Thursday, 18 June 2015

First Wives' Club

Twenty-first century lessons from the lives of sixteenth century women.
This book belongs to an exclusive club in itself - at least as engineered by the publisher - it is designed and jacketed in such a feminine manner as to cause any man to feel rather intrusive in daring to peep between its covers. But in defiance of this I determined to brave all to see what kind of lessons were being given and what standard of historical analysis was being relied upon for deriving them. I had a pleasant surprise. The author is a robust historian - the blurb declares her as a prize winner at Cambridge University - and she serves it up effortlessly. Among the six women she studies from Reformation Europe she has boldly chosen three who are relative unknowns. Who has heard of Katharina Zell or Argula von Grumbach for instance? Perhaps the scanty historical information in these cases is pressed too far and hence the lessons contrived, but it is good to be introduced to them. Of course the danger with historical lessons is that we judge people by today's standards and assume that our values are superior. However this book is birthed in the belief that we live in a post-Christian society and determines to be counter-cultural. The women of 500 years ago are looked to as role models because of the biblical mindedness which was fundamental to the Reformation. That shapes the view that a woman's role is not one of ecclesiastical leadership but complementary to the man's role. And this is not necessarily the traditional one despised of feminists. We witness variation in the sixteenth century due to circumstances in family, health, persecution, the nature and place of a husband's ministry, etc. In all these cases the women faithfully studied to understand and apply the teaching of scripture. This is the message being communicated to the women of today. It deserves a hearing and I believe men need to listen in too. We all should be inspired to build our lives on the Word of God.
'First Wives' Club' by Clare Heath-Whyte, p/b, 10Publishing, £7.99.
In addition to the two ladies already mentioned, Katie Luther, Anna Zwingli, Wibrandis Rosenblatt and Idelette Calvin make up the club.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Far Above Rubies

This is a biography that many will consider long overdue.  Apart from Bethan Lloyd-Jones' own 'Memories of Sandfields', there is little known about the woman who supported the well known D Martyn Lloyd-Jones through his years of influential pastoral ministry.  Interviews with the Lloyd-Jones' daughters and access to letters written by and to Bethan have made this biography well researched and full of anecdotes. 
Bethan was by all accounts a remarkable woman, a strong character who initially clashed with the man she later came to marry. Interestingly, she was truly converted only after their marriage and under the ministry of her husband, and this changed her legalistic 'Christian' ways to a life that was lived through love to the Lord and to others around her. She was clearly an independent thinker and neither she nor Martyn followed tradition for tradition's sake. This is notable in her efforts as a pastor's wife and as a parent.  Bethan did though have her difficulties: one that came through clearly was her struggles with anxiety.  This was a particular problem for her in the area of travel, and also in illness.  However, it is evident that she was brought to find peace through trusting in God in these matters.

Indeed, there are many spiritual and practical lessons to be learnt from this account and the author is particularly skillful in drawing these out.  To further this end there has been added a 'Questions for Reflection' section at the back of the book.  This gives a number of questions exploring the subjects and spiritual lessons that can be learnt from each chapter. These would be ideal to use as prompts in a group setting. Additionally there are also helpful Appendices giving further pertinent information related to each chapter.
Overall, Far Above Rubies is a fascinating insight into the life of a woman who played a hugely important supporting role in the life of 'the doctor'.