On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Abigail Dodds—graduate student at Bethlehem College and Seminary and author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ (read TGC’s review)—about what’s on her nightstand, her favorite fiction, books that have most influenced her thinking about gender, and more.
What books are on your nightstand?
I currently don’t have a nightstand, but if you want to know what books pile up at the end of my bed these days, it’s mostly all reading for the master’s program I’m in at Bethlehem College and Seminary. That means:
I’m really enjoying the New Testament theology book––the Greek, a little less so. Over the last few months some of the standouts have been:
- Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion
- Augustine’s On the Trinity
- Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker’s Progressive Covenantalism
- Henri Blocher’s In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis
- Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text?
- Jason DeRouchie’s How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament
And of course the top of the list is the Bible. We read the Old Testament in eight weeks last semester and are now reading the New in nine weeks. It’s been a gigantic blessing to be assigned that pace of reading God’s Word.
What are your favorite fiction books?
Mostly children’s books:
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
- The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson
- The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Those get inside of me and stick around. I’ve listened to The Chronicles with my kids dozens of times.
Dostoevsky’s The Idiot is poignant and my favorite Russian novel. Adam Bede and Middlemarch by Mary Anne Evans (who wrote under the pen name George Eliot) are incredible works that I’ve returned to often over the years. I’m a Jane Austen fan––Eleanor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility is my favorite character of Austen’s. The Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset is a lesser-known collection I read in college, and I’m glad I did. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift are all important books that sharpen and allow you to dig for truth. I’m sure I’m missing some important favorites, but that’s a smattering.
What books have most influenced your thinking about gender?
This is a tricky question. Some of the books that influenced my thinking did so in a negative sense. I won’t give you a list of them. But here is the most important positive one: Colossians. It’s not a book about gender per se; it’s about Christ’s supremacy. But it completely re-oriented my view of gender, because I started seeing gender as from and for Christ. It made me rethink the typical approach of starting in Genesis to understand male and female, with the emphasis on getting back to what should have been. Without Christ at the heart of our understanding of male and female, we’ll know what we ought to be, but we’ll be powerless to be what we ought. We need Christ and the renewed eyes he gives us before we can make right sense of Genesis and right sense of the telos of male and female. Colossians helped me move past trying to recreate “what should have been” for human flourishing to what is and what will be, which isn’t exactly the same as what was.
Without Christ at the heart of our understanding of male and female, we’ll know what we ought to be, but we’ll be powerless to be what we ought.
The fictional characters of Lucy, Susan, and Polly in The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as Leeli and especially Nia in The Wingfeather Saga, painted helpful portraits for me. Along those lines, biblical narratives about women remind me that women are put in very different circumstances in life. That means we apply the same Christlike principles to different circumstances, and we end up with women who are doing very different things (eg., Jael with the tent peg, Priscilla instructing Apollos alongside her husband, Abigail interceding to undo the foolishness of her wicked husband, Sarah obeying Abraham, the midwives disobeying Pharaoh).
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and The History of Mary Prince are both important historical works that I’ve returned to. They remind me, like the Scriptures, that we don’t chose our circumstances in life and that if our gospel doesn’t transcend circumstances––if it only applies to wealthy women in the West––it is no gospel at all.
Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman is incisive and characteristically straight-shooting, as are all her other books. She models what being a robust Christian woman looks like. Same with Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and many missionary biographies.
What’s the last great book you read?
That word “great” is tripping me up a bit, because I automatically think of time-tested classics. But the last great current book I read was Joe Rigney’s Lewis on the Christian Life. There’s a chapter in there on “the choice” that’s worth the price of admission. It made me want to read more Lewis and be more fully human like Christ.
What’s one book you wish every pastor read?
I wish every pastor would be forced to read one of the women’s bestsellers in the “Christian” book category (which may mean they’re purchasing a coloring book). I wish every pastor had a firsthand taste of what passes for women’s Christian books in the broader evangelical culture and realized how many women in their congregation are reading those books—the same women who are training up the next generation to trust and obey Christ. And I wish they’d understand what those of us laboring among women are really up against—it’s a nasty dragon of false teaching that tells women to follow their sickly hearts and chase their anemic worldly dreams rather than losing their lives and gaining Christ and, along with him, everything (Rom. 8:32).
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
I’m learning that being Christ’s ambassador means making really sure I’m saying what he would have me say, and not what I would say in my flesh or merely giving my opinion. And I’m learning that I’m prone both to cowardice (refusing to speak the truth because I’m afraid people won’t like what I say) and also to ramming the truth down people’s throats (speaking without love compelling me). He’s teaching me that living for the approval of people is actually living to please self.
But when we live to please God, we walk in true freedom. In other words, he’s teaching me what he’s always been teaching me: to trust him more. Trust him with my children, my life, my trials, my hopes, my words, everything. Trust that his ways are always better than the pathetic and deadly inclinations of sin. Trust that he is working when I can’t see it. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”