Imago Dei—male and female
By Lisa Slayton
Book Review: A Woman’s Place
In her book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, Katelyn Beaty does a masterful job of thoughtfully defining (or maybe re-defining) our understanding of who God created women to be and why their work in the world is essential to a flourishing economy. She illustrates how cultural shifts over time created a view that women’s ability to create economic value for the human community was second-class work, and a diminishment of their feminity. Even the church’s assimilation to these shifts have left women whom God gifted and called to the workforce feeling as though making money while female was not God honoring.
I’ll admit when my good friend and bookseller Byron Borger recently approached me with an “immediate must read” book called A Woman’s Place, I was skeptical. My experience over time has been that many Christian books about women in leadership, women and work, or what the bible has to say about women’s roles have left me frustrated and annoyed.
At best, they try and smooth over the angst that women feel around the pull of their many roles including daughter, wife, mother, caregiver, community volunteer, and worker. At worst, they espouse flawed and reductionist theology referencing poorly interpreted passages of Scripture that define the role of women to be exclusively relegated to home and hearth.
By way of disclosure, I am a generation older than Beaty, and grew up under the shadow of Betty Freidan’s “Feminine Mystique.” I was taught, and truly believed, that a woman could do anything a man could do. I am a product of the first wave of Feminism in the late 20th century.
But I trust Byron who told me it was a “Faith Work and Economics” book, and I started to read.
Beaty had me hooked at her opening statement: “Every human being is made to work. And since women are human beings, every woman is made to work.”
The starting point for any conversation about women and work, vocation, the Christian faith and biblical economics must be the Creation narrative and a robust understanding of the “Imago Dei” — that we all bear God’s image and are designed to co-create with Him in all aspects of our work.
As she states in her opening salvo, women are created to work. Much of the recent conversation generated by the Lean In movement, she notes, has been focused on the How of work, but without establishing the Why of work first we risk losing the necessary context:
Women are image bearers and therefore co-creators. We are equally mandated to reign, to have dominion, over all of God’s creation. We also learn from the Genesis text that we cannot fulfill the creation mandate without each other… the word “coworker” rightly underscores that Adam and Eve were meant not just to live and grow a family together but to also work together.
A woman’s contribution to oikonomia—the economy of places where we live, work, play, and worship cannot be overstated. When we limit women’s ability to contribute, through paid or unpaid work, everyone loses. The vocation or calling of every human being on the planet starts with contribution, not remuneration. In our Western culture we have reduced vocation to “paid work” in a job or career, but it is so much more than that. Economies can only flourish when all its contributors can bring the very best of themselves and do their part.
When women contribute through their work, the world “yields far more in return upon our efforts than our particular jobs put in” ( Beaty quoting Lester DeKoster).
If we look at one of the most misinterpreted passages of Scripture when it comes to a woman’s role in the world, Proverbs 31, we see that this woman was a shrewd negotiator (v16), A merchant (v18& 24) an artisan (v19) an effective manager (v14-15& 27). Yes, she is a wife and mother, and apparently quite a good one, but as Beaty notes, most of this passage focuses on her work, her value creation, and her business acumen. Women were true partners, co-laborers in the economies of their day. If women stopped working, the wheels of commerce and flourishing would have ground to a halt.
In western culture the onset of the industrial revolution in the early 18th century radically changed the role of women. When paid work moved increasingly outside the family and into the factories and office buildings, women were left in the home to care for children and other family members, and when they did enter the workforce were still left with brunt of the responsibility for home and childcare. This historical shift had significant implications on our modern economy and in our churches that still resonates in our current times.
New work options began to open for women in the mid-20th century and with it came a “churning” for many women. Women often seek the myth of work/life balance and believe whatever choice they make, they will diminish their identity and miss out on some other part of life.
Women are indeed meant to bring their gifts through their femininity, not in spite of it. But it is not simply a “feminine touch’ that is needed:
Rather, I mean that male and female bear the image of God together; together they bear the image of God…And what women bring to the table is not simply a feminine touch but half of humanity’s gifts, passions, and experiences.
Beaty notes, rightfully, that the missing piece in the Lean In movement and in much of the current Christian concept of women’s vocation and work, is a theology of Shalom. True biblical shalom is evident when the people of God, all of them, “are free to pursue whatever culture making enterprises they choose to undertake.”
This book is not a “woman’s book,” it is a book for every thoughtful Christian who looks at the brokenness of our world and recognizes that in every square inch of His Kingdom, God desires His people—men and women in partnership—to be agents of truth, beauty, justice, goodness, and human flourishing.