Shortly after college, I discovered Christian author Rachel Held Evans, and she quickly became one of my favorite writers.
Author of the best-selling 2012 book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she was Christian, feminist, a product of Evangelical culture, she was everything I was raised in, and everything I aspired to be.
Rachel Held Evans was a strong, intelligent, and independent Christian woman. Like no one I’d read before, she could articulate Evangelical culture’s shortcomings, myths, and mistruths with skill, humor, and clarity. She knew the Bible, knew its history and context, and could explain when Christian culture was distorting the Scriptural reality.
She was fed up with purity culture and the harm it causes, but still valued saving sex until after marriage. She could explain why Proverbs 31 isn’t actually a Biblical mandate for women to stay home, cook, and dutifully pop out babies to fulfill their highest calling. She and her husband were equals, practicing mutual submission – each submitting to the other and to Christ. And Rachel Held Evans had friends who were gay and Christian – something I’d always wanted to learn more about, but had rarely actually seen. Now here they were: LGBT Christians who weren’t giving up on faith, even when the church was too busy condemning them to bother to show Jesus love. The church had rejected them, but they weren’t ready to give up on Jesus.
In short, Rachel Held Evans was liberal, feminist, educated, and still very much Christian. She was everything I wanted to be.
See, Evangelical culture has played a strong role in how I came to see the world. I was always a good Christian kid, rarely missing a day of Sunday school. I minored in Christian Scriptures in college. I’m a former leader in the type of Bible study that is beautifully Scripturally focused — but the sort of Bible study that then slips in incredibly black and white thinking and rhetoric on current issues, plays into the “us vs. the world” mindset, and once chastised me when my t-shirt rode up more than once as I bent over during a leaders meeting (therefore exposing my midriff and quite likely causing my brothers in Christ to stumble). I received a kurt Sunday night phone call from a very disappointed leader who instructed me to think less about “showing off my tiny tummy” (this was a t-shirt that rode up, not a crop top) and to have more respect and concern for my brothers in Christ.
In the midst of this history, Rachel Held Evans was water for my parched soul. She embraced intellect, decried the ways Christian purity culture shames women, and wrote about what it’s like to have a Christian marriage based on mutuality instead of headship.
But today, as sit in Barnes and Noble finishing the last few chapters of her newest book — Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church — I am struck with a bit of an uncomfortable thought. I think I’m outgrowing Rachel Held Evans.
Her message isn’t so revolutionary to me anymore. Because of her, I’ve realized that it’s ok to be Christian and liberal. I can love Jesus and sometimes vote Democrat. I can care about racism, social justice, homelessness without falling down those dreaded “slippery slopes” that I’ve been warned time and again will trick me into completely abandoning my faith. When I get married one day, I know I won’t have to give up all decision making power, quit my job, and take up a loom to do right by God. I know it’s possible to date an amazing Christian men who won’t expect that, and I don’t at all believe God expects that either.
For an important and highly formational time in my spiritual life, Rachel Held Evans’ words were exactly what I needed to hear.
But now I’m ready for the next step. To not just read things that are comfortable and familiar. To push forward.
I know I don’t agree with everything she says. We aren’t always on the same page. The more I grow in my faith and experiences, the more I’ll continue to develop unique views. And they won’t always match up with my favorite authors.
Plus, I’m at a different place now. This past summer, I had — at the risk of sounding overdramatic — a bit of a crisis of faith. For the first time in my life, I was face to face with the brutal, honest reality that I might have this whole faith thing wrong.
That what I’d been told about God, and what we need to do to spend eternity with God, might be fundamentally off.
God and I had a lot of words this summer. Mainly it was me, asking, begging, pleading for clarity. Begging that if I was doing this all wrong, that God, in God’s grace, would show me. Would set me on the right course. Because I would follow God wherever, I just needed to know I wasn’t on the wrong path.
After a summer of doubt and questioning, I feel more confident of God’s presence in my life — and of God’s grace and love — than I ever have before.
I don’t think I’m right and other Christians are wrong. I know there’s a TON I still don’t know, and I want to do all I can to know God better. I’m sure my beliefs will evolve and change the more I seek and the more experiences I have.
I’m not there yet. But I’m confident that God loves me. And that God will reveal to me what I need to know, in God’s time, as long as I keep chasing after God.
And that means reading more that just what is comfortable and familiar.
Through Rachel Held Evans’ books, tweets, and blog posts, God let me challenge everything I believed about being a “good” Christian, and about following the rules dictated by Christian society. God allowed me to question, wrestle, and fight. To love the Lord my God with all my heart, my intellect, and my soul.
But now I’m trying to figure out where to go from here.
I don’t want to sit forever in a space of critical examination of Christian culture. I’ve done that. I’ve grown from it. I’m ready for the next step.
I want to be actively living out my faith — serving in my church and community, praying faithfully, reading Scripture every day, learning from Christian authors from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. I want to be exploring different spiritual disciplines, and working to practice them in my life.
I don’t want reading Rachel Held Evans to be the primary thing that helps me examine my faith and grow closer to God. I want to take that responsibility upon myself, in a more challenging, in-depth, and daily life-altering way.
I could stay in the realm of talking about how Evangelicals aren’t perfect, but God is good, and God is at work in our world. But I want to move on to the next step. And that means stepping away from the familiar.
It means stepping out of my comfort zone.