What’s In A Bio?

It’s good to have Rachel doing a guest post today talking about the nature of biographical details mentioned in book endorsements. I will be following up this post with my own thoughts on book endorsements next week. Here are Rachel’s thoughts…

What’s In a Bio?

Having emerged from that stage of life when having little children meant a lean reading diet of occasional escapist novels, in recent years I’ve enjoyed re-immersing myself in a wealth of Christian books. And it is a joy to see how many contemporary Christian books are written by women, from both sides of the Atlantic, who combine beautiful writing with spiritual wisdom drawn from their life experiences and Christian journey. 

Christian authors, like most, share a brief bio with their readers, and it is striking how often these bios include the description “pastor’s wife”. It is also noticeable how those who review such books (who are frequently authors themselves) also use the same description. The implication appears to be that authorial credibility and reviewer endorsement have a greater spiritual gravitas if written by a pastor’s wife. In contrast, those authors married to men who are not in formal ministry don’t seem to describe themselves in terms of their husband’s vocation. 

This commonly used description of “pastor’s wife” has begun to jar with me.  It’s even occasionally dissuaded me from purchasing a book! I’ve started to question whether a diet of books mostly written and endorsed by pastors’ wives would engage with the more diverse, and no less real, life challenges of the many like me whose husbands are not in the ministry.

In contemplating these things, I noticed how relevant the Scriptures are to this issue of biographical credentials. 

The closest the New Testament comes to describing a pastor’s wife is Priscilla. In Acts 18:2 she is introduced as Aquila’s wife, but it is interesting that in all but one of the subsequent references, Priscilla is named before Aquila. This reverses the protocol of the day, when the higher social standing of a husband would generally see his name placed before that of his wife. That Priscilla is given the priority mention suggests that she might have been from a higher social class, or even that she had a more prominent ministry. What we can say with certainty is that Priscilla and Aquila were gifted teachers with a mature understanding of “the way of God” who imparted spiritual understanding to Apollos so that he was able to be “a great help to those who by grace had believed” (Acts 18:26-28). They are remembered for imparting spiritual understanding in such a way that it built up the church.

And therein lies the essence of why we read and write books. Those to whom God has imparted wisdom and understanding are led to write books in order to teach and edify, firstly themselves, and then the church. And we read those books so that we grow in our faith, that “we all [as the body of Christ] reach unity… and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). It is that connection, between the credentials of the writer to speak into my life as the reader, that needs to be established in the bio. 

It is, after all, what the Apostle Paul did at the beginning of his epistles, opening each one with relevant biographic details that vary to suit Paul’s purpose for writing. In epistles written to churches dealing with issues of church discipline or believer conduct, Paul highlights his apostolic authority (1 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1); when writing to Titus and to the Philippians it suits his purpose to describe himself as a servant; when writing to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus, Paul chooses to describe himself as a prisoner. In other words, Paul adjusts his “bio” to make it relevant to the content and purpose of each individual letter and the situation and needs of its recipients. 

If we transfer this principle to a bio where the author chooses to highlight being a wife to a pastor, we might expect this detail to be directly relevant to the book’s content. There are undoubtedly books on ministry themes that can only be written by pastors’ wives, and to include such details in the bio gives relevance and credibility to the authorship. This is a principle that holds true generally: you write about what you have earned the right to write about. And it’s fair to acknowledge that the role of pastor’s wife may complement the author’s other credentials. Even so, where the theme of a particular book is not directly related to being a pastor’s wife, and has a wider intended readership, then that detail is incidental and should not be prominent; it is not where the credibility for writing lies. 

Agatha Christie was married to the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. For several months of the year, Agatha would accompany her husband on archaeological digs, those experiences finding their way into the settings of several of her novels. Although her books are sometimes enhanced by these details, her success is due to her own creative and accomplished writing. This is why we remember her as Agatha Christie not as Lady Mallowan, and why reviews of her work were not dominated by the wives of other archaeologists! 

Writing is such a powerful means of personal growth, and I am glad that many pastors’ wives are using this as a way of exploring issues and growing in their knowledge, wisdom and faith, from which to be a blessing to others. But the imputed credentials of the “pastor’s wife” would rightly be seen as anachronistic in any other context. Of greater concern to me, however, is the subtle message that the many other women of godly faith and diverse life experience have somehow a less credible and valuable experience to explore and share. I would love to see a greater range of daughters of Christ encouraged to bless the church in this way, unhindered by a tacit hierarchy of who is qualified to journey alongside their sisters (and brothers) and share their joys and struggles, and embraced for their voices that testify to a wider experience of Christ’s abundant life.

Rachel Campbell’s love of reading and the Scriptures led her to undertake a two-year biblical literacy course, which in turn led to her current MA studies in Theology. She is married to Grant and they have three children. She tweets @OurRachToo

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