I’ve had the chance to read an advanced copy of Rachel Held Evans’ new book Inspired: Slaying giants, walking on water, and loving the Bible again. Here are my thoughts/review of the book. (Page numbers may change before final release and are therefore not referenced in this review.)
What Evans has done here is, in my view, write a love letter to the Bible. She admits having gone through a phase where she realized that the Bible was not as cohesive as many of us would like it to be and struggling to decide what that left her with. Through her wrestling and questions, she returns to scripture with a different view. As she says:
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.
This leaves her with the ability to move to a love of the Bible which is in many ways even deeper than the simplistic approach she used to long for. As she continues the above quote:
[H]ere’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.
I identify with this realization. Having grown up with a conservative Evangelical backdrop, I recall the Sunday School version of many Biblical stories and the constant indoctrination that the Bible was consistent (no real disagreements), inerrant (nothing can be factually wrong), and plain (the real meaning is clear to us in “good” English translations). As I studied science which contradicted the 6-day creation story in Genesis 1 which I was told was clear and inerrant, reread the actual Biblical text which seemed to tell different versions of the same story, and realized that we ignored some “plain” instructions (eating lobster, etc.) while enforcing others (gender roles, sexuality limits, etc.) I realized that perhaps the Bible was not as simple as I thought.
Personally, I have been walking through this journey over the last decade or so and have now returned to a love of Scripture in ways that I would never have imagined before. Evans walks through her journey in ways that felt familiar, yet clearly show her own unique perspective. As a woman, her experience with Scripture/the Bible had additional layers of complexity given the way the text interacts with women, from the empowering examples of Deborah and Esther speaking truth to powerful men and Paul referencing women as leaders in the early Christian movement to the lows of laws treating women as property and Paul telling women in a particular church that they may not speak in the church gatherings.
Evans approach is unique in that she works her way through scripture from creation to the church, mixing in creative pieces imagining a background behind familiar Bible stories. I suspect that some more conservative readers will struggle to accept this way of filling in details not explicitly spoken to in the Biblical text, but the process is not unique to Evans. Her approach is not unfamiliar to those familiar with how Jewish scholars tend to engage the text. Jewish scholars in the Talmud and forward are very comfortable with imaginative engagement with the text. As someone with a Jewish mother, I am familiar with how the traditional Passover seder that we have used for my whole life includes the engagement of scholars with the Exodus story in ways that use imagination to explain the events.
In the end, Evans concludes that the Bible is inspired, the result of “a collaborative process, a holy give-and-take, a partnership between Creator and creator.” This will naturally be messy at times and resist simple approaches as we look for signs of the Creator. Still, with the help of the Spirit, Evans concludes that God has entrusted this text to us and wants us to wrestle with the text and with Him in a relationship.
I believe that this book is a helpful resource for those who realize that the Bible should not be treated as a part of the Trinity but don’t know how to engage the text otherwise. Many Christians have not been given the tools to view the Bible in any other way. In this book, Evans helps readers to build a way forward as they read about her journey. Evans is clearly still in love with the Bible. I would argue that her love is now deeper because it is a love for the Bible as it is, rather than the Bible as we might like it to be from our Western mindset. Inspired is a testament to the depth that can be obtained when we love the Bible and refuse to allow our own desires to tame the amazing (even magical) collection of books which God has seen fit to gift to us.
I highly recommend this book for:
- Those going through this transition or wrestling. You will see that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
- Those who have gone through a similar transition. Reading about someone else’s journey can help to strengthen our love for the Bible.
- Those who have left the Christian faith altogether. This might help you to understand how someone could possibly love the Bible as it is. Whether or not you agree with her conclusions about the Bible, hearing how she makes peace with it may be helpful.
- Those who do not see any issue with the Bible as a simple, inerrant instruction manual. To see that there are other ways to view the Bible and still have a deep love and respect for the text. Whether you agree with her conclusions or not, it may help you to see how someone whose views differ from your own can still follow the God of the Bible and love the Bible and the Church.