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The first time I read a book by Rachel Held Evans, I couldn’t put it down. My friend, Terri, had somehow recommended it, either on Facebook or Goodreads, I can’t remember exactly. I do remember, however, being intrigued by the title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Two pages in and I was hooked.

In the book, Rachel attempted to tackle the “rules” of being a woman, as outlined by the Bible. Every month for a year, she focused on a different trait of womanhood such as gentleness, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. Needless to say, it was a struggle for her, especially dealing with the topics of misogyny that are prevalent throughout the Bible, but she wrote with grace and humor while maintaining respect and devotion to God and to the important messages of the Bible. She echoed many of the questions and concerns that I had had (and still have, quite frankly) about the role of women in Christianity and does a wonderful job of looking at the scriptures in a modern way. Every time I read one of her books, I have not been disappointed with her insights.

When the opportunity came to read an advance online copy of her new book, Inspired (See what I did there with the blog title?), I jumped at the chance. The Bible, for me, has its places of beauty, of history, and parts that seem glaringly appropriate just when I need them the most but, like Rachel, my experience has also included the problem of how to process the ugly parts. Advocated rape and slavery of women as spoils of war. Genocide. Murder of children. An eternal hell for people who have never even heard of Christianity, or whose experience of Christianity is extremely negative. All of these topics are sanctioned by several of the authors of the books of the Bible and have always bothered me. Thankfully, they never set well with Rachel, either, and she has written this wonderful, knowledgeable, book to help navigate those ugly parts and look at them in a different way.

Inspired

For those who are unfamiliar with her work, Rachel Held Evans was raised as an evangelical Christian with the church and God at the center of her life. As I read Inspired, as with her other books, I was drawn to parallels between her experiences in the church and mine.

I wouldn’t call my childhood church experience completely fundamental or evangelical, but it was very similar. The Bible was taken literally, was fact and law with no room for discussion. I was told how to feel, how to believe, the “correct” way to be a Christian. I learned religion, not how to think for myself or to how really love God. I was afraid; there were too many rules to follow and things that didn’t make sense. The Bible can be confusing, violent, and contradictory, leading to many unanswered questions. When I read Inspired, it brought a lot of peace to my heart.

In Inspired, Rachel tackles these issues and more including creation, evolution, stories of war, deliverance, and wisdom. Her thoughts are backed up with plenty of historical, theological, and liturgical research, culminated over years of studying the topic and from several scholars of different faiths. While her own feelings formed the basis for her interest and research, she is careful to balance it with many perspectives, including her evangelical background. She never claims to have all the answers, but presents a down-to-earth way of thinking about God and the Bible.

Rachel’s unpretentious, friendly, writing style makes it feel like she’s sitting right here with me in my living room with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Her experiences make it feel as if I grew up with her, like she was right there with me in those hard, Pine-Sol scented pews listening to the preacher, wondering why God thought that boys were better than girls, why I couldn’t be a preacher, why God told Joshua to kill everyone in Jericho, including innocent little children. She shares her journey of doubt, of anger at God for allowing horrible things to happen to innocent people, and her thirst to understand and learn. I love her candor, her humor, and her honesty. She’s a genuine, readable, author who, even with doubts of her own, demonstrates a true love for God and a thirst for the truth.

I don’t mean to imply that reading Inspired solved all of my issues about the Bible, that’s not the point. While I still have (so many) unanswered questions and problems with parts, I no longer believe that I’m wrong for feeling that way. I’m not alone; there are other Christians who feel the same, who have questions like mine. Most importantly, it’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to doubt, it’s okay to not know the answer. Inspiredif nothing else, will make you think, something that I am certain God expects us to do for ourselves. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: “When you can’t trust your own God- given conscience to tell you what’s right, or your own God-given mind to tell you what’s true, you lose the capacity to engage the world in any meaningful, authentic way, and you become an easy target for authoritarian movements eager to exploit that vacuity for their gain. I tried reading Scripture with my conscience and curiosity suspended, and I felt, quite literally, disintegrated. I felt fractured and fake.” That is how I felt for years: fake. Stepping away from that rigid box of what I “should” think has given me a new freedom to explore and strengthen my relationship with God. It’s not perfect, it’s a work in progress, and I believe that Inspired is a good tool to help me along the way.

Try it for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Inspired-Slaying-Giants-Walking-Loving/dp/0718022319/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Other books by Rachel Held Evans:

Evolving in Monkeytown

Faith Unraveled

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Searching for Sunday

Read her blog at http://www.rachelheldevans.com

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