Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
I picked up the slim volume from my local library and turned it over in my hand. Hmm, I thought, Seven Women: And the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas – biographies of seven women. This looks like an easy read – interesting but not life changing. But when I cracked it open and read the list of names on the contents page, it was not what I was expecting.
A young girl who led an army, the mother of Methodism, and a cultured advocate of abolition. An untraditional nun of the Orthodox Church, the leader of an underground movement, an advocate for racial justice, and a Catholic nun who started her own order. These statements are just a small glimpse into the lives of these seven women. And trying to figure the women out proved to be difficult.
Eric Metaxas is the best-selling author of Bonhoeffer, as well as several other books. He has a varied career history, from writing for VeggieTales to being the keynote speaker at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast. He has been described as a “photogenic, witty ambassador for faith in public life,” and trying to figure him out has been dubbed, “like trying to stick a pushpin in a cyclone.” The seven women who he included in his book could well have been described the same way.
Don’t Skip the Introduction
Seriously, don’t. In the introduction, Metaxas lays the groundwork for the following biographies in some profound statements about femininity. He says that when we praise only the women who were the first to do something in a male-dominated field, such as the first woman in space, we miss the point of God’s design. Feminism today, in seeming to insist on equal footing, only pits women against men – a comparison we were never meant to make. The women Metaxas includes in his book were great, “for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it; and what has made them great has nothing to do with their being measured against or competing with men” (xv).
Who is She?
Joan of Arc starts the chronological biographies and is followed by Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. If you are already cringing at some of the names regarded by Metaxas as great women of faith, then you are right where I was, especially as a non-resistant Anabaptist, when I began my way through the book.
Metaxas’ style of writing is easy to read, even though he sticks to the basics of telling the historical accounts without much embellishment. Each biography is thorough, but concise. Often I found myself so interested in the woman he was describing that I wanted to further research questions such as “How is the Orthodox Church different than the Catholic Church?” and “Where can I find one of Hannah More’s poems?”
But what was I going to do with these women? Joan of Arc led an army at the age of 17, not something I would encourage. She claimed messengers from God had given her specific instructions, and the crazy thing was that people listened to her and her prophecies came true.
Susanna Wesley raised ten children, and became known as the Mother of Methodism for her strong influence on the lives of her sons, John and Charles. But Susanna was a paradox as well: she was separated from her husband for a time, lived in extreme poverty on account of his inability to manage money, and had several children who either had unhappy marriages or divorced their spouses.
These two women are examples of the question I faced with most of the biographies: were these women truly great? Their lives were not traditional, and it seemed like they had many sins and mistakes. I also disagreed with some of their ideology and expressions of faith. Because of this, I struggled to accept their accounts of greatness. What is the point of knowing the lives of these seven women from all different labels of Christianity?
The answer is Jesus Christ. I believe the point Metaxas was trying to make through his book is that passionate love for Jesus Christ manifests itself in actions for others. I was especially moved by the faith of Mother Teresa. She didn’t worry about what others would say, how she would continue her work, or even if she was enabling a spirit of entitlement in those she helped. She just met the needs she saw in front of her. Her thirst for Christ was beautiful and it showed itself in her life because, “She saw Jesus in every man, woman, or child she met, and she treated them accordingly” (168).
Seven Women and the Secret of Their Greatness might not be the book you are looking for if you want to see pat answers to struggles and circumstances in life. But if you want to be challenged by real women who truly believed love for God could only result in love for others and whose lives proved they believed it, this book is for you.
|Sadie Werner lives with her noisy, loving family in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. She is excited about the adventure of life God is leading her on and desires to live full of His Spirit. Currently she attends Harrisburg Area Community College part-time, works part-time, and volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center. Usually found reading, she also enjoys being outside, going to coffee-shops and libraries, and playing piano. She dreams of one day publishing a book.
1. “About.” Eric Metaxas :: About. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
2. Metaxas, Eric. Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2016. Print.