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Year of Biblical Womanhood

November 11, 2012

I wasn’t going to read this book, at least not right away – but that was before Kathy Keller and Mary Kassian reviewed it. How could I know if their reviews were honest. So, yes I have read it, and enjoyed it.

First, to complain about the hermeneutic in the book seems a little strained. There isn’t a lot of that, and it appears very late in the book. And yes, I felt a little uncomfortable at first when Rachel settled in to a Martha Stewart cookbook early on. But the story grew on me. And when Rachel failed to sew a dress, I groaned inwardly. This was my life, my upbringing, to bake bread, to make jam, to can peaches. I also sewed all my own clothes, and most of those of my children, from the age of 12 to 32. So, at first, I felt a little uncomfortable with some pages of the book. I thought to myself, perhaps she doesn’t know how much time some of us invested in sewing all our clothes, in baking our own bread.

However, Rachel’s engagement with the project quickly grew on me. I was fascinated with the other women she interacted with and I saw her personal growth as she went to Bolivia, as she read Kristof and WuDunn. I was particularly touched at the scene where she mourned for Jephthah’s daughter. I was impressed with the way she wove together contemporary expressions of biblical womanhood, stories of lesser known women in the Bible, and the real lives of Amish, Jewish, Bolivian women and second wives.

In short, there could be many valid several reasons why Keller and Kassian wrote the kind of reviews they did. The obvious one is that they are both complementation, and not egalitarian, as Rachel is. Although they disagree with the “hermeneutic,” I think the real reason is that they see this book as having enormous influence in demonstrating that a Christian couple can be happy in an egalitarian marriage. It’s really about “Team Dan and Rachel.”

If you could be a full partner in a marriage, and be loved by your spouse, why would you want the experience of Kathy Keller

My first encounter with the ideas of [male] headship and [female] submission,’ she writes, ‘was both intellectually and morally traumatic.’ Yet Keller came to adopt the view that men and women have different roles in marriage and ministry, and that fulfilling such roles pleases God and leads to greater personal fulfillment.

I think what Rachel demonstrates is that one can have great personal fulfillment without the trauma. I am not sure that trauma ought to be an essential part of a Christian marriage. I experienced a lot of trauma, and I don’t believe that it pleased God in the tiniest way. Nor did it fulfill me in any way.

So, in my view, it is not the hermeneutic, but the sense of purpose, commitment and personal fulfillment which exudes from Rachel Held Evans,that makes this an important book for complementarians to rebutt.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2012 8:57 am

    Thank you thank you thank you again for telling your own story again in public. Here you tell how you had to read Rachel Held Evans’s book, for yourself, in light of your own experience. How incredibly concrete your lens, the hermeneutic, is for understanding her project. It’s no mere academic exercise or would-be “objective” abstracting that you’re engaged in here.

    First, You’ve been there, done that — and I’m talking about the sewing of clothes, as a woman (not as the man) for example. Oh, how painfully this rather benign experience you share (and find Rachel Held Evans examining so critically) resonates with some of us: My own mother is here visiting me and my wife and our daughter for some days. She is widowed now for less than one year and, I must say, is recovering from the Patriarchy that she submitted to for 54 years, yes, even the “Complementarianism” that she found in Edith Schaeffer’s books. How fascinating that Mary Kassian would say she didn’t know Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking and would attack Rachel Held Evans for linking it to Kassian’s own Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as an early expression also of the Danvers Statement. Kassian has read Held Evans’s book, but did she not read Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce, who seems to have read both the CBMW stuff and Edith Schaeffer’s books and has noted how women, and men, in recent Christianity have constructed the hierarchical man over woman relationship out of them?

    Second, you recall the pains, the abuse. Did I say my own mother is having to talk now about my father in ways that recall the hurts? It’s not that she’s not forgiven him but that’s she’s coming to the place where publicly she, we, can acknowledge. This is not the experience of all complementarians (though Christianity Today in an biographical article once on Francis Schaeffer, patriarch, “Our Saint Francis” described his bouts of rage, throwing plates through the air in the kitchen, Edith’s domain, and Franky Schaeffer, their son, now writes rather publicly about the hidden difficulties in that hidden art of homemaking). Kathy Keller, of course, couldn’t write of such pain in her own life. She, and more Tim Keller, in their book on marriage (in which she gets to contribute chapter six – yes, a full 1 chapter of the 8, almost 10% of his book if you count the pages), would explain The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. So with the few words her husband and her publisher has given her, Kathy Keller writes to answer, rather hypothetically, rather abstractly, rather theologically (albeit with a theology of hierarchy), the following:

    But some women might chafe under the idea of male headship: “I agree that men and women are profoundly different according to their sex, but why does the man get to lead? If men and women are equal in dignity but different, why is the husband the head?” I think the truest answer is that we simply don’t know. Why was Jesus, the Son, the one who submitted and served (Philippians 2:4ff)? Why wasn’t the Father? We don’t know, but we do know that it was a sign of his greatness, not his weakness.

    I think there is also a more practical answer to the second objection and even to the first. It is our very effort to submit to the roles of servant-leader and strong helper that will help us get in touch with and honor our gender differences. [page 187]

    Now, notice the necessary agnosticism here. We just don’t know, but we just cannot question Nature. We females are born different, very very very different, from males. And it’s the Nature of God, with Father at the Top over the submissive Son, that we cannot question. Fascinatingly, the hierarchical Trinity model and the Philippians verse has been used to make Jesus Christ a slave. And this “Scriptural” model was used to justify slavery in the United States of America and in England on the basis of “difference,” since Africans, dark as their skin color is relative to the Americans and the English, was so clear. Slaves were encouraged, of course, to accept and to embrace this difference, this biology, this heavenly role, so as to follow Jesus, to be pleasing to the Father, the ultimate Patriarch, on High.

    But life, our lives, must be the rub here. The exercise of writing a book after trying to keep “bibilical womanhood” is not just some abstract thing. Rachel Held and Dan Evans are working out what the Bible must say in their real lives. That her book generates such a push back from women who say they have found themselves beyond the “trauma” of what Christian Patriarchy too often manifests is very important for us to see. Thank you again for writing, from real life.

  2. November 11, 2012 1:17 pm

    I really appreciated your post, Suzanne, and your thoughts, Kurk. My own experience of “biblical womanhood” and my response to Held Evans’ book might also be of interest:

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 12, 2012 1:14 am


    I enjoyed reading your review. I was raised to sew, but my sewing education ended at age 12 when it was considered to be complete. We were also, thank goodness, expected to attend university and train in a profession – just in case.


    I am very surprised that Kassian does not know Edith Schaeffer’s book. I researched in the usual manner and found that Susan Hunt, Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dorothy Patterson all knew Edith Schaeffer and credited her with encouraging them. It seems likely that Kassian is the only woman on the CBMW Council who does not know Edith Schaeffer. I still admire Edith Schaeffer myself.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 13, 2012 1:23 am


    I am very touched by your mom’s situation. It all takes a long time to process. I had never read anything by Kathy Keller before, but now it just makes me feel sad. It is so sad that so many, even egalitarians, praise Tim Keller and support his views on this topic. It’s tragic.


  1. Mary Kassian on Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood « BLT

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