Thursday, February 14, 2013

February/March of a Year of Biblical Womanhood (Guest Post)

The following is part four 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.


Beauty is the topic of the month and here I think Rachel Evans makes some good points. She notes the odd, yet apparently not uncommon teaching of some evangelical pastors (among them Mark Driscoll) who seem to lay the blame for a husband's fornication exclusively on the wife’s “letting herself go” (getting fat, etc.). Dr. Laura Schlesinger has said the same thing, so it's not an exclusively Christian idea. Anecdotal evidence tells us that men stray from even the most amazing and beautiful wives in favor of less amazing and beautiful ones, e.g., Prince Charles’s wandering from Princess Diana for Camilla, a move which caused many men and women to scratch their heads in wonder. But Christians should know better than to blame the wife for the husband’s sin (or vice versa, for that matter). After all, James 1: 14-15 says,
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
Men, women, and children are indeed responsible for their own sins which spring from their own sinful desires.[FN1] This is the clear teaching of Scripture and a Berean Christian, one who searches the Word of God to be sure that the teaching heard from preachers matches the teaching of the Bible, knows that.

Next, Ms. Evans talks about the foolishness of the “abstinence pledge” that she and countless others in evangelical churches have signed. According to her statistics, only 12% keep that promise. First of all, the whole idea of an abstinence pledge sounds a little odd—why just promise to abstain from sexual sin, but not lying, theft, etc. as well? In fact, when a person is converted, he is to confess Christ as Savior and Lord, i.e., King and Ruler of his life. He is not his own person, for he has been bought with a price, the price of Christ’s blood. So perhaps the answer to the 12% success rate is that churches contain many members or attenders who are not truly born again and therefore have not been radically transformed, or at least are not in the process of being radically transformed by the Word of God. A good read on this topic would be Finally Alive by John Piper (2009)(link to pdf - other versions).

Another resource that provides good counsel in the area of sexual purity is a chapter in Kevin deYoung’s book, The Hole in Our Holiness, pp. 107-122 which talks about the Bible’s “radically different sexual ethic” than the world’s Here is godly advice. A book quoted by deYoung that sounds very promising is Sex, Dating and Relationships: A Fresh Approach by Gerald Hiestand and Jay S. Thomas (2012).

Again, I agree with Ms. Evans’ statement that physical beauty is more an Old Testament thing than a New Testament one, a fact that has been noted by several traditional and conservative commentators.[FN2]

The woman of the month who gets several pages of coverage is Ruth the Moabitess. Here Evans takes a feminist view on the book of Ruth. No mention is made of Ruth calling Boaz “lord” which she does in 2:13, perhaps a mere slip on the part of Rachel. She claims that although Naomi advised Ruth that Boaz would “tell you what to do” (Ruth 3:2-4), in reality Ruth told Boaz what to do: she asked him to spread his cloak over her. But Boaz goes on and does tell Ruth what to do: “Stay here for the night and it shall be in the morning if [the kinsman-redeemer) will perform the part of a kinsman…” She refers to Naomi’s plan as “brazen” and mentions that “to uncover the feet” means to “uncover the genitals.”[FN3] A less dramatic understanding of the text might be to “lift up the clothes that are on,” which need not imply immodesty. Thus ends February.


March is for Modesty! The “To Do” list includes: dressing modestly, wearing a head covering, wearing only skirts and dresses—no slacks or jeans; abstaining from wearing jewelry; and hanging out with the Amish.

Ms. Evans admits to being discouraged at several points during this year, in curling up in a fetal position, but her complaints are met with her husband’s reminder that she undertook all this as a result of a contract she willingly signed with the publisher, so she has only herself to blame. So after bit of icy coldness between the Dan and her, or a few episodes of The Twilight Zone, she continues.

This chapter owes a lot to Orthodox Jewish scholars and Evans’s Orthodox Jewish advisor/friend, Ahava. This is a mistake because Orthodox Judaism misses the point of much of the Old Testament. If they did not, they would be orthodox Christians. Again, there is a failure on the part of the author to distinguish between the Old and New economy and the differences between the ceremonial, the civil, and the moral law of God.

It was interesting to read of a 1944 “Marylike Modesty Crusade” an effort “to codify Pope Pius XI’s instructions regarding immodest dress,” an effort I had never heard of (perhaps not so surprising since I am a Protestant).[FN4] But much of the chapter is devoted to the Amish and their peculiarities.

I think that Evans could really not find too much fault with the call of the Bible to modesty, especially because that call is interpreted in a different light by different women. This is not surprising. As each believer studies the Word of God, he must arrive at a decision on how to live. Whatever is not of faith is sin. If a woman wears a covering on her head in church we believe she does so out of a desire to please God.[FN5] The same goes for women who wear dresses and not slacks, or who abstain from drinking alcohol or who do not believe in dancing. It may be that the Bible allows for more freedom than a particular person thinks, but still here in this world we see through a glass darkly. Not all our decisions will line up perfectly with the perfect Word of God, but God sees our motivation. Thankfully, the ground of our salvation is not our adherence to a certain set of rules, yet we have been saved in order to live holy lives (Ephesians 1:4), and may God enable us all to do so more and more.


[FN1] Editor's note: Indeed, a proper balance is necessary. Scripture teaches both that people have personal responsibility for sin and that people have responsibility for tempting others to sin (recall the harsh penalty for proselytizers for other gods in the law of Moses). Blaming everything on the tempter was the error of Adam and Eve and one that Christians should have the wisdom to avoid. Nevertheless, the tempter was also punished for tempting and Christians should avoid placing stumbling blocks before one another.

[FN2] Editor's note: The hermeneutic we should apply is one of continuity. Notice carefully that 1 Peter 3:3-5 states: "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands ...." Thus, while outward beauty is mentioned in the Old Testament (and while it is a good thing), the principle focus should be on inward spiritual beauty. The most obvious reference Peter is making is to the situation where, "when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed" (Esther 2:15).

[FN3] Editor's note: While, of course, there may be some basis for suggesting that "uncover ... feet" is an idiomatic euphemism, it might seem kinder to give Ruth and Naomi the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that literal feet are what are intended.

[FN4] Editor's note: Interestingly, The 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1262, stated, "...women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord." The 1983 Code of Canon Law (which abrogated the 1917 Code) did not repromulgate this provision. Cardinal Burke states:
The wearing of a chapel veil for women is not required when women assist at the Holy Mass according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force. It is not, however, a sin to participate in the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form without a veil.

[FN5] Editor's note: And more particularly a desire to obey the rules set forth in 1 Corinthians 11.

(My apologies to the reader for so many editorial notes. Perhaps at a later date the editor should simply put forth his own article.)

(Recall, this is a guest post).


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