It is a cause of considerable rejoicing and relief to me finally to finish this ridiculously long review and conversation around the themes and issues raised by Rachel Held Evans’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Unfortunately, as she is currently in the process of a move, Rebecca Wagner was not able to join me on this part as she has for the previous ones. However, I gave her a clear idea of what I was going to say beforehand and she suggested certain additions. She might add her own thoughts at some later point.
Within this final (very, very) lengthy discussion, I take a step back from the particular claims of the book to focus more attention upon the way that we frame discourse on theological questions in general, the cultural framing of our conversations on the vocation of women. I comment at length upon feminist accounts of history, patriarchy, gendered vocations in Scripture, the nature of biblical society (answering points raised about such practices as the bride price, polygamy, and the domination of men), and the relationship between specific cultural forms of practice in Scripture and modern application of biblical principles. I comment on feminism’s roots, methods, and tendencies. I suggest some ways in which more comprehensive recasting of the debate could lead to a very different set of solutions to the genuine and pressing problem of women’s marginalization within society and the Church.
Much was left out of my account, even though I scrapped several pages’ worth of dense notes about the relationship between biblical gendered vocations and the natural capacities of the sexes and a number more on the subject of an alternative theory of patriarchy and rather awkwardly dodged many of the questions around these issues in my recorded discussion. I threw several hostages to fortune, and I can already think of glaring flaws (more will occur to me in the morning). I considered not posting any of this at all.
However, since the goal of these reviews and discussions has never been to provide a definitive treatment of the innumerable issues that are raised (I am definitely not sufficient for such a Herculean task and feel those insufficiencies keenly), but rather to steer the conversation in a more profitable, illuminating, and fruitful direction, one that will hopefully engage with concerns of all sides to some extent, without comfortably coming down on the side of any, it is not necessary to get everything right first time. While we have been highly critical of Rachel Held Evans’s approach, our fundamental purpose has also been to encourage the greater opening up of the question of Christian womanhood in contexts that are generally inclined to close questioning down on this subject.
Although we have tried to shut down certain cases completely, I hope that these reviews are not taken to ‘settle’ anything: ideally they should shake all of us up, as they identify ‘Christian womanhood’ as a question that is still largely awaiting its practical answer. Also, in sketching the sort of form that such a solution would have to take, they suggest that seismic social change, rather than individually prescribed commandments are what is required of us.
I would appreciate people’s interactions in the comments here, or elsewhere online. Rebecca and I would both like to see challenging, critical, constructive, and self-aware analysis and interaction with the issues that we have raised over the course of this series. Ideas need to prove their mettle and be sharpened through disputation and ideological sparring, so we both particularly welcome alternative viewpoints that are open to receptive but spirited disagreement here. Unfortunately, I probably won’t have time to respond to comments much or at all over the next week, but I will hopefully return to them at some later point.
Thank you all so much for the time and thought that you have given to listening to and engaging with these podcasts!