I Could Learn From… Rachel Held Evans

A few months ago I picked up a memoir by new-to-me author Rachel Held Evans. The title of her book, Evolving in Monkey Town, intrigued me. I downloaded the book thinking I was purchasing a book about her struggle to reconcile science and faith. Rachel did hit that note. However, her memoir went further. Hers is the story of a woman who realized that her faith was not real-world worthy. Rachel recounts the intellectual and spiritual crisis she went through when she realized that there were questions about suffering, God’s morality, the Bible, and–yes, evolution– that her carefully constructed Christian world-view could not accommodate. Rachel had been intellectually groomed to combat evolutionists, humanists, universalists, and other garden-varied heretics at a Christian college named after the Monkey Trial’s prosecuting attorney William Jenning Bryan. Even so, she found herself wrestling with her thoughts, her faith community, and her God.

Here are three things I could learn from Rachel:

How to be gracious with those whom you don’t agree: Rachel doesn’t pull punches. She outlines her grievances with her religious tradition in no uncertain terms. But she is kind and honoring as she does so. Writing a screed would have been an easier book  to write. Instead, she writes with journalistic objectivity and just tells her story, protecting a community that she still loves even those she’s stopped seeing eye to eye with them. The result is a warm-hearted book.

Doubt is not the enemy. There are fewer things more damaging to faith than unattended doubt. Properly handled, doubt clears the rubble of false beliefs or creates intellectual reinforcement for convictions and beliefs that are found to be true. Doubt, properly handled, creates humility that comes from the realization “I could be wrong.” Rachel know this. Her story reflects her courage to unrelentingly chase down doubt wherever it took her. Failing to do so leaves a person flailing like small boat in a big storm.

Love is one of the fundamentals. If Rachel and I were ever to sit across from each other at a table and list what we believe were fundamental truths about God we’d agree on many things and we’d have some heated disputes about others. I’ve wrestled with Rachel’s questions but have landed in several different places than she. I’m fairly sure that if I talked long enough that Rachel might be tempted to shove her #2 pencil into my right temple, just to make the intellectual dissonance stop. But she’d refrain. Rachel closes her book with the recognition that sorting ourselves in camps of theological fundamentalists, fundi-gelicals, progressives, or liberals doesn’t accomplish the highest Christian virtue– the ability to love God and others.

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FCC Disclosure: I received no compensation or product in return for this review.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Larry, I’m gonna disagree with you about doubt. Lots of verses say we need to be sure about what we believe, and some verses describe doubters as weak.
    Many of those who say that doubt is OK (in its various forms; they might say “I don’t pretend to know all the answers”) do, in fact, have things they are sure about. Just depends on the topic. I am sure that slavery in the US was wrong. I am sure that Jesus is the one path to God. I am sure that I am extremely good-looking.

    Like I said, I have some verses, but I can’t pull that together right now at work, but I will do it this weekend, and I’d be interested in your thoughts once I do that.

  • http://www.larryshallenberger.com Larry


    I don’t saying is that doubt is where you want to stay. I’m saying that when it occurs, deal with it. Denying it’s existence isn’t the same thing as not doubting.

  • http://movethemountains.blogspot.com/ ChadJ

    Just finished reading her book last night (stayed up way too late). Thought-provoking, challenging, but ultimately fulfilling. Like you, I don’t think I’d come to some of the same conclusions the came to. In a sense, my faith journey was the antithesis of hers: I wasn’t raised to believe in (even myself), or defend, anything. The only thing I was sure of was that I wasn’t sure of anything. I came to Jesus not because I was looking for Him, but because He pursued me. Many folks planted seeds, but the wonderful woman who has been my wife for 20 years displayed His love convincingly, unconditionally, to me. And that made all the difference. Plus she’s pretty hot, too!

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