I like to people watch. And I like to wrestle with ideas. So one of my favorite things to do is watch people wrestle with ideas.
It’s been fascinating watching the reactions to Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”. I confess I have not been able to read it yet although I hope to at some point. I did watch the promo video as well as videos of Evan’s appearances on The View and The Today Show. I’ve read many reviews of the book and in the end found myself much more interested in reading the book than I was before (mostly because of all the reactions to it). While Evans and I have some substantial differences regarding the Scriptures and key doctrines, I think she would be a fun and interesting person to meet for coffee. I think our husbands are a lot alike (which means we’re both super blessed!).
When I first viewed the information about the book, I told a friend in an email that I thought the premise sounded silly. Frankly, I didn’t think the promo did the best job in preparing people for what the book was about. Even as someone very interested in the issue of women in the church, the premise as it was presented just didn’t grab me.
I also admit to cringing a bit with the interviews on secular media. The question about women in the church is hard enough for those who have a knowledge of the Scriptures. To bring forth silliness about the Scriptures in hopes of making a point made me wonder more than once if this was doing more harm than good.
Regardless of how it is received in the secular world, the book has caused lots of words in the Christian online world. Very few of the reviews have actually been helpful (at least from my perspective). Most of them have revolved around how Rachel wrote the book rather than the actual content of the book. Some of the reviews have been downright snarky and judgmental. The condescending attitudes are really something to behold.
I’m going to respond briefly to one of the reviews. The review is by Mary Kassian. If you don’t know who she is, here is what she writes about herself in her review:
Someone alerted me to Rachel’s Year of Biblical Womanhood early on in the project. Since I’ve been associated with the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in one way or another since the early 1990s, since I helped coin the term complementarian, since I’ve written and spoken extensively on the topic of biblical womanhood, have taught courses on biblical womanhood at evangelical seminaries across North America, have blogged and written books about biblical womanhood, have published a resource entitled, True Woman 101: Divine Design – An eight week study on biblical womanhood, and since I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of women about biblical womanhood, I figured I was in a unique position to help Rachel understand what complementarians mean by the term “biblical womanhood.”
I wanted to give her direct, personal access to a woman at the forefront of the contemporary biblical womanhood movement. I hoped to answer her questions about complementarity, give her the opportunity to verify her perceptions, and challenge her to avoid false caricatures so that she might honestly and accurately represent our position.
Kassian then goes on to basically dismiss Evans’ book because she didn’t use Kassian’s definition of complementarianism. And because Evans didn’t define complementarianism the way Kassian defines it, then the entire book is worthless. (Yes, I’m generalizing here but you read the review and come back and tell me if you think I’m wrong.)
The problem is that Kassian either doesn’t understand how the term complementarian has evolved over the past twenty years or she doesn’t want to acknowledge it. She chastises Evans for using Edith Schaeffer, Debi Pearl and Stacy McDonald as voices for the complementarian movement. Really? Can Kassian really be that out of the loop regarding the larger views of complementarianism to not realize the impact these women have had on this viewpoint? Among conservative Christians (and especially the homeschool movement) Pearl and McDonald have had a HUGE impact on shaping the definition of biblical womanhood. If Evans had thrown Vision Forum into the mix, she would have been even more spot on in her assessment.
This goes back to the point I made previously. I wrote back in July in Doug Wilson, Jared Wilson,The Gospel Coalition and the Logical Conclusions of Complementarianism:
Complementarians have a serious problem in getting out their message in an accurate way. Prominent comps don’t even agree on how to define their views and the most radical comps are the ones getting the most coverage. Complementarianism is suffering from a serious identity crisis that has gotten significantly worse over the past year.
The prominent complimentarians just don’t get it. They may have coined the term twenty years ago, but they don’t get to require everyone to use that definition now. And there are some really far out teachings out there in the name of biblical womanhood that have gone completely mainstream in large portions of the church. Kassian can continue to write blog posts about how that’s not what complementarianism means and that’s not what she means by biblical womanhood, but she doesn’t get to define the terms. And until the people at The Gospel Coalition and their friends start to grasp the reality of who is in their camp I don’t see anything changing. They can deny it all they want, but that’s not how the average Christian woman is seeing it.
On her blog, Evans responded to a less than charitable review by Kathy Keller. While I’m assuming Keller meant well, the tone of the review just completely turned me off. It was more like a lecture of Keller telling Evans what she did wrong and it just rubbed me the wrong way even if I thought she had some valid points to express. Evans was extremely gracious in her response. In her response she wrote:
I agree with Keller that it’s pretty clear that sitting on one’s rooftop is not a requirement of “biblical womanhood.”
What is less clear to me is why complementarians like Keller insist that that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a part of biblical womanhood, but Acts 2 is not; why the presence of twelve male disciples implies restrictions on female leadership, but the presence of the apostle Junia is inconsequential; why the Greco-Roman household codes represent God’s ideal familial structure for husbands and wives, but not for slaves and masters; why the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy about Ephesian women teaching in the church are universally applicable, but his instructions to Corinthian women regarding head coverings are culturally conditioned (even though Paul uses the same line of argumentation—appealing the creation narrative— to support both); why the poetry of Proverbs 31 is often applied prescriptively and other poetry is not; why Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent the supremecy of male leadership while Deborah and Huldah and Miriam are mere exceptions to the rule; why “wives submit to your husbands” carries more weight than “submit one to another”; why the laws of the Old Testament are treated as irrelevant in one moment, but important enough to display in public courthouses and schools the next; why a feminist reading of the text represents a capitulation to culture but a reading that turns an ancient Near Eastern text into an apologetic for the post-Industrial Revolution nuclear family is not; why the curse of Genesis 3 has the final word on gender relationships rather than the new creation that began at the resurrection.
Focusing on the most hyperbolic elements of the project, and totally ignoring the legitimate questions I raise throughout the book, Keller and others have chastised me as silly, unable to handle basic biblical hermeneutics. But here’s the problem: In her review, Keller appeals to a common-sense hermeneutic of “biblical womanhood” to which I should have deferred, and yet fails to explain in any depth what this common-sense hermeneutic is. She suggests I have muddied the waters, but provides no real clarity in her response.
This is why the phrase “biblical womanhood” has been such an effective weapon in the gender debates. By its nature, it implies clarity, simplicity, and finality. By its nature, it is immune to questions.
These are the same kinds of questions I would like to see answered.
I really think it is too bad that these questions aren’t going to be answered, at least for now. I understand why Evans wrote the book she did. But given her propensity to really push the boundaries and the style in which the book was written, I think she dug herself a hole before the ink dried on the paper.
I wish someone would write a book that deals with all these questions in an accessible way and doesn’t rely on playful circumstances to try to bring them to light. Again, I know Evans was trying to raise a discussion in light of her book and I’m sure it raised lots of discussions amongst those who follow her. But there are too many complementarians who will not take this approach seriously and it undercuts the importance of this debate. Maybe this doesn’t matter to some. But this does matter to me because I come out of the conservative complementarian arena and I care that the truth reach these men and women.
In the end, I don’t think much has changed in the broader picture of this debate. Evans will be demonized by those who oppose her. They won’t take seriously the very valid and important questions she is raising. And in demonizing her, they continue to alienate themselves from people who are truly searching for real answers. My level of respect for some of the people responding to her has continued to plummet. The name calling and condescension is unreal.
If Evans is a sister in Christ, they owe her every respect while they kindly point out where they think she is wrong. If they truly believe she is a heretic, how in the world do they think their snarkiness is going to impact her and those who read her? My level of respect has really dropped in the past few months for some of the people associated with The Gospel Coalition and those linked to by TGC.
Who will people find more trustworthy and look to for spiritual help? The woman who is honest about her struggles with her faith and dares to ask questions out of her love for Christ and others? Or the people who rip her to shreds, turn off the comments on their posts, and dismiss the questions being asked by thousands? I suspect the overall end result of this book is the further entrenching of each side which is really unfortunate when so many need the love and truth of Christ.