I expected to like this book. I have loved Rachel Held Evans' blog for years. Her posts during her "Year of Biblical Womanhood" were entertaining as Rachel stumbled through learning to cook and sew. They were thought provoking as she struggled through difficult Bible passages. Her blog posts were inspiring as she campaigned for women of valor throughout the world.
And the book was more than twice as good.
There were several times when Rachel wrote something that echoed my thoughts so exactly it was almost uncanny. "Tearing a chicken into bite-size pieces requires that a girl get rather intimate with her meat, and I hate getting intimate with my meat" (pg 25).
But it wasn't all amusing antics.
In no way was A Year of Biblical Womanhood making fun of the Bible, or of those who practice Biblical womanhood differently (from Rachel or from cultural norms). She interviews a Quiverfull daughter as well as a female pastor with respect and grace. She visits a Catholic monastery and a Quaker service. Rachel, as strong as her opinions are, went into the project and each of the activities with an open mind.
Of course, some of the projects were rather gimmicky, like sleeping out in a tent during her period, but they added comic relief so that we would not be weighed down by the more serious themes.
This book was wonderful. Whether you think you'll agree or be offended, you should read it. Rachel does not try to be offensive. She treats the Bible and women with the utmost respect. She manages to tell an awesomely entertaining story as well as inspire me to strive to be a woman of valor.
As an ordained pastor in a mainline denomination, the term "Biblical Womanhood" doesn't show up very often in conversations. I quickly realized while my faith tradition may not explicitly use this phrase, the idea of "Biblical Womanhood" has permeated into the fibers of our society and shaped how all of us think of women and ourselves.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a smart and incredibly humorous read. Her writing is well researched, thoughtful and brave. With each passing month of Rachel Held Evans' ambitious pursuit, the life and faith of our ancestral sisters comes to life. The vulnerability and bittersweet truth of womanhood, both historical and present day, is exposed and handled with grace and honesty. She takes the Bible very seriously and holds on to the living stories of God with great humility and care. We are moved beyond the cultural use of Biblical stereotypes and reductions, to an honest, reflective and life giving place.
This book increased my empathy for my sisters and brothers within the Body of Christ, and highlights the areas where all Christians need to unite in pursuit of the gospel.
This book would be a wonderful discussion starter for groups of all sizes and makes for a deep and stirring personal devotion.
I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I started reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I had only recently begun reading Rachel Held Evan's blog and hadn't followed her posts about her Year of Biblical Womanhood project. The blurb on the back of the cover doesn't begin to do this book justice. Nor do the summaries explain what going along with Rachel on her one-year journey will do to your perspectives on so many woman's issues.
The author spends a year trying to live out in practical ways some of the qualities that different people of Judeo-Christian faith have considered essential if one is to be considered a "Biblical Woman." Each month of her experiment year, Rachel focuses on one of these qualities: Gentleness, Domesticity, Obedience, Valor, Beauty, Modesty, Purity, Fertility, Submission, Justice, Silence and Grace.
For example, for the Month of March she focused on Modesty. Her goals for that month were to 1. Dress modestly, 2. Wear a head covering, 3. Wear only dresses and skirts, 4. Abstain from wearing jewelry, 5. Hang out with the Amish.
Being a strong-willed, independent-thinking Christian woman in a marriage in which she and her husband treat each other as equals, it is quite a jolt from her normal existence to attempt to follow some of what women in the "Biblical Womanhood" movement, the Amish/Mennonite sects, the Orthodox Jews, the "Quiverfull" movement believe and do every day of their lives. Rachel spends time interviewing woman from these groups (and others). She does this in a respectful way, giving the reader insight into the thinking behind lifestyles that many would harshly judge. As she incorporates some of their practices into her own daily life, she shares her frustrations and insights as she makes these lifestyle changes. At the end of each chapter Rachel shares her own conclusions about what the Bible really says about the different "Values for Christian Woman" (the name of a course I actually took in Bible college). To give you a tiny taste, here are some of Rachel's conclusions at the end of her month of focus on Modesty: 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, it's how we wear it. And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently. (Rachel Held Evans - page 140 - AYOBW)
After each chapter, Rachel also spotlights a "Woman of Valor." A woman from the Bible (like Eve, Esther, Ruth, Mary, etc.) who embodies values contemporary women would want to emulate. Another Rachel quote: Among the women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs. What makes these women's stories leap from the page is not the fact that they all conform to some kind of universal ideal, but that, regardless of the culture or context in which they found themselves, they lived their lives with valor. They lived their lives with faith. And as much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of "biblical womanhood," there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves....(Rachel Held Evans - page 295 - AYOBW).
Rachel's honest voice makes you laugh out loud one minute and then you'll come to tears two pages later. She is a fantastic scholar and researcher (I say this as a Bible College graduate with a Master's degree in Library Science), but she makes her research so readable you might take for granted the hours she spent and volumes she read before she put pen to paper.
I was so fortunate to be asked to read an advance copy of this book. I've passed my half-century mark, and spent years struggling to understand many of the very things that Rachel dealt with during her project year. She was able to put words to what I knew in my heart was true. Thank you, Rachel, for bringing us along on your refreshingly honest, hilarious, touching, insightful journey.
The word "biblical" in this book's title has to be taken with a grain of salt - maybe the entire shaker. This author's approach to the Bible is, to put it mildly, unorthodox. "The most instructive question to bring to the text is not, what does it say, but, what am I looking for?" In other words, what's already in your head is more important than what the writers of the Bible were trying to communicate. The Bible, for her, is a tool to be used however she likes, not the Word of God that believers are bound to honor. When she spends time trying to apply the purity laws in Leviticus to her own life, she is in fact making fun of the Bible, saying to the reader, "See how ridiculous we are trying to let the Bible guide our lives." In fact, Christian women have never, ever, applied the laws of Leviticus (in fact, no part of the Old Testament Law except for the Ten Commandments). For a time she abides by the kosher food laws, even though the Gospels and Paul's letters in the New Testament make it clear that Christians are not bound by those laws. The author is using a typical liberal ploy: pick some forgotten parts of the Old Testament, apply them to life, show how ridiculous it is, then draw the conclusion: Why bother to live by the Bible - after all, Christians don't actually follow it ALL to the letter anyway. She never deals with the fact that Christians have put aside the ritual laws (food, animal sacrifices, etc) but retained the moral teaching
Her take on Paul's words about husband and wives is "spun": she claims that since Paul told slaves to obey their masters, and since slavery no longer exists among Christians, that his words about wives being submissive to their husbands no longer apply either. That is faulty logic, since marriage was and is a universal institution, whereas slavery is not. Again, this is a familiar liberal ploy: point out an isolated verse from the Bible that Christians no longer observe, and jump to the conclusion that there is no point in being guided by the Bible at all.
Naturally she mentions the famous "Junias or Junia?" debate that has gotten feminists fired up in recent years, and she takes the feminists' side, i.e., the claim that Paul in Romans 16:7 refers to a woman relative named "Junia" as one of the apostles, but that later Bible scholars (all nasty sexists) added an "s" so that the apostle "Junias" is male. In fact, the issue is far from settled, though she assumes her readers' will gladly swallow her assertion that poor "Junia" was victim of a patriarchal conspiracy. To her the issue shows "the lengths to which some will go to try and silence a strong woman." In other words, there WERE female apostles, though it's curious that, if that were so, Junia is the ONLY one mentioned in the Bible. Most scholars (the ones without a feminist bias) have reached the conclusion that probably Romans 16:7 should read "Junia, who is esteemed by the apostles," but the author does not accept this.
"Right now thirty thousand children die every day from preventable disease." She cites this in a long list of "data" designed to support her point that women "prophets" are being silenced in the churches. What exactly the death of children has to do with women's role in churches is beyond me.
Most of the Christian women I know seem to get through the day without obsessing over what Paul said about women and whether Junia was male or female or whether they ought to follow the kosher laws, and they manage to negotiate the little conflicts that naturally arise between husbands and wives. They also manage to attend, and enjoy, church, as evidenced by the fact that the average church is about 55 percent women, 45 percent men - a fact that seems incompatible with sexism and patriarchy. Put another way, the author is addressing a "crisis" that doesn't exist.