September 13, 2008

Christian Charm: Loving God with the Heart, Good Posture, and a Clear Complexion

I know now I'm not crazy and that I've understood and perceived matters correctly--this book affirms it. Ministry to young women is in trouble. My friend Karen introduced me last night to a little booklet called the Christian Charm Notebook. Her copy is from 1972, but you can--shockingly--still purchase your own copy on Amazon and I am greatly disturbed by the fact that it is still available. So if you're looking for a book to help you grow young women who love God with their heart, soul, and mind, then this book isn't for you. Not a single mention of the life of the mind is to be found in it.

The book is full of a lot of advice on posture, hair styles, and manners. Not bad things to know about I guess. It begins by describing the inherent beauty of being born again, contrasted with the unattractiveness of unbelief, utilizing storm clouds, sunshine and heart-shaped faces to depict this distinction. Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there, because what it accomplishes is equating godliness with physical attractiveness, aka Christian Charm. In lesson 1, the student is encouraged to consider her inward appearance:
I want to be lovely and beautiful within, so that I will please God. I realize that I cannot change my heart merely by self-effort. I realize that I must allow God to enter my life and do His transforming work within me.
And then, she is encouraged to consider her outward appearance:
I want to be attractive and charming, so that I will please others. I realize that this will not come about through wishful dreaming. I realize that I must work toward that goal diligently and steadfastly.
So then the students are asked to fill out of things they would like to change inside and out. Remember that the goal is to please others--when did it become ok for women to be the church?!?

You probably think that this book can only get better. Trust me, it doesn't. Lesson 6, page 31 is titled Femininity--My 'Crowning Glory,' stating that to be truly feminine
  • See that you look like a girl--not a boy! (1 Cor. 11:15; Deut 22:5)
  • Don't usurp the role of the male (1 Tim 2:12-13; 1 Pet 3:7)
  • Cultivate a quiet, gentle spirit (1 Pet 3:4; Titus 3:2)
  • Value your chastity (Prov 31:10; 1 Cor 6:19; 1 Tim 5:22)
The next page then provides a chart that shows those things that destroy femininity, and those things that increase it. Some on that list described as destroying femininity include "a bulky, flabby figure," "a dead-pan face," "a slouching posture," a "raspy, gravelly voice," "mannish attire," and "pessimism." Some that increase femininity include "a trim, disciplined body," "dainty, pretty clothing," "a lovely, graceful walk,"a queen-like posture," "modest self-confidence," and "ladylike reserve." For women of all ages who haven't been groomed for beauty pagents, this material could be devastating to their walk with Christ. If my spirituality is measured by the cleanliness of my cuticles (yes, page 35) then we have serious problems.

Some would immediately look at this book and just chuck it aside, regarding it as outdated. In fact, a review at Amazon said just that. "This is a sadly outdated book...a waste of money." I want to suggest that this book was NEVER dated. When it was first published in 1967, it was irrelevant. In 1950, it wasn't appropriate for girls. And in 1900 it was still a shameful attempt to box up femininity. This book affirms so many destructive behaviors that cause many young women to become obsessive, and then self-destructive when they learn how hard it is to please everyone else. Yes, a woman should care about her appearance, but any more than a man? If she has short hair, is she any less loved by God?

This books claim to fame is that it "exalts TRUE FEMININITY--modesty, purity and honor, rather than a bold outward display!" The problem is, it fails to counter culture's obsession with appearance in that it actually adopts similar standards. Christian Charm is clear that they are obsessed by appearance and equate it to a certain level of spiritual maturity. But there is truly nothing modest about this, and it will destroy the esteem and faith of so many young women exposed to it.


Jag said...

Disclaimer: I have not read the book, only this review.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the disgust over a "theological" position that would somehow equate mere physical appearance with spirituality, we must also be careful as believers not to go too far in the other direction. Though outward appearance does not define holiness, it does in some ways reflect it.

Human beings are whole persons, according to the Hebrew view--not bodies disconnected from minds and spirits. If we are growing inwardly in Christ, this in some sense is reflected in the way we care for our bodies as temples of God's Holy Spirit. We cannot and should not try to change or modify our appearance as key to our spiritual walk, and yet a balanced desire for one's outward appearance to reflect the internal reality is not negative.

It is only when we become too focused on the external as separate from the internal that we get into trouble, since the Lord looks on the heart. We should not be displaying external beauty to the detriment of devotion and personal holiness, but should adorn ourselves with the “imperishable quality” of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3; This is also a quality men should be cultivating).

Yet in no place does the Bible teach that the imperishable quality replaces the external qualities, while they are in their temporal season. Rather, in Song of Solomon those external qualities are celebrated in the most lovely and exuberant of terms. Delighting in and keeping up the outward appearance can harmonize beautifully with internal holiness. Indeed, an unkempt body can reflect a lack of honor for the image of God reflected therein.

So, although never should we admonish young women to worship or extol external qualities, neither should we allow them to revile those qualities in and of themselves, but to cultivate and enjoy them as part of the image of God reflected in a unique way in women that it is not in men.

Beth said...

Oh my...unbelievable!