Last fall, my sister and I had the great opportunity to travel up the beautiful Rhine River valley. Armed with a shared love of history, we ventured down side streets, through museums, and into countless churches in search of as many Reformation era sites as we could find. In Strasburg, we made a point to visit the church where John Calvin served as pastor from 1538-1541. While standing in the lovely church courtyard, my mind started wandering. We had visited a number of sites which gave account for men who had served and suffered for the Lord’s church, but what about our church mothers? What history has been recorded of the women who have helped shape our church history—the women upon whose shoulders we now stand.
Standing on Her Shoulders
Throughout the Bible we are told of how the Lord used faithful, wise, and willing women to forward His mission. We are told of the fierce bravery of Moses’s mother, Amram (Ex. 2:1-10; 6:20), the judicial wisdom of Deborah (Jdgs. 4&5), the sacrificial courage of Esther, the theological mentorship of Priscilla (Acts 18; Rom. 16:3-5), and the list goes on. But what does history recall of women in the early church, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and beyond?
Thankfully, in the last few decades a number of men and women have spent countless hours researching our church mothers. Their scholarly research has led to the publication of books which bring to the light the stories of many of these women. If you enjoy history, well-told stories, or are interested in learning more about how the Lord has worked in and through women across the span of history, here are a few of my suggestions.
Carved in Ebony: Lessons from the Black Women Who Shaped Us (Bethany House, 2021), Jasmine L. Holmes
After years of following Jasmine on social media, I have grown to deeply respect her honest, Christ-centered, cultural analysis. She is a true educator who uses her platform to encourage us all to seek out primary sources, engage with historical figures, and broaden our knowledge of the pivotal role Black Christians have played in church history. That’s why I was thrilled when her book Carved in Ebony was released last year. Jasmine opens her book with a call to refocus our view of America’s history from stories of individual achievements to “the story of God’s faithfulness.”¹ She then goes on to unveil the story of God’s faithful work in and through 10 of our African American sisters. Her insight is a blessing, so if you are interested in learning about women in the American church, this volume belongs on your bookshelf.
Questions Women Asked: Historical Issues, Timeless Answers (Reformation Heritage Books, 2021), Simonetta Carr
This book was given to me as a birthday gift and sat on my “I want to read” book pile for months until I randomly picked it up as I was running out the door to catch a flight—and I am so glad that I did! I could not have chosen a better companion for my travels that week than Simonetta and her 31 women. Starting with Marcella of Rome in 325 and ending in 1968 with our Chinese sister Jeanette Li, I was humbled to learn of the joys and challenges these women faced as they sought to live God honoring lives. Ever the educator, at the end of each chapter Simonetta provides follow up questions and direction for further research, making this book great for personal or group study.
Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), Rebecca VanDoodewaard
The Lord used the events of the Reformation to redirect not only the church, but the course of human history. Rebecca opens her book with a quick, yet robust overview of the sixteenth century events in Europe which caused such alterations. She then goes on to introduce us to 12 women who boldly participated in the transformation of society. From royalty to reformed nuns, these women fed the poor, educated orphans, distributed Bibles, participated in theological discussions, cared for their families, and lived complicated lives. One of the most impactful portions of the book is Rebecca’s conclusion in which she highlights seven important take away lessons for current application. Her words remind us that while we can learn from the lives of our mothers, Christ works within every generation to bring about His kingdom. Their leadership is an example for us, but it is His faithfulness which upholds and sustains us.
Read all three of these books and you will be introduced to over 50 amazing women who displayed ordinary faithfulness, sacrificial love, and community care. May the variety of their stories encourage us to live faithfully within the unique space where the Lord has placed you.
Other books worth mentioning:
Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History (Christian Focus Publication 2011), Diana Lynn Severance
Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. 2005), ed. William C. Placher
12 Faithful Women: Portraits of Steadfast Endurance (The Gospel Coalition 2020), ed. Melissa Kruger and Kristen Weatherell
Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash