Four Reasons “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” Should Move the Conversation on Gender Forward

 In Book Reviews, Pop Culture, Spirituality, The Bible
Click to get this book on Amazon NOW!

Click to get this book on Amazon NOW!

I’m giving away 10 FREE copies of A Year of Biblical Womanhood! Details at the end of the post.

Who would’ve thought that the next book to blow up the Christian publishing industry would be Rachel Held Evans’ attempt to live for a year following all the Bible’s rules for women? But gender is the most divisive issue in the Evangelical church these days, with some questioning whether a person can even truly be Christian if they don’t hold to traditionalist/complementarian gender roles!

As a woman who’s grown up in the Evangelical Church, Rachel was captivated by A. J. Jacob’s Year of Living Biblically experiment and decided to take on an even harder task: doing it as a woman.

Her central question is near the heart of the gender debates:

Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?

Since I’m a huge fan of Rachel’s blog and definitely an egalitarian when it comes to the gender debate, I wasn’t worried that I’d like the book.

I wanted to know if Year of Biblical Womanhood could move the gender conversation anywhere helpful.

YBW - RachelFortunately, Rachel’s book is excellent. It’s a fun, easy read filled with warmth, humor and insight. And despite all the controversy already surrounding the book, everyone should read it. Christian Baptist Pop Fundamentalist retailer Lifeway has already announced they won’t carry it (apparently as a part of their slow march towards obsolescence), so go buy the book on Amazon or at your local non-insane bookstore.

Here are four reasons A Year of Biblical Womanhood is going to do more than just stir the pot.

1. Rachel’s Writing is Accessible

YBW - CookSeriously, this book is crazy fun to read. It’s 300-pages long, plus online bonus content (deleted scenes for a book?! Genius!), but it felt like 50. I tore through it and wanted more. I’ll read it again and again, with friends, in study groups. It’s good and it’s easy to read in the best way possible.

Rachel’s stories and style invite us safely into some emotional and complex issues. As a man who grew up in the Evangelical subculture, I was still able to relate to what Rachel shared, and I got a real sense of what’s at stake in when we discuss gender. Oh, and I laughed quite a bit.

Nothing’s quite as good for a heated conversation as plenty of laughter.

2. The book embodies its position on personhood.

Yes, she lived in a tent during "that time of the month".

Yes, she lived in a tent during “that time of the month”.

No one who is familiar with Rachel’s writings will be surprised about her position. She clearly lays out her background and biases in the introduction, so even new readers know early on where she’s coming from. But she takes her position seriously. She interviews women who live differently from her – Amish and Mennonite women, a Quiverfull daughter, a female pastor. In addition, every chapter ends with a profile of a woman in the Bible.

Instead of a dry essay about the varied nature of womanhood, Rachel gives us a rich tapestry of essays, interviews and stories that show rather than tell us the possibilities.

3. Team Dan and Rachel!

She praised Dan at the city gates. But Dan really IS awesome!

She praised Dan at the city gates.
But Dan really IS awesome!

As any good leader does, Rachel gives her husband Dan a voice in the book. Dan kept a journal during the experiment, and getting his reactions not only through Rachel’s eyes, but in his own words was instructive. Dan is clearly a thoughtful, godly husband whose manhood is in no way diminished by Rachel’s project, or her success.

In fact, as both Rachel and Dan present their marriage in the book, it’s hardly fair to call the success Rachel’s alone.

Rachel is clear that she could not do what she does without Dan doing what he does. They are truly one flesh, and even though this is not a book on Marriage, the picture of their marriage we find in the book is inspiring. Team Dan and Rachel demonstrates that an egalitarian marriage does not diminish the Gospel in any way. Rather, both partners are spurred on to embody Jesus’ good news more fully as a result of their mutual submission.

4. Masterful Scriptural Interpretation

Rachel is a teacher. I'm happy to sit at her feet! Image credit: David Li | Lariat Photographer

Rachel is a teacher.
I’m happy to sit at her feet!
Image credit: David Li

The happiest surprise in A Year of Biblical Womanhood for me was how much of each chapter Rachel dedicated to masterful interpretation of Scripture. The surprise came not because I’d doubted Rachel’s abilities – any reader of her blog knows how good she is, but because I was expecting a more straight-forward memoir.

Rachel takes on the most difficult texts in the Scriptures, the texts used most often to silence women and deny them a full, equal place in the Church. She handles the texts with an obvious love for the Scriptures, and I marveled over and over at what light she shed on various passages for me.

Even if you don’t agree with her interpretations, you’ll find them compelling. Rachel demonstrates that it’s possible to take the Scriptures seriously even if you don’t agree with traditional readings of these troublesome texts.

So will A Year of Biblical Womanhood move the Evangelical conversation on Gender forward?

My review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Support Rachel. Click here to get this book today!

If early reviews are any indication, Rachel’s not going to convince anyone already firmly entrenched in the Complementarian camp. Her book’s already been subject to the kind and quality of misrepresentation we last saw with Love Wins. If you approach this book looking for problems, I have no doubt you can find them (after all, we’ve used the Scriptures to justify all manner of atrocities, from slavery to genocide). Christians have a practiced history of finding what we want to find in any book.

But for those still trying to figure out exactly where they stand on Gender roles, those willing to approach A Year of Biblical Womanhood honestly and fairly, you’ll find beautiful example after beautiful example of how a woman can be biblically faithful, love God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength and lead with the best of them.

BOTTOM LINE: Yes, Rachel is leading the conversation on Gender forward. This is a landmark book that should positively shape the conversation for years to come.

YOUR TURN: I’m giving away 10 copies of A Year of Biblical Womanhood! Here’s how you can win:

  1. Share this post on Twitter or Facebook. If you don’t use either of those, email it to a friend. Share!
  2. In the comments, tell me you shared it, then tell me who your favorite woman in the Bible is. Most importantly, tell me WHY!
  3. Name a woman in your life who has led you in a significant way (and tell me why, briefly). After you’ve read the book, you’ll be calling her a Woman of Valor!

I’ll select the 10 winners at random and announce them on FRIDAY, November 2.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  • Analin Saturria-McGregor

    I shared your book review on Facebook for a few reasons, other than getting a copy of the book (I had already read an article on the Yahoo Newsfeed about it so my interest was picked). I grew up in the Evangelical subculture as well so I know how much the gender equality conversation is avoided or simply swept under a rug of taken-out-of-context Bible verses. Now, on top of that throw the Latino macho culture. Even within the Evangelical world, you would not believe how many macho stereotypes are still present and how many men have problems in their marriages and in their lives in general because they have not let go of those macho behavioral patterns and “entitlements”.

    If I had to pick a woman in the Bible I’d probably pick Ruth. Ruth didn’t just sit down and felt sorry for herself, she defied conventionalism, was unafraid of hard labor, and pursued a man without losing track of who she was (a common malady I think among Evangelical women in my experience).

    For my “Woman of Valor” I’ll pick Sarah Dudley (!). During your trip to the DR, I remember asking Sarah if it was ever hard for her with Clay being on the road so often during the year. And I’ll never forget her answer: “I have a life without my husband”. I’ve seen so many incredibly talented girls just vanish once they’re married. They just sort of become an attachment of their husbands. If their husbands are away, you never hear them talking about enjoying their time on their own – I wonder sometimes if they even feel OK being on their own, and I think it’s sad. Sarah reminded me with that answer that a) there is more to life than just marriage – again, living in a culture where so much pressure is put on girls to getmarriedandhavekidsgogogogo, it’s hard not to feel like a freak if you’re not married; and b) that once I was married, it was important to take care of myself – and stay myself.

  • I shared your review! My favorite woman in the Bible is Dorcas because she used her skills to help those around her. She was a woman who put others needs before her own.
    My high school history teacher, who later died of cancer, was my biggest champion. She even offered to adopt me when I was kicked out of my house as a teenager. Her courage to battle educational bureaucracy inspired me to become a teacher. She felt every student deserved a chance.

  • graceisunfair

    I shared on Facebook. I hope that many of the students in the ministry I work with will check it out and hopefully become interested in moving the conversation forward, too.
    I love the Syro-phoenician/Canaanite women who continues to pursue Jesus even after He calls her a dog. Her heart and desire to seek justice and to seek God are much more impressive than I would’ve had.
    A woman who has led me significantly is named Crystal Martin. She was one of my teamleaders my first year doing campus ministry overseas. She was an amazing example of love and hospitality. She would regularly invite students into her home, sit over tea and listen to them. I’ve rarely met anyone who I felt was giving me their full attention like Crystal does. Moreover, she’s since gone on to become the national director of international student ministry for Chi Alpha, which is the position I’m in now. Although I don’t regularly interact with her these days, there’s no one else I’d rather call my leader in reaching out to and loving international students!

  • I suppose I should do this too, right?

    One of my favorite biblical women is Hannah. Not only is she the first recorded instance of private prayer, but her commitment to give Samuel over to God’s service was a tremendous act of courage and valor. The song she sings at his dedication is full of hope that God can do the impossible – after all, God brought life to her dead womb. Hannah’s song is the template for Mary’s Magnificat. Amazing!

    As for women in my own life, both my mom and my wife are amazing. My mom recovered from a brutal divorce, held three kids together (can you imagine having to raise me? I was an unholy terror) and finished a master’s. Today, she’s a source of wisdom and perspective in my life, and one of my biggest cheerleaders.

    My wife Amanda makes me a better person. Without her, I’d be much more cruel and selfish. She helps me to look more like Jesus, and I’m constantly amazed at how seriously she takes her own spiritual growth. She’s a truly astounding person with endless wells of compassion and love for everyone. She knows no strangers, and is my constant teacher of what it means to be Christlike.

  • I shared this on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and I tried to Pin It on Pinterest, but for some reason no image would show up.

    My favorite woman from the Bible is Lydia. I’ve given several presentations on Lydia and here are my reasons for loving and admiring her. First, she heard the Gospel and immediately she and her family were baptized. She didn’t wait around to question it, ponder it, research it… she heard the truth and she believed. Second, she opened her doors to Paul and I believe represents one of the first churches in the New Testament. She was a brave woman of God!

    One woman who has influenced me greatly in my Christian walk is a woman by the name of Diana Pemelton. I met her in 1995… when I first became a Christian and first started attending church. She is a strong woman of God. She taught a class called “And God Made Woman” – and it was pivotal, life-changing and inspirational. She still teaches the class from time to time and I know many many lives have been changed and influenced by her powerful teaching of God’s truth!

  • I shared! But, ugh, JR, you had to steal my woman of the Bible? I mean, Hannah, for obvious reasons, she is my namesake after all. And can you even imagine offering your child up, specially after struggling with infertility?!?! I cannot, and I admire that kind of extreme devotion. As for a woman who has led me in a significant way, I suppose my mother. She balanced a few different careers with motherhood and being a pastor’s wife (which is a career in itself). With all of that she never put expectations on me to either follow in her footsteps, or find a man to take care of me and become a homemaker. She encouraged me to do what makes me happy whether family, career, or both, and I greatly appreciate not being pushed in any specific direction in that regard.

  • Lori Kuli

    I shared via email! My favorite woman of the Bible has always been Esther. I admire her strength. She could have just worried about herself and turned her back on her people but she was courageous! I also like that everything she did, she did with grace and elegance!

    One of the many women that have led me would have to be my sister Melissa. She has always had a strong, unwavering faith in Christ. She has had many ups and downs in her life but through it all she has been steadfast in her faith. She is also the nicest person alive….like so nice it makes you sick. She is so giving, so loving, so willing to give above and beyond her means to help someone else. I’m in awe of her and wish I could be more like her. She is truly a “living testimony.”

    I must confess I am both excited and little scared to read this book. A lot of reviews I’ve read have said her writing is derisive towards the Bible. I hope that is not the case but I guess if I win I can find out for myself!

  • Adam

    Shared on facebook! My favorite woman in the Bible is the Woman at the Well. I think it is a tremendous testament to the fact that no one is ever too far lost. We all have a spirit inside us that tells us there is more to our lives than living in a sinful way. Jesus does not judge us in the ways that society does, and that is a refreshing truth that I think is well displayed in this story. I can think of several women in my life that have all played a very important role in my upbringing and my journey to follow Christ. However, I am going to say my wife because she is a daily reminder of the power of the Lord; that patience and love are strong weapons; and that there is beauty in the everyday. Thanks for sharing JR!

  • Dee Simpson

    Shared on twitter and fb.
    One of my favorite women in the bible is Esther. She was brave and strong in a time when she could have just taken the easy way out and saved herself. Instead she chose to trust in God and remain faithful.
    My Granny is the women who has meant the most in my life. She has always been supportive, caring, and led me in the right direction.

  • Becky

    I always look forward to a conversation that includes the Bible and women- thanks JR! I did share this! Favorite woman in scripture-Ruth- for her devotion,faithfulness, and her risk taking! My mom is definitely the woman who has been a godly influence in my life while being also a great example of a modern woman(career, education, family) when that wasn’t the norm. She persevered through many trials and is a woman of grace and love!

  • Thanks for the review. The paper copy is on its way and I started reading the ebook yesterday. Thanks for the review.

    At some point, we’ll have to talk about its weak points as well.

  • Annie

    I shared it.

    Is it sad and counter-intuitive with regard to this post that I can only think of favorite male Biblical personalities? Yikes.

    I used to listen to the story of Esther over and over again on adventures in odyssey as a kid. Esther was impressive in her own right but I really appreciated Queen Vashti for refusing to come to Xerxes’ party so he could put her beauty on display (?!?!). i don’t know much about her, but it appears she was a very principled woman. It’s hard to pick a favorite of anything, but as a young gal I always liked that part of the story and wished I knew more about her.

    my mom is a woman in my life who led me in a significant way. she had a seminary degree along with social work degrees, and she was always involved in society and peoples’ lives, even when she became terminally ill. she was passionate and opinionated but overall, so loving. i appreciate it when women can be outspoken and have a big personality without losing the humility and grace that is expected of all God’s people (not just women). she embodied that for me.

  • I shared it on every social media outlet I have (yes that includes Pinterest!)!

    I shared this because JR told me to. I just follow what he tells me to do.

    Just kidding! I shared it because Rachel has drastically given me eyes to see the beauty of women from a Biblical and Christlike perspective for quite sometime. I admire most of all of what she says. Rachel very often gets my brain to thinking about things that others can not. She is a huge influence.

    I’m pretty sure I would freak out like a 13 year old girl who just met One Direction if I met her in real life. Does that help?

    My favorite woman in the Bible is Mary Magdaline.

    She showed a lot of bravery and trust. I mean yes, Jesus told her to go spread the news and who wouldn’t listen to Jesus, right? But the fact that she did it in such a patriarchal society showed a lot of courage that if I were her would not have been able to express. Whether or not Jesus told me to do it I probably would have just ran away. Mary stepped up in a big way to show the men of the time that she was equal to them. To show that gender differences did not matter because she knew her beauty through Jesus and the resurrection.

    I would say there are a few women who more recently have shaped my life in positive ways. They are: Kendall Simcoe, Ellen Robb, Caitlin Kissinger and Kaylee McCune. However, the woman who has impacted me the most is Meredith Imler. She has shown me so much love and compassion that I wish I could emulate to others in the same ways. I have seen a true woman of valor in Meredith. She has taught me to enjoy the “in between” times in life. To embrace what I have and the persons around me. Meredith is someone I trust and consider a close friend. She is so brave and brilliant. God has truly blessed me with her presence in my life. Anytime a girl friend of mine asks for a mentor or someone to talk to about something with which they are going through, Meredith is the first name to come out of my mouth. I want her presence to be experienced by everyone! Thanks God for her so very much!

  • Richard

    Shared the link on Twitter.

    One of my favourite women is Leah because after a listening to a Tim Keller sermon some time ago that really highlighted from her story how God tends to uses weak people.

    My aunt is the woman that has lead me in a significant way. She took me in as her unofficially adopted child at 12, after my parents passed away, having no kids of her own and never being married. To me that was a grand display of love, that in some ways parallels God’s adoption of us, unearned and undeserved.

  • Great Review!

    I am sharing this on FB…..

    My favorite woman of the Bible right now is probably Anna. Only a couple verses about her, but I can imagine how deep her story goes– a widow after only 7 years? And then being a prophetess who got to prophesy over Jesus? What an honor. Someday I want to hear more of her story.

    Also, I’d say my Aunt Geri is a woman who has led me in a significant way — she is a single mom of an adopted girl from Romania, and is a woman who leads and serves in lots of ways. She has been vital in showing me what it looks like to serve God and “the least of these”.

  • Ciara Newsome

    So I shared this post because I want to read this book! I want to learn more about what the Bible actually says about men and women, and what that means today.

    I have a lot of favorite women in the Bible, but today I will pick Hannah, mother of Samuel. Hannah shows true devotion to the Lord. She petitioned him through prayer for a child. Then, she faithfully gave the child she longed for back to the Lord for his purposes. I really respect her for that, and I think she is a great example of powerful prayer. I love her prayer of praise in ch. 2 of 1 Samuel.

    Not too be cheesy since she’s your wife, but Amanda has really impacted my life in the past 3 years. She is always there to listen and provide wisdom and guidance in my life. I don’t know I would do if I wasn’t able to run over to the cafe and chat.

  • Ciara

    PS. JR, I just saw you picked Hannah too…I wasn’t trying to copy 🙂 I wrote my post first and then saw that!!

  • My favorite woman in the bible is Ruth. I’ve always admired how she stuck with Naomi when she didn’t have to. I admire her commitment.

    When I was a teen in my church’s youth group there was a volunteer named Lisa that was a very important woman in my life. I spent a lot of time with her step-daughter and got to see her at home and how she raised her family. She was faithful when her life wasn’t what she desired it to be and she was grateful to God when she was given the desires of her heart. She is an amazing example of a wife and mother- truly a woman of valor!

  • Mariam from Exodus, because she was one of the first people to declare God’s victory in his revelation to the Israelites. It also is one of the oldest written revelations of God and it’s amazing that despite the gender inequality in the day, her words rose above many!

    My girlfriend, who is currently teaching me how relate better as a human. I’m a very intellectually driven person filled with philosophies and facts and dwell in them often. She helps me see people past all of those things.

  • Okay everyone! The results are in! Here are the winners, in no particular order:

    Matt Slater
    Ciara Newsome
    Richard Barker
    Annie Driver
    Becky Brown
    Dee Simpson
    Lori Kuli
    Hannah Scruggs
    Michelle Brinson
    Annie Saturria-McGregor

    Here’s what you need to do: email me your mailing address (jrforasteros@gmail.com). Once I get all 10 addresses, I’ll send them to Thomas Nelson and they’ll send you your book.

    Out of respect for the others on the list, if I don’t have your address by Tuesday, November 6, I’ll contact the next winner on the list! Congrats to the winners! If you didn’t win, you can borrow my copy 🙂

    Let me know what you think of the book!

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