Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Introduction to Year of Biblical Womanhood (Guest Post)

The following is part one 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).

This book may be seen as the third chapter of a publishing trilogy attacking the authority of Scripture. Viewed in this light, Part One is The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (2008) by Dr. Scott McKnight, and Part Two, Jan Reiss’s Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor (2011)[Fn1]. In fact, whether she admits it or not (although she does have a chapter of acknowledgements, she does not mention these books, although her acknowledgements do include thanks to “teachers” among whom is Scott McKnight), Ms. Evans owes a lot to each of these books. Though Reiss is a Mormon and Evans is a self-styled evangelical, the similarity in the book titles is remarkable. Evans’s whole bizarre one year experiment inescapably echoes Reiss’s. Then, although Evans only quotes Scott McKnight in her eleventh chapter entitled, “August”, in reality the thesis of her entire book appears to be an outgrowth of McKnight’s suggestion that we try to put ourselves back into the world of the Bible and try to literally do all it commands. Even the covers of McKnight’s and Evans’s books are similar: both have bright yellow backgrounds, McKnight’s features a blue parakeet perched atop a pair of binoculars, and Evans’s features, well, Evans perched atop the roof of a house. These books, then, provide the steady drip, drip of anti-Biblical authoritarianism, for if the Bible does not provide authority, then these authors offer the reader some of their own: the Bible is not what it claims to be and it is only your blinkered eyes that makes you think it is--take it from us.[Fn2]


Evans’s pet peeve is the use of the word “biblical” as an adjective preceding “other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage” [p. xx] (Why she calls these kinds of nouns “loaded” is an unanswered question). She wants to make doubly, triply and quadruply sure that we never, ever presume to use the word “biblical” selectively, since the Bible mentions many things that Evans finds patently “unbiblical.” You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, so you can’t believe that a woman should be silent in the church unless you also believe that woman can be one of multiple wives, as if the latter were a command of God. In fact, overall the book suffers from a common logical problem, that of the naturalistic fallacy: arguing from an “is” to an “ought.” For example, if Solomon had multiple wives and concubines, and God used him, then God approved of those wives and concubines, which is a lot like saying that God approved of Noah’s drunkenness because the Bible never condemns it and Noah is listed in Hebrews 11 as a person of faith.

Evans honestly admits that her experiment was supported by her publishers—“there are publisher out there who will actually pay for” this sort of thing, as long “as they believe it’s marketable”. She calls her year one of “true biblical womanhood.” [italics hers] Who is throwing around the adjectives now?

The underlying assumption of the liberated Evans is that the Bible is “an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own” (p. xx), and thus lacks authority. It is not the inerrant, infallible source of truth. Its author is someone other than God, and its message is not clear, but is mostly a cacophony of sounding brass, tinkling cymbals, with a shofar horn thrown in for good measure. There’s no unity, no real message, no sound hermeneutic by which to interpret the book. Because she misses the overarching theme of the Bible, the redemption of man through the death of Christ, she fails to interpret Scripture by Scripture. Evans admits to “isolating every verse” about women of every sort--a sure path to misinterpretation.

In order to spice up her chronicle she chooses to observe ceremonial laws which are no part of Christianity, such as observing laws of female purity from the Levitical code which are clearly abrogated in the New Testament. She relies on an orthodox Jewish woman to assist her in her observance of various Jewish festivals which have no part in the Christian faith, and throws in an invented “Jar of Contention” (more on that later).

Sadly, the whole book mocks the holy Bible. When the third commandment forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain, it includes his “titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism points out. When the Bible is referred to as less than God’s message to us, as less than inspired and inerrant, as “someone else’s conversation” we see Evans taking God’s name in vain.


FN1: We must not forget, of course, A.J. Jacobs' best-selling, "Year of Living Biblically." But Jacobs was clearly an open unbeliever primarily focused on getting a laugh. He explains:
Why? Well, I grew up in a very secular home (I’m officially Jewish but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant). I’d always assumed religion would just wither away and we’d live in a neo-Enlightenment world. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. So was I missing something essential to being a human? Or was half the world deluded?

I decided to dive in headfirst. To try to experience the Bible myself and find out what’s good in it, and what’s maybe not so relevant to the 21st century.

The resulting year was fascinating, entertaining and informative. It was equal parts irreverent and reverent. It was filled with surprising insights almost every day. (I know it’s not biblical to boast, so apologies for that).

FN2: On a related note, consider the reviews of The Blue Parakeet by Dr. James White (link) and Dr. Thomas Schreiner (link).


This is a guest post, edited by TurretinFan.

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