My wife and I are reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. We’re both big fans of her blog and her previous book, Evolving in Monkey Town, so when we she was writing this one it was a given that we would be getting a copy.
Since we have two young children, we’ll probably finish it in late 2015. This was disappointing to me, as I had hoped to write a review of it on my blog. And of course, people would judge me if I wrote a review now, when I’m only on page 37, right?
Well, normally they would. But not if other people are, by their own admission, writing about the book without having read a single page! Loooooooophooooollllle!
First things first: Rachel can write. I daresay this book would be interesting even if you weren’t very interested in what the Bible has to say about women. It’s intelligent but not dry, deep but still funny, and, above all, interesting.
Since I haven’t finished the book, I thought I would take a look at some of the criticisms being leveled against it.
1. Her “Year of Biblical Womanhood” project is a gimmick.
Well...yeah, I suppose it is. But my response is: who cares? There’s nothing wrong with a gimmick if it’s a good gimmick, and this is one of the good ones. I’ll be honest: if Rachel had written a book about women and the Bible without doing the Year of Biblical Womanhood project, I would have been less interested in it.
Authors have been using gimmicks to tell stories for a long time. Supersize Me had a gimmick: eat nothing but McDonalds for a month and stop exercising and see what happens. Black Like Me was a gimmick: in the 1960s, a white man turns his skin black to see how white people in the southern United States treat him.
There’s also The Year Of Living Like Jesus (by Ed Dobson) and The Year of Living Biblically by A.J Jacobs.
Which brings me to my next point:
2. This book is just a ripoff of A Year of Living Biblically.
I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as ripping someone off if you give him a shoutout in the FAQ for your book. I’m also pretty sure she mentioned him in the beginning of the actual book too, but I couldn’t find the page (we have a primitive paper copy of the book, which is not optimized for searching).
Since most of the people criticizing Rachel’s book are probably big fans of the Bible, let’s use a quote from it, shall we? “There’s nothing new under the sun.” This was said by King Solomon, who would probably soil himself if he saw an Ipad, but it’s still a good quote.
Folks, there’s little to nothing that hasn’t been written about, filmed, or recorded. The best that most authors can hope for is to put a fresh spin on an old topic, or combine ideas in a way that hasn’t been tried yet. This is what Rachel has done: she has combined the idea of A Year of X, where X is something difficult that few people have tried, and combined it with the Bible, specifically what it has to say about women.
And for this, I commend her.
3. Rachel has a low view of Scripture.
As someone who has actually does have a low view of the Bible, I am in a unique position to disprove this. I can smell one my own from fifty paces, and let me tell you folks, Rachel is not a part of The Low View of Scripture Club. In this book (and on her blog, and in her other book), she pretty much can’t stop talking about how great the Bible is, actually.
I know this is a review of the book, not her blog (which, if you’re not reading it...shame on you.) but she actually wrote a post called I Love the Bible.
I know, I know...that’s just what someone who hates the Bible would do!
Wait, no it’s not. It is literally the exact opposite of someone who hates the Bible would do.
Unless she’s trying to fool us to sell books. But if she hated the Bible and wanted to sell books, wouldn’t she write about how much she hates the Bible? Wouldn’t that be a smarter play? The old adage “Write what you know” comes to mind.
Here’s what I think is the truth: Rachel does not have a low view of the Bible. But I’m pretty sure she does have a low view of the complementarian interpretation of the Bible. The thing is, in the mind of many complementarians and other strains of conservative Christians, there’s no difference between their interpretation of the Bible and the Bible itself. For them to admit that they’re interpreting the Bible at all would be tantamount to blasphemy.
So in their mind, when someone has a low view of their interpretation, there is literally no difference between that and “having a low view of Scripture”.
Which leads smoothly into...
4. She’s not reading the Bible correctly!
In the book, Rachel tries to follow the old Testament laws about women as well as the verses in the New Testament that have been turned into laws by many conservative Christians. This has been the cause for much criticism.
For the uninitiated, here’s a handy dandy (and shockingly incomplete) introduction to how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament:
1. The Old Testament said the Israelites should do a bunch of weird stuff (one of the laws Rachel followed was that women had to leave the camp when they were menstruating. She follows this by camping in her yard).
2. Then Jesus came.
3. Jesus coming means that Christians don’t have to follow those laws any more.
Except...for the ones many of them still follow. Like tithing and keeping the Sabbath, which aren’t mentioned in the NT. Also, most people still agree the 10 Commandments are OK. And though there are a couple of throwaway references to homosexuality in the NT, most people who hold that it’s a sin go scurrying to the OT for backup.
Critics are ignoring an important fact: even if it’s true that Christian women don’t need to follow the OT laws any more, at one point Israelite women did actually follow them! If you’re going to live like a “Biblical woman” for a year, you need to acknowledge that there are actually two kinds of Biblical women: the OT Biblical woman, and the NT Biblical woman.
Now, it’s true that some of the things she does are not actually in the Bible. For instance,
it says that women should have “a gentle and quiet spirit”. It also says that it’s better for a man to live on the roof of his house than to live with a contentious woman.
So Rachel starts putting change into a jar for every infraction of the “gentle and quiet spirit” rule. Then at the end of the month, she spends one minute on the roof of her house for every cent in the jar.
Obviously, the Bible says nothing about women having to go on the roof if they’re contentious. A more accurate experiment might have been for her husband to go on the roof at the end of the month and compare it to living with Rachel (I’m sure he would prefer living with Rachel).
Again: who cares? Rachel doesn’t say in the book that this strategy is laid out in the Bible. It’s just a plan she follows to in order to have a more gentle and quiet spirit. It also makes the story more interesting by enforcing a real, concrete consequence for her actions. Perhaps if she had written a boring book she would be getting less criticism?
I’m looking forward to finishing this book, and I highly recommend the first 37 pages of it (based on that, I’m also recommending the rest of it). That alone should really be enough to make you buy it, but if not, it’s also received negative reviews from several conservative Christians (including one on John Piper’s website!), and Lifeway books refused to carry it! Oh, yeah, and a bunch of people liked it too.
Why don't you go buy it?
Buy her other book while you're at it.
If you haven't read her blog, you can redeem yourself by clicking here.