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Rachel Held Evans (1981–2019)

Author of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

8+ Works 2,988 Members 118 Reviews 7 Favorited

About the Author

Rachel Held Evans was born Rachel Grace Held in Alabama on June 8, 1981. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Bryan College in 2003. She started working for The Herald-News in 2004. In 2007, she won an award from the Tennessee Press Association for the best personal humor column. An show more Episcopalian, she left the evangelical church in 2014 to find what she considered a truer, more authentic Christianity. She wrote four books including Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions; A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master; and Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. She died from extensive brain swelling on May 4, 2019 at the age of 37. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

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The structure of this book is, to me, somewhat odd: a mixed salad of personal memoir and impersonal theological/religious sermonizing. I found the former considerably more interesting than the latter, which I sometimes skimmed over, though she's a fine writer coming from a sympathetic theological place so it was all pretty agreeable. But it's her personal story of growing up in a very conservative evangelical situation and struggling hard with doubts about it, leading to her sometimes bitter estrangement from her tradition of birth (that World Vision episode... ugh) and transformation into a theologically "liberal" advocate that's the attention-getter here, isn't it.

Obviously, lots of people identify with her falling out with church, as the popularity of her blog and the steadily declining percentage of the US population identifying as Christian in surveys both prove. Plenty of those people just walk away and leave it all behind them, but others struggle with their doubts and faith, attend various churches in irregular starts and stops, and perhaps find online communities, such as her blog, that wrestle with these questions. Sometimes, like her, they even find the Episcopal Church (we welcome you!).

Her personal journey is quite interesting then, especially to the extent that it may reflect the changing attitudes of the younger generation of evangelicals as opposed to the attitudes of their parents' generations. I personally view evidence of these changes with great hope, though it's of course wrenching for many, which Evans communicates with great effect.

Ultimately, she finds, it's the stuff of the body, not the intellect, that draw her back to church. It's the primacy of the doing over the believing. It's the sacraments. It's the community.
When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn't meant to simply be believed; it's meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.
This is my experience as well. As much as I esteem the intellect, I did not feel closer to God and my neighbors when I was sitting at home doubting the particulars of Christian theology than I do when I attend church and come to the communion table. To paraphrase an advertising slogan, "Just Go and Do It". To quote a (Episcopal) priest at the communion table, "So come, you who have much faith and you who have little. Come, because God invites you."
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lelandleslie | 36 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
Rachel Held Evans is a beautiful writer. She has a literary way of entering the Scriptures fully as herself, and invites us into the same.

In this book she brings her whole self, and demonstrates how to show grace to ourselves and even to our enemies. She pours love for the reader and the world into every page. Her final chapter, Telos, is beautiful and heartbreaking. A chapter on a complete life when hers was cut so short.

I read it too fast although I really tried not to. I want to read it again and again.… (more)
 
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chailatte | 7 other reviews | Feb 5, 2024 |
100% fascinating and not what I expected.
 
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nogomu | 26 other reviews | Oct 19, 2023 |
Fundamentalist and evangelical preachers often try to enforce a “literal” interpretation on the Christian Scriptures. That perspective often removes the affective, emotional, and wonder-filled components – precisely the original authors’ main points. The late Rachel Held Evans was raised an evangelical but became an outspoken mainline Protestant before her untimely death. Here, she tells her story alongside the Bible’s story. She tries to recapture some of the amazement that drew many to read the Christian Scriptures in the first place.

Held Evans has the evangelical bona fides down. She grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Trial about evolution. She was raised in a conservative evangelical family and attended an evangelical college, majoring in English. However, as she grew up, she slowly became aware of a great insecurity among her evangelical leaders about the modern world. She eventually left evangelical circles, wandered a while, and became an Episcopalian. As she tells in this book’s beginning, she came to appreciate the Bible again by avoiding the pitfall of the defensiveness so prevalent in American conservative churches today.

After finishing her story, she spends the bulk of the book retelling the Bible story all over again. With a descriptiveness that only an English major could bring, she tells of the wrestling that she has done in subsequent years. She tells of her troubles with the wars and the rapes in Scripture. She tells of the lessons that she’s learned from each Biblical segment. She tells of wonder, struggles with St. Paul’s writings, and how all this brought her to appreciate the main point more.

Mainline Protestant Christians are this book’s main audience. Evangelicals often malign this group for straying from the Bible, but Held Evans argues otherwise. Her interpretation is utterly Biblical but open-minded towards learning and our common humanity. Evangelicals would do well to read this book, too, to learn how moderns can and do struggle with Scripture by “wrestling with God.” Held Evans’ writing possesses an earthiness shared by excellent Christian authors like CS Lewis and Madeline L’Engle that brings the faith to life. It’s worth one’s time to peruse this book.
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scottjpearson | 23 other reviews | Oct 3, 2023 |

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