I’ve been waiting to write a review on this until I had plenty of time to think, look over my notes and bookmarks, and ruminate on the vast content that Rachel’s new controversial work covered.
I was extremely excited for this book to be published. For the past few years I’ve struggled with trying to understand what the Bible says is God’s plan for women. When I got married and moved to Portland, this struggle became more intense. My entire life I’ve been surrounded by people who believe that men are called to be the leaders of households and the leaders of churches. But several things didn’t make sense to me: Why can a woman be the CFO of a company, but not make financial decisions for a church? Why can a woman teach theology in a classroom, but not from a pulpit? In Biblical times, there was no distinction between teacher/preacher. There was no separation of church and state. The lines between business and faith were not as crystal clear as they are now. To relegate women with leadership skills to the secular world and exclude them from developing those skills within the context of the church seems to be the opposite of what Christ would have wanted.
Thankfully, I’m not the only person to find this back and forth, picking and choosing of the church to be confusing. Enter Rachel Held Evans.
Rachel decided to try to really discover what the Bible has to say about women. Evangelical Christians toss around the phrases “Biblical womanhood” and “Biblical manhood” as if they are self-explanatory, but Rachel wanted to show that those terms are complex, rooted in context, and sometimes downright contradictory. So Rachel dedicated one year of her life to living out the Bible’s rules for women as literally as possible, everything from calling her husband “master” and camping out in the front yard during her period, to covering her head when she prophesied and prayed, renting a fake baby to care for, growing her hair out, and making her own clothes.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood takes you month by month through Rachel’s journey. Every month she focused on a different discipline that the Bible and church culture seem to emphasize as a particularly female discipline: modesty, domesticity, gentleness, etc. Rachel does a wonderful job of keeping the tone light and humorous, while also pointing out the difficulties of picking and choosing from the Bible. Through it all, Rachel researched the Biblical contexts for what she was trying to live out. This is a book in which I underlined something on almost every page! I learned so much about women from the Bible and about the lives of the early church members.
Here are some great quotes:
“The importance of homemaking in the contemporary biblical womanhood movement cannot be overstated, and proponents tend to use strong, unequivocal language to argue that the only sphere in which a woman can truly bring glory to God is the home. This position is based primarily on an idealized elevation of the post-industrial revolution nuclear family rather than biblical culture.” (23)
“While cooking strikes me as an essentially creative act, cleaning seems little more than an exercise in decay management, enough to trigger an existential crisis each time the ring around the toilet bowl reappears.” (27) YES! Cleaning is the most frustrating task of all for me.
“Upon reaching her wedding night, a Christian woman is expected to transform from the model of chastity into a veritable sex goddess, ready to honor God by satisfying her husband’s sexual needs without fail. I was told that, according to 1 Corinthians 7:4, I had no authority over my own body, but was responsible for yielding it entirely to my husband, who needed regular sex in order to remain faithful to me.” (103)
I loved her conversation on the subject of modesty, which when I was growing up, always translated to wearing ugly clothes. But, Rachel says, “true modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup. The virtue that is celebrated in Scripture is so elusive we struggle to find words to capture its spirit—humility, self-control, plainness, tznuit, Gelassenheit. …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.’” (139-140)
“While the word charity connotes a single act of giving, justice speaks to right living, of aligning oneself with the world in a way that sustains rather than exploits the rest of creation. Justice is not a gift; it’s a lifestyle, a commitment to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—‘repairing the world.’” (227)
My favorite part was perhaps her explanation of the Proverbs 31 woman, an eschet chayil, or “woman of valor.” Proverbs 31 is written as a poem of praise for a man’s wife, not a to-do list for women, though there are many Bible studies for women that try to make it into a to-do list. The Proverbs 31 woman is praised because she is a blessing to those around her, and there is no one way to be a blessing to people. “The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it—with valor.” (95)
I could keep copying down all of the many wonderful quotes from this book, but I don’t think Rachel would appreciate it too much. The best that I can do is to encourage you, both Christian men and women, to buy and read this book. My journey trying to discern God’s will for my life as a woman is not over; this book was simply one step in the process. I intend to read more, pray more, and learn as much as I can regarding this issue. But A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a fantastic way to get to know the egalitarian side of the debate. Rachel has made a wonderful contribution to the conversation. This knowledge is not something you can ignore in your walk with God. If you have a gender (and don’t even try to argue that) and you are a Christian, this should matter to you.
Here’s the link to Rachel’s blog as well:
Whether a man or woman, may you live with valor, fulfilling the mission you are called to: glorifying God.