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Monday, October 29, 2012

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Obligatory Disclaimer: I was provided with a free electronic version of this book in exchange for an honest review. Also, these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Biblical voting, biblical counseling, biblical leadership, biblical womanhood. Biblical is used as an adjective quite a bit these days, and Rachel Held Evans was troubled by this trend.

We evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definite opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own. Despite insistent claims that we don't "pick and choose" what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word "biblical" prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity.

So Evans took a year to examine what it means to be a biblical woman--literally. Month by month, she focused on different attributes, qualities, and commands related to women in the Bible. At the end of each chapter, she also highlighted actual biblical women. From Deborah to Martha to Tamar to Vashti, it was an interesting glimpse into the diversity you find when you explore the historical women whose lives are described in Scripture.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood is more memoir than theological textbook and reads like a journal--complete with observations from her husband, Dan, throughout the project. Her honesty borders on rawness, and she is open about her weaknesses, struggles, and shortcomings. She is also open about what she learned from people who differ from her; for instance, she cultivated a deeper understanding of the Jewish roots of Christianity as well as a new appreciation for homemaking. This honesty and humility are endearing.

It forced me to confront the ugly air of condescension that permeated my attitude toward homemaking. It was out of ignorance and insecurity that I ever looked down my nose at women who make homemaking their full-time occupation.

I was pleasantly surprised to find so much humor in the book. A fellow Alabama fan, I completely sympathized with the difficulty of working on Gentleness during football season. I also cackled when she, trying to keep kosher, went to a family cookout and complained about their "buffet of abomination." And, being a non-crafty type myself, I fell in the floor at this description.

My aversion to crafting goes way back to an incident in kindergarten during which, upon gluing something like the fortieth Cheerio to the inside of a giant O-shaped construction paper cutout, I was suddenly struck by the futility of human existence.

The chapter on Fertility really hit home with me personally as well. I could completely relate to her fears about becoming a parent. {It took us six years to decide we were ready for our family to grow!} But, especially as a Christian in the South, I can't count how many times I've heard motherhood described as the "highest calling." This is problematic because it diminishes your other accomplishments, elevates mothers over other Christian women, and doesn't reflect that following Christ is every Christian's highest calling--no matter their other life circumstances.

Again, it's not a theological textbook, but there are a lot of deep concepts to discuss here. {I was fascinated to read about the uses of the word "helper" or "help-meet" in Scripture, for example. Hint: they don't all involve a wife's relationship to her husband.} Evans has said that she wants the book to be a starting point for conversation and discussion, and I think this is an excellent idea. If my library book club were still meeting, this would be the next one on our list! 

A couple of quick things to note. While Evans clearly takes issue with the use of the term biblical womanhood, she is not taking issue with the Bible itself. The experiment is, admittedly, snarky at times, but I didn't find it to be mocking--certainly not of God's word--and this distinction is important to keep in mind when reading. 

Another criticism I've read is that she is arguing against a straw man. I can understand this, given that there are a variety of beliefs about what it means to be a biblical woman. However, from Debi Pearl to John Piper, there are plenty of well-established opinions that Evans cites. While she does not argue with one single proponent of biblical womanhood, she still makes a good case. And perhaps the variety of definitions actually proves her point. If the advocates of biblical womanhood can't even agree on a definition of what that means in real life, why should Christian women be burdened under an extra-biblical list of requirements?

We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master

It would be easier if the Bible were simply a set of rules that told us exactly what to do in every single situation, but this is just not the case. Yes, the Bible is inspired and inerrant. But our interpretations are not, and we have to be humble enough to admit that in our search for its truth, we will likely get some things wrong.

Other favorite quotes...

I get the sense that many in the contemporary biblical womanhood movement feel that the tasks associated with homemaking have been so marginalized in our culture that it's up to them to restore the sacredness of keeping the home. This is a noble goal indeed, and one around which all people of faith can rally. But in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God's presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God's presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.

The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it--with valor.

Like the Bible, parenting philosophies are subject to differing interpretations and applications, and as with the Bible, no one seems to want to admit that.

We tend to take whatever's worked in our particular set of circumstances...and project that upon everyone else in the world as the ideal. We do this, I think, to protect ourselves, to quiet those pesky insecurities that follow us through life, nipping at our heels. To declare that your way is the only way effectively eliminates any fear that you might be wrong, or at least pushes it below the surface for a time.


  1. That sounds like an interesting read.

  2. Loved this review. Such an interesting post!

    1. Thanks! I think you'd definitely enjoy the book.

  3. Thanks for your review! Will you help us get Rachel Held Evans on The Colbert Report? Join the movement: @RACHELonREPORT! Thanks!


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