Rachel Held Evans has written a book titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” and she seems to be making the same mistakes as a similar book: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (which I discussed here).
Evans “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.” But in an excellent review of Evans’s book, Kathy Keller explains where Evans’s hermeneutics went wrong:
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.
Perhaps the most basic rule—agreed upon by all branches of Christianity—is that Jesus’ coming made the Old Testament sacrificial system and ceremonial laws obsolete. Because Jesus taught that “all foods are clean” (Mark 7:19), and God told Peter not to call impure the things God has made pure (Acts 11:9), and because the entire books of Galatians and Hebrews explain this change at length, all Christians have known that observing the “clean laws” of the Old Testament is no longer incumbent on them.
Jesus called himself the final temple (John 2:21) and offered himself as the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is why no Christian anywhere has offered sacrifices since the crucifixion, nor observed the rules of temple worship (cf. Galatians and Hebrews). This most fundamental rule of interpretation is based on the fact that the Bible is the story of God’s salvation coming into the world, climaxing in Jesus, and therefore we can’t read the first part of the Bible as if Jesus never came in the last part.
That last line is exactly right, and it’s the most important point. It’s as if Evans has no idea what the Bible is actually about—no concept of the big picture of how all the parts fit together and why. And without this understanding, there are bound to be abuses of the text. (Read the full review here.)
I’ve noticed that questions about the relationship of Christians to the Old Testament Law have increased quite a bit lately. I suspect this has something to do with the rising pressure to accept same-sex marriage, which is often accompanied by the charge that Christians are picking and choosing Old Testament laws to follow. My theory is that Christians are asking themselves for the first time, “Hey, why aren’t we following all the Old Testament laws?” As a result, I’ve had questions from numerous Christians who are concerned they aren’t acting in a way that pleases God.
It’s crucial that we think through the issue of the Old Testament Law as Christians. In fact, this issue stirred up incredible passion on the part of Paul (see Galatians especially) and dominated much of his writing. If you’re unsure about our relationship to the Law, you could start with the review and this brief article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum: “The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ” (whose view is slightly different from Keller’s). Then just take up Galatians, then Hebrews, then move on to the rest of Paul’s letters. Read the same book over and over several times in a row, and follow the arguments carefully.
This issue is too central to the gospel and the Christian life to not look into it carefully. The freedom of the gospel and the beauty of God’s moral law are intended to bring us joy. If you’re suffering anxiety about your standing before God, I urge you to set aside the time you need to discover what God has said.
[B]efore faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3).
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery…. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5).
But whatever things [in my adherence to the Law] were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3).