July 17, 2018

An excerpt from Rachel Held Evans’ new book

…“What if the Bible is just fine the way it is? . . . Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have?”

These questions loosened my grip on the text and gave me permission to love the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be. And here’s the surprising thing about that. When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not—static, perspicacious, certain, absolute—then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic. The ancient rabbis likened Scripture to a palace, alive and bustling, full of grand halls, banquet rooms, secret passages, and locked doors.

“The adventure,” wrote Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky in Reading the Book, lies in “learning the secrets of the palace, unlocking all the doors and perhaps catching a glimpse of the King in all His splendor.”

Renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright compared Scripture to a five-act play, full of drama and surprise, wherein the people of God are invited into the story to improvise the unfinished, final act.4 Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world. Every page of Scripture serves as an invitation—to wonder, to wrestle, to surrender to the adventure.

• • •

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
by Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson (June 12, 2018)

Comments

  1. Ben Cribbin says:

    Rachel has a lyrical and powerful writing style that seems to have improved with experience. The exerpts from Searching for Sunday were haunting, poetic and required sustained reflection.

    Which other theological or christian writers are blessed with a similar literary talent?

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “Which other theological or christian writers are blessed with a similar literary talent?”

      I’m a Philip Yancey fan, so I’ll throw his name out there. Brennan Manning, too, especially his Ragamuffin Gospel.

    • Norma Cenva says:

      You’re the second person I’ve heard who points out Held-Evans’ lyrical power as a writer.
      Her new book along with Shmuley Boteach’s
      The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering
      are on my acquire list.

  2. Robert F says:

    To accept that Scripture has the character that Evans attributes to it requires an underlying trust that existence, that God, is out to do us good. Without this underlying trust, we will approach Scripture as an answer book the interpretation of which we must get correct in every particular, or else! If your starting point is not theologically genial, you will end up reading and understanding Scripture in just the opposite way from what Evans describes, and you will find plenty o passages in Scripture to reinforce your confirmation bias. Unfortunately, the theologically fearful approach to Scripture has been the ingrained.habit of Christianity down through the ages, and if you are to adopt Evans’ approach, you will need to swim against the tide.

    • Christiane says:

      “To accept that Scripture has the character that Evans attributes to it requires an underlying trust that existence, that God, is out to do us good.”

      well said, Robert F

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      If one’s ” If your starting point is not __________ genial” one will end up somewhere unpleasant, regardless of the text or people involved.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Yup.

      Dallas Willard’s main premise in “Divine Conspiracy” was that we don’t have anything to give people if we can’t give them a God who is worthy of worship, a good God who is out to do us good.

      Dana

  3. “Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world.”

    Unfortunately, rather like Melkor, we’d rather alter the flow of of the narration so that it centers on *us*.

  4. I already have a pretty extensive reading list…but think I’m adding this to it!

    Thanks, CM, fior the post.

  5. Burro (Mule) says:

    One of the stories in the scriptures that has always been attractive to me from Rachel Held Evans’ point of view is that of Jephthah. Here you have someone who is basically an outlaw biker. Not one of the weekend-warrior variety who puts on colors and frequents 2-per-center bars to glam up an otherwise tedious bourgeois existence, but someone who had been on the outskirts of polite society all his life.

    God chooses him, and he doesn’t change. Not. One. Bit. It is as if God knew that in those desperate times, a nice-guy Boaz or a milquetoast Micah wouldn’t do. He needed a literal bastard to do what only a bastard would do. The sacrifice of his daughter is kind of icing on the cake to the story. Jephthah probably didn’t make it to church much, so he may not have known that child sacrifice was a big no-no to Yahweh, despite it being pretty popular with a lot of his neighbours.

    The only Orthodox icon I’ve ever seen of any of the Judges is one of Deborah the Prophetess.

    • “It is as if God knew that in those desperate times, a nice-guy Boaz or a milquetoast Micah wouldn’t do.”

      But somehow a “nice-guy, milquetoast” ethos of loving your neighbor unto death seems to be the path chosen by God Himself when He took on humanity. Don’t assume that an *is* in OT history equals an ethical/ontological *ought*.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        He Who Is seems to be pretty flexible. Maybe self-sacrificial love is the goal He has in mind, but He reveals a refreshing Realpolitik in how that goal is achieved. It’s as if ideology isn’t as important to Him as it is to us, nor is He overly romantic about our capacities.

        Not to mention that I don’t see most ‘nice-guy, milquetoast” behaviors as being rooted in love, but more in cowardice, and I speak as a self-identified coward.. Somebody who really loves you will give you hell from time to time and really doesn’t care about the consequences. I had a confessor like that, but unfortunately, he died.

        • Sure, God is flexible… but Mr. Occam and I would counter that perhaps what Jepthah did was more of Jepthah than of God. 😉

        • Ronald Avra says:

          “He Who is seems to be pretty flexible.” One of the most striking points I find in reading the gospels, is that among both Jesus’s friends and foes, no one ever got a firm grasp on who he was or what he might do. You had to stay close and pay attention (which presents immediate and considerable difficulties for us). The parables seem at times to lead in different directions. It’s necessary to look closely at the life of Jesus, but he provides Himself with plenty of latitude.

    • Robert F says:

      @Mule — The Jephthah/out-law biker deity died with Jesus on the cross. He’s done for, and you won’t see him again, except in the nostalgia of those who pine for him (and don’t we all at times?).

  6. Rick Ro. says:

    –> “…and Loving the Bible Again”

    Those five words alone make me want to read this book. They remind me of an incident near the end of my long spiritual desert journey when I told a Christian friend how much reading Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment with God” had helped me with some issues that had sent me into the desert. Her reply of “Oh, I could never be disappointed with God” caught me off guard. It was then that I realized: I guess his book wasn’t written for you then!

    Similarly, some may argue, “Why would I ever need to love the Bible AGAIN? I’ve never stopped loving it!”

    Well, I guess this book isn’t written for you then!

    • I suspect that her answer was more of an expected shibboleth than a real expression of her experience. Evangelical piety doesn’t handle the Bad Stuff well, and will try to ignore or downplay it if possible.

      • Christiane says:

        Hello Eeyore,

        “Evangelical piety doesn’t handle the Bad Stuff well, and will try to ignore or downplay it if possible.”

        can you expand on this idea please . . . especially on the definition/examples of evangelical piety . . . and thanks

        • Rick Ro. says:

          My guess is that Eeyore is alluding to something similar to my friend who said she could never be disappointed with God. Rather than examining why someone (me) might be disappointed with God, she chose to ignore or downplay the possibility of Bad Stuff impacting a fellow Christian to that extent.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            At least she didn’t directly Jesus Juke you.
            But she still counted coup on you and basked in her Superior Faith.

            • Rick Ro. says:

              She has been a good mentor to me and my family, so I knew her heart was in the right place. Still, it was a bit strange to not receive any sort of acknowledgment of where I was coming from…LOL.

          • Exactly. Jesus is supposed to Fix All Our Problems if we have faith. If we have problems, either He cannot (or will not) fix them, or we have secret sin/not enough faith/etc. IMonk has plenty of articles in the archives about this syndrome.

            • Patriciamc says:

              “Evangelical piety doesn’t handle the Bad Stuff well, and will try to ignore or downplay it if possible.”

              Yes! I have a friend who is a newer Christian, and her answer to all problems is, “You just need Jesus.” Yes in that you can pray in all circumstances, but when the going gets really tough, you need more than Christian-bookstore-souvenir pat answers.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    …“What if the Bible is just fine the way it is? . . . Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have?”

    Everything else is messy & troubling — why should be Bible be any different?

    (Unless you like Utter Certainty in a Magic Book of Divine Rules & Axioms, that is…)

  8. Stephen says:

    This is silly but I think of Evans as the good girl and Nadia Bolz-Weber as the bad girl. Does anyone know if they know each other?

  9. That’s a lot of dead Canaanites for a book that’s “fine.”

  10. Robert F says:

    Floating vegetative mats = magic carpets.