As we were pulling out of town for our family vacation, I noticed a package sitting on our front stoop. Upon opening it, I was glad to see Katelyn Beaty’s new book, A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World. There’s nothing like a vacation to spend some time thinking about vocation.
The topic of work and womanhood has been on my mind for years, but particularly in the past year or two. Not only am I wrestling with the issues of calling and career myself, but also my oldest daughter will be a sophomore in high school this year. We’re already discussing universities and the opportunities they afford for various vocations, which inevitably leads to the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” For these reasons and more, I welcomed the opportunity to reflect on these topics while reading A Woman’s Place.
Beaty serves as the print managing editor at Christianity Today and cofounded Her.meneutics. Overall, I found her book a helpful contribution to discussions on work and womanhood. While she and I may differ in our biblical understanding of the role of women in marriage and the church, A Woman’s Place is well-researched, thought-provoking, and insightful to the struggles women face as they consider vocational options in various seasons of life.
In her introduction, Beaty explains, “While all of us risk turning work into an idol, I believe most Christian women today run another risk: missing out on the goodness of work, on the ways that God intends to bless them and others through it.” She links the necessity of our work as part of bearing the image of our “worker God” and the nature of our work to cultivate creation by increasing in number, filling the earth, subduing it, and ruling over all the other creatures. Both male and female are called to this task, and work has inherent goodness. Nevertheless, in and of itself work is not the ultimate good.
Work of any type (from building a business to bringing up children) can become idolatrous, so Beaty rightly directs us toward work as God-oriented instead of self-oriented, kingdom-centered rather than self-centered.
Importance of All Work
On multiple occasions, Beaty mentions that our work isn’t simply what we do to earn a paycheck or what we consider our profession. She writes, “So when women—and men, for that matter—labor to tend their garden or clean poopy diapers, they are no less living into the Genesis 1:28 cultural mandate then when they are, say, overseeing a legal case or writing a documentary script” (71). She also notes, “And some of the most crucial work we do in our lives happens behind closed doors, without pay or praise” (73).
While Beaty challenges teaching that limits a woman to the sphere of the home, her book never contends that women who spend their lives working in unpaid pursuits are doing lesser work (or not really working). In fact, she fondly shares the home-building efforts of her grandmother, who only worked in paid employment for the years prior to having children. It’s evident Beaty spent hours researching vocation and motherhood with women from a variety of differing perspectives.
Welcoming All Work in Our Churches
A Woman’s Place also considers that many women in our churches are unmarried and may never marry. I readily agree with Beaty that single women have important avenues for kingdom work. In fact, according to Paul, the unmarried often have more opportunity for undivided focus on the things of God (1 Cor. 7:8, 32–35). It is detrimental if a woman feels sidelined to the fringes of church life because of her marital status.
It’s important that we find ways to support the variety of ways women work, and not inadvertently limit the importance of women to the roles of wife and mother. In her final chapter, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Beaty offers insightful questions and ideas for churches, parents, and educators to consider as they support women in various callings. One simple idea for churches is to offer Sunday school classes on the topic of vocation and encourage both men and women to attend.
My primary critique of the book is the egalitarian undercurrent regarding a woman’s role in the church and marriage. It’s clear from some of Beaty’s examples that she believes women can work in ordained roles within the church, such as pastor or elder (though this isn’t the main topic of the book). And while there are no easy answers to how much a mother can work outside the home (and she does a good job capturing the complexity of this issue), A Woman’s Place seems to suggest that men’s and women’s roles in the home are interchangeable.
On this point, I think more attention could’ve been given to the early chapters of Genesis (especially Gen. 3:16–19) and its implications for how God designed men and women. She critiques John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s teaching on this passage (97), but she never offers another perspective why God cursed men and women in distinct spheres (Adam was cursed with regard to his work; Eve was cursed in childbearing and marriage). I would’ve been interested to hear Beaty’s perspective on how those distinctions affect our work in different ways.
I also find the principle of a mother’s role in managing the home valued in Scripture (Titus 2:3–5; 1 Tim. 5:10, 14) in a way that differs from men. I agree with Beaty that many mothers must work for a variety of reasons and that working at home full-time is a privilege some can’t afford. In fact, I’ve worked part-time for more years as a mother than I was home full-time. But A Woman’s Place seems to imply that if the work of motherhood isn’t your natural gifting, then you should pursue what fulfills you the most (146, 163). Missing from the discussion about the satisfaction of our work is a corollary conversation about the self-sacrifice and struggle almost all types of work require.
Starting a Conversation
I found more to agree with than disagree with in Beaty’s book. While she and I may come to different conclusions on certain issues, she’d be someone I’d enjoy sitting down to lunch with and discussing these topics further (yes, that’s an open invitation). Beaty’s tone is welcoming and inviting for people of various viewpoints. She wants to start a conversation, and her book is a helpful starting place for both women and men. In fact, my husband and I tossed around the various ideas in her book, agreeing with parts, disagreeing with others.
I think that’s exactly what Beaty hopes to achieve. Her book invites us to a needed discussion about women and work. As she writes, “Start talking to your friends, your spouse, your parents, your boss, your pastor—anyone who has an interest in seeing women blossom at work—about your response to A Woman’s Place. Say what inspired you, frustrated you, piqued your curiosity, or simply made you want to keep thinking and praying about your own career.”
I found it interesting that Beaty ended her book with Psalm 90:17. I ended my book on motherhood with the same verse. While each woman’s work may follow a different path, we can all begin our days with this hope:
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
Katelyn Beaty. A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World. Brentwood, TN: Howard Books, 2016. 272 pp. $22.99.