“In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly
distinct lines of action for the two sexes and to make them keep pace one
with the other, but in two pathways that are always different.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835
French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations of American culture ring true almost 200 years after he penned his influential work Democracy in America. Although more women work outside the home than ever before, tension remains regarding women’s roles in both the public and private spheres.
Christian women, in particular wrestle with questions related to work and calling.
Many have been taught that marriage and motherhood are the primary purpose for which we were created, requiring women to temper their passions and minimize their engagement outside the home. While work may be a financial necessity for some women, it is not to be viewed as a calling or pursued ambitiously.
In her book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, Christianity Today’s managing editor Katelyn Beaty responds to these concerns and seeks to provide the theological foundation women need to steward their gifts and serve today’s world.
Combining biblical scholarship and interviews with women representing a range of life stages, Beaty challenges cultural mores regarding women’s roles, claiming that core principles of identity and calling apply to all believers, regardless of gender.
What does it mean to properly bear God’s image?
Beaty builds her argument on a key question: What does it mean to properly bear God’s image?
Examining the opening chapters of Genesis reveals that while God made men and women sexually distinct, he issued them a common call: to “fully and cooperatively bear [God’s] image and to fully and cooperatively do the work that he does.” (28) These instructions, often referred to as the Cultural Mandate, suggest one of the most powerful ways men and women reflect God’s image is through imitating their creator — by working as he works.
While not devaluing the importance of motherhood, Beaty argues that God intends women to create more than just babies — he intends them to build civilizations in collaboration with men.
“Procreation is bedrock to society — you can’t have a civilization without people to inhabit and guide it. But the buildings, food, laws, courts, gardens, clothes, calendars, dances, languages, and the million other artifacts and ideas that comprise culture are what God anticipates as he invites his image bearers to take up the creative task.” (62)
While not ignoring God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) Beaty argues that parenthood is only one form of fruitfulness — our call flows through the intimacy of personal relationships to stretch across the created world. Simply put, God designed women’s bodies to make babies, but he designed their intellect, strength, and creativity to make cultures too.
Beaty’s conclusion has broad-reaching implications for Christian women’s personal and professional lives. If men and women together reflect the image of God and are mutually called to steward the created world, then women must step into roles of cultural influence — which in 21st century life, is not only the home, but the marketplace.
Her argument challenges assumptions within the Christian community about the role work plays in women’s lives. “For women to live on mission,” Beaty claims, “We Christians need to massively rethink how we think and talk about work. In both subtle and not so subtle ways, Christian women are being discouraged from thinking of work as a good, direct way of bearing the image of God and living on mission for him.”(26) This bold statement hits close to home, asking readers to examine their core convictions — whether explicit or implicit — regarding family life and women’s engagement outside the domestic sphere.
Readers may worry that this work is a Christianized version of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, but Beaty is quick to counter the secular narrative that work is fundamentally about what can be gained, rather than given, through a career. While affirming writings like Lean In and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s landmark article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” for expanding the conversation, she reminds readers that these works lack a godly motivation for work. As Beaty reminds us, Christians of both genders are called to a life of service that applies to any role or life stage.
Dealing with cultural norms
After establishing a theological foundation, Beaty shifts her focus to acknowledge the elephant in the room — why many Christians struggle to embrace ambitious, talented women whose obedience leads them to the marketplace. Using historical evidence, she asks readers to evaluate whether the assumptions they hold about women’s roles draw from biblical principles or from cultural norms.
A closer look at sociological patterns reveals that for most of human history, men and women labored interdependently in home-based enterprises like farms or workshops. The modern ideal of a woman who devotes herself exclusively to raising children and managing a household only emerged in the last 300 years, as industrialization and the rise of the middle class made it possible for men to “go to work” while women stayed home. The spiritualization of public and private spheres, she claims, distorts Scripture and stunts women’s vocational imagination:
“In many ways, women have not been encouraged to dream big enough. We have been led to believe that our calling and sphere of influence are private, while men’s calling and sphere of influence are public. Beyond having no roots in Scripture, this public/private division leaves women not fully tasting the purposes of work. We were made to work not just for our families but also for our neighbors.” (74)
Beaty’s argument pushes readers to question their assumptions and ask, how might women’s engagement in the public sphere be good, godly, and necessary for neighborhoods, institutions, and industries to thrive?
Beaty boldly wades into the highly-charged conversation around gender roles in contemporary Christianity, yet her balance of scholarship and candor invites readers to consider biblical principles and cultural norms in new ways. The book serves as a strong corrective, addressing what the author perceives to an omission in most churches. Some readers may respond defensively — “Is she suggesting my work at home doesn’t matter?” — but closer examination reveals the book elevates all women’s work by rooting it in the redemptive narrative. Beaty concludes by looking forward, calling for policy changes that would make workplaces more family-friendly. One wonders if the Church’s commitment to building healthy families would ever extend to advocating for pro-family policy reform.
A Woman’s Place asks readers to expand their vision for a woman’s role, releasing the full scope of women’s gifts to meet the breadth of the world’s needs.
Katelyn Beaty spoke on this topic at Beyond Leaning in: A Biblical Perspective of Women & Work in 2016.
Share this article
This post was published October 10, 2016
Joanna serves as Denver Institute’s Director of Public Engagement, hosts the Faith & Work Podcast, and oversees the Women & Vocation Initiative. Prior to coming to the Institute, Joanna worked in global telecom, nonprofit consulting, and campus ministry with Cru. She served as associate faculty at Denver Seminary and as a sewing instructor at Fancy Tiger Crafts. A third-generation Coloradan, Joanna appreciates both the state’s innovative culture and its cowboy roots. She has an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She also completed a certificate of Women in Leadership through Cornell University.