Westminster John Knox, 192 pages
Reviewed by Deborah McKinley
I am always pleased to read feminist leaning works by college professors, knowing their teaching is influencing women and men. Lynn Japinga is professor of religion at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. “Preaching the Women of the Old Testament” opens the stories of women in the Hebrew Scriptures. Japinga reflects with fresh, current ideas about the women and the stories that surround them. She challenges the preacher to expand into many of the lesser-known stories. It’s not a book to sit down and read cover to cover. Rather, it’s best savored one story at a time. I commend it to the preacher looking for some fresh ideas and stimulating thoughts on the biblical text.
The book begins with a story of children dressing up as saints and biblical characters for All Saints’ Day. The boys had plenty of variety in the characters they chose. The girls focused on Eve and Mary. This is a telling story shared by one of Japinga’s students. There are many wonderful stories of women in Scripture and through church history, so why don’t the girls know more about them? This book sets out to help right that wrong. Japinga encourages openness in the reader and preacher by laying out her own biases carefully and openly. She points out that biblical characters are rarely entirely good or entirely sinful and that examples of sin and grace, strength and courage abound in these stories, sometimes in surprising places. She suggests important questions to ask of the texts before exploring them: How is God being gracious? How is God bringing about shalom? How does God redeem human brokenness? How does God work through human beings to bring about God’s purposes? She’s not shy about asking difficult, contemporary questions of the texts. Often the story can’t answer the questions, but it’s still important to ponder them. Such questions help us consider how these texts are important for living faithfully today.
Japinga chooses 40 stories of women in the Old Testament as potential preaching texts. Some are very familiar. Others are more foreign. She arranges the stories in order of when they appear in the Bible, starting with Eve and ending with Gomer. Each chapter begins with where the story is found in the biblical narrative – often with more than one citation and whether and when that story is found in the Revised Common Lectionary. She retells the story and relates some commentary and history of how some have reflected on the story in the past. She points out deficiencies and strengths in those interpretations and offers contemporary thoughts and feminist perspectives. Each chapter includes several possible preaching themes. Some of these resonated deeply with me while others seemed to stretch the biblical text a bit too far, using the text more as a springboard for a particular contemporary topic. The footnotes of each story are important and contain valuable commentary and referencing. The appendix includes ideas for 21 different sermon series – a valuable tool for the preacher.
I’m glad to have this resource on my bookshelf. It not only helps bring the stories of biblical women to the forefront, it also provides insightful commentary and perspective, which is valuable for the preacher.
Deborah McKinley is pastor of East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church in Vermont.