Motherhood is a high calling, filled with potential, purpose and joy. However, many women in our society, both inside and outside the church, feel the need to respond to the question “What do you do?” with “Oh. I’m just a mum.” Just a mum. This is a sad state of affairs, one that Gloria Furman wants to help rectify in her new book Missional Motherhood. However, she does so in an unexpected way. Furman is the wife of a church minister, lives in the Middle East, and has four children. So she knows a thing or two about both motherhood and mission. But instead of offering a practical handbook-style book or set of anecdotes and quick-fire reflections, Furman encourages mums, and those who love them, with a theology of motherhood in the context of God’s redemptive plan. The results are pleasing and edifying.
Furman says at the outset that her aim is get her readers to focus on “what God’s word says about mission, how motherhood fits into that, and what Christ has done to fuel and fulfil our everyday ministry as mums.” (p17) And motherhood is not restricted to raising minors, but Furman is speaking to those women who nurture and reach out to others through relationships and discipleship as well. Both physical and spiritual nurture are in view.
The book is laid out in two sections. Part One is entitled “Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God”, and part two “The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood”. The first focuses on biblical theology, and the second focuses on a theology of motherhood.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that part one is a virtual tour de force of Old Testament biblical theology. Furman’s summary is not written like a textbook but she has clearly read a lot of biblical theology, knows her Bible, and knows how to communicate the big story of God’s redemptive plan. Furman notes that setting out to give a fly-over of the entire Old Testament and how motherhood fits in seems like “a fool’s errand” (p39). However, she succeeds admirably.
The reader is taken through the story arc of the Old Testament, from Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Abraham, the Exodus, the Davidic Monarchy, exile, and return. All of this is peppered with references to motherhood at various points. The overview is dense, succinct and insightful and Furman is more than credible in her ability to navigate the big story of God and his people. These chapters would probably serve as an excellent lay-person’s introduction to biblical theology and would be relevant for men and women because the story she expounds is not really about motherhood, but about God.
The point of this section is for the reader to see how motherhood fits in to God’s mission. Instead of seeing motherhood as insignificant, or as ultra-significant, this overview puts it in its proper context; God’s mission to win a people to himself. The effect of this is to make motherhood smaller, since anything in light of God’s big plan is tiny. The other effect is to make it bigger, because everything in light of God’s plan takes on a new significance.
The second part of the book focuses on a theology of motherhood, but through the lens of the categories of creation and redemption, and then the offices of Christ; prophet, priest and king. The final substantive chapter focuses on the resurrection. These chapters are where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. She expounds what the work of Christ means with regard to the way we understand motherhood. How do mothers reflect Christ’s work in their own duties? Furman challenges the reader to consider how they might better witness to the gospel in light of Christ as prophet, or Christ as priest.
For example, mums make “priestly, motherly sacrifices” every day, but mums should also know that Jesus has completed and fulfilled the whole priestly office in both his earthly ministry, and in his ongoing heavenly ministry. Furman also narrows in on these theological themes by demonstrating how Christ’s completed work impacts the everyday work of mums. For example, Furman calls for mums to point their children to Christ the King, not to the false king of worldly success. She also urges mums to remember that motherhood is a strategic prophetic office, raising and nurturing image bearers who in their very existence proclaim the work of God. Furman also reminds us of the immortality of every human, since each life has been ordained by a Sovereign God and needs to know the Risen King, thus raising the significance of each ordinary and difficult interaction we have with our children and others. These are just some examples. All in all, Furman does a nice job of encouraging mums with deep theological reflection upon the offices of our Lord, and the way that mums themselves are to live in light of that.
Furman is a talented wordsmith and sharp thinker. She packs a lot into 200 pages, and does it with clarity and humour. Her writing encourages a deep love for Christ and strong trust in God’s design for humanity, rather than hailing her own ideas or abilities. Her amazement at God’s wondrous plan for life is interwoven with perceptive descriptions of real life challenges that mothers face. At times it feels like there’s a bigger book waiting to break out; lots of content and not enough space to unpack it all. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it means the book is good theological value for money. Still, at times it can feel content heavy, and might have been better balanced with some more reflective passages. And while the first section on the big story in the Old Testament is strong, it feels a little disconnected from the reader’s expectations of the book being about motherhood. The production of the book is very attractive, with nice typesetting and a beautiful cover.
Most importantly, Furman nails her key purpose; to encourage mums and other missional women in their task of physical and spiritual nurturing. It can be heartily recommended to mothers, but will also be profitable reading for husbands and pastors. The latter two would benefit from the book’s reminder that motherhood is a part of God’s mission of redemption, and is not just an optional role for some people who happen to like kids. Mothers will be strengthened in their faith and in their task by this book, and might consider reading it in a group with other mums. Read it and, as Furman says, let your motherhood be transformed into mission.