Diana Severance’s book, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History, is a crash course in church history, specifically the role of women in the historical narrative of the church. She traces specific women and their stories from the New Testament era through the end of two millennia, all in 300 or so pages! It is a quick and cursory look, to be sure, yet the pace does not hinder her objective but rather helps the reader gain insight into the broad spectrum of the contribution of women in church history, the big picture as it were.
Feminine Threads is chronological in its approach, beginning as I said with the New Testament era and the early church, weaving its way through late antiquity, the middle ages, and the reformation, concluding with chapters on the Puritans, the Victorians, and finally our modern culture. Severance explains her approach in the Introduction:
Each chapter includes general background information important to understanding the historical era of the chapter. Within each chapter, stories of Christian women are grouped according to their most prominent roles during that period–wives, mothers, ascetics, queens, writers, educators, reformers, evangelists, or philanthropists, etc. Wherever possible, the women are allowed to speak for themselves, from their letters, diaries, or published works.
I confess I know little of church history and even less of the women whose narratives are highlighted in Feminine Threads. As one ignorant of much of what I was reading about, I thought it a fascinating and encouraging. From queens to slaves, women played an important role in the defense and spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the centuries of church history! Some modern historians have attempted to represent church history as demeaning and suppressive to women yet Severance asserts that “we do not need to create an imagined narrative out of speculative evidence.” The evidence is there, as noted by Severance’s thorough research and her extensive footnotes.
True, I may disagree strongly with various doctrinal beliefs or lifestyles of some whose stories are told in Feminine Threads. Yet I find it refreshing that this book…
…[does not] write histories–of commoners or of so-called elite–based on what we would have liked for them to have been. Neither do we seek to superimpose contemporary thought patterns and standards on earlier societies. Though at times the evidence might raise unanswered questions, or we might wish the facts to be different, the truth of the story of women in Christian history inspires, challenges, and, above all, demonstrates the grace of God producing much fruit through Christian women throughout two millennia of the Church.
It does indeed. I was inspired and challenged by the grace of God and the fruit of the gospel borne by these, my forerunners in the faith. Some were quite wealthy and used their wealth and influence to advance the gospel. Some were poor, destitute, martyered for their adherance to Christ. Nearly all demonstrated a fervency in biblical scholarship and a thirst for knowledge that both encourages and shames me. As I read of wealthy queens and of determined missionaries I can’t help but wonder about my own legacy. Certainly for each story told in the pages of Feminine Threads, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of women also serving the Lord with the same boldness of faith, yet in humble obscurity. Feminine Threads reminds me that it is not fame that builds an important and lasting legacy; it is the staunch and steadfast surrender of one’s life to the cause of Christ, seeking His glory and the advance His kingdom in all things. How I want to be found faithful!
I highly recommend Feminine Threads. It is an important and encouraging, not to mention engrossing, read, one that will benefit all believers. I’d like to thank Christian Focus for providing a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. My thoughts here are part of a blog tour; you can check out other reviews at the Christian Focus Booknotes blog.