A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Review

A-year-of-biblical-womanhood-bookJust over a year ago, popular blogger and speaker, Rachel Held Evans, released her second book to date, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  Here blog can be found at www.rachelheldevans.com.

I know I’m a little late to the game with both reading and reviewing the book. This was mainly due to the fact that I’m already well convinced that God’s kingdom rule functions from the perspective of mutuality between men and women (what most call egalitarianism). However, I did read many of the early book reviews and comments (from both “sides” of the fence), and I just recently found a good time to purchase the book, as it was available for $2.99 in the Kindle format a few weeks back.

Thus, I’ll share some reflections after reading the book.

Overall, I would summarize the book’s thesis as this: Rachel Held Evans challenges the typical way in which many Christians utilize the word biblical as an adjective, especially when attaching it to another intriguing word, womanhood.

This, my friends, is the big discussion-debate. What is biblical womanhood?

Accordingly, the way in which many Christians employ the expression “biblical womanhood” is taken to task from early on in her introduction. Held Evans offers these words:

Now, we evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like its Martin Luther’s middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own. Despite insistent claims that we dont pick and choose what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity. (xix)

Of course, in many ways, we can assert that God has thoughts about such things as economics, marriage, sexuality, politics, etc. But no one group holds the corner-market on these issues. And this is true if we were to only look to the Bible to form our thoughts on these topics.

With regards to biblical womanhood, Held Evans reminds us:

After all, technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), biblical for her to cover her her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of multiple wives (Exodus 21:10). (xix)

Of course, many understand the Christocentric approach to Scripture. This is the practice of reading the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. However, we forget there are plenty of interesting passages found within the New Testament that remind us that developing a biblical theology (alone) about a particular topic might not always yield the fruit we so desire.

This is why we are certain that head coverings, foot washing, slavery and other such aspects are not required. Actually, we even denote slavery as appalling action in the sight of God, though at one point some Christians quoted certain Bible passages, both in the Old and New Testaments, to support the practice of slavery.

And there is a lot to learn in the discussion around women’s roles in light of our rethinking of slavery over the past two centuries.

Forming a healthy theology in line with the kingdom rule of God does not itself stop with the Bible. It begins there. But it does not stop there. This is why I believe something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral offers a more holistic approach to forming sound theology. We look to Scripture, church tradition (or history if the word tradition scares you), reason and experience, rather than only Scripture. And I’d argue this has been the approach of the church historic.

How does Rachel Held Evans mainly accomplish her point of challenging the more complementarian approach to “biblical womanhood”?

Rachel-Evans-ProjectIt’s through the literary device known as satire. It’s quite evident that Evans is a clever writer, though she also holds her own while engaging in solid biblical theology. But what satire does is it utilizes humor, irony and exaggerations to make a point.

So, with “biblical womanhood,” the project asks this question: What would happen if we tried to obey each and every biblical instruction for women?

Obviously, living in a western culture, rather than eastern, and living many millennia after the time when Scripture was written, some of Held Evans’ actions probably aren’t exactly the way they would have been done in an ancient Jewish culture – creating a swear jar, camping out in a tent in her yard when on her period, praising her husband with a poster at the town line of Dayton, etc.

But the point was well taken.

And because it was in the form of satire, I did actually find myself chuckling out loud a few times. It is good to laugh and it’s good when we are reminded that God laughs with us.

Still, there were two very important contributions I took away from A Year of Biblical Womanhood:

1) The Proverbs 31 Woman

Many turn to Proverbs 31 as the ideal for what a woman should be like. But, in actuality, Proverbs 31 does not describe an actual woman that existed. As far as we can tell, no woman in Scripture met that standard. Still, this woman stands tall within the “biblical womanhood” culture, looming over every woman, calling out that this is who God has created you to be.

And Held Evans comments honestly about her “relationship” with this woman:

Our friendship was doomed from the start, really, because the two of us have nothing in common. The Proverbs 31 woman has children; I don’t. She is rich; I drive a 94 Plymouth Acclaim. She loves to work with her hands; I can’t make a row of stitches without dropping one. And worst of all, the Proverbs 31 woman is a morning person, and I am most assuredly not. (p82)

Consequently, Held Evans remarks in a way we’d expect from just about every other woman on planet earth:

In less than 14 days, the Proverbs 31 woman had made me feel guilty, inadequate, and poor. (p85)

And that is just it. This ancient, near eastern, Hebrew woman was not meant to be the flawless example of what a “biblical” woman was to be. Rather, as Held Evans notes, not just from her own personal perspective but also from engaging with solid biblical scholars, this Proverbs 31 passage is actually a wisdom poem that celebrated women in general.

Even more, Held Evans’ Jewish (non-Christian) friend, Ahava, helps her discover an important practice among the Jews concerning Proverbs 31. It is not Jewish women who commit Proverbs 31 to memory. It is the men. The men recite this poem to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song. It’s something celebrated in each home. Thus, each wife, in their own unique way, is celebrated as a woman of valor, a virtuous woman. Whether married or unmarried, whether Jew or Gentile, whether black or brown or white, whether bearing children or not, each woman deserves the blessing of Eshet chayil!

2) The Larger Hermeneutic Contribution

I’ve mentioned the word already – hermeneutics. It’s a big, nasty word that simply deals with how we interpret, understand and apply Scripture.

You see, for evangelicals who turn to the Scripture as God’s great revelatory written masterpiece (I’d add that Jesus himself is the great living revelation of God), we can easily find ourselves creating all kinds of systems, boxes and laws – all that we might tame this fierce text. But the holy Scriptures cannot be so easily subdued. And it might just take a satirical treatise from one who doesn’t hold a Master’s or doctorate in Bible or theology to remind us of some of the major interpretive conundrums to which we have confined ourselves.

I’ve seen this recently with the whole hoo-haa surrounding John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and book. I’m a continuationist, believing all gifts of the Spirit spoken of in Scripture are still present today. On the other hand, you have cessationists – those who don’t deny God can do miracles and healings today, but these are mainly obsolete today because they only served to attest to the gospel message of Christ and the first apostles. But now that we have the canon of Scripture, it is the great attestation to the gospel message and sound doctrine.

And here is the question many of my continuationist kindred offer: “Can you point to any text of the New Testament where we’re told to stop prophesying [or insert in any other gift in 1 Cor 12]?” To this, many cessationists will offer the response: “I don’t need to. Because we don’t only base doctrine on the explicit teaching of Scripture, but on reasonable deductions from Scripture.”

But here would be a misguided response from continuationists: “Well, if we get to pick and chose which bits of the New Testament we are going to obey, we have undermined the sufficiency of Scripture.”

And, let me just add, these quotes give pretty much the exact wording I’ve seen in print!

Now, what’s this have to do with biblical womanhood?

Very much – and Rachel Held Evans hits this nail on the head!

We all pick and choose. Every…single…one…of…us!

To claim the old adage – The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it! – is a fatal flaw that exists amongst evangelicals today. This might not be Hermeneutics 101, but it should be. And this is something that comes forth in Scot McKnight’s helpful book, The Blue Parakeet (which Held Evans also refers to in her own book).

There is a sense in which, at times, we must “pick and choose” in order to form a heathy theological perspective. Yes, of course, this can create major problems. Many have used this to abuse Scripture, pushing aside some very important words. However, misuse and abuse should not lead us to fear of such a practice. Instead, we need to faithfully prepare people how to holistically engage Scripture. And this does not include such practices as reading the whole Bible as if it were literal, claiming the Bible is absolutely clear on all matters, as well as recognizing there are tensions within the text itself.

So, while complementarians will run through the buffet of Scripture and point out a handful of verses as to why women cannot teach or lead (though I would add that I think they mishandle many of these passages), we have to consider all of these in light of the trajectory of Scripture. We are to, at times, ask: Where is Scripture headed in light of God’s new creation that began with the resurrection of Jesus?

But, as Held Evans also reminds us:

We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master. (p140)

We really just want a rule book – “God, tell us exactly what to do and how to do it, and we’ll be safe.”

But, though Aslan is good, he is not always safe. Of course, there are parameters we offer through pastoring and teaching. But they are guiding parameters, not static laws.

The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous [clear] list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives.

The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, poetry and proverbs, philosophy and prophecies written and assembled over thousands of years in cultures and contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever-unfolding story of Gods interaction with humanity. (p294)

Though this might drive many complementarians bananas, challenging the nice and tidy boxes that come forth in a systematic tome of a mountain, these are wise words to consider as Christians in all ages and cultures engage with holy Scripture.

Those of an ancient near eastern culture had a very different perspective from us. Not that our modern-day, western view is better. It’s simply that we stand worlds apart. And, so, while Held Evans mainly offers a contribution in the discussion revolving around the role of women, many of these principles need to be considered in light of our discussions on varying other topics – economics, politics, church life, etc.

Rather than running to Scripture and copying every single action of the ancient Hebrews or the very early, mainly Jewish church, we consider what Scripture teaches in light of their world and then ask how can this become real in our own context today. Otherwise, we’ll encounter the many passages in tension with one another (even contradicting one another) and it will leave us with great cognitive dissonance.

So I’m thankful for Rachel Held Evans’ contribution to the discussion – her witty, yet refreshing engagement with Scripture. She leaves us with the reminder to love the Bible that God has actually given us, not the Bible we wish he had given us.


14 thoughts on “A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Review

  1. “We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master.”

    I think that’s the point: we can’t master the spirit at all. So people substitute a counterfeit in its place. The purpose has little do to with pleasing God, and much to do with gratifying the lusts of the ego (I John 2:15-17, anyone?).

  2. I don’t know why Scott, but you care are what I think of you. (though you don’t care what I think. Vast difference) I didn’t have the heart to post the scathing denunciation I typed out earlier.

    • Please delete the other one with the typo if you would be so kind.

      I don’t know why Scott, but you care what I think of you. (though you don’t care what I think. Vast difference) I didn’t have the heart to post the scathing denunciation I typed out earlier.

  3. What for? Evans bible butchery has been well exposed already and hasn’t made any difference. I like you Scott. Truth is, I like most people and I take absolutely no pleasure in being at odds with them, you included. However we serve different gods with different scriptures. Different worldview altogether. We have utterly and mortally antagonistic standards of truth and reality. You claim to have already held and rejected mine and I most certainly and categorically reject yours. We don’t even speak the same language. You’ll get along much better with people like this caraboska person. You and her can trade mushy stories of God’s magical mysterious and ever unclear revelation.

    It’s like this. His word is forever settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89) Always has been. Those who have been raised from death and rebellion in sin to new life in Christ have been in universal agreement for 2000 years on the topics Evans and caraboska and yourself siffneckedly refuse to recognize. What difference could anything I say make? God does not leave his people in the dark on His most basic human institutions of marriage, family and sex until the end of the 20th century when some groovadelic heretics decide EEEEEEEEVRYBODY”S been wrong except them.

    • Trib –

      Again, I am happy for you to engage with some of the concepts presented in the article. What is Prov 31 about? How do we engage in trajectory hermeneutics – since the Bible does not unequivocally state slavery is a bad practice? Do we take Paul’s words in allowing women to prophesy (as long as they cover their heads), but they cannot teach from the Scripture? Or do we allow, like some complementarians, for women to write books about theology but they cannot teach in seminaries?

      Here is a helpful thought to consider – most times the word “word” is used in Scripture (or similar statements like “word of the Lord”), it is most usually not referring to the graphe written Scriptures. For example, Heb 4:12, is not specifically speaking of Scripture. I think you’ll find this to be similar in Ps 119:89, which you quote. In Hebrew parallelism, vs89 and vs90 work together – so the “word” and “faithfulness” are connected terms in this Hebrew poem. Just like “eternal” and “through all generations”. This is pointing to God’s spoken word from heaven, not the team project we have in Scripture.

      Now, I’m not negating Scripture as being God-breathed, as Scripture tells us itself. But the team project of Scripture, between God and the authors, is not directly equivalent with what Ps 119:89 refers to.

      I know this is probably anathema to you. But look at the context of just these few verses, and then look at how “word” or “word of the Lord” or “word of God” is used throughout Scripture. It’s not in a way we usually champion within evangelicalism (including Prov 30:5; Ps 12:6; etc).

      • I’ll tell you another thing. You have got me absolutely wrong if you think this is any fun for me. I WANT to think the best of people Scott. So help me I do. I WANT people to have truth, I WANT them to be right the Lord, I LONG for them as my brothers and sisters. If you knew me for 5 minutes in real life you’d know that. You have no idea how rough it goes on me that you care about my opinion of you and that the things I say will hurt your feelings because you’re a nice guy : (

        That’s NOT what I want, but I will not compromise the objective, yes utterly perspicuous (when properly pursued) propositional truths of those ancient scriptures. I will submit to being slowly tortured to death before allowing that to happen.

  4. Have you ever actually read any commentaries by somebody like Calvin? Ever? http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/commentaries.i.html

    Even if you totally disagree. Do yourself a favor and witness the surgical mastery that his devotion to scripture yielded. Wright’s a chameleon. I have never seen such a disgraceful lack of forthrightness as what he displayed with Jim White. Slippery as a greased watermelon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQoczsyfBAo He is pathetic. He SOOOO yearns for a place at everybody’s table that he can’t just come out and affirm what he says in his books. He is also the reigning champion of straw man argumentation.

    Here’s an interesting piece. http://reformedforum.org/podcasts/ctc304/#comment-1573026 and with an Anglican nonetheless. A real one. I think there might be 10 left in Europe. I once had a volume which name escapes me that had Stendahl’s presentation in it.

    Pick a passage and see if you can find anything of value in Calvin even though he failed to grovel at the feet of the 2nd temple Jews. I’m being serious.

    Your assumption that I would have no idea what the scriptures meant by “the word of God” or the word of the Lord” or “the word of truth” etc was really very telling Scott. Not because you assumed I’m an ignorant simpleton with anachronistic shallow views, but WHY you assumed that. I still like you btw. I’m being serious about that too. That’s not the point.

    • Trib –

      Actually, there are many Anglicans in Europe – real ones. I just preached at an Anglican church in Holland a few weeks back. I’ve had a nice acquaintance friendship with one pastor-vicar. There are 3 international Anglican churches in the Brussels area. They’re doing ok.

      And I’m learning to take your comments with a grain of salt, mainly because you never engage with much of what is shared. You unfortunately continue to lambast certain folks as heretics and unorthodox.


  5. I am a moron!!! Forgive me. I messed up the hyperlink tags. Please delete the first one. I apologize:

    Your idea of “OK” is I’m sure diametrically opposed to mine, which if the scriptures are to be taken at all seriously is also God’s.

    What’s unfortunate is that so little of the church recognizes anymore what is heretical and unorthodox, but then bless God I am reminded of what I already told you. Even in the deepest most abysmal apostasy, the Lord always has His remnant. In fact that’s usually ALL he has. Just like He said would be the case.

    And yet see THIS PAGE and scroll waaaaaaaaaay down. HALLELUJAH!!! Every one of those men of God is required to be even more conservative than myself in some areas before being allowed to upload their sermons to that site. They are specifically required to reject evolution, reject Romanism and all forms of “United” ecumenism, reject egalitarianism (in ANY form) reject homosexuality as the abomination that it is and affirm the verbal inerrancy of the scriptures among other standard historically orthodox truths. There are dozens and dozens of works denouncing emergent liberalism and some Wright by name. You’ll find Evans soundly discredited there too. He has his remnant and that’s not even all of em.

    I am no fan of Keller’s, but Kathy did a fine quick job here: HERE

    The incredibly disingenuous sniveling by her sycophantic lemmings that follow are truly something to behold. Evans shouldn’t be allowed in the same zip code with a bible. I also have her interview with our local radio guy here, Bob Dutko, who effortlessly destroyed her ineptitude (universalism) on his show as well (she was not happy and I don’t think has done a hostile interview since) if you’re interested, but you’re not. Which is why I don’t bother either, but begs the question then of why do I comment here at all?

    I keep trying not to. Maybe if I just unsubscribed to your blog it would help. Not that I can’t stand being around you. No sir, like I say. I like you LOL! God help me I do. When you were so thrilled that we were agreeing on something a couple weeks back, I was messed up all day. Not because I was disgusted by the thought of us being close in at least one area of doctrine, but because I knew we’d inevitably wind up back here and you’d be hurt again. I don’t like that Scott. It hurts ME, but that’s just how it has to be.

    One more time. Cults start when brand new major teaching arises 2000 years into the church age. Nobody ever heard of what Evans teaches in that book. EVER EVER EVER in 6000 years of human history. That alone makes it an affront to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to suggest that He would leave His people languishing in ignorance of His most ancient and precious human institution until the last 30 years. The very fact of the existence of this conversation is itself a symptom of grotesque apostasy.

  6. Oops, I forgot about Aimee.
    And they link to Trillia as well:

    These won’t carry any weight here because you share Evans magical mystical view of scripture, but I link them to illustrate why my thoughts won’t either. Besides,, these actual women of God have already done a fine job.
    There is not one single solid reformed thinker (the only ones I care about) past or present who recognizes Evans as anything other than a pop liberal author who is a talented communicator with almost literally NO actual skills of exegesis or exposition whatsoever. Though she insists she takes the bible seriously, she has no idea what that means. She writes for bitter man hating women, whch are stockpiled in her blog comments and pitiful feminized men.

    You should review Aimee’s book btw. http://www.amazon.com/Housewife-Theologian-Gospel-Interrupts-Ordinary/dp/1596386657/ref=as_li_wdgt_ex?&linkCode=wey&tag=housewifetheo-20 This is what it looks like when a woman (or anybody) handles holy writ like an actually regenerate responsible grown up.

    • Trib –

      One thing to note is how some others have pointed out the lacks in some of these reviews, like Keller’s. Keller’s assumed too much. That’s the challenge – our traditional evangelically-reformed assumptions are missing some things.

      And, while Held Evans does lack the heavyweight degrees, she definitely shows how we “skip” over many passages to hold onto our systematic frameworks. This is what Wright does as well in regards to future justification – challenging the traditionally held evangelical framework that subsumes Rom 2, Matt 25, etc, with a particular reformed-evangelical view. Systematic theology is not wrong, but it can leave us with blind spots. Any “ism” will do this (even egalitarianism).

      In the end, Held Evans utilizes satire to make the point in a humorous way, and she engages with some good biblical commentaries/scholarship to show how the traditional complementarian view misses quite a few things, all that the complementarian box can be held up. That, my friend, is not helpful exegesis.

      In the end, we can push her aside because of her lack of qualifications. That’s fine. But, then we have the fun of engaging with folks like Gordon Fee, Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, Williams Webb, etc.

  7. But Scott my problem with her is not that she has no academic creds. I’m a tenth grade dropout myself. I have no “education” either. That’s not the point. God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the “wise”. It’s not even that she’s a woman, as may be suspected of a traditionalist like myself. Not at all. My problem with her is purely on substance. I see her as a smart (and probably fun and likable) girl with a heart, mind and conscience bearing exactly zero fruit of a transforming work of the true and living God of the bible as set forth IN that bible. I don’t have any time now. The points you make, or I should say, as much in this case the way you make them, betray a typically undeveloped epistemology. A truly Christian, read reformed worldview, while NOT giving US all the answers (God never promises us that), DOES tells us where to put the to us in ourselves unanswerable questions (tautologies). I’ve been over this like several dozen times with some VERY capable AND educated folks.

    I have to go and I’m not sure when I can be back, but see the conversation here http://reformedforum.org/podcasts/ctc289/ which absolutely DOES relate to what we’re talking about. Without the divinely self attesting Holy Scriptures of Westminster Confession 1 there is no possibility of coherent human thought whatsoever. Once conceded ALL the BIG questions of reality eventually take care of themselves and if not conceded then even that non concession itself is unintelligible. Yes, I know exactly what I just said and will stand by it though all eternity.

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