I like Rachel Held Evans’ writing, I like her blog, I like her spunk, I like her husband Dan but in all honesty, I didn’t really think that I would like A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. In fact, when so many, including those I have a great deal of respect for expressed their great love for it, I tried not to like it in fear that I would find it over-rated.
I should also say that as a casual reader of her blog that I was not excited about this project – I admit that I am the guy that didn’t get it. I didn’t really want Rachel to write this book. For whatever reason, I don’t like these types of books whereas they insert themselves into a bad idea for too long of a time and then reflect on how awful it was with an occasional insight. The classic example being that awful Super-Size Me documentary in which I kept shouting at the screen, “Stop Morgan – this is a bad idea! Google it! Save yourself the 4 weeks of disaster – Noooo!” Sometimes it feels like no one ever listens.
Rachel has a sharp mind so I was hoping that she’d write something else. Adding to this, I had already read A.J. Jacob’s book A Year of LIving Bibllcally and though he’s a great writer too, I just couldn’t get into it. Yeah, it was clever and insightful but honestly I couldn’t wait til he finished and shaved his beard. Which leads me to this – I clearly don’t know anything about publishing because these books have proven to be best-sellers.
So that was my starting point but as I read, I genuinely really like this book. In fact, I loved it and I highly recommend it not only to women but especially to men. My practical understandings of “biblical womanhood” are mainly through my wife and somewhat through my mother. And their perspectives are very different as you would expect them to be since one was raised in Egypt in the 1950s and the other in Florida in the 80′s. Thankfully both are amazing women who love God, their husbands, children, family and friends and are a blessing to the many they encounter on the road of life.
My understanding of “biblical womanhood” (a term that causes me to flinch every time I see it by the way), is further seen through the many women I have encountered in a variety of roles, conversations, and experiences as a pastor, worshipper and outsider. Obviously, this has been from a much more limited vantage point. Which makes Rachel’s book special because of the access she gives the reader to her inner monologue.
Men don’t write books like this. I assume right now, Kevin DeYoung is already at work on a book, Two Years of Discovering Biblical Masculinity From a Dude Who Is Genetically Pre-disposed to Egalitarianism: An Even Longer Biblical Journey by a Former Progressive Male Fetus Who Learned to Put Women in Their Rightful More Biblical Places. (I’d like a virtual pat on the back from my readers for my demonstration of restraint. Could have gone in a lot of directions there :)
Back to my real point though – While I expected this book to be encouraging and insightful for women, especially for those who have been hurt by the Church and Christian men and women, I was surprised by how helpful this book was for men, including an egalitarian like myself. Whether fair or unfair, I already know that staunch complementarians are not going to like this book. A book by a woman?? If it’s not on keeping a tidy house and directed at other women then it’s not Biblical.
As I read and thought of some of my friends, I honestly couldn’t help but think that a number of complementarians are going to like this book. Especially the ones who after asking for the definition of a “complementarian” were given the question, “Do you believe in a Biblical definition of men and women or a position marked by the liberal, feminist agenda that seeks to emasculate all men and seeks to destroy the Church and hand it over to Satan and his legions of life-sucking, angry, hateful demons?” In fairness, I may have gone too far there – I may have over-generalized that all demons were angry – I actually don’t know that.
I do hope many of my complementarians brothers give this a fair read. It’s not an apologetic about gender roles, it’s really a book about women and the Christian faith. Rachel’s rhetorical style is humble and self-deprecating and most importantly, her use of Scripture is reverent and responsible. It’s a beautiful book. Honestly, I view some of those blog posts that more or less accused her of using Scripture recklessly as either doomed in their presuppositions or suffer in their reading and comprehension proficiency. Open-minded complementarians will be helped here, especially chapters on Obedience, Valor and Submission. Married men (regardless of your position on gender roles) will be moved by the pressures of Biblical womanhood in the chapters of Domesticity, Beauty, and Fertility.
I did have some trouble in the beginning. Though her narrative and personality kept the book moving, the chapters are 20-25 pages and there are 12 of them, titled by calendar month and topic (duh it’s a whole year). Initially I wasn’t sure I’d like the women of the Bible profiles and was very skeptical of the use of “Dan’s Journal.” Was I really to believe that Rachel would sneak into Dan’s journal, pick the lock and write out his insights for us – you brood feminist vipers! But the women of the BIble profiles were wonderful without adding baggage and verse-proofing the chapters. And while I was a little slow in liking the book by “Chapter December – Obedience,” I couldn’t wait to find out what Dan thought about this!
This is the awkward world of blogging and reality. As far as I can tell, Dan is a real guy and an extremely important feature in Rachel’s writing because they’re important in each other’s lives. How Biblical. If he’s weak and lame, then he justifies some of the complimentarians’ generalizations of men who marry strong, intelligent, ambitious women. If he’s strong and authoritative, but as “allowed” Rachel to indulge in this hobby of blogging and writing, then it’s impossible for any of us to actually believe that they are partners and lovers in life. I like that Dan gets annoyed with the project. I like that Dan tries to find ways to be a good husband in the midst of it all. And if it’s ever discovered that he doesn’t really have a journal and admits to Oprah what I’ve suspected all along, nothing will be ruined for me (Lance on the other hand … sorry pal, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”).
Rachel is unique in the sense that she’s in the Church, though frustrated at certain parts of it as so many of us are. She is a sharp thinker, articulate, very funny and you can tell that she is knee deep in commentaries, theology texts, blogs, etc trying to gain insights from Scripture. I loved her honesty, I loved her conclusions, I loved her heart for Scripture, and again, I really like how she involved Dan.
Though I would love to see more women serving in the pastorate of evangelical churches, I won’t make the mistake in thinking this is the only way to serve the Kingdom of Jesus – a point her book makes very clear without actually saying so. So I like that she’s not serving vocationally in a church (not against if she does one day), I like that she didn’t go to seminary but that she has earned the respect of many theologian-types, pastor-types, and of course, scores of Christians and many other spiritual-types. I hope my blog audience reads A Year of Biblical Womanhood it’s a fun but a great read for the Body of Christ..
True story – My wife Susan, told me that one of her Facebook friends, “You know the one I told you about that gave up on Christianity and always says angry things about God on her status updates…”
I interrupted and said, “Yeah, I’m on Ann Rice’s Fan Page too.”
“No, and please just listen. She’s reading that book too and loves it! I’m surprised you do.”
I’m telling you, it’s hard not to like this book.