Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.
Centered around seven sacraments, Evans' quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.
A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.
Rachel Held Evans was a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925—she wrote about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.
Rachel was featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Christianity Today, Slate, The Huffington Post, The CNN Belief Blog, and on NPR, The BBC, The Today Show, and The View. She kept a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and colleges and universities around the country.
I was raised in the Christian tradition of Evangelicalism and have become, and seen friends become, increasingly unsettled and discouraged by trends we see in the American Church. We have watched churches value purity over people, a new building over their neighbors, and one's political party over their participation in the Kingdom of God. It is with this backdrop I read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. Rachel brilliantly weaves story, humor, history, and exhortation to share about "the most important, complicated, beautiful, and heart-wrenching relationship" in her life - the Church. Her insights are deep and the excellence of her craft is evident. This book offers apologies, many "me too" moments, encouragements, and much grace. The structure, around seven sacraments, not only provides a fascinating framing for the book, it offers tangible ways we, the reader, can meet with God and each other. Ultimately, this book speaks profoundly to anyone identifying with, hurting because of, disillusioned by, or hungry for the Church. This is Rachel's best work and I heartily recommend it.
My word - THIS old international favourite (of which I remained heretofore long ignorant) - is now one of my most Highly Regarded Reads!
Bravo, and forever rest in heavenly peace, Ms Evans.
You probably will, for you write like the fabled Recording Angel of old, poised up there loftily - high above our clamouring, groping daily hubbub, ingenuously taking note for all the ages of the dry, cunning angst that callously cuts us innocents manques down - the fallen presbyters of a declining civilisation.
But, you know, Ms Evans, familiarity breeds contempt...
And sibling rivalry, for you as for me, fell upon us both like a grim, fell shadow: and, fallen angels both, we collided with the grim, cackling reality of the cold fist of modern adulthood.
When I, myself - at the age you were when, annoyed and then enervated by the universal churchy praise for your conforming, angelic sister, you first rebelled against your sister's fans - when I experienced also that hard reality, it was the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end.
But, as Eliot says, "what we call the end is sometimes a beginning." The terrible conflagration that has destroyed an old-growth forest can richly fertilize the stronger and healthier new shoots of its resurrection.
And Ms Evans and I found new strength and hope in a humbly local evangelization on old church territory. Strength that far surpassed that of old wine in old wineskins.
And Ms Evans shares her excellent, newly bottled wine with us here in her words.
Which begs the question…
Can each one of us revitalize the world's hope through our personal initiatives - for example, through our GR reviews - being unafraid to defend the old, innocent ways?
Well, Ms Evans did it. She spread her hope through personal and written encounters within her own country, like a Joni Appleseed.
And with the hook of personal encounters and the line and sinker of her written work, she reached out as far as President Obama’s White House!
You see, she never extinguished her HOPE.
And all we have to do - ourselves - is plant our seeds well -
And the whole petrified forest of our deathly civilization may one day regain a youthful vitality and freshness all over again -
Rachel Held Evans is a blogger with a substantial following, from what I hear, though I’ve not read any of her posts. In fact, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church is the first bit of writing I’ve read of Rachel’s. Friends who speak positively about her (those who know her and those who read her) tend to be of the same theological cloth—promote ordination of women as leaders in churches and promote the acceptance of homosexual relationships in the church; those who speak negatively about her tend to say she attacks straw men. So, when the opportunity to read and review one of her books arose, I thought it’d be good for me to check it out for myself.
Though there are obviously people who love this book and offer positive reviews, I did not find it particularly helpful or entertaining. The chapters are organized into sacramental sections, though it’s not always clear how or if many of the chapters fit anywhere in the book, let alone under their subheadings. I think it’s supposed to be memoir, but it’s quickly apparent that this is turning into a narrated lecture with moments of “shock-and-awe” language and imagery. (Perhaps this is what readers of her blog enjoy and are used to.) Sure, we all have hang-ups and frustrations with our churches, but there are a number of positive books for working through that struggle.
From the start, Rachel hammers her frustration, anger, and sadness over churches that deny the ordination of women and do not accept homosexual relationships, eventually stating it quite plainly: “There are denominations of which I cannot in good conscience be a part because they ban women from the pulpit and gay and lesbian people from the table” (184). There’s much more to the book, but this point is made so often (some more forcefully than others) that it overwhelms anything else she has to say. Rachel shares her struggle of not finding a church wherein she can revel in problems and doubt (except for wrestling with her battle cry—that must be fully accepted, as noted), eventually leaving public gatherings altogether while still touring and discussing her faith with churches and other organizations. For one with a broad understanding of denominational distinctives, it’s obvious after the first few chapters that, if she lands in another church, she would find the Episcopalians, though she concludes the book without any real recognition of “finding the church,” contrary to the book’s subtitle. It appears Rachel is still searching.
If the reader is in favor of the aforementioned hammering, then he or she will probably like the book; if not, then it’s probably going to be a difficult read. Either way, I just don’t think it would be at all helpful for those struggling with frustration, doubt, and questions in and about the church. If one argues that the intended purpose is not to guide but to describe, then I would suggest another look at the text.
(In Rachel’s defense, she notes in the introduction that she did not want to write this book, even losing a bit of it to a spilt chai on her computer, but was pushed by her publisher to do it.)
I pray for blessings on Rachel and others with similar struggles as they continue searching; may we all lovingly engage in a healthy wrestling with questions, doubts, one another, and God.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This was the perfect book for me in the present moment. If I said nothing else about Rachel Held Evans' new book 'Searching for Sunday,' I would say this: this book made me feel like I am not alone.
I was given the opportunity to receive an advance copy of 'Searching for Sunday' and I am so very grateful. This book hit the spot in my heart that has been so wounded, so hurt, and so incredibly scared and spoke words that comforted, validated, and encouraged. This book made me feel hopeful and brave.
The timing could not have been better. I had the privilege of meeting Rachel just a week before I began reading. She spoke at a conference that the agency where I work hosts and I got the chance to spend an evening talking with Rachel over dinner the night before she presented. You know those times where you meet someone new and realize that there are kindred spirits all around that you may never realize until you meet one of them by chance? That's what happened. Rachel and I began counting all the many things we shared in common and the very similar belief systems that we come from. I think at one point at dinner we decided we were brain twins.
I loved this, not just because I made a new friend, but because a week later when I read her comforting words, they meant all the more. They were not only the words that I needed to hear, but they were now being told to me by someone I knew and trusted. That is a game changer.
I won't give you a summary of the book because you can get that on Amazon. Instead, I will tell you my experience with this book. Over and over I found myself underlining and writing in the margins and getting the chills and talking out loud to the book in response. This book very much felt like a manifesto to me. They were the words that I had been thinking and feeling and longing to have understood by another person. And Rachel does understand because it is her story too.
I have extensive history with the conservative evangelical church and I went to a seminary of the same background. In the middle of that time in my life, I began working at an agency serving a population of abused individuals. In getting to know my clients, I learned that their experiences had been minimized, marginalized, and silenced in so many ways, over and over again, and very often by the church. I won't even begin to truly describe how very deeply that has affected me personally, but needless to say, I was desperate for another Christian person to acknowledge the truths and realities and inconsistencies in the Church that I was seeing.
And that, in so many ways, is what Rachel does in this book. She acknowledges the hurt and the pain and the questions and the doubt and the fact that all of these are okay, that none of these things are too big for God to handle, and that it is right and good that we would be affected when we spot injustices in this world.
At a time where I very much have not felt like buying what the Church is selling, 'Searching for Sunday' made me remember why I love Jesus and why His message is the message that I believe in. It has reminded me that if we love God and love people, we are doing okay. It has reminded me that LOVE, more than anything else, is what is required of us.
I don't want to have to choose. I believe that God made my brain and God made my heart and that the idea was not for me to use just one in living my faith. I want to use both. That's the only way it's gonna work for me.
Please read this book. Please let this book affect you. Let it in. Consider it. And let's consider being a people, a Church, that is known by our love. That is, in fact, what Jesus suggested. I think we should take Him up on it.
I will not write a long review, I will simply say that Rachel Evans is very good with words, a fantastic writer, but her arguments are not biblical, no matter how you want to look at them. I think this is probably one of the "feel good" books we keep hearing about, making room for every form of "Christianity", whether its base is the Bible or not. She uses as arguments the Orthodox and Roman sacraments to support a very, very liberal mentality that is not rooted in the Scripture. What she calls Christianity is not grounded on the Bible, but more on the latest 21century social issues. While I do believe the Church is called to be involved in the life of the community, I don't believe the Church is called to adopt every new wave and idea the culture promotes. More and more the idea of "the table", where all are called and accepted no matter their life-style, is pushed into focus. While the Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples is a fundamental moment in His ministry, I think that to be able to fully understand its importance we need to stop at the altar first, to learn how to be a living sacrifice, admit sin, and repent of it. Uncomfortable things to talk about, surely not as interesting as sitting at the table and sharing stories, but I personally believe we are called to grow in Christ likeness, not openness to everything accepted nowadays. Despite some nicely underlined points, I don't think this is a very useful book for the struggling Christian, while for the mature Christian it will probably give a perspective on why so many people leave the Church in search for something that appeals to them more.
I received this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed in this review are my own.
Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015.
Summary: As the subtitle suggests, this is a narrative of the author's struggle between loving and leaving the Church, only to find her loved renewed through the sacramental practices that she sees at the heart of the Church's life.
True confessions. I've had a like-dislike affair (love-hate is too strong) with the writing of Rachel Held Evans. Ever since I first encountered her blog posts, I have admired the freshness, authenticity and downright beauty that I find in her writing. What I've always dis-liked was that the central thread of her writing was the public critique of and increasing disaffection with the evangelicalism in which she grew up.
At the core of this is simply our different responses to the pain we've experienced in our church experiences. I guess I've always felt that my relationship with the church was much like marriage--it could be rocky as well as glorious at times, but opting out just wasn't an option. I've only ever left a local congregation because of moves, and even then sought their counsel and left with their blessing. Yet I've struggled with forms of legalism, cultural captivities, unholy political alliances, what I thought was the wrongful subjection of women, and just good old-fashioned church conflict. Memories of some of these things still hurt. I wanted to leave sometimes, but I never did.
Perhaps what I really don't like is the exposure of my own self-righteousness in all this and the questions this raises. Am I really just jealous that I didn't have the courage or authenticity to do what she did? As a fellow blogger, am I simply jealous of her success?
All that and more was swirling about as I sat down with this book. Could I even give her a fair reading? And what happened is that I got surprised by a narrative of someone who has not given up on church for many of the same reasons that hold for me; who has hung in there and found a kind of resurrection in her relationship with the church and her Lord. And in all this, she reminded me of all the gospel beauties that have held me true to this faith over half a century.
The book is organized both around a narrative loving, leaving, and finding the church, and around the seven sacraments of the Episcopal church where she presently worships, that have served as the road back to church for her. She summarizes her renewed embrace of the church in these terms:
"...Sunday morning sneaks up on us -- like dawn, like resurrection, like the sun that rises a ribbon at a time. We expect a trumpet and a triumphant entry, but as always, God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother's womb, in an empty tomb. Church isn't some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground, God is here." (p. 258)
Along the way, I found places where I both agree and disagree with her. I am with her in her criticism of many of the cultural and political captivities of evangelicalism (and I hope that she will become increasingly aware of similar dangers in the mainline churches). I would affirm her critique of dogmatism and legalism, but would also hope that she could come to the place of Dorothy Sayers who wrote that "the dogma is the drama", which in fact I think she is affirming in her love of the practices of the church, which in fact are rooted in creed and dogma. I would agree that we have badly transgressed against LGBT persons and missed the ways LGBT sisters and brothers may be gifts to the church. Yet I find her critique and affirmation so unqualified that it does not address the question of the discipleship of our sexuality for all followers of Christ, no matter what our orientation or sense of gender identity.
Yet there is so much of value here. For one, Evans narrrative gives voice to and reflects the narratives of many young men and women who have distanced themselves from church. Whatever we think of the reasons and beliefs, if we don't take these things on board, particularly if we lead churches or ministries, then we are heartless shepherds! Slick and trendy programs won't address this alienation. And that leads to the second value to be found here, that there is a deep longing for the church to be the church; a community of people loving God and each other whole-heartedly and living and proclaiming the gospel of the grace and truth found in Christ in word and sacrament.
As you can tell, I haven't become an unqualified fan. Rather, I've discovered someone who loves many of the same things I love, who has challenged and enlarged my thinking, and while we are each on unique journeys from different places, we are both on a journey toward the Sunday of resurrection. May God keep and form us both for that day!
One woman's progressive look at how to be a liberal democrat and an acceptable modern day Christian at the same time.
My take on this book, the two personalities don't mix well, nor should they, each mindset completely contradicts the other. Most of this book is about demonizing conservative political views and pieces of the Bible she doesn't like while telling readers she's a liberal Christian fighting for gay/trans rights and women's leadership roles in the church.
Her feet are dipped in both worlds, but clearly nothing about her take on theology and the church is actually Biblical, it just comes off as another angry millennial trying to twist things she doesn't like in the Bible to fit the idea of a society she wants. The constant bashing of Christians, I expect from nonreligious people, what disheartens me is Evans constant (books, blog, social media) beratement of the Christian who doesn't think and act like her.
The progressive "Christian" judgement and fist pounding is getting old and tired.
It's such good writing. If only it had good theology too...
I'm struggling with writing a review for this one. On the one hand, Evans has a real talent for writing, and uses words beautifully. This book was generally an enjoyable read. I'm sure Evans is a great motivational speaker and has inspired many people.
On the other hand, this book is a lot of talk, and little substance. It's vague and undefined. It's a lot of emphasis on Christians, not the cross. Oddly as an evangelical, Evans uses the sacraments of the Catholic church to structure her chapters, and in the process throws around the word "sacrament" very loosely. So loosely, in fact, that it begins to break down and lose meaning because she stretches it into so many corners.
As much as she professes her love for various denominations, her background in vague evangelicalism shows through in her writing. I can sense why she was drawn to the Anglican church, since they offer more structure and tradition in services while still living with vague doctrines that allow for more liberal interpretations. Evans seems to have studied a lot, but she still uses words in ways which sound pretty, without fully grasping their meaning. It leaves me somehow nodding my head in agreement, while still feeling unsatisfied.
I can understand the ideas she's struggling with. She brings up valid criticisms which, most of the time, I'm inclined to agree with. I agree that there are problems with both extremes: both theologically liberal Christians and strict fundamentalists have their problems. The've done things which the church at large should condemn outright. But just because one group gets the idea corrupted in practice doesn't mean the entire idea is wrong. Just because one church treats a gay man horribly doesn't mean homosexuality is right. Just because some people take the idea of "patriarchy" too far in a negative direction doesn't mean that traditional gender roles are bad and should be avoided. Just because one pastor doesn't give good answers to probing questions doesn't mean there aren't good reasons behind traditional practices of the historic Christian church.
She reacts to the extreme actions of others instead of evaluating the legitimacy of the original claim behind that extreme action. She just wants everyone to be nice. There are also undertones of social justice warrior activism, railings against the patriarchy, extreme third-wave feminism, identity politics, cries for multiculturalism as a virtue, and other leftist political leanings in the book which I did not appreciate and which turned me off. Would have been more than two stars if she didn't start lecturing her leftist politics into the mix.
Her other work, A Year of Biblical Womanhood looks like a blundering, ludicrous, futile gimmick. I imagine it's the worse of the two, and I'm not going to touch it.
february 13, 2023 review: i miss RHE so much. these words, her heart, her honesty in doubting and wrestling and still clinging to jesus through it all... what a gift. i didn't know when i first read this book in 2015 how much i would need it in 2023. i felt SO CONFIDENT then... oh, sweet baby child. now that i have left the church i once loved, this book hit me HARD. it was a light in a dark season, and a reminder that this wilderness won't last forever, and mostly, that i'm not alone in it. i absolutely WOULD be friends with rachel now, and am SO glad i got to share space with her at several evolving faith conferences before she passed away. her life and work have had such an impact on me, and have helped me see faith in so many beautifully expansive new ways, and i am so deeply grateful. /// april 1, 2015 review: This was the first book I've read from Evans, and I've heard mixed reviews about her as a writer from close friends of mine. This book found me one day in the Christian section of Barnes & Noble, feeling like every book was a cliche or a puff piece. It seemed like an honest breath of fresh air, and I'm glad I read it. I don't think Evans and I would be great friends in real life-- she's more of a doubter, a questioner, a wanderer, and I'm more direct, trusting, confident. I appreciated her perspective even though I disagreed with her often and felt differently about church and faith most of the time. This book is broken up into chapters based on the sacraments of faith, which was an interesting structure. There were several chunks I absolutely loved, but most that just didn't really resonate much with me at all.
Jacob wrestled with God; I seem to be wrestling with the bride of Christ. My copy arrived yesterday, on a Sunday that had left me with more angst than usual about the church. I devoured the words in less than 24 hours. It's not that Rachel Held Evans gives a solution to my frustrations with the church, it's more that she just gives reassurance that it's not just me and that it is indeed the very nature of the church to be flawed. And so I find strength to continue in this relationship that both helps and hurts.
I do love the church. And I admit that I don't always appreciate hearing harsh criticism toward the church. (Even though I freely admit sometimes the church deserve this). But what we find here is not harsh criticism but the sincer longings of a insider that has come to have some very serious problems with the church that she has loved (and I believe still loves).
She makes beautiful use of language to describe things spiritual. She takes us on a journey through the sacraments as she has experienced both the beautiful and the harsh. Fellow Christians should listen. I tried to listen and I think I am better for it. Those of you that are not Christians (and happened upon this review) I think you would enjoy this, for it's honest struggle with faith and spirituality that we all share as humans, regardless of the conclusions that you have now reached.
A Journey Towards the Trinity? Searching for Sunday
I am not a millennial. I live with two of them in my home – well, one is part time now that she has gone to college. However, I have always had a difficult time figuring out which group I truly relate to the most. I could be a “Boomer”. No doubt my bowing to the god of consumerism labels me this way many times. I could be a “Gen-X” or “Buster”. God, my supervisors and my colleagues in ministry know that I have spent more than my fair share of time calling things into question. I enjoy upsetting the status quo just a little too much at times. Although my age would allow me to fit into either of these two groups – I was born in 1965 – I truly think of myself as part of the “Bridge” generation. (We have no “one” identity but find our tribe among many.) Perhaps that is why, even today, I find myself longing to listen more and more to voices of the “millennials” who have a relationship with doubt and questioning that I find exciting and fascinating, if not, at times, downright frightening.
It is because of this desire to hear the voices of millennials that I first started reading Rachel Held Evans’ work. It is why I have listened to her speak. It is why I am honored to be able to recommend her latest work, Searching for Sunday.
When I received my copy of Searching for Sunday, I immediately scanned the table of contents for the section on Communion. I knew the book was going to be organized around the Sacraments and the Eucharist has special appeal to me because I have learned so much about following Christ by being on both sides of “the Table.” It was in serving communion that I learned what a bold-faced judgmental hypocrite I was when I chose not to partake of Christ’s meal with a congregation I was serving because I felt their sin of racism somehow tainted the meal. It was in receiving communion that I learned what a beggar for grace I am and now only approach the Table with my hands held out. Sometimes, I will sit through a whole worship service with my hands cupped just so I can remember that grace is a gift.
So I decided to read that chapter first and then go back and read the whole book. Perhaps I wanted to take the book for a test drive around a topic that is near and dear to me. Perhaps I wanted to see if the part of the book which would be most important to me would live up to my expectations. I don’t know. I just wanted to read that section first.
I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Ms. Evans echoed the feeling I learned at that table in North Carolina when I thought I was too good to eat with certain people: “At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food.”
The power in telling any story, I believe, is as that story invites the reader in and allows them to find themselves somewhere in the narrative. This happened to me in a powerful way as I read “Communion” and happened again and again throughout the book. I am not a child of the evangelical church, I am and always have been part of a mainline denomination, the United Methodist Church. But still, I found myself in Evans’ narrative over and over and over again. As powerful as this connection to the story was around “Communion” it paled in comparison to how I felt the “guilt of silence” as I read the section “Vote Yes on One.” Silence seems to be the only way to survive in the UM Church these days.
I simply cannot tell you how great this book is for anyone searching for a reason to find faith again, or those who are sometimes wondering about the faith they have in the tradition they hold. Evans’ story of her journey shows how one can embrace evangelical, progressive and sacramental traditions as they follow Jesus. And this is a story for our time.
Recently, I read an article by Steve Harper where he said, “Staying together is a sacred act – a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one.” Evans poignantly tells us the sometimes tortured path that she took to get to that unity of past, present and future in her theology. Evans gives us the hope that we might one day do the same.
Read Searching for Sunday. Start your journey as well.
The strength of this book is the author's willingness to be transparent with her struggles and her love hate relationship with the Church.This personal struggle of how to be "Christian" and question the practices and beliefs of the church is the story of many of us--regardless of being boomers, genxers, or millennials. Using seven sacraments of the church, the author emphasizes the importance of each one and how they, "the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again." In the end, what I loved most about this book was the fact that it all comes back to the resurrection of Christ. Because of the resurrection, all are welcome at the table. Because of resurrection, all are forgiven, healed and renewed. Because of the resurrection, we can all experience God's kingdom today on this earth. "But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn't offer a cure. It doesn't offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace." (pg. 209) And in the Episcopal tradition, I would say, Thanks be to God.
Anyone who’s ever doubted their religion or their faith will certainly connect with Evans’ exploration into Christianity and her own faith.
But I had trouble with her writing. She’d repeat phrases or groups of words so many times on one page that it began to sound like a scratched record. There is an effective way to use repetitive phrases (Fredrick Backman’s a master at this in my opinion), but I felt it missed the mark here. Her style of writing began to grate on my nerves and it stopped me from enjoying the book as much as I may have otherwise.
Terrific writer. I desire to give her words a higher rating; however, what Held describes as Christianity is simply not grounded on the Bible (but more on the latest 21st Century social issues.) I cannot, in good conscience, say that her all of her arguments are founded in biblical theology.
I found this book to be seriously lacking. I was intrigued by the title Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church because I have upon occasion also felt like I was searching for the best church "home." Instead, what the book delivered was a memoir of Held Evans journey through dissatisfaction with most churches she has encountered. Held Evans recounts her journey of finding church congregations to be lacking and their belief systems to be lack luster.
Rather than providing clarity, I found this book to be muddy at best. The subject headings for the book made no sense, and often the chapters did not seem to fit under the heading they were placed.
It should not have been surprising that at about three-fourths of the way through the book Held Evans began a diatribe about how the church has it wrong because those in the GLBT community are not welcome to serve in churches. I found much of Held Evans theology to be not biblically sound based on the way that I understand the Bible to speak and was at odds with much of her criticism of church as a whole.
If I wasn't writing a review on the book, I would not have finished it at all.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.*
I've had to sit with this a while to figure out why I was so disappointed with it. I'm still not sure I've figured it out. I like Rachel as a person, as a speaker and as a blogger, and I really liked the concept of Searching for Sunday – telling her story of giving up on and returning to the church through the lens of the seven sacraments. But in the end, there wasn't much of her story, even though that's easily the part I most enjoyed. Instead, her journey was drowned out by overwritten prose on the one hand and a compilation of other writers' thoughts about each sacrament on the other.
It's not a bad book, and I gleaned my share of insights – as I always do from Evans' writing – but I think I might no longer be part of the audience she's trying to reach.
Not a book for Christians. If you are a "Sunday Christian" or a person who wants Christianity to be redesigned to suit you personally in every aspect, this book may be for you. If you are a a true Christian who follows the Bible, this book will not be for you. In fact, the Bible warns about being careful to stay away from ideas/people who pretend to be Christian but are not. It is especially not for new Believers, seeing how Evans twists the Bible to fit her lifestyle and the teaching is dangerous.
Rachel Held Evans and I have several things we disagree. She believes same sex marriage is Biblically acceptable, she believes women can be pastors; I disagree with both of these issues. By thw way, Rachel is happily married to a man. She is not a lesbian. However, Rachel does make me think and for that I am grateful. She grew up believing the same things I believe. She went to Bryan College in Dayton, TN. Her Dad taught on the staff of that college. I read this book because I enjoy reading this author (see her other book I reviewed, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions) and I am trying to understand the reasoning of those Christians that accept same-sex marriage as Biblical. The quotes I’ve listed below are very good and should be a challenge and/or an encouragement to all believers.
I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security … More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which makes us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” ~Pope Francis
We need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people.
Contrary to popular belief, we (millennials) can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.
The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.
Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity.
We’re (millennials) looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.
Like every generation before ours (millennials’) and every generation after, wer’re (millennials’) looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places He’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.
No coffee shops or fog machines required.
Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.
I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.
In an age of information overload … the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned them dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the Bread of Life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.
The church tells us we are beloved (baptism). The church tells us we are broken (confession). The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders). The church feeds us (communion). The church welcomes us (confirmation). The church anoints us (anointing of the sick). The church unites us (marriage).
Of course, the church can also lie, injure, damage, and exclude, and this book explores its dark corners as well as its stained-glass splendors.
We religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand. Well, guess what? It already has. Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung Him there and declared, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground. God got up.
We are not spared death, but the power of death has been defeated. The grip of sin has been loosed. We are invited to share the victory, to follow the path of God back to life.
I’m a Christian because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition – that we’re not okay.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” instructed James, the brother of Jesus (James 5:16). At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.
Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Image if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.
It wasn’t shared social status or ethnicity that brought Jesus’ followers together either, nor was it total agreement on exactly who this Jesus character was – a prophet? The Messiah? The Son of God? No, there is one thing that connected all these dissimilar people together it was a shared sense of need: a hunger, a thirst, a longing. It was the certainty that, when Jesus said He came for the sick, this meant Jesus came for me.
It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love. ~Billy Graham
Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure id made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.
The Holy Trinity doesn’t need our permission to carry on in their endlessly resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor is grace. All of it, every breath and every second is grace.
Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our Teacher by imitating His posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness.
“To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are. ~Barbara Brown Taylor
With all the conceptual truths in the universe at His disposal [Jesus] did not give them something to think about together when He was gone. Instead, He gave them concrete things to d0 – specific ways of being together in their bodies – that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when He was no longer around to teach them Himself … “Do this” He said – not believe this but do this – “in remembrance of me. ~Barbara Brown Taylor
When [Jesus] wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about He didn’t give a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of Scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.
This is what God���s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.
But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ~Henri Nouwen
Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS!
But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation.
Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived. ~Helen Keller
When the people of God abandoned the covenant of love and fidelity, drawn as we are by the appeal of shallow, empty pleasures, God removed every possible obstruction to the covenant by being faithful for us, by becoming like us and subjecting Himself to the very worst within us, loving us all the way to the cross and all the way out of the grave.
What each of us longs for the most is to be both fully known and fully loved. Miraculously, God feels the same way about us. God, too, wants to be fully known and fully loved. God wants this so much that He has promised to knock down every obstacle in the way, enduring even His own death, to be with us, to consummate this love.
What makes our marriage holy, what makes it “set apart” and sacramental, isn’t the marriage certificate filed away in the basement or the degree to which we follow a list of rules and roles, it’s the way God shows up in those everyday moments – loading the dishwasher, sharing a joke, hosting a meal, enduring an illness, working through a disagreement – and gives us the chance to notice, to pay attention to the divine. It’s the way the God of resurrection makes all things new.
This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is His soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.
This kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a warhorse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.
So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.
Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door. ~Emily Dickinson
If you like to be challenged to think I would recommend this book for you!
Rachel Held Evans passed away May 4, 2019. I had know of her for a long time, via social media where I followed her on Twitter and Facebook and her blog. I'd read Faith Unraveled, and owned two of her other books, intending, in my usual way, to getting around to reading them. Rachel was smart and passionate and compassionate and uncompromising and gracious and amazing, and I admittedly took her for granted. Then in May she passed away from complications of reactions to medication for the flu and an infection. She left behind a toddler, an infant, and a grieving husband and family and so many friends and followers around the world. I was one of many overwhelmed with grief for this wonderful woman I didn't know personally, but who had challenged and encouraged me and changed and impacted me and my faith so very much. Rachel is gone. I can't ever get her back. but what I could do, in the aftermath of her loss, was read the books she left behind (and the books she recommended/ featured on her blog/ wrote forewords to, but that's another post). I started with Searching for Sunday. I'd started listening to it from the library a year or so ago, but loved it so much I decided to buy a copy of my own, to keep as a resource. Then, as I frequently do, I set the book aside. In May I went back to that library audio, because it is read by Rachel herself, and I wanted to hear her words in her voice. It was worth it, both inspiring and heartbreaking, to hear her voice and her thoughts on faith and the church and doubt and hope and love and Jesus. And death. Rachel talked about death several times throughout the book, and each time I found myself pausing the book to get myself together. She may not have wanted to die yet, but she didn't seem to fear death either. She wrote about it with clear-eyed, calm thoughts. She recognized the power of grief in the lives of others. She spoke about her hope in her faith, the faith that she had "most days", and the hope of resurrection. Her words are so bittersweet now...but perhaps all the more important because of her passing. I realize this is less a review than a brief obit and my personal feelings, so let me share a little bit about the book as well. This story is Rachel's story of how she walked away from the church and found her way back to it. How she broke with rancor from evangelical Christianity, and how she came back to the faith, albeit to a different expression thereof (primarily episcopal) with an understanding that has grown and changed over the years. The book is classic #RHE. Peppered full of quotations from the writing of other faith leaders, often ones whose voices she had helped to amplify in the past. Carefully structured and thoughtfully expressed, full of passion and hope and doubt and love and wisdom. She spoke directly to the experiences of so many #exvangelicals in the USA and beyond. I felt like she understood my experiences, and I know from my time on Twitter during her illness and death, when #prayforRHE was trending, that I am not the only one who felt that way. Rachel structured her material around seven sacraments--baptism, confession, communion, marriage, holy orders, confirmation, and anointing of the sick. There are stories of her own life, and stories about people she knew and loved. She justly calls out the flaws in the American evangelical church, while confessing that neither she nor any other branch of the church are perfect, and admitting that the evangelical church is full of people she loves who have loved her deeply, people who have shaped her life, sometimes profoundly. Everything is thoughtful and passionate and honest and articulate and challenging. Rachel always sough to include broader, more diverse perspectives, and this book reflects how she routinely used her privilege to boost the voices of those around her who were less privileged. This is a good book. Maybe I'm still too emotional to fully articulate all the ways in which it is good. Grief is a tricky thing to navigate. But this was a good book before she passed, and is just as, if not more, meaningful now. Please do yourself a favor and read it, if you have any interest in heartfelt honest memoir, the experience of evangelical youth, the progression of those young Americans away from the church in general and evangelicalism in particular, concerns about American evangelical culture, and fierce defense of the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, especially in regards to the church. This is worth reading. Rachel could change your life. I know she changed mine. #rememberingRHE #becauseofRHE
This was both Rachel Held Evans' strongest and weakest book.
Strongest, because the writing is, at times, gorgeous. Specifically, her imagery of Sunday afternoons called to mind my own childhood vividly. I love a good religious memoir, and this book is that.
Rachel Held Evans is someone who has built her "brand" and following on her continual struggle with the church, due primarily to the church's lack of concern for particular groups. I believe this was sincere, and while reading I got the distinct impression that this book may well be the last in which Rachel demonstrates this sincerity. The book was, after all, written years ago, and I think at the time of its writing, it was true.
In the year(s) since, however, Rachel has demonstrated a clear lack of concern for "the least of these," in particular, in her silencing and refusal to speak out regarding the alleged abuse by Tony Jones' of his ex-wife Julie. Tony Jones is a diagnosed narcissist. This is documented. The effects of narcissistic abuse are also well documented, all over the internet. A basic Google or Pinterest search will provide enough information to keep a reader busy for days. For this reason alone, allegations of abuse regarding Jones must be taken seriously. Rachel Held Evans, as a supposed supporter of "victims," should know this. Yet Rachel's continual denial and deceit regarding the allegations against Jones (e.g. claiming to have performed "diligent investigations" that clearly did not even include reading official court documents) demonstrates an extreme lack of understanding of the dynamics and implications of abuse. Although Rachel was an outspoken advocate for "victims" in the case of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll, her silence and cowardice on this issue demonstrate that her opposition was never truly aimed at abuse - it was aimed at fundamentalist Christianity, at complementarianism, at patriarchy. These things deserve outspoken opposition, but to remain blind to their manifestation in other areas that have nothing to do with theology is ignorant. It makes Evans no different than Driscoll or any other fundamentalist raging against those with different theology. The issue is not and has never been truly theology. Driscoll needed to be removed from leadership and influence due to his narcissistic and abusive behavior. Jones is exactly the same in this regard.
If you read Donald Miller, there was a very clear shift that occurred right around "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." Suddenly DMiller wasn't an overly introspective guy navel-gazing about his own spirituality and college angst. He was a life coach. He was a self-help guru. He could tell you about romantic relationships, though he wasn't in one. He could advise on raising children, though he'd never had any. There was a very clear shift, at least that I saw, and suddenly now years down the road you realize the DMiller of 2015 has nothing in common with the DMiller of 2005. This is and/or will be that book for Rachel.
While reading, I felt very clearly that this book marks that shift for Rachel Held Evans. At the very least, it does for me. This is the last book of hers that will have been written before she demonstrated through her actions that she has become a brand, one of "progressive" Christianity's figureheads. Rachel is young and the level of "fame" and clout she has been given in Christian circles is extreme compared to her age and maturity. She is a smart, gifted writer. She has the rare gift for putting things into words in such a way that many readers can identify with her. But her behavior in regards to Jones demonstrates her lack of leadership and maturity when directly faced with abuse. Like Driscoll, it is beneficial for Evans to rage against abuse when it serves her purposes and increases her following. The minute it threatens her security, however, she goes silent. For someone who has become their "brand" of standing up for victims, Rachel does a poor job.
This is, then, a fine spiritual memoir and perhaps the last sincere "vision statement" of Rachel Held Evans. It is truly unfortunate that power, money, and social clout got in the way before she could write another.
I've been struggling with my own faith and relationship to my church for several years now. It's a lonely journey and there need to be more books like this about such journeys. My background is not the same as the authors, but I saw so much of my struggle and my thoughts reflected back in many of her words.
It's difficult to be constructive about a piece that is so incredibly personal, but my one issue would likely be that the author goes off on some tangents, that, quite frankly, I ended up skimming. The book could have been much more concise and would have had the same impact on me. Overall, this book leaves me feeling comforted and leaves me with a better understanding of where this leaves me.
2.5-3 stars. [Confession/Disclaimer - I skimmed the last two and a half parts; I was getting bored.]
It was okay. I definitely had some moments of resonance w/ RHE re: her frustrations w/ the evangelical church. Nothing really novel for me here in these pages. Most moving parts included stories in chapter "Healing." The book did also provide some interesting quotes & references to other resources for further reading, etc.
I appreciate the author writing this book & telling her story, but I think it would mean a lot more to me personally if I were actually seriously invested in maintaining ties to evangelicalism. At this point, I'm just not.
What I appreciate most about the book is that Evans doesn't attempt to speak for an entire generation - she tells her story. But, in doing so, she captures many of the feelings and experiences of the millennial generation. This is not a theology text, but a story of journey and discovery. Anyone who is critical of or curious as to why millennials are leaving the church would benefit from the insights and questions this book brings up.
**I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.**
Rachel challenged us to do/be better. She put into words everything I've struggled with in my faith. It's ok to question. It's ok to get mad and leave. It's ok to come back. It's ok to repeat the cycle all over. How lucky for all the people who knew her in person.
I heard tonight in a biblical study “keep the major things major and the minor things minor.” I feel like I’ve been trying to decipher what things are major and what things are minor to my faith for the past two years. And this book felt like exhaling because I walked through Rachel Held Evans processing the same things. Church is hard and messy and really skewed a lot of things about Jesus. I loved this book because it gave me another testimony of how to wrestle with these things. It’s not a map or an answer book, but a “here are some words that may identify how you feel” book and a “here’s what worked and didn’t work and may work” and a “here’s a reminder that God is good” book. Grateful.
p.s. I love too much so I’ll probably always rate everything a 5/5 so take that rating as you will
One morning Amy walked out as I was reading and asked, "Are you crying" and the answer was this book. RACHEL HELD EVANS STRIKES AGAIN. There were multiple moments where all I could do was underline and say in my head "me too, me too". She beautifully called out the flaws and triumphs of the church. She brought to life doubts and spoke to an un-fragile God and her reason for straying/reconciling her faith. Lots to say, but I'll let her say it.
QOTB: "There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, or spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak. openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You're on your own for that."
"And what t hey find is when they bring their. pain or their doubt. or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try and fix it, try and make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear. Christians scour their inventory for a cure. But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to a slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into another's pain, anoint it as holy and stick around no matter the outcome."
Let's heal, let's remember, let's listen and make space. Amen amen amen