Tag Archives: reformation

Book Review: Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDoodeward

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.

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Book Review: John Knox by Simonetta Carr

Sometimes when I get to review a book, I do a little happy dance like when Captivated arrived in my in-box. This book, however, is the first time that my kids did that dance with me. When Simonetta Carr’s latest biography for childrenindex showed up in the mail, my two oldest children recognized the cover style because of the other two biographies in our library and began to jump up and down, begging to look at it. The toddler, who is not exactly the target audience here, joined in because she doesn’t want to be left out of any celebration if she can help it.

Simonetta Carr excels at introducing young elementary aged children both to great heroes of the faith, and to the beauty of biographies as a genre. She writes in an age appropriate manner, and my children, especially my Mackerdoodle (6.5), are captivated by the stories. Knox is a controversial character, and often both misunderstood and misrepresented, but Carr deals with him kindly. She walks through Knox’s complex life clearly and chronologically, focusing on events and people rather than the ideas and words for which he is most known. One cannot tell the story of Knox without delving deeply into the political mess that was England and Scotland of the time. Carr explains the accompanying history in an age appropriate way, without turning it into a Disney princess tale. There is an over simplification of a few points only because it is a book for children, and there is only so much that be explained. Her attention to historicity is laudable. I was most impressed with phrases like, “We can’t be sure. . . ” and “We just don’t know. . .” sprinkled through out. I also love the fact that she includes direct quotes not only from Knox, but also from his contemporaries, rather than trying to re-interpret their words for children.

I always struggle with children’s history books. History is never cut and dried, yet so many children’s books are written in the “good guy/bad guy” construct. Simonetta Carr does an excellent job of breaking out of that mold. She also avoids the other pitfall of children’s writing in which authors make every historic event equivalent to a playground skirmish. There is no language of sharing, kindness, good helper or the like. Carr does have opinions on the topics covered (as should we all) and does include editorial remarks at times. In most cases I didn’t mind, as she and I share much of the same appreciation for Knox and his legacy; however, their presence did stand out to me. I would prefer my history lessons for the children to be as much fact as possible, leaving me to interpret with them. That is, however, mere preference, rather than criticism.

After completing the book, I asked my Mackerdoodle what she thought. She had enjoyed the book, and had a new appreciation for the trials endured during the Reformation, but she had one question for me. “Why did it seem like most of the men were named John and most of the ladies were named Mary?” It was a valid question, and not one that can be blamed on Simonetta Carr and her writing. I learned several new things as I read the book. I did not know that the Scots confession pre-dated the Westminster confession. I did not know that Knox wrote a book on the Reformation in Scotland (I would love to read that!) Finally, I did not know that Knox and Queen Mary Stuart had cordial conversations on several occasions.

Simonetta Carr’s biography of John Knox is not only an excellent biography for children, it would be a wonderful place for an adult to begin to meet the real John Knox, pastor, husband, father and loyal Scot.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an hard-cover edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.


Perspective

For years I held an image in my head of Martin Luther boldly striding up to the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral on the eve of all saint’s day, black cape swirling behind him, music crescendoing in the background and nailing his theses to the door as a challenge that said, in effect, “Hey Pope! There’s a storm coming! I’m about to start a reformation!”

The truth, however, is that Luther was a mid level monk, in a fairly insignificant small city, who thoughtfully and prayerfully wrote down 95 ideas and then submitted them for open debate, as was the practice of the time. An unknown friend of Luther’s translated the theses, and using the brand new technology of a printing press, spread it throughout Europe.

I posted them here to illustrate that they are roughly the length of a blog post.

It took him years to write it.

I write several posts a week – most of the time.

Sometimes I get these ideas that what I’m doing here is important and that this platform gives me the ability to write 95 sentences and change the world.

It doesn’t.

I’m a mama with a blog, three cute kids.and an amazing husband.

I am not Martin Luther.