By Beth Allison Barr
Brazos Press, 2021
Paperback, 244 pages
Reviewed by Amy Rivers
The Making of Biblical Womanhood is not only a timely examination of patriarchy packaged as complementarianism in modern Christianity; it also is a call for both men and women to look critically at what is accepted as gospel truth, especially pertaining to the role and treatment of women.
Beth Allison Barr, Ph.D., has penned an insightful, evidence-based book that combines her academic work in the study of European women, medieval history, and the history of the church with raw and relatable experiences as a woman, an academic, a wife and mother, and an active member of her Southern Baptist community. The book begins with the heartbreaking story of her husband’s firing from his position as youth pastor and her family’s removal from their home church community, all based on the recommendation that a woman teach Sunday school to a group that included teenaged boys.
“I never meant to be an activist,” Barr says in the opening line of The Making of Biblical Womanhood. As a lifelong devoted Christian, the upheaval caused by her husband’s termination forced Barr to take an honest and sometimes painful look at her own complicity in supporting the patriarchal subjugation of women in modern Evangelical Christianity. As she pursued the topic, finding example upon example of the important and undeniable role of women in the church, she discovered that this doctrine was not only creating a toxic and abuse-laden environment, but also is historically untenable in the face of clear, factual evidence.
Barr builds her argument carefully, laying a foundation in scripture and historical writings that illustrates the ways historical and cultural context have been routinely discarded in favor of an interpretation of the Bible that supports current patriarchal ideas. This purported return to a literal interpretation of scripture neglects to consider issues of language and intended audience. It ignores the way Jesus himself treated women. Barr calls out the self-serving ways in which complementarian doctrine seeks to affirm male headship by relieving women of the power to lead and the right to have a voice, either in church or at home.
Barr’s examination of biblical womanhood is even-handed, despite the soul-wrenching events that led her to it. She is open about her personal trials, sharing the profound ways in which her life and faith were rattled. Where another author might have used this platform to eviscerate the contemporary church, Barr does not. Instead, she asks us to open our eyes to the damage complementarian doctrine does to women, to families, and to society. She asks that we see the true nature of patriarchy and its thirst for power to the detriment of not only women, but families and community as well. And she asks, “What if we finally stood together, united by our belief in Jesus instead of divided by arguments over power and authority?” I hope we do.
The Making of Biblical Womanhood starts a dialogue that is desperately needed in today’s world.
© 2021 by Christian Feminism Today.
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