Earlier this morning, Rachel Held Evans appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” to promote her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood (see above). I have the book and intend to review it, but some of the errors in her remarks this morning were so serious that I thought they deserved a response in advance of the review.
1. Christians are hypocrites for not obeying Old Testament law. Evans reinforces the canard often brought against Christians by critics of our faith. The canard goes like this: “You people claim to believe the Bible, yet you do not obey Old Testament law. You are all hypocrites.” It amazes me that people think this to be a powerful critique, but it is still very popular today. It completely overlooks 2,000 years of Christian history in which the overwhelming majority of Christians have held that the Old Testament ceremonial and civil codes apply to the historic nation of Israel alone and not to the New Covenant church. Christians have recognized that it was Jesus himself, for instance, who abrogated the Old Testament kosher food laws (e.g., Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15). Evans allows the impression that Christians are hypocrites for embracing biblical gender roles while not embracing the rest of the Old Testament. With a smile and a giggle, she puts forth a false charge that gives our critics occasion to blaspheme (Romans 2:24).
2. Mockery of the Bible. The Bible is not a book to be trifled with. Much less should it be used as fodder to promote false teaching before a watching world. This piece presents the Bible as hopelessly irrelevant to the modern people. It presents its Old Testament prescriptions as silliness and folly, and it transfers that scorn by way of analogy to New Testament texts as well. The tragedy of this spectacle is that the person driving this impression is supposed to be a Christian. Those who form their impressions of the Bible from this piece will not conclude that the Old Testament law is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). On the contrary, this presentation will give scoffers grounds to continue in their scoffing.
3. Misrepresentation of complementarians. Evans says the goal of her book is to challenge the idea that anyone is actually practicing biblical womanhood. Yet no complementarian would say that obeying Old Testament law is a fulfillment of biblical womanhood. It is not. Yet Morales seems to be under the impression that it is! Morales says, “There are Christian groups who live by this ideal of biblical womanhood,” and then she wonders aloud how widespread this strange teaching is. Morales asks her questions from a position of scrutiny and skepticism of the Bible, and Evans only reinforces that skepticism. And that is precisely the problem with Evans’ presentation. It uses a caricature of complementarians to discredit the Bible’s teaching on gender roles. Many people will use this to discredit the Bible altogether.
4. Redefinition of “evangelical.” Both Natalie Morales and the author identify Evans as an evangelical. I have already written about this elsewhere at length, but I will reiterate here. Evans’ definition of evangelical misses the mark on a number of points. Evans denies the inerrancy of scripture and says that “as a woman I have been nursing a secret grudge against the apostle Paul for about eight years.” As a young adult, she says that she stopped believing in the “Bible’s exclusive authority, inerrancy, perspicuity, and internal consistency.” She came to the conclusion that “the Bible wasn’t what I’d once believed it to be.” Evans has also pressed the case for inclusivism—the view that says people need not have conscious faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved—and she rejects exclusivism. In a recent post, she defines the gospel without reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus and adopts the reductionism of counterimperial interpreters who say that the “good news” is “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.” She supports gay marriage, and she has served communion to practicing homosexuals. We could go on, but that is enough to make it clear that her definition of “evangelical” is strained at best. At worse, it’s not anything close to approaching evangelical. She is not a representative of evangelical faith, despite the assumptions of the reporters at the Today Show.
5. Denial of the authority of scripture. At the very end of the interview, Evans says something that is very telling. She says that she tries to defer to Jesus in order to figure out which parts of the Bible “apply” today. She says that’s how she decides which parts of the Bible she’s going to practice. So if a command from scripture doesn’t help her to love God and neighbor better as Jesus commanded, then she ignores it. And she makes no distinction here between Old and New Testament commands! On this point, it’s not Jesus she’s deferring to but her own notions of what helps her to follow Jesus. Her canon within the canon allows her to subjugate the black letters of scripture to the red letters with a disastrous result—a functional overthrow of the authority of scripture.
There is much more that can and should be said in response to this, and I will have more to say when I write my review. As I mentioned above, her remarks today on a national news broadcast were troubling enough that I thought they merited a response. My hope and prayer is that Evans would turn back from this dangerous theological course (2 Timothy 2:25) and that the impact from public appearances like this one might be diminished. Even though what she says is delivered with a smile, it is poison for those who receive it.