Having enjoyed her last book, Evolving in Monkey Town, and followed her blog, I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy Rachel Held Evans’s experiment in trying to follow everything the Bible says women should do and be, over the course of a year. And, of course, I did enjoy it very much.
This is, of course, another in the A.J. Jacobean vein of “try something crazy for a year and write about it” books, but it’s driven by a genuine quest for truth. Rather than an outsider’s exploration of Biblical rules and regulations, it’s written from the perspective of a person of faith trying to learn how to understand and apply the Bible to her life. As a young woman growing up in fundamentalist Christian subculture, Rachel Held Evans got lots of very specific messages about the roles and responsibilities God intended for women — in the home, in the church, and in society. Part of her quest was to discover what the Bible actually does say (as opposed to what preachers, Christian writers, etc., claim that it says). The other part was to see how much of it she could actually follow.
There are some predictably funny hijinks, like Rachel attempting to sew a garment, or sleeping in a tent in the yard during her period. Her writing is always witty and easy to read, but the real gems here are Evans’ explorations into the standards the Bible really sets for women. She doesn’t shy away from confronting the “texts of terror” that have been used to justify the oppression of women, but she also attempts to get past ideals of “biblical womanhood” that are really purely cultural — for example, the idea, promoted by many conservative male pastors, that the greatest commandment for women is, “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go.”
Often funny, always thought-provoking, A Year of Biblical Womanhood offers no easy answers. Rather, it invites us into the journey of a woman whose faith, though it has changed over the years, is still the central fact of her life, as she tries to learn what it really means to be a “godly woman.” Her conclusions won’t be appreciated by some readers — there’ll be conservative Christians who disagree with her feminist, egalitarian views, and secular readers who wonder why an intelligent modern woman even bothers to read and apply a collection of ancient texts to her life. But for a reader like me, occupying that same often muddy ground between intelligent skeptic and committed believer that Evans explores so well, this book was a wonderful read.