Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master"
By Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson 2012
310 pages
From my shelves

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Rachel Held Evans is a blogger and writer who focuses on Christianity and the church. As a child and an adult, she received a lot of mixed messages about what it meant to be a Christian woman. Evans decided that she would take one year to focus on the women of the Bible and exactly what the Scriptures say about women. Rachel sleeps in a tent in her backyard during her period, learns to cook, and researches if the Bible truly instructs her to be silent in church and submit to her husband.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I follow Rachel's blog. I think she asks a lot of really important questions about church culture in the US and she does it in a way that invites dialogue instead of division. As both a pastor's kid and a pastor's wife, I am obviously invested in and interested by the church in both its strengths and its weaknesses.

In this book, Evans is very respectful about the spectrum of traditions that are encompassed by women in the contemporary church and those of the women in the Bible. She makes the effort to read books by, visit, and speak with women of a multitude of beliefs - a conservative Jew, a polygamist, a Quaker congregation, and Mennonite and Amish women. She also does some really beautiful work in giving the women of the Bible a true voice. Common biases and misconceptions about well-known women such as Eve and Mary Magdalene are noted and forgotten names like Junia and Tabitha are brought back into the light.

While I found this book interesting, I think it fell flat for me for two reasons. The first, which I realize is rather my fault, is that I've read many of her thoughts on these issues before. When Rachel argues that Proverbs 31 is completely misunderstood because we view it as a to-do list instead of one husband's praise of his wife, I had already read it on her blog and agreed with her wholeheartedly. So I found myself skimming in places to get to some new ground.

The second issue for me was that this book is constructed almost in a series of vignettes. Each month, Rachel takes on a certain characteristic such as modesty or domesticity. The chapter then details some of the specific things she did in an attempt to cultivate that skill or characteristic. Rachel is incredibly candid about her experiences and the effect that this experiment had on her, her husband, and her relationships. But the book lacks a solid conclusion or real cohesion between the chapters.

Basically, I think this is a good book to start with if you are scratching your head about a church in the 21st century that says that women shouldn't speak during services or that they should submit to their husbands. Evans manages to take a serious look at some big issues while maintaining a disarming, and often humorous, demeanor. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a great jumping off point for researching exactly what the Bible says about half of its readers. 


  1. This sounds interesting, if you come at it as a newbie to her voice :)

    1. Definitely! Obviously my issue was completely of my making!

  2. This sounds so fascinating and like a book that would really give some food for thought. It goes straight on the TBR! Great blog by the way :-)

  3. This sounds a bit like the female version of AJ Jacobs' My Year of Living Biblically. I think (I haven't read it although I want to) that his is more intended to be humorous than it sounds like hers is but if I understand correctly, it's not a mocking sort of humorous, if that makes sense.

    1. That makes perfect sense. Evans actually talks a bit about Jacobs' book and how it inspired her.

      This book is humorous in parts as well. The author is a very modern career woman and it makes for some interesting moments as she takes up new things like cooking and sewing.