Rachel Held Evans’s new book, published today by Thomas Nelson, is entitled A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.”

It has received a warm welcome from the mainstream media (including an appearance on “The Today Show” last week).

It has received predictable enthusiasm from usual suspects like Peter Enns and Roger Olson.

Evangelicals, like Trillia Newbell, have been less than impressed. “In this book Evans is trying to build a bridge, but I wonder if it is not rather a comfortable bridge for shaky evangelicals to find their way into theological liberalism.” Even one secular-postmodern-feminist writer saw through the gimmicky nature of the project and judged that the whole thing ended up making a “mockery” of the Bible.

Today at the Gospel Coalition, Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller and a contributor to his book The Meaning of Marriage, offers a serious review, which also serves as something of an open letter to Rachel. (She explains the reason for the personal address when she writes, “Rachel, I tried twice to get in touch with you when you were in New York City on the talk shows but wasn’t able to connect. So here’s what I would have said if we could have gotten the chance to open that dialogue.”)

Some will conclude that Kathy is being too harsh with Rachel. But in reality, Kathy is being Rachel’s faithful friend (“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Prov. 27:6a). I hope she will receive it as such.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are some quotes:

  • “you began your project by ignoring (actually, by pretending you did not know about) the most basic rules of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation that have been agreed upon for centuries.”
  • “To insist that it would be ‘picking and choosing’ to preclude the Levitical code from your practice of biblical womanhood is disingenuous, if not outright deceptive.”
  • “In making the decision to ignore the tectonic shift that occurred when Jesus came, you have led your readers not into a better understanding of biblical interpretation, but into a worse one.”
  • “Throughout your book, you have ignored or even hidden from readers the fundamental principles of scriptural interpretation—including the difference between narrative and didactic, as well as the importance of placing commands in their context within redemptive history.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
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Comments:


50 thoughts on “A Year of Ridiculous Biblical Interpretation”

  1. Chuck says:

    Maybe it’s too early for my brain to kick in, but if you linked to the “whole thing” in order to read it, I’m missing it.

    1. Scott says:

      Chuck –

      Yeah, the direct link is missing, but you can find the link on the front page of TGC’s site.

      http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/a_year_of_biblical_womanhood

      1. Chuck says:

        Thanks, Scott. I see that JT has edited to article to include the link, in addition to the one you included in your comment.

  2. Scott says:

    JT –

    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 this? Or do you not feel it’s over the top to have 83 items of what a woman can and cannot do?

    1. Jeremy says:

      From the perspective of a soft complementarian, Grudem goes too far. Scripture isn’t as particular as Grudem’s 83 items are. It makes him look silly. The concern is to obey what the Bible says. Great. But the problem as I see it is that Grudem is so concerned to get every little thing right when it comes to women and the church that he unwittingly goes farther than the Bible goes. And that is just as much of a danger as is saying too little.

      1. Akash says:

        Why just because he has found so much evidence to back him up that you are scared he is true?

  3. Jeff Baxter says:

    Thank you for posting Kevin. It is sad when misinterpretation of the Bible occurs like this.

  4. Kathy Keller’s review is a nice application of Proverbs 26:4. I do think Evans deserves someone to apply Proverbs 26:5 just as nicely, but I think it needs to come from the right person. It has to be someone who is both snarky and well-meaning and nice about it. Not many fit that category.

    I would advise complementarians to recognize that John Piper and Wayne Grudem are complementarians trying to find their way in applying complementarianism in a complex world and that what they say need not (and should not, despite most egalitarians’ criticisms) be taken as “what complementarians think”. Many complementarians disagree with some of their particular applications without disagreeing with complementarianism. And we need to remind critics that egalitarians say things much sillier and more damaging to the gospel and to the Bible than anything we can find in Piper or Grudem. Consider Evans’ book, for starters. But, that being said, I think the Piper-Grudem introduction to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is one of the weakest sections of that book. The actual engagement with the biblical texts is very well done. Some (but not all) of the other material is not so careful.

  5. Wesley says:

    With respect, i continue to find it telling that many egalitarian authors are accused of (and often guilty of) re-arranging/shifting/twisting/(and sometimes) downright concealing the truth of Scripture in order to defend their position.
    If the plain reading of the text does not support one’s view (and it never seems to appear to), then in order to remain biblically faithful, one would need to re-examine and/or abandon such a view. True?

  6. Scott says:

    That’s a very poorly written review with many exegetical problems of its own.

    I’m sorry you don’t like Pete Enns. It’s even more unfortunate that you find his review “predictable.” But he, like Ben Witherington, have written good reviews of the book and have pointed out the substantial problems with the only polemical reviews coming from the TGC crowd. I wish an editor and acclaimed blogger like yourself would take the time to read them with charity.

  7. Andrew says:

    O good another blog where we can criticise someone and what they are writing. All in the name of the gospel ofcourse – so it is ok!
    I just love these open letters to people as well, they are so constructive and don’t come across as patronising at all.

    1. Wesley says:

      @Andrew –
      don’t understand your incredulity at those who would seek to defend the truth of God’s Word bro. You seem to be conflating thoughtful, genuine critique with judgementalism – not the same thing. Christian charity towards others doesn’t equate with ‘smiling and nodding’ with whatever is presented as truth from God’s Word. Furthermore, an open letter is appropriate when referring to a public document such as a book; in fact, writing a book is no less and ‘open letter’ to the world than wat Kathy wrote, it’s simply not classified as such. A private conversation between two (or a few others) would not, then, necessitate a public response, but a private one.

      1. Andrew says:

        Yes Wesley I take your point, however I just find it tiresome to read these blogs either speaking up certain pastors (Piper, Keller and Carson etc) who can do no wrong, or criticising others when they do not fit in with our thinking. Often in a very black and white manner.
        I have not read the book and from the sounds of it will not agree with it but it would be interesting to begin or end the review by asking – has this person got something to say to us? Why is it that she feels this way? Could it be that we have contributed to it? Does she have something to say about our attitude and how conservative evangelicals are seen that we need to reflect upon?
        Sure, lets be critical where there are things that we don’t agree with but also lets look for areas that we can learn from.
        Instead though we label her positive reviewers as “predictable” and her interpretation as “ridiculous” and then have the cheek to call her our friend by patronisingly using a verse from Proverbs.
        As I say I just find it tiresome and have better things to do with my time. But then I did read the blog so I’ve only myself to blame :)

        1. Wesley says:

          Your point is well taken as well. There are often more charitable ways to disagree viz. using the scalpel and not the sledge hammer to make a point.

        2. Matt says:

          Observing the levitical law to the letter, as if it was the expectation for Christians, IS ridiculous hermeneutics. She realizes this as well and is trying to use it as a literary tool to downgrade our need to interpret other commands as still binding. The question is, are those connections appropriate or another beating ’round the bush of passages with a very clear and obvious meaning? I believe the texts couldn’t be clearer.

        3. Joe Wisnieski says:

          With all due respect Andrew, have you not noticed your own tone? Aren’t you doing exactly what you are accusing others of.

          Regarding Keller’s review of the book, I thought she was spot on. As Christians we are to confront error and teach sound doctrine; and the errors in RHE’s book couldn’t be more glaring. I find it disheartening that this is even a subject of debate.

    2. Michael says:

      O good, another commenter coming to the TGC blogs to criticise someone and what they are writing!

  8. Dekortage says:

    Books are fair game for review. I’ve read enough about Evans’ book (for and against) that I may have to check it out for myself.

    However, I am tired of this kind of thinking:

    “Some will conclude that Kathy is being too harsh with Rachel. But in reality, Kathy is being Rachel’s faithful friend (‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend,’ Prov. 27:6a).”

    That verse only applies if you are actually friends. If you’re not, then wounding someone else doesn’t make you their friend just by quoting a verse. It just makes you an attacker. This is a self-serving misapplication of Scripture just as bad as any error one could make (Evans or anyone!). Please do better.

    1. Hodge says:

      Actually, the word ‘whb describes “one who loves,” and therefore, “friend” is a bit of a gloss. It can refer to a friend, but there is nothing so specific here as to what relationship the one who loves has with the one being rebuked. The person who loves is a friend, indeed, but he or she does not necessarily need to know you personally (again, that’s a gloss, not the actually meaning of the word). Notice the contrast, however: “but plentiful are the kisses of one who hates.” This is often translated as “enemy” in contrast to “friend.” How many enemies do you know kiss each other? This is talking about one who corrects versus one who compliments. It is similar to the proverb that says, “he who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue.”

  9. Chris says:

    “you began your project by ignoring (actually, by pretending you did not know about) the most basic rules of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation that have been agreed upon for centuries.”

    Kinda like that guy that rose from the dead… What was his name?

    1. Wesley says:

      Whatever His Name is, i think He get’s a “hall pass” from submitting to human principles of interpretation and communication being the One who actually (ultimately) wrote the bible. Savvy?

    2. Matt says:

      as Dwight Schrute would say…”FALSE” Jesus did not depart from Biblical hermeneutics at all, in fact he criticized the Saduccees for not knowing about the resurrection from the Scriptures and his own disciples who should have known about his resurrection from the prophets. In other words, the Bible is meant to be understood, and they should have been able to take Jesus’ claims back to the OT and discover that in fact He was the one. Those who refuse to acknowledge the meaning of scripture do so because of personal bias. we are all bent to misinterpret, but we can by the Holy Spirit and humility, transcend that and let go our vain pride. Look at what Jesus said to His disciples” “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The issue is not a difficulty in the passages, it is slowness and hardness of heart to believe.

  10. Justin B. says:

    I agree with Dekortage. Unless Kathy is actually Rachel’s friend, then the Proverbs reference is only being used as a cheap cover to attack someone.

  11. Regardless of what was said, the form chosen for the saying of it troubles me. An “open letter” is generally not a letter of appreciation, and is generally not written by a friend. We wound our friends (we all do, at some point), but I think it is not appropriate to offer such criticism or rebuke in public until more private avenues are exhausted. Trying to call twice, when the person one hopes to reach is racing around doing a talk show /book promo day, does not represent a big enough effort to make contact. If one is going to write a review, do that, and call it a review. Not a letter.

    I think that the only thing we do that might damage the gospel is preach it at people without living it ourselves.

    1. Matt says:

      Teachers and public figures are subject to criticism of what they teach. I do not think that Paul tried to meet up with the “super apostles” that he heard about before writing to refute their teaching. Now if we were attacking their personal conduct without a heart to restore, that would be the issue.

      1. Matt, point taken, though we will never know whether Paul ever tried to meet up with those apostles.

        Ms. Evans has written two books about her life and her personal experiences of engagement with the Bible, but neither book is a work of biblical scholarship, and it is clear from her conversational writing style that neither one is intended to be. I don’t see that she is setting herself up as a teacher. She is just telling her story.

  12. This book doesn’t deserve an intellectual review but needs to be dismissed for what it is: A spin-off of A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically, and to a lesser degree of Eddie Dobson’s The Year of Living Like Jesus. It’s another junk-food Christian book designed to sell lots of copies, entertain people, and accomplish little.

    1. Jeremy says:

      Her goal is to let the world know that “Hey everyone I know there are some stupid Christians out there who are stuck in patriahchialism and I hate them too, but you don’t have to follow them. The Bible is liberating to women so don’t reject Jesus because of Mark Driscoll.”

  13. The name “Keller” and problems with biblical interpretation (the hermeneutics of social justice to cite one major problem) aside, there is a very important point here.

    Evans does a disservice to egalitarians. She treats them as fools, in my opinion, as if most of them are too uninformed and so prejudiced as to overwhelmingly believe this juvenile exercise explore and uncovers any cogent or germane arguments that contribute to their positions.

    If I were an egalitarain, I would be insulted by this stunt and view it as a mere gimmick to gain attention for Evans and sell books. She makes a mockery of her readers who may share the doctrines which she claims to hold.

    If one wishes to be egalitarian, so be it but have enough self-respect to refuse to be led about by clownish arguments and displays. There are far better and more informed proponents who, at least in your error, will permit you to retain a bit of dignity. It is no different that those who use the arguments of conservative hucksters with their gimmicks like “Forty Days to A Fabulous and Incredible Spirituality that Magically No One Knew About Until I Wrote My Book and You Bought It”.

    Lovingly,

    Alex

  14. Hermonta Godwin says:

    Here is a good article by D. A. Carson about properly understanding Matthew 18 and the call to private critique before public critique – http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/editorial_on_abusing_matthew_18

    1. Rachael Starke says:

      YES. It’s starting to become the Christian version of the “Hitler!” meme – the first one to take that passage out of context automatically loses. :)

      1. taco says:

        I think that should be formalized

    2. Dekortage says:

      Hermonta, I appreciate that link, but I am unsure how it applies to this article or the comments. It does not seem related to Proverbs 27:6, which is being improperly claimed here.

      1. Hermonta Godwin says:

        Dekortage,
        Are you simply saying that the critique/review is fine but simply the wrong justification behind it is being used?

        1. Dekortage says:

          I haven’t read the book myself, so I have no idea if the review is right or not.

          But to write an attacking “letter” to a stranger, and to call them your “friend”, and then to justify the “attack” with Scripture… is just wrong. So it kind of throws the rest of the review into doubt for me. I mean, someone who would use Scripture in such a self-serving and flippant manner is likely to do it elsewhere.

  15. bummed observer says:

    JT,

    Interesting post. A couple of observations. Friend? The meaning and language of friend is completely abused in scholarly circles and the streams of Christendom. You have misunderstood the proverb and given a truncated application. Hermeneutically the proverb needs to be interpreted in light of how Christ is a friend.

    That being said, as a reformed believer I am disappointed that Evans is being so widely criticized. There really is no reason to criticize her as a false teacher or second rate scholar. She simply sees herself on a faith journey, let’s let her have her journey, but like Oz pay no attention.

    I think it would be more helpful if you could provide some insight into the tragic events that have unfolded within our own camp with our dear brothers and sisters at SGM. The little I have heard has caused me great concern, but the lack of address by TGC or others has made me feel concerned as well. This needs to be addressed. A statement communicating the heinousness of abuse needs to be crafted, as well as one that admits that there has been sin in the camp. Judgment needs to be withheld on all sides, until the legal process works itself out. Anyway, those are my two cents that we would be better served by a pastoral response to the abuse allegations then going after the low hanging fruit of egalitarianism.

    1. The claim that Rachel Evans is on a journey and we should just leave her alone because she’s on a journey is not true that is not all she is doing. She is posturing herself as a Teacher and interpreter of Scripture to the body of Christ at large via the at large publication of her book. Therefore it is in fact incumbent upon Christians and particularly Christian leaders and Teachers to vet and evaluate her teaching and modeling.

      1. bummed observer says:

        Alex,

        She may or may not be a false teacher, I have not read her book nor listened to her. My point is that she probably wrote the book for entertainment purposes and to simply attempt to ruffle peoples feathers. I doubt anyone, especially those who read this blog, is really looking to her as a scholar/teacher. I could be wrong, so we can freely disagree over the minutia. My main concern was the other issue I mentioned which seems like a huge deal and yet is being treated like the emperor’s clothes. Thanks for your thought. May you have a blessed day enjoying the undeserved mercies of God’s love expressed in Christ.

        1. For one to present themselves as a Teacher and interpreter of Scripture to the body of Christ, at large, and to pursue that role as one who argues against long-standing doctrines, is no matter of minutia. She is quite serious in her book with her attempt to use the device she does to demonstrate evidence of her arguments. While she might have been entertained, her objective was not one of mere entertainment. If she wants to take the role of a Teacher of the Bible at large, she is going to get vetted this way. I agree with one point, few that read TGC blog see her for themselves as a Teacher.

  16. Phil says:

    So sorry this clutter ends up distracting so much time! It’s like the opening a giant package only to realize its mostly packing peanuts and fancy wrapping. But at least one can have consistent expectations.

    1. Clay Crouch says:

      Is your comment about the book or the endless, predictable reviews? Or, perhaps both?

    2. Phil says:

      I’ve dismissed Mrs. Rachel’s works as a benefit. Polemics sometimes involve easy targets, but I’m not going to spend energy (or cash, or data) to interact with a consistent target that’s just got good marketing and knows how to generate controversy. Mrs. Keller HAS chosen friendship as a generous possibility. Someone has to. I’d rather not.

      1. Clay Crouch says:

        Oh, so I guess you mean the book and not the endless, predictable reviews.

    1. Clay Crouch says:

      Is your comment about the book or the endless, predictable reviews? Or, both?

  17. david carlson says:

    I would consider the blog post more seriously if the TGC actually went after groups like quiverfull and others, which is what Rachel is really responding to. There is a reason Jesus went after the pharisees most often. It is unfortunate that you give them a free pass

  18. taco says:

    Ms. Evans is nothing more than a troublemaker. The title of this post is very fitting for her work.

    1. Clay Crouch says:

      So said the pharisees about Jesus and Peter and John and Paul. Being a troublemaker is, in itself, not reason enough to dismiss someone.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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