I needed to hear this.

Mind a little mid-morning theology? I just finished A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. Wowzers. Here’s the best cut of the meat:

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.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes. In an attempt to simplify, we try to force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated and at times troubling holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

So after twelve months of “biblical womanhood,” I’d arrived at the rather unconventional conclusion that there is no such thing. The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains some sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.

I have a million other things I should be doing right now (tending to my sick nine year old, getting my six year old started on his handwriting lesson, wrapping up a freelance assignment, finally eating my breakfast, taking out the dog), but I just wanted to share this with someone who may need to hear it. This was an excellent book. Like her previous one, it was as if the author read my mind and transcribed all of my thoughts and questions much more eloquently and intellectually than I ever could. Throughout my entire Christian experience, until now, there has been a canonical insistence that I be a “Proverbs 31 Woman,” whatever the heck that meant. To be free from the “one-size-fits-all” mindset is really quite wonderful. (Cue Mel Gibson in Braveheart, “Freeeeeeedoooooom!”)

Carry on with your Monday, readers, and I’ll go carry on with mine.

5 Comments

  1. I haven’t read her book but I follow her on twitter and read her blog so I have read a lot of what she has said about this topic. While I agree that the Bible is much more complex than we tend to make it out to be, sometimes I feel she is saying there are never any absolutes. That bothers me. Sometimes I feel that SHE is the one trying to make the Bible say what she wants it to say! I also don’t like the strawman arguement she makes tying things from leviticus to things in the NT. i.e. if we think women shouldn’t speak up in church like paul says in his letters why aren’t we living in the backyard during our cycles like it says in leviticus? That’s ridiculous as we all know NT believers aren’t bound by OT law so it’s not hypocritical to ignore that part.

    What has been interesting to think about is areas of the NT where I tend to think it’s more of a cultural thing (like having long hair) vs other areas where I take it as a command for me. (What has made me decide some things are cultural in the NT and some things are not?) It is an interesting question that we all have to figure out for ourselves and she is right that it is important to go deeper into the context of passages and be aware of WHO the writers were talking to and what was the context. I think it is important for everyone to have their eyes opened to parts of the Bible we may be trying to ignore because it makes us uncomfortable. I think it is good to wrestle with God on those issues and ‘work out’ why we believe what we believe. I feel like I am doing this more and more as I get older. (it’s interesting to watch Jacob do this.)

    Anyway, I appreciate her humor, agree with her on some things and not on others, but most importantly appreciate the DIALOGUE between people who don’t always agree but can at least be open to each others arguements. Above all else, LOVE can cover over areas of honest disagreement.

    1. I don’t believe Rachel says there are no absolutes at all. Rather, one of the points she makes is that some people take absolutes and make exceptions within the same passage of scripture. She doesn’t compare OT laws from Leviticus with principles in the NT. 1 Timothy 2 is a perfect example of where believers accept part of the scripture as commandment and other parts as cultural. For example, a woman should not be permitted to teach or have authority over a man (vs. 12), but wearing pearls and gold and elaborate hairstyles was cultural then and is okay now? (vs.9) What am I to make of “women will be saved through childbearing” (vs. 15) when that was not an option to me?

      I like that it’s finally OKAY to consider the option that these particular passages (and others like them) were written to a specific audience in a specific time. Though that doesn’t mean we can’t clean a principle or lesson from it, it does mean that we don’t make a commandment out of what wasn’t intended to be commandment.

      I agree that many people avoid parts of the Bible because it makes them uncomfortable. I’m a great example of that and is partly why it’s been so nice to finally leave my comfort zone – which truthfully had been uncomfortable for quite some time.

  2. I saw her in an interview talking about pitching a tent in the backyard during her cycle and asking why we ignore this part of scripture. I just thought that was a dumb arguement. The one you are making about 1 Tim though is what I get. I get really squeemish about trying to pick and choose which parts of scripture I am going to take as a commandment. But what I realize about the point she is making is that we DO make those judgments (sometimes without realizing it) anyway by dismissing certain passages and focusing on others. I guess I never looked at it that way. It’s so important to pray for wisdom and discernment in this and to know that the whole of scripture was given to us to tell us something about who God is. It’s not to be dismissed but its also not meant to get us so caught up in do’s and don’ts that we miss HIM!

    God honors our questions and welcomes our sincere desire to know Him better even when we are perplexed. (And thank heavens for that or I would be in trouble!)

    1. She essentially took Proverbs 31 and broke it down into 12 virtues, like gentleness, domesticity, beauty, purity, fertility, etc… She applied both OT and NT scripture to these virtues and made a list of how to tackle them – one for each month, adding up to a year. Some things she did for the full month, some things she did for a few days. She connected with scholars, theologians, people of other faiths (Jewish, Amish, etc.) and took it all on as a learning experience. Her husband kept a journal to record his own thoughts throughout the process. It was an experiment in discovery. I’d encourage you to read it.

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