Summary: A broad overview of Rachel Held Evan’s hermeneutics of reading the bible, written for people who don’t really use the word hermeneutics.
I very much value Rachel Held Evans. I do not have all of the same questions and issues that Evans has had. I grew up in a different context, I am male and therefore was not restricted in similar ways as she was. I grew up in an evangelical wing of a mainline denomination, so I did not have the fundamentalist tendencies that her church background did. The problem of evil, which I treat seriously, has never been threatening to my faith in the same way that it was to her faith. But I valued her voice as one that helps me with perspective.
Evans is getting older. The original memoir-y looks at young adult faith and coming of age cannot go on forever. And while I don’t think her books were always primarily deconstructing, Inspired is consciously an attempt at constructing. I do not want to presume motive or changes, but she is 35 now. She has a young son and a newborn daughter. She has chosen a church home. So I think that it is likely that the settled nature of young middle age has her thinking about how to construct faith of those around her not just ask questions and pose problems (not that there is anything wrong with asking questions and posing problems.)
Inspired is focused on how to read the bible, or at least how she has learned to read the bible, in a new way. She is primarily approaching the bible as story. Looking at what is there, but in a new way. Evans is primarily known as a memoirist. She is not a scholar, but a writer and writing with a writer’s sense of how stories are supposed to be read and understood.
I went through my own period of trying to understand how to read scripture again eight or ten years ago. I had a seminary degree. I had grown up in the church. I had read the bible cover to cover multiple times. At one point I felt like I needed to step away and ‘forget’ the bible a bit to be able to approach it differently. But what really helped me see the bible again in a fresh way was a combination of seeing the bible through other people’s eyes (as Evans is attempting to do here) and liturgical approach through the book of common prayer. Evans as well has found help within the liturgical world and this is largely approached as a liturgical exercise.
I also really appreciate Rachel’s skill as a writer. She can write, but she also has a real skill of taking dense theological ideas and making them readable and understandable for people without theology degrees. That is an important and needed pastoral skill. We need to move ideas (from Greg Boyd or NT Wright or Walter Bruggemann or many others) that primarily are writing to the academy or to clergy, to lay people. One of the continued problems of the church is that bad theology can get stuck in the imaginations of lay people and lead to a distortion of the lived life of the believer. So books like Inspired are helpful to both make scripture clear and bring serious academic concepts to lay people.
Rachel Held Evans is also passionate about whatever she is doing or talking about or writing. Having read all of her books and being an occasional reader of her blog and twitter account, that passion carries through. I do not alway agree with what she is passionate about and I think she can occasional fall into traps that her common opponents use, but I love her passion.
As with any author, there are places I disagree. But for the most part some of my complaints about previous books are much less here. I think that either Evans has a new set of editors or she is doing a better job of listening to them. Inspired is just a cleaner book with less extraneous content than some of her previous projects. And while there are some areas where I think she does misunderstand or misrepresent opinions that differ from hers, there is a lot less of that and I think there is more grace in the presentation of differing ideas.
I have never been as fascinated by Midrash as many popular progressive Evangelical authors seem to be. Maybe I just have not studied it enough. But while I do think we can learn something from Jewish commentators as well as the basic concept of the way that the Midrash handles differing ideas, I tend to think it gets overused.
The section on the parables, and the incarnation and the importance of the incarnation to our faith, is my favorite part of Inspired. There are many Evangelicals that are not fans of Rachel Held Evans, but this section should be read by people that are not fans of hers. Her theology may not be the exact theology of others, but the importance of faith shows through. Sections like this are a reminder to me, not just that progresses can be real Christians too, but that conservatives (who I tend to have less patience for) have human reactions to faith as well.
I am also glad that Rachel Held Evans reads her own books. Authors should pretty much always read their own books if they want to. Evans is not a professional narrator, but knows her words and communicates them well.
I have an advanced copy of Inspired (paperback) that I will send to the first person that requests it. Leave a comment below if you would like it.