Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: The Envy of Eve by Melissa B. Kruger

A few weeks ago, Christian Focus Publications provided me with a copy of Melissa B. Kruger’s recent book, The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World, giving me the opportunity to participate in the book’s Blog Tour. I am grateful for the opportunity and excited to share this excellent book with readers of A Wonderful Providence.

            Melissa Kruger serves as Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church (PCA) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her book emerged from years of daily Bible study and prayer stretching back to her teen years, and as I read the book, it was easy to believe that her insights are the fruit of many years spent steeped in the Word. The book also contains plenty of helpful quotations from Reformed confessions and Puritan authors; it was refreshing to read an author who has been formed by the best of her tradition and writes in conversation with it.

            The nucleus for The Envy of Eve was Kruger’s recognition that gaining desired objects or goals did not lead to contentment in her lifean experience she found echoed in the life of woman after woman she talked with. While she found plenty of material written about the sin of idolatry, she observed that little has been written about the covetous desires that lead to idolatry—or about the unbelief that lies at the heart of covetousness. The goal of her book is to help women put off covetous patterns in their lives and put on the contentment that can only be found in Christ.

            The first part of the book, chapters 1–4, explores the nature of coveting. Kruger is careful to explain that greatly desiring something is not the same as coveting. Biblically, coveting is “an inordinate or culpable desire to possess, often that which belongs to another” (24). It is a sin pattern of the heart, not a set of outward circumstances. In fact, the root of coveting is unbelief in God’s goodness and sovereignty: “Essentially, our coveting accuses God of a failure to reign well over the events in our lives” (56). Coveting also reveals false beliefs about our purpose—true fulfillment is only found in relationship with our heavenly Father, not through our marriage, children, possessions, or job. Drawing on the examples of Eve in the garden and Achan in the book of Joshua, Kruger outlines the pattern of coveting she finds reflected in many biblical texts—the one who covets sees (the desired object), covets (seeing becomes mixed with unbelief), takes (from others and from God), and hides (often barring one from enjoying God’s gifts or one's relationships with others). But once this sinful pattern is recognized in our own lives, what can be done? Kruger beautifully shows how the cross of Christ gives power over the sin of coveting. The pattern is not broken by willpower alone. It is only overcome when we cultivate hunger for the pattern-breaker Himself. By His power living in us, we put on a new pattern of belief to replace the sinful pattern of unbelief: we learn to seek the Lord, desire rightly, give generously, and confess freely.

            The second half of the book (chapters 5–9) examines five areas in which women often struggle with covetous desires, including money and possessions, romantic relationships, and giftedness and abilities. Each chapter is grounded on a biblical example and gives practical counsel on how to replace covetous patterns with pursuit of the Lord. I found each of them to be wise, relatable, humbling, and encouraging. However, I’d like to focus on two chapters in particular that touched me deeply and which I hope will encourage you to pick up Kruger’s book for yourself.

            In Chapter 7, “Coveting within Family and Friendship,” Kruger focuses on relational coveting, which can arise when we wrongly try to have our needs met and our identities secured through relationships with family, friends, or mentors instead of through Christ. She points out that women can so easily observe relationships around them (something made easier through media like Facebook) and believe that others are experiencing fullness of life while her own relationships are mired in frustration (182)—“Many women are a bit of an Anne Shirley, waiting and longing for a kindred spirit to come into her life and fill her relationally.” I confess that in many ways, this has been the story of my life! While there is nothing wrong with longing for the gift of intimate friendship, the desire can turn idolatrous when it fosters discontentment, bitterness, and covetousness. In addition, this “comparison game” is based on an incomplete picture of others’ relationships and is preoccupied with what we can gain from others instead of how we can serve them. It fails to account for the effects of the Fall on every human relationship, and the fact that relationship with the Lord alone—finding satisfaction in Him and entrusting all of our other relationships to His provision—can truly fulfill. “[A woman seeking Christ] is secure enough in her relationship with Christ that she does not cling to the friendship, but rather treasures the friend.” (192)

            Drawing on the story of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert, Chapter 8, “Coveting Seasons and Circumstances,” focuses on coveting life-stages different from our own. This, too, resonated painfully with me, as I have daily envied stages other than my own grad-student circumstances, imagining that if only I can get what I want, I will find abiding joy and purpose. Kruger counsels, “Whenever we are in a particular season [singleness, childlessness, motherhood, etc.], it is always easy to see the benefits of another woman’s season of life, while failing to consider or remember the struggles…Our coveting in this area demonstrates how firmly we believe in the promises of this world” rather than in the promises of God, who ordains every season in our lives toward the end of making us more like His Son (206–207). Again, it is presumptuous to assume that we see the full story of what God is weaving together in any person’s life. “When we covet in these circumstantial events, we are trusting in our own definition of goodness, rather than entrusting our lives to Him who works all things for our good.” (208–209) When we covet in this way, we also tend to isolate ourselves from friendship with women in other seasons of life, or to view them as means of measuring God’s goodness to us instead of learning to love them well. Contentment only comes when we believe and rest in God’s providential control of every circumstance.

            The goal of The Envy of Eve is not simply to reveal the sin in our hearts, but above all to recognize our overwhelming need for Jesus Christ. Only by cultivating a deeper affection for Him will we be able to let go of the vain promises of the world. The wonderful achievement of Kruger’s book is that it truly makes one hunger for time spent in Scripture, drinking deeply of God’s promises. I genuinely looked forward to starting each chapter because, while Kruger pulls no punches and drew me to repentance many times, she never left me wallowing in guilt: I was repeatedly pointed to the victory of the Cross and reminded that pursuit of Christ alone will transform my affections and bring contentment.

          For that reason, I happily recommend this book to my sisters in Christ. I believe you will find it both humbling and deeply hopeful. I thank the Lord for the gifts He has given Melissa Kruger, and I am grateful for Melissa’s willingness to use them to build up the Church.

Edited to add: Check out my friend Coralie's review of the book by clicking here!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Semester 2012: Check!

For those who haven't heard, I wanted to officially post that, as of May 14, I completed my last semester of regular coursework. In the past few days, I also received word that I passed both my Greek and comprehensive exams, meaning that I was able to get through everything I'd aimed to accomplish this semester in order to be free and clear to pursue dissertation work. I am very relieved. I'm also thankful for the loving support of my husband, family, friends, and academic colleagues, without whom I'm sure I couldn't have done it.

Right now, I'm having a break for a couple of weeks. In June, I'll start transitioning into research mode. It will look a bit different from anything I've done so far because it will be more self-structured. I think I need to expect some trial and error in figuring out how I work best without someone else handing me a syllabus. (I mean, subtracting the two years in Berkeley, I have been taking classes for twenty-two years of my life!) But I'm generally looking forward to it, and my goal for the summer is to complete a draft of my dissertation proposal so that I can, I hope, get my topic formally approved in the fall.

This is the stage I've worked toward for many years, so it's really pretty exciting. My school is essentially saying, "You no longer need to pass exams or attend seminars or write papers to prove that you're capable of scholarly work." I can tell you that I have my own doubts, but I've really no choice but to take their word for it! I also know that, for all that the past four semesters has been a trial by fire (it has honestly felt like a series of hazing rituals at times!), the next step, of writing my own book, is going to be even more daunting in some ways.

But I'm very glad to be here, and again, I'm thankful to everyone who has helped make it possible for me to pursue this work, including praying me through this especially difficult semester. I love and appreciate each of you very much!