Kathy Keller Reviews: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

October 30, 2012

Not only a wonderful review of the book, but especially of the methodology employed by the author.  Kathy Keller (MA, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the assistant director of communications for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. She is the author of Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles (forthcoming, Zondervan) and co-author with her husband, Tim, of The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

Rachel Held Evans had at least two stated goals for writing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, according to the promotional material accompanying my advance review copy. Under “Why She Wrote the Book,” Evans says:

I’ve long been frustrated by the inconsistencies with which “biblical womanhood” is taught and applied in my evangelical Christian community. So . . . I set out to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year to show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way. My hope is that the book will generate some laughs, as well as a fresh, honest dialogue about . . . biblical interpretation. (emphasis mine)

Evans wants to show that everyone who tries to follow biblical norms does so selectively—“cherry picking” some parts and passing over others. She also says she wants to open a fresh, honest dialogue about biblical interpretation, that is, how to do it rightly and well. 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.

The best way to accomplish both of your goals would have been to attempt to live by all the commandments the Bible genuinely addresses to Christian women, while discussing the rules of responsible interpretation along the way. I would have been glad to read a book like that, whether I agreed with its conclusions or not. However, that is not the book you wrote. Instead, 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 . . . .

You say your ultimate goal is not to determine what the biblical authors say, but to see in the Bible “what I am looking for.” You go on immediately to say, “Are we reading with the prejudice of love or . . . of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?” (296) 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.

Rachel, I can and do agree with much of what you say in your book regarding the ways in which either poor biblical interpretation or patriarchal customs have sinfully oppressed women. I would join you in exposing churches, books, teachers, and leaders who have imposed a human agenda on the Bible. However, 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.

As a woman also engaged in trying to understand the Bible as it relates to gender, I had hoped for better.

2 responses to Kathy Keller Reviews: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

  1. Hi Kathy! I’ve been wondering whether or not to comment, seeing as I’m not a regular here. I’ve reread this review a few times now, and kinda wonder if we were reading the same book! You’ve misrepresented Rachel’s ultimate goal, saying it’s to ask “What am I looking for?”; Rachel says (on page 296) that “there are times” when this can be an instructive question to ask ourselves when reading. Her ultimate goal seemed to be more about love than agendas.

    The “What am I looking for?” question is obviously one that requires us to think through our own agenda when reading andi interpreting the Bible, which is something Rachel grapples with humbly and openly throughout the book. As you mentioned early in the review, Rachel says that *everyone* is selective in how they read and interpret the Bible; she never claims to read it agenda-free, merely to make sure her agenda is one of love. It’s strange to use the word ‘despises’ in a response to this book – I found it so gracious and loving in tone that it strikes me as odd to hear that Rachel despises anything!!

    I hope you’re able to get in touch with Rachel eventually and have a friendly conversation about it all; if you feel like recording it, I’m sure many would love to listen in!! 🙂

  2. I really found Kathy Keller’s review to be unfortunate. I was pretty surprised that she was able to get through the whole book without being melted by the disarming humble genuineness that Rachel exudes throughout. This is my response to Kathy and review of Rachel’s book: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/biblicalwomanhood-what-kathy-keller-missed/

    You might also appreciate a piece I wrote for Reformation Day on the way that Augustine in his De Doctrina Christiana promotes the same hermeneutical standard that Rachel describes as a “prejudice of love” with which she reads the Bible: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/reformation-day-restoring-augustines-hermeneutic/