Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel

An interview with Wendy Alsup,
Author of The Gospel-Centered Woman
(Part 1 of 2)

Many Christian books written to women claim to present God's good instructions for their lives. Some expound on the value of marriage and children. Many extol the virtues of the Proverbs 31 wife. A good number teach the value of love, submission, and respect in Christian marriages. Though Wendy Alsup’s book deals with these topics, The Gospel-Centered Woman addresses women from an entirely different perspective.
Q: How does a math teacher end up writing a book on theology?

The winding road of life is hard to predict, isn’t it?!  I love teaching, especially the look in someone’s eyes when the light comes on, and they finally understand a concept I’m attempting to communicate.  Those moments were THE thing that made teaching worthwhile.  While I was teaching math as my job, I started teaching discipleship classes on the side to women at the church I attended.  I always longed to show my students in school why math mattered—why it was relevant to their daily lives.  I don’t have much use for a discipline that doesn’t matter in the practical issues where we live.  When it dawned on me how relevant theology was to our daily lives, my focus changed. I could not NOT teach it, and my opportunities to teach took off at church.  I’ve heard others say that it is not until you learn the relevance and value of something for yourself that you are best able to communicate it to others.  That has definitely been my experience with theology. 

Q: There are a couple of terms we heard thrown around a lot, but we may not understand what either really means. What exactly is practical theology? What is Biblical womanhood?

In college, I was intrigued by math I could use—applied mathematics.  I hated irrelevant math–math that didn’t seem to have any practical value except for proving the logical prowess of the math professor teaching it.  My personal intolerance for irrelevant things bled over into theology.  The theological words I heard seminary students using were way out of my range, and the topics they debated seemed irrelevant to where I was in life.  But surely, theology, which means basically the study of God, has to have some relevance to my daily life, right?  So I now use the term practical theology.  It’s theology in its most basic sense, the study of God, and it is most definitely relevant.  If He is before all things and by Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), then knowing Him, His loves, and His work intensely affects my daily life.

Biblical womanhood means different things to different people, often depending on what circles of Christianity they frequent.  When I use the term, I mean what the Bible teaches about women and the instructions it gives to women.  I use the Bible itself to let me know which passages are ones that God wants us to use to build a vision of Biblical womanhood. Not every passage that mentions women is to be emulated or obeyed. That seems intuitive to me, but apparently that’s not clear to all people who use the term Biblical womanhood. 

Q: What lead you to write your first book Practical Theology for Women?

That book came about organically from a class I led at the church I attended at the time.  The first Sunday I attended, they announced a class called Practical Theology for Women, and I was intrigued by the title of the class from the first moment I heard it.  Practical theology.  So much theology had previously seemed to me esoteric and completely impractical.  I was intrigued and inspired by the idea that, yes, theology should be practical.  Knowing God, the essence of the idea behind theology, ought to make a clear practical difference in our lives.  Years later, I started teaching that class and developed the content that eventually became my first book.

Q: What is your new book The Gospel-Centered Woman about?

The Gospel-Centered Woman is simply about understanding Biblical womanhood through the lens of the gospel.  The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection changes everything according to Scripture, and that includes how women view themselves and understand the Bible’s instructions to them.

Q: What makes theology different for women vs. men?

The theology itself isn’t different, but the way we approach it sometimes is.  Women tend toward warmer, more relational presentations (that’s a generalization, I know).  I realized at some point that, at least in my circles, the results of that desire for warm, relational interactions with other believing women was what I call pink-fluffy-bunny Bible studies.  The women I knew longed for something deeper and resonated with my pursuit of deep Biblical truth in a warm, relational way.  I’m still on that journey and have appreciated the encouragement from many other women on similar journeys.  The deepest things of the character of God minister to me in exactly those places in my heart.

Q: Why did you choose to write about this topic?

I’m not sure if I chose it, or it chose me.  I think the latter.  Biblical Womanhood has been a hot topic in Christian discussion for some time.  I’ve read many books espousing different views on what God wants women to do, especially in the home and church.  I’ve always felt there was a big hole in how the topic was presented.  In many books, women were encouraged to be like Ruth or the Proverbs 31 woman.  But what about Christ?  Romans 8 says we were predestined to be conformed to His image.  Doesn’t that mean women too?  Does He not have something to offer women on the topic of womanhood?

Then Rachel Held Evans published A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and the topic took off in the blogosphere.  I felt her book didn’t address Biblical womanhood at all, at least as I understand the phrase, because she didn’t use the Bible’s own guidelines for what parts of Scripture are and are not prescriptive for the average woman today longing to live as the Bible instructs.  I couldn’t hold back from that point, and after publishing bits and pieces of my thoughts on my blog, reader after reader encouraged me to publish the thoughts altogether.  I’m not addressing Rachel’s book or others by either egalitarians or complementarians per se.  My book is not against any of them, but I do hope to offer a third way to understand the Bible’s instructions to women.  It’s not new.  Actually, it’s ancient.  But at some point, we got off course in how we discussed these things in the Church, in my opinion.  This is my meager attempt to reroute the discussion.

Q: Let’s get practical, what are some ways you share that women can be gospel-centered?

Wow.  That’s a tough question to answer shortly.  The phrase “some ways” contradicts the term “gospel-centered,” at least in the way I use it.  Instead, think of an entirely different paradigm.  The gospel is a BIG word, encompassing the fullness of all Christ ushered in through His life, death, and resurrection.  And understanding it is the pursuit of a lifetime.  When I am centered in it, it is the environment in which I spend my life.  Like any new environment, I need to learn its distinguishing features.  I focus in the book on how this environment gives us an entirely different lens through which to view our creation as women as strong helpers in the image of God. When we understanding the fullness of the way Scripture speaks of the good news of Jesus Christ, we can then, in the moment of struggle or pain, wrestle with God over how that good news makes a difference in that very struggle.

Find out more about Wendy Alsup and The Gospel-Centered Woman at www.theologyforwomen.org. Readers can keep up with Alsup via the Practical Theology for Women Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (@WendyAlsup).