Thursday, February 28, 2013

August/September of a Year of Biblical Womanhood (Guest Post)

The following is part seven of a critical review of Rachel Held Evans's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”, Thomas Nelson, 2012 (see this link for a little more background and an index to all sections of the review). Ms. Evans's book starts with October and ends with September, thus this review follows Ms. Evans's order.


A month of Silence, in which Rachel critiques the Apostle Paul (and of course, by implication, the Holy Spirit) for two passages: 1 Timothy 2:11-12, verses saying that a woman should learn in quietness and submission and not teach and/or assume authority over a man; and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, verses that say the same thing, adding that women who have questions should ask their husbands at home, because women shouldn’t speak in the church.

It seems that Ms. Evans understands the importance of context in Biblical interpretation, for she mentioned it in a previous chapter, so it is surprising that she does not deal with the verses 13 and 14 in 1 Timothy 2 which follow the first set of verses she cites. Here the Apostle Paul gives the reason for the teaching: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.” So here we have two separate reasons: the order of creation and aptitude for deception displayed at the Fall. One conservative commentator suggests that since the woman was deceived into sin, she was less culpable than Adam who went into transgression with his eyes wide open. Whatever you think of this comment, it is indisputable that the reason God gives for women to not be teachers and authorities in churches is based on two historical incidents: the Creation and the Fall.

Evans views New Testament epistles as “letters, broken pieces of correspondence between early Christians, dating back thousands of years,” clearly once again impugning the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy. This is really the key to her errors. There are differences among believers about a number of things such as forms of church government, mode and type of baptism, worship song, etc. This is undeniable, and in this life in which we see “in a glass darkly” it is hardly avoidable. Yet these differences can be accepted graciously if those who hold to the different views share a view of Scripture that acknowledges it as infallible and inerrant. But when Scripture is no longer believed to be God-breathed and therefore without error, one’s conclusions become suspect. One may arrive at “conservative” conclusions even with unsound, liberal assumptions (an accusation sometimes leveled against scholar-theologian F.F. Bruce). Nevertheless, a high view of Scripture is warranted by Scripture itself!

One of what Evans calls “the embarrassing bits” of the Bible is Titus 1:12 which she quotes as saying, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This (partial) quotation is followed by a few not very funny, sarcastic remarks; however, she once again neglected her own rule about context-- she left out the beginning of the sentence, “One of them, a prophet of their own, said…” Kathy Keller did a good job reviewing the book on the Gospel Coalition website [FN1], making mention of Evans’ glaring omission.

And when Rachel says she never once heard a sermon preached on this passage, may we not conclude that she just ought to get out more or go to better churches? Surely is easy enough to use.

She constructs a straw man argument next by saying, “we dishonor the original intent and purpose of the Epistles when we assume they were written in a vacuum for the purpose of filling our calendars and bumper stickers.” No doubt people use them that way, but who would assume they were written with such an intent and in a vacuum? For a few much more cogent comments about placarding Bible verses without context, please see Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, pp. 66-67, a book which takes the Bible’s inerrancy and inspiration quite seriously.

The next part of the book gets really interesting. I’d love to know who originated the story, but here are the key elements of the plot:
churches of Ephesus and Corinth attracted a lot of women, particularly widows…of particular concern to Paul was a group of young widows who had infiltrated the church and developed a reputation for dressing promiscuously, sleeping around, gossiping, spreading unorthodox ideas, interrupting church services with questions, mooching off the church’s widow fund and generally making common floozies of themselves (1 Timothy 5)
I am not making this up; it’s on page 261. This is how she, quoting Scott McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet, reconciles that some women could prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:4) and others were to keep silent. She concludes, “Obviously Paul didn’t have a problem with women teaching in general” because of Priscilla and Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Did Priscilla teach in the church? Did Timothy’s mother and grandmother teach in the church? Did women who prophesied (in fulfillment of Joel 2:28) teach? Or did they utter what the Holy Spirit gave them by inspiration? These are important questions Ms. Evans leaves unanswered.

The latter part of the chapter covers her visits to 1) a Benedictine monastery in Alabama; and 2) a Quaker Meeting in West Knoxville, Tennessee. Nothing of much interest happened, except she learned that wearing heels in a monastery is distracting so she switched to flats for the Quaker meeting. An important lesson, should any ladies reading this decide to make such visits themselves.


The keynote for the last month of Rachel’s Biblical Year is “Grace” and the key verse is “On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.” What follows is her comical foray into finding a shofar (ram’s horn), learning to sound it, and then proceeding to keep the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), which included baking challah and less traditionally, making a New Year’s Resolution List. In the coming year she would: try a new recipe a week, eat more ethically (seriously!), embrace the prospect of motherhood, identify and praise women of valor, nurture the contemplative impulse, make room for ritual and remembrance, champion women leaders in the Church, partner with World Vision to work for the women’s empowerment and education worldwide, and honor Dan (her husband).

She also had a Tashlich ceremony, dating back, she says, to the Middle Ages, in which “the sins of the repentant are ceremonially cast into the currents of God’s grace.” She ties her conclusion to her introduction: 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 commended long hair for women; Rachel had let hers grow for 368 days. Time for a haircut; and so the Year of Biblical Womanhood concludes in a hydraulic chair in a hair salon.

This book is entertaining, at times flippant, and without a doubt, highly marketable. It also fails to revere the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God. In her conclusion she reiterates the culturally conditioned character of the Bible. However, Rachel says she’s not finished with the Bible, and let’s hope the future brings her a blessing from God’s Word.


FN1: Editorial note: link is provided for information, not endorsement of everything the Kellers teach.


(This is a guest post.)


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