A woman of valor

Holding our Scriptures to tough standards is not a matter of disrespect but of courage.

By Wes Spears

The latest book to cause a stir in the often echo chamber-like Christian blogosphere is Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In it, Evans spends a year trying to live up to the supposed imperatives and models the Bible has for women.

She tries to become the fabled Proverbs 31 woman. She learns to cook and sew, she covers her head when she prays, and she even praises her husband at the city gate by standing at the outskirts of Dayton, Tenn., holding up a sign saying “Dan is AWESOME.”

At the end of the day, however, Evans’ point is not just about womanhood. It is about the Bible.

Evans has received no shortage of criticism since the publication of her book. Kathy Keller, wife of pastor Tim Keller, wrote a scathing review of it. Trillia Newbell, writing for John Piper’s blog, said Evans undermined the truth of Scripture.

LifeWay Christian Resources ostensibly dropped the book for its use of “vagina,” but it probably had more to do with Evans’ thoughts on gender. Needless to say, plenty of people in evangelical circles call Evans a heretic, but I am increasingly finding that to be an admirable quality in people.

I am not going to defend Evans or her book. Frankly, she doesn’t need a man to defend her honor. She’s brilliant in her own right, and you should read her stuff.

I would rather address her critics. Many who have negatively reviewed Evans’ book have a very particular view of our sacred texts. They balk at the use of historical criticism and contextualization, only using it to ridicule Evans’ often tongue-in-cheek treatment of the Levitical code.

They call her dangerous and unfit to lead for her rigorous testing of the Bible. They aim, in their rhetoric, to shield the Bible from questions about colonialism, misogyny and unjustified violence.

I do not think we should ever do that.

If the Bible is going to be central to our lives, it ought to be able to stand up to rigorous interrogation. What Evans is doing is helpful, but it is in many ways only beginner’s hermeneutics, designed for a popular audience. She knows there are more deep and dark questions down these rabbit holes. Those questions are worth asking, because we are not called to a faith worked out with warm fuzzies and sentimentality but with fear and trembling.

I only ask these questions because I have faith that God can take them. If I didn’t think God could stand up to criticism, I don’t think I’d much believe in God. As it is, every time, God has stood up to interrogation. Every time my relationship and understanding of God changes, and so do I. I think that’s called faith.

Holding our Scriptures to tough standards is not a matter of disrespect but of courage. In doing so, I think Evans is the eshet chayil, the woman of valor, Proverbs 31 talks about. We could all learn from her example.

So, no, I do not defend Evans; I praise her.

This commentary appeared previously in the Samford Crimson and is used here with permission.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.