Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood
This is me, at my local bookstore, buying a copy of Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
I’ve got a lot to say about this awesome book, but first, a confession.
I like Rachel Held Evans. I think she’s a great blogger and a terrific human being. But when I heard her next book was going to be about taking a year to “literally” follow all the Bible’s rules for women, I have to confess, I was uneasy about the concept.
See, I love the Bible. I think it gets a bad rap. And whenever people do this kind of thing, it always seems to end up with implicitly making fun of the Bible or people who take it seriously. All too often, the message is, “Look how silly people would look if they actually believed the Bible and all the ridiculous things in it!” And because there’s no differentiation between NT and OT, and no understanding of the actual context of the passages, the implicit suggestion ends up being that we should abandon the whole thing as outdated.
It seems I’m not the only one who had those reservations. Internet critics began hurling such accusations at Rachel’s book long before it was even released, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this may have been one of the primary reasons Lifeway refused to carry the book.
But now that I’ve read the book, I’ve learned my lesson: Never underestimate Rachel Held Evans. Not only were my fears unfounded; this is easily one of my favorite books of the year, and it’s a book I recommend to Christians everywhere who struggle with how to relate to a Bible whose texts sometimes perplex us.
First, this book isn’t what I thought it would be, and that’s a good thing. I already knew that the book’s gimmick was that Rachel spent a year doing crazy things like sitting on her roof and camping out during her period, all drawn from various Bible texts. What I didn’t know—and this is key to understanding the whole project—was that she freely admits throughout the book that this is just a gimmick. She doesn’t pretend, for instance, that the Bible commands women to sit on their roofs. It’s a gimmick she sets up from the beginning in order to make a larger point about gentleness, one of twelve traits she focuses on throughout the year. It makes the story interesting, and it gives us the opportunity to laugh while she does some real digging about what it means to be “gentle” or “contentious.”
See, the title A Year of Biblical Womanhood is actually somewhat of a misnomer. A more accurate title might have been A Year of Intentionally Putting Myself into Awkward, Hilarious, and Enlightening Situations as Part of Experiments to Help Me Explore My Relationship with the Bible and How I Read It as a Woman in My Culture. (I guess someone at Thomas Nelson didn’t think that title would sell as well. Or fit on the spine.) Rachel’s not claiming, as some critics seem to assume, that wearing head coverings and sitting on her roof are “biblical womanhood.” Instead, she uses her year to explore a number of biblical concepts, partly by challenging herself in various ways and partly by giving herself a taste of how other women—from Orthodox Jews to Quiverfull families to Bolivian seamstresses to Old Order Mennonites—live out their own understanding of “biblical womanhood.” Along the way, she discovers things she didn’t know about herself and inspires us (women and men) to do the same.
The results are really, truly funny. And it’s the best kind of humor, too—you know, when a brilliant storyteller tells you about some hilarious incident, and you just can’t help but laugh out loud in spite of yourself. I read portions of this book to my very ill mother, who can barely speak, and even she laughed out loud. This is a book that makes you feel good.
But beyond that, this is a book that inspires. Amidst the laugh-out-loud stories are moments that have literally changed the way I think about certain issues in my life. Yes, the book does address questions about gender roles and Rachel’s view on male-female complementarity, but the issues here are far bigger. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is ultimately about how we treat one another, how we see ourselves, and how we live out the gospel in our everyday lives.
And therein lies one of the book’s biggest secrets: It’s not just for women. Men, go out there and get yourself a copy, too. I know, some guys wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. To them I say: Man up! (Okay, I hate that phrase, but do it anyway.) This is a book you should read. It will speak to you, and it will give you a greater appreciation of things you didn’t know you needed to know.
Of course, some readers will disagree with Rachel’s take on certain Scriptures, or with how she reads the Bible in general. That’s unavoidable. But even if you wind up disagreeing with every point of theology she raises, I believe the read is worth it for the stories alone. In fact, if any critics out there write negative reviews of Rachel’s book because they disagree with her reading of certain Bible passages, but they fail to mention anything about the life-changing stories of Rachel’s encounters with poor Bolivian women, I can only assume they wrote their reviews without reading that far in the book. This is the kind of book that surprises you at every turn and changes you bit by bit in ways you never expected. You can agree or disagree with Rachel’s conclusions, but her experiences can and should change you regardless.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood probably won’t change the minds of people who hold a complementarian view of gender roles—though the depiction of Rachel’s relationship with her husband is pretty darn inspiring in itself. What it will do is give many Christians a new way to articulate the nuance of their faith and spark renewed confidence in themselves as children of God with many different ways to serve and many ways to grow closer to their Creator. And that, I believe, is worth the price of admission.
Eshet chayil, Rachel. Eshet chayil.
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