New York Times Bestseller
What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really?
Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.
Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.
See what happens when a thoroughly modern woman starts referring to her husband as “master” and “praises him at the city gate” with a homemade sign. Learn the insights she receives from an ongoing correspondence with an Orthodox Jewish woman, and find out what she discovers from her exchanges with a polygamist wife. Join her as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women.
With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation. What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.
|Contributor(s)||Rachel Held Evans|
|About the Contributor(s)||Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans, an award-winning writer, is a popular blogger and the author of Faith Unraveled and the bestselling A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She lives in Dayton, TN.
|Release Date||Oct 30, 2012|
- Review by Crystal
This book would be a fantastic small group study for so many different reasons. You could decide to talk about the things she experienced, you could reflect on the Bible passages she includes, or - perhaps my favorite part of the book - you could look simply at the stories of overlooked women in the Bible included before each chapter.
Whether or not you agree with what she has to say, this book DOES make you want to dive into your Bible and really look at what it says about being a woman. There aren't enough books out there that do that. That alone makes this book worth buying and reading. (Posted on 11/16/12)
- Review by Jen
I know that there are a lot of women out there my age that are called to great things within the Kingdom but are confused because it doesn't fit within the rules of our traditions. Even for those of us who have moved on to new beliefs and new traditions it's hard to remove that part of you that was taught so early. But when I look out in the world I see a new movement of the Spirit within women and it's so hopeful because it has the power to really change things the world. And I see it starting with women like Rachel, and myself, and our daughters that will learn from us that God's call always trumps mans critiques.
"We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master." Rachel Held Evans
I've been challenged by each chapter to consider for myself what I believe to be true about certain scriptures and traditions. There were short themes that ran throughout each chapter of the book that seemed to work it's way under my skin. Like the chapter on Valor (which I particularly loved) and the chapter on Beauty. But there is an overarching theme that has allowed me to step into something God's been drawing me toward for the last few years.
I was trying to live out the religion that I inherited but it didn't match up with the relationship that I had with Jesus and the Spirit of the living God within me.
I see why we like to cling to the letter. It's much easier. It's so easy to sit down with our list of rules surrounded by people who all believe the same things and affirm our insecurities and have a nice answer for all of our questions. The letter helps us know when we are right and wrong. It helps us to know when others are right or wrong. It helps us to know who is in and who is out. Who makes the cut and who doesn't. Who's doing it right, and who's righteous, and who is just not right.
Those who need to "cling to the letter" rather than do the hard work of mastering the spirit will be threatened by this book.
Those of us who feel a call and have been told that there is no place for us will be greatly exhilarated. I too found what Rachel found - Permission. God's been trying to hand it to me for a few years now but I think as I read this book I finally took it in my hand, held it as my own, and thanked God for it.
Thank you Rachel! Eshet Chayil!
(Posted on 11/8/12)
- Review by Ashleigh
- Review by Beverley
I am thankful for this work on so many levels as a Pastor of a church I feel Rachel has given me enough to teach on for a year or more.
This is an important book. Well researched, with a wealth of information. I would recommend that it is a valuable resource of information and challenge for both men and women, young and old.
Rachel’s writing is refreshingly honest she lets us have a glimpse of her life and insecurities and how she meets these head on when faced with tasks that are not part of her make-up.
I found myself smiling and laughing and moved whilst reading in November when Rachel’s task was Domesticity,
‘The elevation of homemaking as woman’s highest calling is such a critical centrepiece to the modern biblical womanhood movement, I figured no one less than the domestic diva herself would do’.
Armed with a home making book by Martha Stewart the domestic diva who it seems spent 5 months in prison only to return to her empire built on said domesticity (who knew all things home-making could be so lucrative) Rachel sets to cooking and cleaning their home with increasing hilarity.
Rachel found a love for cooking but cleaning was another matter my laugh out loud moment was when she realised that Martha Stewarts cleaning jobs on the monthly ‘to do’ list, she did only once a year, and the every season, possibly never, I so resonated with her at that moment! Her story of mum cleaning whilst singing out loud to Carole King about ‘the sky tumbling down a tumbling down’ telling her daughters ‘it has to get messy before it gets clean’ summing up most things in life from home-making to friendships to faith, how true.
I was moved when Rachel speaks about her husband Dan on one fraught occasion when the preparations for a meal were not going to plan
“He let bury me bury my head in his chest and cry, leaving 2 distinct mascara marks on his white T shirt, sometimes after a tough week when doing the laundry I find I the same marks and I am reminded why I married this man”
I found myself provoked
'She must neither begin, nor complete anything without man: she must be, and bend before him as before a master, whom she shall fear and to whom she shall be subject and obedient.'
'Wives or prostitutes that's what women are.'
Quotes Martin Luther P- 178-179
Rachel tell the story of Jackie Roese who when she delivered her first sermon at Irving Bible college church Dallas in 2008 to the whole congregation (she had taught in ladies bible lessons) she had to have a bodyguard for protection.
Before she gave her first sermon she told her daughter 'sweetie, I'm doing this for Jesus, but I'm also doing it for you'.
‘Because I am a woman I must make peculiar effort to succeed. If I fail no one will say, she doesn’t have what it takes, they will say, women don’t have what it takes.’
Clare Boothe Luce
More girls have been killed in last 50 years because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the 20th century ' Half the sky
‘Right now 30,000 children die every day from preventable diseases
Right now a woman dies in childbirth every minute
Right now women ages 15-44 are more likely to be maimed or to die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.’ P280
I found myself Inspired
Rachel introduces us to a wonderful lady Ahava a Jewish lady who helps her understand the traditional part of the project she had to undertake. Proverbs 31 ‘the valorous woman’. Eshet-chayil pronounced- E-shet-hi-yil, means, ‘woman of valour.
At its core this is a blessing, one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given unconditionally. A ‘you go girl’ of our present day. I too am now challenged to look for all the women in my world to greet with these words, my dear friends who each deal with so much, my colleague a nurse who works full time and looks after her elderly mother. Also to my daughter a new mum who is doing a wonderful job being a great mummy to her little baby.
My heart responded with shouts of joy over the women of valour that Rachel met on her trip to Bolivia with World Vision. All these women are, ‘Eshet-chayil’.
I also found myself inspired by this beautiful prayer
Let nothing upset you
Let nothing startle you
All things pass
God does not change
Patience will win all it seeks
Whoever has God lacks nothing
God alone is enough
Theresa of Avila
I found myself Challenged
I learned that Judaism has no word for charity instead they speak of tzedakah justice or righteousness.
A charitable act can be a single response of giving but justice speaks to ‘right living’ of ‘aligning oneself with the world in a way that sustains rather than exploits the rest of creation’.
It's a commitment to the Jewish concept of 'tikkun olam' ‘repairing the world'.
Once we accept the challenge that we are connected to the rest of humanity we should not look back and we need to realise we have a part to play in tzedakah,for all.
(Posted on 11/6/12)
- Review by Deborah
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. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Brooke
Not surprisingly, Rachel does not merely engage in undertaking a simple to-do list and then record the outcome. Instead, she pairs scholarship with experience and teaches the reader along the way. She befriends Ahava, a Jewish woman who shares with Rachel the historical and cultural significance of certain Biblical practices, and in doing so passes along to the reader a broader context for the "Proverbs 31 woman." Throughout the book, Rachel highlights not only prominent women with positive Biblical stories, but she also refuses to shy away from, what she refers to as the "dark stories," and grapples with some of the more difficult passages about women in the Old Testament. In doing so, she honors them and their place in history.
As a Christian woman, wife, mom, out-of-the-home worker, church planter, and teacher, I see Rachel's work as a jewel--not because it simply reaffirms ideals that I have, but because it displays the beauty, richness, and diverse complexity that being a woman of faith is. It honors the woman who stays home and the one who works away; the woman who has children, and the one who does not. It shows respects to the Christian woman who has an impeccable home, as well as to the one who is passionate at her vocation with a few dust bunnies hiding in the corners. With each new adventure, Rachel manages to hoist on her shoulders, women from various backgrounds, and commend them as Eshet Chayil - women of valor. I was saddened at reaching the final pages and felt a great swelling of pride and admiration when Rachel completed her year at Rosh Hashanah.
To sum it up, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an inspiration. It encourages the reader to go back and take a second look at Biblical passages that may have felt oppressive and condemnatory, and instead read them with an appropriate contextual understanding. It made me want to undertake my own year, maybe not so extreme as Rachel's--I don't see standing on I-71 with a sign lauding my husband just yet--and see what lessons I can learn about the Bible, my faith, and myself. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Jessica
So I've been looking forward to her latest literary endeavor, The Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master, for over a year. I've followed her blog this last year as she has talked about the different things she has tried (making challah), introduced to new people (Ahava, an American Jewish wife of a Rabbi living in Israel), and the scandal (insert roll of eyes) of vagina-gate.
This week her book is released and I have the opportunity to be part of her Launch Team. So in addition to this review, I'll be posting some more thoughts on different topics she highlights in the book. I'd love to have some discussion so please join me and respond in the comment section. As an incentive, I will be giving away a free copy of her book at the end of the week. The more you participate the better your chances (more info to come).
So what did I think about the book?
I enjoyed my advanced copy though I must admit that reading it from front to back in electronic form was new to me. I missed having a pen and highlighter in hand to mark up or as my husband says, destroy a good book. Evans takes us on her year long journey of trying to living as "biblically" as possible as a woman. She sets out to try to follow as many of the instructions found in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as literally as possible. Some she will attempt to do all year long (her personal 10 Commandments which included covering her head when praying, homemaking, modesty and even mothering). Other instructions she would focus on for a month at at time. This monthly approach is how the book is set up; each month highlights a different "womanly" virtue: gentleness, modesty, silence, submission, obedience, grace, fertility, valor, domesticity, purity, and justice.
This set up is one of the strengths of the book. It takes us through a real year of day-to-day living. It's great to talk about what it means to be gentle, to submit and obey, or be full of grace. It is another thing to try to do that in real life when there are dinners to make, work to be done, and arguments that take place. Another strength of the book is Rachel's humor, both in general and specifically at herself. She is transparent and draws us in to her story because for many of us it could be our story: breaking down on the kitchen floor over a holiday dinner or an overly emotional outburst at a husband who is left scratching his head wondering what just happened.
It's also clear that Evans has done quite a bit of research. This is evidenced throughout the book as well as by the 9 pages of notes at the end of the book. This is great for people like me who like to know, regardless of whether we agree or not, that the writer isn't making things up. It also provides a lot of information for those who want to do further research on the subject or a specific topic as well. The research is, in my opinion, what makes the book get better with each chapter. Evans seems to draw us in with humor and a crazy idea (one you might not even be sure will be more than an exercise in futility or just a marketing gimmic) but she holds us as we begin to relate to her, as we laugh with her, as we are challenged (Evans is also challenged and actually holds on to some important lessons, rituals, and new skills when the year is over), and as we are convicted by how often we have judged.
This last thing - how often we judge - is I think one of the greatest gifts the book has to offer. It would be easy to assume that Evans is going to simply show how "silly" or "repressed" women are who adhere to "biblical womanhood." It would be easy to assume that Evans is advocating against women staying home or asserting that women who are more complementarain in their viewpoint "can't think for themselves." However, she does just the opposite In her honesty, not just about her struggles to do many of these "biblical womanhood" tasks but also about her own tendency to have judged and dismissed these very women, she points out our tendency to own God, to get copyrights on the word biblical, to own the patent on how the Bible should be read (and in doing so we miss out on possible lessons, insights, and skills that would be of benefit our faith).
My only criticism of the book is that I wish Evans had not chosen some of the more extreme voices of the complementarain stance on marriage and/or women in ministry. For example, while Debi Pearl may espouse an approach that would mean practically speaking that a woman should "relinquish control over the Netflix queue, giving [the husband the final say in restaurant choices, asking for permission before [she] made plans to go out with friends or start a new project," many of the women I know who practice complementarain in their marriage would intensely disagree with this approach. They do not think that because they submit to their husband in key areas or certain decisions that they cannot choose what to watch on TV for the night, pick a restaurant or ask for permission before planning a girls' night out on the town. In fact, many women I know would argue that the issue of submission, as in who has the final say, has only come up a handful of times in their twenty and thirty years of marriage They would also argue a man who has to have that degree of control is not obeying Christ and is not an example of "biblical manhood." My point is that even among those who are complementarains there is a lot of diversity in regards to what that means and what that looks like. As with most things in life (and as Evans points out often) life, nor the Bible are that simple.
Of course, to cover that diversity would require a whole other book and I think there is some good to her using the more extreme voices. It highlights issues such as what does it mean to do something bibilcally or to be biblical. What does it mean to follow the Bible literally? What does it mean to be a "woman of God?" Why do we follow some parts of the Bible and not others? Why is it so important to get this right? Or is it?
The answers to these questions are a good reason to read the book. Not because Evans gives you the answers, though you can clearly see what her views are, but rather because no matter where you fall on the spectrum of what can a woman do and what should she do in the home or church, you will be challenged to provide a fuller answer, one rooted in Christ, and one that hopefully leaves you seeing the woman on the "other" side with more compassion, more dignity, and maybe a little more freedom to be who God called her to be. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Jessica
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. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Beth
As a fairly well-read life-long Christian woman, I heard stories I don't remember hearing before and heard familiar stories in new ways. I loved the way the author found messages for all Christians, male and female, in women's stories. It was a wonderful break from the mindset that stories about men are universal and stories about women are about women.
I am saddened by some of the negative comments this book is getting. I find it deeply moving and very devout. This is a person who wants to use the Holy Bible to build a deeper relationship with God and become a more faithful follower of Christ.
I am an education director for a mid-sized church and am already pulling together a group for a book study. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Amber
If RHE’s aim in writing was to inspire conversation about what it means to be a woman, especially a woman in the evangelical subculture, then mission accomplished.
My BFF and I sat having breakfast at our favorite local diner at the end of last week, and we talked about the need for gentleness in the midst of a hard situation our church is facing, and I shared bits of chapter 1 of the YoBW – because, you know, I had it with me, because, you know, I’m living with this book.
I did something similar in my small group Bible study last week when we talked about our responses as women to global issues like sex-trafficking and hunger, and when I talked with a pregnant friend about mothering. One of my oldest friends, a guy who’s known me since middle school, emailed me as I was tweeting my way through my read and shared his thoughts about submission and marriage, and in the nearly twenty years that we’ve known each other has never been something we’ve talked about. Ultimately, I think that’s what “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” is --- a conversation starter.
It’s a book that has the potential to kick start us into talking about things that matter. I know because it did that for my friends and me. And Rachel Held Evans is someone who had the courage to share her thoughts and get the conversation going.
My hope is that as the conversation continues that we’d all have the same courage to share what it is that we actually think, what it is we actually fear, and what it is that we’d actually like to see be different. And my hope is that we shroud that conversation with Scripture and all the grace of God Himself, as Rachel does in her text.
So, read this book. Read it and talk about it. And in this way, I think you’ll find yourself living with it too.
(Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Rachel
If you read this book expecting another manual about how to be a good mom, a good wife, a good Christian woman, you will be disappointed. A manual it is not. Rachel didn't write this book to tell women how to be. Rachel wrote this book to get us to ask questions, both big and small, about our own choices and beliefs about what it means to be a woman in the kingdom of God. She wrote this book to help us see how many beautiful ways there are for us to live Biblically, and it's different for each of us.
Single or married, corporate executive or homemaker, young or old, liberal or conservative, Pentecostal or Catholic; there are as many ways to be a Godly Woman as there are varieties of Godly Women.
Yes, this book may challenge and offend our religious mindset. Yet it may, if we allow it, also liberate us from the strict expectations of the Evangelical subculture that says, "Christian women must behave like this." Rachel writes that she loves the Bible too much to see it boiled down to a single adjective, and I agree. A Year of Biblical Womanhood shows us how diverse and glorious Biblical Womanhood really is and gives us the freedom to step out of the mold and be who God created each of us to be. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Amy
As a woman preparing for ordination in a mainline Protestant denomination I am forever confronting stereotypes of what women should and should not be doing in the church. I know that I am blessed to be able to follow my call and feel deeply for my sisters in Christ whose voices are silenced in public ministry because of their gender. The quote that sticks with me from this book pertains to calling.
Rachel Held Evans writes, “A calling, on the other hand, when rooted deep in the soil of one’s soul, transcends roles…My calling is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself…If love was Jesus’ definition of ‘biblical,’ then perhaps it should be mine.” (295)
Being a Christian woman is NOT about following a certain set of behaviors, advocating an ideal that does not exist, and living up to the expectations of others. It is about love.
If you are looking for a book that prescribes, reinforces, or advocates some ideal of biblical womanhood or rigid gender roles, you will be disappointed. This is not a how-to book. If you are looking for a book that will challenge, inspire, and upend some of your assumptions of “biblical womanhood,” you will love this book. Spoiler alert: there is no such thing as “Biblical Womanhood.” Held Evans skillfully combines candid reflections on her project with journal entries from her husband Dan, as well as profiles of female characters in scripture, interspersed with the most intriguing biblical commentary that I have read to date (and as a seminarian, I read a lot of commentary). Rachel Held Evans manages to critically examine biblical texts while still honoring the spectrum of women’s experience and we all come away better for her “experiment” in living biblically.
(Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Heather
- Review by Smoochagator
My thoughts: yes, this book is worth a read (and a re-read, and passing on to your friends and your friends' friends). Rachel does the year-in-the-life memoir thing just right, inviting us into her home and head as she searches for the meaning of "Biblical womanhood." Because she is so open about her preconceptions and prejudices, we get to see how she changes for the better over the course of the year. But this book isn't just about Rachel, it's about countless other women: characters from familiar Bible stories, lesser-known and more controversial heroines of Scripture, famous 21st century females, and women that I'd never have "met" if Rachel hadn't sought them out so she could share their stories.
For long-time Christians who have (like me) become a bit weary of traditional Christian-ese ideas, the most valuable parts of the book will likely be the passages concluding each chapter, which offer a new perspective on women we're all too familiar with (Ruth, the Virgin Mary) and other women we may have never heard of (Tabitha, Junia). For a new Christian or non-Christian, this book offers an interesting look into the subculture of the Bible belt as well as several other faith traditions, and reassures seekers and skeptics that not all Jesus freaks think they've cornered the market on "truth."
As someone who often sees things in black-and-white and who is easily influenced by the opinions of others, I find myself questioning my decisions as a Christian woman (and wife and mother and artist and friend and daughter) and wondering if I'm not measuring up to God's plan for my life. It's as if I think that being a "good woman" is a very narrow list of rules that I'm constantly breaking. This is a problem that I think almost every woman has regardless of her belief system. Rachel's book offers a unique encouragement to ignore the shaming messages that we hear everywhere (from the pulpit on Sunday to prime time TV) and open our eyes to the fact that "women of valor" come from all walks of life. Regardless of where we start out or the winding paths we've taking in life, we have something to offer the world AND the church.
This is a book you'll want to share with every lady you love - mom, sister, daughter, best friend. It will make her laugh, it will make her think, it will make her glad to be a woman. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by the smitten word
Who should read it?
*People who appreciate humor, honesty, and a good story
*Anyone who's wondered or struggled with what the Bible says about women
*Those who suspect narrow prescriptive labels for gender, marriage, and womanhood of being a size-too-small and possibly clashing with the freedom we find in Christ
*Skeptics who are willing to honestly engage Rachel's content firsthand instead of through the lens of her critics
*Christians who love the Bible and anyone who mourns to see it wielded as a weapon
*Those who trust that God is not threatened by doubts, questions, or seeking
*People weary of easy answers who wonder how to serve God and honor a pre-modern scripture in our own post-modern context
The book is divided into twelve womanly virtues found in the Bible, and Rachel spends a month exploring each trait, including gentleness, domesticity, obedience, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.
One of my favorite chapters was Valor: Will the Real Proverbs 31 Woman Please Stand Up? Rachel explains that "the wife of noble character" (eshet chayil) in verse 10 is best translated as "valorous woman" and that the poem celebrates the woman as a kind of warrior. "Lost to English readers are the militaristic nuances found in the original language," Held Evans explains (76). She provides prey for her family, she girds her loins, she laughs in victory.
"Like any good poem, the purpose of this one is to draw attention to the often-overlooked glory of the everyday. The only instructive language it contains is directed toward men, with the admonition that a thankful husband honors his wife 'for all the things that her hands have done' (Proverbs 31:31). Old Testament scholar Ellen F. Davis notes that the poem was intended 'not to honor one particularly praiseworthy woman, but rather to underscore the central significance of women's skilled work in a household-based economy.' She concludes that 'it will not do to make facile comparisons between the biblical figure and the suburban housewife, or alternately between her and the modern career woman.'"(76)
Nevertheless, Rachel spends a month undertaking a slew of domestic projects in an effort to live up to what many within evangelicalism esteem as the paragon of "biblical womanhood," and this chapter is among Rachel's most endearing. The tone of her book is familiar, funny, and less serious than the voice she often adopts on her popular theological blog.
Through her project, Rachel befriends an Orthodox Jew who provides an insight I won't soon forget. Ahava explains that Orthodox women often praise each other saying eshet chayil (valorous woman), and that her husband sings Proverbs 31 to her every Shabbat: "It's special to me because I know that no matter what I do or don't do, he praises me for blessing the family with energy and creativity. All women can do that in their own way." (88).
The concept of "Biblical Womanhood" is something of a sacred cow in contemporary fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Daring to question its prescriptions is akin to heresy in certain circles, and this book has invited a firestorm from those who don't appreciate questions--or women who won't toe the line. Rachel has become something of a lightening rod for mean-spirited criticism from some Christians, which puzzles me as I find her writing to be both generous and orthodox.
But God is not honored by infighting, and this book is not intended as ammunition is anyone's battle. Rachel writes not to fan flames but to loose chains. In exploring her own frustrations with Scripture and Christian culture, Held Evans grows to love the Bible more--and the One who inspired it and sets hearts free.
Rachel has a high view of scripture. Her work is not mockery but an honest and faithful investigation. She illuminates the truth that every person and tradition interprets which makes some folks uncomfortable who prefer to imagine Bible interpretation in easy blacks and whites.
Discomfort in matters of faith may just be a sacred tension. The Bible is a complex book--or rather sixty-six. I appreciate Christians like Rachel, who lead with humility, ask hard questions, embrace mystery, and step out in a faith that is not always sure and yet believes.
Rachel Held Evans is helping a generation to make peace with Proverbs 31 and broadening a much needed conversation about gender in the Church. She's a voice of hope, helping disheartened men and women to love the Bible again and discover a faith bigger than fear, fighting, and narrow cultural lenses. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Steve
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.
Seriously, buy this book. It will bless you. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Alise
I was so very wrong.
Of course Rachel's writing was simply amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, and in this one, her writing has only improved. She touches on all emotions, and I found myself alternately laughing, crying, and fist-pumping my way through each chapter. She is an amazing wordsmith and this book is a testament to that.
And certainly Rachel did the gimmicky things, but they were not what this book was about and anyone who stops there is missing out on the richness and beauty that is contained in these pages.
Rachel spent a month in skirts and headcoverings, but she also spent a month examining some of her own biases related to the way that women dress.
Rachel spent a weekend with Chip, her computer son, figuring out if someone who can't multi-task can be a good mother, but she discovered that what some might consider a hindrance could benefit her in her own style of parenting.
Rachel spent a month trying to live like the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, but discovered that valor could be found in a group of women choosing to give their time to help a friend or by being a wife who knows her limits and does what is best for HER home.
Over and over in this book, Rachel shares with us how the perceptions that we have of what it means to be biblical are far more a product of our culture and selective reading of the Scripture than anything else. However she says it in a way that is not condemning, but instead empowers both women and for men to be the unique people God created them to be, not the people that they think they are supposed to be based on someone else's interpretation of their roles.
Rachel's year is impacted by the numerous people that she meets, and these encounters can leave the reader as changed as Rachel clearly is. Additionally, there are snippets from Rachel's husband Dan's journal scattered throughout the chapters, each one giving a fuller insight into how this impacted their marriage.
For those who thought that they got the whole story based on Rachel's blog posts, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to read the book. The depth that is added to the stories that can be read at her blog cannot be overstated. Again, I was taken aback at just how much more insight we were privy to in the pages of this book.
"Feminist" is a title that I sometimes wear with trepidation as a 38 year old Christian woman and mother of four, but after reading this book, I will always wear it with pride. Eshet chayil, Rachel!
Note: I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Mark Baker-Wright
While I doubt that any attempts to convince the nay-sayers that Evans isn't trying to make fun of them will be entirely successful, I do appreciate how one blogger points out that Evans actually goes through a considerable amount of pain and struggle in her yearlong effort: "People don't go through this much pain for the sake of mocking something."
So, what _does_ Evans achieve in this book? For starters, she demonstrates that to attempt to live by a literal interpretation of Scripture is not just difficult, but that _no one_, no matter how traditional, manages to do so fully. In fact, recognizing that such "literal" interpretations are not the normal lens through which Evans reads Scripture, she gets help from a number of diverse sources, including an Amish grandmother, an Orthodox Jewish wife, a member of the "Quiverfull" movement (which opposes any form of contraception as immoral on the belief that children -- as many as possible, and without regard to any other consequences -- are a blessing from God), an Evangelical (not Mormon!) polygamist, and even (recognizing how important traditional homemaking is to many Evangelicals) Martha Stewart! Each group emphasizes a particular aspect of what the Bible teaches, but no group even _attempts_ to cover it all.
But Evans isn't just trying to prove a point. She also goes into the effort in an honest attempt to learn more about what it is to take the Bible seriously. While her journey does not end up with her wholeheartedly adopting most of the "literalist" interpretations of Scripture she takes on, she nonetheless does decide to continue some of the practices she learns after the year is over. A list can be found in the final chapter, but it includes such items as "try a new recipe every week" (no small change for a woman who didn't even know how to cook before the experiment!) and spending more time in contemplative prayer.
As to those accusations of "mockery," it is certainly true that A Year of Biblical Womanhood is peppered throughout with a sense of humor, but Evans directs nearly all of it at her own failures (both perceived and, in more than a few cases, real). Despite clear disagreements with many of the people she interviews or references as espousing literal interpretations, the jokes are hardly ever directed at them. Indeed, I believe that most of those people, were they to pick up Evans' book, would at least be able to say that she describes their positions fairly, even as they will no doubt disagree with many of her conclusions.
All in all, this book is less about what "biblical womanhood" might look like, and more about what the Bible _itself_ is, and perhaps even more importantly, about what we as believers often make the Bible out to be, even when our assumptions about the Bible do not stand up to the scrutiny of the Bible itself. This is therefore not just a book that should be of interest to those who have a position on what the "biblical" role of women should be, but for anyone who cares about letting the Bible be the word of God as it is, and not simply what we would like the Bible to be. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Ryan
The level of biblical scholarship is impressive. She makes it clear she isn't interested in a mockery by doing a lot of research about how a variety of Jews and Christians have interpreted different texts. I learned quite a bit, which is meaningful since I have a Theology masters and so there are few books I can really say that about.
It is not by any means an angry feminist ranting about patriarchy in the church. Anybody who claims that clearly has not actually read it. She approaches our differences with an air of gentleness that is rare in evangelical Christianity, modelling how we can disagree without disrespecting each other or the faith to which we subscribe. Part of this gentleness is humour, which runs fairly consistently throughout the book and enables you laugh even as you wrestle with important issues.
Lastly, it is not really primarily about gender roles. It is about how we approach Scripture. Through this gentle and genuine examination, she is able to demonstrate that Scripture is something far more beautiful than a list of rules or doctrines.
I highly recommend this book. You may agree and you may disagree, but you will be able to approach these important conversations in much healthier ways. (Posted on 11/5/12)
- Review by Jane
Grace is what she finds, page after page, God’s abundant grace, which is why we choose to follow Christ, not, to borrow a metaphor from another reviewer, not to get a ticket into heaven. To say that is to cheapen the Gospel. Held reminds us, as Jesus taught over and over, that rules don’t set us free, and that Jesus gave us really one two commands—to love God and to love others.
She answers the questions she asks at the outset—what can this collection of ancient texts teach us about gender roles—by concluding that “it’s not our roles that define us, but our character.” We can follow all the rules and still be Pharisees.
Held has courageously entered the discussion of Biblical womanhood, which tends to be polarized and not grace-filled. She has done it with honesty, with wit (I laughed out loud several times), with love (especially towards her husband Dan), and with integrity. She has taught us a way, if we will learn, to engage in this discussion and still follow Jesus’ command to love one another.
(Posted on 10/27/12)
- Review by Becky