It’s surreal to see a book you wrote over twenty-two years ago appear with what I’m told by my granddaughters is a trendy new cover. But here’s the thing I want them to know: the cover may be new but the content is the same because God’s Word never changes. It is, and always will be, relevant.
I was 57 when I wrote this book. From the moment I first read about the true woman concept in David Well’s book No Place for Truth, my imagination was captivated. What is a true woman? Who is a true woman?
True womanhood was the accepted and expected concept of womanhood in mid-nineteenth-century America. Wells quotes the critique of a contemporary author, Barbara Welter, who said the concept “carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction . . . Real women often felt they did not live up to the ideal of True Womanhood: some of them blamed themselves, some challenged the standard, some tried to keep the virtues and enlarge the scope of womanhood. Somehow . . . the True Woman evolved into the New Woman—a transformation as startling in its way as the abolition of slavery or the coming of the machine age. And yet the stereotype, the ‘mystique’ if you will, of what woman was and ought to be persisted, bringing guilt and confusion in the midst of opportunity.” (TTW p. 50)
I had no doubt about the transformation from true to new that began to occur around the beginning of the 20th century, but without more evidence I simply could not accept her conclusion that it was because the concept was flawed.
In God’s providence, I was introduced to two books about women who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their stories made me dig in and read more.
My conclusion—the concept was not flawed. It was a product of the God-centered theology of the Puritans. Wells explains that in the second half of the nineteenth century, theology became more experience-based than truth-based; the emphasis shifted from God to man. So the problem, it seemed to me, was the true woman ideal could not be sustained by a subjective approach to Scripture. When theology weakened, so did woman’s reliance on God’s grace to empower her to live according to His Word. This is how I summarized my understanding of the true woman concept in the book.
“The true woman is the real thing. She is a genuine, authentic masterpiece. The Master has set eternity in her heart and is conforming her to his own image. There is consistency in her outward behavior because it is dictated by the reality of her inner life. That reality is her redemption.”
“The true woman is a reflection of her redemption.”
“Since the fall of Adam, and until Christ returns, there cannot be a thoroughly true reflection of his image. Sin brings confusion, pandemonium, and death to the soul, and its remnants haunt us even after we are born again. But the radical entrance of grace into the heart brings life order, and sanity. By the transforming power of the gospel, the Christian woman is empowered by God’s Spirit to give an increasingly true reflection of her Savior and thus to be a true woman . . . (TTW p. 30-31).”
“The true woman’s purpose is God’s glory. Her standard to determine how to fulfill her purpose is God’s Word. The first two questions of The Westminster Shorter Catechism state clearly and concisely that fulfilling our purpose is inextricably bound to God’s Word.”
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Question: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
Answer: The word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.
“The true woman’s infallible rule for faith and practice is God’s Word.”
“The new woman’s rule for faith and practice is her experience.” (TTW p. 49-50)
Now, at age 79 with a longer-view-perspective, I am more convinced of my conclusion. I also see this shift from true to new is not just a historic phenomenon that happened around the beginning of the twentieth century. It happens to every one of us every day. When we drift and cease to think biblically, slowly but surely we become a new woman, a self-absorbed life-taker. But when by God’s grace we stand fast, when we utilize the means of grace—Scripture, prayer, worship, sacraments, fellowship—we increasingly walk in truth and the life of Christ fills us and flows from us to others. We become life-giving women who give a true reflection of the life of Christ in us.
Another advantage of my long view is I have the joy of seeing women who were in their twenties and thirties when they studied this book now teaching it to younger women. It really is grand being an older woman.
Editor’s Note: To get a copy of The True Woman, visit the PCA bookstore. There is also a leader’s guide available. Click here to learn more.
Quotes taken from The True Woman: The Beauty and Strength of a Godly Woman by Susan Hunt, © 1997, 2019, pp. 30-31, 49-50. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
About the Author:
Susan is the wife of Gene Hunt, a retired PCA pastor, and they have 3 adult children and 12 grandchildren. She is the former PCA Coordinator for Women’s Ministry and served as a consultant to CDM. Susan is the author and co-author of several books for women’s ministries, including Spiritual Mothering and Titus 2 Tools (CDM 2016), as well as TRUE, the CDM discipleship curriculum series on biblical womanhood for teen girls. She has also authored several books for children.