Rachel Held Evans: What Are Her Critics Afraid Of?

"As a Christian, my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar"-RHE


A number of years ago, Ben and Jerry, of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, decided to start selling their iconic ice cream in supermarkets. But, they bumped up against an obstacle. Haagen-Dazs  (owned by Pillsbury) threatened to pull their ice creams from the shelves of any supermarket which sold Ben and Jerry's brand. Not only did Ben & Jerry file suit against the parent company, Pillsbury, but the guys began their now famous “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” Jerry even flew to Pillsbury’s headquarters in Minneapolis and picketed outside, handing out “What’s the Dough Boy Afraid Of?” pamphlets. You can read about their amusing and successful endeavor here.

My husband and I enjoyed following their antics. To this day, whenever we see similar conflicts, public or private, we often say to one another, “What’s the Dough Boy Afraid Of?” That singular question often strikes at the root of many conflicts within the church as well.

So, when the outcry arose about Rachel Held Evan’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I asked, “What the heck are all of these complementarians afraid of? I wrote a post about this conflict prior to reading her book. It garnered the most comments we have ever received on a single post (542)!

What in the world is going on? I have a few ideas which we will discuss over the next week. In the meantime, unlike many of her critics who have not read her book, I decided to carefully study the book, ready to identify and pounce on anything that I thought might destroy the church in North America! When I finished, I wondered “What’s is all the fuss about?” In fact, I checked to see if my Kindle had left out any pages. It hadn't.

This was the book that caused so many in the Calvinista movement to imply Evans was an idiot; if not a heretic? This was the book that caused such a commotion that Evan’s had to spell out her Christian beliefs on her blog here?

The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.

Now, do I disagree with Evan's on some things. Absolutely. My focus for this review is on her book, not her blog and I liked the book. It gave me much food for thought. So many of the Calvinista complementarians approach this book as though it was a theological treatise on the role of women. It is not. It is one woman's view on what SOME of the various passages in the Bible have to say about women.Oh yeah, she did talk about some of the Neo-Calvinist untouchable pastors like John Piper which probably further inflamed her critics. On Wednesday, I intend to deal with Mary Kassian's disturbing perspective on this book. At that time I will look at some parts of the book that I do not discuss today.

First, let me say that Evans is a kind, humorous woman who goes out of her way to be gracious to those who think differently than she does. There were many times, as I read her book, that I thought she was much nicer than I would be. She is also more courteous than those who are criticizing her. I do not know if her  pundits realize that she is outclassing them every step of the way. I would far rather have tea with her than with some self-righteous women who have been dusted off and put out there for some complementarian men to hide behind. 

At the start of her experiment, she identified 10 commandments that she would use throughout the entire year. How many of you have heard and seen some of these things taught in your church? I sure have.

  1. Submit to her husband's will in everything.
  2. Devote herself to the duties of the home
  3. She would mother 
  4. Nurture a gentle and quiet spirit
  5. Dress modestly
  6. Cover her head in prayer
  7. Not cut her hair
  8. Not teach in church
  9. Not gossip
  10. Not have authority over a man

Then, at the start of each month, she would emphasize a goal or virtue along with some specific steps she would take to achieve her mission. Here are three months, along with some observations.


This first month she emphasized gentleness. She began her effort to kick the gossip habit and fined herself when she behaved as a contentious woman.This might include such things as swearing, complaining, being snarky, etc. At the end of the month, she sat on her roof as penance for her fines. She did not say that this was a command (like some reviewers who did not read her book claim). She merely decided to  illustrate that the Bible said it would be better for a man to live on the roof than in the house with a contentious woman.

One of the sweetest things throughout the chapters of her book was the inclusion of some of  the entries from a diary that her husband Dan kept during this year.  She referred to Dan as her greatest supporter. He would often refer to the two of them as Team Dan and Rachel. There is much to consider about this loving relationship which is based on their egalitarian view of marriage.  In fact, I often wondered just how different a great complementarian marriage would look. I think one would find it difficult to critique their relationship.

Rachel struggled with the idea of a gentle and quiet spirit. She says that

"mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn't mean changing her personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften."

She also pointed out that the word "gentle" is used for men in Scripture. Jesus was described as gentle (probably giving Mark Driscoll heartburn). One of the fruits of the spirit is gentleness. So, why is it usually brought up in church only in the context of females? 


Here she emphasized the trait of domesticity, both in cleaning and cooking. What puzzles me is the number of reviewers who claim she puts down those who work at home. She freely admits that domestic skills were not a strong suit of hers. She brings the reader along as she learns to cook, clean and organize better. She is complimentary of those who seem to know how to do all three tasks with ease.  However, she does question some of the mandates that have come out of the complementarian movement which might indicate that a woman who wishes to work outside of the home is shirking her responsibility.(More on this when I discuss Kassian's review.)

I was pleased when she brought up Brother Lawrence's book, The Practice of the Presence of God. He was a monk who worked in the kitchen of a  monastery and wrote of finding God amongst the pots and pans.The discussion of this book alone should have quieted the shrill protests that Evan's is demeaning homemaking. She ends by saying that elevating homemaking to a sacred act is good but that we should be wary of  elevating it

"above all others by insinuating that for women, God's presence is somehow restricted to that sphere."


In this month, she calls her husband Dan, Master, and interviews a polygamist. Now it really heats up and I love it while her critics have conniption fits. She outlines some of the gender specific mandates of the Old Testament which she calls "texts of terror." I really like that term and have taken to using it myself. 

  • If you were a slave or concubine, you had to be sexually available and ready to bear you master's wife's children if she could not.
  • Your master could beat you but not kill you.
  • If you were a wife, you were your husband's property.You could not pursue a divorce (he could) and you could not own property (he could).
  • If you were not engaged when raped, you had to marry your rapist.
  • If your husband accused you of premarital sex, to get out of the marriage, your parents were expected to produce evidence of your virginity in the form of bloody sheets saved fro the wedding night.
  • Polygamy was allowed. Men could have multiple wives and concubines. 2 Samuel 12:8 even says that God himself gave them these multiple wives.  "I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more." (NIV)

Evans says that she has heard all sorts of explanation about these passages from apologists. One was that the laws could be considered progressive compared to those of the surrounding culture,etc. She admits, in spite of these explanations, that she is still bothered by them and, if truth be told, so am I. 

The God who mandated these rules is still the same God that we follow today. However, it seems to me that most people in the church blow them off with a "Jesus changed all that so move along." Could it be that some of the anger directed towards Evans is due to the fact that she brings up very uncomfortable passages? By the way, in spite of some reviewers claims otherwise, she does bring up the fact that Jesus, Himself, often disregarded the "rules" of the Old Testament (gathering food on a Sabbath).

Evans makes a marvelous point that I have heard few make. She says we celebrate many women of the Bible such as Rachel and Rahab. But we often forget those who were hurt such as the daughter of Jephthah, sacrificed for a vow; Hagar,thrown into the wilderness by a jealous Sarah;Tamar who was raped in the king's house and an unnamed Levite concubine who was given over to a crowd to be raped and killed. She says we should remember their stories and honor them for their sacrifice as well.

Then she turns her attention to 1 Peter 2-1 Peter 3 and makes an interesting observation. Slaves are admonished to submit to their masters in I Peter 2:13. Then, 1 Peter 3 turns to married women using the words  "in the same way submit yourself to your husband." Could it be that this passage is telling women to submit like slaves did? But today, isn't slavery outlawed? Yet, women are to continue to submit like slaves? Slavery is now a heinous, outmoded institution but women must still submit in the same way? There is some food for thought here.

There were many more memorable moments in the book. Here are just a few.

She decided to keep the Passover and gets advice for an Orthodox woman in Israel.In preparation for the Passover, one must rid every tiny piece of any food that contains leaven in preparation for the feast. Meg Moesley, one of our commenters and author, pointed out how Evans said that this was difficult. It reminded her of how difficult (really impossible) it is to remove all sin from our lives.

One funny comment had to do with Paul's admonitions to not adorn oneself with pearls, gold or elaborate hairstyles, along with  Isaiah's comments that the Lord will snatch away the finery, necklaces, earrings, etc. She wondered if God hates "accessories." She learned about the orthodox view on dressing modestly. She said that the idea is to

"avoid dressing in a way that draws attention to your outer self, but to dress so that your inner self is allowed to shine through. You should try to look pretty but not alluring."

She  observed that

"most of the Bible's instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality."

She decided to observe the Levitical Purity Laws by undergoing twelve days of ritual impurity during menstruation. Another text of terror  from Leviticus 12  stipulates

"when a woman gives birth to a boy, she is considered ceremonially impure for 41 days, but when she gives birth to a girl, she is considered ceremonially impure for 70 days."

Also, the many laws surrounding a woman's period are fascinating.

  • Anything a woman lies on during her period is unclean.
  • Anyone who touches her during her period is unclean.
  • Anyone who touches anything that she sits on will be unclean-they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean until evening.
  • Even after her period is over, she must count 7 days before she will be ceremonially clean.
  • Then she must bring a sacrifice for the priest to "atone for the uncleanness of her discharge."

She transparently admits her fear of having children. She rented a robotic doll that mimics a newborn infant, complete with feeding and diaper changes. She was impressed with the full time needs of babies and is grateful to the women who care for their children.  In one of the more poignant moments, she observes how churches subtly teaches that getting married and having children is a woman's highest calling.

She aptly notes that,  in many churches, women will celebrate and throw showers for women who have babies but overlook women who achieve in other venues such as medical school, etc. She points out the many single women are sidelined by the church. In the best line of the book, she states that a woman's highest calling

"is not motherhood; it is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar."

Finally, she discusses how we need to reach out to the poor and the disenfranchised  in this world. She discussed the plight of the women and children who are sold into slavery and made to work in substandard conditions on coffee plantations. By the time I finished reading this section, I was on tour in Costa Rica. In a store, I sought out bags of fair trade coffee, a first for this coffee lover. Rachel got to me!

There is so much more that I did not cover. But I think I know why the "dough boy is afraid." Evans is asking hard questions. Even more terrifying,  she is getting recognition for doing so. Could it be that she is asking the same questions that many people ask when they deal with the Bible and women? And, as you will see from Wednesday's post, the complementarian crowd thinks they have explained everything that needs to be explained. They cannot understand why Evans, and for that matter, women like myself are unable to grasp their supposed "biblically expert explanations."

They do not understand why many women are rejecting complementarianism as expressed by those like John Piper. Are they  clueless on how his pronouncements on women might not be well received? These include:

  • Endure abuse for an evening
  • Don't usurp a man's authority when giving him road directions
  • Christianity has a masculine feel
  • Women should not get muscular

These "experts" believe that the world should be paying attention to them, not some upstart young woman who doesn't go to the right church or adhere to the obvious superiority of  the complementarian argument. I think they are afraid and have taken the low road of insults Instead of addressing the obvious inadequacies of their confusing arguments.

Evans has something to say, and she says it well. She is the voice of a new generation of women. She needs to be treated with the same grace and respect that she shows in her writings.

I hope you enjoy this explanation of "how to handle your period," Old Testament/American  style.

Lydia's Corner: Numbers 11:24-13:33 Mark 14:22-52 Psalm 52:1-9 Proverbs 11:1-3


Rachel Held Evans: What Are Her Critics Afraid Of? — 417 Comments

  1. Dear Beakerj
    A quote from the Works of William Bridge, volume 2

    Therefore God leads his people into the field, that they may fight; but in all this fight, God stands by, Christ stands by, love stands by; and God hath no design but of love upon his children in their temptations.

    Best wishes

  2. No real secret. Only admins see the nifty editors.

    And after some of the royal foul ups they have caused at times due to programming bugs or breakage due to WordPress updates I have absolutely no plans to enable them for everyone. I’d love for Dee and Deb to become HTML writers but that’s not going to happen.

    This is a major ongoing hassle with WordPress.

  3. Guy – I have a WordPress blog and *hate* their WSWYG editor, so I hand-code. (Which I learned to do via my longtime Blogger blog, which was a hand-coding only setup until recently – and even now, I still prefer to type in most HTML tags.)

    Guess I’ll just have to go check a page on HTML coding… ah well.

  4. numo – You just made my point. I do not want to be in the business of being the help desk for people using the WP editor.

  5. Guy – I hear you, but at the same time, I think it might be helpful to be able to point people to an article or FAQ (or whatever) on some basic HTML tagging.

    This topic does come up fairly often, and I’m sure people can figure out how to do open/close tags and all that.

  6. Guy – Blogger’s latest interface actually makes it necessary for me to be hand-doing “break” tags, which is beyond ridiculous – worse than WP.

    The number of things that get broken when online services install “upgrades” never ceases to amaze me!

  7. Thanks Dee! I look forward to hearing the songs [right now I’m listening to Chopin’s Prelude in D flat major also known as the Raindrops Prelude]. Actually it was elastigirl who brought up the subject of Jesus’ humanity. In my opinion, and for too many centuries now, Jesus’ humanity has only been glossingly acknowledged by the Church, sanitized, and never too up close and personal.

  8. ” In my opinion, and for too many centuries now, Jesus’ humanity has only been glossingly acknowledged by the Church, sanitized, and never too up close and personal.”

    A big amen to that.

  9. I think it might be helpful to be able to point people to an article or FAQ (or whatever) on some basic HTML tagging.

    As I said the other day. There are 1000s of site you can find via Google or Bing that show people hw to do HTML tags.

    But we have had issues where entire posts and comments on them are not viewable due to people making mistakes when “getting cute”. Then I get to go into the database and try and find the mistake and fix it by hand via MySQL record edits. So I’m making this somewhat self selecting. If you have to ask how, please don’t do it.

    And I did show folks how to blood, italic, and blockquote.

  10. A simply “preview” of our posting would go a long way to make things easier in that regard. If not a preview, then the ability to edit a post where we could correct mistakes.

  11. GBTC –

    You showed us how to “blood”?!?!

    That sounds a bit messy! Dee and Deb might need to send you for a mental check-up 🙂

  12. <b?How About Using Joomla Instead of Word Press, Guy Behind the Curtain

    Have you thought about switching to the Joomla content management system since WordPress is always a nightmare and TWW has grown into a large website as opposed to still being the simple type of blog it started out as and for which Word Press is designed for.

    I haven’t tried them, having used Jooomla after one bad WP experience, but there are several tools that reputedly make changing from WP to Joomla pretty seamless.

    Just a thought…

  13. but there are several tools that reputedly make changing from WP to Joomla pretty seamless.

    All it takes is time. Which equates to $$. We run this place on a fairly lean budget for a site that gets 1000s of unique visitors per day. And there’s the “if I get hit by a bus” factor. Way more WordPress wizards in the wild than Joomla. 🙂

    You should have seen the switch from iWeb w/ mobile me to WordPress / Godaddy. 🙂

    As to blood vs. bold, maybe a Freudian slip?

  14. How to bold and such.
    And if you want to do more but don’t know how then PLEASE just don’t do it!

    other text <b>text to be bolded</b> other text
    other text <i>text to be italicised</i> other text

    <blockquote>this is how to quote a bunch of text a special way</blockquote>

    And here’s what you get if you actually type in the above.
    other text text to be bolded other text
    other text text to be italicised other text

    this is how to quote a bunch of text a special way

    My point being if you really don’t understand what’s going on here, just type.

  15. Evans is a package. She is a liberal who promotes the fatally false notion of God blessed homosexuality and she has to decide whether she embraces the gospel or universalism which she says she believes also. That is good old time heresy plain and simple. Or used to be. From what I’ve seen on her blog she is a grotesque bible butcher of the first order and in a healthy church would be put out for her own redemption. We’re far tolerant for that nowadays though. This should be the part where everybody assumes abuncha stuff about me which I’m more than used to.

  16. Greg

    I like Evans. She challenges us to ask questions and to examine our paradigms. She is a young woman who is going through a period of questioning like many of us have done. She is being honest about it unlike some of us who clam up and deep six all doubts.

    If you examine our blog, you will find Deb and I a bit more conservative. But, we think her questions and observations have validity and we need to see if we can answer her from our point of view. As you will see, I did a series on homosexuality and also interviewed Justin Lee. I came to a different conclusion than Evans (although I am not sure she has reached any final conclusions) and am still friendly with Lee.

    Before I started this blog, I spent years reading ExChristians and other blogs written by people who have left the faith. They taught me a whole bunch and I will always be grateful to that venue, even though I got my head bit off on a couple of occasions. 

    Here is where i will disagree with you. Evans did a post in which she outlines what she believed about the faith. There is little doubt in my mind that, if what she says she believes in is true and I have no reason to doubt her, she is a Christian. To judge otherwise would be taking on the purview of the Almighty and i am not that bold. She has successfully challenged the stronghold of Young Earth Creationsim and the basis for the role of women in the church. Her series on Esther directly challenged Mark Driscoll’s “Queen Esther is a Slut” comments. 

    I do not believe that she is a universalist. She honestly shares her struggles of eternal torture for eveyone who does not believe. Any Christian who claims she/he has not grappeled with that in the course of their faith is either shallow or lying

    As for you, Greg, I have no idea who or what you are and make no assumptions. However, I disagree with some of your conclusions which is not the same as making assumptions.

  17. Greg

    Quick question. You use the name Tribulus. Can you explain the significance of that in your life?