Haykin’s Eight Women of Faith sets out with an admirable goal: highlight the contributions of women at key points in church history. The women chosen each have biographical information reported alongside brief discussion of their primary contributions to theology. In this sense, the book achieves its goal.
One difficulty with the book is the lack of critical historical perspective. For example, Jane Austen is gently chastised for her aversion to evangelicalism(Kindle location 1994ff), while then being recruited for the same evangelical cause (Location 2005, 2064). But to see evangelicalism of today as the same as evangelicalism in Austen’s own time (the late 18th and early 19th centuries) does little justice to the development of what has been called “evangelical” over that time into today. This is perhaps the most glaring example in the book, but time and again similar oversight of historical perspective is demonstrated.
Another negative is that Haykin’s work is clearly written with a very specific doctrinal agenda in mind that undercuts the book’s value outside of the circle of those with whom he agrees. For example, he spends no small amount of time promoting the Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper, attempting to cling both to a literal and figurative meaning of Christ’s words (see especially the excursus in the chapter on Anne Dutton starting around Kindle Location 903). Later, a lengthy section of the chapter on Ann Judson is dedicated to highlighting Judson’s autobiographical account of her change from pedobaptism (infant baptism) to a more Baptist position. Very few arguments are offered in favor of the latter position, other than highlighting that Judson herself believed the arguments for the it were stronger than for infant baptism. This is not a deep theological work, but this section again shows no interaction with opposing views and so provides those who come from a different background little reason to read or enjoy the book.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the book is the irony of continually attempting to silence women’s voices in a book that is, on the surface, about calling attention to them. This begins on the very first page of the Forword, as Karen Swallow Prior writes, “Both within the church and outside it, we too have treated in a similar fashion the biblical admonition against women preaching: we focus on the single thing that is off-limits and thereby fail to see the abundant opportunities and roles God has clearly offered…” (Kindle location 59-64). Of course, this biblical admonition is not cited–and could not be, for there is no Bible verse that says women cannot preach (it is instead an inference from a number of verses that are often misread)–but beyond that, the point is that the book highlights the silence of women throughout.
In the chapter on Anne Dutton, for example, we see that Dutton argued for the validity of her theological writings, so long as they were not read in churches or used in public worship but rather read privately (Kindle loc 825-834). But of course the line drawn in the sand here between private and public use is not drawn in the Bible but in human tradition. Moreover, the prior alleged admonition against women preaching comes from verses that, if read literally as must be the case for restring women in the ministry, also would prevent women from speaking at all in church, yet one of the women highlighted is Anne Steele, a prolific hymn writer.
All of this is to say that the book has a very limited appeal. Only those from the very specific perspective of Reformed Baptists will be able to see their perspective put forward without critique. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for the publisher, Crossway, continues to publish Reformed Baptist books. It’s not a bad thing to have books that appeal to your own readers. The problem is that anyone outside of that perspective has no reason to read the book. Their views are not presented well if they are presented at all, and there is an almost self-congratulatory feel to the way specific doctrines are presented. Moreover, the lack of historical perspective gives the book a simplistic feel that grants readers only the most surface-level understanding of the issues at hand.
The best that can be said for Eight Women of Faith is that it at least acknowledges that women have made significant contributions to the Christian faith. It just doesn’t acknowledge all of women’s contributions, and continues to limit women.
+Highlights importance of women in church history
-Uncritical look at historical development of theology
-Undermines women’s voices while ostensibly uplifting them
-Limited appeal beyond denominational lines
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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