April 15, 2015 by 11 Comments
It’s tax day and Rachel Held Evans’ latest book has just emerged, Searching for Sunday (Nelson Books, 269 pages, $16.99 pb). In some ways this book has appeared at just the appropriate moment, because in some ways it is like a refund check from the IRS, much anticipated, and a big help. In some ways however, the book is simply taxing, burdened down with a false sense of righteous outrage about an issue Rachel should have given more thought and prayer to before choosing to start firing away against the Evangelical womb from which she has emerged. This is not to say that she isn’t right that a large portion of the church has wrongly stigmatized and singled out gay and lesbian people, and wrongly treated them as if they were somehow worse sinners than the rest of us. We have often done that. Hypocrisy stinks, and Rachel is right to stress this point. I will speak about what she says on the issue of same sex relationships and marriage later in the review, but I want first to say a few things about this book which I really like.
First of all Rachel is indeed a genuine Christian person, genuinely wrestling with deep issues. I’ve had the privilege of meeting her once, and there is no doubt that she has a great deal of the passion and compassion of and for Christ in her life. She is in addition a very gifted writer, and apparently speaker as well (though I have not heard her teach or lecture personally), and you can hear echoes of other gifted writers like Annie Dillard and Barbara Brown Taylor in the way she writes. There are chapters in this book which are poignant and powerful and deserve an amen.
There is no question either about whether she speaks on behalf of many of her generation of millenials, because you can tell from her blog she does. Women especially resonate with a good deal of what she says. And frankly, she is right about the many flaws of the Protestant Evangelical Church. She is right that we have often failed to truly be church for her generation, indeed, we have managed to turn many of them off to or turn them away from the church by failing to truly be the body of Christ. The title of the book ‘Searching for Sunday’ could just as well have been ‘Searching for a real Church’. She is also right about the wrongful suppression of women’s gifts and graces for various sorts of ministries. And one can certainly agree the church is not supposed to be a museum for plastic saints, but rather a hospital for sick sinners. But the church should never never become just like an AA meeting (one suggestion in this book). Why not? Because while we need such meetings, the church should not be focusing on our own brokenness and mainly sharing about that. We should be focusing on His brokenness when he hung on the cross, precisely so we will get away from our self-centered fixation with our own flaws and foibles. The church needs to be relentlessly theocentric in its worship, fellowship, and praxis, not anthropocentric.
There are many poignant moments and powerful passages in this book about the sacraments, about silence, about other spiritual disciplines, and especially about the feeling of being bereft, cut off from the church, feeling abandoned or even spurned by the Evangelical Churches in which she was raised. A trial separation from such churches gradually became something of a divorce, and she landed in a ‘less-judgmental’ Episcopal Church in Cleveland Tn. What her book fails to really grapple with however is the major difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance of us as we are.
Frankly put, God doesn’t ‘accept’ us as we are, because what we are is fallen and flawed sinful people. God loves us as we are, but God is insistent that we all change, repent of our sinful inclinations and ways, and become more like Christ. A loving welcome by Jesus does not exclude incredible demands in regard to our conduct, and indeed even in regard to the lusts of our hearts. As it turns out, God is an equal opportunity lover of all humanity, and also an equal opportunity critiquer of all our sin, and with good reason— it is sin that keeps separating us from God and ruining our relationship with God. This is why the only proper Biblical approach to everyone who would wish to be ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the body of Christ’ is that they are most welcome to come as they are, and they will be loved as they are, but no one but no one is welcome to stay as they are— all God’s chillins need to change. Welcoming does not entail affirming our sins, much less baptizing our sins and suddenly calling them good, healthy, life giving.
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2015/04/15/a-searching-book-rachel-held-evans-searching-for-sunday/#ixzz3XVPyuvrK