Living Biblically

Way back in August, just before I decided to take a Blogbatical, I agreed to review Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. With the awesome press coverage it’s getting, she sure doesn’t need Storied Theology to make folks aware of the book.

For all my self-aggrandizing tendencies, I do realize that I have nothing on the Today Show.

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But be that as it may, I have one big thought about the book that I’d like to share.

As you probably know, the book chronicles Rachel’s year of following every commandment in scripture directed toward women. The tongue-in-cheek exercise helps expose the difficulty in claiming that “biblical womanhood” is the goal toward which today’s women should aspire.

Her project exposes the most basic reality of biblical interpretation and application: we do not, cannot, and indeed must not, simply pick up the Bible, see what it says, and go do it.

All of us approach the Bible with some sort of interpretive grid that helps us to know when we do or do not need to take to heart the commandment issued. Rachel has grown weary of “biblical” as a trump-card adjective, thrown out in an effort to baptize whatever (conservative) social, religious, or theological position a person wants to endorse.

So, the story of the year is a story of challenging the notion that “biblical womanhood” is to be had by opening up the Bible and applying “God’s word to women.” (Camping in the backyard during your period, anyone?)

But there’s another story within the story.

And this is what the nay-sayers are going to avoid, deny, and otherwise be blind to.

As Rachel says at the end of her Today Show interview, she actually loves the Bible. And this thread runs right through the narrative of swear-jars, Thanksgiving dinner, and “Dan is awesome” signs.

What Rachel discovers this year is not simply that the Bible is embedded in a cultural context where myriad different assumptions about life make direct application impossible. She also discovers a richer, more potent biblical (there’s that word again!) prescription for womanhood.

That prescription is one of trust, of gentleness, of concern for the weak, of executing justice, of loving, and of honoring those worthy of honor.

This is a great book for raising, again, the question, “What is the Bible and what are we supposed to do with it?” (a phrase I steal from Enns on a regular basis). And my invitation to you is to read with an eye toward both stories: the over-the-top, witty narrative of literal biblical reading as a critique on our simplistic views of the bible, but also the underlying current of a true biblical womanhood that has the power to infuse even those “liberated women” who can’t quite bring themselves to call their husbands “master.”

21 thoughts on “Living Biblically”

  1. Wow, indeed. But, now you have me excited about reading the book. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. One of the greatest lies ever foisted upon those who are very sincere in wanting to live in Christ and please God fully is “simply pick up the Bible, see what it says, and go do it.” First of all, that is not what the Book is for. It is to acquaint us with the person of Jesus. It is for the Holy Spirit to use to open our eyes to the wonders found in the gift of salavation and of the life lived in Jesus. It is not, for the Christian, a rule book. I discuss this whole idea fairly thoroughly in the article “How Do We Find the Truth?” on thegreatnessofjesus.com. Thank you for sharing about Ms. Evans’ book.

  2. I appreciate what Rachel is doing in her books. But on this: “Rachel has grown weary of “biblical” as a trump-card adjective, thrown out in an effort to baptize whatever (conservative) social, religious, or theological position a person wants to endorse.” – there really is no escaping agenda here. If not conservative then one can equally say, “thrown out in an effort to baptize whatever (liberal” social, religious or theological position a person wants to endorse.”

    It’s like something I read somewhere recently – “saying that Jesus did not endorse a political party is often used as a means of arguing one should vote democrat.”

    I too grow weary of conservatives (I’m surrounded by them) using “biblical” as a trump card. And, a healthy discussion of what the Bible actually is and actually is doing is vital for Christians of every generation to reevaluate (and not just act as though those issues were settled). But, I think Evans has tended to throw the baby out with the bathwater at times. As much as I love Peter Enns work and think his book on Inspiration and Incarnation was a tremendous book (I recommend it to many people) – he does at times press the issue too far and fails (as I think Evans fails to do) to see a biblical narrative view that is a progressive unfolding of Scripture that one can begin to form some solid ground. Evans is saying she loves the Bible but also leaves one hanging too much with a “well, we really don’t know” view. Its classically postmodern. It has a lot to offer that is vital; but tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater at times.

  3. She had such an opportunity to advance the conversation and instead she resorted to “tomfoolery” (as my grandfather would put it).

    It’s not often I find myself agreeing with the likes of the Gospel Coalition but Kathy Keller’s review was spot on: Rachel ignored the most basic principles of hermeneutics, even the ones that we all, liberal, conservative, and neoorthodox (Go Barth!) can agree on. I feel like I’ve awakened in Bizarro world just saying that but it’s true.

    For someone who takes the Bible seriously (and I have no doubt she does) she really doesn’t show it in this book. Like one of my conservative friends wrote in his review of the book, she just gives occasion for people to mock the Bible even more.

    But, hey, at least she got on Today and The View.

    1. Michael, that critique is entirely missing the point. Rachel’s point is to show that “the basic principles of hermeneutics” don’t allow for the simplistic view of “biblcial womanhood” often championed by the Kathy Kellers of the world. No, we don’t “all agree” on them, because if we did then the idea that a woman has to be a stay at home, homeschooling mom in order to honor God would not be rampant in conservative Christianity.

      I agree that her true “biblical womanhood” is a sub-text, not the main text. That’s why I wanted to draw it out in this review.

      1. I’ll be the first to admit that I might not be understanding your point or the point of the book. (It’s hard being good looking and smart ;-) after all). I read your post again and looked at my notes and I just can’t find much in the book to be positive about.

        I am not aware of a single group of reasoned and reasonable Christians, conservative, liberal, or neoorthodox, that believes that the Old Testament commands are applicable to women today. We all agree on that. So to do what she did is to set up a straw man.

        Complementarians also believe that “the Bible is embedded in a cultural context where myriad different assumptions about life make direct application impossible” to use your words. We disagree with their conclusions, but they’re not making their wives camp out in the back yard every month so I’m not sure what her purpose was and how this advances the issue.

        It was at times entertaining and she seems like a nice woman but this book isn’t going to convince anyone who wasn’t convinced already and it’s just going to turn away those who might have otherwise been convinced.

        1. But can it be denied that complementarians use the culture of the patriarchs as a proof that God blesses male headship? RHE is creatively exposing the dissonance of an appeal to OT standards that chooses to ignore, or at least seldom engages, all of the baggage that comes with those standards.

        2. “Complementarians also believe that “the Bible is embedded in a cultural context where myriad different assumptions about life make direct application impossible” to use your words.”

          I’m sure you do. But even that is hardly a settled, uncontroversial statement among conservative Christians.

    2. If I may – Rachel wasn’t just engaging the “liberal, conservative and neoorthodox” hermeneutics. In her book she engages orthodox Jewish hermeneutics as well. In fact, it appears that Rachel explored all kinds of takes on the Bible, from the Amish, from Catholics, from Christian polygamists. So to say she’s ignoring the most basic principles of hermeneutics assumes too much. Whose basic principles of hermeneutics? Christians aren’t the only ones who interpret the Bible.

  4. Hello Prof. Kirk,
    I doubt you remember me, but I took two semesters of Greek from you at Duke in 03/04 (I was Jenn Brown then). I stumbled on your blog today via Rachel Evans tweet and I’ve enjoyed scrolling through it. I particularly enjoyed the posts on authority from a few months ago. I’m a church planter these days so you can see how those posts may have caught my eye. Glad to see you’re well and I’m eager to read “Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?”

    Peace,
    Jenn

  5. It is not “the best we can do,” but it is another angel. We’ve had our Gordon D. Fee and Craig Keener types, our N.T. Wright types, and many others who have written with conviction and precision in favor of a more balanced, egalitarian approach to this matter–yet the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood moves along pretending like those who care about Jesus hold their views and other are frauds. Rachel uses wit and humor and the book is fantastic and fun. Piper, Driscoll, et al., will have their followers because people want to affirm the position they advocate. What Rachel has done is gifted those of us who share her views with an enjoyable book on the topic while providing another approach to thinking for those who do not.

  6. I often wonder if you any of you guys actually have a clue as to what is permeating in the thought of conservative Christian circles these days. Shame on you, JR, for so broadly stroking conservative Christianity as promoting “stay at home, homeschooling moms”. I would argue that this view might be ingrained in 15% of conservative Christians at the most. Your insistent generalizations of a massive group of your fellow “brothers and sisters” in Christ is truly despicable.

    1. 15%, really? Do you have some surveys or numbers to back that up? Or is that just your gut impression? Because my gut impression is that just cannot possibly be right.

  7. Thanks for this review, and encouraging people to read the book! Would you help us get Rachel Held Evans on The Colbert Report? Join our movement! @RACHELonREPORT. Thanks so much!

  8. Great Review. I especially appreciated this line.

    “Her project exposes the most basic reality of biblical interpretation and application: we do not, cannot, and indeed must not, simply pick up the Bible, see what it says, and go do it.”

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