Why You Should Read A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading through and blogging about A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. For more detailed posts, go back to the Year of Biblical Womanhood category tag. In this post, I’d like to wrap it all up for those who want a faster introduction (and so that there are less spoilers when you go out and buy it). Unlike some other reviewers – typically those opposing her message – I have read the entire book because I received an advanced copy for the purposes of blogging about it (and tweeting about it, etc.).
This book has now made it into my top recommended books for any Christian. I’m still debating exactly where, but I’m thinking around number 5. It’s in pretty esteemed company in my opinion. There are a lot of good reasons why you should be reading this book:
It’s Strong in Biblical Scholarship
I can honestly say I learned quite a bit from the biblical scholarship which she employed in this book, drawing on a variety of Christian and Jewish interpreters. I knew virtually nothing about the Proverbs 31 woman, the eschet chayil, other than that many conservatives used it to trap women in specific roles. I didn’t really know anything about Song of Solomon except that Mark Driscoll did a famous series on it a few years ago which was similarly primarily about how women are supposed to serve men. That one’s particularly sad because the only one who is willing to talk so bluntly about sex is coming up with very sexist conclusions. I learned about Jewish rituals for women, most of which are still practiced by at least Orthodox Jews. Throughout the entire book, it was clear how much time she had put into acquainting herself with pretty much the entire biblical text as well as a range of scholarly interpretations.
It’s Emotionally Powerful
I can’t think of any other book where I can say both of these first two points. Usually it is either one or the other (or all too often it’s neither). I’m envious of writers like Rachel. I am pretty good at explaining fairly complex theological positions. What I am not good at is emotionally moving people. Somehow, in between incredibly challenging thoughts about the plight of women and the problems with the biblical womanhood movement, Rachel routinely had me feeling more than I’ve felt from a book at any other point I can remember (I usually only read non-fiction). About once a chapter on average I almost cried. If it was just this emotional element, I would be worried that she was trying to trick people into her position, but it really just makes the intellectual biblically-grounded concepts personal which is extremely important.
I found this did go in stretches, but there were quite a few times that I laughed at loud sitting at my computer reading. Some were friendly jabs at the Evangelical sub-culture. A lot were at her own expense. Most could be appreciated by everybody, including those who disagree with her. This shouldn’t be under-rated because it enables her to get a point across in a relatable way that still shouldn’t offend those who disagree with her. That leads to the next point…
It Makes a Strong Point Gently
It’s pretty obvious that the book has a strong message. She is arguing very convincing that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all “biblical womanhood” which all Christian women must live out or they are living in sin. She points out that there are multiple types of women within the Bible as well as multiple ways to interpret texts of commands for women. While this message which will be very challenging for some conservative complementarians, she always points toward it with grace and respect. There is no evidence of mocking the Bible as some have accused, usually without reading the book (the Holy Spirit must have just given them special revelation). This is exactly the kind of voice that we need more of in the church, refusing to settle for either going into isolation or declaring all disagreement as heresy.
It Encourages Thought
At no point did I feel like Rachel was telling me what to think. She was exposing us to powerful ideas and encouraging us to think for ourselves. Many churches, both conservative and liberal, have fallen into the trap that it is best to establish what truth is and don’t let anyone argue with it. Many of us emerging-types, though, don’t think that’s a very healthy way to live. We prefer to encourage thought which really only happens through honest dialogue with other Christians who might not agree with us on everything. That leads to the final point…
It Encourages Christian Unity
Some conservative complementarians will argue that this book is divisive, especially if it encourages women to speak out against oppression in their churches. I really don’t think that’s the point, though. Instead, I fleshed out what I think is the main point in my post Loving the Bible for What It Is, Not What We Want It To Be. The core thought of the book is that we need to break free of the arrogance that we know exactly what every single person (in this case, women) should do. It especially challenges those in the Evangelical sub-culture who claim that because that’s how they understand Scripture, that’s the same thing as what Scripture says. If this wasn’t done so gently, it would be easy to say that this is divisive, attacking that sub-culture.
Since it is done so gently, though, it is blatantly obvious how much Rachel loves and respects her evangelical brothers and sisters and is driven by that. She disagrees with them on some issues – not nearly all and not any of the central beliefs of the faith – but there’s nothing wrong with that. If you disagree with her, that’s ok, but at the very least I have to think that, unless you put your worth in the fine details of your doctrine, there’s no reason to be offended by this book. With that same assumption that you put your worth in Jesus rather than precise doctrine and Scriptural interpretation, you’ll come through the book feeling like the church is better off with many voices in dialogue as family. Maybe it will even encourage you to look at other positions before demonizing them in order to declare them heretics.