I missed a remarkable anniversary two days ago, which Matt proceeded to remind me about every few minutes for the last twenty-four hours. Rachel Held Evans died a year ago on Monday. Most of the Twittersphere has moved on to other matters because even events of great import only last as long as a tic-toc over there. But I’ve been thinking about it while thinking about everything else, and I thought I might as well say what I’ve learned in the last year.
But first, here is what I wrote a year ago–I wrote three things. This was accidentally brave. This was a clarification. And this was a longer piece exploring her theological legacy. I also reviewed a book for which she wrote the foreword, and I reviewed the Evolving Faith Conference.
Through all that writing and thinking and accidental bravery, I’ve learned lots, but I’ll boil it down to three.
One–Evans accomplished a herculean task in dismantling not only orthodox Christian faith for the disenchanted, but also in cutting away the theological structural piers that support the reason for church. She died before she could fully replace it with a new doctrine and system of belief and her followers, who have not had her genius, have cobbled together something that looks pretty boring. This new religion is exactly like the old cast-off. The law is confused for the gospel, Jesus is not who he really is, and you still have to work really hard. The only difference is that instead of purity it’s free sex, instead of trying to achieve personal holiness it’s environmental consciousness and fake inclusivity, and instead of the legalism of the pastor or church elders, it’s the tyranny of one’s own identity, discerned through feelings and personal acceptance.
Two–No amount of “charitable engagement” from the right toward the left will give the left any pause or desire to countenance what they fully and completely reject. Witness (actually don’t really go search, language warning) the progressive responses to Beth Moore’s attempt to “humanize” (their word) Evans.
Three–The truth isn’t “somewhere in the middle.” If you are taking it from both sides, you shouldn’t comfort yourself that you’re probably right because everybody is a little bit wrong. Some people are catastrophically wrong. The truth is actually on the line a lot more times than any of us would like. It’s better to ignore the crowds and try to find out who Jesus is and if he can be trusted. It’s better to look honestly at the Bible and question yourself about what you think it means, what kind of authoritative sway it should have over your life. You could be taking fire from both sides and still end up denying something essential, or adopting some kind of doctrine that sets you outside the kingdom of God.
A year later, I continue to mourn the death of Evans, and to pray for her children, husband, parents, and sister. She was a remarkable person who more thoroughly dismantled orthodox Christian faith for her followers than any who came before her. Her warmth and kind engagement, vaunted as a model of Christian charity, helped pull many many outside of the church altogether. It is a great tragedy, and worth all the grief so many feel this week.