Book Review: With the Master in the School of Tested Faith by Susan Heck


Women who write Bible studies for women are in high demand these days.  It seems that every time I visit our local Christian retailer there is a new, “insightful,” “life-changing,” Bible study written specifically for women.  I have participated in many of these studies.  Some are better than others. However, after attending one frustrating (to me) lesson after another I finally learned that a popular Bible study does not always make for a “life-changing” Bible study.  In fact, you could question whether the Bible was really studied at all.  At the end of many so-called Bible studies I have learned far more about the author of the study than God and His Word or how my life needs to change in order to follow Him more closely.  This is not the case with Susan Heck’s With the Master series, and that is why it thrills me to introduce you to her first installment, With the Master in the School of Tested Faith, A Ladies’ Bible Study of the Epistle of James.

What makes this study stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, in my opinion?  First, this is an expository study through the book of James.  Heck moves verse-by-verse through each chapter, carefully teaching and guiding the reader to understand what God is saying through James.  It is not a topical study, though Heck covers the topics that James discusses in his letter.  It is not about developing a certain trait, even though Heck covers the many characteristics which ought to mark believers because James discusses them in his letter.  Heck only draws out what James put in his letter.  She remains faithful to the text, sharing Greek words and meanings, cross-references, and relevant cultural issues.

Secondly, while Heck includes personal stories, she does not over-do it, nor does she share stories in an effort to elicit an emotional response (one aspect of women’s studies I have disliked).   What she does share is succinct and to the point, showing exactly how it relates to what James is writing and why it’s important to the reader.

Thirdly, Heck’s desire to see women grow in faith and in God’s Word is evident in the emphasis she places on memorizing scripture and in the questions she asks for further consideration.  The student of this study will read the book of James over and over again throughout the time of the study.  She will know his letter backwards and forwards.  Furthermore, if she doesn’t memorize the entire book, she will have memorized at least 35 of its verses.  Her questions at the end of each chapter are hard rather than soft, but don’t let that discourage you from doing it.   By hard, I mean to say that she doesn’t ask for how a verse makes one feel.  Rather, she asks what a verse means, what it teaches, how does your life measure up, and what will you do differently.  Though this is a study of James, Heck leads the reader through several books of the Bible, cross-referencing and drawing parallels.  She asks for the reader to list words, search for answers in God’s word, and read her Bible.  There are no fill-in-the-blank questions.

A list of chapter titles will help give an idea of the study’s organization and contents:

Counting Our Trials With Joy–James 1:1-4

Say Yes to Wisdom – No to Wavering–James 1:5-8

Rich Man, Poor Man–James 1:9-11

Temptations: Where Do They Come From?–James 1:12-15

The Greatest Gift of All–James 1:16-18

How to Respond to God’s Word–James 1:19-21

Hear, Do, and Be Blessed–James 1:22-25

The Test of True Religion–James 1:26-27

Test of Brotherly Love–James 2:1-5

Fulfilling the Royal Law–James 2:6-13

Test of Good Works–James 2:14-20

Abraham and Rahab: Examples of Living Faith–James 2:21-26

The Danger of The Tongue!–James 3:1-6

Gaining Victory Over the Tongue!–James 3:7-12

Wisdom – From Above or From Below–James 3:13-18

Wars and Worldliness–James 4:1-4

The Remedy for Worldliness–James 4:5-10

The Danger of Slander!–James 4:11-12

To Plan or Not to Plan?–James 4:13-17

Warnings to the Rich–James 5:1-6

The Patience of Job–James 5:7-11

Being a Woman of Your Word–James 5:12

Becoming a Woman of Prayer–James 5:13-18

A Call to Salvation–James 5:19-20

She follows it all up with a postscript which includes a final test for each chapter of James.  “Since the Epistle of James is a series of tests to test our faith, I will now give you a test–teachers have the prerogative to administer tests, right?”  These questions are not the same ones at the end of the chapters.  These are more specific, direct questions.  The kind of questions that make me squirm in my self-righteousness.

Tested Faith is a challenging, and, dare I say it, “life-changing,” women’s Bible study.  I say “life-changing,” not because of Susan Heck, though her book is excellent, but because the book of James is so piercing.  I came away from it feeling like I had been beaten up one side and down the other.  James doesn’t pull any punches, so Heck doesn’t either.  She makes no attempt to dull the sword of God’s Word.  Each chapter is one spiritual test after another.  Though my times with God during this study didn’t give me warm fuzzies every day, He did bring my attention to a great many things that I was neglecting or were just wrong in my life.  She may never be the most popular, but Susan Heck has filled the vacuum of solid Bible studies for women.  I am so thankful for this Bible study and I am very happy to recommend it.

To learn more about Susan Heck and the With the Master series, visit With the Master.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: With the Master in the School of Tested Faith by Susan Heck

  1. I will definitely have to check this one out…and your review itself has given me much to ponder as I seek the Lord’s will concerning my group’s winter Bible study. I am realizing maybe I haven’t been as discerning as I ought? Much food for thought–thanks!

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  2. Like Lisa, you have given me “much to ponder as I seek the Lord” will” concerning future studies for the ladies in our church. I appreciate the great amount of details you provide in reviewing a study or book. They are extremely helpful and valuable.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to review this Leslie. It sounds like it really is a ‘Bible study’, ie. looks at what the Bible has to say. I’ll have to look for it now!

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  4. Sounds like a decent bible study. We did one on James not that long ago, but the name of the author escapes me….Sinclair Ferguson? Can’t remember, but it was really good too.

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  5. This is why you told me to read the book of James (and I quote you) “because he gets all up in your business). =) Am I right?I’m on a committee that helps organize our church’s ladies Bible studies – I am going to look into this as a potential tool.BTW, I really like your new layout!

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  6. Oh wow! You’ve changed your look again! It’s beautiful! : ) Thanks for sharing on this, Leslie!!! I definitely want to check this out! I’m not much on some of the women bible study books…I don’t know why, but this one actually sounds like it’s more my style!!!

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  7. So well written, Leslie! I always enjoy seeing what new reads you’re reviewing! Thanks again!p.s. I just finally finished my first ‘carols’ study today- come and check it out!

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  8. Hi Leslie, I read your review on discerning reader and I am considering using Susan Heck’s Bible study for our missionary women in Australia. Could you tell me how much “homework” or prep work is rewuired each day? Between your review and MAtha Peace’s this sounds like the study I’ve been looking for. Thanks for your feedback.

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  9. This bible study has given me much to ponder as well. Unlike the other comments posted, I’m finding it a bit concerning. As I approached this study, reading the back of the book and the comment about “emotions tickled with sappy illustrations”, a red flag went up….judgmental/critical?..possibly. Then after reading Susan’s comments on page 38, second paragraph regarding the woman who is unstable in all her ways….I thought Whoa…and I went to the Lord in prayer and then to His word to find out how these comments stand up against Gods word. Specifically, “This person’s whole life is affected to the point where she finally abandons herself to living in hypocrisy and in open sin” as well as her comment that “This is someone you should probably remove yourself from”. I ask, where does James direct us in this manner…I find that he doesn’t. Also, where else in Gods word does he direct us in this way, and again I found no scripture backing this directive. Therefore, according to Gods Word, I find her personal opinion/directive and response to be not of Godly character.Romans 2:1-4…I ponder these verses and reflect how many times I have had to confess my sin of unbelief and ask God to help me believe….only to have Him faithfully provide. Where would I be today if the Christians that God has put in my life to minister to me, chose to have nothing to do with me because of my doubt or instability in certain trials. Is not the Psalms full of David questioning God and struggling to believe God is in the midst of his trials? Psalm 10, Psalm 13… I found that the only directives in Gods word to remove ourselves from someone is in the case of a professing believer in the midst of immoral behavior (1Cor5:1-13, idleness (2Thes3:14-15) and blaspheme (1Tim1:18-20) and in those situations God directs us to cast them out to satan, for their salvation, in love. And in Gal 6:1-2 Paul directs us how to respond to someone caught in sin, we are to restore him gently but to watch yourself or we may be tempted…..vs 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. How Susan made the leap to this “unstable person” being doomed to living a life of hypocrisy and that we should remove ourselves from her really leaves alot of room for questioning her teaching. If this is truly verse by verse, how does this fit with James’ teaching or with Gods truth? I close with Acts 17:11, Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.Be discerning my dear sisters in Christ.In Christ Love, Korine

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