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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Eshet Chayil: Good news from Rachel Held Evans

There is much to say about Rachel Held Evans’s recently released book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood. So much, in fact, is already being said that I’m reticent to add more noise to that - spirited - conversation. (In full disclosure, I've pitched a piece to another blog that addresses some of the misguided assumptions of that conversation. Stay tuned.) But in case you’re not up on the debate and want to be, here are some fabulous reviews to read about Evans’s yearlong experiment at womanhood according to (what she calls) the standard of biblical literalism.

I may not agree with everything that these reviewers have said, but I think they present important points and represent some of the major dimensions of the debate.

New Testament Scholar Ben Witherington finds praise for The Year of Biblical Womanhood

Kathy Keller, at the Gospel Coalition blog, disputes Evans's approach

Rachel Held Evans responds to Kathy Keller

Matthew Anderson's even-handedly review at Mere Orthodoxy

Of course, what I suggest most vigorously is not that you read reviews but that you read the book. And why? Because if you're a Christian woman, you have a stake in the debate over Biblical womanhood. Evans doesn't say all there is to say; in fact, there is much she leaves out, and there are real problems with her approach and conclusion. But whether or not I agree or disagree with Evans, I concede that she figures importantly into this conversation.

And there are winsome and beautiful parts to what I would describe as an otherwise theologically troubled book. I find much on which I can agree with Evans. And most of all, I want to publicly thank her for assuaging the guilty Proverbs 31 conscience of many contemporary Christian women, under whose prescriptive weight we have flagged.

By exposing the myth that Proverbs 31 has meant to prescribe biblical womanhood, Evans reclaims its original intent: to praise women.

"Eshet chayil [woman of valour] is at its core a blessing - one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally. . . In Jewish culture, husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal usually in a song.

I dig this interpretation - probably because I, like you, know my own failures intimately. I see weakness, rather than strength. I am attuned to my failures more than my successes. My inner voice chides and corrects, scolds like the finger-wagging mother that my mother never was but that I have become.

We need blessing, all of us, and this is fundamental to the gospel project. When God came to Abraham and preached the gospel, he said this: "I will bless you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Public blessing  - especially for the members of our very own families - is a great gift of love. It is an expression of the gospel of living water - it slakes our thirst for affirmation. We need to hear that more is true of us than failure and deficiency and falling short. We need grace.

Tomorrow, I'll continue a blog tradition and will bless a child who is celebrating his birthday.

"Mom, will you write on your blog about me tomorrow?" Nathan asked last night as he headed up to bed.

He must be looking forward to those words of blessing.

As would I.

Eshet chayil!