I’ve followed Rachel Held Evan’s blog for about a year, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to receive a free copy of her new book from the publisher to review. (Of course, they probably wanted me to post the review before now, but let’s not get picky. I was busy making challah. Or something.)
I posted a review on Amazon, but here’s a slightly expanded version for you, my dear readers.
The book is called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. (Hey, if you got through that title, you might as well keep reading.)
For the girls (and guys) who sit in church or Bible study and think, “Gees, y’all. There are a few things about the Bible that are rather disturbing,” but are too afraid of being viewed as heretical freak-shows (or worse….feminists!) to really express those thoughts, this book is kind of fabulous. Rachel Held Evans writes that anyone who isn’t sometimes disturbed by the Bible probably hasn’t read it. As always, it’s refreshing to find an author who realizes that questioning the Bible is, in itself, not unbiblical, but realizes that inquiry can lead to a deeper and more profound faith.
In Biblical Womanhood, Evans questions what the heck it actually means to be a “biblical” woman. She accomplishes this by attempting to literally follow biblical mandates for women based on the virtues of gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace. She visits or interviews representatives from the Quakers, the Amish, Orthodox Jews, the Quiverfull Movement, and others in helping gain understanding on how different groups interpret “womanhood.”
Her journey makes for an entertaining and laugh-out-loud read as she…
-Camps out in her front yard during her period
– Cares for a kinda-freaky robot baby
– Praises her husband at the city gate
…and so much more. Seriously, at one point I spewed hot chocolate out my nose (ouch!) while reading how some scholars try to interpret the Song of Songs as not being about sex. “Sure. And Hooters represents the American affinity for owl culture.” Hah!
Are her adventures a bit gimmicky? Perhaps. But I’m a fan of anything that will bring readers to a book that truly explores the larger issues of women’s roles in the modern church and culture. Rachel has said in numerous interviews that she intended for this book to be a conversation-starter, and it most definitely is. (Hello my Wednesday-night study friends….can you guess which book I want us to tackle next? Just a suggestion, because you are SO Women of VALOR!)
A Few of the MANY Questions I asked myself while reading include:
– Why do some denominations feel that it’s okay for women to preach/teach while others don’t?
– What the heck is complementarianism?
– You mean the Proverbs 31 passage isn’t supposed to make me feel like a total megaflop of female achievement?
– What will my mom say if I get “eshet chayil” tattooed on my body? Seriously.
– Mark Driscoll said WHAT?! Is this Debi Pearl woman insane?! Will Rachel Held Evans replace my iPad if I hurl it against the wall in indignation?!
– So what would Walter Chantry or Quiverfull say to women who are infertile, like me?
– Why will Christians share an article about a political opinion thousands of times but completely ignore a post detailing how our Halloween candy contributes to child-trafficking and slavery?
Some reviewers have said that Rachel mocks the Bible, but I wonder what book they were reading….if they read anything at all. Does she employ a little snarky humor? Yes. But I never doubted that she loves the Bible and more importantly, that she loves God. I think to question something and then throw oneself into extensive research and life-interrupting, inconvenient, and uncomfortable situations to answer those questions shows more devotion than blind-acceptance of traditions simply because “that is the way it is.”
The book questions the way that Christians go about interpreting the Bible….how we often use “biblical” as an adjective placed in front of whatever noun we wish to control with a set of rules. But the Bible is bigger than a set of rules, and as Rachel writes, “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.”
One of the most interesting and thought-provoking portions is in the conclusion when she surmises that we ALL “pick and choose” when it comes to how to interpret the Bible. We’d all like to believe there’s only one “correct” interpretation, but a quick view of the varying practices of Christians regarding baptism, communion, marriage, womanhood, manhood, preaching, music, etc. reflects that perhaps it’s not so simple. Each person comes to the Bible with his or her own ideas, whether from personal life experiences, cultural context, or the teachings of a particular faith group.
This is how the Bible that was used to support slavery, persecute women, and wage war, is the same Bible that teaches us to abolish slavery, honor women, and encourage peace.
Evans quotes the philosopher Peter Rollins who writes, “In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naive attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and we must attempt to read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God.”
In other words, the important thing is how we pick and choose. Rachel writes, “Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?”
This book made me want to run to my Bible with a renewed sense of excitement to find the stories of women rarely mentioned in the Sunday-morning service. It made me want to do further research into several theological concepts mentioned. It made me want to meet a bunch of friends at Starbucks and have a lengthy conversation about our roles in the church and life. However, it did not make me want to start calling Charlie “master,” about which he was only mildly disappointed.
So to those who sometimes have questions, need encouragement, desire challenge, or hope for change…..to those who feel overwhelmed by trying to be a “biblical” this or that and think the Proverbs 31 woman was probably on a version of Xanax….or to those who think making challah sounds like fun…..I whole-heartedly recommend this book.