271 of 308 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2012
I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master a couple of weeks ago. Quickly, I began reading it. I respect all that Rachel has done as a popular blogger and her willingness to be a voice for women and other people who are ignored and/or mistreated within broader Christianity. I had a hunch that this would be an enjoyable book to read and she did not fail me. It was excellent.
On Twitter I described it using these four words: fun, adventurous, challenging, and prophetic.
Aim of the Book:
If you are unaware of the aim of this book it is an effort to spend one calendar year trying to live according to various mandates in Scripture aimed at women. Some people find this blasphemous. I find it fits within the heart of the Christian tradition. Immediately as I began to read the book the words attributed to the apostle Peter in the Book of Acts 15.10 (NASB) came to mind: "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" Christianity has not disrespected Scripture by acknowledging that strict, literalistic approaches are overwhelming and impossible. Rather, Christianity has honored Scripture by acknowledging its perplexing, exhausting, weighty nature. Christianity has said that the mandates of Scripture direct us toward Christ, because we cannot bear the yoke of rules and regulations.
This book (like A.J. Jacob's A Year of Living Biblically) aims to make this very point with a smile.
Over the course of the year Rachel works on developing gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility (kind of), submission, charity, silence, and grace. I think the most wonderful aspect of this book is that while is exposes our pick-and-choose hermeneutic (and the blind selectivity of groups like the so-called Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) Rachel does an amazing job of (1) bringing forth the positive principles found behind the problematic passages of Scripture and (2) honoring women (and people in general) who have decided to live strictly in accordance with a more literalistic reading of various passages.
While reading this book I learned about Jewish women, Amish women, Roman Catholic monks, a community of Quakers, and so forth. I learned about the positive side of their stories. The healthy disciplines they develop. The attractive aspects of their spirituality that might benefit us all. I know that some with dismiss this book as a radical feminist slandering of all things that progressives deem archaic and out-of-touch. If this is your presupposition, you'll miss reading a great book. Rachel is very respectful. She realizes something my wife tells me often: there is no greater way to ruin women's solidarity and support of one another than to turn them against each other for choosing to live their lives differently.
This book invites the reader on a wild roller coaster where Rachel tries to cook like Martha Stewart, honor her husband at the "gate" of her city, dress according to the strictest standards of modesty one can find in Scripture, and on and on. This book had me smiling and laughing on numerous occasions.
It made me upset as well. Rachel has done her homework and she shares with her readers the worldview of some writers--men and women--who advocate "biblical womanhood" as a woman staying home, having a half dozen children, never going to college, never having a career, and living for her husband as a servant. While there may be women who find this to be fulfilling there are other women who have a sense that this is not the aim of their life. These authors attempt to guilt women into a model of womanhood that has nothing to do with ancient Israel or first century Galilee as much as it does everything to do with 1950's America. Rachel exposes this and she does it without being hostile. I must commend her on this because while I was reading excerpts from this or that author my face would turn red with anger. I cussed to myself on many occasions. What Rachel has done through this experiment is out done the legalist in their legalism!
Rachel's book does not mock Scripture; her book exposes our inconsistencies as readers of Scripture, our false objectivity (a mythological epistemology that needs to die), and our foundationless and often hypocritical piety. Rachel proves to be a better and more honest reader of Scripture than many people whom I have met with doctorates in the study of Scripture. She lets Scripture bother her. She lets it challenge her. I found her honestly about Scripture to be refreshing and she has become a fellow pilgrim in my own journey to understand this complex, concerning, beautiful book known as the Bible.
In this book Rachel puts flesh on the "redemptive hermeneutic" of Scripture (e.g., see W.J. Webb's Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis). In other words, she displays quite well how the Gospel provides a foundation for the flourishing of women even if there are passages in the Bible that seem to be oppressive. She reminds us of the respect Jesus showed women. She wrestles with the cultural contexts of some of Paul's words regarding women while drawing our attention back to his cornerstone claim that "in Christ" there is "neither male nor female." This book takes the Bible seriously, even if Rachel doesn't read the Bible like some people think she should read the Bible. (For what it is worth, my approach to Scripture is far more like Rachel's than it is conservative evangelicalism's.)
The Main Point:
The best part of this book was Rachel's (here comes a big word) "Christocentrism," which is encapsulated in what I consider to be the "money quote" of the book:
"As a Christian, my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar, mom on nineteen (p. 181)."
This is the main point: Christ calls women to be his disciples in this world. He leads them by his Spirit as he does men. This means some women may be stay at home mothers, and others may be CEOs. Some women may have a dozen children, and some may dedicate a life of singleness of Christ. Some women may organize the nursery on Sunday, and others may be preaching the sermons from pulpits. If I can put it this way, Rachel's book reminds me of the words of the apostle Paul (Romans 14.4): "Who are you to judge another man's servant?" If God calls woman to do something with which you are not comfortable her responsibility is to God.
Throughout the book the reader is introduced to Rachel's husband Dan through journal entries he wrote during the course of the book's development. Let me tell you something: Dan challenged me to be a better husband to my wife far more than any literature from Focus on the Family or Desiring God could ever do. Dan is the ultimate team player. He supports Rachel. I gain from the book that he makes Rachel a better person and she makes him a better person. One can critique egalitarian marriages, but the fruit of the Spirit seems to be blossoming in the midst of their relationship, so do what you will with that. As I read his thoughts he made me ask myself if I am doing all that I can do to help Miranda become all that God has made her and whether I have supported my wife in her giftedness. Someday I'd like to meet Dan, give him a bif handshake, and thank him for existing.
At the end of chapters Rachel provides short profiles on women from biblical narratives like Deborah, Rachel, Mary, Tabath, Junia, and more. As with the Gospel of Matthew's genealogy one realizes that God has done some of his greatest work quietly through humble women over history right under the nose of radically patriarchal cultures! Yes, Scripture focuses on males far more than females, but the quirk of this is that it is in the silent, humble side of Scripture that we find the story moving forward to its destination.
The most challenging and prophetic part of the book is the vision she casts for women. This book does not spend its time arguing over women pastoring (it assumes the legitimacy of this acts, as do I), nor does it give tons of attention to all the quirky injustices we find in the church regarding women, but rather Rachel opens the reader's eyes toward the global problems facing women: human trafficking, prostitution, abuse, abandonment, and so much more. She appeals to our calling as Christians to care for our sisters locally and globally. In her chapter on 'Justice' she reminds readers that feminism is not the stereotypes you hear on talk radio, but "the radical notion than women are people too." Women are not property. Women are not ontologically inferior to men. Women are equals to be valued, respected, honored, admired, and supported.
Humanity could not exist without women (and this is applicable to more than giving birth). Women are essential to the mission of the church. Women are essential to the health of humanity. If we don't invest in women we harm our present and our future.
I enjoyed this book. I recommend you read it. I presume that people who are sympathetic to Rachel's views on this or that are more likely to read it than those who oppose her. That is fine. But I do hope some who find themselves skeptical will take the risk of reading this book. I think you will find it isn't what you suspected (or what book reviewers for some coalition who claim to have a monopoly on the "Gospel" might say about it). This book exalts Christ, it honors the work of the Spirit, it respects Scripture, it challenges the church, and it serves as a prophetic voice in a world where women who are beloved by God wait for an advocate.
(Republished from my blog: [...]
126 of 141 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2013
In a book that has generated no small controversy, Rachel Held Evans pulls off something remarkable as she is able to be charming and punchy at the same time. Somehow she strikes a perfect balance between being acerbic, but approachable. Its no surprise that she has a massive following; her ability to evoke feelings of empathy is an admirable one.
But sometimes she displays an annoying habit (which is not unique to her alone) in that she seems to relish recalling her days as a benighted fundamentalist who was unwittingly bamboozled into a confounding belief system by a backwards upbringing. The point: we are meant to get the impression that she has come a long way down the road less traveled of theological sophistication. Allow me to rant on this a bit. While there is a healthy sense of wonder one can have upon reflecting on how much one has changed, there is something oddly self-serving about hastily re-imagining oneself as a paradigm example of closed-minded ignorance so as to set up a contrived contrast with the present, broad-minded self. I call this the `Frankie Schaeffer Syndrome', and it is a particularly obnoxious style of autobiography that seems to ail those who resent something about their Christian upbringing and write spiritual memoirs about it.
Why do I take time to point this out? Reading the autobiographical statements of Ronald L. Numbers in his seminal volume The Creationists, I noticed that while he now strongly disagrees with the teaching of his Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, he maintains a charitable and admirable respect for his past. This is no mere empty sentiment. It informs his posture towards his historical subjects and sets the stage for a fair representation that is recognized by all sides of the public debate over creation and evolution. How this is relevant to Evans is that deep down, I think she is more like Numbers than Schaeffer. So why does she write with the posture of the `Frankie Schaefer Syndrome?' I suppose it is more stylistically entertaining, but it detracts from the substance of her point. To this we now turn.
Evans is concerned that evangelicals are too liberal with their use of the word "biblical" to modify whatever subject they deem perfect and true. This is fair insofar as it goes, but when it comes to things like marriage and sexuality she is particularly exasperated with those who would deploy this word to "create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things." Well doesn't he? Anyone who reads the Bible and believes what it says might thinks so. So what's the problem?
The problem is that when it comes to determining what the Bible says, everyone "picks and chooses" texts that speak for the whole Bible while ignoring others. Hence, her project is meant to ridicule this state of affairs by taking every text that talks about women into account, no matter what the context, and putting them into practice. If it's between a leather-bound book cover with the words "Holy Bible" on it, it's "biblical."So Evans spent a year trying to abide by every text as literally as possible.
The product of her approach is her "Ten Commandments of Biblical Womanhood:"
1. Thou shalt submit to thy husband's will in all things. (Genesis 3:16, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:1, Ephesians 5:22, 1 Corinthians 11:3, Colossians 3:18)
2. Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home. (Proverbs 14:1, Proverbs 31:10-31, I Timothy 5:14, Titus 2:4-5).
3. Thou shalt mother. (Genesis 1:28, 1 Timothy 5:14, Psalm 127: 3-5, Psalm 128:3, Proverbs 31:3-5.)
4. Thou shalt have a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:3-4, Proverbs 11:22, Proverbs 19:13, Proverbs, Proverbs 21:9, Proverbs 27:15-16, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 2:22, 1 Timothy 3:11)
5. Thou shalt dress modestly. (Genesis 24:65, Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 2:8-10, 1 Peter 3:3).
6. Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer. (1 Corinthians 11:3-16)
7. Thou shalt not cut thy hair. (1 Corinthians 11:15)
8. Thou shalt not teach in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)
9. Thou shalt not gossip. (Numbers 12:1-10, Proverbs 26:20, 1 Timothy 5:13, 1 Timothy 3:14)
10. Thou shalt not have authority over a man. (1 Timothy 2:12)
One particularly puzzling application of hers comes from Proverbs 21:19 which says that it is better to live on the corner of a rooftop than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. To better foster in herself `a gentle and quiet spirit,' Evans makes a `swear jar' of sorts that she contributes pennies to for every negative thought or verbal complaint. Then, as penance, she spends time on the rooftop to `pay off' the debt in the swear jar. Why she interprets this verse as directed to the quarrelsome wife, and not the exasperated husband, as if it were a staple of "biblical womanhood" to spend time on the rooftop for being quarrelsome, makes little sense. Obviously, she was going for laughs here, but the joke is too haphazardly concocted to be funny.*
This is not to say that Evans is without wit as her contrast of Martha Stewart with the likes of Debi Pearl and Stacy MacDonald shows, "Sure, Martha can be a real stickler for doing things her way, but you don't hear her saying that you'll go to hell if you don't." Perhaps the warmest parts of the book are those that record her and Dan's conversations, not to mention his journal entries. The artificial hierarchy imposed upon on their marriage makes for a delightful awkwardness between what seems like a playful and tender couple.
Nor do I mean to say that all of her biblical interpretations are flat-footed. Her ruminations on the story of Mary and Martha are empowering as she freshly discerns the point of the story for those with tender consciences who have heard it time and time again.
The "ceremony" she holds for the Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:37-40) is a touching episode of lament over the the violence and oppression suffered by women in Scripture. She then insightfully links it to the violence and oppression suffered by Christ on the cross. The section on Proverbs 31 deserves a wide reading as she rightly understands that the passage was meant to be memorized by men so that they might find ways to praise their wives as "women of valor" or "wives of noble character." The fact that it has been used as a kind of checklist for women to measure themselves against is a tragic outcome of our pragmatic, `give me a list of things to do' evangelical culture. Evans encourages husbands to follow the practice of orthodox Jewish men who cry "Echet chayil!" (wife of noble character!) when their wives contribute their well-being and the good of the household. I can testify that this has been a enjoyable practice to imitate.
Yet her chapter on justice is the least substantive as she asserts, "Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another." This is a rather odd view of justice to take in light of the fact that her practical applications include purchasing only fair trade coffee and chocolate: "Who knew justice could be so delicious?" she writes. Yet the classic meaning of justice, which is to render that which a person is due, covers her concern for distributive justice (how goods should be distributed in some social order) and commutative justice (how goods are exchanged via legal contracts) just fine.
Why, then does she offer such a contrived view of justice? It is because she is influenced by the very interesting and provocative book Half the Sky by Kristoff and WuDunn, which insightfully argues that a society prospers insofar as its women prosper. The sort social interdependence at work in their thesis is what Evans has in view. But if this is the case, then I wonder why Evans failed to at least footnote the social of disaster of sex-selective abortion. One doesn't need to be a right-wing Southern Baptist to sense the travesty of such a practice; Mara Hvistendahl's Unnatural Selection is proof enough that the the injustice of this issue transcends the dichotomy of left and right. This would have at least related to the value of women which ought to be respected at all stages of life (why not draw attention to that in addition to the plight of cocoa farmers?).
This sets the stage for the most painfully ironic part of the book in which she says,
"I've watched congregations devote years and years to heated arguments about whether a female missionary should be allowed to share about her ministry on a Sunday morning, whether students older than ten should have female Sunday school teachers, whether girls should be encouraged to attend seminary, whether women should be permitted to collect the offering or write the church newsletter or make an announcement . . . all while thirty thousand children die every day from preventable disease. If that's not an adventure in missing the point, I don't know what is."
I can appreciate anyone who lampoons Wayne Grudem's list of approved activities in church for women (60 out of 83!), but why should anyone even read Evans' book if thirty thousand children die every day? This is supposed to be some sort of trump, but the fact that it comes from someone who took a year poke fun at the notion of "biblical womanhood" just cannot be taken seriously.
With that said, there are things to which Evans rightly draws our attention, particularly the scandalous treatment Jackie Roese suffered from her complementarian detractors. The first woman to preach a sermon at Irving Bible Church (near Dallas, TX) was counseled to hire a bodyguard after being told she was exemplifying "cancer in the Church," a "dangerous sign," and a "threat to Christianity." Evans's interview with Roese tells her side of the story with grace and dignity, and it leaves the reader with the impression of a woman who has learned how to love her enemies in the midst of her calling.
By the end of the book the reader gets the sense that Evans has run out of material for the project, because her last month of "biblical womanhood" has little to do with women in the Bible; her project is to bake some bread for an offering and celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Lev 23:23-24; Num 15:17-21; 29:1-6). Perhaps the takeaway here is that the Bible doesn't say that much about women, because it is more interested in telling us about what it means to be human.
So what are we to learn from Evans's year of 'biblical' womanhood? That the Bible is a complicated book and if we stick the word "biblical" in front of chosen topic, we are inevitably selective and ignore passages that make trouble for our favored opinion. As much as I can sympathize with this point, it is somewhat banal. Whenever one interprets Scripture, it is inevitable that one set of passages will be taken to interpret another set of passages. That's just part of the process of interpreting Scripture with Scripture, a time-honored hermeneutical practice if there ever was one. Calvinists, Arminians, and Open Theists do this, as do Complementarians and Egalitarians, as does anyone who is trying to hear the central message of the Bible. It is true that we come to the Bible looking for things we want to get out of it; I guess I am just more optimistic that one can hold those things in one hand and work objectively through a method of interpretation that "gets at" what the writer was trying to say.
A seminary professor of mine liked to distinguish between that which is "biblical" and that which is "biiiiblical." The former refers to what's between the bookcovers and the latter refers to what the point of the central message is supposed to be. The reason I think Evans's project doesn't amount to much (even though it was kind of fun) is because I think one can discern the content of the latter, that which is biiiiblical, and work hard to explain the disparate texts that are puzzling to us in a principled manner. Evans gives the impression that this isn't really possible, even though that is what she tries to do throughout her book when she reports the findings of her Bible studies on texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and Proverbs 31.
Another reason I push back on this point is because I am a believer in "biblical equality." I can relate with Evans a lot in that I was raised in a context of creationism, attended complementarian churches, and went to an inerrancy-affirming liberal arts college, but later found myself asking many of the same questions and experiencing many of the same doubts she describes in her earlier work. Maybe it is because I've published articles contending for an egalitarian view of gender roles, and have had to pay the price for that in my social contexts (albeit a small one), but I would hope that my cause transcends a mere statement of personal values, and aims at the normative truth and goodness of there being "no male and female" in God's economy (Galatians 3:28). I think Evans and I share this much, which is why I gently implore her to articulate to a higher view of hermeneutics; in many cases, she already practices what she should preach.
*Another error: Evans claims that if a woman was raped and her screams were heard by passersby, both the woman and her rapist would be put to death. But this is false: "only the man who has done this shall die" (Deut 22:25).
159 of 184 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2012
There are three things that stand out to me about this book:
1. There is nothing written in it that deviates from pre-existing evangelical Christian scholarship from an egalitarian perspective.
2. Rachel's project and book provide a creative and engaging point of entry into this difficult and controversial subject matter.
3. The writing is superb and vulnerable. My wife is quite critical of nonfiction books, and she loved it. I can't offer a better endorsement than hers!
In the days to come you're going to hear a lot of folks who are critical about Rachel's methods and conclusions, and I'd like to address both of them.
For starters, the method of the project struck me as a tool for both personally engaging with the relevant scriptures and for organizing the book as a whole. If you read the book, you'll find that she's simply trying to relate to all of the different ways that evangelicals have defined "biblical womanhood." She interviewed people from a variety of perspectives and dug deep into quite a bit of research that she tactfully weaves throughout the book. One moment you're laughing about the powdered sugar she burned on top of her apple pie and the next minute she's explaining the different historical interpretations of Proverbs 31 and the Hebrew behind it.
She uses the project's method as a way to help her both empathize with different perspectives and to deepen her reflections. In all fairness, the method of the project is also a clever way to market the book, but if that's all you see, then you're missing out.
As to Rachel's conclusions, I don't say this as a critique, but there's really nothing all that new in this book. You can dig up plenty of evangelical scholars who say that exact same thing as her. The beauty of this book is that Rachel makes the work of these scholars extremely accessible and personal. She is never flip or irreverent with her use of scripture, and throughout the pages you can sense the tensions caused by the Bible throughout her life. She lives the tension of which verses we choose to apply literally and which we chalk up to cultural differences.
Overall, the genius of Rachel's writing is that she can make complex theology both easy to understand and extremely personal. She opens up her life to readers in this book and shares her struggles with the theology behind biblical womanhood. That she's made so many care about our presuppositions about the roles of women is a tribute to her vulnerability, skill as a writer, and creativity.
NOTE: I received an advanced readers copy of this book to review.
124 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2012
I grew up hearing feminism blamed for "ruining God's plan for the family," not to mention ruining God's plan for homemade casseroles. As a female, God had laid out a very specific path for my life: scrubbing floors, raising babies and submitting to my husband...IN ALL things. For a very long time I was hesitant to pursue my individual talents because I was afraid it went against "God's plan" for my life. Which is to say, I've been a rather timid Christian feminist. Rachel's book made me PROUD to be a "woman of valor"--but NOT because Rachel rants and raves against the Bible but because she brilliantly illustrates the fallacy of "Biblical Womanhood" as it is preached about in evangelical circles.
Rachel does her research. This book is a living experiment of the "Berean" ideal. She searches deeply. She isn't satisfied with platitudes. Indeed, Rachel LIVES a year of Biblical Womanhood so precisely and specifically (right down to camping out during her PERIOD!) that I'd almost call her crazy--except, that's really the very point. The Biblical Womanhood that has been preached for thirty years--the Biblical Womanhood that I LIVED--really *is* crazy (and we didn't even camp out during our periods).
Mostly, the overwhelming feeling I have after reading this book is just sheer relief and gratitude. Rachel wrote the book that so many of us wished we had while growing up under "God-ordained" patriarchy. I am so very, very grateful to Rachel for honing in on this issue and pursuing truth with a will as strong as iron.
Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2014
In this memoir, Rachel Held Evans describes how she spent a year trying to live "biblically" as a woman. She tried to follow the Bible's instructions to women as "literally" as possible.
Evans is a little vague about why she did this. She notes that she has been accused of mocking God's Word, but doesn't respond to the criticism, except for saying that it made her doubt herself (p. 4). She seems to have undertaken the project as a way of demonstrating the foolishness of trying to follow the Bible exactly, and the inconsistency of those who try.
For example, the subtitle indicates how she called her husband "master". This comes from 1 Peter 3:5-6: " For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear."
Now, Evans has missed the point of the passage. Peter does not tell women to call their husbands "lord"; he tells them that they should have "the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" (v. 4), and to follow the example of the "holy women of the past". He then mentions a specific instance from the life of Sarah (Genesis 18:12), and says that women should be daughters of Sarah, not necessarily in calling their husbands "lord", but in "doing what is right and not giving way to fear".
Has Evans missed the point intentionally? Is she saying that the word "biblical" has no meaning and that we all pick and choose what verses of the Bible we want to obey? Well, the entire book revolves around this slippery use of the word "biblical".
Two examples of this slippery usage will suffice. Evans writes to a Jewish friend to get advice about following the Old Testament food laws. She notes that she didn't want to follow the rabbinic tradition, "after all, this was my year of living biblically, not my year of living Talmudically" (p. 157). But then, on the very next page, she decides to stick to all the dietary laws found in the Old Testament, including "no mixing of meat and dairy". Well, that's not in the Old Testament; that is merely a Jewish tradition. Does Evans not realise this? It appears she is confused about what is in the Bible and what isn't.
A second example of the slippery use of the word "biblical" is in Evans' discussion of female victims in the Bible. She refers to them as "victims of biblical misogyny" (p. 47). Here the word "biblical" appears to mean "described in the Bible". But the Bible certainly isn't approving of the actions of rapists like Amnon. Evans says that women like the Levite's concubine of Judges 19 were "crushed at the hand of patriarchy" (p. 66). But there is nothing in the text to suggest that "patriarchy" is to blame; indeed, in this particular case the woman could better be described as a "victim of anarchy".
In this, and in many other places, Evans fails to grasp the difference between an indicative and an imperative. Just because the Bible describes a particular action or practice, it doesn't mean that Christians are to copy the action or follow the practice. So when Evans notes that "advocates of biblical patriarchy" do not appear to be "taking multiple wives" (p. 52), she is both misreading the Bible and misunderstanding her opponents. The Bible tells lots of stories of polygamy, and none of them present the practice as worthy of emulation. Almost always some trouble comes out of it. And even if we were to say that it was still allowed today, it doesn't follow that we should be doing it. You may believe, for example, that ("biblical") slavery could still be practised today, but it doesn't follow that to be "consistent" you should take some slaves yourself.
It's this very issue of consistency that Evans seems to be exploring in this book, but she fails to demonstrate that anyone is being inconsistent. Time and again, she mentions various "opponents" (my word, not hers), but evidently has not grasped the reasons for or the implications of her opponents' views. Sometimes she makes totally unfounded accusations, such as saying that "those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories" (p. 66). Evans also fails to grasp the history of interpretation of the Old Testament throughout the history of the Christian Church. Mainstream Christianity has never said that we should adopt Old Testament practices completely. In this way, Evans is responding to a straw man.
Evans also lacks hermeneutical sensitivity: a number of times she engages in a "flat" reading of the text. Her statement that a man's "procreative prowess is listed by the writers of Scripture as one of his most worthy virtues" (p. 58) is an obvious misreading, while her comment that "Jesus showed little regard for the Levitical purity codes" (p. 169) fails to take into account that Jesus told the healed leper to go to the priest (Mark 1:44) in obedience to Leviticus 14.
Thus, throughout A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans misinterprets Scripture, in failing to properly understand and apply the Old Testament. She misunderstands the people to whom she is (presumably) responding, especially those in the "biblical womanhood" movement. And she misuses key words, such as "biblical" and "literal".
Evans explicitly identifies herself as feminist. I think it is also fair to describe her as "post-evangelical", though she doesn't use that phrase. Not only does Evans show a defective interpretation of Scripture, she also has a defective view of it. She talks about "how insufferable I found the apostle Paul's rambling prose" (p. 121). She rejects the unity of Scripture, referring to the Bible's "cacophony of voices" (p. 294). This leads her to reject a unified concept of what it means for anything to be "biblical".
It should be noted that there are some good exegetical insights in this book. I appreciated her description of the militaristic language of Proverbs 31 (p. 76), and her comment that "most of the Bible's instructions regarding modesty find their context in warning about materialism, not sexuality" (p. 128). It was also very encouraging to read how the project exposed her and her husband's prejudices, particularly in regards to conservative Christians (p. 130).
Evans is strongly egalitarian in regards to male-female relationships. She notes that she undertook this project "looking for permission" to lead and speak (p. 296). She concludes by affirming that her calling "is the same as that of any other follower of Jesus" (p. 295). And yet the entire project revolved around assuming (pretending? modelling?) a hierarchical marriage relationship (p. 302). Is that what Evans thought was biblical? Presumably not - the book seems to present a reductio ad absurdam argument. Evans is attempting to show that it's either (a) not really in the Bible, or (b) irrelevant for modern-day Christians.
Thus, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is almost wholly ironic. In this way, Evans is a clear example of what happens when evangelicals embrace postmodernism.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2012
I ordered this book because of the author's witty blog, and really didn't know what I was in for. Her writing is engaging and fun. Sure, as a theological conservative, I was a bit unnerved at some of the early parts of the book, and for that matter, some of the endorsers of her book. But I am, unfortunately, one of those oddball women who have felt called to preach (or prophesy with my head covered if I must) and so I was curious where the book would go. What I found was an endearing adventure. I don't agree with all of her theology; I don't need to. But the book was a fun, and even informative, exploration of the Biblical take on womanhood. The grace and humor that she uses, her transparency when she admits to finding herself in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, even the self deprecating charm, creates an atmosphere of hospitality that invites us to examine our own prejudices and insecurities of who each of us are, or thinks that we should be, as women. Read the book. Enjoy it. And relax, because Jesus will still love you afterward. Maybe you will even love yourself a little bit more! We are Eshet Chayil!
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2012
I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher.
When Rachel announced this project on her blog, I thought that it seemed a little bit too close to A.J. Jacobs's "The Year of Living Biblically" to fully engage me. Some gimmicky things like dressing in a very modest manner, renting a computer baby, or being a literal Proverbs 31 woman. I love Rachel's writing, so I knew that I would enjoy her story-telling, but I figured this would be one that I'd read, and then it would likely sit on my shelf beside the Jacobs book.
I was so very wrong.
Of course Rachel's writing was simply amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, and in this one, her writing has only improved. She touches on all emotions, and I found myself alternately laughing, crying, and fist-pumping my way through each chapter. She is an amazing wordsmith and this book is a testament to that.
And certainly Rachel did the gimmicky things, but they were not what this book was about and anyone who stops there is missing out on the richness and beauty that is contained in these pages.
Rachel spent a month in skirts and headcoverings, but she also spent a month examining some of her own biases related to the way that women dress.
Rachel spent a weekend with Chip, her computer son, figuring out if someone who can't multi-task can be a good mother, but she discovered that what some might consider a hindrance could benefit her in her own style of parenting.
Rachel spent a month trying to live like the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, but discovered that valor could be found in a group of women choosing to give their time to help a friend or by being a wife who knows her limits and does what is best for HER home.
Over and over in this book, Rachel shares with us how the perceptions that we have of what it means to be biblical are far more a product of our culture and selective reading of the Scripture than anything else. However she says it in a way that is not condemning, but instead empowers both women and for men to be the unique people God created them to be, not the people that they think they are supposed to be based on someone else's interpretation of their roles.
Rachel's year is impacted by the numerous people that she meets, and these encounters can leave the reader as changed as Rachel clearly is. Additionally, there are snippets from Rachel's husband Dan's journal scattered throughout the chapters, each one giving a fuller insight into how this impacted their marriage.
For those who thought that they got the whole story based on Rachel's blog posts, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to read the book. The depth that is added to the stories that can be read at her blog cannot be overstated. Again, I was taken aback at just how much more insight we were privy to in the pages of this book.
"Feminist" is a title that I sometimes wear with trepidation as a 38 year old Christian woman and mother of four, but after reading this book, I will always wear it with pride. Eshet chayil, Rachel!
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2012
I have to admit when I first heard about this project quite a few months ago I thought the whole premise was a bit crazy. It was something sensational about addressing men and sleeping in a tent that had been overblown in the media. I also hold very strong feelings about evangelical theology, complementarianism (gender roles) and a woman's calling for ministry. I will admit that before reading the book I had some preconceived notions about the whole premise, so I sympathize with readers who might feel the same way. But the idea intrigued me. So I gave it a chance and I found myself alternately laughing, shedding a few tears, and really critically thinking about the views that I hold and why I hold them. I learned a lot from this book and I highly recommend it. Put aside your assumptions and be prepared to be surprised.
As a woman preparing for ordination in a mainline Protestant denomination I am forever confronting stereotypes of what women should and should not be doing in the church. I know that I am blessed to be able to follow my call and feel deeply for my sisters in Christ whose voices are silenced in public ministry because of their gender. The quote that sticks with me from this book pertains to calling:
Rachel Held Evans writes, "A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one's soul, transcends roles...My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself...If love was Jesus' definition of `biblical,' then perhaps it should be mine." (295)
Being a Christian woman is NOT about following a certain set of behaviors, advocating an ideal that does not exist, and living up to the expectations of others. It is about love for one's self, for one's family and community, and for Christ.
If you are looking for a book that prescribes, reinforces, or advocates some ideal of biblical womanhood or rigid gender roles, you will be disappointed. This is not a how-to book for how to live as a woman according to biblical precepts. If you are looking for a book that will challenge, inspire, and upend some of your assumptions of "biblical womanhood," you will love this book. Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as "Biblical Womanhood." Held Evans skillfully combines candid reflections on her project with journal entries from her husband Dan, as well as profiles of female characters in scripture, interspersed with the most intriguing biblical commentary that I have read to date (and as a seminarian, I read a lot of commentary). Rachel Held Evans manages to critically examine biblical texts while still honoring the spectrum of women's experience and we all come away better for her "experiment" in living biblically.
I recommend this book to any woman who has ever struggled with her role in this world, anyone who loves those women, and any pastor or ministry leader who works with those women.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2013
It's all right when she talks about what is obviously her first love, the role of women in the Bible. But the year she spent was more about being an upper-class white woman than living Biblically, focusing on things like Martha Stewart and cooking, social justice, and some arbitrary stunts like sitting on top of her house. I didn't get the sense that she had any real consistent idea of what Biblical womanhood was to argue against. That there was no real unifying ethic, even negative, for her to live and explore.
Adding links at the end of each chapter to her blog is a bit annoying for people reading it on e-ink Kindles, and she seems to fall to pieces a bit too much. I know she's being self-deprecating and ordinarily I wouldn't mind, but it hurts her because you wonder how on earth she survives in life if cooking can stress her out so.
The teaching aspects aren't bad, if that's your thing. The whole "year of Biblical Womanhood" though isn't, and seems a bit too arbitrary to make for a good book.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2012
It was with more than fair share of trepidation that I agreed to take a look at Rachel Held Evans latest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
Everything I had seen and read about it -- which was plenty -- gave me anxiety attacks. I like Rachel. Her book about growing up a woman of faith in Dayton, Tn -- Evolving in Monkey Town -- was a stellar debut. Smart. Insightful. Full of wisdom and personality.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood looked cheesy to me. A bad take-off on A.J. Jacob's hilariously funny and terrifically compelling book The Year of Living Biblically. It felt a little bit like when I pass those street vendors in D.C. hawking fake Coach purses. Walk faster. Ignore them.
I was kind of disappointed that Rachel, who possesses enormous talent, had not taken on a project more worthy of her abilities.
But that was before I actually sat down and read the book.
Here's my disclaimer: I have steered clear of all the lofty theological debates about Rachel's book. While I did see some of the criticisms aimed at Rachel, I simply don't have the time, desire or energy to bicker about such matters. I was taught early on to ignore both the flattery and criticisms and to just keep writing. If you get the big-head from the flattery, you're going to get the down-in-the-dumps from the criticisms.
Public opinion can mess with a writer's mind.
Public opinion can make a writer miserable.
I try to stick to writing the truth as I know it and that seems to me to be exactly what Rachel Held Evans has done in A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
Yes. It's a little cheesy.
Yes. It's a little gimmicky.
And yes, Rachel herself went on national television and admitted that she copied the idea from A.J. Jacob's.
Still, the book is insightful. It is smart. It is funny. Rachel's delightfully quirky personality shines through the writing. Consider her discussion about Christians & marriage bed: "I hadn't found much else to do for the project this month, so, in the spirit of mutuality, I took a piece of bright red construction paper and made Dan a "SEX ANYTIME" coupon for Valentine's Day (along with some other coupons that shall remain undisclosed on account of the fact that my mother will read this book.)
Mutuality is the theme of the book, and that is a discussion worth pursuing. I will admit to being spoiled in this arena. Like Rachel, I have married a man who sees me as his equal, his partner. I never feel less than in his presence and often feel more than I really am.
That said, I've been a member of a church where women were relegated to the role of being lesser than. I didn't last long in the community as I wrote about in Where's Your Jesus Now?
But this notion that women are lesser than isn't a problem just for the church. One of the most sexist places I ever worked was a newsroom (in the Pacific Northwest, mind you). I've worked alongside a couple of men who thought it was their God-given right to demean me. And for several years, I allowed that.
Until I learned better.
Until I expected better.
Rachel's season at Biblical Womanhood is simply an exercise to get us to think about why we've been so willing as women to accept the too-oft demeaning position that has been thrust upon us over the course of history.
It is the perfect antidote to David Murrow's staggeringly mind-numbing What Your Husband Isn't Telling You.
Talk about your poisoned Kool-Aid. Murrow's book fills the troths.
Rachel gives us permission to laugh at ourselves, while encouraging us to consider the stereotypes that are harmful to all of us. And any relationship where we are harming each other is not Christ-centered.
This is a book every man should read, and every woman will want to.
I'm giving away my copy to the first man who tells me why he needs to read it.