I received an advance Reader's Copy of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" for review, much to my delight. I've been looking forward to the release of this book since I learned of Rachel Held Evans' bold project. I was very interested in the idea of living for a year according to as literal a reading as possible of the Bible's texts pertaining to women.
I was not disappointed. Having been introduced to Rachel's writing on her blog, I already found myself drawn in by her generously inclusive style and her ready wit. I assumed, rightly so, that the book would be more of the same. While I don't agree with every one of Rachel's conclusions, I appreciate that she doesn't leave closed doors. She invites conversation, including disagreement.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Rachel's adventures. Among my favorites were her not-quite-right apple pie, her front lawn camp-out, and her experience with a mutinous electronic baby. I equally appreciated her more thought-provoking accounts of her interactions with a wide range of people with whom she met in the course of the project. Readers will meet all sorts of quirky and interesting women, from Rachel's Orthodox Jewish correspondent in Israel to the woman who broke down the barriers to preaching in Texas to the women working to build better lives in Bolivia.
When it comes to Rachel's thorough examination of Scripture, I found myself most appreciative of three things: First, each chapter contains an account of a woman whose story can be found in the Bible. I had often seen these women as "perfect," the women who did exactly what God wants all good and faithful women to do--the same things that we are supposed to do today. Instead, Rachel demonstrates how many of these women defied what modern Christians expect; this was a refreshing take on passages I've read many times. Second, I deeply appreciate Rachel's examination of Proverbs 31, the Wife of Noble Character. I had always seen the Proverbs 31 wife as an enemy, because she was an ideal I could never match. Rachel expertly demonstrates why we don't need to fear the reverent poetry in the text and why each one of us, in our own way, is Eshet chayil--a woman of valor. Third, I enjoyed Rachel's fresh insights into what the words of the Bible came to mean for her during each phase of her project. This provided a welcome change from the hard-line "commandment" view of a woman's role within the community of faith.
Although there has been much talk about Rachel being irreverent, "ignoring" Scripture or tradition, or making a mockery of the Bible, not one of those things is true. It is obvious that Rachel's love for the Bible grew as she worked her way through the year. It is vital that anyone who wants to understand her perspective must read the book, even if the end result is confirming disagreement with Rachel. I believe this book is one of the most important books of our time.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, even those who take a less progressive view of their Christian faith and those who (like me) are considerably more liberal than Rachel herself. Be warned, though, it may change your perspective and soften your heart.
When I just started to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I discovered that it had been described as putting the Bible "on trial "in the court of Rachel Held Evans, where she would be the "prosecution, judge, and jury" who would have the "final word on womanhood." I read and read and read, but I never got to that part. I guess my copy must have excluded it (the publisher send me an actual copy and not an "Advanced Review Copy", so maybe that had something to do with it).
Instead, what I found throughout the book was an exploration of what it means to be a "Biblical woman" by experiencing the various rules for women and looking at them from a variety of perspectives. Through her journey, Rachel Held Evans brought in advice and knowledge from Amish women, an Orthodox Jewish woman, 1950s women and Catholicism (that is just a sampling). She showed that there are many different Christian (and Jewish!)
understandings of the Bible. She was able to show how although we may all look at things a bit differently, there are many of us that still take seriously the question of what God wants from us. It is the kind of book that makes one wonder "how can, and should, I apply the Bible to my life?"
Example: (October, "Gentleness") When she keeps a "jar of contention" in order to learn to be more gentle and quiet, she learns more about how gossip, or lashon hara, was detrimental to Miriam (in Exodus), she realizes that she had gossiped about another writer. And although she was cultivating better behavior, she knew that it wasn't behavior alone that she needed to change, but the spirit behind it, and so she learned how to pray "contemplative prayer" in order to let God work on her insides.
Example: (March, "Modesty") Many Christian women are taught to be modest, but there are a lot of different ideas out there as to what modesty actually consists of. During this month, Evans wears a head covering, full-length dresses/skirts, no short sleeves or v-necks, and no jewelry. She consults with both Amish women and an Orthodox Jewish woman, who are known for prioritizing modesty. In the end, she learns that modesty really has little to do with clothing, jewelry, or makeup, but rather the spirit behind it, and that "modesty fits each woman a little differently" (140).
I loved that she took the time to research and understand Jewish practices. In my experience, many Christians are seemingly unaware that we did not have the Bible first, and that there is a long history of interpretation before it came to be "ours". While it is true that Christians are not commanded to keep Jewish law, understanding it and where it comes from gives enormous background and brings insight to the text.
Throughout the book, I found myself laughing, crying, feeling serious, feeling contemplative, and I ended the book with a smile on my face. I could see the journey she had been on and could see how she had learned and grown in her faith. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an easy and fast read, but a thought-provoking one. Christians who want to grow in discipleship of Jesus would benefit from reading this book. As many of us know from participating in "small groups", discipleship is hard and not always a one-size-fits-all prescription, but we are always encouraged to seek God and ask how we should apply various things in the Bible to our lives. While this is one woman's story, and is not meant to be something everyone must do, it can open up conversations about how to live our lives and better follow Jesus.
This book gets it. Rachel gets it. Finally a concrete example of the tragedy of misappropriating ancient scriptures to a modern context. Rachel does this through the highlighting of female roles and identity played in scripture and how ludicrous applying these to our day and age is, but it could be done about any number of issues in scripture as the underlying point Rachel seems to make (not the main point as that is obviously about the facade of a "biblical woman") is showing the implications of misunderstanding scripture's role in the life of the believer and shaping his/her identity. She is able to walk the thin line between recognizing the challenges of a 2000+ year old text and finding relevance and meaning for a 21st Century audience -- and not having to discard the Bible in the end! I think that's the beauty underlying this book: Rachel tears down an erroneous conventional hermeneutic and advocates for a simple and profound reading of scripture that reflects her own love and appreciation for God's Word.
I suggest all Christian women (and men for that matter!) read this book - not only for the great humour throughout but also because there's a complex that so many women have in the church as a result of, usually, listening to men in authority expound on how the Bible says women need to act. They feel guilt and shame for pursuing careers... for teaching scripture... etc. This book will help clear up some of these misconceptions and will do so with grace extended to those not of the same mindset so that walls don't have to go up and meaningful dialogue can pursue as a result.
This is the first book by Rachel Held Evans that I've read and I was pleasantly surprised by the careful handling of scripture, the willingness to ask hard questions and the courage to leave questions unanswered when scripture didn't directly speak to it.
Given what some people elsewhere are saying about the book (and, ironically, quoting the book out of context to make it look like the author doesn't care about good hermeneutics), you might be surprised to hear that this book handles scripture carefully, but it does. In fact, I would say that this book has by far the best study and explanation of the Proverbs 31 woman I've read anywhere. It was eye-opening and beautiful.
In addition, the book sets a great example of a loving marriage. Rachel's husband, Dan, left me thinking about ways I could be a better husband.
Having said that, this book is not so much an exploration of what scripture says as much as it is an exploration of how we (the Christian community) have interpreted it. She holds up a mirror and asks us whether this looks right, if we've really thought this through. And, to her credit, she doesn't push her own point of view often in the book, sharing instead her thoughts, her questions and her conclusions, but not forcing those on the reader or pronouncing them the only way to faithfully serve God as a woman.
No doubt some people will kick against this book because it doesn't match their own preconceptions about womanhood, or what they've been taught, or something along those lines. But it does do this: it takes the Bible, womanhood and what we should do about those things seriously. Don't write it off because of what someone tells you. Read it for yourself.
I got to the end of the book and thought, "What Christian woman wouldn't read this and feel a deep sense of relief and the peace of God?" I immediately bought a copy for my wife, and I have several friends who will be getting copies, too. And, when they get a little older, I'd happily have my daughters read this as well (my oldest is eleven, so maybe just a touch too young).
All that to say: this book surprised me. It made me laugh. I got choked up once. It dealt with issues of womanhood and the Bible with care and with a real heart toward helping women be Christ-centered in their lives. It's the best book about womanhood from a Christian perspective that I have read.
Year of Biblical Womanhood is a beautiful, hilarious, real, challenging, and honest book! Rachel Held Evan's takes us on her journey to figure out what God's plans are for women according to the Bible--LITERALLY. She writes in a conversational way that makes it both a FUN and important read for women--Christian and non-Christian a like.
If you are a woman who has struggled with both who the world tells us we need to be, and who the church has told us to be, you will find Rachel's approach to her own questions and struggles encouraging. You will also feel connected to women all over the world and the women in the Bible.
As a former youth minister, I would have loved to use this book when mentoring High School and college-age girls! God's love for women shines through this book, as she shares the stories of women in the Bible that some of us don't even realize are in there!
For those of us who have grown up in Church or attend a church now, so much of what we read and hear about God is from a man's perspective. The way many of our churches are set up, we can easily begin believing that making sense of God's Story is a man's job, rather than seeing that is a gift, and the role of each of God's children! When we do this, we all miss out on experiencing God's fullness in our communities. Hearing about Him in this book from Rachel's perspective, was so refreshing, freeing, and inspiring. Women (and men) need to read/see other women grapple with theology and the Bible (it is so important to the growth of the Body of Christ!)--and Rachel does just that in this book!
Finally, this book is also an incredible read for pastors of churches--whether they agree with Rachel theologically or not. Rachel's book reveals the hearts of so many women today who are faced with the pressure to be and do it all, and yet who want to follow God's plan above everything else. This will help anyone who is preaching to or pastoring women, understand their stories and hearts a little bit better.