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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A Review

So what exactly does Evans discover about biblical womanhood in “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”?

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“Will you guys review this book?” read an email from one of our Ungrind readers.

I quickly clicked on the included link and found a picture of a woman wearing a head covering as she sat on the roof of a house. As I read the title, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on a Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” I thought, “Oh great, another one of those ‘experiment’ books.”

It’s true; the concept behind A Year of Biblical Womanhood isn’t new. Like A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, Rachel Held Evans’ book chronicles a year-long experiment to live out the Bible literally. Except for Evans, the project wasn’t intended to determine the general relevance of faith to modern culture, but “to challenge the idea that ‘biblical womanhood’ could be reduced to a list of roles and rules.”

As I read the description, my inner skeptic emerged. “Gimmick,” I thought. I saw it as an attempt to invoke media attention. And sure enough, it’s gained the media’s attention. From NPR to Oprah to The View, Evans is riding the circuit and creating controversy in the Evangelical community.

But, not one to merely judge a book by its cover, I decided to read it.

The Logistics

On her website, Evans describes herself as “a thoroughly liberated beneficiary of the feminist movement, complete with a blossoming career and egalitarian marriage. I strongly support women at all levels of leadership in the church, home, and society, and am suspicious of anyone who would claim that the Bible presents just one ‘right way’ to be woman.” In her book, she’s quick to offer qualifiers before identifying herself as an Evangelical. She writes, “Despite the fact that I vote for Democrats, believe in evolution, and am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell, I don’t mind being identified as an evangelical Christian. Evangelicalism is like my mother tongue.”

As someone who believes there is only one path of salvation, I began to question just what approach she would take, and how her biases would influence her conclusions.

Evans begins her project with a list of what she terms “Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments.” Included on this are submission to her husband in all things, devotion to household duties, exploration of motherhood, cultivation of a gentle and quiet spirit, modest apparel, the adornment of a head covering, and no haircuts, no teaching in church, no gossiping, and no authority over a man.

She spent a month focused on each of these topics and created “To Do This Month” lists. In December her bullet points included calling her husband “master,” while April featured “observe the Levitical Purity Laws by undergoing twelve days of ritual impurity during menstruation.”

With each page, I neither loved nor hated A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

What I Liked

So what did I like? What did I find notable?

Evans writes with vulnerability. She admits her fear of motherhood, her inability to multi-task, and even confesses that deep cleaning her kitchen “forced me to confront the ugly air of condescension that permeated my attitude toward homemaking. It was out of ignorance and insecurity that I ever looked down my nose at women who make homemaking their full-time occupation.”

Her willingness to be authentic makes her relatable. It reminds me that while I, unlike Evans, vote for prolife candidates and believe that God literally breathed humanity into existence, we do share commonalities. We’re both women who love Jesus and strive in our own ways to honor Him with our lives. It’s a reminder that, as Evans points out, “knowing that God inhabits and transcends our daily vocations, no matter how glorious or mundane, should be enough to unite all women of faith and end that nasty cycle of judgment we get caught in these days.”

Also notable is Evans’ long-distance friendship with Ahava, a rabbi’s wife from Israel, whom she met through the Internet. Ahava serves as a resource to Evans, schooling her in Jewish tradition, customs, and interpretation of the Old Testament. As Evans explores the Proverbs 31 woman, she turns to Ahava for guidance on whether Jewish woman struggle to live up to this ideal as many Evangelical women do.

Through Evans conversations with Ahava, she discovers that “in the Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at Sabbath meal, usually in a song.” It’s unconditional praise, Ahava shares, that blesses the woman for the energy and creativity she brings to the family. Evans walks away with a new understanding of the Proverbs 31 woman not as an ideal we strive to live up to, but as someone who “is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor.”

What I Didn’t Like

For those who read Evans’ book, read it carefully. While in general I applaud her “ends” — the desire to empower Evangelical women — her “means” deeply concern me.

One of these means is Evans handling of Scripture. She doesn’t affirm it as the inerrant word of God. (Though I think that was obvious with the whole “I believe in evolution” statement. But I digress.) Evans proclaims:

The Bible isn’t an answer book. It isn’t a self-help manual. It isn’t a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulations that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives. The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, poetry and proverbs, philosophy and prophecies, written and assembled over thousands of years in cultures and contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever unfolding story of God’s interaction with humanity.”

It seems to me that Evans is reducing the Holy Writ to just another “sacred text.” We can believe it was inspired by God, but we can’t trust it to inform — at least not in a literal sense — our modern lifestyles. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated statement. It’s only one of many instances in the book where she discourages readers from taking the Bible at face value.

Additionally, I felt that Evans purposely sought out extremes in order to validate her points. It seems she has bones to pick, and sought out sources to affirm her side of the argument. She interviewed polygamists, spoke to those in strict biblical patriarchy movements, visited the Amish, yet she didn’t once speak with a woman who lives out complementarianism and reformed theology in a balanced way. Yet I know these women exist; I happen to know many of them. In my opinion, her biased research and slanted writing damage her arguments.

In Conclusion

So what does Evans discover about biblical womanhood? At the end of her project, Evans concludes:

As much as we long for the simplicity of a single definition of ‘biblical womanhood,’ there is no right way to be a woman, no mold into which we can cram ourselves.”

I couldn’t agree more; although I’m not sure we needed a year-long experiment to discover this. When I read this line to my husband Ted, he was like, “Well, yeah, duh.” But perhaps that’s not the case for everyone. Perhaps for some, Evans’ book will be the first time they come face to face with the realization that it’s okay that we as Evangelical women aren’t all alike.

Her opportunistic experiment revealed to Evans that she likes to cook and created a desire in her to “nurture the contemplative impulse” more. But her project didn’t yield any significant “aha” results — either for her, or for me as the reader. Evans confesses:

I think, at the surface, I was looking for a good story. And I certainly found one. But further down, in the deeper recesses of my heart and mind, I think I was looking for permission — permission to lead, permission to speak, permission to find my identity in something other than my roles, permission to be myself, permission to be a woman.”

Yeah, I don’t really understand what Evans is trying to say in this conclusion either. Which is why, as I said earlier, I neither hate nor love this narrative experiment. Meh.

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Ashleigh Slater is the author of Team Us: Marriage Together and the editor of Ungrind. As a regular contributor at several blogs and websites, she loves to unite the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application to encourage others. She has 20 years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Instagram here.

5 Comments
  • Hi Ashleigh!

    I’m excited that you reviewed this–I’m reading it now myself, and had a lot of the same skepticism coming to it. It’s kind of cliche and unhelpfully dramatic to stage something like this.

    However, I think you misunderstand Evans’ assumptions about Scripture and painted her unfairly. She is careful to distinguish between the terms “infallible” and “inerrant” (you chose “inspired,” but I think she does not question the inspiration of Scripture, just the assumptions one makes about interpreting it), as these words are not interchangeable. She would argue for infallibility, but not inerrancy, and if you want to read her book club-style series of posts on N.T. Wright’s book “Scripture and the Authority of God,” I think you will come away with a better understanding of the nuances she draws and why she can still believe in the sacred nature of the Word of God with integrity.

    • Hannah, I just re-read that sentence in my review. You’re right in the respect that “inspired” was not the correct word choice on my part. I should have used “inerrant.” Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I’ve updated that sentence. I also rephrased a few other sentences to be more clear.

      For the record, I don’t doubt that Evans views the Bible as sacred — I note that she considers it a sacred text — and I have heard her comment that she loves the Bible. That said, I do stand by my concerns on her presentation of how the Bible should inform our daily lives.

  • Suzanne

    Great review, Ashleigh! I appreciate your balanced perspective. I have had a lot of the same initial thoughts about the book and was interested to read your thoughts. Well done!

  • For an additional review on this book, which is spot on as far as Evans’ handling of Scripture, check out Kathy Keller’s review over at “The Gospel Coalition.”

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/a_year_of_biblical_womanhood

Articles

When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Articles

Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

As you read, we hope you consider us friends, the kind you feel comfortable sitting across the table with at the local coffee shop. You can read more about me HERE and our team of writers HERE.

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A Review

by Ashleigh Slater time to read: 6 min
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