who claim these rewrites as "fact." Included is a discussion on how less polarized versions of these views have become mainstreamed into today's church, taking on the appearance of normalcy.
Launching from here, Martha moves into a discussion of the roles of women in the church. As Scripture begins with God and then creation (Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God..."), so Martha begins the discussion with a reminder that we exist because God chose to create us. As stated in Romans 9:19-21, we are His workmanship and must bow to His purposes, humbly yielding to this truth. Yet, reveling in the truth of the Gospel, she challenges us to Christian maturity by allowing Scripture to inform our understanding of the role of women in the church and home. Interestingly, the picture Scripture paints is not primarily concerned with what women cannot do. Rather, Scripture provides guidelines such as Titus 2, for how women should be using their gifts and not allowing them to remain dormant. Included is a review of the authority structure set forth for the distinct roles of men in the lead and women helping them. Drawing from the Genesis account of the fall, we are reminded of sin's interplay in these roles and the ongoing conflict that ensued.
Martha closes this section with a discussion of the trials that we encounter as we interact with the world. It is a powerful examination of God's purposes in trials. She instructs the reader to remember God's sovereignty in the midst of trials, including His glory and His good intentions even in the middle of the seemingly worst circumstances. Although odd to the perspective of the world, it is an encouragement to Christians to find gratitude to God for what He allows us to go through in His good Providence.
Overall, this work is an excellent look at some of the key struggles women face on a daily basis, providing strong scriptural support for these very applicable topics. Martha's charts provide very helpful examples of what obedient behavior might look like. However, the reader must be cautioned not to utilize the charts out of the context of the chapters, particularly the opening chapter covering the gospel foundation for all of the remaining content. Without this context, the content may be reduced to a merely behavioral approach to change, which is not the writer's intent. A deeper emphasis on the sins and idolatry of the heart over the exterior behaviors might fully clarify this intent.
I would recommend this book for private or personal study, and study groups that wish to choose a topical study. It could particularly be useful in the discipleship of younger women in the faith. Later revisions possibly could include suggested reading for further and deeper study of Scripture, particularly on the excellent scriptural references within the chapters. It is important to note that although the opening chapter highlights the role of fellow Christians in growth and discipleship; this discipleship should be primarily sought within the context of the local church. A clarification of the importance of the role of the church in all aspects of Christian growth and sanctification would strengthen this work, and place its content within the context of proper ecclesiology.
Martha Peace - Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006
Review by Liz Griffin, Women's Director, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS