I’ve enjoyed Rachel Held Evans’ blog in the past, and I knew she was a talented writer. I care deeply about the issue of women in the church—to the point where I’ve read dozens of books and articles on the subject. So why did I wait nearly a year to pick up a copy of Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, even after it made the N.Y. Times bestseller list and was recommended by a couple of friends, both of whom are exceptionally good at picking out worthwhile books? I guess I was too cheap to buy a copy.
Turns out that not only did our library have it available, I was able to download it to my phone in three minutes. Now I’m buying copies as gifts for my friends (shhh, don’t tell them—it’s a surprise). It’s that kind of book.
So how did an author who describes herself as liberated, strong-willed and independent, with a snarky sense of humor, end up calling her husband “Master,” keeping silent while attending church services, and camping in the front yard when “in the way of women”?
There have been a lot of “Biblical year books” published lately. I read A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was expecting something along the same lines, only more feminine. I should have known better. Evans had more to deliver than just some funny stories. Sure, she describes incidences which had me laughing out loud, and others that I could easily commiserate with. That’s fun, and reason enough to pick up this book.
What sets Evans apart from others who write on this topic is her willingness to dig in, spend (obviously) hours in research, and discover what everyone else thinks—and why.
It turns out that Biblical womanhood isn’t exactly a set of well-defined behaviors. Opinions vary, with everyone claiming that theirs is the Biblical one and the rest are going to destroy the church, dismay God, and even doom one to hell. Yet Evans clearly shows that for the most part, these supposedly iron-clad views are actually based on tradition, hand-picked verses, and questionable interpretation.
A evangelical, she boldly ventures into the world of Quiverfull families, the Patriarchal movement, the Amish, Catholics, Quakers, polygamy, and orthodox Jews (who, as she points out, have had an extra 2,000 years in which to contemplate chapters such as Genesis 2).
The book is divided into months, with each chapter focusing on one particular “project”—a quiet and gentle spirit, submission, modesty, motherhood, and the like.
I especially appreciated the chapter on the Proverbs 31 woman. Evans tries to do all the things listed in this acrostic—a brave undertaking considering she can’t even sew on a button! When she faces the end-of-month deadline with half the tasks undone, a crisis unfolds. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.
The book is fun, educational, and provocative, but the best parts (and the reason I wish I’d read it last year when it was published) are at the end of each chapter, when Evans summarizes her research and shares what God taught her through each month’s successes and failures. You may not agree with her interpretation of various verses, and may not share her conclusions, but there are plenty of books proclaiming more conservative views. In spite of all my reading, I had never before encountered her perspective.
I’ve struggled for years with some of the Bible’s verses about women and the church. Reading what Evans learned and how she looks at these scriptures was like a breath of fresh air. A huge weight was lifted off of me, a burden I didn’t realize I was carrying until it was gone, as I was finally able to reconcile my faith in God’s word with my experience lived out in the body of Christ.
It made me want to praise God for this book. That’s the highest accolade for any Christian author.