Today I’m going to offer my review of Julie Roys’ Redeeming the Feminine Soul: God’s Surprising Vision for Womanhood.
Not knowing much about Roys, I had read some of her work on the Internet. She struck me as a formidable Christian journalist, and still does. My wife is an avid reader and I thought she’d enjoy something different, so I bought it for her.
As she read through it, she found parts of it confusing. Now months later, after settling in at my new job and my semester ending, it was my turn to give it a go.
Why would a guy read a book on the “feminine soul”? There’s a lot going on in the world and in the church about gender issues and roles And within the church especially, Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism vs. Patriarchy, LGBTQ, and Intersectionality are all hot-button issues. I figured Roys’ take would be an interesting read.
The First Third
The first third of the book is Roys’ story (and a few others’ intertwined) of her struggles to understand and fit into the ideas and ideals of the femininity she grew up in.
Immediately we learn of Roys’ lifelong desire to preach, for example. But being part of a Christian tradition that saw Scripture prohibited women from doing so, unless to children, teens, or other women, Roys, as the first chapter’s title says, felt “Excluded from the Boys Club.”
Chapter Two is about Roys’ descent into and out of a codependent relationship with a young woman she was trying to disciple who was going through identity issues of her own was the beginning of her “journey of discovery” (23).
Chapter Three is pendulum swing. Roys takes the reader from flawed perceptions within Fundamentalism one side, all the way over to a Roman Catholic-inspired discussion of “a sacramental understanding of marriage and family” (46).
Roys leans on the writings of integrationist Christian counselors (those who attempt to “integrate biblically-based, Christian beliefs with psychological principles“) to try to understand this relationship. From my own personal experience, my own MA in Biblical Counseling (which was integrationist), and my years as a Christian, I can say that while there is always some truth to be found, on the whole, integrationist counseling methods should be rejected by Christians. Psychology is a humanistic field. “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor 6:15).
Eventually–and ironically–Roys grows to understand what it means to be a woman and feminine through Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the “Theology of the Body” (38ff). Before she delves into it, Roys does offer the caveat that her first reaction to it was, “skepticism. It came from a pope like most evangelicals I had a pretty dim view of Catholicism, believing that the Catholic Church was rife with corruption and taught a works-based salvation” (38). She then adds, “However, my view of Catholicism had been softening over the years as I encountered more and more Catholics who truly exhibited a vibrant faith…” (38).
There are multiple problems with all of this. First, the Catholic Church is rife with corruption and does teach a works-based salvation. Second, and a distinguished, intelligent journalist like Roys knows this, sincerity does not equate to validity; people can be sincere yet be sincerely wrong. What does the subjective experience of encountering people with a perceived “vibrant faith” have to do with the “softening” away from the objective facts? Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and every other religion on the planet may be delightful, upbeat people, even with “vibrant faith” of their own, but since their faith is placed in a lie (and works-based salvation definitely is that), their vibrancy does not change the problem of the objective errors they embrace.
But back to the pope and his “Theology of the Body”… I haven’t studied it, in fact I’d never heard of it before, but he was obviously Catholic, by all indications unregenerate, and, as a lifelong celibate—certainly not the expert source one would expect for a biblical understanding of womanhood.
Chapter Four is titled, “A Man in Every Woman and a Woman in Every Man,” and it was, for me, as confusing a chapter as its title suggests; I admit, I didn’t get it.
The Middle Third
The middle chapters, five, six, and seven were the most purely journalistic chapters. Chapter Five, “Androgyny, the New Misogyny” points to the irony that the most woman-hating thing a woman can do is aim to be less a woman and more like men. Unfortunately, it both references another integrationist Christian counselor (Larry Crabb, 73) and includes a story wherein one person is quoted taking the Lord’s name in vain and using it in a punchline. For a “Christian” book–written by a Christian and published by a “Christian” publisher (in quotations since only people can be Christians), seeing that was eyebrow-raising.
Chapter Six discusses the historical waves of feminism from the era of the late 1800s-Early 1900s, to the 1960s, 1990s, and today, discussing how society’s current quest for gender-less androgyny is, ironically, feminism’s demise (since, Roys astutely points out, there would be no more “female” to assert quality for, since gender is, supposedly, nothing more than a societal construct).
Chapter Seven, “Gender Construction and Confusion” delves into the current insanity and misunderstanding about genders, both in the world and in the church. Interspersed in this section were discussions of LGBTQ, both in and out of the church.
The Final Third
The rest of the book returns to its memoir beginnings to finish out Roys’ feminine journey. That journey, as the back cover teases, would lead her “to discover what being a woman really meant. What she found changed her life”, hence the book’s subtitle, God’s Surprising Vision for Womanhood (emphases added). Since the book has been out for two years, I’m not giving away any spoilers here when I say that, marketing hyperbole aside, any reader, woman or man, who knows their Bible won’t be all that surprised.
An Ironic Aside
One inescapable aside that occurred to me as I read Roys’ “journey” was irony which seemed to be lost on Roys. She laments about not being able to preach and wanting to have a ministry, yet on her website it touts that she “published hundreds of articles in respected media outlets such as Christianity Today, WORLD Magazine, The Federalist, Religion News Service, and The Christian Post.” And she was also a syndicated radio host on arguably one of evangelical Christianity’s largest radio networks (Moody Radio). And she has a book and author platform the likes of which most Christian writers never will… Point being: for someone who bemoans not being allowed to preach in a church, she has had more exposure, more audience, more influence, than a thousand pastors in a preaching lifetime of local church ministry. Reading Roys’ book, it seems this has never dawned on her. If life has handed her lemons, God has providentially blessed her with a pretty sweet glass of lemonade.
Roys’ stance against abortion, affirmation of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, take the current gender confusion, and how our identities are to be found in Christ are solid. She critiques Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian well. I wish she hadn’t relied on Mark Yarhouse for support, or C.S. Lewis for that matter, but in a world that hates Christians, Roys refutes the errors of the spirt of the age and affirms Scripture.
I wanted to like this book. And parts of it I do, very much. But if you’ve read this far, it’s obvious I was disappointed. Why? Since Julie Roys is an excellent writer and sticks to her biblical principles, what’s the problem? Well, since we also learn Roys was a pitcher in Little League growing up, let me try using a sports analogy (which itself is ironic since I don’t follow sports). In Redeeming the Feminine Soul, Roys throws a lot more curve balls than I, or my wife, expected.
Redeeming the Feminine Soul: God’s Compelling Vision for Womanhood, was published in September 2017 by Thomas Nelson. I did not receive a promotional copy of this book.