Wanting to support a Christian journalist who openly owns her faith, I pre-ordered a copy of Shannon Bream’s new book, The Women of the Bible Speak: The Wisdom of 16 Women and Their Lessons for Today (HarperCollins, 2021), but I confess my expectations were not high on first look at the table of contents. Most women covered are familiar to anyone with a Christian church background. On the other hand, how many women does the Bible name, and how many of today’s younger generation really know their stories?
After opening comments, Bream launched into discussions of Sarah and Hagar, who figure not only in the ancestry of Jewish and many Muslim nations, but also in key spiritual principles and symbols described in New Testament epistles. Though I’ve read the scripture passages dozens of times, these women’s experiences and relevance for today emerge more clearly through their own words. Bream highlights scripture passages that quote them, connecting their thoughts and utterances to issues and themes women face today.
Each subsequent chapter, pairing the words and events of two women facing similar challenges, builds new understanding of biblical themes, of womanhood across generations, and of God’s character and presence.
So what does this book have to say to Christians writing for young audiences?
- We need to take a fresh look ourselves, then offer a fresh look at Bible accounts, whether familiar or less familiar. Presenting “same old” material, especially to children above kindergarten age, fails to follow principles developed by Paul and other evangelists, who spoke often of terms and practices their different local audiences recognized.
- Our language must connect with the audiences we want to reach: direct, clear, forceful or tactful (as appropriate), and speaking in terms our audience will understand rather than in textbook theology. This doesn’t diminish the need to convey key doctrines and concepts. Nor does it mean incorporating a lot of slang or acronyms (perhaps appropriate in limited amounts in fiction characters’ dialogue). Rather, our challenge as writers is to create content, both nonfiction and fiction, in language that reaches across generations and cultures, showing today’s readers reality and truth in words, particularly God’s Word.
- Today’s publishing emphasizes material for girls, girls’ accomplishments, and women’s issues. The Women of the Bible Speak is well suited to this focus. However, boys and young men also need stories and themes that affirm godly manhood instead of considering masculinity “toxic.” If a biblical story shows men in less than heroic light (think of Barak, a general, telling the prophetess Deborah that he will lead Israel’s army only if she goes with them), can we write stories showing challenges a young man may face in standing up to an opponent? Can he learn to rely on God’s strength? Will boys partner with girls to face a challenge? Either scenario can be valid. What biblical takeaways (even if we’re offering contemporary fiction instead of a Bible story retelling) can such stories incorporate?
Many young people today deal with absent or dysfunctional fathers. Can some of our stories address such weaknesses in male leadership (historical or contemporary) while encouraging responsible character traits in today’s young men? Look at Bream’s description of the discipline God inflicted on Miriam after she challenged and criticized Moses (Exodus 10, Numbers 12):
At no point in the quarrel, punishment, and reconciliation did God treat Miriam as anything other than a prophet who had made a mistake, despite the fact that her sin played out so publicly. Her leadership of the people was not questioned . . . And here, too, Miriam taught her people a lesson: how to be wrong and still be redeemed. . . . how to take chastening from God when it was called for and how to own a mistake . . . .” (Bream 124-125).
Would I recommend The Women of the Bible Speak read by (or to) girls? Absolutely for teen girls; perhaps as a read-with for tween girls, since a few chapters deal with cultural issues like Levitical marriage, polygamy, prostitution, and concubines. The Bible doesn’t shy away from controversial content. Today’s young people need God’s perspective on these issues, since both entertainment and schools present more and more “mature” concepts to kids at earlier ages.
Have you found helpful models in books not designed as writers’ resources or kids’ literature? We invite you to share texts and insights you’ve gained from their authors. We’d like to publish quotes or, perhaps, blog articles submitted by our readers, in coming months.
Debbie DeCiantis has served on the Write2Ignite Team since 2010. A retired educator (K-12 and college), she now enjoys more time with her husband, children, and grandchildren. She spent many years advising student journalism and literary publications and has written professional critiques for student publications. Debbie directed the Write2Ignite Team’s online bilingual devotional for children, Too Big for a Band-Aid: Devos for Times When It Hurts (edited by Grace Geide, layout by Robyn Grage), available free at https://write2ignite.com/too-big-for-a-band-aid/ .