Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn't sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment--a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible's instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.
Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.
See what happens when a thoroughly modern woman starts referring to her husband as "master" and "praises him at the city gate" with a homemade sign. Learn the insights she receives from an ongoing correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman, and find out what she discovers from her exchanges with a polygamist wife. Join her as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women.
With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation. What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.
Rachel Held Evans was a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925—she wrote about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.
Rachel was featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Christianity Today, Slate, The Huffington Post, The CNN Belief Blog, and on NPR, The BBC, The Today Show, and The View. She kept a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and colleges and universities around the country.
Biblical womanhood is a concept that any religious woman inwardly cringes at. It's this ephemeral picture of the ideal woman that seems to change depending on whom you are talking to. From my experience, it usually consists of the following:
+ Proverbs 31 woman (of course)
+ Submitting to your husband
+ Not taking a position of leadership in the church (elders, pastor, etc.)
+ BABIES! FAMILIES! WIFEHOOD!
+ Don't show too much skin! Don't want the boys to slip and fall into the abyss of their lusts!
+ Sex before marriage? One way ticket to hell!
I found Rachel Held Evans blog through Fred Clark, the Slacktivist who has been ripping the Left Behind series a new one for years. (I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I liked those books--though I absolutely HATED the way the authors treated Chloe. And Hattie. And pretty much any female. Though it took me until recently to figure out WHY it bugged me so much.) It was through her blog that I found out about her yearlong mission to tackle the feat of embracing "biblical womanhood". This book is the results of her study.
And I adored it. I bought the book on Thursday during lunch and immediately read 70 pages. I then read up to page 250 yesterday, reading for probably two hours solid (which I don't typically do). I finished the book at 10:30 today. My mind is still in shambles from the awesomeness of this book.
There are a ton of reasons I love this book. Rachel is witty and funny and doesn't take herself too seriously. She never comes off as judgmental or holier-than-thou. She is open about the fact that she took some of these verses to their extreme (such as sitting on the roof of her house).
But more so I love the conclusion: Rachel Held Evans realizes that there is no way to make a one-size-fits-most biblical woman because women don't come in one-size-fits-most. Some women love to sew; others adore sports; some have a way with words; others are blessed with money or talents that they willingly give to those in need.
This is a brilliant book, a book that is desperately needed in this changing world. I plan on passing it on to my mother, who always encouraged me to embrace my gifts and not be held back by the restrictions placed on my sex (Thanks, Mom :) ). If you are willing to come into this with an open mind, if you are ready to put aside your preconceptions about what the Bible says, then you should read this book whether you are male, female, young, old, married or unmarried. Highly recommended.
Where to start with this one? I hereby resolve to finish the year 2013 without having read any more books by stunt-bloggers. Put this one on the pile with "Julie and Julia," "The Happiness Project" parts 1 and 2, "365 Nights," and the rest of this growing genre, and you'll have a pile tall enough for a nice coffee table.
I'll just put this out here: I'm a Unitarian Universalist, so I don't have a theological dog in this fight. Had I been Evangelical Christian, Jewish, Quaker, or Catholic, I would have become offended at her selective interpretation of my religion's traditions for her Project purposes.
I am not a reader or a fan of the author, so I was not the audience to whom she was writing and to whom she frequently refers or turns, via her blog, for advice and validation. The stunt here is that her proposal to live according to Biblical law for one year is picked up by a Christian publishing house, and we're treated to a running commentary on The Project-- which I assume her readers also got via the blog during that year.
The vignettes at the end of each Theme Month highlight a specific woman mentioned in the Bible. These short pieces are very well-written and lovely; a whole book of these would have been far more readable and valuable than the constant self-referential harping on The Project. Far too much of this book was wasted in her complaints, her husband's reaction to The Project, her parents' reaction to The Project, blog readers' reactions to The Project, and complete strangers' reaction to The Project. The author's agent even turns up in these pages, which came across as truly amateur. In fact, my favorite character from the book was Maude from Hobby Lobby (shudder), whom the author failed to impress with the fact that she was a Professional Author doing a Project for a Book. Maude just did her job and sent the author on her way with supplies for a failed sewing attempt.
The entire book, in fact, isn't really about living the rules for women in the Bible. The author fails to follow through on most of the arbitrary tasks she sets for herself (but her husband adorably excuses her, and they laugh it off!) This is a book about a writer who got a publisher's advance to do a stunt book, and the hilarity that ensued. She manages to trivialize by dabbling "slap-bang" (her term) in the sacred rituals of other denominations and faiths, and then wonders why they do not carry meaning for her beyond discomfort and/or confusion.
If you're a fan of this author, you've probably already read this book because she's certainly spent enough time promoting it. If you're curious about women's roles in the Bible and in the Christian faith today, this is probably not the place to start your search.
Side note: AJ Jacobs' "Year of Living Biblically" is the same Project, but done from a deliberately humorous point of view, and was a truly fun read from which I actually learned something.
As for me: no more blog-to-book reading this year. I promise.
Rachel Held Evans describes herself in this book as “curious, skeptical, and strong-willed.”
Well, what a coincidence. . . those are almost exactly the same words I'd use to describe myself (I might replace “skeptical” with “sassy.”)
So, we have that in common, but what is different is our backgrounds. While she was being raised in a Southern, evangelical Christian environment, I was being raised in a multi-cultural community in a non-religious household. I had a father who favored lively debates, humor and critical thinking while Evans was part of a larger church community that favored a traditional womanhood, citing biblical support for these roles.
I was given the freedom to discover God my own way, and that involved meditation and prayer, learning scripture as a way of better understanding John Milton and William Blake, and reveling in the words of people like Elie Wiesel, Anne Lamott, the Dalai Lama and Rumi.
Evans didn't have this freedom, but she still had that “curious, skeptical and strong-willed” mind, and, as she got older, she asked more and more questions and was given fewer and fewer answers. She wondered “why the Bible includes such harsh laws about women” and she found herself wishing that Christian apologists “wouldn't be in such a hurry to explain these troubling texts away, that they would allow themselves to be bothered by them now and then.”
She also throws out, “I have come to regard with some suspicion those who claim that the Bible never troubles them. I can only assume this means they haven't actually read it.”
So, she sets out to dedicate herself to the scripture from the Bible that pertains to the roles of women. She takes on a year of biblical womanhood, exploring such notions as obedience, modesty, purity and grace, as set forth by the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
The results are often hilarious, as Evans's writing style is personable and funny, and the results are occasionally surprising and frequently thought-provoking and poignant.
I laughed out loud in many parts and shed several tears, too, especially after reading about a ceremony she and a friend performed, to help release the pain of the women from these biblical writings who had been raped or murdered, through the centuries, all in the name of “purity.”
Women haven't had an easy time of things, and this is an excellent and often fascinating exploration of the grand and intimidating topic that is womanhood.
I imagine that I am not the typical person who would pick up this book, but I've already mentioned that I'm a curious person, and maybe that's a good thing, as Ms. Evans has found herself a new reader.
I am not clear on who would enjoy this and who wouldn't, but I found myself reading passages aloud to family and friends, and thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.
This was a brave undertaking, and this is no puny book.
Despite being a Christian myself, whenever someone or a book about someone talks about "living and interpreting the Bible literally", a ginormous red flag comes up. Talking about Biblical womanhood is somehow a million times worst. It seems like most Christians who claim to be fundamentalist and/or come from a traditional/patriarchal culture (the Southern US, Korea, etc.) pretty much hate women or are addicted to this unattainable mirage of the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Women should submit to men because we are somehow inferior, women should be married and with child since that's apparently the only real life for a Christian woman, wives should freely offer their bodies to their husbands whenever the husband wishes and it's the woman's fault for being ugly that's the cause for the man's infidelity, etc etc etc. Some points are more outspoken than the other, some are implied by remarks, judgements, or how people react to certain life events, but none of these teachings seemed very attainable nor healthy to me, especially since that was definitely not how I felt God connected with me at my present stage of life.
Only after being absolutely reassured that this book was not about those fundamentalist values did I decide to give this book a chance. Though definitely not a theological study nor reformed, I was appreciative of how much time, research, and contemplation the author took into account in order to make her journey fair and successful. I was especially appreciative of her narrative on how these (male) fundamentalists preachers interpret poetry to be literal books of law (in which case, they need to either read more poetry or develop a sense of humor), and how she connected with Orthodox Jews to learn more about the cultural and historical significance to some of the rather odd laws regarding women in the Bible. Because, you know, Jesus was a Jewish carpenter and whatnot. And it was very interesting to see how much differently the Jewish tradition interpreted the Bible with the Western European viewpoint. The cultural nuances are definitely lost in translation, and I was glad to hear that side of the perspective.
Overall, I still believe the Bible is the best and only resource we as Christians really need to follow Christ, and when viewed holistically and in context, I do think it is very empowering to women. And not just in the "girl power!! Having babies is powerful! Warrior princess!" way. When reading through even some of the most horrific parts describing misogyny in the Bible, there is a part that hints at the Grace that is to come as well. Honestly, men and women probably should stop fighting one another, especially in church, and start to realize how important we are as individuals in Gods eyes, yet celebrate His creativity of the diversity in which he formed our being.
Kathy Keller to RHE: "Throughout your book, you have ignored or even hidden from readers the fundamental principles of scriptural interpretation—including the difference between narrative and didactic, as well as the importance of placing commands in their context within redemptive history."
Trillia Newbell: "As I read the book, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: God’s word was on trial. It was the court of Rachel Held Evans. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood. . . . In this book Evans is trying to build a bridge, but I wonder if it is not rather a comfortable bridge for shaky evangelicals to find their way into theological liberalism. This book is not ultimately about manhood and womanhood, headship and submission, or the complementarian and egalitarian debate. At its root this book questions the validity of the Bible. And denying the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is a denial that will ultimately erode the gospel of our Savior."
Doug Wilson: "Whenever she caught herself being verbally inappropriate, she put a penny in a jar, and every penny represented a minute she had to go up and sit on the roof of her house. This is where I clear my throat tentatively, not sure I could have heard this right. . . . [T]he text says that it would be better for the husband to be up on the roof than downstairs with Rachel Held Evans when she is being bad. So what’s she doing up there? . . . [W]e have better things to do than learn about biblical womanhood from someone who is having trouble with distinguishing subjects from predicates. This is a caliber of exegesis that thinks that Jesus went to Capernaum might mean that Capernaum went to Jesus. Who can be sure? Scholars differ on this controversial point."
This is the kind of work that gets produced when exegesis and hermeneutics are thrown out and others' opinions are thrown in. I didn't know we were still living as if the cross had not yet happened in salvation history.
A very good treatment of this work done better than I can do, by Kathy Keller, found at:
I can see why this offends conservative Christian sensibilities. But it is hardly extreme. She sets out to point out that conservative Christians cherry pick verses and interpretations as much as they accuse those of us who have more moderate viewpoints. And she succeeds admirably, all the while, also learning to understand various standards of womanhood with less judgment.
Her chapter on parenting was the most refreshing for me. Most women without children don't have any reason to notice, let alone, engage in the "mommy wars." So it was refreshing to hear her struggles within the "war" without having the emotional baggage of children to skew her. It reminded me that these "wars" are made up and don't determine our fitness as a mother or a woman. This chapter alone made the book worth reading. As a moderate in so much of my life, including parenthood, I am often abused by women on all sides who take my lack of enthusiasm toward their "cause" as a sign of disapproval and therefore I am worthy of harsh judgment.
The other chapter that touched me was on social justice. Being a libertarian, social justice is something important to me. Creating fair playing grounds for people to grow and achieve is close to my heart. But so are free markets, and this chapter made me squirm a bit with the abuse by big corporations towards the poor. There is no excuse for slavery, but yet our consumerist lifestyle breeds the need for more for less. We, the consumer, are the problem. And that is a hard pill to swallow but one that needs to be. I have been purchasing fair trade coffee for about two years now but I can't ignore that I am part of the problem. She also gives a good road map for starting. You don't need to switch your lifestyle all at once, but rather pick a few things at a time.
The chapter on submission was thoughtful but using Debi Pearl's book, "Created to Be His Helpmeet," is a little unfair. This book is wildly out there even for many conservatives.
Ultimately, she concludes that most people looking for a Biblical standard of womanhood are trying to shortcut faith by creating rules as a substitute. Her use of scripture and various commentaries to support her arguments gives her message strength, which seems to be why so many Christian reviews have to attack her for how she argues and not her argument in and of itself. I found the book both humorous and endearing.
Christian women's ethics are a hot topic no matter what your background is. And this book was written by a Christian claiming to be a fresh thinker bringing some much-needed Endust and a rag to some dusty topics. But truth be told, give me Gloria Steinem any day over Rachel Held-Evans. I'm no feminist. But frankly, neither is RHE. Rachel Held-Evans' "godly" woman is as lame as they come. She ignores the entire catalog of crazy God-fearing women and only defines herself by some random verses from the purity laws and Proverbs 31. And concludes the matter by saying that all of those things were probably irrelevant and leaves it at that. Her femininity remains untouched by Christ or His Church, and in the process, becomes distinctly neuter. Her experiment is based on the notion that femininity in the Bible is contained in laws and specifications, not in the heroines who grace our story. And her approach to the Bible is wooden: the Proverbs 31 lady "clothes herself in purple" so I'm going to JoAnn's and sew me some purple clothes - and I'm not going to bother to think about the fact that that is a reference to royalty and wealth. She's not even attempting scholarship here. Don't waste your time with this book. If you want to engage with real feminism, read Our Bodies, Ourselves. If you want to engage with real femininity, read Ruth, or Esther, or Elizabeth Elliot.
In response to the “contemporary biblical womanhood movement” - largely organized around the proposition that “the only sphere in which a woman can truly bring glory to God is the home” - feminist and Evangelical Christian Rachel Held Evans set aside a year to explore and write about “biblical womanhood.” I wish she’d taken more time and done it right.
Rather than adopting the practices of any one group of women claiming to live biblically, Held Evans pulled bits and pieces of several faiths - including Orthodox Judaism - to create a series of fairly arbitrary projects and rules for herself. Though I found the random, self-conscious, and haphazard (she admits many of her efforts have a slapdash feel) nature of the experiment irksome, I must admit that this approach dovetails nicely with her ultimate conclusion: “For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. . . . When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word [like womanhood] . . . we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes. . . . So after twelve months of ‘biblical womanhood,’ I’d arrived at the rather unconventional conclusion that there is no such thing. The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.”
Structured around a month spent examining a particular value (like, “purity”), each chapter contains fascinating biblical anecdotes, far less interesting descriptions of the author’s process, and saccharine lessons learned (e.g., “[P]urity is found not in the body, but in the heart” and “In silence, it seemed, I had finally found my voice”). Sprinkled sparingly throughout the book are glimpses of the wit which must be what makes Held Evans such a popular blogger (my favorite: “Going into this project, I was determined to avoid the whole crumple-to-the-kitchen-floor-in-a-heap-of-sobs bit, as it’s getting a tad cliche, don’t you think? So I feel it’s important to note that I didn’t crumple to the kitchen floor in a heap of sobs; I just happened to be sitting on the kitchen floor when I started to cry.”). Perhaps if she hadn’t written the book while living it, her reflections would have been marked by greater ease and humor.
Held Evans does, however, accomplish one truly impressive feat. Thanks to her religious background and seemingly exhaustive research, she speaks the language of “the modern biblical womanhood movement” and in so doing manages to be quite critical of certain lifestyle choices without assuming an outsider’s uninformed, skeptical, condescending, and judgmental air: “Women should not have to pry equality from the grip of Christian men. It should be surrendered willingly, with the humanity and love of Jesus, or else we miss the once radical teaching that slaves and masters, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, healthy and sick, should ‘submit to one another’ (Ephesians 5:21).”
Overall, the book is interesting but not riveting. Amusing but not funny. Thought-provoking but not profound. I admire and appreciate Held Evans’s effort, but I can’t beat back the feeling that both the experiment and book could have been much more.
I wish I could give it 3.5 stars, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Let me say off the bat that her hermeneutical methods are shaky (how we apply the Old Testament after Christ and through the lens of Peter's vision regarding clean/unclean, etc.) so I am going to choose to stick with my complementarian worldview. For a good explanation of why I have trouble with her background assumptions, see Kathy Keller's review of the book (see blogosphere for that one.) However, the book itself is an amusing read, most of the way through. In a few places it bogs down; in a few places the tone is a bit too cutesy for me. But in general, it's interesting in the same way that Kevin Roose's "The Unlikely Disciple" is interesting -- it gives a view of aspects of evangelical culture in a mostly well-written and humorous tone, from someone who no longer (or, as in the case of Roose, never) fits into the subculture as he/she might formerly have. So for accuracy of doctrine, etc., I'd give it probably a two; but for compulsive readability I'd probably give it a 4.5. Evans does endeavor in most places not to personally attack those she disagrees with and even aims for a sympathetic tone toward complementarians, though she often doesn't manage not to be belittling. I appreciated that aspect of her writing.
There are a lot of people who will love this book.
There are a lot of people who will hate this book.
And there are a lot of people who will never know which crowd they belong in because they are afraid to pick up this book.
The premise is simple: Rachel goes on a year-long quest to find out what true "Biblical Womanhood" really is. You know, to separate the fact from the fiction, and the rumors from the what the Bible really says.
During her year, Rachel took the Bible completely literally. She got weighed down in the details, trying to live according to the Torah and the commandments and descriptions found within it. She wore head coverings, she tried to become like the Proverbs 31 woman, and she even tackled the "modesty" debate.
Being a woman isn't for the faint of heart.
That's one thing that I really loved about this book. As Rachel discovered, one of the highest compliments in the Bible was being called a "Woman of valor" by your husband. Which is at the heart of Proverbs 31. She began to celebrate valor in the lives of the woman around her and her eyes were opened to what "Biblical Womanhood" looked like around her.
It takes valor to raise a family. It takes valor to stand up against injustice. It takes valor to speak up and question when the status quo simply does not make sense. Women around the world are living in valor and are unrecognized.
There were times when I wanted to chuck the book across the room. Not because I was furious with Rachel. She isn't writing the book as an expert but rather offering a glimpse into her own experience. Don't take her words as gospel-truth because they aren't and she'd probably never want you to give her words that amount of weight. I was furious when I read passages taken from other texts that I personally disagreed with - which will probably lead to me studying up on them later for myself to see what they really say.
One of the passages that resounded the most with me was when Rachel said this:
When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don't fit our tastes. In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible's cacophony of voices into a singles ton, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.
It makes me ready to dig into my Bible and find out for myself. Which is one of the best things a book can do for me.
Yes, it's a controversial book. People seem to have lined up to love it or hate it based simply on their opinions of Rachel.
Here's the bottom line: if you can't read one person's story of approaching Scriptures literally, but with a sense of humor intact, avoid this book. Rachel, like many 20- or 30-something people in the U.S., mixes humor in with deeper or more thoughtful insights. That she does this in relation to the Bible and her view of Christianity seems to be objectionable to her critics.
Since I have, more than once, laughed in church when my cheesy language alert went off, that doesn't bother me. I did wonder how she would approach Old Testament passages in light of her faith in Christ, but she won me over with her serious friendships formed over the course of the year with people such as an Orthodox Jewish woman and with her willingness to undergo change, even if it didn't fit with her original game plan.
I don't agree with everything Rachel writes, but I appreciate her honesty, humor, and her love for the Bible. Those three characteristics shone through the controversy and made this a truly enojyable reading experience.
Who would’ve thought that the next book to blow up the Christian publishing industry would be Rachel Held Evans’ attempt to live for a year following all the Bible’s rules for women? But gender is the most divisive issue in the Evangelical church these days, with some questioning whether a person can even truly be Christian if they don’t hold to traditionalist/complementarian gender roles!
As a woman who’s grown up in the Evangelical Church, Rachel was captivated by A. J. Jacob’s Year of Living Biblically experiment and decided to take on an even harder task: doing it as a woman.
Her central question is near the heart of the gender debates:
Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?
Since I’m a huge fan of Rachel’s blog and definitely an egalitarian when it comes to the gender debate, I wasn’t worried that I’d like the book.
I wanted to know if Year of Biblical Womanhood could move the gender conversation anywhere helpful.
Fortunately, Rachel’s book is excellent. It’s a fun, easy read filled with warmth, humor and insight. And despite all the controversy already surrounding the book, everyone should read it. Christian Baptist Pop Fundamentalist retailer Lifeway has already announced they won’t carry it (apparently as a part of their slow march towards obsolescence), so go buy the book on Amazon or at your local non-insane bookstore.
Here are four reasons A Year of Biblical Womanhood is going to do more than just stir the pot.
1. Rachel’s Writing is Accessible Seriously, this book is crazy fun to read. It’s 300-pages long, plus online bonus content (deleted scenes for a book?! Genius!), but it felt like 50. I tore through it and wanted more. I’ll read it again and again, with friends, in study groups. It’s good and it’s easy to read in the best way possible.
Rachel’s stories and style invite us safely into some emotional and complex issues. As a man who grew up in the Evangelical subculture, I was still able to relate to what Rachel shared, and I got a real sense of what’s at stake in when we discuss gender. Oh, and I laughed quite a bit.
Nothing’s quite as good for a heated conversation as plenty of laughter.
2. The book embodies its position on personhood.
Yes, she lived in a tent during “that time of the month”. No one who is familiar with Rachel’s writings will be surprised about her position. She clearly lays out her background and biases in the introduction, so even new readers know early on where she’s coming from. But she takes her position seriously. She interviews women who live differently from her – Amish and Mennonite women, a Quiverfull daughter, a female pastor. In addition, every chapter ends with a profile of a woman in the Bible.
Instead of a dry essay about the varied nature of womanhood, Rachel gives us a rich tapestry of essays, interviews and stories that show rather than tell us the possibilities.
3. Team Dan and Rachel!
She praised Dan at the city gates. But Dan really IS awesome! As any good leader does, Rachel gives her husband Dan a voice in the book. Dan kept a journal during the experiment, and getting his reactions not only through Rachel’s eyes, but in his own words was instructive. Dan is clearly a thoughtful, godly husband whose manhood is in no way diminished by Rachel’s project, or her success.
In fact, as both Rachel and Dan present their marriage in the book, it’s hardly fair to call the success Rachel’s alone.
Rachel is clear that she could not do what she does without Dan doing what he does. They are truly one flesh, and even though this is not a book on Marriage, the picture of their marriage we find in the book is inspiring. Team Dan and Rachel demonstrates that an egalitarian marriage does not diminish the Gospel in any way. Rather, both partners are spurred on to embody Jesus’ good news more fully as a result of their mutual submission.
4. Masterful Scriptural Interpretation
Rachel is a teacher. I’m happy to sit at her feet! Image credit: David Li The happiest surprise in A Year of Biblical Womanhood for me was how much of each chapter Rachel dedicated to masterful interpretation of Scripture. The surprise came not because I’d doubted Rachel’s abilities – any reader of her blog knows how good she is, but because I was expecting a more straight-forward memoir.
Rachel takes on the most difficult texts in the Scriptures, the texts used most often to silence women and deny them a full, equal place in the Church. She handles the texts with an obvious love for the Scriptures, and I marveled over and over at what light she shed on various passages for me.
Even if you don’t agree with her interpretations, you’ll find them compelling. Rachel demonstrates that it’s possible to take the Scriptures seriously even if you don’t agree with traditional readings of these troublesome texts.
So will A Year of Biblical Womanhood move the Evangelical conversation on Gender forward?
Support Rachel. Click here to get this book today! If early reviews are any indication, Rachel’s not going to convince anyone already firmly entrenched in the Complementarian camp. Her book’s already been subject to the kind and quality of misrepresentation we last saw with Love Wins. If you approach this book looking for problems, I have no doubt you can find them (after all, we’ve used the Scriptures to justify all manner of atrocities, from slavery to genocide). Christians have a practiced history of finding what we want to find in any book.
But for those still trying to figure out exactly where they stand on Gender roles, those willing to approach A Year of Biblical Womanhood honestly and fairly, you’ll find beautiful example after beautiful example of how a woman can be biblically faithful, love God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength and lead with the best of them.
BOTTOM LINE: Yes, Rachel is leading the conversation on Gender forward. This is a landmark book that should positively shape the conversation for years to come.
I have a close female friend who was strongly brainwashed into believing in Christian mythology. At some level she knows it is all just old myths and made up by sexist men but when the brainwashing goes on during childhood, there are fears that worm their way in.This is why I think proselytizing to children ought to be a crime punishable by prison time for child abuse. No one should mess with a child's mind in such a manner.
I love this friend like a sister and offer her lovely Atheist books to help her in her struggle but unfortunately she is still given crap like this from alarmed friends and family who fear she will stop drinking the kool-aid. Even she flinched at reading this and was so aghast, she asked me to read it and discuss it with her, offering my own opinions.Since I love her, I did so.
What do I think of this book? Well, Goodreads won't let me use the language this deserves so I will try to be more delicate. This book isn't fit to be read by anyone. Rachel Evans is an idiot who wasted a whole year of her life becoming her husband's dog and denigrating herself to the level of a muddy door mat many dirty feet have stamped upon. She covered her head while praying to the Big Penis in the Sky who is her boss. Funny how men can convince gullible women that a penis was what gave birth to all life. She camped outside during her period because it made her unclean. Of course biblical mythology sees women as dirty, nasty creatures only fit to be obedient dogs, so why not. This essentially means she buys into the idea that women are inferior and unclean and need to be obedient dogs.
She panted like a dog at her husband, called him "Master" the way any good slave would, and stood around in public holding signs praising her husband by name. She forced herself to sit on the roof to punish herself for imperfections (according to the bible, that is).
Women, rise up and free yourselves. The bible was written by sexist men. There is no god. There was no Jesus. It's all fairy tales and the joke is on you. Quit bowing to big penises in the sky and little ones in your bedroom. You are not a dog nor a doormat. Your period is not unclean. You deserve no penance for thinking. Get that damned rag off of your head and be an adult woman, calling no one master. Slave days are past.
I recommend this only for fools and idiots who have no self-respect for themselves and no respect for women in general.
When I saw this book in a catalog at work, I was more tickled at the idea. I've discovered over the last few years that I am fascinated by religion and religious culture - not just of my own faith, but of many others. I love learning how others interpret scripture, and how traditions are made and kept. I ordered this book for my library, and checked it out as soon as I saw it on the New Releases shelf. I found that the author is a liberal-leaning evangelical Christian, and was then REALLY intrigued to read it!
Very quickly it is evident that this book and project were inspired by A.J. Jacobs' "Year of Living Biblically" -- another book I was fascinated by. This one, naturally, is the woman's perspective, and while there are overlaps in some ways, I gained a lot from this book simply because I am a woman, and it is a story for ME. It also reminded me a lot of Jana Reiss' "Flunking Sainthood," with a nod to Julie Powell's "Julie and Julia." And while the whole "do something in a year" idea can be a little hokey (and I think even the author of this book thought that at times), it still is an interesting approach to learning and growing and gaining.
I thoroughly enjoyed "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." Many of the questions and doubts Evans had as she approached the project I have, too, and it was comforting to see that it's not just Mormon Feminists who have some of these thoughts and crises. Each month, Evans had a different virtue to focus on and approach, like Charity, Modesty, or Silence, as well as her own "ten commandments" that she kept throughout the year for consistency, like covering her head whenever she prayed, or submitting to her husband. (BOY did that one take some interesting turns!) And I have to say, her husband is one sweet, encouraging, long-suffering man who helped make this book what it is. (Which reminded me of when my dad went to see the film Julie & Julia, and I made a crack about him seeing a chick-flick. He responded in a way that reminds me why my dad is amazing and why I love him so much, "I didn't see it so much as a chick-flick, but as a movie about husbands supporting their wives." *cue eyes welling up with tears*)
This book gained brownie points with me early on in the chapter on Domesticity, when Evans brings up the story of Mary & Martha, which tends to not get used in the best ways. She recalls carrying around her Precious Moments Bible as a kid, with a picture of the Mary & Martha scene - Mary looking pious as the Virgin Mother at the feet of Christ, and Martha looking like a harried ugly stepsister. Evans' approach to the story I found much more satisfying, and will probably be something I will refer to in future talks and lessons I give in church for awhile to come. Something clicked in me when I read it, and I really want other people to think about her interpretation.
She strikes up a lively correspondence with the wife of a rabbi, a delightful lady who offers wonderful insights to Hebrew words and phrases, and to Jewish tradition. Those gems alone are worth reading the book. Evans makes a trip to Bolivia that brough tears to my eyes, and reminds me that whatever problems I may think I have, are miniscule compared to the plight of some of the women she met. She describes stories of women from the Bible, comparing interpretations and showing that so many of these women get condemned or forgotten for no real reason other than merely being women. She demonstrates the importance of them all, and how pivotal they were to history and gospel, and how faith-building their stories are.
I think this a great book for women of religious convictions who still have questions regarding their roles in their faith. It's comforting to see a woman like that undergo a project like this that is so faith-affirming, in addition to being funny and entertaining.
I somewhat liked this book, even though I don't agree with all of Evans thoughts or many of her views on theology, but I did love her humor, her very relate to you struggles with the Bible and some of the thought provoking ways she made me see culture and how rigid religion can place women in boxes. While I didn't love how she treated branches of the religion, I did like her book personality.
For the most part I found her views interesting and even at times refreshing when it came to being a modern day woman living in a world where Christianity is very unpopular. By this sentiment I mean Evans seems honest, and in touch with how women are viewed in the Christian culture and the roles we are forced or limited to play. Evans seems to speak whatever she feels about whatever topic she wants and isn't afraid to piss off fundamentalists (a dying breed of religious folks) or should I say conservatives who disagree with her. What stumped me though was how a progressive Christian woman who devalues conservative Christian women and makes most of what she researches in Biblical living humorous, can be taken seriously.
Speaking up against years of Christian tradition and laying a new outlook for modern people takes courage,(or an over-bloated ego) the backlash can be overwhelming, you're going to have all those hater conservatives riled up against you but at the same time boost your book sales and blog page views.
Is Rachel Held Evans a person I would go to for advice on the Bible? No.
Is she someone who understands culture and women? Most definitely.
Would I recommend this book to everyone? Probably not.
The truth: I love the way Evans presents herself, she is a 'funny' lady, and yeah her stuff is overboard with the PC, and yeah she misquotes a few Calvinist preachers in her book and blog posts to garner reactions, and yeah she devalues scripture and even in some spots mocks it, but at least I can hand it to her that she still manages to come across in a way that is authentic. (insert sarcasm where needed)
Interesting read! I didn’t agree with all of Evans’ conclusions, but she made me think many times. I especially loved her interactions with Ahava, her time in the monastery, and her trip to Bolivia. Evans is a witty writer. Her turns of phrase are great, & she made me smile often.
After years of avoiding this book (first, because I was told it was heretical; second, because there are only so many deconstruction books one can read in a year), I finally decided it was time to read this.
I was surprised and delighted by how thoroughly I enjoyed this book. Rachel is hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed following her along on this project. It's fascinating, in hindsight, to see how much of her later thinking is shaped by this work. Rachel thoughtfully examines the most popular passages of the Bible that are used to bludgeon women (Proverbs 31, Genesis 2, Ephesians 5, et. al.) and dares to ask what life would really look like to literally live out these passages. Her conclusion? It's all a lot of BS that completely misses the heart of the message.
As the 2019 election campaign raged on, Rachel became a lifeline for me. I sought out her work as a way to help keep me sane when every religious leader I'd known began endorsing a presidential who stood for everything they had preached against for years. I mourned her death and have since wished I had her insights on things happening in the world (most notably, the SBC report).
I went through and looked at a lot of the 1-2 star reviews for this book. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the reviews link to articles on The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God - the two biggest defenders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Of course they don't like this book. I've also seen a lot of people saying, "this isn't real biblical exegesis", which makes me laugh considering this book is way more researched than any of the dozen or so books my childhood pastor published. It made me wonder what the reviews would say if this book had been written by a man ....
I wish I had read this book sooner. I wish I had read it when I was trying to decide if I should just throw out everything I had been taught to believe. Rachel is a gracious guide who shows you how you can hold onto the mystery of faith while also asking tough questions about it. To paraphrase Milton, a faith that can't stand up to criticism isn't much of a faith at all.
I just finished re-reading this book, and this part nearly took my breath away. At the end of the book, Rachel listed several resolutions, things she wanted to do as she went forward after this project. This was number 7:
"Champion women leaders in the Church. Whatever small influence I may have over the Christian community, I will use to advocate on behalf of my talented sisters who long to use their gifts to benefit the Church and the world. I will share my platform with women writers. I will lend my support to women leaders. I will cheer on women scholars and teachers. And I will speak out against those who try to silence them with patriarchal readings of Scripture that idolize the culture and context in which the Bible was written over the equality and freedom granted to each of us in Christ."
She said she would do those things, and she did. Woman of integrity. Woman of valor.
Rachel also said she would "Keep loving, studying, and struggling with the Bible—because no matter how hard I fight it, it will always call me back." and "I’d learned to love the Bible again—for what it is, not what I want it to be." As always, I see myself in her words. I see my own journey and struggle and commitment to keep wrestling with the Bible.
As Rachel said, "The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous 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 God’s interaction with humanity. When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes. In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says."
I also love these quotes at the end of the book:
"For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgement and power, self-interest, and greed?
If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an outdated and irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it."
My original review from 2012:
A Breath of Fresh Air - Entertaining and Thoughtful There has been a lot of controversy from the "conservative evangelicals" about this book, but I loved it! It made me laugh and it also made me think. In many ways it was like a breath of fresh air for me as she dives into so many of the same questions I've been asking.
I love the conversational style of the book and the ways Evans is able to laugh at herself and tackle deep hermeneutical questions about how we interpret the Bible, specifically as it applies to women's roles in the church, in the home, and in life in general.
As others have noted, there may not be new arguments here, but Rachel made the work of scholars much more accessible and personal. (And again, renewed my desire to dig deeper.)
Reading this book reawakened my love of the Bible in ways I could not have anticipated.
The amount of controversy kicked up by Rachel Held Evans never fails to amaze me. She says stuff I disagree with, stuff I agree with, and a lot of points in between that are just .... ideas. Not brilliant or heretical or life-altering. Occasionally perceptive, deep, and moving.
So it was with this book. After noticing how the mere mention of RHE turns many of my (otherwise nice, kind, normal) male Christian friends into raging assholes who feel the need to stomp all over my Facebook feed, I started reading more of her works to see what the fuss was about.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood punches all the buttons of someone who wants to hate RHE's books: She's happy to pick and choose theological and religious experiences; she rejects some standard, beloved Evangelical positions; she argues for women in spiritual leadership; the whole book just seems like it should be a Big Deal when it really isn't.
On the other hand, she unpacked Proverbs 31 in a way that makes the passage a blessing for women rather than a burden; she asks good questions; she grew up a lot during her yearlong experience and it was fun to watch her make the journey. I remember being 30 and uncertain and searching.
This is a 3-star book IMO for it's valuable despite being lightweight. There's little theological depth here; but many women will resonate with Rachel's honesty, courage, and questions. (If you're looking for a better read from RHE, I recommend Faith Unraveled.)
I'm not sure why people rage so much at someone else's personal narrative. I encourage you to give her a read and be honest enough to acknowledge the portions where she forces you to think. That is always a gift, and we should be thankful to those authors who give us that opportunity.
I wanted to like this book. All of my friends love this book. It had the potential to discuss everything I hold dear - Christianity, motherhood, feminism and femininity. My favorite part about this book were the vignettes at the end of the chapters on Biblical women (particularly Junia, who I'd never heard of). But, in so many other ways the book fell short.
It bothered me how much of the book seemed to be "crowd-sourced" beginning with how she makes church ladies do her crafty projects and continuing with how large segments of her chapters were quotes from readers of her blog, the most ubiquitous of which was an Orthodox Jewish woman named Ahava. (To be honest, I would have been much more interested in a book of the same title written by Ahava.)
The book also lacked a firm stance on anything. Every chapter seemed to end with some sort of non-committal statement like, "some women are meant to stay home and some are meant to work, both are biblical." While I agree with this statement, I don't think reading her chapter shallowly exploring the world of women's work would have brought me to the same conclusion.
Finally, what struck me most about this book was how little Held Evans had experienced of the world before writing it. She's older than me, and yet I felt like I was reading a book written by a 22-year-old. She acts like traveling to South America, visiting with the Amish, baking your own loaf of bread, buying fair trade foods, dressing modestly and spending time in silence at a Catholic monastery are novel ideas. I'm 28 and I either have done or do all of these things (the Amish part only because I married a Mennonite). She glosses over the issues of motherhood (to me, one of the core differences between men and women) with a day of babysitting and a few days with a "computer baby". She has not experienced the anguish of 6 months of sleepless nights with a colicky newborn, questioning whether God ever really called you to do anything else. She has not had to face whether returning to a life of public ministry or a God-called vocation will cause your children to suffer.
All of this isn't to say that I don't enjoy Held Evans. I do. I will look forward to the first book she writes after having children. I'm eager to hear her new perspective, as I think it will be deep and insightful. I appreciate her sense of humor, and I feel like she is someone who I would be friends with if we lived in the same town. I simply didn't find any deep spiritual insight into myself as a woman through reading this book.
I love when I expect a book to be one thing, and then it turns out to be something completely--and in this case wonderfully--different. I can tell you I really loved this book. I think it's probably a four star book, but I liked it so much and loved reading it so much (and will miss it) that it earned the extra five.
I consider myself Episcopalian--about as far from Evangelical as you can get. I can honestly feel my spine straighten when anyone talks about "submitting" and "a woman's place." So I kinda thought this book would be a tongue-in-cheek look at the more odd instructions that are in the bible. And it's not.
I think Evans could have gone there. I think a lot of people thought she would and were preemptively offended, which makes sense, and I hereby apologize for purchasing this book under that notion. I think it would have been an easier book for her to write.
However, instead Evans went further and trod a more treacherous path. Yes, she chose some odd instructions, but she also looked into the history of those instructions. And what they meant, and what they mean today. Evans related them back to her own faith in a way that felt real, not forced or trite. It was less of a "hey this is fun" and more a spiritual journey.
Each month, she chose to focus on one theme of verses--charity, submission, the ideal woman, etc.For example, she looked at Proverbs 31, and how it is viewed in the Orthodox Jewish faith, and it isn't seen as a "how-to-be-the-perfect-Christian-woman" and more a "wow, you are really awesome." It is sung by a husband to his wife at the end of week in recognition of all she has done for him. Rather than "virtuous woman"--it's "a woman of valor." Eshet Chayil!
Evans started using this phrase Eshet Chayil! to describe the women she met on her journey--the female pastor in Texas who received death threats for leading a congregation, the women in Bolivia who live on less than $500 a year, and her mom and her family--and eventually she even used it to describe herself. Rather than reading that passage and seeing all the things we should be doing, we should read that passage and see all the things we already do--and should celebrate them. I know some pretty wonderful Eshet Chayils--I have no idea how you pluralize that.
I also think it would have been tempting for Evans to go into a feminist rant--not that I don't enjoy those. But instead, she comes away from this journey adoring her husband more, loving her family, and feeling closer to God.
Awesome book! I loved everything about it. The author spent a year going through the Bible and trying to live like a Biblical woman should. Through this process she really understands that there isn't just one way to be a Biblical woman. She laughs and cries and learns about her own relationship with God. Loved hearing her experiences with the different people she met through her year.
I remember when this book came out. I was still heavily immersed in the Reformed world and in that world a lot of people consider The Gospel Coalition the gatekeeper of Who Is IN (the Kingdom of Heaven, one presumes) and Rachel Held Evans was most definitely OUT. She was Not To Be Read, Not To Be Countenanced by anyone who wanted to be Holy.
I am sad now for myself that I didn't start reading RHE till after her death. It's kind of surreal to read something that caused such furor in the evangelical world, and know that Rachel is now safe with the Jesus whom she clearly loved (despite the despicable comments of certain fundamentalist bloggers who metaphorically spit on her grave following her death.)
But it was also surreal, because even though I'm not part of that world any longer (and in fact am very much relieved and finding great freedom not being part of that world any longer, including the freedom to read all The Gospel Coalition's Banned Books) as I read I kept waiting for The Big... Thing, the Sketchy Conclusion, the Borderline Heresy, the Whatever-It-Was that made Rachel's name anathema to TGC. And I kept... not finding it.
Instead, I found Rachel asking questions and tackling stories of women in the Bible that I have wondered about myself (and, I will add, never felt safe giving voice to in the context of Reformed churches). Like Tamar. Like the fact that polygamy is never outright condemned in the Bible and men who are held up as fathers of the faith had multiple wives and concubines. Like the one-sided Levitical laws about the sexual behavior of women. I found the ritual remembrance which Rachel and her friend performed on behalf of the women in the "texts of terror" to be beautiful, and it left me pondering how often we conveniently overlook the terrifying parts of the Bible.
I was breathless with the beauty of a connection I'd never made before, when Rachel discussed the woman with the flow of blood who touched Jesus' robe and was healed. Of course I'd heard the story so many times it wasn't real to me. But Rachel made the connection for me that the woman's endless bleeding meant, because of the Levitical laws about purity, that she would have been cut off from her community. She had been unclean for nine years; it was not lawful for anyone to touch her, and it was not lawful for her to touch anyone. By touching Jesus' robe, she broke the law. By that unlawful touch, she was healed. I got goosebumps.
What was the beef of the conservative evangelical world (particularly the Reformed subsection) with Rachel?
By the end of the book– the funny, winsome, entertaining, gentle, challenging, soul-refreshing book– I could only conclude that for those who couldn't stand A Year of Biblical Womanhood , it was because they can't stand any woman who challenges their very precise and pre-formatted narrative, a narrative in which women don't preach (and they can only teach under the authority of Their Holinesses John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Kevin DeYoung, et al), in which the Bible can only possibly be interpreted one way (which happens to be TGC's way), in which all questions that don't fit the narrative are conveniently ignored, and labeling something "biblical" is really a power play which means "if-you-don't-do-it-our-way-you-are-going-to-hell." They can't stand women who think for themselves and point out the glaring logical inconsistencies and mental gymnastics in their definitions of "biblical womanhood" (John Piper's nonsensical blather about women not going into careers where they might exercise too much authority over men comes to mind.)
Rachel didn't follow the narrative; she encouraged women to think for themselves, she was humble enough to listen and learn from people with a wide variety of worldviews instead of assuming that she had nothing to learn from those heathens. She loved Jesus and her love for him led her in places that made TGC squirm. But instead of engaging, they just tried to shut her down.
I think it backfired, and I'm glad of that. A lot of people get tired of DO NOT ENTER signs in their theology. Me included.
I will be recommending this book to every Christian woman who has ever wondered just what makes their womanhood "biblical."
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I started reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I had only recently begun reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog and hadn’t followed her posts about her Year of Biblical Womanhood project. The blurb on the back of the cover doesn’t begin to do this book justice. Nor do the summaries explain what going along with Rachel on her one-year journey will do to your perspectives on so many woman’s issues.
The author spends a year trying to live out in practical ways some of the qualities that different people of Judeo-Christian faith have considered essential if one is to be considered a “Biblical Woman.” Each month of her experiment year, Rachel focuses on one of these qualities: Gentleness, Domesticity, Obedience, Valor, Beauty, Modesty, Purity, Fertility, Submission, Justice, Silence and Grace.
For example, for the Month of March she focused on Modesty. Her goals for that month were to 1. Dress modestly, 2. Wear a head covering, 3. Wear only dresses and skirts, 4. Abstain from wearing jewelry, 5. Hang out with the Amish.
Being a strong-willed, independent-thinking Christian woman in a marriage in which she and her husband treat each other as equals, it is quite a jolt from her normal existence to attempt to follow some of what women in the “Biblical Womanhood” movement, the Amish/Mennonite sects, the Orthodox Jews, the “Quiverfull” movement believe and do every day of their lives. Rachel spends time interviewing woman from these groups (and others). She does this in a respectful way, giving the reader insight into the thinking behind lifestyles that many would harshly judge. As she incorporates some of their practices into her own daily life, she shares her frustrations and insights as she makes these lifestyle changes. At the end of each chapter Rachel shares her own conclusions about what the Bible really says about the different “Values for Christian Woman” (the name of a course I actually took in Bible college). To give you a tiny taste, here are some of Rachel’s conclusions at the end of her month of focus on Modesty:
" Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged women to “adorn themselves” with good deeds, why he instructed all Christians, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” and why the valorous woman of Proverbs 31 is praised because she “clothes herself in strength and dignity.” It’s not what we wear, it’s how we wear it. And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently. " (Rachel Held Evans - page 140 - AYOBW)
After each chapter, Rachel also spotlights a “Woman of Valor.” A woman from the Bible (like Eve, Esther, Ruth, Mary, etc.) who embodies values contemporary women would want to emulate. Another Rachel quote:
" Among the women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs. What makes these women’s stories leap from the page is not the fact that they all conform to some kind of universal ideal, but that, regardless of the culture or context in which they found themselves, they lived their lives with valor. They lived their lives with faith. And as much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of “biblical womanhood,” there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves.... " (Rachel Held Evans - page 295 - AYOBW).
Rachel’s honest voice makes you laugh out loud one minute and come to tears two pages later. She is a fantastic scholar and researcher (I say this as a Bible College graduate with a Master’s degree in Library Science), but she makes her research so readable you might take for granted the hours she spent and volumes she read before she put pen to paper.
I was so fortunate to be asked to read an advance copy of this book. I’ve passed my half-century mark, and spent years struggling to understand many of the very things that Rachel deals with. Thank you, Rachel, for bringing us along on your refreshingly honest, hilarious, touching, insightful journey.
I was a little skeptical about the gimmick component of this project-- RHE spends an entire year trying to follow the Bible's commands for women as literally as possible-- but pleasantly surprised at the biblical analysis and personal revelations that came from it. The book was both funnier and more poignant than I expected.
The book doesn't break any new theological ground, but presents a wide range of views on women's role in the church in a conversational, easy-to-understand manner. I appreciate RHE's willingness to engage in dialogue with groups that I've long given up on. This is the kind of book I would feel comfortable recommending to most Christian women I know.
I feel like some of the strongest components are her interactions with biblical texts. I appreciated her personal insights on Carolyn Curtis James' unpacking of Proverbs 31, not as a task list, but as a celebration of strong women. This is a concept that I hope continues to pervade mainstream Christian thought. Additionally, I found her interaction with the Bible's texts of terror to be reverent and important. Far too often, these incredibly violent, traumatic passages about how women were treated go overlooked.
I had a few issues with her chapter on international empowerment, but I think these stem primarily from my issues with her source materials. I appreciate Nicholas Kristof and Cheryl DuWunn's research in "Half the Sky," and their concept that globally women present an opportunity not a problem. However, I find that Kristof tends to dramatically over-simplify complex international economic problems, casting people in developing nations as either evil villains or victims in need of saving, most problematically, at times, casting himself in a savior role. This is most clear in his writing on sex work, which often denies the women he depicts any agency.
Additionally, I know RHE is not a journalist, but I question the ethics of how much she relied on a public relations trip, paid for by World Vision, as a source of anecdotes and a solution to how Americans can address women's development internationally. I recognize that World Vision does some good work, but the organization is not free from criticism. I felt this chapter needed more research, given the complexity of the statements she was trying to make about international justice and the patriarchy. These are not simple problems, and conscientious consumerism and child sponsorships, while a good start, are not adequate in addressing them.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and think it is starting wonderful conversations about the role of women in Christianity, I just felt that several portions would have been improved with additional research.
This book chronicles RHE's attempt to spend a year taking biblical passages related to women (or extrabiblical, cultural practices – various Jewish traditions and holidays, etc.) as literally as possible.
Her stated purpose was to critique those who believe there is such a thing as “biblical womanhood.” Basically, she concludes that it's prideful and oppressive to assume we know what the Bible is teaching and what God requires of us in such specific ways, and that those who claim to be following biblical prescriptives for their role as women are being selective in what portions of the Bible they follow. She assumes this selectivity is arbitrary, and that's where her argument breaks down.
Perhaps a critique of excess, imbalance, or improper interpretation in some evangelicals' notions of biblical womanhood could be made by someone who had a consistent hermeneutic, or even some slight regard for the rules of interpretation. But this book is riddled with straw men, accusing Christians of “cherrypicking” but ignoring the reasons behind Christian practices -- rules of interpretation, issues regarding continuity and discontinuity, the progress of redemptive history and what that means for the applicability of ceremonial laws, the limits and purpose of narrative portions of scripture, genre, context, etc.
To her credit, she occasionally admits that her rigidly literal reading and extreme application is not what the Bible teaches (for instance, sitting on the rooftop to do penance), but it's still misleading. Maybe it was not her intention to make the Bible (and Christians) seem antiquated, oppressive, and ridiculous, binding heavy burdens impossible for modern women to bear, but because her year of “Biblical” womanhood was basically a publicity stunt, she had a vested interest in interpreting Scripture in the most bizarre manner possible. What's tragic about her caricatures and ridicule, is that they may cause those unfamiliar with the Bible's teaching to dismiss it out of hand.
I find that I relate to Rachel a lot, as I'm sure many women who picked up this book do. I love my Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, but I struggle with the Bible. Not in a "throw it away, it's oppressing me!" way, but in the way that I frequently come across a chapter or verse that pricks at my soul and honestly confuses me and scares me. Rachel Held Evans has beautifully demonstrated how the Bible continues to morph itself to serve us and allow us to serve our God. Each challenge that she accepts teaches her something and opens her mind a bit. She shares with us the heroic women of the Bible - from women lauded through their prophesying, to those praised for driving a stake through the head of the enemy. Additionally, she shares her thoughts and feelings on how women are viewed and treated in churches around the world today. But most enjoyable for me is how living Biblically changed her life - in the first few chapters, she indicates how 'submitting' eventually evolves into a gentler and listening demeanor (something I realized that I also needed to work on in my own life).
I've read many reviews that have condemned Rachel for making a mockery of the Bible. I feel, however, that there is no way to love the Bible more than to go over it again and again in your heart and mind, forever learning from it and attempting to undersand it. Thank you, Rachel.
Close to a 5 for me minus the fact that it felt kinda long at times. Rachel Held Evans words are honest, full of curiosity and she puts her whole self into her work. A fascinating perspective/experiment of taking scripture in regards to how women are addressed and directed in literal terms. Revealed a lot of emphasis on the fact that scripture is contextual. This woman was out here pitching a tent on her period, worshipping her husband at the city gates and exposing the core of a woman of valor.
QOTB: “If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an out-dated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not "what does it say?", but "what am I looking for?" I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, "ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened." If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.”