I also will not tell my children God requires something of them that He does not state in His Word. Therefore, when I heard about Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin’s book So Much More, and the controversy surrounding it, I was intrigued--intrigued enough that I got a copy of my own so I could read it objectively for myself.
I actually enjoyed the book very much and found it engaging and compelling on many fronts. It’s beautiful to look at, excellently written, and just feels good in the hand. (Bibliophiles will know what I mean!) My copy is now thoroughly read, written in, underlined, full of notes—notes that explain what I love about the book as well as what I disagree with. It was so convincing on virtually every front that I actually had to stop myself a few times, step back from the sweeping emotion I felt, and take an objective, biblical look at its teachings. The Botkin girls themselves are beautiful, sincere, well-spoken Christian young ladies who seem to have a great love for God and for their family. I’m greatly impressed by the quality of their work and the passion with which they execute it. Here are a few things I appreciated about Anna Sofia and
They emphasize the glory and importance of the home.
They understand the power of a married woman’s role.
They advocate an excellent education for women (in contrast to some homeschoolers who contend that girls don’t need to be that highly educated since they will “just” be wives and mothers).
They encourage close families and good relationships with fathers.
I also very much enjoyed and appreciated the chapter on courtship, which I found refreshingly free of the formulas advocated by so many courtship “experts.”
However, I still found much about which to be troubled. Here’s the first of my main concerns, the way the Botkins mishandle God’s Word.
The Botkin sisters claim to write a book that expounds on God’s will for unmarried girls and women as revealed in scripture. However, they clearly show ignorance of basic interpretive principles. Conservative Bible scholars (across denominations) interpret the Bible by a set of simple objective criteria to ensure that they do not filter the Word through their own opinions. Does this mean that correct interpretation can only be achieved by specially trained Bible scholars? Of course not. However, many churches I know of fail in genuine discipleship, including training Christians how to study the Bible for themselves. Consequently, many well-meaning Christians apply all kinds of meanings to Biblical texts that are not there, simply through ignorance. (I’m no expert on this, but it’s something I’m working on. A full discussion of biblical interpretation would require its own conversation. I can recommend a few good, conservative books on the subject if anybody’s interested. My husband is the expert Bible scholar in our family.)
The most glaring (and critical) example of this sloppy interpretation in So Much More is at the beginning of Chapter 3. They state, “Because the Bible doesn’t give a huge amount of instruction exclusively to fathers and daughters, most of what we have to work from are passages setting the patterns for men and women in general.” There’s a big problem here. Most of the passages about relationships between men and women in general—which they use--have to do with the marriage relationship. These are the passages the Botkin girls use to create their theology of father-daughter relationships. Anna Sofia and Elizabeth are correct—the Bible, and especially the New Testament, speaks little to the role of single women. The Botkins attempt to speak where God’s Word does not. Making the jump from, “Biblical patterns for men and women in marriage are XYZ…Most girls will marry…So the Biblical pattern for unmarried women must logically be XYZ…” adds to the Word what God never says.
The Bible tells us in Titus 2 that a married woman’s role is to love her husband and children as a keeper at home. However, I Corinthians 7:34-35 says of unmarried women, “There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”
Because the Botkin sisters apply scripture about married women to the unmarried, many people concluded that they espouse the notion that daughters should serve their fathers as helpmeets, in addition to their mothers. This was a huge concern for many, and in response the Botkins later denied that this was their intent. Their good friends, well-known authors James and Stacy McDonald, came to their defense in an
A quote from page 42: “You may not immediately see how much your father needs your help and just how much you can help him, because the very importance of a ‘helpmeet’ has been long forgotten.”
On the same page, they further quote a friend named Ruth who says, “I realize that it is most likely God’s will for me to be married someday, and I desire and have the responsibility to be prepared, as much as possible, for this role as God sees fit. I want to be a true helpmeet to my husband, and what an excellent opportunity I have to practice this with my own father!”
The statement of most concern is this one: “A father is most fruitful when he has the help of his children (in addition to his wife, his primary helpmeet)…”
The McDonalds claim that the word “primary” is merely an editorial error, and that it’s the only statement that implies a girl is to be her father’s helpmeet. (Mr. McDonald goes on to attack the Botkin girls’detractors by questioning why they did not clarify this statement with the Botkins themselves. In an article that accuses detractors of throwing red herrings, he himself attacks the character of the detractors rather than addressing their actual concerns—a red herring of his own.) While I have to contend that it’s not the only statement that leads to this conclusion, the Botkins in their very own statement do not even go so far as to call it an editorial oversight. They do claim to be misunderstood.
I’ve mulled over how this supposed misunderstanding could have taken place. How can the Botkins be contend that it’s simply a misunderstanding, while so many who have read the book are convinced that they espouse such an unbiblical mindset? I’ve concluded that if the Botkins truly did not mean to lead young women to the belief that their God-ordained role is to be a helpmeet to their fathers, ultimately the blame lies with their mishandling of God’s Word, unintended as it might have been. When they apply “helpmeet” passages to the relationship between fathers and daughters, the logical conclusion is that daughters are to be their fathers’ helpmeets, whether or not it’s explicitly stated. Since young women and their families are basing major life decisions on this principle, it’s incredibly important for the authors to convey their thoughts with absolute clarity.
One fatal interpretive mistake the Botkins commit is to use the “example” method to determine whether or not a single woman can be a missionary (p. 267). Since there are no stories of women missionaries in the Bible, they conclude that a woman can never be a missionary. There is a problem with this method of interpretation, too. We don’t have examples of women in scripture doing a lot of things the Botkin girls do, such as making movies, writing books, taking notes at business meetings, and so forth. Simply because there are no examples in scripture of a particular person doing a particular thing does not mean it is consequently forbidden by scripture. By the same token, simply because a person in scripture commits a particular worthy act does not always mean we should follow in their footsteps. If you follow the “example” logic, we could encourage girls to pound spikes through the heads of God’s enemies, like Jael, seduce men on the threshing floor like Ruth, or enter a king’s harem like Esther. The “example” method can lead to all kinds of trouble. An amusing sample of this kind of interpretation is the satirical piece “Top 15 Biblical Ways to Acquire a Wife.” We should be on the lookout for God’s specific instructions rather than basing doctrine on examples. They actually turn their own argument on its head by telling the story of God’s work through Rahab and then admonishing girls that her example of the end justifying the means should not be followed. So clearly they pick and choose the examples they subscribe to.
(Incidentally, I find it interesting that the Botkins believe a girl can serve as her father’s “ambassador” as she takes care of the elderly and as she goes here and there serving others, but she cannot serve as his “ambassador” on the mission field.)
Furthermore, the Botkins pull verses out of context. Here’s one example, which I believe is key because it focuses on a major tenet of the book—that a daughter must “give her heart” to her father until she gives it to her husband. On page 39 they state, “Proverbs suggests, in paraphrased form, that daughters must give fathers their hearts: ‘…and let your eyes observe my ways.’” In an even stronger statement in Appendix A, their father, Geoffrey Botkin states, “Fathers must represent God to daughters, because daughters are commanded to give hearts to fathers.” (p. 327, emphasis mine) However, even a cursory reading of Proverbs 23:26 reveals the true context of this verse: a father instructing his son to heed his words as he tells him how to avoid the wiles of a seductive woman. It has absolutely nothing to do with a daughter giving her father her heart until she gives it to her husband on her wedding day.
The Botkins also fail to differentiate between the Old Covenant and the Gospel of the New Covenant, as evidenced by their premise that unmarried daughters of any age are under the complete authority of their fathers, based on the Law of Vows in Numbers 30 (p. 24). Not only is that not what this passage says, but Believers are no longer bound by the law. If we must obey part of it, we must obey all of it. However, we are in fact free from the law and live under the New Covenant of Christ. (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15) Again, this could be another discussion in and of itself! However, this is my own dearly-held conviction, so obviously their use of OT law in their defense of their position is a massive red flag to me.
They state on page 155, “…we are trying very hard in this book to advance only those ideas that can be defended exegetically.” They go on to define exegesis as “the drawing of truth directly from Scripture in the correct interpretation,” which is an excellent definition. Unfortunately, in many places they’ve failed at this. Remember, just because you fill a book with scripture does not make it biblical!!!
Another issue of concern is the Botkins’ apparent belief in Christian Reconstructionism. I’m not an expert on Reconstructionism, but what I’ve read from a number of reputable sources has revealed tenets of this belief consistent with the Botkins’ approach. The main tenet of Christian Reconstructionism is that we must apply Old Testament law to today’s society in order to reconstruct society toward the
It’s important to note that the beliefs of many Postmillenial Christians fall within the pale of orthodoxy and do not subscribe to the extremist stance of Reconstructionism. However, the Botkins and those with whom they most closely associate have apparently adopted this extreme belief. They laud Rousas J. Rushdoony (commonly known as the father of Reconstructionism) as a “great scholar.” (p. 135) Rushdoony reportedly espoused some horrific teachings which I am in the process of verifying before making a definitive statement. Feel free to do some research of your own if you’re interested. The Botkin sisters also refer favorably to other Reconstructionist Theologians such as Gary North. Their admiration of theologians of this stripe should be cause for concern in and of itself.
But I have other concerns that have to do with the specific teachings of the book itself.
One is that the Botkins espouse a view of honor that goes beyond what scripture states. Christians are called to serve one another and children should honor parents. However, the Botkin girls give suggestions never found in scripture. They suggest by examples given that an unmarried girl or woman could serve her father by untying his shoes, fetching his slippers, and asking him about his preference as to the colors she wears (all examples given in the book). I tread a fine line here, for Christ Himself gave us the example of washing the disciples’ feet. My concern is not so much with the actions themselves as the attitude behind them that goes beyond mere service to an honor that approaches worship. (The father is referred to more than once as “my knight in shining armor.”) In So Much More we learn that a daughter is to find out what her father believes about everything (not just salvational issues) so that she can adopt all of his beliefs and opinions as her own (p.35). One of the “heroines” in the book says that she once asked her father questions like, “What if I don’t hold the same convictions you hold in this area?” She goes on to call such questions “selfish” (p. 37). Another young adult “heroine” tells the story of how her father caused her to be 45 minutes late for a lunch appointment. She condemns her irritation, stating that it indicated that she was focused on her own desires and schedule rather than being fully submitted to her father’s. (p. 195)
So Much More clearly states that a father has the authority to discipline an unmarried daughter of any age (p.199, 303). They specifically advocate spanking for younger daughters, but are silent as to how a father should discipline an adult daughter. Should he spank her? Remove privileges? Allow God to deal with her? (My guess would be no, since the father is supposed to represent God to the daughter in a way that almost seems to approach mediation.) They don’t say. Among Patriarchal families there is a small but growing subset that teaches “Christian Domestic Discipline”—a husband exercising corporal punishment upon a disobedient wife. With such extreme and abusive teachings swirling around the Patriarchal camp, it seems extremely unwise for the Botkins to be so ambiguous about the issue of adult daughters and discipline. And we haven’t even gotten to the real question, which is whether a father, in fact, should be able to discipline a daughter into her late teens and adulthood. The Botkin view about discipline is extreme, dangerous, and at the very least should require careful clarification.
The belief that a father should discipline an unmarried daughter, regardless of how old she is, leaves the door wide open for humiliation and abuse. Before you write this statement off as radical and extreme, let me assure you that I’m personally aware of families where this has happened. Before I even finished this review, I received correspondence from those who have seen this happen in their family as a result of the Botkins’ teaching. Aside from the fact that this level of servitude, submission, and authority goes beyond scripture, it is also a predator’s dream come true. I would love to believe that all Christian fathers are good and godly men, as my husband and father are, but the sad fact is that all are not. As a pastor’s wife who has heard the stories of many families who come to my husband and me for counsel, I’m all too aware of the perversion and abuse that goes on in some homes that appear squeaky-clean on the outside.
The Botkins mention that a girl should not stay in the home with a father who is involved in abusive criminal activity, but they touch on this so briefly and incompletely, while emphasizing again and again the responsibility of the daughter to submit to her father in all things, that an impressionable young woman could easily feel that to resist the approaches of a father-abuser would be rebellion against God. Again, I am personally aware of situations (yes, plural) where daughters have remained in abusive homes (physically and/or sexually) because they have been saturated from birth with the teaching that they must submit unquestioningly to their authorities. This isn’t theoretical, it really happens. In a culture where rebellion is the norm, I believe we need a call for children to honor their parents. But I believe that teachers like the Botkins have taken that call to an extreme that can be harmful to vulnerable young women.
So Much More is filled with alarmism, drama, and exaggeration. The Botkin sisters state that to counter-culturally choose to stay at home and serve your father till marriage will take “the courage and conviction of a martyr.” (p. 13) That’s a gross exaggeration, and a slap in the face to the martyrs who have spilled their blood for Christ through the ages. I stayed home till I married for some of the reasons the Botkins endorse, and although many people were perplexed, I was the subject of misunderstanding and ridicule, and even sometimes shunned, the “persecution” I endured did not come remotely close to what a martyr endures, nor did it require the level of courage and conviction of a martyr must have to give his life for Jesus. Try telling a Saudi Arabian Christian who is about to have her throat slit for her faith that you have equal courage and conviction because you are staying home till you marry and see if she agrees. See if you can agree. That is a ludicrous statement!
The Botkins also regularly refer to girls who choose to stay home until marriage as “heroines of the faith.” That’s rather dramatic, I think. Wise young ladies? In many ways, yes. But heroines? Not quite.
They refer a number of times to women (even single women) who work for men as “wage slaves.” That’s quite an inflammatory term, and one that’s hard to pin down. If a girl creates items for a home business and receives an order from a man, is she then his wage slave? Is a man who works for another man a wage slave? This term, even this idea, is not found in the Bible. It’s great for dramatic effect though.
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth (and their father) paint with a broad brush many, many times throughout the book, lumping all Christians, movements, or groups into one category. To summarize some of these, Young people who attend college are robbed of their wisdom and discernment. Parents who send their offspring to college want to buy a degree for children who have little direction in life. Singleness is a stage where you, among other things, “become uninvolved in your family’s concerns (and reluctant to let them be involved in yours.)”. Girls who have difficulty getting along with family members will not be able to get along with husbands. Day cares are ruthless environments Youth mission trips do very little good. All of these scenarios are true in some situations, but certainly not all. I found a particularly broad-brush and mean-spirited example in Appendix A, the girls’ interview with their father. Geoffrey Botkin states, “If daughters get schooling rather than education, they will turn out deceived, a chip off the old man’s block, and they will be just as trapped in the ways of blind conformity as their cowardly fathers—in the permanent underclass.” (p. 305)
They also approach their subject with a strong either-or mindset. Either you stay home and serve your father until you marry, or you are a raging, rebellious, Marxist feminist. Either you submit without question to your father’s every whim, idea, and preference, including his color choices for your clothes, or you are out in the cold, resisting his protection.
The Botkins criticize churches that operate by a senior pastor model (actually their father does: p. 296), as well as the modern missions movement, which they claim are unbiblical (p. 271). They go so far as to state that churches, not missionaries, are the “primary biblical missions agencies.” By that standard, even the Apostle Paul would not fit their criteria. They also condemn unmarried women missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor. The Botkin girls state that women missionaries can only bear a very small amount of fruit (p. 271), apparently not because they themselves have inspected this fruit in light of God’s Word, but based on their presupposition that a woman missionary cannot possibly bear much fruit because she is not living at home with her father according to “God’s design.”
They unequivocally advocate a dramatic pendulum-swing to the extreme opposite of our culture in order to somehow counterbalance it. This is human nature. When humans see errors in the way a previous generation did things, we tend to swing to the opposite extreme. It’s how people typically approach life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. Biblical balance is often somewhere in the middle.
I was also disappointed that the book contained misleading “research.” When you first open it, you notice that it is filled with footnotes, usually an indication that a book has been thoroughly researched. However, a closer examination reveals that a huge number of the footnotes, probably the majority, are from Vision Forum publications (the book’s publisher), or organizations with close ties to VF. Many, many of the people they quote with great authority are actually quite obscure, and not recognized authorities by anyone but a handful who subscribe to Botkin-style or extreme Reconstructionist views. Other footnotes are authoritative definitions of terms with no references whatsoever.
I must add that the best and most well-researched part of the book was Appendix B, direct quotes from militant feminists like Margaret Sanger. But the footnotes were a disappointment.
Finally, the Botkins (and Vision Forum in general) have a greatly romanticized and idealized view of history.
As I stated at the beginning, this is a beautiful, compelling book, written by lovely and talented young ladies. Nevertheless, I found that its positive messages were far outweighed by these concerns. I believe that God’s Word, properly applied, should be our standard. Decisions such as whether a daughter should live at home till marriage should be made with wisdom, but not with a distortion of what God has actually said.
~I realize there may be some confusion in regards to the date this was posted. I hijacked an unused draft and tucked this article back in my archives, since it doesn't really fit the current focus of my blog. The funny thing about blogger is that when you save a draft, it automatically publishes with the date the draft was saved, not the date you actually publish. So although the original date this draft was saved was in March of 2008, the article was just published February 6, 2009. Clear as mud? :)~