Brief Book Review: Claiming the Call to Preach

Claiming the Call to Preach:
Four Female Pioneers of Preaching in Nineteenth-Century America
By Donna Giver-Johnston

What’s the main point? Donna Giver-Johnston uses the hermeneutical framework of feminist scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza to focus on the experience of nineteenth-century American women who claimed the call to preach. The author examines the ways in which their call was shaped by their social, cultural and religious location and suggests how the experiences of these women can inform the conversation in the twenty-first century about women’s call to preach.

Why is this book significant? It urges Christian communities to listen anew to the actual experiences of women and honor their claim of the call to preach.

What will most inspire you? The fascinating and powerful call narratives of Jarena Lee, Frances Willard, Louisa Woosley, and Florence Speaking Randolph. They were women who acted with wisdom, courage and perseverance.  Thank you, Donna Giver-Johnston, for telling their stories.

Kudos. The author skillfully draws upon history, theology, practice and stories of struggle and success. She weaves together various threads, which makes this book a compelling read and one that invites reflection and discussion in both academic and pastoral circles.

Next steps. Giver-Johnston writes that through this volume, she hopes to “extend the conversation and enliven the dance.” This is a remarkable invitation. We need to listen to the stories of women who know the call to preach and lift up these narratives to inspire and persuade and we need to provide avenues for people to encounter the Mystery of Christ in the stories and preaching of women. We have for too long overlooked these call narratives and the vital need for the voices of women who are called to preach to be heard.

Giver-Johnson, Donna. Claiming the Call to Preach: Four Female Pioneers of Preaching in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. 321 pages. $99.00. ISBN: 9780197576373.

REVIEWER: Anne Koester
Anne Koester is Senior Compliance Specialist,
Protection of Minors Policy Manager,
and Adjunct Instructor of Theology at
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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