Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Kathy Keller’s Review of Rachel Held Evans’ Book

Tim Keller’s wife Kathy has a hard-hitting review of Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She hits all the right points. In particular, she critiques Evans’ flat reading of the Bible that does not interpret specific scriptures in their redemptive historical context. She concludes by critiquing Evans’ notion of love and power:

You say your ultimate goal is not to determine what the biblical authors say, but to see in the Bible “what I am looking for.” You go on immediately to say, “Are we reading with the prejudice of love or . . . of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?” (296) So “love” is the reason you will reject some parts of the Bible and embrace others? But where do you get your definition of love if not from the Bible itself? And if you say, “Parts of the Bible express love, and other parts express power interests,” you’ve clearly gotten your standard and definition of love from outside the Bible—specifically, from contemporary sensibilities—and these are your ultimate authority and norm.

Rachel, I can and do agree with much of what you say in your book regarding the ways in which either poor biblical interpretation or patriarchal customs have sinfully oppressed women. I would join you in exposing churches, books, teachers, and leaders who have imposed a human agenda on the Bible. However, you have become what you claim to despise; you have imposed your own agenda on Scripture in order to advance your own goals. In doing so, you have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.

As a woman also engaged in trying to understand the Bible as it relates to gender, I had hoped for better.

Read the rest here.


  • Scott

    Denny –

    In Roger Olson’s review, we find these words:

    Evans quotes Piper’s response to a question about popular female teachers like Beth Moore. He affirmed it’s okay for Christian men to listen to her speak unless they become too dependent on her as their “shepherd-teacher.” Evans concludes “In other words, a Christian man can learn from a Christian woman, so long as he doesn’t learn too much.” The she points out Grudem’s list of eighty-three items that a woman can and cannot do in the church. For example, “she can write a book about theology that is read at Christian colleges and seminaries, but she cannot teach theology at a Christian college or seminary herself.” (p. 254)

    How would you advise Christians to engage with strong complementarianism? Or do you not feel it’s over the top to have 83 items of what a woman can and cannot do?

  • Don Johnson

    Just to start with how bad a review Keller’s is, Paul was going to pay for animal sacrifices in the temple in Acts 21. That she does not know this is obvious.

  • Daniel

    I do side with Complementarianism, but we need to make it more clear that we also wisely or subjectively choose what commandments to follow through our theological systems. It doesn’t help to suggest one side is picking and choosing while the other isn’t.

  • Don Johnson

    K”athry wrote: ” ” Jesus called himself the final temple (John 2:21) and offered himself as the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is why no Christian anywhere has offered sacrifices since the crucifixion, nor observed the rules of temple worship (cf. Galatians and Hebrews).”

    She is totally and completely wrong in her claims and I am not even sure where she got these ideas, since they are not taught in the Bible. All of the original disciples that were in the upper room were Jews and they continued in the practices of Jews, including temple worship and animal sacrifices, as Acts clearly says when read in cultural context. Acts is not a complex theological treatise like Gal. or Heb. and a basic idea of (prot and Messianic) Bible interpretation is that the more clear passages (like in Acts) should be used to help us understand the less clear (like in Gal. or Rom. or Heb.).

  • Alistair Robertson

    Reading your comment again, Don, I see what you’re saying about Christians sacrificing after Jesus’ death and resurrection. I agree that they did. However, the point is that they didn’t need to. That is what Kathy Keller was trying to communicate, and this is backed up biblically, even in Acts when the Gentile believers were given instruction from the Jerusalem Council etc. No sacrifices required.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Kathy Keller writes,

    “You say your ultimate goal is not to determine what the biblical authors say, but to see in the Bible “what I am looking for.” You go on immediately to say, “Are we reading with the prejudice of love or . . . of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?” (296) So “love” is the reason you will reject some parts of the Bible and embrace others? But where do you get your definition of love if not from the Bible itself? And if you say, “Parts of the Bible express love, and other parts express power interests,” you’ve clearly gotten your standard and definition of love from outside the Bible—specifically, from contemporary sensibilities—and these are your ultimate authority and norm.”

    But in a paper authored by Tim and Kathy Keller some time ago, they express exactly the same opinion as Rachel. I am surprised that they do not understand that there notion of what it means to be a citizen and in submission to their own government is derived from contemporary sensibilities. They write,

    “In summary, the pattern of rule-and-submission is greatly muted in society because of sin. People abuse authority, so politically, all authority must be elected authority—and all individuals must have access to places of authority.”

    Even though an elected government was not in view in the Bible, Tim and Kathy Keller see no hypocrisy in voting. They support the notion of an elected government, and having access to places of authority.

    But about marriage Tim and Kathy write,

    “,,,it is critical for one person to take both leadership and responsibility, the “head’s” service takes the form of initiation. He leads by over-ruling.”

    They do not address what happens in a marriage when a husband abuses authority. They are all over what happens to men when power is used abusively, and their theology includes shifting from a biblical perspective to a contemporary one. But with regard to women, they have no theology that deals with abuse in marriage, and they have no clear plan for providing women with access to the place of authority in marriage.

    Until the church invites into dialogue women who have been beaten into submission, they are preaching a different gospel, not the Bible. Thank goodness Rachel is speaking out.

  • Don Johnson

    Paul did pay for sacrifices in order to show that he was a Torah-observant Jew, per Acts 21. He might now have been required to do so, as the vow was voluntary, but he chose to do so. In any case, gentiles were kept from going past the court of gentiles in the temple, so they did not have the opportunity to present a sacrifice, but such a demarcation line was a human tradition that negated Scripture, and so should not have been done.

    I agree that gentile followers of Jesus did not need to present sacrifices, but Jewish followers of Jesus did when specified in Torah. Recall that at first The Way was seen as a Jewish sect, like the Pharisees were also a sect.

    If Kathy was trying to communicate that, she worded it very badly and it seems there is little vetting, if at all, when some authorized person posts something to The Gospel Coalition website.

  • Alistair Robertson

    Tell me if I read you wrong, but I think you said that Jewish followers of Jesus needed (and need?) to present sacrifices when specified in the Torah. Um, if that’s what you meant, there are bigger discussions to be had, I.e. what is the gospel.

    • Ben English

      That’s clearly not what he said. The Jewish Christians in the book of Acts are still explicitly following Jewish traditions, including temple sacrifice. Why they chose to do this, I can’t say (maybe Don has some insight) but nowhere did he imply that it was required of them by the risen Christ. The point is that simply because early Christians continued to follow in certain Jewish traditions and ancient ways of viewing the world, does not mean that modern Christians are obligated to follow the Christian inversion of the Roman paterfamilias code found in Paul’s epistles: If the secular world has evolved beyond the male-dominant power structures of ancient Rome, then how much more should Christians move beyond them.

  • Alistair Robertson

    Sorry, Ben, my reading of Don may not line up with what he meant, but if so, I certainly did not find it clear. Like I said, I’m happy to be shown otherwise.

    In fact, I’m finding Don’s comments confusing right down the line. Or, if not confusing, then alarming. But I’m not interested in going on about what Don said unless Don himself wishes to clarify things for me. I’m not sure there is any point otherwise.

    Your additional comment, Ben, was that the unnecessary adherence of Jewish Christians to temple laws is parallel to the adherence of New Testament Christians to the household codes. I find that logic difficult to follow. We have scriptural warrant for moving beyond many OT regulations precisely because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are no instructions in the NT to adhere to those regulations. However, we have no scriptural warrant to move beyond NT teachings and instructions because they are given in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    Ben, if you want to explain further why you believe we are to move beyond some NT teachings, I’d be interested. I can’t promise to respond (though I probably will), but I’d be interested.

    (I hope this isn’t an inappropriate use of your blog, Denny).

  • Edmund Garland

    As I mentioned on the other thread, the Kellers have a problem here. They are not, in any real sense, complementarians. At least not to the patriarchal extent that most of the Gospel Coalition seems to be these days. The Kellers’ latest marriage book is pretty egalitarian, wrapped in some complementarian paper. I found it difficult to read because it felt like they were always pulling back their punches – not able to actually come out and speak mutualism, while not wanting to give full credit to the far edge of the womens’-role spectrum either.

    Their church does allow women into aspects of leadership that Gruden or Carson would not agree with. And their book, in an obtuse way, prescribes a mutualist marriage.

    In other words, as I said in the other post, they are stuck walking a tightrope. TGC complementarianism/patriarchalism on one side and their own views and practice on the other.

    So Kathy’s response to Evan’s book makes sense in that light. Evan’s book is easy pickings from a superficial point of view. I think that Evan’s makes some good points, but they are not the careful and thought-out points of the likes of Stackhouse, McKnight, Viola, Ortberg, etc.

    So Keller can grab at a few issues to validly criticize and appear to toe the Gospel Coalition line without sticking her neck too far up.

    It’s also easier for Mr. Keller to have his wife do this work as it gives him some plausible deniability. “Well, that’s Kathy’s opinion, I have my own… but I’m not going to state it in any concrete way.” To do otherwise would jeopardize his position in a church that is, by practice and demographic, not currently fitting into TGC paradigm on this issue.

    Frankly, TGC has turned women’s issues into such a main issue that I’m surprised that the Kellers stick around in the organization that Tim helped to found. My bet is that, if TGC continues down it’s hard-edged patriarchal path, they will eventually have to leave.

  • Don Johnson

    Jer 31:31ff says that the difference in the new covenant is WHERE it is written, there is no mention that what is contains is changed. When commandments were written on stone and scrolls, they had/has no power to be implemented. When they are written on one’s heart, then one will WANT to follow them. Jesus instituted the new covenant at his last supper, per Luke. Those that by faith accept the gift of Jesus get a circumcized heart and the commandments that apply to them get written on their heart, so they will want to keep them. There are some commandments that only apply to Jews, such as keeping Sabbath. This does not mean that a gentile cannot keep Sabbath, but it is optional for a gentile.

    On the Eph 5:15-6:9 pericope, Paul is establishing a principle of the Kingdom of mutual submission and then applying it starting in Eph 5:22ff to the 1st century household, by putting a Christian gloss on Aristotle’s household code. How that 1st century application of the principle is then applied to a 21st century household is a discussion, for example, as slaves are not legal today in the West. Most, including myself, map slaves and masters to employees and employers rather than discard the whole idea.

  • JM LaRue

    As the comments here have shown, people think the RHE issue is solely over egal/comp issues. That’s why every is out talking.

    How do I see that? The challenges against Keller are about where she falls in the egal/comp debate.


    This review doesn’t venture into that arena.

    This review deals with what RHE actually did and what she wrote. I wish commenters wouldn’t skip over that.

    They are more interested in defending their end goal than the process. Evans hermeneutics aren’t even the evangelical egalitarians approach (as noted above by Don). That’s why people are defending her by attacking the big picture issue…. because they can’t defend her in what she actually wrote.

  • Alistair Robertson

    So, Don, my reading was right after all? You believe Jewish Christians are required to keep more of the Law (I’m unclear as to how much, but you have included sacrifices, Temple regulations – which of course are unable to be fulfilled due to the lack of a Temple – and the Sabbath).

    I don’t know where to go from there. That is a long way outside of generally accepted biblical teaching. In fact, as far as I have read the Bible and read of other people’s reading of the Bible, the New Testament speaks against just such a view.

    But I doubt this is the place to discuss it and I doubt I am the best person to continue the conversation.

  • Don Johnson

    Hi Alistair,

    Many Jewish Christians (who usually prefer the term Messianic Jews) see it as a priviledge to keep as many Torah commandments as possible. (I am not one, but I try to read widely.) Yes, it is true that the 2nd temple is not standing since 70AD and so temple things cannot be done, but Ezekiel says there will be a 3rd temple and gives a lot of details about it. If you think what I am saying is “outside of generally accepted Bible teaching” I suggest you might want to read more books that at least mention Messianic ways of reading the Bible.

  • Morgan Guyton

    I really found Kathy Keller’s review to be unfortunate and unbecoming of her stature in its lack of charity. I was pretty surprised that she was able to get through the whole book without being melted by the disarming humility and genuineness that Rachel exudes throughout it. I imagine you’re not going to read the book for yourself, but it really isn’t a polemic if you’re able to engage it without looking for ammunition to use in your debate against egalitarians. If Rachel gets disaffected evangelical women to engage the Bible as much as she has, then God bless her. Why is that a bad thing? This is my response to Kathy and my own review of Rachel’s book:

    You might also appreciate a piece I wrote for Reformation Day on the way that the Reformation’s godfather Augustine in his De Doctrina Christiana promotes the same hermeneutical standard of the Great Commandment that Rachel describes as the “prejudice of love” with which she reads the Bible:

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