First of all, full disclosure. Susan Shepherd is a friend, mentor, and leader in my life. Having said that, she did not give me this book, nor did she ask that I write a review. I do this of my own accord. Susan mentioned she was surprised by the positive feedback she received from those who purchased her book and wondered if people were just being nice. I did not need to remind her that my reputation for critique was anything but nice! Susan is quite familiar with my not-so-winsome way of pointing out error, particularly when it comes to interpretation of Scripture. Therefore, the praise I heap upon her thoughtful, God-honoring and timely work is entirely genuine. I walked in close proximity to Susan as she processed the words on these pages, and I know that her heart was to be obedient to God’s call. She has successfully accomplished that and more. I wholeheartedly encourage every woman regardless of age or marital status that the information on these pages is of extreme importance for today’s relevant gender issues and responsibilities. This isn’t just a book on how to be a better helper/wife. Susan has written the marching orders for faithful Christian women.
For years in the evangelical world, complementarian women have been encouraged to embrace their role as ezer (helper). We were told this is a name of honor. God himself is referred to as ezer in the Scriptures, and as women created in his image we share this amazing calling and opportunity to serve him. But what exactly does ‘helper’ mean? And what about the fall? How does the role God created woman for differ from that in a sinful, fallen world? Susan tackles those questions biblically, extracting from God’s words the very specific and practical ways a woman serves her creator and her fellow image-bearer.
Typically books like this come off as quick fixes to life’s deepest difficulties. Susan recognizes the problem with this approach to biblical exegesis and tells the reader, “this is not a handbook…on the pages that follow we’ll addresses the information gap—focusing on gaining a solid, theologically sound foundation for understanding God’s design for women.” It’s not just words on the page though. Susan points women to allow those words to a “skilled and disciplined” repentance that “leads us from our sin to obedience.” She challenges that we actually ask God to reveal how we “live independent of him,” and to let that information direct us to him and “our need for mercy.” And, similar to Paul’s imperative/indicative statements in Ephesians, Susan shares how the putting off of these ways of disobedience leads to the putting on of living out “what we believe from Scripture and from history about God.” “Will we accept the plan that He has for our lives—as women—believing that it is good even if it is hard?” Life experience has taught Susan the goodness of God and the worthiness of trust in him no matter what. This book reflects that walk.
Susan begins by defining ‘helper’ biblically. Not unlike other voices in the complementarian discussion she grounds this design for woman in creation. “God created all people, men and women, in His image;” “God created all people, men and women, equal in His image;” “Men and women are different in ways that were designed by God at the time of creation.” Then she recognizes (likely from years of experience shepherding women as Director of Women’s Ministries) the ‘oh, goody’ reaction often expressed upon receiving this knowledge. Susan refers to our created title as “the ‘H’ word.” So it is incredibly helpful that she digs in further to the concept than I have actually read or seen yet…and as a seminary student I read a lot!
I am not usually keen on acrostics, however, that Susan utilizes the word HELP to articulate our understanding is actually, well, helpful. ‘H’ indicates that a women’s disposition in her role as helper “demonstrates itself in her desire to create a hedge of protection around the people entrusted to her care.” This attitude of the heart is founded first in God’s protection of us as he “contends,” “shield’s,” “rescues us from our enemies” (Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20), and “creates a safe place for us to rest.” Women that experience this kind of God seek to share those same measures in their interaction with people the Lord places on their path.
‘E’ is for creating a culture of empathy toward people a woman relates to as well as those she may be very different from. ‘L’ indicates the lifting and sustaining of a helper who cares for those in distress, and ‘P’ “is characterized by the selfless promotion of others to accomplish His plans and purposes.” Again, it is as these attributes are grounded in the very nature of the God we love and serve that we are able to consider such a disposition. Because he IS we are able. Most telling as Susan introduces these principles is the question she asks; “Why don’t we do so?” What prevents us from embracing our role? My favorite quote is in accord with what Susan calls a “Tall Order” (indeed).
“Being created in the helper design is not another role, or a hat that we wear. It is a posture that we assume by faith, an attitude that we adopt by faith, a disposition that we aspire to because of our faith in the God who created us and sustains us in these ways from one moment to the next.”
This isn’t just another ‘to-do’ book; this is a working out of the gospel.
The remainder of the book is a detailed discussion of these biblical concepts regarding the high calling of a Godly helper. Susan consistently cements her observations in the Scriptures and brackets every directive with the gospel. She shares her insights from experience, from the culture, and from the active working out as she has witnessed it in the lives of those who embrace their calling. I myself experienced the Holy Spirit working the words of Deuteronomy 33:7 deep into my heart, recognizing that if the Lord is the one who contends for me I certainly risk nothing in selflessly promoting others even if I feel they have wronged me. God will accomplish his purposes and they will be good. Susan gave me the framework to apply that truth practically.
I recognize the glowing review I’ve given this book, along with the emphatic DO NOT WASTE TIME, BUY IT! READ IT!! imperative. I truly believe the information Susan has derived from the word of God regarding our role as women is a) significant and b) not generally stated (particularly by a woman). RUN don’t walk to purchase it. Your relationships (and ultimately you) will benefit greatly. With that in mind, my only caveat for this book has to do with the construction. Susan’s life and experiences are full and rich, and she uses many of them to help the reader visualize and practically apply the words from Scripture that she is teaching. I would have preferred to see less in that regard, particularly because there were times when the story seemingly overshadowed the message and I really want the reader to remember the message. However, beyond that thought, I think Susan has another book in her (sorry, friend ;o) and some of her illustrations/stories could likely be used elsewhere as effectively.