This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day and if you are going to be preaching this week, you’ve probably been looking for some resources that would help you with your sermon. Thus, it only seems fitting to review Making Sense of Motherhood: Biblical and Theological Perspectives, edited by Beth M. Stovell. Making Sense, published by Wipe & Stock, features a forward by Lynn H. Cohick, an excellent introduction by Stovell, and thirteen essays from a variety of biblical-theological perspectives and disciplines.
In keeping with its subtitle, Making Sense includes essays covering both the Old Testament and New Testament as well as essays on theology and Christian spirituality. Thus, Making Sense is arranged in three parts:
- Part I: The Hebrew Bible and Motherhood
- Part II: The New Testament and Motherhood
- Part III: Christian Theology and Spirituality and Motherhood
One of the many things I enjoyed about Making Sense was it’s diversity of perspective. Several of the essays addressed the subject of motherhood using methodology and approaches that I had spent little time exploring and I’m delighted to note that Making Sense was so stimulating! While space constraints prevent me from reviewing every essay, below are those that stood out to me the most and which essays may help you in your Mother’s Day sermon prep:
Anthony Rees, “Moses: Mother of Israel?” This essay is absolutely stellar! Rees provides a thorough look at Moses’ relationship to the people Israel and asks the profound question of whether Moses should be seen as father, mother, or something else entirely. The essay is brilliant as it explores the various exegetical images related to how Moses cared for Israel in a “motherly role,” though Rees argues that Moses wasn’t quite Mom or Dad and provides some excellent ways to approach “motherhood” by looking at how Moses related to Israel.
[As an aside, Rees includes a brief section looking at Moses’ role as mediator between Yahweh and Israel. As is well known, Moses is contrasted with Jesus in Scripture (cf. Heb. 3:1-6), not to mention in many sermons or discussions about the Old Covenant and the New. This got me thinking about Moses and the Holy Spirit. After all, Rees’ thoughts on Moses as mediator brought to mind Mark Cartledge’s The Mediation of the Spirit. It would seem that Moses could also serve as a a great segue to discussing the Holy Spirit.]
Beth M. Stovell, “The Birthing Spirit, the Childbearing God: Metaphors of Motherhood and Their Place in Christian Discipleship.” Located in the OT section, Stovell’s essay actually would have functioned quite well as the “conclusion” except for the fact that Stovell wrote a much more detailed conclusion! After her brief introduction, Stovell has a short (and excellent) discussion on the needed caveats and clarifications when discussing the various metaphors used to describe God, who “should not be understood as male or female per se, as Go is spirit and thereby without gender.” Following those brief thoughts, Stovell then looks to Isaiah 42’s image of God as “childbearing” and John 3’s picture of the Holy Spirit “birthing.” Finally, Stovell concludes with the implications of God’s self-revelation as a “child bearer” who “births” by suggesting that “we need to consider pain and struggle as part of the Christian journey” while there is an “ultimate eschatological hope.” This essay is a goldmine for a Mother’s Day sermon that wishes to highlight the role of the Holy Spirit! I may be slightly biased on how much I loved this essay because it so powerfully articulates the brief words on the matter found in Clark Pinnock’s Flame of Love, which I owe a huge debt of gratitude for… but I’m allowed my biases!
Louise A. Gosbell, “As Long as It’s Healthy: Responses to Infanticide and Exposure in Early Christianity.” Goldmine alert. This is my favorite essay out of Making Sense because it so powerfully and convincingly argues against ignoring the implications of Imago Dei for those born with disabilities (a subject I am equally passionate about, as evidenced here), not to mention the unborn (though the author does not focus on this as much). Gosbell’s survey of the ancient Greco-Roman world determines that killing children or “leaving them exposed” was common, yet the early Church’s response was to actively speak against such brutality while also providing help for those suffering afflictions related to the challenges of disability, etc. This is a powerful essay.
Rebecca Lindsay, “Reverend Mother: Conversations in Motherhood and Ministry.” Lindsay’s essay, exploring the challenge of being in the role of wife, mother, and minister, was timely for myself as my wife and I are transitioning to a new church and exploring what co-pastoring would look like. Truth be told, many of the concerns and questions that Lindsay explores simply have escaped my thinking in relation to my wife, which is why I appreciate the essay so much. Lindsay’s essay starts by raising the challenge of having numerous “roles,” both in the home and the Church. She then engages four feminist theologians as conversation partners to explore the topic. This section has is rich due to the fact that each theologian comes from a particularly unique perspective and, as Lindsay states, they have aided her in her quest to “name issues and formulate questions around motherhood and ministry.” After surveying the four theologians, Lindsay engages their ideas and clarifies where she agrees and disagrees, as well as identities where there are tensions and ambiguities. Finally, Lindsay concludes by demonstrating why these questions are so important for the Church (and Christians) to engage, including the fact that addressing these issues will likely be fruitful for men who are also in the roles of husband, father, and minister.
While scholars and informed readers may differ significantly with some of the arguments in various essays, this is an excellent place to begin exploring the biblical-theological issues raised by the topic of motherhood. Though the four mentioned essays were my favorites, there are several others that were absolutely excellent and would prove to be helpful for those looking to study this topic or in their preparation for a “Mother’s Day sermon.”
Reviewers need to be careful not to critique a book for what it isn’t, right? And Making Sense is a compilation of essays for a variety of scholars and perspectives. And it’s excellent in this regard. That being said, I’d love to have seen an essay explicitly explore the implications of the metaphor of motherhood toward the Missio Dei. While multiplication features in several of the essays (e.g., Stovell’s essay on the birthing Spirit), no essay directly addresses this in relation to ecclesiology. This stands out as somewhat striking given the prominence of missiology in the NT.
Yet other than that one squabble, I can’t recommend Making Sense enough. It’s a very timely, helpful, and fascinating read.