Rachel Held Evans has been called the most polarizing woman in evangelicalism. Whether that is true or not, she is certainly one of the most talented writers in evangelicalism today. Her new book, Searching for Sunday, is a pleasure to read. At times I was reminded of other great writers, like Frederick Buechner and Anne Lamott. Evans manages to weave together personal stories with reflections on faith for a successful and engaging book.
What I most appreciated about Evans’ story, as she shared about growing up in conservative evangelicalism to questioning many of the deeply held beliefs leading to her moving away from the church of her youth, was her grace to her past. In the book she managed to walk a razor’s edge of being critical of her evangelical upbringing while also being very grateful for it. She is quite critical at times, but it comes across clearly that even as she moves away from the community of her youth she still appreciates the positive impact they had on her life. Along with that, she is honest that she does not have it all figured out now, either. Joining an Episcopal church, she shares, was a huge blessing for her but she does not imply that she has arrived or finished the journey.
Many people Evans’ age and younger have experienced similar things and many of them have walked away from church and not gone back. Evans’ experience echoes that of her (our? I am only a few years older!) peers. She clearly is desperate for the evangelical gatekeepers to listen to the stories of those who have walked away as she cares deeply for them and sees so many being hurt.
Working with college students, I could see this as a book that many could find very helpful. I meet student after student who grew up in the church, still has some belief in God, but is not interested in being part of a church. Perhaps some will drift back after college, but many will not. I think Evans is a voice, and a good enough writer, to gain a hearing.
There are parts of this book that are controversial. This is the sort of review I get nervous writing. My salary does come from generous donations from churches and individuals, after all! What if someone reads it and does not like what I say, or do not say, about it?
Of course I do not agree with everything she writes, while some things I am not sure about and others I nod in agreement. All I can say is that I do not agree with everything in any book I read! But I certainly do not want to just read books that serve as echo chambers so I am constantly affirmed in my current state of mind. Books where I disagree a bit, or at least ones that make me think, are my favorites. And learning to appreciate Christians we may disagree with on things is, well it seems like it is kind of the whole point. That’s what church is – people who disagree on everything else coming together around Jesus.
At least that is what the church ought to be.