I first came across Rachel Held Evans when she posted this about the recent healthcare bill. I can’t remember how I found her and to be honest, I can’t believe that I haven’t actually met her. She recently published her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. It’s a memoir about her struggles with faith, and with God, as she wrestled with the traditional evangelical Christian beliefs that she was born into. I was honored to be one of the people who received an advance copy of the book and am even more honored to feature a review of the book here at Soul Munchies.
As someone who grew up in a small town in the deep South, there were many times that I wondered if she was talking about Dayton, Tennessee or if she was really talking about my own small towns. I really appreciated the history she shared about traditional evangelical beliefs and how those beliefs paved the way for her own discoveries. I learned a lot in this book – not only about Rachel herself, but about Christianity in the South and how my own traditions fit in.
As I read, I was struck by one major theme – Rachel seemed to most struggle with the traditional views of heaven and hell. If you’re born again and saved you go to heaven – no matter what. If you’ve never accepted Jesus, you go to hell – again, no matter what. So many people, particularly in the South, see this belief as the core of Christianity. If you don’t believe this, you’re not Christian. And yet this belief calls into question the unconditional love of God that Jesus proclaimed and lived. I admire Rachel for wrestling with this question and for being brave and honest enough to put it out there for the world to see.
I have to admit, I’m inspired by her perseverance. Had I grown up in a faith tradition that didn’t encourage questioning, I’m not sure that I would still be a faithful church attender. In fact, there are times now when I get so fed-up with people who think they know all the answers about every faith question possible that I seriously consider leaving the church. Her stories made me thankful that I grew up in the faith tradition that I did, with family who encouraged constant questioning. We still encountered people who “knew all the answers” but questions didn’t seem scary or damaging to our faith.
I’m encouraged by her willingness to live in the grey – to see the world as a rainbow of colors instead of black and white. She encourages us to see Christianity not as a set of beliefs, but as “being Jesus … in tennis shoes.” Jesus didn’t see the world in black and white. Jesus met people where they were and showed them the unconditional love of God – no matter how despicable their life might have been. Jesus didn’t see the despicability – Jesus saw the beauty. Jesus saw each person as a precious child of God who was loved just as much as the other. Rachel reminded me of this tender beauty of the gospel. Being a Christian is not about what we believe – it’s about how we live. It’s not about salvation – it’s about life. Here and now.