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Mary Kassian on Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood

November 12, 2012

While many people have responded to Kathy Keller’s review of the Year of Biblical Womanhood, I have not seen any responses to Mary Kassian’s review of this book. So I am going to contribute a bit of personal research, and I note that Kurk has researched the same details. Perhaps we have the same memories of Edith Schaeffer, someone our mothers looked up to.

First, this is from Kassian’s review,

I’m glad she clarified who exactly she means by “evangelical complementarians.” She’s talking about my people. I’ve been with that movement from the start. She’s walking into my backyard. Her book is specifically aimed at the particular brand of evangelical complementarity of which I am a part.

A few sentences later, I had my first and best laugh of the whole book. “Evangelical complementarianism,” claims Rachel, “[is] a movement that began as a reaction to second-wave feminism and found some of its first expressions in the writings of Edith Schaeffer (The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 1971) and Elisabeth Elliot (Let Me Be a Woman, 1976).” Rachel goes on to explain that complementarianism rests on the “uncompromising conviction [that] the virtuous woman serves primarily from the home as a submissive wife, diligent homemaker, and loving mother.” (p. xix).

Seriously? “The Hidden Art of Homemaking???!!” I just about fell off my chair. That book was written seventeen years before the inception of CBMW and about twenty years before we adopted the term “complementarian.” I have never even heard of it. I highly doubt whether John Piper and Wayne Grudem—the founders of CBMW—have read it. So to cite it as the first expression of evangelical complementarianism is hardly defensible. Complementarians would certainly not identify it as such.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood and I were not off to a good start.

Not a good start indeed! Like many other women of Mary Kassian’s age, I met and was deeply influenced by both Elisabeth Elliot and Edith Schaeffer. I have read their books, and not in a critical spirit. I have read Held Evans’ book, and Mary Kassian’s book. And I would like to set the record straight in defence of Rachel Held Evans’ reference to Edith Schaeffer and Elisabeth Elliot,

Dorothy Patterson claims both these women as mentors, in an interview in 2007,

HOWARD: Who has been your mentor through the years?

PATTERSON: In honing my ministries to women with the pen and through the public platform, I was encouraged by my friendship with Elisabeth Elliot and Edith Schaeffer.  

Susan Hunt wrote ,in Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Women Mentoring Women, published in 2009, page 4,

Other Proverbs 31, such as Elisabeth Elliot and Edith Schaeffer are also my heroines …

Nancy Leigh DeMoss wrote in Biblical Womanhood in the Home, 2002, page 31,

As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons.

Frank Schaeffer, Edith Schaeffer’s son, in Sex, Mom and God, 2012, page 166-167, writes,

Nancy Leigh DeMoss happened to be the daughter of a former friend of my mother’s, Nancy DeMoss, who was instrumental in my parents’ rise to Evangelical superstardom. … I worked closely with Nancy on several projects. … When Nancy’s daughter (the aforementioned Nancy Leigh DeMoss) took Pride’s ideas to a bigger audience than Pride could have imagined, she was just taking the next logical step begun by my mother. Like my sister’s and I, the DeMoss siblings found themselves in their parent’s orbit. The DeMoss children became coworkers in the “cause,” much as I filled that role in my family.

Kathryn Joyce in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, 2009, page 42, writes about Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer,

perhaps unintentionally, a landmark book for proponents of biblical womanhood.

Kurk writes,

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?

In a response to others parts of Mary Kassian’s review of Rachel Held Evans’book, A W Sanderson November 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm comments on Dennyburk’s blogpost,

Kassian appears to be out of the complementarian loop. She seems to be completely unaware that Patterson’s words quoted by RHE and included in her review are from RBWM ed 1991 AND *2006*. (Info can be found in an online search.) That is hardly “wiping the dust off” arbitrary antiquated quotes. If complementarianism is new and is notpatriarchy as Kassian claims but a new ideology of only about 20 years, what else does one have to work with but their literature of the last 20 years or so? Regardless, the volume she quoted was republished with Patterson’s contribution in 2006? How is that not recent? Also, Kassian wants to disassociate with the term patriarchy and considers that isolated to the “fringe” groups like Vision Forum. She seems to be oblivious that Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and CBMW all folks in “her backyard” equate complementarianism with patriarchy.

Kassian writes, “I pointed out [to Rachel] that though complementarians agree on the principle of complementarity, we often differ as to its application in the home and the church. I emphasized that even those involved in CBMW have a divergence of opinion as to the specifics of how to apply the principles of manhood and womanhood. Even Nancy and I don’t land in exactly the same place on every point of application.” Isn’t this what RHE says is the point of the book?

Perhaps I should clarify that Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Dorothy Patterson and Susan Hunt, are the three other women most involved in the development of “complementarianism”, alongside Mary Kassian. One does have to wonder how Mary did not become familiar with the books of a woman who was so influential in her coworkers’ lives. No doubt, when Kassian remarks that John Piper and Wayne Grudem have probably not read Hidden Art by Edith Schaffer, she is being accurate. I concede this point. But what does this say about the inception of this movement? Are John Piper and Wayne Grudem the measuring stick of biblical womanhood above the life experience of the movement’s most well-known female leaders, Dorothy Patterson, Susan Hunt, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss?

In any case, I hope this provides evidence that Rachel Held Evans did her homework, and should not be made to “write lines” or some such thing, by Mary Kassian.

Update: Tim Challies has linked to Mary Kassian’s review also. Unfortunately I am unable to comment there at the moment. I don’t know if that is intentional on Challies’ part or not. [ I am now aware that there is a delay in displaying comments on his blog. My bad!]

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2012 7:53 pm

    Hi Suzanne – I followed your link off Challies’ blog. I addressed some of the same thoughts in my post today about Kassian’s review.

    I’ll also link in my comments to what you wrote here. Excellent points!

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 12, 2012 11:10 pm


    Thanks so much!! I’m glad to find your blog.

  3. November 12, 2012 11:34 pm

    These are excellent rebuttals to Kassian– thanks, Suzanne and Sallie! Hannah Thomas has also written one:

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 13, 2012 12:09 am

    Thanks for this. A lot of women are coming to the defence of Rachel Held Evans because we recognize her portrayal of complementarianism, and we were also there!

  5. Anita permalink
    November 14, 2012 12:41 pm

    Thank you for the clarification you have provided; and thank you for helping me feel a bit of support for my comment at True Woman.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 15, 2012 12:21 am

    I have to say that I find the description of true womanhood by Mary Kassian a bit confusing sometimes myself. Thanks for your comments.

  7. November 15, 2012 9:40 am

    Thanks for doing the research into the Edith Schaeffer/modern complementarian connection. I cited you in my post about the strangely multi-layered “straw (wo)man” dynamic.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    November 15, 2012 6:18 pm

    I love the title of your blog! I also liked the way you noted,

    “But in each of these cases, anything you say can be instantly dismissed as a straw man argument. And that’s a problem.”

    Yes, its interesting that this is such an easy way to dismiss something that we don’t like to deal with. Kassian does not like the examples and experiences in Rachel’s book. And yet, these are Mary Kassian’s words about feminists.

    “Now days, the epitome of empowered womanhood is to live a self-serving, self-righteous, neurotic, narcissistic, superficial, and adulteress life.”

    I can’t even dignify this kind of comment with a response.

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