My two young daughters who discovered glow sticks a few years ago. Bendable gleaming rods you can wear as bracelets became the craze in our home and an addition to our nighttime routine. My daughters would go to bed with a glow stick around their wrists but would wake up to find the light long gone. In many ways, Lysa TerKeurst’s What Happens When Women Walk in Faith reminds me of those glow sticks.
TerKeurst’s popular book has a definite twinkle—it’s well-organized, easy to read, and packed with encouragement. She wants women to know that God has a dream for them, writing in her introduction: “I believe God gives every woman a dream…that only she is destined to fulfill” (7). Dreams come to fruition as women “walk with God through the phases of faith” (9). The discouraged woman who picks up the book might well leave with fresh motivation to see her dreams come true.
In the end however, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith is more inspirational than Christ-centered. So while the reader might leave hopeful, her walk ahead is likely to grow dim with no clear gospel given to light her way.
TerKeurst divides her book into five sections–each covers one of her “Five Phases of Faith.” She writes this: “I want to talk to you about the five phases I’ve identified in the Bible common to people who have stepped out with God in pursuit of their dreams” (8). For TerKeurst, to walk in faith is to travel through five distinct phases: Leaving, Famine, Believing, Death, and Resurrection. Each section of the book comes with four chapters that pull stories from TerKeurst’s family life, ministry pursuits, and Israel’s patriarchs.
Each section of the book is loosely characterized by an Old Testament figure. Abraham is our picture for the “leaving phase,” he shows the reader how she might move from one level of faith to the next. Joseph, Moses, Israel’s desert wanderings, and Joshua follow respectively as our examples for the famine, believing, death, and resurrection phases. TerKeurst’s hope is to inspire her reader to belief and action with the stories of these saints. She writes in her final chapter: “We have now seen these great heroes of faith who walked before us. We’ve observed, we’ve studied, we’ve pondered, we’ve learned. Now, what kind of difference will their lives have on the way we walk” (197)? This ending question points to two core dangers in Mrs. TerKeurst’s book.
The Danger of Christ-less Applications
What Happens When Women Walk in Faith is anxious to assure women at a pace that leaves little time for careful exegesis. TerKeurst tends to move from text to quick and hopeful applications with no reference to Christ. She writes on page 26: “God renamed Abraham, and He has renamed you as well. When you go through the leaving phase, you are asked to leave much behind. But you don’t walk from this place empty-handed. You are going equipped with a new name.”
The renaming of Abraham here becomes our symbol for the “leaving phase of faith.” Lost is the glorious reality of God’s faithful promise of children to Abraham—a promise that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the countless peoples, nations, tongues, and tribes that Scripture calls Abraham’s offspring through faith in Christ (Romans 4:16-17).
God doesn’t promise me a new name outside of Christ. In fact, “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ alone]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Books that seek to empower women on the basis of God’s promises must make much of Christ. Instead, TerKeurst offers creative interpretations of Old Testament narratives without pointing to Jesus.
Now, we know that the journeys of Old Testament saints were written down as examples for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11), and we should certainly learn from the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Israel and Joshua. TerKeurst’s book is well-intentioned in its scriptural conclusions. But to offer Moses without Christ—the Rock from whom Moses drank–is to offer a fleeting hope (1 Corinthians 10:4). The Old Testament saints are given to point us to Jesus Himself (John 5:39)
Israel’s desert wanderings is TerKeurst’s example for “the phase of death” and Joshua is her picture for the “resurrection phase.” Jesus Christ makes guest appearances here and there but He is not the star of this book. TerKeurst’s uplifting yet Christ-less affirmations might warm the soul for a moment but her reader will need a robust gospel for the long journey of faith.
The Gospel of Dream-Fulfilment
The second danger in TerKeurst’s book flows from the first. Without Christ, we are left with a lesser gospel. The tune the book sings is not “God’s redemption of sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ,” rather, it is “God’s fulfillment of my dreams through a specific walk of faith.” And for TerKeurst, that dream is public ministry. She writes concerning herself: “God has given me my dream…For me, the dream has resulted in public speaking [and] writing” (8).
If Christian women today are desperate for public affirmation through platform building and opportunities, then books like TerKeurst’s feed on this yearning. While TerKeurst never dismisses the mundane areas of a woman’s life, she treats these as the “school of preparation” for something larger (15, 18).
A woman reading What Happens When Women Walk in Faith might be tempted to see everyday quiet faithfulness as a wife, mother, church-member, or neighbor as a test toward greater calling and purpose. TerKeurst does make some attempt to redirect her reader to God Himself (she calls the “walk with God” the real dream on page 199)—but with no sturdy gospel given for support, her words sound empty and hollow.
The louder message in TerKeurst’s book is this: Israel’s patriarchs were those who “stepped out with God in pursuit of their dream,” rather than those, who “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39). Old Testament saints are cast as our vision for leadership and less as exiles “looking forward to the city that has foundations” built by God–heirs of a promise realized ultimately and completely in Christ. (Hebrews 11:10).
Any book that preaches more about my “dream” than about Christ is promoting sinking sand rather than solid ground. Christian women need the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and not the lesser gospel of dream-fulfillment. They deserve books with faithful exegesis and a clear Christ-centered theology. What Happens When Women Walk in Faith is an encouraging book that may spark hope in a woman—but with no clear gospel to feed her soul, that beam of hope will ultimately flicker and fade.
Nana Dolce lives in Washington, DC with her family. She has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, teaches the Bible to women and children in her local church, and writes for various ministries. Find her at motherhoodandsanctity.com.
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