Reviewing the Reviews of "The Year of Biblical Womanhood"
Before leaders recommend or condemn Rachel Held Evans's book, they should at least read it.

As leaders, we're often asked our judgment on books, especially as a book grows in readership or controversy. Unfortunately, sometimes we share opinions before forming thoughts on the topic. You probably recall the enormous number of reviews of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" that flooded the Internet before his book released, based purely on a few minutes of preview video. Likewise, I heard a lot of opinions about Mark and Grace Driscoll's "Real Marriage" long before the book hit the shelves.

The latest controversial book in Christian circles is Rachel Held Evans's "The Year of Biblical Womanhood" in which Evans explores what the Bible says about womanhood by living out a variety of explicit commands in scripture, including things like wearing a head covering, calling her husband master, and following the Old Testament purity laws during her period.

I asked Evans when the first review for her book came in, and she said, "My dad the other night told me he remembered being at his computer, looking over a review of my book, and then he looked over at me and I'm sitting at the dining room table with a pile of books working on the manuscript. He was reading a review of this book I hadn't even finished writing yet." So, the first negative review for the book came before the book was written. I believe the motivation in reviews like this is protecting others from harmful ideas. I also believe it's being done poorly.

For instance, an influential Christian on Twitter tweeted a link and said, "Secular review of Rachel Held Evans: she took the Bible and made a mockery of the whole thing." This secular reviewer had not read the book. I found a one star review on Amazon that was merely a link to someone else's review. Another blogger wrote, "Do not acknowledge Rachel Held Evans. Do not pollute your mind with her teachings." But has she read the book? No.

Here are five practical reasons that we as leaders must make informed decisions about the books we recommend rather than making a call based on instinct or someone else's reviews:

One, we are in danger of undermining our own authority. If we tell people not to read a book because it's a theological danger, and they read it and discover we're incorrect, we're crying wolf. Why should our people trust us when we point out actual theological danger?

Two, reviews by others, even generally trustworthy sources, can make the wrong call. For instance, the review of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" by Trillia Newbell on the "Desiring God" website skews the book by taking quotes out of context. Newbell says that Evans, "makes it clear that although she holds the Bible in high esteem as a historical document, she would warn us to be careful in attempting to use it as a guide for living out the Christian faith." She uses this quote from the book to back up her conclusion, "Despite what some may claim, the Bible's not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today. (48)"

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October 31, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 32 comments

Sarah

November 09, 2012  10:27am

It's with interest that I have been reading the various reviews for this book. I enjoyed Rachel's style in other of her works, and this is a topic that I, as a married mother of 4, am keenly interested in. It seems however, according to even the most basic of descriptions, that I will be disappointed by this book. Our family is currently engaged in wrestling with applying the specific directions for family life and biblical gender roles in scripture, in our modern day society. And separating out Jewish tradition from what is explicit in scripture adds a challenge as well. To read of these issues being treated sarcastically, to make a point about how gender roles are treated in the church, (however needed such a discussion is!), is just discouraging. Perhaps, after we have progressed in our own family's journey, I'll have to write my own book about biblical womanhood, and biblical man hood, and raising a family according to the Bible, and all that goes with it... And then again, perhaps we'll be to busy living it to write about it.

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sheerahkahn

November 03, 2012  6:53pm

"I don't actually know if you're a woman..." Oh good G-d no. Nothing wrong with females, don't get me wrong, as I loves em as much as any other man would, but after watching my sons be born...thank G-d I a man. As for writing that book...I'm afraid the aforementioned favored bias to my gender would prevent me from fully appreciating the experiment, and more than likely color my final analysis to favor the joys of my masculinity far too much. Perhaps a woman of more rational appeal and with a sense of detail will take on the task...I can guarantee that it would be a book I would pre-order as soon as I got wind of it being produced.

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Matt Mikalatos

November 03, 2012  3:26pm

@sheerakhan Hey, thanks for the kind words, and thanks for sticking the conversation out. And hey, there's always room for the book you hoped this one would be. Maybe you should write it! (I don't actually know if you're a woman... God bless the gender equality of the Internet!).

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sheerahkahn

November 03, 2012  12:42pm

"I have, indeed, read the book. It's pretty good. Not being a serious study of Biblical archaeology doesn't disqualify a book from having value." Don't get me wrong Matt, for me, nothing makes me giggle more like a little girl getting a pony for her birthday than taking a bunch of nonsense modern Christians have about how our faith came to be, or even how people/men/women should behave as Christians, and riding off into the sunset leaving a trail of mockery behind me. But authors, and their money grubbing publishers NEED to take care how they position themselves in relation to their books. Like in this case, her books presentation drew the likes of me...which my response was, "oh someone is going to live like a woman from Ancient Israel." Which, btw, would be a fascinating undertaking because of how women behaved and practiced their faith on a day to day basis in the Ancient World of which, I at least would think... open up the past, and hopefully dispel a whole load of ignorance that 99% of modern Christians seem to have about the bible; But most importantly, would provide an extremely interesting contrast of world views that the participant female would have from living in two different time periods. Alas, as you pointed out, that is not, nor was the intention of the book or the author...and yet...it was presented as such. So, with all that said, thank you for considering my words, and thank you for being patient. Critical thinking is much needed in our lives today, and you have held your point quite well. I am glad we have reached an accord, and I hope she has a joyous ride with it...and I wish the author plenty of opportunity to lampoon the silliness that many modern Christians have about women in today's world.

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Matt Mikalatos

November 02, 2012  9:15am

@anonymous I'm not making Sheerhkahn's point, I'm just agreeing with it, or at least that piece of it. I have, indeed, read the book. It's pretty good. Not being a serious study of Biblical archaeology doesn't disqualify a book from having value.

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Matt Mikalatos

November 02, 2012  9:11am

@sheerahkahn Okay, I think I get what you are saying now. I don't think that Evans ever said she was going to live out an exactly accurate version of ancient Biblical practice of womanhood (I could be wrong on that, I haven't been following all the interviews and whatnot). The book itself is pretty clear from the beginning that it won't be that. She makes jokes about it. You know, she does things like taking the idea of "praising your husband at the city gates" and goes out with a sign saying her husband is awesome to the entrance to her town. This is completely self-aware in the book. It's not meant to be a serious study-it-at-seminary sort of book. I think maybe part of the issue here is genre rather than content (and possibly public relations issues). Anyway, I understand your point. Thanks for taking the time to make it clearer to me.

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Anonymous

November 02, 2012  8:31am

"...the book. It's not meant to be a serious study-it-at-seminary sort of book." Making sheera's point exactly. This was originally a post about reviewing the reviews. We are all simply reviewing the reviews of the reviews since no one has apparently actually read the book because the subject matter and the public behavior of the author appear to be pretty silly.

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Anonymous

November 02, 2012  1:21am

@sheerahkahn Okay, I think I get what you are saying now. I don't think that Evans ever said she was going to live out an exactly accurate version of ancient Biblical practice of womanhood (I could be wrong on that, I haven't been following all the interviews and whatnot). The book itself is pretty clear from the beginning that it won't be that. She makes jokes about it. You know, she does things like taking the idea of "praising your husband at the city gates" and goes out with a sign saying her husband is awesome to the entrance to her town. This is completely self-aware in the book. It's not meant to be a serious study-it-at-seminary sort of book. I think maybe part of the issue here is genre rather than content (and possibly public relations issues). Anyway, I understand your point. Thanks for taking the time to make it clearer to me.

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sheerahkahn

November 01, 2012  11:47pm

"Also, again, having not read the book you're making assumptions about the book that are leading you to a misunderstanding. Evans does not attempt to live out the commands in a completely accurate way, any more than any modern person does. She uses the tool of this sort of experimental/satirical tool to discuss modern hermeneutics and how we determine what is "Biblical."" Okay, Matt, here's the problem. I want you to read what you wrote. Btw, there is nothing wrong with what you wrote, so there is no dissembling here or trickery, I'm being quite upfront, but I want you to reread what you wrote. Okay. Now, I read through her bibliography, did you? If you did then you will note that her bibliography agrees with the aforementioned quote of yours. Please note that...her bibliography agrees with the quote of yours. Unfortunately, what she says about her book doesn't agree with her bibliography, nor does it agree with what you are saying about her book. The contents of her book, of which may even talk about what you say she is addressing is not the issue, the problem is her initial statement which frames the premise of her book which, unfortunately, isn't the dichotomy between how women actually lived in the ancient world, vs how modern viewpoints of women should behave. No, her premise is that she is going to live like a woman from "biblical Israel" following all the laws, requirements, etc. Her bibliography, again back to her bibliography, doesn't support that statement of hers. So, based solely on her bibliography, and her education all that tells me is she did no research on how a woman or women in general lived in Ancient Israel, or any woman from the Levant from the period of 1800 to 200 bce lived. Therefore, her entire premise of her book is false...which is, that she is living as a woman from ancient Israel. Facts speak clearer that explanations, and those are the facts. If she had said this...and you will note, this is your quote: "Evans does not attempt to live out the commands in a completely accurate way, any more than any modern person does. She uses the tool of this sort of experimental/satirical tool to discuss modern hermeneutics and how we determine what is "Biblical." Then I wouldn't be here commenting. So...if you haven't looked at her bibliography, I strongly recommend you do because it supports what you are saying about her, but unfortunately, her statements regarding the book are not supported by her bibliography. And yes, therefore, a judgement about the quality of a book based on both the background of the writer, the writers statements about the book, and the books bibliography will give a clear indication as to the content of the book. If there is continuity between bibliography and writers statements...then the book is as it presents itself...if not...

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Matt Mikalatos

November 01, 2012  10:09pm

@dave I wrote a response earlier but it didn't show, so forgive me if this ends up being a repeat. 1. I don't know Ms. Evans, so we're not friends (not even on Facebook). I'm also not a "fan" in any appreciable sense: I don't regularly read her blog, I've not read her first book, I've never gone to see her at a reading or anything like that. 2. This post isn't a book review. I think that's pretty clear. I shared a few things I liked at the end of the post, but the point of this article was purely that one should read a book for one's self to form the best opinion of a book. One paragraph out of thirteen addresses my (partial) opinion about the content of the book. 3. I don't believe that quoting an author in order to "distill the author's thrust" is a bad thing. That's to be encouraged in a review. What i mean by "out of context" is quoting the author in such a way to make it look like the author is making a point that they are not, or addressing a topic that they are not. The review in question did precisely that. The reviewer used selective quoting to make it appear that the author was addressing the reliability and/or divine nature of scripture, two topics that were not addressed in the book in the way that the reviewer took issue with. In fact, it took some pretty bold misquoting to make it appear that way. That's a sign of a poor or slanted book review. As for your last questions, I think those are fair questions to ask of a book review. Of course, this was not a book review, and honestly the article is only tangentially about Ms. Evans or her book. It really is more about how we talk about, recommend or denounce books or ideas that we like or dislike.

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