The passing of Rachel Held Evans unleashed a surprising wave of grief to some. But to readers in the Christian world, and young women in particular, she was a voice of welcoming honesty. In an October 2012 article in Christianity Today called, “50 Women You Should Know,” Katelyn Beaty said of Rachel Held Evans that her blog, which began in 2007, spoke out on many traditional evangelical issues in a fresh and fearless way. Evans, she quoted, wrote that young Christians “aren’t looking for a faith that provides all the answers. We’re looking for one in which we are free to ask the questions.”
It was intense questioning that led her to start writing in the first place. In 2012 alone, 1.2 million visitors went to her site to hear what she had to say. She was speaking for many others, giving voice to many who were needing one. To a church (in the largest sense) that is always, at least institutionally, last to respond to change, she pushed to make it look at its truth and heart and reassess what it was Jesus meant us to do.
I remember that the title of her first book alone, Evolving in Monkey Town, was interesting enough (and later changed to a more palatable Faith Unraveled) to cause me to follow her years ago on Twitter. But more than her writing success it was her unapologetic courage to ask that gained her such a platform. Rachel Held Evans left the world at age thirty-seven, shockingly, after a short illness. She leaves a husband and two children, and a large, grieving audience whose lives were encouraged and enhanced by her fearlessness and honesty.
In the 1970s, as a young ministerial student at Carson Newman University, I was sent out one Sunday to preach at a tiny church near Dayton, Tennessee. My host picked me up in a 1- and 1/2-ton flatbed Ford truck. He was wearing bib overalls and a short-sleeved shirt and tie. He carried me up into the surrounding hills to a church with less than twenty people attending. The largest visual there was a giant clock at the back, to remind guest preachers to cut it short, that said, NU-GRAPE SODA. The people were nice enough. Neither I nor they remember, I am sure, what I said. But I kept thinking, “The Scopes Trial happened here. I wonder if anything changed?” We were required to only preach from the King James Version, as not to offend.
One of the first books I read in college was Martin E. Marty’s Varieties of Unbelief. It helped me as a struggling young ministerial student. He said that doubt is not the same as unbelief. Doubt stands between unbelief and faith. It can face in either direction. The best doubts are those that want to find the answers. That the ensuing questions get such a negative response often tells us we’re actually onto something. We would do Rachel honor, perhaps, to keep reading her writings and as we navigate the strange world ahead of us that we might encourage one another to keep asking her questions of ourselves, like, “I wonder if anything has changed? And if not, why?” And maybe we would honor her most if we, as many did, find our own courage to speak, use our voices, and seek the truth. As difficult as that can be, we are all eventually better for it.
Rachel’s website https://rachelheldevans.com/
“Rachel Held Evans, a Hero to Christian Misfits” The Atlantic
“The Radically Inclusive Christianity of Rachel Held Evans” in The New Yorker