When Smart Theologians Endorse Dumb Hermeneutics

I can’t remember when I’ve read a book that was so disrespectful to women

No serious person can read the book and not see that (Rachel Held) Evans is mocking the Bible. There’s no getting around that. When you twist God’s word, act as if a narrative description is a Biblical command, and then use it to satirize views that no one holds, then you are mocking both the Bible and Christians.


If you’ve been anywhere near the evangelical blogosphere lately you’ve probably heard that Rachel Held Evans finally published A Year of Biblical Womanhood, her lame Christianized knock-off of a silly stunt-book produced five years ago. I’ve read enough of Evans’ blog to know she has a low view of scripture, so I’m not much interested in hearing a book-length treatment of how silly she finds the Bible [Update: I broke down and bought a copy on Kindle. My thoughts are below]. But I am interested in the reactions to the book.

One of the best is the open-letter/review by Kathy Keller. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that Keller’s is one of the best book reviews I’ve ever read.

What sets the review apart from the others I’ve read is that Keller takes the book seriously, much more seriously than Evans took her goofy, attention-grabbing stunt. Keller treats Evans as a woman capable of clear thought and intellectual honesty—and then shows how she failed to apply either.

Compare Keller’s take to reviews by my Patheos neighbors—Peter Enns, Ben Witherington, and Roger Olson. Each of these men wrote reviews that were between warm and glowing, and each wrote reviews that were pandering and condescending.

If a student of Enns, Olson, or Witherington, had turned in a paper that applied as shoddy a hermeneutical approach as Evans uses in her book, they would have given them a failing grade. Yet work that would not pass muster in their class and would only be seen by a professor is lauded when it is made public. Each of these men has reduced their credibility by praising a hermeneutical approach that I have no doubt they disdainfully reject. Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing them for approving a method that I disapprove of; I’m saying these men—intelligent and respectable evangelical scholars all—are endorsing a method that they would normally condemn.

So why do they give their stamp of approval to a book that, as Keller says, ignores “the most basic rules of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation that have been agreed upon for centuries”? Is it merely a matter of tribalism? Is it because Evans shares the same theological “enemies” as they do, and so they feel obligated to come to her defense? I’m really curious to hear their reasoning.

Update: I’ll add my thoughts as I read through the book:

1. I can say with confidence that the people who are saying that Evans is being satirical in applying her hermeneutic don’t know what they are talking about. Here is a direct quote from the book which provides a representative sample of what her critics have been claiming:

The irony of course, is that while advocates of biblical patriarchy accuse everyone of biblical selectivity, they themselves do not appear to be stoning adulterers, selling their daughters into slavery, taking multiple wives, or demanding that state laws be adjusted to include death sentences for rape victims. . . at least not yet. Those who decry the evils of selective literalism tend to be rather clumsy at spotting it in themselves.

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