As a volunteer reviewer for BookLook bloggers, I have written the following review…
Jennie Allen, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, offers her second stand-alone offering, Restless. True to her education and ministry in conservative circles, her book focuses on principles of biblical living that are from a more traditional viewpoint. She wants to “catalyze a generation of women (emphasis mine) to live what they believe” (from About the Author). Her take on what will bring women to a state of rest (vs. restlessness) does have good intent, though her scope is limited to a conservative cross-section of Christianity.
In terms of the overall helpfulness, the book offers some good material for personal discernment. In particular, the chapter on “starting places” uses a “parable” on the Christian’s walk. Allen asks whether our “starting place” is from a place of being “numb,” “thirsty,” “running free,” or “at the starting line.” She suggests that we look for others who are in the Christian walk/race with us and are also seeking God’s direction, and help them move forward. She notes that we can always start again, running with better focus and remembering that it is God who is always there to help us and sustain us. This chapter also offers insights for those folksp who are just coming into a place of spiritual awakening.
Allen explains her formula for the discernment process as: God’s story + my threads + the need + the Holy Spirit = my purpose. (p 66)
Jennie shares her own story of being restless, and where she personally struggles with questions of direction, calling, ego and life balance. A poignant story towards the end of the book describes a moment in her young adult life that had far-reaching effects:
“I remembered being home from college and sitting in church with my parents. Our pastor preached that morning on biblical womanhood. One of the women in our church led a very influential international ministry. In the midst of his sermon he asked her to come to the stage, where he announced that she was quitting her ministry to stay at home with her kids.
The church erupted into a standing ovation.
In my head, the applause turned to boos and condemnation as I saw myself moving in the exact opposite direction of the woman my church celebrated many years ago. Even though there wasn’t a doubt in my mind I was moving in obedience to God, I feared appearing like I was in sinning because my calling didn’t fit in the prescribed picture of motherhood in my conservative community.”
“…all of our view of our roles are shaped by our culture and by approving or disapproving messages.”
(Restless, page 190)
These subliminal dis/approving messages are very familiar to Christian feminists!
The author encourages journaling, reflecting and then discussing with trusted friends, family and advisors the “threads” that make up who you are and where you can serve God as your “purpose.” These “threads” include our gifts, moments of suffering, our passions, the places we live/work/serve, the people in our lives (those we need and those who need us), and where they all intersect with “God’s Story” and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Allen is most effective when she writes about those moments where we are afraid to move forward with a goal or a dream. She addresses “shrinking back” – the common ways that we choose or rationalize not serving God (physical, emotional, relational or spiritual). She exhorts her readers to move forward by facing fears head on. However, it is notable that she includes a letter from her husband telling men that it is “OK” for wives to pursue their own calling. Rather than being “freeing” for women (as is the stated intent) it puts a layer of patriarchy over the book’s content.
Her intended audience: It is pretty clear that Allen is writing this book for women only. She specifically seems to use examples of married women with children. Her material could be restructured and more applicable to all Christians if she were to include examples for men and women, regardless of gender or marital status. This would make her material more accessible to women who do not feel they “fit” into the conservative complementarian model. The methods she suggests for discernment are helpful. I would love to see them freed from these patriarchal constraints.
Recommendation: Do I think this book is helpful? Yes, absolutely. However, because Allen chooses to write to women, specifically married Christian women, she is missing out on an opportunity to reach a larger audience. Her discernment process is sound and would help men AND women. Anyone who is in the process of determining their “next steps,” Restless would help them see how and where they are indeed “made for more.”
Restless: Because You Were Made for More, by Jennie Allen. Published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. (c) 2013.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”