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Rachel Held Evans’ latest book raises hard questions

Church members may not agree with the progressive author’s conclusions but will appreciate her challenge to study for themselves.

Rachel Held Evans was brought up in the Bible Belt and received a Christian higher education. She knew the stories from the Old and New Testaments backward and forward. 

In Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again,” she tells how she became cynical and jaded in her post-graduate years as she struggled with contradictions she saw in the Scriptures — violence in the Old Testament, unjust patriarchal rulings and an unwillingness of leadership to delve deep into the hard questions she had to ask.

Rachel Held Evans. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 266 pages.

Rachel Held Evans. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 266 pages.

A bestselling author and blogger, Evans challenged conservative Christian beliefs and became known as the “voice of the wandering evangelical,” according to the New York Times. This is her fourth book, written before her untimely May 4 death at age 37 due to complications from an infection.  

Instead of completely turning away from her faith, Evans used the tumultuous period of her life to model the Old Testament patriarch Jacob, who wrestled with God. She had once looked at her Bible as a manual to provide black-and-white answers to any problem. She came to see the Scriptures as an “inspired library of diverse writings, rooted in a variety of contexts, that have stood the test of time, precisely because, together, they avoid simplistic solutions to complex problems.” 

In “Inspired,” she leans in to those difficult passages that theologians throughout time have toiled with and really asks what God is trying to teach us through each one of these tales. She also reminds us that, in contrast to the modern day, the inspired stories were seen by ancient Jews as conversation starters, not conversation enders.

Throughout the book she alternates through seven types of stories — Origin, Deliverance, War, Wisdom, Resistance, Gospel, Fish and Church — and intermingles her own modern-day parables, poetry and even choose-your-own-adventure tales. (I especially enjoyed these creative pieces and saw the Bible stories in new light through them.) 

Evans provides lots of historical and cultural context surrounding the time periods of the passages she studies and includes theological commentary as well. She challenges us that “if you’re curious, you will never leave the text without learning something new. If you’re persistent, you just might leave inspired.”

Katie Isenberg

As someone of her age group and similar upbringing, I related to many of Evans’ sentiments. While I did thoroughly enjoy the book and found encouragement to embrace the stories in God’s inspired Word with new eyes — even the difficult ones — I do not think I would recommend it for a new Christian just beginning their walk of faith. 

I would recommend it to those who already have lots of knowledge of Scripture. Evans is a progressive thinker from a different faith from me, and I realize many members of Churches of Christ will not agree with some of her interpretations or conclusions. 

But I welcome these conclusions as a chance to re-examine the passages, study for myself and continue to ask hard questions as I engage in the community around me. 

I realize, like Evans, “there are parts of the Bible that inspire, parts that perplex and parts that leave you with an open wound. I’m still wrestling, and like Jacob, I will wrestle until I am blessed. God hasn’t let go of me yet.”

Katie Isenberg and her family worship with the Keizer Church of Christ in Oregon. 

CORRECTION: This review has been updated to note that “Inspired” is not Evans’ final book. Her last book, Wholehearted Faith,” is scheduled for release from HarperOne in October 2020.

Filed under: Churches of Christ Inspired Rachel Held Evans Reviews Top Stories

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