Biblical womanhood–the belief that God designed women to be submissive wives, virtuous mothers, and joyful homemakers–pervades North American Christianity. From choices about careers to roles in local churches to relationship dynamics, this belief shapes the everyday lives of evangelical women. Yet biblical womanhood isn’t biblical, says Baylor University historian Beth Allison Barr. It arose from a series of clearly definable historical moments.
This book moves the conversation about biblical womanhood beyond Greek grammar and into the realm of church history–ancient, medieval, and modern–to show that this belief is not divinely ordained but a product of human civilization that continues to creep into the church. Barr’s historical insights provide context for contemporary teachings about women’s roles in the church and help move the conversation forward.
Interweaving her story as a Baptist pastor’s wife, Barr sheds light on the #ChurchToo movement and abuse scandals in Southern Baptist circles and the broader evangelical world, helping readers understand why biblical womanhood is more about human power structures than the message of Christ.
I picked up this book after reading an article written about it around the time it was released earlier in the year. The premise sounded interesting and the fact that Barr is a historian intrigued me. It proved to be a readable, and fascinating, summary of essentially how Christian patriarchy came about.
In the first chapter of the book Barr breaks down the origins of patriarchy and the fact that Christian patriarchy is actually hardly different from secular patriarchy. Barr poses the question,“What if patriarchy isn’t divinely ordained but is a result of human sin?” She then lays out exactly why this is the case, taking the reader through history and sharing the pieces of writing that helped her to arrive at this conclusion. This first chapter is a perfect example of how The Making of Biblical Womanhood flows: historical facts, modern parallels and Barr’s personal experiences.
Through the pages of this book Barr walks the reader through a variety of topics intimately related to her subject, Biblical womanhood. As the book progresses she asks: “What if Biblical Womanhood doesn’t come from Paul?” and proceeds to discuss issues of translation and the bias of translators, as well as the fact that Paul’s words were interpreted quite differently initially. After reading the majority of the book, the reader arrives at the final chapter, and Barr’s final question, “Is it time to set women free?”
Barr’s final question and its answer, a resounding yes, is foreshadowed throughout the entire book as Barr shares how she became free from a system that limited and oppressed her. Barr, a professor and historian, grew up in and spent the first several decades of her life in the Southern Baptist church. In 2016, her husband, a youth pastor, was fired after they, as a couple, raised the topic of women in leadership through an email to a church leader. The fallout of that email devastated Barr and her whole family, but it also freed her to write this book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood.
Barr opens the book by making it very clear who her intended audience is: evangelicals, those who currently live steeped in the messages and lies she completely tears apart in this book. In many ways, I am not part of her intended audience and these ideas were not new to me, but I found this book to be both fascinating and wonderfully educational. I certainly would not mind revisiting it in the near future and spending more time understanding the historical elements of this subject.
Any thoughts to share? What was the last non-fiction book that you read? Are you someone who finds non-fiction boring or do you enjoy it?