For now, this is my last post on Rachel Held Evans’ (RHE from now on) new book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Congratulations if you’ve made it through the other 6! You probably could have read half her book by now.
I need to clarify that I’m not able to address every problem with RHE’s book. I don’t have the time or even the motivation to go into every detail. But I do want to address the main issues. I hope I have covered them sufficiently.
In this concluding post, I want to issue a warning to those who might be on the same trajectory as RHE.
When I was in college our local BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) would show Nooma videos put out by Rob Bell. This was in 2005/2006 before Bell was labeled as a heretic. There were problems then, don’t get me wrong, but the issue was people didn’t take them too seriously. Now, 12+ years later I have seen the road traversed by Bell traveled by others, and RHE is among them.
What I’m trying to say in this post is apostasy doesn’t happen overnight. No one goes to bed orthodox and wakes up a heretic. The transition is more subtle than that and can often take a person several months or years.
I hope to avoid the slippery-slope fallacy here. I’m not saying everything I’m going to mention automatically leads to someone becoming a heretic or writing a book like Inspired. But my hope is to show warning signs that you might be on a dangerous trajectory that if left unchecked might cause those of us who are faithful to sadly say “farewell.”
So, let me offer some warning signs:
Starting with Experience over Scripture
The classic mistake of RHE is allowing what she sees around her every day to interpret the Bible for her. She is starting with her experiences, and then moving to the Bible. She is trusting her “instincts”, her understanding of morality, her view of justice, etc. to arrogantly determine what is true and untrue in Scripture. And then she uses the “stories” of Scripture, twisting them as needed, to bolster her already established worldview.
This is the exact opposite of how we should treat the Bible. We don’t use our experiences to explain the Bible, we use the Bible to explain our experiences. We don’t start with a philosophy of man to explain God, we start with what the Bible has to say about God in order to explain man and the human condition.
The concern here is that many people who call themselves conservative Christians treat the Bible this way. They refuse to embrace important truth in Scripture simply because they have not “experienced it that way.” This is a dangerous error. To reject the Word of God is to reject the God of the Word. It is to say that Scripture is not sufficient for knowing and doing the will of God (yet it is).
I’m afraid we will continue to see an exodus of once professing orthodox Christians to the way of Rob Bell and RHE in the coming years. The journey toward denying inerrancy begins with the single step of rejecting Scripture’s sufficiency.
Pragmatism, Pragmatism, Pragmatism
“The question is not should women be allowed to preach? but Do women preachers help or hurt the advancement of the gospel and the preservation of unity? Paul was smart enough to know the answers to these questions would vary form church to church and person to person, so surely he was smart enough to also know they would vary form culture to cutlure and century to century.” (pg. 214 emphasis original)
This is scary to me, not for RHE’s sake, but because I see this very line of reasoning in so many conservative, sometimes even Reformed, circles. I once interviewed a pastor that said “I’ll do whatever it takes to get someone to become a Christian. If it takes a rubber chicken tied around my neck, I’ll do it!”
That may sound noble (and simultaneously insane), but the reality is Scripture gives us not only the message of the gospel but also the method for getting it out — namely faithful proclamation. I don’t mean to suggest there isn’t room for creativity, but what I’m warning against is this idea that “anything goes” for the sake of the gospel.
This is RHE’s argument. As long as the gospel is advancing (which she doesn’t biblically define) it’s ok for women to preach, homosexuals to marry, and for the Bible to be treated as less than the Word of God. Many conservative churches would rightly reject her conclusions while at the same time show Hollywood movies as sermon series, plant attractional/affinity based churches, and compromise holiness all in the name of the mission of Jesus.
This is pragmatism. This is the “whatever works” mentality. And this seed bears a wicked fruit.
Pragmatism is dangerous because it treats the Bible is simply a “launching point” instead of a sufficient authoritative God-breathed word. It’s okay to ignore or neglect sound doctrinal teaching, gospel fidelity, leadership roles in the church, marriage issues, etc. as long as people are coming to Jesus. The problem is, what “Jesus” are people coming to when we present a watered down version (at best) of Him from the Bible?
Rebellion Disguised as Doubt
Finally, let me mention again the “doubt motif” found throughout RHE’s book. She actually says “God rarely gives us answers” to our questions and “instead, gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says ‘Let me tell you a story'” (pg. 221).
The picture she’s trying to paint is one where it’s okay to dismiss Scripture in the name of doubt. All believers struggle with doubts at some point or another over issues. But the doubt taught in RHE’s book is one of rebellion to God. She has created a system whereby it’s ok to throw out a doctrine or teaching in the name of “I don’t understand how God could be like that”.
At present, this appears to be a similar trajectory of Andy Stanley. The things you don’t really understand, don’t worry about! You don’t even have to believe those things.
Now, I’m not saying we have to perfectly understand everything in the Bible to be a true Christian. But is there not a difference between a humble desire to learn and an arrogant dismissiveness of “I can’t believe that”? If there is a portion of the Bible or a specific verse you don’t understand or struggle with, don’t dismiss it. Seek to understand it! Ask a faithful pastor, read a faithful book on the subject, and most importantly read the whole Bible!
Kevin DeYoung says “the most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible” (Taking God at His Word, pg. 24).
I’m simultaneously frustrated, saddened, and heartbroken over RHE’s new book. I’m sad for her and frustrated at her for those she is leading astray from Christ. In the name of “liberation,” she has set people free from the “repressive” Bible only to send them over a cliff into a bottomless pit.
Don’t go that way, brother. Don’t venture that way, sister.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” 2 Tim. 3:16
I’ll close with a quote from Kevin DeYoung from his book Taking God at His Word:
“Ultimately we can believe the Bible because we believe in the power and wisdom and goodness and truthfulness of the God whose authority and veracity cannot be separated from the Bible. We trust the Bible because it is God’s Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word.” (p. 124)
Here are all the posts in the series:
Brother, I am very thankful to you for putting in this work. I expected maybe one post. Your work, I pray, will help folks who need some explanations for the things they cannot reconcile between what God has said and what they read in this book.
Thank you for this series of posts. Really appreciated what you had to say.