Why Read and Review this Book?
If my memory serves correctly the first time I remember learning about Rachel Held Evans (RHE from here on) was when she appeared on the Today Show in 2012 to talk about her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It was fairly obvious to me then that she did not hold a very high view of the Bible, so when her new book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was released this year (2018) I was intrigued.
I was interested for a number of reasons. First, I haven’t actually ever read anything by RHE except her tweets. I thought I’d like to know what she was actually saying about the Bible. Secondly, some have touted her as a voice of the millennial generation. This is the generation of which I am part of, so naturally, I’m curious as to what people are saying we are saying. Frankly, she’s not a voice for me. Thirdly, it was my hypothesis that what RHE believes about the Bible is shared by many in the United States who profess to be Christians whether they are open about it or not. These reasons and more prompted me to read the book and offer a response.
Now, I’m not sure how many posts this will wind up being, but I want to be explicitly clear up front that there are abundant problems with the book ranging from historical errors to downright denial core Christian truths like propitiation and it’s curiously absent of words like “holiness” and “repentance” (in terms of what kingdom living should really look like). RHE does not present to us an orthodox view of Christianity, and we must clearly label her as a false teacher.
Of course, RHE’s view on Scripture is something that needs to be discussed, but let me save that for a future post. I will mention that she says that her “aim with this book is to recapture some of that Bible magic, but in a way that honors the text for what it is” (xxi). She does not accomplish this (she treats the Bible as an inspiring group of tales instead of as the inerrant infallible word of the living God). More on that in subsequent posts. What I want to do today is to talk about her as a person for a bit and empathize as best I can for a moment for the problem she seems to be responding to today’s Christianity.
Who is Rachel Held Evans?
Evans resides in the Bible belt with her husband Dan, and two children. She is also a New York Times bestselling author. From what I can see on the outside looking in, RHE appears to be a devoted wife and mother. She has a relatable sense of humor. And she rightly raises some important issues, although she deceptively leads her readers away from God instead of to Him. And as you will see in subsequent posts, she has a bone to pick with conservative Christianity.
Let me clarify that I’m attempting to paint RHE in the best light possible without giving credibility to her teachings. I don’t want these posts to come across as ad hominem. As dangerous and hopeless as her teachings are, she still bears the Imago Dei and I can say that I have prayed for her. I hope you will too.
When you read someone’s work, you sort of feel like you get to know them in a way. So, when I read Inspired I was simultaneously angry and frustrated with RHE at times for her treatment of the Bible, while I also found myself heartbroken over the direction she has taken (see Psalm 119:136 and Psalm 119:158). Her “conservative upbringing” did not provide sufficient answers to her questions.
I might mention here, it wasn’t because it was a “conservative upbringing.” I might also mention that she comes across pretty condescending toward conservatives several times in her book. And while she feigns humility in spots, many places just come across as disingenuous at best and too often downright arrogant and mocking. In a way, it’s similar to Gnosticism. She is an enlightened one.
RHE recounts that when “the story began to unravel” (pg. xii), pastors, parents, friends, and others couldn’t provide her real answers to her questions (from her perspective). They just said things like “God’s ways are higher than our ways. Stop trying to know the mind of God” (pg. 65). Now, it’s rather obvious that a person who does not want to believe will find no answer suitable. But, the point remains, we who love the Bible can always work better at making sure we are doing our best to explain it rightly.
RHE sees problems with conservative Christianity treating the Bible as merely a moralistic answer book. She sees problems with the Sinner’s Prayer. She sees problems with people taking the Bible out of context. Now, I’m not seeing these issues in the exact same light as RHE (I’m looking at them from an orthodox Christian perspective), but on the surface, I see some of the same problems.
The issue is that we offer different solutions.
Love the Bible Enough to Explain It Well
I’m not a cultural expert, but I think that certain things assumed or even agreed upon by previous generations in terms of Scripture are being challenged by my generation. This challenge doesn’t begin as an all-out war necessarily. The challenge begins with questions like “how?” and “why?” And when these challenges are dismissed or answered insufficiently (even by well-meaning people) it can leave a void that has the potential to be filled with something false.
Some millennials I know have turned to atheism. Others, like RHE, have turned to liberalism. I’m speaking of people who essentially grew up in a conservative, Bible-believing church. Now, in some cases answers were given but went unheeded. Again, I don’t know if RHE’s adolescence was really filled with Believers giving her solid answers to her questions and she was just rejecting them, or if she really never received solid answers to her inquiries. But I’d like to conclude this initial post with an exhortation to true believers.
Give more time to knowing the Bible more intimately. Read it and read it and read it. Open your mouth and pant for more of Scripture (Psalm 119:131). There certainly are difficult passages, wrestle with them. Understand basic hermeneutics. And if you don’t know that word, get to know it. If you are a teacher or preacher take your responsibility seriously (James 3:1). Don’t be dismissive of that 12-year old’s question. And don’t assume they understand what you’re talking about. Work to make your teaching plain and show how it clearly flows from the sound exegesis of Scripture.
What I’m saying is that we share in the culpability for the RHEs out there today if we don’t take seriously the teaching of the Bible. Labor to do all you can not to have someone like this sit under your teaching and be able to say “they never answered my questions.” Of course, I will reiterate that part of that is on the listener. Some don’t hear because they don’t want to hear.
RHE will have her own sins for which to answer. And probably her biggest sin is leading people away from Christ. Her mocking truth, disregarding God’s Word, and promotion of sinfulness has not escaped God’s notice.
But, let’s leave RHE out of for just a moment and consider this exhortation: let’s take the Bible seriously enough that we labor to show its beauty, clarity, sufficiency, authority, inerrancy, infallibility, necessity, and main focus: Christ. Maybe we can’t win RHE (assuming she ever *actually* understood true Christianity), but we can do our best to prevent more RHEs from happening.
As much as humanly possible, may no one misunderstand the Bible because of something I taught, failed to say, or lived.
I’m not through with the problems of RHE’s book. More to come in the next post…
After I had initially written this post I came across this post at The Domain for Truth. It’s more in-depth on the Introduction to the book.
I received this book free from booklookbloggers.com with no obligation for a “positive” review. As per the agreement with them I’m leaving the review I’m submitting to their site below:
In her book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans makes a case for loving the Bible without embracing it as the inerrant, infallible, authoritative, sufficient, and clear word of God. She posits that the Bible is a collection of stories, some of them true, and some not true, that are meant to inspire people to live life the way God would have us to live.
This is a new book that asks the question nearly as old as time itself: “Hath God really said?” Inspired is not a viable option for Christianity, but an attempt at dismissing the clear teachings of the Bible for the more “virtuous” path of “doubt” (which happens to just look a whole lot like 21st-century liberalism). Evans takes it upon herself to reconstruct some of the genres of the Bible into stories that aren’t necessarily true, but still have an important meaning, thus rejecting the view Jesus had of the Bible. The importance of this book, however, is that it does represent the worldview of many who are walking away from orthodoxy. It this sense, it is instructive.
Sadly, if nothing changes, Rachel Held Evans, and those she disciples through books like this, will only continue to go the way of apostasy eventually abandoning all semblances of Christianity.
Here are all the posts in the series: