It isn’t every day that I get an email asking me to review a book and I say “Hey! I know her!” about the author. I know some people live that sort of life, but I don’t. So imagine my delight when asked by a third party to review a book written by another minister’s wife within my small Presbytery. That isn’t, however, what made me jump at the chance to read this. My summer time reading has all been on a theme of faithful women serving the church biblically, so a chance to read another book on the theme, set during the Reformation, was an easy yes.
Reformation Women is a collection of biographies. Each chapter focuses on the complete life of a woman who served the protestant Church during the period of history known as the Reformation. While the lives of some over lap, each woman is covered in her own right. In the preface, VanDoodeward expresses the methodology with which she selected the women in the book. Each woman was chosen in the hopes of introducing Christian women of today to Christian women of the past with whom we are not as familiar. In that vein some of the most famous names of Reformation women are absent from this work, because of the excellent works already available on their lives. Instead, the author chose lesser known, but not less deserving, women to highlight.
The collection is fascinating. Other than a connection to the Reformation, these women have very little in common. Some are married, some widowed, one remained single. Some had many children, some few children, one grieved having no surviving children. Many were born into some form of nobility, but not all, and several of those who were found themselves in poverty because of their protestant views. Some were quiet, some outspoken. Some served primarily within their home, while others served in different spheres. What interested me the most, however, was that several of these women were published authors, and only a few of them were married to ministers. A reader coming to this book with a view that all “biblical women” fit into a narrow criteria will be shocked at how diverse in gifting, calling, and life experience these women are, while all remaining faithful to the word of God, and devoted to the Church.
This is not an academic work. I intend to read these chapters to my children this school year, and I have no doubt they will be able to follow and understand the content. The chapters are relatively short, and easily read, but that is not to say it is a simplistic or shallow work. Every chapter is meticulously footnoted, with not only bibliographical citations (a fascinating list of works in themselves) but also additional historical and research information. The attached timeline at the end of the book is also helpful, and each chapter is capable of standing alone without a deeper understanding of the larger events in Reformation history. Still, there is an assumption of broad Reformation knowledge here that the average reader may not have. I hope that this will be an introduction for many – an appetizer of sorts – into a fascinating time in church and world history.
I found Reformation Women to be a personally encouraging, and intellectually satisfying book. More than that, I think it is a necessary book. The ongoing and diverse conversations regarding what makes a “biblical woman” need the historic grounding that this sort of book provides. I hope Rebecca, or another author, also offers us similar biographies of women from other times and places in church history.