A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I am reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale as part of the Kindle Big Deal sale through June 28th for $2.99. (Note: I just finished her latest book and will review it next week. It is I think her best book so far.)
A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master"

Summary: I recommend the book, but I wish it were a bit more focused.

I am a bit reluctant to review this book.  There has been so much digital ink spilled and so few actually helpful reviews. I knew I wanted to read it. I really respect Evan’s voice in the Christian world and even though I am not a regular reader of her blog, I do read it occasionally and think that she is a helpful and important voice.

I just wish I liked it more than I really did. I do not want to be associated with so many of the negative reviews that seemed to be responding to Evans as a person or the concept of the book and not actually dealing with the content.

There are some real moments of brilliance.  When she is reflecting on her experiences it is clear that she is a serious writer and serious thinker.

But there is also some silliness that I think detracts from the importance of the topic. That being said, I like her humor. I do not want to say that all Christian books need to be serious. I think that she is right to poke fun at our seriousness. But there are places where she verged into too much snark. What I fear is not that the snark is so much inappropriate, but that the snark gives her detractors a foothold to say, ‘see she is not a real Christian.’ And when I get to that point I fear I am verging into the territory of evaluating Evans and the idea of her project and not the project itself. (I really value the concept of the project and don’t want to fall into inappropriately praising what I don’t love, or be overly disappointed because I was too invested in the project before I actually read it.)

As several have noted, some of her experiments seemed to be more focused on American cultural values than on biblical exploration (and I think Evans would agree with this as part of her rationale to explore how we interpret scripture culturally.) Other of Evans’ experiments seemed to really try to get at what the scriptures she was working with really mean on a deeper level.

So to stick with my attempt at critiquing the content, I think the book tries to do too much. On the one hand, Evans is clearly trying to have a conversation about hermeneutics (biblical interpretation.)  If you read her blog regularly you know she is both serious about this and is fairly well versed in the issues in spite of the fact that she is not an academic theologian or bible scholar.  What Evans does is probably just as important as many of the academics, because many of Evans blog readership are also non-academics and Evans is playing an important role in moving the conversation from the ivory tower and into the pews where it can make a difference in the lives of everyday Christians.

The second clear focus is to try to encourage egalitarian leadership and marriage. I wholeheartedly support this. And I really appreciate Evans work in this area. Discussing the Pearls, Elizabeth Elliot, Edith Schaeffer and the Quiverfull movement has its place. But mixing moderate and extreme voices of complementarian positions I think is a problem for the relatively moderate egalitarian position that Evans takes for herself. It is hard to complain about an extreme position that you disagree with while at the same time saying that you should not be held responsible for the extreme position that is on your side of the fence.

The third distracting focus area is the whole ‘year of…’ thing. I honestly considered not reading the book because the last ‘year of…’ book I read I said in the review that I planned on never reading one again. It is not that the idea has been over done (although it has) but because it leads to short term experiments that end up feeling contrived. I understand that getting an electronic doll to simulate being a mother is a way to work through her fear issues about being a parent. But even Evans and her husband Dan know that this is nothing like actually being a parent. It leads to good self-deprecating stories. Evans is a good storyteller. It is one of the things I really like about her writing. But some of the stories feel forced.

I have spent the last 600 words mostly being critical. But on the whole I think the book is worth reading. I am getting a copy to give away for Christmas. I think it can (and has) helped move the conversation in egalitarian/complementarian relations. I still encourage you to read it. The implications sections, the social justice thoughts, the reality of wisdom that comes from a barely 30 year old is all worth commending.  I just think it could have been a better book.

I am linking to a couple of the better reviews (both positive and negative) at the bottom of this page.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

(The full title is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” but that is a little excessive.)

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