Unseduced and Unshaken is a beautiful and timely book focusing on the choices that young women make. The subtitle says it directly: ‘The place of dignity in a young woman’s choices’. The basic premise is a call for women to make healthy choices, choices that are focused God-ward and are thoughtful, instead of selfish and impulsive.
I both enjoyed and was somewhat dismayed by how the subject of dignity was treated. First, the good: Rosalie de Rosset [an English professor] wrote one of the best introductions I have seen, and that introduction explained how and why she wrote this book. Read carefully, it precludes any thoughts of ‘oh no, yet another book written about biblical femininity and the quiet, submissive woman.’ She writes, “I began to see how central dignity, at first a formal-sounding word, was to Christian personhood, in this case womanhood…” She focuses the book towards women, but her resulting work is not focused on presenting another light read for the women’s inspirational interest section at the local bookstore. That would, in fact, be an antithesis to her aim. This is unlike most books I’ve read that are aimed at Christian women, and I say that with gratitude and respect!
The part I was uncertain of (at first) was how the topic of ‘dignity’, which was the central theme of the book, was presented. I followed the logic, the great use of classic literature (my copy of Jane Eyre is sitting on my shelf, calling out for me to read it again…!) and was enjoying the way the chapters were laid out as I skimmed through the book (my usual first step with a non-fiction book, as it helps me get a sense of the overall arc of the book) My skepticism was rising, however, as I looked for the Scripture references for her claims and wondered if this was going to be a rather legalistic look at ‘what women should be.’ I can see people saying that who did not stop and read the book carefully. My first impressions were fortunately and wonderfully wrong. When I came back to the beginning and read through slowly, I found that Unseduced and Unshaken is far from didactic. In the first chapter that defines dignity, she writes, “The truth of the matter is that most of us are in process, no matter what our age. It is easier for some of us to look dignified than others, but to truly be dignified is something different…” She says that dignity is not merely outward, but is rather defined by an inner character. She calls women to holiness, but not to another stressful list. The last sentence of the book sums it up: “With Christ as our dignity our desire is met.”
Far from a list of how to live the Christian life as a woman, Rosalie de Rosset goes to the heart- the reasoning behind our choices, how we make choices, and Who we are making the choices for. I should say here that there are several guest-written chapters and appendixes, but the majority of the book is de Rosset’s. I thought of the first several chapters of Proverbs as I read- wisdom crying out in the streets. This is what the book reminded me of- wisdom calling out against the loud and cloying folly. I did not agree with every statement that was made in every chapter, but that isn’t the point. The point is to get women talking and thinking deeply and biblically about choices in every area of life, and in that way, she succeeded with me!
And, naturally, I loved her use of good literature throughout… Each chapter closes with probing ‘discussion questions’ and also suggested reading.
The chapters are organized as follows:
Minding Your Dignity (basically, an introduction to the philosophy of the book) “… it takes spiritedness and conviction and even telling a hard truth to be truly virtuous and dignified, a virtue and dignity that involves purposeful attention to one’s mind, one’s soul and its longings, and one’s spirit, all of which affect one’s physical life.” … ” “It is a difference between the status quo as spiritual death, and the transcendent adventure which is life. It’s a choice each one of you is being called to make.”
Finding Your Voice – Discussing the conflicts women face as we consider Scripture passages that encourage silence within the church (and the way those verses have been abused), the example we find in Abigail, and the struggles of expressing ourselves honestly and openly in a Christian community. A quote I’ve been pondering: “… part of the of problem for Christian women today is that the world expects way too much from women, and the church expects way too little.” And a Dorothy Sayers quote: “Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man- there never has been such another.”
Longing: From Disparity to Desire - The divided self, sweet sorrow, and fulfilling the God-sized hole in our hearts with ‘less-wild lovers’. Good stuff.
Everything is Theological – encouraging women to turn away from the ‘fluff’ of a lot of women’s ministry and dig deep into the Word, into theology, to be careful and biblical thinkers. YES!!
Distracted or Dignified? – The temptation of images, ghostly people, the seduction of the trivial.
Mindful or Mindless – Keeping a whole worldview, including a biblical look at leisure. How much thought have you put into what you do for fun? How much time do you spend away from technology, in solitude or soul renewing silence? This chapter includes a great look at the differences between popular versus classic. The suggestion list at the end of the chapter is excellent, and I’m looking forward to trying several of the ideas.
Reading as a Spiritual Exercise. - Written by an English teacher, and naturally this is a subject that I am in full agreement with. I loved this chapter, though there was little new here. She takes a good look at the dangers of a steady diet of mediocre books and the importance of reading some of the books that have stood the test of time. Closes with an Ann Bradstreet quote: ‘the certainty of knowing eternity lies ahead of us “should make us so number our dies as to apply our hearts to wisdom, that when we are put out of these houses of clay we may be sure of an everlasting habitation that fades not away.”‘
Sexual Dignity- An honest and hard-hitting yet grace filled chapter; one of the best I’ve seen on the topics covered.
A Theology of Modesty- I was a little bit reluctant to read this chapter. I’ve read *SO MUCH* on the subject of modesty, so many nasty debates and condemnations of others based on what they do or don’t wear, and one can only read so much of that before wanting to bash together the heads of the people writing the opposing articles and shout ‘Enough already!’ This chapter, however, was nicely handled. No ‘rules list’ was given; instead, a biblical philosophy is laid out, we’re pointed back to Christ by way of Genesis (those few pages were amazing, summed up in this: “Through bearing nakedness and shame, Christ becomes our righteous clothing.”), a helpful look is taken at the difference between lust and longing (“[Lust] has no place in the Christian’s life. Lust diminishes.”) and finally, she writes, “But we don’t need this power the world seduces us with. We don’t need any other power but what is found in Jesus Christ. We are now in Christ, and we put Him on. We are not clothed with the “treasures” that this world affords…”
Is it Worth It? Is He Worthy? – Is the price one you’re willing to pay? Are you willing to sit at the feet of the Savior and become a woman who is saturated in the Word, passionate for Him, loving life and living in a way that brings Him glory? Is it worth it? Yes. A thousand times yes. Includes the reminder that we cannot and should not do the Christian life alone and recommends Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book ‘Life Together’. (Naturally!)
“Christ so loves us that He wants our entire selves (body, soul, and spirit) to be His dwelling place, setting us free not to sin, setting us free from the enslavement of cultural pressures and the lies we are told and which we tell ourselves. Freed, we can as Luther once said, dance with God, expressing our longings in ways that will not injure us, and living whole, undivided lives, as, yes, His temple. ‘Be Thou my dignity, Though my delight’ reads a line from an ancient Irish hymn. The connection couldn’t be more powerfully expressed. With Christ as our dignity, our desire is met.”
Finally, there are two appendixes of reactions to Wendy Shalit’s book on modesty.
5 out of 5 stars.
Unseduced and Unshaken was given to me by Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.