“A Year of Biblical Womanhood” by Rachel Held Evans

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 at 10:52 am

Since the publication of announcement of Rachel Held Evans’ year-long project attempting to live as a “Biblical woman”, criticisms have been flying strong through the interwebs. The evangelical camp to which I belong (complementarian Biblical literalists) has been highly critical of Evans’ project, and of her published book. They have argued that Evans treats complementarianism unfairly and that Evans’ approach to the Bible undermines the “truthfulness and sufficiency and relevance of the Bible”.

I agree.

Evans frequently mischaracterizes the complementarian position; and, while she critiques many conservative interpretations of Scripture related to womanhood, she never sets forth any system for properly interpreting Scripture–which means that she ends up encouraging the reader to take a lower-than-fully-inspired view of Scripture (Kathy Keller’s review addresses this in more depth).

On the other hand, I enjoyed this book and found myself frequently “Mmm-hmm”ing along with Evans’ conclusions.

How is this?

I knew from the outset that there were going to be plenty of disagreements between Evans and me. I knew that she has crossed the divide between conservative and liberal Scriptural interpretation. But I like memoirs, and I like projects, and I like reading things from perspectives other than my own.

I approached this book, then, in the same way as I approached A.J. Jacobs’ A Year of Living Biblically. I approached it as an amusement read, something which may be used to hone and deepen my convictions or may just be something to go “Huh” at.

While I disagreed with plenty of what Evans had to say, I found myself nodding along as she concluded each month of her year focusing on a different trait of “Biblical womanhood”.

At the end of the month on Gentleness:

“Mastering a gentle and quite spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften. What they forgot to tell us in Sunday School is that the ‘gentle and quiet spirit’ Peter wrote about is not, in fact, an exclusively feminine virtue, but is elevated throughout the New Testament as a trait expected of all Christians.

Within the chapter on beauty:

“Both husbands and wives bear the sweet responsibility of seeking beauty in one another at all stages of life. No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweatpants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer. Any pastor who claims the Bible says otherwise is lying. End of story.

At the end of the chapter on modesty:

“There are women for whom the bonnets and aprons foster humility and women for whom the same things foster pride. That’s because true modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup. The virtue that is celebrated in Scripture is so elusive we struggle to find words to capture its spirit…

And so we codify. We legislate. We pull little girls to the front of the class and slap rulers against their bare legs and try to measure modesty in inches…. We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master.

More often than not, this backfires, and our attempts to be different result in uniformity, our attempts to be plain draw attention to ourselves, our attempts to temper sexuality inadvertently exploit it, and our attempts to avoid offense accidentally create it.

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 but how we wear it.

And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently.”

At the close of the chapter on purity:

“There was a message behind these healings [in which Jesus touched unclean individuals], and it sounded throughout…the world: When God became human, when he wrapped himself in our blood and skin and bones, his first order of business was to touch the ones that we would not touch, to fellowship in our sufferings, and to declare once and for all that purity is found not in the body, but in the heart.”

In the chapter on fertility:

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling it to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar.”

Yes, I definitely agreed with a lot of her thoughts on the spirit behind the law–whether or not I agree with her on the value of keeping the letter of the law (or why one might be or not be bound to follow the law.)

Do I recommend this book?

Sure, but with the encouragement to read critically but not judgmentally. Enjoy Evans’ escapades, laugh at her turns of phrase–and critically evaluate her interpretations.


Rating:4 Stars
Category:Project Memoir
Synopsis:Evans describes her year of trying to take the Bible as literally as possible in regards to womanhood.
Recommendation: Go ahead and read it. Enjoy her experiences and critically evaluate her Biblical interpretations.

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Reader Comments (3):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    Thanks, Bekah. I have this downloaded but haven’t read it yet. I think my thoughts would be much the same as yours.

  2. Well, I had to look up what complementarian Biblical literalists…but also belong to that camp. Hadn’t heard of this, but makes me curious.

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