Female Brains and the Bestseller's List
December 9, 2015
Well, this is the time of year that bloggers are offering their top-ten, or for the more audacious, top 50 books of the year. I’ve never been one to rate my books, but I thought I might try something a little different. I thought I’d take a look at the current bestselling Christian books for women. I have just read the number two bestseller, as the number one was out of stock and is now in the mail. You probably won’t be surprised that Beth Moore takes up several spots on the bestseller list, and she is sitting in at number two with her release, hot of the press in November, titled Audacious. It’s kind of a Radical meets Purpose Driven Life, meets your best girlfriend. Reading this book, and I believe the ones after it, is an education on the Christian market, the niche for women, and our actual goals here.
There’s all kinds of research that points to the differences between the male and female brains. But as soon as you begin looking into that, you will find all kinds of research debunking that research. There are some proven neurological differences, but how that then transfers into the way we process information, interact, and learn, can be tricky. One popular teaching is that men systemize and women empathize. While there seems to be some general observable truth in this even, there are also many exceptions.
We don’t all fit so neatly into these categories. Most of us tend to be more nuanced than that. I enjoy a good chapter on the chiastic structure of a biblical text. Does that make me masculine? Of course not. But when I look at the bestsellers list for women in the Christian market, I see that we are targeted for our empathetic tendencies. When I look at the books for men, I do see more of a systematic approach. And if these books are selling so well, then there must be something to this.
This is where Beth Moore comes in. Audacious is ranked #2 on Amazon, under "Christian Books for Women’s Issues." It’s also the #2 bestselling book for women on CBD. That’s quite an accomplishment in sales. A lot of women are reading this book. Moore is a likeable person. And she is extremely empathetic. The book reads like a journal, with Moore sharing personal details from her childhood, even opening up about being molested, and then moving right into hilariously embarrassing moments. She can certainly weave a story and draw in a reader’s emotions.
After thirty years of Christian ministry to women, this book serves as a reflection on the work she has done and what she seems to think may have been the missing link in her ministry. And that missing link is that although she has always had the mission to “see women come to know and love Jesus Christ,” she has noticed a lack of desire and verve in the spiritual lives of women. Moore proposed that the missing link is an audacious love for Christ.
Moore seems to have a driving passion for women to love Jesus. And her writing reveals a strong pursuit for this in her own life, as well as an overall love for living. That is an attractive quality, for sure. But Moore characterizes this love primary by feelings, and this is where the message is incomplete. The message comes off sounding a lot like the world’s “follow your heart,” or “if you dream it (audaciously), you can achieve it.” While I agree with Moore that we should have stronger desires for the Lord, and that our spiritual growth is not merely based on duty and doctrine, our greatest barrier to love Jesus rightly isn’t our lack of audacity, but our great sinfulness. We are audacious sinners. It would be much more profitable to move the focus from our own feelings, to learn more about the person and the work of Jesus Christ. How do we know our real need when we haven’t meditated on the holiness of God and the depravity of man? This isn’t addressed in the book.
Moore uses the account of the woman at the well in John 4 and the call to ask God according to his will in 1 John 5:14-15 to come up with the formula:
If you only knew + you would ask Me = I would give you.
She quotes Mark 12:28-30 to teach that God’s will for us is that we love him audaciously, and all we have to do is ask for that desire. But she misses the thrust of the teaching at the well. The most “audacious” thing Jesus says isn’t “if you knew,” but “I am he.” She doesn’t even address how Jesus reveals himself to this woman and our absolute need for him to do this. Jesus also points out the woman’s sin before revealing himself. Love is not just a gushy feeling. The text from Mark shows that it is a command. We need to love God more than our sin, and oh how we fall short! Maybe we don’t love because we don’t repent. Maybe we don’t love because we really don’t know God. That’s what I was hoping to read.
The chapters in the book all build on this audacious theme. So the message that I come away with is that our greatest problem is our lack of boldness. I just don’t agree with that. And yet, there is a lot of biblical truth in Moore’s teaching. However, it is mixed with an emotionalism that is man-centered. And then her appeal is to ask if we have the audacity to take what Jesus has done personally, or whether we have the audacity to believe how Jesus has adventurously, daringly, and boldly pursued us (52). But what we need is faith, and that is a gift from God. I wish there was less talk about our verve and more about the faith.
This is why I think the market is doing us a disservice by over-pandering to gender distinctions. It stunts our growth. By over-appealing to empathy in women, we are getting a lot of story (the first five pages of a chapter on cleaning out the attic), a lot of emotion, and a lot of appeal to our insecurities, but not much solid doctrinal teaching.
Speaking of, Moore closes her book with a chapter, “The Best Part,” on experiencing the Holy Spirit. This chapter seems to be a defense on some of the criticism she has received regarding what God tells her personally. She does admit several times that she has never heard God’s voice audibly. But she encourages the reader to follow subjective promptings that may or may not be from the Holy Spirit. She even does this in a self-depreciating way, sharing a hilarious story of how she thought she was experiencing a personal miracle of God enlarging the communion elements in her mouth, only later to find out she went through the gluten-free line. She shares another experience, which she says makes it all worth it, where the Spirit led her to give a stranger in need money to move out of a bad situation. This chapter makes me sad because there is a clear way to be led by the Spirit. The Spirit operates through his Word. So if we are living in light of God’s Word, praying for wisdom and discernment, within the context of regular fellowship in the covenant community of God’s people, and loving our neighbor, then we are living by the Spirit. I think that’s pretty audacious living.
Beth Moore is an emotionally intelligent woman. And by all means, she appears to have a heart that wants to serve the Lord, while encouraging others to do so. And women do tend to be more emotionally intelligent. This can be a great strength, one that men can learn from us, and also a great weakness, if we are not growing in other ways. And this is where I see the danger in pandering to generalizations about our sexes. While I still don’t think we break down into such simple categories, both the so-called systemizers and empathizers reflect the image of God. And we need to learn from one another. Does a man who is nurturing and emotionally intelligent lack masculinity? No! I believe that he is maturing as a man in the image of God. Is a woman who can parallel park like a boss and write a killer business plan unfeminine? Heck no, she is admirable. I wish we could reflect this truth more in the Christian market. Clearly many women are attracted to empathetic writing. But that doesn’t mean we should get away with loose theology.