Posted in theology, women

Bowling Alone turns into Worshiping Alone: The female pursuit of theologically self-oriented material

By Elizabeth Prata

This author has NAILED the issue with the rise of the Feminine Church, and that’s not even the point she was going after in her article. Her article is about the Female Evangelical Publishing industry “and the women who have had enough.”

It is this sentence which caught me-

“theologically self-oriented material that attracts many Christian women.”

The author is correct to phrase it that way, yet unknowingly write an oxymoron. There is no such thing as theologically self-oriented. If a book is theological, it’s about God. If it’s about us, it’s not about God. Yet the publishing market is flooded with books aimed at women, about women, with enough overlay of God to call it “theological.” And the industry is booming.

Here’s the article: The Quiet Revolution in Evangelical Christian Publishing And the Women Who Have Had Enough

Evangelical women as a niche demographic have less buying power in Christian publishing than all of the Garfield merchandise sold worldwide, yet apparently (according to this author) we who are submissive to the notion of complementarianism have no social capital at home or in church. (Not true but that is how the author sees it). So, how have women impacted and shifted the church so much?

Social media has allowed Instagram/Blogger/Twitter authors to directly publish their material, material that resonates with other Christian women, who, whether in the aimed-at demographic or are older, are seriously buying the books ‘evangelical’ women publish. Books such as Girl, Wash Your Face, and Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis are apparently the books these women have been waiting for. It has been a perfect fit. The mentioned social media platforms allowed Christian women dying of thirst, to bypass the restrictive traditional gatekeepers to publish and promote their tomes, their “theologically self-oriented material that attracts many Christian women.”

From the article:

The evangelical churches, by and large, left women in a discipleship vacuum and in that vacuum these other voices become really prominent,” says Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman’s Place (2017) and an acquisitions editor for the Christian imprint Brazos Press.

When we read “discipleship vacuum” it means in many cases, the sad abdication of the pastors in oversight of women’s ministries. It means many times, neglect of husbands in oversight of or even interest in their wives’ spiritual lives. It means so often, a lapse in hospitality and fellowship among women, intentional relationship cultivating among all ages of women in a local body.

Women are relational. They thrive on talk and relationships to help make sense of the world, firming up their Christian worldview. Absent that, they will seek it elsewhere. It’s one reason that the Cursillo weekends and subsequent intense relationships (cult-like) are so popular. The IF:Gatherings, the Living Proof weekends and other minimally theological type gatherings large and small will draw women who thirst for theological companionship. But because so much of the material these gatherings are based on is aberrant, the women sadly are drawn into false teaching and indulged in their self-orientation (which our flesh is only too happy to provide).

When challenged by a well-meaning and loving friend, the relationship the woman has with the false teacher and her circle now trumps the truth of the word. Johnny-come-lately oversight from ladies’ ministry leaders or pastors find the women are now entrenched and often disinterested. Don & Joy Veinot wrote about this in their essay Fraternity over Orthodoxy.

The author notes that prior to the advent of social media, influential women like Beth Moore were seen exactly as her publisher wanted her to be seen. Here is a rough but hilarious assessment of that:

It was easier to frame [Moore] within the context of the establishment Baptist canon: women queuing up Sunday school lessons for aging Southern belles between potluck suppers and Friday night football games.

But after the Christian publishing industry was rocked by these ‘out from under’ female voices, we began to see a different facet to Moore, now the feisty political outspoken woman, independent of any whiff of submission to a husband or or quietude about her church-going persona. Her Twitter feed is full of outspoken statements that belie the publisher’s preferred persona/image of Moore. Other wannabe women see her inappropriate role modeling and go after it themselves, buying more of these kind of books in the process.

Author Beaty went on with an important point:

Beaty points to the decline of institutions and institutional life in general as putting more strength behind the voice of the individual. As individual voices have commanded more attention, helped in large part by social media, they found their audience primed and ready with the emergence of Web 2.0.

The decline of institutional life was well documented in the seminal book of 2000 by Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone.

In a groundbreaking book based on vast data, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures– and how we may reconnect. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities. Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone.

But we still want fraternity, or in the case of women, sorority.

We’re not only bowling alone, we’re also worshiping alone. As women (and men) have discovered, they can express themselves and their opinions out from under what to them are a burdensome structure of church life, many eventually fail to return spiritually or even physically.

“I can worship online” they say. “I have a house church” they say, forgetting that worshiping, like any other part of a vibrant civic life, is best done together. Even more important than civic life, is worshiping the way God wants us to. He does not accept any old worship thrown at Him and He expects the body to act like a body. There are no lone ranger Christians.

Haven’t you ever wondered about the church life of a Beth Moore? A Christine Caine? A Jennie Allen? These women are all busy on their speaking tours, writing tweets and blogs and books, gallivanting from interview to publishing event. When do they have time to meet with the body? To worship together? These women are bowling alone, and it’s a dangerous precedent to set and a dangerous one to follow. But who can resist this:

Amidst the phenomenal popularity of blogs among a certain subset of young women in the mid-aughts, women of faith found their voices unshackled from the oversight of leaders who have the power to grant or deny them a platform in their local church.

They can’t resist growing their platform, and drawing women away from church along with them- the ones anyway, who believe that togetherness in worship and fellowship during the week is a shackle to be endured and not a joy to perform. Unshackling from leader oversight is the goal, not the temptation to resist. The benefit is that they speak out to other platforms instead of in church groups or fellowship gatherings of the local body.

The opportunity for would-be authors to present an unfiltered persona to potential readers who are encountering them not in the stacks of bookstores, but in primarily digital spaces, sheds light on another possibility: perhaps the ideas originally commodified for the consumption of evangelical Christian women weren’t what they wanted to begin with.

For these women, “an unfiltered persona” means in real theological terms, rebellion and desire to express themselves apart from the commands and guidance of the Bible, their pastors, and their husbands. Social media and widening of the gatekeeping of publishing industry gives them opportunity to do step outside their God-given roles.

‘Unfiltered personas’ are what needs mortifying. We are sinners, and the underlying persona the rebels want to express, is in fact, the flesh.

And the author is on the right track when she says the ideas in books published by strict gatekeepers weren’t what the women wanted in the first place. Of course not. Who wants solid theology, workbooks urging women to mortify sin, conviction, when what they really want is the “theologically self-oriented material.” And out from under the oversight of leadership, unshackled, they are getting exactly what they want- freedom to express unfiltered self under the veneer of a Christian lingo.

These women “eschew traditional redemption arcs in favor of open-ended narratives”, narratives with themselves as heroine, of course.

Solid books about women and our roles have always existed. They might be out of style, unpreferred by women who feel shackled by their roles in the church, but they are there for the women who want theologically GOD-oriented works. Here are some good books by and about women, women’s roles, women’s sorrows and triumphs:

Her Husband’s Crown: A Wife’s Ministry and a Minister’s Wife by Sara J. Leone
Selina: Countess of Huntingdon by Faith Cook
Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward
Letters from the South Seas by Margaret Whitecross Paton
Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Essay: Rock Your Role

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Unshackled, to use the author’s term,  they have shifted the world-wide church in pursuit of theologically self-oriented material…

 

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