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Out of the Shadows: Preaching the Women of the Bible

By Kate Bruce and Liz Shercliff

SCM Press, 2021, £19.99. ISBN 978-0334060697

Review by Jenny Bridgman, Director of Studies and Initial Ministerial Education(2) Officer in the Diocese of Chester

Out of the Shadows: Preaching the Women of the Bible

It might be tempting to consider this book a ‘Feminist Preaching Companion’, and yet it is so much more. Through robust research and incisive writing, Bruce and Shercliff draw several women of the Biblical narrative ‘out of the shadows,’ inviting them into a deeper engagement with the preacher and her hearers and restoring their stories as central to the Christian metanarrative.

The book is excellently structured, with each chapter able to stand alone as a resource to dip into, while still forming a coherent whole which reclaims God, and Scripture, for the women so easily disregarded. The chapters, each centring on a woman from the Bible, begin with a helpful reference back to a relevant Lectionary passage. This alone is a brilliantly helpful piece of data collection! The chapters then contain the words of the Bible character in the spotlight, some background to her narrative, and a sermon suggestion. The chapters each end with homiletic points, for conversation or reflection, and a beautifully crafted collect to capture in prayer the themes of each woman’s story. The book ends with suggestions for sermon series, which I found refreshing and innovative (a Lenten sermon series on Biblical women? Yes please!)

This is not simply another piece of niche feminist commentary. The potency of Bruce and Shercliff’s work runs deeper. As I was reading, I found myself asking, ‘what would my own sermon hearers make of this work?’ Some would be perplexed, some encouraged, some threatened. And yet there would be others, men as well as women, who would hear the call to step out from the shadows that so easily cover them, too, rendering them unseen and unheard. For here there is invitation to all of God’s people to inhabit more fully the abundance of life that centuries of patriarchy have eroded away.

Neither do the authors shy away from the brokenness of the Biblical world, instead drawing it into dialogue with our own pain. They tackle topics such as childlessness, ageism, racism, and honour killings with sensitive honesty, resisting the temptation to preach soothing platitudes where only anger and incomprehension will do. The chapter on Jephthah is particularly memorable for its rawness and its refusal to seek easy answers. There are also lighter moments to delight in: the lyrical sermon on Eve, and a sermon written by the granddaughter of one of the authors, which combine with other aspects of the work to create a treasure chest of material to be owned and developed by preachers in every context.

The book begins with Woman Wisdom, described by the authors as ‘an empowering voice,’ and yet I hear Woman Wisdom throughout these pages; beginning to end. The authentic female voices that sing out of the pages have brought light and life to my own reading of Scripture; a refreshing balance to the male-centric ways which have been my default for hearing and learning.

Here we have a significant piece of work which will feed no end of pastoral preaching, as the women hidden in the shadows of Scripture are called to lead the oppressed, the castigated, the shamed, the pained and the objectified, from darkness into light.

 

Save 10% on the RRP when you order this book from chbookshop.co.uk. Add the voucher code PREACHER22 at the basket to receive the discount:

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