Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Reformation Women by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

Sometimes you're in the mood for fiction; sometimes you're in the mood for non-fiction. And sometimes a book outside of your mood draws you in and takes you captive for several dozen pages while on a plane heading for Chicago.

Thus was my experience with Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth by Rebecca VanDoodewaard.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I requested this book from Cross Focused Reviews. I hoped to be edified. I was. I also was pleasantly surprised at the author's scholarship. Most pages cite sources in the footnotes, and the style is straightforward. I was afraid I'd have to wade through conjecture and fluff. But while always interesting and cohesive, the mini-biographies of the ladies in this book seemed to stick to simple fact. In an enjoyable way.

Reformation Women is actually based on a book by James Isaac Good published in 1901. The content of that book has been "revised, expanded, and corrected to make the stories of these remarkable women accessible for today's church" (from the Preface, p. xiv). Each chapter is a mini-biography of a woman who lived during the time of the Reformation, focusing on her life and how she fought for the cause of Protestant theology. I really enjoyed reading about these sisters in the faith. It's been awhile since I studied that era, so I often could not keep up with the background history of what was going on. This book would be a great companion to a world history unit! But even in its own right, it really is so edifying.

Each woman is different--they don't have the same personalities or the same life experiences. Rebecca VanDoodewaard does an excellent job of prefacing the book by noting some characteristics you'll observe in each of these women, like their devotion to supporting their husbands' work if they were married to believers (though these women often carried on the work apart from their husbands). At the end, she does an equally amazing job concluding what we can learn from the biographies. And she was spot on in drawing out some of the things I noticed in their lives as well.

What was perhaps most impactful was how these women did not let circumstances get in the way of always encouraging the church and pushing forward. One woman lost her father and husband in the same massacre, a year after she was married. One woman had her children taken away and raised by Roman Catholics. Younger women often remarried and helped raise their new husband's children. This remarriage quote I thought was noteworthy: "He was content to have her without a dowry. She was happy to have a husband whose abilities and goals she could respect" (p. 73). Such a different world almost, or maybe it just seems so. Where life is more matter of fact. Where you are chased from one city to another, one country to another, corresponding with famous people and taking stands for Protestantism smack dab in the middle of violent Roman Catholic opposition. Where you carry on.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard writes in the conclusion, "Often, if our self-appointed identity evaporates, our feelings of security and usefulness shrivel. When we think about how the women in this book had the versatility to be fruitful in many different situations, it is clear why they did not associate with one identity other than a spiritual one. They were Christians" (p 110).

Married. Single. Living at home. Living on your own. Those are lesser identities. But the one constant thread is glorifying Christ. N'est-ce pas?

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars easily.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

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