Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  I also initially posted a shorter version of this review on Amazon.com and then expanded it here.

When I just started to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I discovered that it had been described as putting the Bible "on trial "in the court of Rachel Held Evans, where she would be the "prosecution, judge, and jury" who would have the "final word on womanhood."  I read and read and read, but I never got to that part.  I guess my copy must have excluded it (the publisher send me an actual copy and not an "Advanced Review Copy", so maybe that had something to do with it).

Instead, what I found throughout the book was an exploration of what it means to be a "Biblical woman" by experiencing the various rules for women and looking at them from a variety of perspectives.  Through her journey, Rachel Held Evans brought in advice and knowledge from Amish women, an Orthodox Jewish woman, 1950s women and Catholicism (that is just a sampling).  She showed that there are many different Christian (and Jewish!) understandings of the Bible.  She was able to show how although we may all look at things a bit differently, there are many of us that still take seriously the question of what God wants from us.  It is the kind of book that makes one wonder "how can, and should, I apply the Bible to my life?"

Example:  (October, "Gentleness")  When she keeps a "jar of contention" in order to learn to be more gentle and quiet, she learns more about how gossip, or lashon hara, was detrimental to Miriam (in Exodus), she realizes that she had gossiped about another writer.  And although she was cultivating better behavior, she knew that it wasn't behavior alone that she needed to change, but the spirit behind it, and so she learned how to pray "contemplative prayer" in order to let God work on her insides.

Example:  (March, "Modesty")  Many Christian women are taught to be modest, but there are a lot of different ideas out there as to what modesty actually consists of.  During this month, Evans wears a head covering, full-length dresses/skirts, no short sleeves or v-necks, and no jewelry.  She consults with both Amish women and an Orthodox Jewish woman, who are known for prioritizing modesty.  In the end, she learns that modesty really has little to do with clothing, jewelry, or makeup, but rather the spirit behind it, and  that "modesty fits each woman a little differently" (140).

I loved that she took the time to research and understand Jewish practices.  In my experience, many Christians are seemingly unaware that we did not have the Bible first, and that there is a long history of interpretation before it came to be "ours".  While it is true that Christians are not commanded to keep Jewish law, understanding it and where it comes from gives enormous background and brings insight to the text.

Throughout the book, I found myself laughing, crying, feeling serious, feeling contemplative, and I ended the book with a smile on my face.  I could see the journey she had been on and could see how she had learned and grown in her faith.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an easy and fast read, but a thought-provoking one.  Christians who want to grow in discipleship of Jesus would benefit from reading this book.  As many of us know from participating in "small groups", discipleship is hard and not always a one-size-fits-all prescription, but we are always encouraged to seek God and ask how we should apply various things in the Bible to our lives.  While this is one woman's story, and is not meant to be something everyone must do, it can open up conversations about how to live our lives and better follow Jesus.

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