My wife Tracy has written the following review of an excellent new theological resource for women.
Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Daily Lives. Wendy Horger Alsup. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008, 160 pp., paperback.
Available from Crossway for $11.99.
When was the last time you heard a question like one of these: Why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do innocent people go hungry? Why do I try to live for God faithfully and feel like my life is still a mess? When people look around today, they see suffering and difficulty. Life is challenging for many people, even good Christian people. Often when we get saved, we assume that God is going to take care of us and fix our lives. While there are tremendous benefits attached to being a Christian, having a perfect life is not one of them! Christians often find themselves feeling ill-equipped to handle the questions their non-Christian friends pose about the world around them. Even worse, Christians often have many questions themselves about who God is and why He does the things He does. It is easy to become discouraged and to wonder how to live and respond to daily life issues and pressures.
There is a simple explanation for this difficulty found in churches today. Many Christians have very little understanding of basic theology. They may read their Bibles and know many of its stories, but when it comes to explaining God’s character or basic ideas surrounding how and why God saves people and works in the ways He does, many Christians come up short. They find they really don’t have answers to many of the questions they struggle with, and they feel inadequate as they try to respond to life in general. Unfortunately, many Christians avoid the very study that would help them most, and that is theology.
Many Christians operate under the assumption that theology is for pastors, seminary students and professors. They assume that theology is merely an intellectual pursuit with no practical application in everyday life. This is a tragic mistake and has, in some ways, led to the confusion modern Christians experience as well as some of the struggles people face as they try to live out their faith in practical ways.
Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Horger Alsup is a good answer to this problem. This book is written for the layperson, particularly women. While theology is not different for women than it is for men, this book is written by a woman and is addressed specifically to women. It avoids most theological terms and complexities, focuses on helping the reader see how a grasp of basic theology helps make sense of life and leads to more consistent Christian living.
Part one of the book defines theology and explains why all Christians should study it. Alsup explains what faith is and argues that proper faith is practical and affects how we live. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
Part two looks at the character of God and highlights a few of His attributes. The author touches on aspects of our Father’s discipline and the place of suffering in life. She also addresses salvation and our position in Christ. A particularly helpful part of this section is the chapters on the Holy Spirit—in my experience the most misunderstood Person of the Trinity in evangelical circles.
Part three challenges the reader to know God intimately through the means He has provided. There is a chapter on prayer, and two chapters on understanding how to read different parts of the Bible and how Scripture is unified in one whole book. The author also gives some practical suggestions for daily devotions.
The entire thrust of the book is living out your faith based on what you know to be true of God. To that end, Alsup encourages her readers to make the pursuit of God their life-long passion. No one is ever finished learning about God. She points her readers to Scripture and prayer as the primary means for accomplishing this. She also provides a few resource suggestions at the end of two of the chapters. Because this book is a very basic overview of theology, curious readers will find their appetite whetted and will want to do some further reading. Because of this, it may have been helpful for the author to provide a more extensive list of recommended resources for readers at the end of the book. Many Christians do want to learn more, but have no idea which authors to trust or how to select a sound theology book.
Overall, I think this book provides an excellent, user-friendly introduction to theology. Many Christians could profit very much by reading it. I also think it would serve as a wonderful text for a women’s Bible study. I would encourage all women to read it, even those who may have some theological training. You will find yourself encouraged and challenged as we address making faith practical and living it out consistently in our lives.