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Controversy and Interpretation: A Review of *Biblical Womanhood*

November 5th, 2012 | 14 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, presses evangelicals on the right spot.  But what she doesn’t do is as important as what she does, and therein lies a tale.

I’m going to skip the backstory, as intriguing as it is, and go straight to the substance.  Don’t thank me–it’s a long review.  That said, Rachel has written a book meant to demonstrate how people “pick and choose” their verses when reading the Bible.   As she puts it:

For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?

It’s “biblical” she’s worried about as an adjective, so she sets out to spend a year living as a “biblical woman.”  Again, I’ll quote:

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This quest of mine required that I study every passage of Scripture that relates to women and learn how women around the world interpret and apply these passages to their lives. In addition, I would attempt to follow as many of the Bible’s teachings regarding women as possible in my day-to-day life, sometimes taking them to their literal extreme.

The results?  Well, if you really like earnest and authentic writing about a manufactured year, then this is the book for you.  I can’t wade through all the layers of meta at work in all this, honestly.  I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out what it means, culturally, that we’ve reached the point where we’re paying people to spend a year doing what amounts to performance art, so that they can write about our normal lives.  I’m still not sure, but that Mayan prophesy thing makes a lot of sense to me these days.

Still, there is much more good here than Rachel’s critics have allowed.  For instance, her defense of singleness needs a broad audience.  It had me cheering, but then these days any defense of singleness will.  What’s more, I was happy to see that she took down the deeply problematic idea that women owe men sex (even if she does reach Driscoll territory by tacitly sanctioning strip poles in the bedroom).  Her writing about her husband, Dan, is really quite lovely.  And this bit, well, it’s spot on:

The writers of ancient Scripture seemed to acknowledge what all women instinctively know— that our bodies change as we get older, as we bear children, when we get sick, and as we experience joy, pain, life, death, victory, heartache, and time. And frankly, the suggestion that men are too weak to handle these realities is as emasculating as it is unbiblical.

Precisely.  I have been stunned by the willingness of Christian men and women to consider plastic surgery as they age in order to stay up with the young folks.  It’s a scandal, I hate it, and I am thrilled that Rachel has said it.  I hope she says it again, louder and with even more passion.

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Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.