An Integrated Approach

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on “biblical” womanhood

The following is a section of Rachel Held Evans’ response to Kathy Keller’s critique of Evans’ book,  A Year of Biblical Womanhood . I highly advise reading the whole response, what she has to say about being a thinking, teach, speaking, embodied woman is lovely and useful. But her discussion of word biblical and how we use it to justify our own selective readings of scripture is the real meat.  The following chunk discusses so many of my frustrations with this word, especially as I experienced it’s usage in college, the word that could trump anyone’s moral high ground.

“But when we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word (like manhood, womanhood, politics, economics, values, marriage, and even equality), we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone, to turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. And more often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says. 

I have been told on more than one occasion that “just because something is in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s biblical.” That’s about as clear as mud, if you ask me! And it shows just how many assumptions go into any claim that this or that is “biblical” in the prescriptive sense. 

What frustrates me the most about complementarian conversations regarding “biblical womanhood” is not the fact that I disagree with a complementarian interpretation of the text but the fact that complementarians consistently insist that they are not, in fact, interpreting the text, but simply reading and applying its clear teachings, and that anyone who might disagree with their conclusions must simply hate the Bible and have no interest in faithfully living by it.  But this idea of a simple, unbiased, and patently obvious hermeneutic is an illusion. It is appealed to, but never explained; cited, but never explored or unpacked. 

…Which one of many reasons why I wrote A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I wanted to unpack that phrase and ask what sort of presuppositions we are bringing to it. ”

Later in the article she continues:

“…this idea of a simple, unbiased, and patently obvious hermeneutic is an illusion. More often than not, appeals to “biblical womanhood”…or “biblical” anything for that matter… represent an oversimplification, a reductive approach to biblical interpretation that fails to at least acknowledge its own hermeneutical biases. We all have these biases. We all have to interpret the text. We’re all selective as a result. That’s not the problem. The problem is denying that this is the case! “

I do not believe that Evans’ is trying to start or fan a debate. Here I think she sets a platform for an honest discussion, involving proper questioning and discourse, where the process of engaging is more important than who becomes what product.  While I have linked Keller’s critique, I have done so for the sake of telling the story of how these paragraphs have come to existence, not to create a dichotomy or even a Hegellian model of thesis-antithesis(synthesis is not the goal here). If you get caught up in taking sides, you’ve missed the point.