I just finished reading a “Year of Biblical Womanhood” by Rachel Held Evans, and it was interesting to say the least. I seem to be the polar opposite of her intended audience: I am male, I am not American, and I feel nothing but disdain for Christianity and religion in general. But I bought it regardless, and I enjoyed reading a perspective on Christianity that I had previously never encountered; a somewhat critical look at the impositions set on Women by some Christian factions, by a Christian Woman no less.
As you would expect from a successful blogger, writer, and public speaker, Evans lives up to very few of the restrictive guidelines for Women set out by some of the more conservative elements of Christianity. This book is the product of a wonderful experiment in reconciling her faith (or rather, what some proponents of her faith espouse), with her “liberated” personality and lifestyle. Evans used a three-step process; she outlined some of the more extreme/weird/oudated expectations of Christian Women, she investigated their authenticity in the Bible and Christian/Jewish tradition, and she spent a year practicing much of it. She sat on her roof to pay penance, she addressed her husband as ‘master’ (yes this is what sold me), adopted a computer baby, and didn’t cut her hair for a year.
So, lets begin with the positives. For starters, this is a brilliant idea and Evans is a brilliant writer. This could have been a very dry book, but instead it was quite a funny and touching read. Evans drew her womanly proscriptions from a variety of sources, including prominent evangelical Christian doctrines and books, and she obviously spent a lot of time researching and thinking this out, as can be attested by the sheer weight of Bible quotes and examples included. Secondly, I greatly admire the lengths that she went, and that she even bothered to step outside her shell when she obviously had strong opinions on the subject before she began. I certainly would not have done half stuff she did, and I sincerely doubt I would have lasted an entire year. There are a great many anecdotes, and it offers great insight into the world of a brilliant woman struggling with repressive aspects of her faith.
But there is an unfortunate downside to this book. It took me close to two weeks to finish, which is a testament to how incredibly frustrating I found it. As you have probably discerned, the book is largely a rebuttal to some ridiculous expectations many Christians have of Women. To whit, Evans spends the majority of her time explaining how certain aspects of Christian Dogmas (as pertaining to Women) have no Biblical basis, are based on mistranslation or selective reading, are ridiculous or impractical in modern society, are out-dated (morally and intellectually), or are just too simplistic (there are oh so many other faults Evans finds, these are just the ones I remember). But Evans never goes the next step. She uses reasoning and logic to show how someone has mistranslated, selectively read, or oversimplified the Bible, but never questions why an omnipotent God would create a book that could be misunderstood or manipulated in this way. Evans uses Biblical scholarship to point out faults in other peoples reasoning, yet never questions why a benevolent God would create a text that requires extraneous information or education to properly understand it (information and education that is not available to billions upon billions of people currently living, let alone all those that came before). Evans glowingly recounts the wonderful benefits Women can bring when they are empowered, but never questions why this was not a central theme of the Bible (let alone written in a way that the misinterpretation or selective reading would have led to this result). And these are just a few of the many examples of Evans criticising up to a point, and then moving on, I have neither the time nor the memory capacity to resurrect them all.
The central theme of the book seems to be that Christianity and the Bible are complex things. Evans contests that there is nothing black and white, and when people attempt to turn the preaching of the Bible into simple commandments or condemnations, they are doing it a disservice. In this, I wholeheartedly agree, especially when it comes to the plight of Women. Evans further highlights the many important female figures in the bible, as well as the important role women play (or should/could play) in modern day society. But, as often as she points out flaws in reasoning, flaws in translation, flaws in tradition, flaws in morality, flaws in advice, and just flat out flaws in the Bible; she just shrugs her shoulders and soldiers on. Evans never takes the next step, that of realising that all these flaws point to something; there is a flaw in the Bible. All in all, this is an interesting and thought-provoking read, but Evans does little more than all those who she seeks to take on. She has selectively read and interpreted the Bible in order to further the empowerment of Women, but has stopped short of truly taking on the problems within the Bible. I recommend this book for those who want a non-confrontational look at the way Women are treated in Christianity, but for everyone else, maybe you should look elsewhere.
Author: Racheld Held Evans
Pages: 352 (Paperback)
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Josh’s Rating: 4/5