Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Living Unbiblically

Rachel Held Evans is an egalitarian and has set aside the last year to obey every command in scripture pertaining to women. Her aim is to show what “biblical womanhood” really looks like when it is practiced consistently. She has been blogging about her year at her website, and Thomas Nelson has agreed to publish her narrative for a book set to be released in 2012.

When I first heard about this, I was skeptical about the usefulness of such a project. Sarah Flashing is also skeptical, and she has a hard-hitting piece about it over at the First Things blog. She writes:

I have to admit, I was very intrigued by the idea of an evangelical feminist woman living out a year of biblical womanhood even as just a thought experiment. But what Rachel Held Evans has done is not that. This could have been an opportunity to discover and experience some aspects of complementarianism not otherwise understood. Her experiment, however, was little more than a piecemeal approach… Not only did she not live it consistently, she added practices that don’t belong (camping out in her front yard, for example). She was not faithful to biblical womanhood as taught by its adherents.

Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood has actually been a year of an erroneous hermeneutic resulting in misrepresentation to the church and the public at large of what biblical womanhood actually looks like. She expanded on the literal approach of scripture practiced by complementarians by flattening scripture such that systematic theology is of no consequence…

The problem with this is that no evangelical expression of biblical womanhood demands women follow “all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible”–at least in terms of how she is using the term “literally.” This has nothing to do with any arbitrary decision–the “pick and choose” methodology–by complementarianism as she asserts on her website.  This is a hermeneutical matter that Evans has failed to devote any serious time to. In her post, Complementarians Are Selective Too,  she argues that proponents of the biblical womanhood model are sacrificing scripture’s meaning by picking an choosing in order preserve patriarchy. To be fair, she suggests egalitarians are also guilty of picking and choosing to make their case as well, but egalitarianism isn’t the target of contempt with her Year of Biblical Womanhood project.

Evans has failed to properly represent the teachings of biblical womanhood in what she has so for divulged of her one year experiment. If it is the case, in fact, that her issue is with the way complementarians handle scripture, she ought to have written a series of posts simply dealing with the hermeneutical problem she identifies, showing how proponents of biblical womanhood err in their literal handling of the biblical text.  Here, she might have shown systematic theology to work to her benefit while engaging the systematic theology foundational to the biblical womanhood model. But this requires a lot more work and doesn’t yield as many winsome blog posts. Instead, she created a straw woman by packaging together every biblical command having to do with women (whether it has anything to do with the theological structure of biblical womanhood), leaving readers with the impression that biblical womanhood demands the observance of Levitical purity laws among other practices.

Flashing is right. Read the rest here.

36 Responses to Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Living Unbiblically

  1. Christiane October 12, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    I look forward to reading Rachel’s book when it comes out next year.
    She’s a wonderful writer.

    • Ali October 12, 2011 at 5:32 am #

      Yes, but wonderful writers or terrible writers both need to actually engage their topics with some integrity. If the above is a fair explanation of what she has done, it seems that she has not taken the time to find out what complementarianism actually is. Sad, but even sadder is the increased number of egalitarians taking similar approaches.

      Oh well.

  2. Robert Slowley October 12, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    I find Rachel Held Evans quite frustrating. I bet she thinks what she did was useful and fair, but for anyone looking in from the outside it obviously wasn’t.

  3. Don Johnson October 12, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    I am egal and I expressed concerns on her blog when I first heard about her plans. For one, it had already been done before by a man, so her new thing was to do it as a woman. But in both cases the hermeneutical methodology was heavy handed and so because a charicature of what anyone actually does. For example, I do not think the way to demonstrate that EVERYONE is being arbitrary in how they understand Scripture is to be arbitrary oneself and see where that leads, all it shows is that what you did was arbitrary. And how much can someone “do somethin’” that they do not personally believe in? Why would this not simply be a year of living hypocritically?

    However, given these reservations, it is an example of someone taking an action, to “do somethin’” to get a conversation started. RHE wants to take her place in the conversation and this is one way to take a seat, if somewhat outlandish.

    I also want to point out that TGC by embedding comp statements in their founding documents and by calling themselves by the name that they do are making similar outlandish claims. If they wanted to call themselves The Comp Gospel Coalition their name would not be so misleading. It seems clear to me that they expected and wanted the gender discussion to be over, and since it was not ending, they went off and formed their own group where for themselves they decided the conversation was over. Such is the history of Protestants and then evangelicals, splitting off again and again and again.

    • Tyler October 13, 2011 at 9:14 am #

      Don:

      You are 100% right about TGC. Much love and respect for those guys but gender issues are a ‘Gospel Coalition’ issue?

      I would be intrigued to hear someone articulate how your gender view is a gospel issue?

      • Donald Johnson October 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

        If you are asking me, I think one’s gender views are a Kingdom issue, but not a Gospel issue. God takes us where we are at and leads us step by step into the Kingdom as we let God do this. And God knows we need to start somewhere, namely where we are at when we accept Jesus, with our warts and all. So the Gospel should be kept what it is and not broadened to include non-essentials.

        • Tyler October 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

          Sorry I should have communicated it better. I was wanting someone who believed that the gender view was a gospel issue to articulate that for me. I agree with you Don that it is a non-essential.

          • Derek October 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

            Donald should provide a quote and link from TGC so we can assess the statement that they made in its proper context.

          • Donald Johnson October 13, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

            http://thegospelcoalition.org/about/foundation-documents/confessional/ is their confession that all members adhere to.

            In Section 3 creation of Humanity it says “In God’s wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.”

            So the name they have chosen for themselves “The Gospel Coalition” would seem to be a group coalescing around the Gospel, but it takes reading their documents to discover that they by intention go beyond the Gospel, and that comp teaching is the norm, for example.

          • Derek October 13, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

            Is this more painful and difficult for an egal to read than I Timothy 2, I Timothy 3 and Ephesians 5? If anything, this seems like a summary of those passages and, if anything, a somewhat softened paraphrase of these passages to suit modern ears (not that I have a problem with how it is written).

          • Donald Johnson October 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

            The way I as an egal read those passages is different than comps do. Another way to say this is that egals and comps differ on interpretation of those passages and a few others.

            I accept they are God’s inspired words to the original audiences and are for our education in the faith today. We differ on what they mean.

          • Derek October 13, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

            Well, Don, I’ve read your elaborate explanation of how Paul was leaving special encoded messages in Ephesians 5 and find it be problematic on numerous fronts. As I’ve said before, I don’t think it makes you a heretic, but I suspect if we get to discuss it with Paul in heaven some day, we will all get a good laugh. Suffice to say that it is quite an interesting theory and seems even less convincing to me than trajectory hermeneutics, if we’re going to discuss the merits of comparative egal theories.

          • Donald Johnson October 13, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

            What you call my “encoding theory” is not needed in any way to read Eph 5-6 in an egal way. What it might be is a reason WHY there are 2 persistent conflicting interpretations as this aspect has puzzled me.

  4. Chris Taylor October 12, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    A day of biblical womanhood is hard enough for a godly woman who loves the truth. How could a professed opponent possibly pretend to do it justice?

  5. BDW October 12, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Flashing misses the point when she suggests that Evans should have written a series of posts on how complementarians handle Scripture.

    That series of blog posts doesn’t get you a book deal….

    • Christiane October 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

      LOL

  6. Derek October 12, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Rachel Evans’ has given us a textbook example of the employment of a straw man argument.

  7. henrybish October 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    One of my favourite arguments from RHE is this:

    10 Reasons I Support Women in Church Leadership

    1. Deborah
    2. Huldah
    3. Miriam
    4. Mary Magdalene
    5. Mary of Bethany
    6. Mary of Nazareth
    7. Junia
    8. Phoebe
    9. Tabitha
    10. Priscilla

    You know, sometimes it amazes me that this is still a debate.

    Absolutely earth-shattering. Who can argue with that?

    • Donald Johnson October 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      As an egal, I can clearly see what she is saying. I guess it takes removal of one’s blue lenses to be able to see that, but one needs to do that first.

    • yankeegospelgirl October 13, 2011 at 9:19 am #

      Ummmm, Deborah was a military judge. Who didn’t actually fight in combat, most likely, so she can’t even be used as an argument for women in the military.

      And I wasn’t aware of any lofty leadership positions Miriam had. Unless she wrote Moses’ speeches for him secretly. LOL. I could go on, but you get the idea…

      • Donald Johnson October 13, 2011 at 11:04 am #

        NET Mic 6:4 In fact, I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
        I delivered you from that place of slavery.
        I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.

        Deborah was a judge prophet and others called this were Moses and Samuel, not too shabby a group to be in. God selected all the judges. The evaluation function of number of years of peace at the end of the story of each judge indicated she did a good job.

      • Christiane October 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

        YGG, Deborah was asked to lead them into battle by her General.
        Go talk to the rabbis about Deborah . . . I think they can help you understand her story

        • yankeegospelgirl October 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

          Deborah traveled part of the way to the battle site with Barak. That was all. Look at this passage:

          And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon. And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.

          Notice who’s doing the actual combat stuff here? BARAK. Deborah sent him and the boys on their way to go sic Sisera while she stayed behind.

  8. Justin F October 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I’m looking forward to this book. Admittedly most of the blogs I follow are written by old, white guys (no offense, Denny ; ). So I like the feminine perspective she brings to discussions on theology and christian living. I also appreciate her honesty, gracious attitude, and her candid approach to difficult and complex discussions.

    Also, she just finished an excellent series of posts on her trip to Bolivia to support World Vision. In these posts she brings special attention to the women of the villages.

  9. Timothy October 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I think Rachel would agree that she was living ‘unbiblically’. Her point, presumably, was to show that living in accordance with the, in her view, unbiblical notion of ‘biblical womanhood’ would reveal how unbiblical it really was. To do this, she has to show that her wooden interpretations of the Bible were fair to the complementarians interpretations. This seems something of an impossible task as they seem to vary so much. So if one wanted to mock her efforts, her year could perhaps be described not as above as “Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Living Unbiblically” as “Rachel Held Evans’ Year of useless masochism”. But let us hope that it has had some use after all.

  10. Sarah Flashing October 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    I was told by someone, I think at First Things, that if I read her first book, I would understand what she was doing with the “biblical womanhood” project. Well, I was reading the book at the time and finished shortly after that. If you want to talk about “mocking,” she is expert at it. See how she handles theological disagreement:

    “At the heart of pond-scum theology is the premise that human beings have no intrinsic value or claim to salvation because their sin nature makes them so thoroughly disgusting and offensive to God that he is under no obligation to pay them any mind…It’s a view resurrected by outspoken Reformed pastors who have argued that God can’t even look at us because he is so disgusted by our sin nature, one even suggesting that God sent the tsunami to wash some of this pond scum from his sight.” (p 116)

    More soon!

    • yankeegospelgirl October 13, 2011 at 9:54 am #

      Pond scum. Yep, pretty accurate description of the human race! I will say though that I think it is possible to emphasize the “pond scum” while leaving out the fact that Jesus died for us because he knew what we COULD be—redeemed, righteous children.

  11. Sue October 13, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    I have discussed the hermeneutic of complementarianism in great detail. So far, my sense is that complementarians wish to distant themselves from the Bibles of Calvin and Luther, who both translated “adam” in Hebrew using a word which means “human being.” This is a very important and central issue in Bible translation today. However, I have not found even one complementarian who wishes to discuss the translations of calvin and Luther with me.

    I also have been astonished that complementarians continue to misrepresent the facts regarding Junia. If the verse about Junia is not relevant, then why do I read factual representations about her name on the internet today, by respected complementarian scholars.

    I do not find that complementarians wish to interact with the facts, so I praise Rachel for interacting on a level that complementarians will pay attention to.

  12. T.J. October 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Great publicity stunt on her part. She will sell a lot of books and always be “that lady” who knocked over the straw-man caricature of complementarians. All in all, its a great move for both her and her position. That said, for those who seriously study issues she will be something akin to a circus.

  13. Sue October 14, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    TJ,

    I do seriously study the issues, and and find few who really care about biblical exegesis, that Junia was called an apostle, and Phoebe was called a deacon, and Adam was called a human being. These are some of the facts that people do not accept evidence for, so I would have to say that there is a circus on more than one side.

  14. Andrew Lindsey October 14, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    For the “10 Reasons” listed above to be persuasive, both the terms “Church” and “leadership” would have to be defined; the first three names are pre-”Church,” properly speaking (this gets to RHE’s flattening of the biblical text), and the last seven names may have some type of leadership role, but the question is whether it can be demonstrated that they held the specific role of elder.

  15. Sue October 14, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Andrew,

    I am constantly concerned about the stance that the role of women was diminished by the coming of Christ. If in the Old Testament women were able to judge, and were in two Old Testament passages sought out as wise women to give advice to commanders and leaders, why are they not allowed this role in the New Testament. Why may women not “judge?” Did Christ come to bind women to a harsher law? This is definitely the impression I get from some?

  16. Henry October 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Here are some thoughts on Deborah, (she is the only one from RHE’s list of 10 that I think there is anything substantive to deal with. As for Miriam, the NET translation of Micah 6:4 is unusual, the 10 translations I just checked all read similar to the ESV: ‘For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’ Even if one goes with the NET translation, scripture explicitly notes that it was women that Miriam led: Ex 15:20).

    THOUGHTS ON DEBORAH:

    1) It can’t just be assumed that everything recorded in a narrative is blanket approved, it may be, but it may not be. When you have direct commands in scripture (such as 1Cor14:33-36 and 1Tim2:12) it is absurd to attempt to trump them with an (unusual) narrative portion that may or may not be a good example to follow.

    2) Isaiah 3:1-12 shows it is a sign of God’s judgement on a nation when a woman or a child rules over them, read the whole passage and particularly verse 12 which says: ‘My people – infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people…’. We find it repeatedly said in Judges that ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ and at the very beginning of the chapter about Deborah and Barak it says: ‘And the people of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord… And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan’ (Jud 4:1-2). Thus the statements in Isaiah 3:1-12 and the state of the nation at that time very much match up to being chastised by God by having a woman lead them in some way.

    3) Having a woman lead them would thus be something to feel shame about, not glory in. This is indicated in Jud 4:9 where Barak is actually chastised for desiring Deborah to help him lead – it is an indictment on men when God uses a woman to slay the enemy (see also Jud 9:53, 54). The lesson from this is that men should step up to the plate and not be cowardly. Notice the themes in the chant that bear this out where those who stepped up to the plate are commended but those who did not are condemned:

    ‘That the leaders took the lead in Israel… bless the Lord!… My [probably Deborah see vs 7] heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly… Bless the Lord… from Machir marched down the commanders… from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; the princes of Issachar… Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too,…’ (Jud 5:2, 9, 14, 15, 18).

    ‘Why did you [clan of Reuben] sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks?… Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea…’ (Jud 5:16, 17)

    Thus despite his earlier timidity, Barak and his men must have got their act together, which is why he is commended in the Hebrews hall of faith.

    4) Unlike religious feminists today, Deborah sought (and by God’s own command) a man to lead them into battle, in Judges 4:4 she says:

    ‘Has not the Lord commanded you [Barak], ‘Go, gather your men ….’

    5) Note that Barak led the army:

    ‘10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.’ (Jud 4:10).

    ‘Barak went down … with 10,000 men following him’. (Jud 4:14).

    ‘Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels’. (Jud 5:15).

    Notice also the role differentiation in the song:

    “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Judges 5:12.

    6) Just because someone has the gift of prophecy does not mean it validates their lives. E.g. Balaam (Num 22-24), Saul (1Sam 19:23-24) cf Matt 7:22 and 1Cor13:2.

    Similarly, should Samson be chosen as an example to follow just because God used him to deliver Israel? So Deborah being called a prophetess is no rubber stamp.

    7) God sometimes performs exceptional things that are not to be used as a moral example to follow. E.g. God willed Samson to take a philistine wife (Judg 14:4), contrary to OT law. God is sovereign and can do as he pleases, but this is not an excuse for us to abandon the commands he has given us.

    8) Did Deborah really exercise a public leadership office over men? She (like Huldah and Anna) seemed to prophesy in a more private setting (people would come to her at the Palm tree of Deborah) rather than exercising the more public preaching ministry that you find with other male OT prophets and judges. Is it not more like people going to seek counsel from a wise woman? Indeed, when the time comes to publicly lead a group of men she (by God’s own command) calls Barak to do it (Judges 4:6).

    9) Those using Deborah as an example for church leadership should remember Deborah was not a priest, in the OT only men were admitted to the priesthood. That is the closer parallel to church leadership.

    10) Even if one wants to use Deborah as a positive example of women holding a public leadership office over men, to be consistent, you should also require that this be a rare occurrence. Having, say, 50% women leaders overturns the pattern in the OT where leadership was overwhelmingly male.

    11) Why is it that the Hebrews hall of faith passes over Deborah as an example, yet commends Barak? And why is it that 1Sam12:11 says: “And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies…”. It seems here that it was Barak who was the one the Lord raised up to deliver Israel at that time, Deborah was used to kick him out of passivity.

    CONCLUSION

    In conclusion, if one thinks Deborah did exercise a public leadership role over men, I think there is no reason why she cannot be viewed as a gifted lady who ended up assuming a de-facto leadership position because the men did not step up to the plate, but this was not the Lord’s perfect will, rather He ordained it as judgement on a wicked nation. It is perhaps similar to a situation where a husband abdicates his responsibilities and the wife has to assume much more leadership over the household than is fitting. It is too much to say that she is sinning, but it is certainly less than ideal, and she would seek, as we see glimpses of Deborah doing, for the man/men in her life to ‘arise’ and discharge the duties of their office, and rejoice when they do so.

  17. Henry October 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    All the references to ‘Jud’ are meant to refer to Judges not Jude. Apologies.

  18. Sue October 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    And this, of course, demonstrates that women are not less suited to lieadership, guidance, analysis, and discretion, than men. God has not designed women with an innate need to be subordinate. When men enact the subordination of women, which they mistakenly believe God has designed, they are not meeting a God-created need of women to have men lead them. This is the basic fact that men need to absorb and prayerfully take up with God. Men only offer what women need if they live within the parameters with which God has designed women, which clearly in the Bible, is to give advice, to influence, to lead, to have equal participation in decision-making. This is why more than once in the OT, men go to wise women for advice, because this is how God has designed women. Treating women in conflict with the way God has designed them, causes women damage. Women need to be treated in accordance with the way God has designed them as full co-leaders. Men need to accept women as sisters and equals.

  19. Henry October 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    YGG,

    I think there is a lot more in Judges 4:6-9, I quote from a PCA report on women in the military:

    “In an effeminate age, it is this aspect of the text which must be driven home lest we miss the forest for the trees: God commanded a man (Hebrew ‘ish’) to lead other men to battle in defense of their nation; that man then asked a woman to come to battle with him; that woman reproved that man for his cowardice; and under God’s authority, that woman also decreed that the man’s cowardice would be punished by the glory of victory going to a woman.”

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