A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Zach Horn
Book reviews and endorsements frequently overuse the word “timely,” but it is hard to suggest a better descriptor for Abigail Dodds’ little book, A Student’s Guide to Womanhood. As Dodds herself observes, “different time periods have had different flash points” (92), and few issues better qualify as a critical “flash point” for the church today than the questions of sexuality and gender roles. What makes this book a particularly welcome addition to the TRACK resource collection (a series edited by John Perritt) is the clarity and credibility with which Dodds speaks to a vital audience: students. As someone who appreciated Dodds’ first published book, (A)Typical Woman, I was eager to see how Dodds would address the same topic to a youthful readership. I am grateful to discover that Dodds has succeeded again in providing an invaluable resource for our sisters in Christ.
Given the intended student audience, a great strength of this resource is its relative brevity. Checking in at just under one hundred pages comfortably divided into ten chapters, this approachable little book invites young women to engage some profoundly important concepts in a highly accessible format. Moreover, while Dodds is more than willing to confront the bankrupt secular liturgies surrounding womanhood, the predominant thrust of her approach is to paint a picture of the beautiful vision for flourishing womanhood revealed in Scripture. While young people frequently hear what the bible speaks against, Dodds effectually champions what God is for—women who display the dignity and value of being image-bearers of their Creator. It is against this backdrop of the supremely high calling of biblical womanhood that Dodds effectively critiques the shallow and dishonoring counterfeits masquerading as ideologies of liberation in our culture today.
Dodds is also careful to treat her young audience with appropriate seriousness and depth and avoids speaking in cliches or trite truisms. She addresses young women in her introduction with forthright respect: “I won’t trifle with you or speak condescendingly to you in these pages. I’m assuming you want to think deeply. I’m assuming you don’t want to be coddled like a child, but rather afforded the dignity of being told the straight truth and loved with the unsentimental pure love of Christ” (13). That posture and tone, consistently applied throughout the book, is an essential prerequisite in earning a hearing with the blossoming members of the coming generation. Dodds treats the personhood of her young readers with a dignity and thoughtfulness that serves well as a model for engagement with Christian youth during their formative years.
At times, however, Dodds perhaps strays a bit too far down the path of biblical theology for her young readers to entirely follow. I found myself occasionally wondering at what age my daughters would have both the appropriate comprehension and theological awareness to digest all that Dodds is offering to them. However, these instances are rare, and on the whole, an advantage of this book is its ability to speak to a diverse readership, acknowledging, as we must, that the difference between the concerns and abilities of a high school freshman and a high school senior represent nearly a completely different readership demographic. Additionally, a resource like this provides parents with a marvelous opportunity to engage with their daughters not only at their present level of understanding of what biblical womanhood looks like, but to expand that understanding by forcing young women to embrace the challenge of reaching higher to discover more of the beauty, complexity, and glory for which they’ve been created and redeemed.
Throughout the book, Dodds writes with a unique blend of clarity, winsomeness, and creative flair that is both disarming and captivating. She frequently intersperses her theological argument with first-person anecdotes from her own experiences processing these ideas about womanhood in theory and in life for the first time. In that sense, this book reads very much like the practical outworking of Paul’s commission in Titus chapter two for older women to instruct younger women in the things of life and faith. Each chapter ends with the main idea summarized, and a series of discussion questions posed. This book would serve well as a study for the young women in a youth group, or as a resource for parents to work through with their daughters. As a pastor, I intend to recommend this book to our Youth Pastor to integrate into our curriculum. But I think the highest compliment I can pay this fine book is to say I look forward to the day my daughters reach the age where I can read through this book with them as they continue their life-long journey of discovering what it means to be “happy and whole daughters of the living God” (97).
Buy the books
A STUDENT'S GUIDE TO WOMANHOOD, by Abigail Dodds