Q & A with Rachel Held Evans

Because I related so much (see: review) to Evolving in Monkey Town, I asked Rachel Held Evans if she would be interested in answer some questions for this column. I'm thrilled she agreed.

TM: How has your doubt and skepticism affected or changed your view of the role of church and church services?

RHE: Well I guess I’m no longer inclined to think of church as a place we gather to congratulate ourselves about how right we are. Doubt has a humbling effect like that! These days I think of the Church as a community called to sacrifice, serve, and join in God’s work of reconciling all things to himself. So I’m more willing to embrace diversity—theological, political, cultural—in my own little faith community and around the world. We’ve got more important things to do than systematize the Bible or agree on worship or build a political platform. I’m drawn to communities of faith that seem to recognize that.

TM: Do you worship differently now? Do you find yourself doubting lyrics to songs or questioning their meaning or even limiting your participation in congregational singing?

RHE: On the one hand, I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are just going to be days when I feel disconnected from worship because of my doubt. I can’t expect worship leaders or pastors to cater to that. On the other, I’ve really come to appreciate the richness of liturgical prayers and the stability of following the rhythms of the church calendar, so I’d love to see more evangelical churches adopt those practices. There’s something so unpretentious about a traditional liturgical service. No one’s trying to be hip or cool or relevant, as if Christianity is something that needs to be sold to consumers. But I understand that this is not everyone’s cup of tea. At my current church, we try to mix it up a bit, and that’s fine by me.

TM: A pastor emeritus of the church I attend used to say "Christianity is merely one generation from extinction." Would you agree with that sentiment and/or how would you change that in a more accepted pluralism?

RHE: The Church is a resilient and stubborn little creature that has managed to survive 2,000 years of change, so I’m not particularly concerned about its survival. Like a living organism, it seems to be equipped with a remarkable ability to adapt to new environments. Rather than going extinct in the face of change, Christianity tends to evolve. I suspect it will continue to do that until the return of Christ.

TM: One of my favorite lines in the book is "To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn't need to be born again; we simply needed to be born." (p. 78) I've often struggled with the idea that if God made the whole world, and he made all humans out in "their image", then why is the rest of the world's reflection of God's image rejected as untrue? While there are those in other cultures that have embraced evangelical or orthodox Christianity, why is their native culture any less an image of God?

RHE: I agree. I think we have to approach all people with the assumption that God is already at work in their lives. The apostle Paul told the Athenians that God determined when and where people would live, “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him,though he is not far from each one of us.” Paul didn’t seem to consider geography or culture or religion as impediments to God’s work among people. Still, those of us who have experienced the gospel should certainly share it, as we believe Jesus is the incarnation of that God so many people are seeking.

TM: What do your daily or weekly spiritual journey activities or discipline look like compared to your youth? Is community more or less important to your journey or look different than you anticipated?

RHE: The biggest difference is that I no longer approach the Bible as an answer book to be read and interpreted in isolation. For most of my life, my “daily quiet time” was all about me and my interaction with Scripture. When I started wrestling with some of those troubling passages of Scripture that seem to condone genocide and misogyny and when I became more aware of how my cultural assumptions affect my interpretation, I began to realize that the Bible is meant to be celebrated and struggled with in community. It’s meant to start conversations, not end them. So community has definitely become more important to me. It’s helping me break the habit of always turning inward to find and experience God.

TM: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me.

RHE: Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Rachel Held Evans is a writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. My first book, a spiritual memoir entitled Evolving in Monkey Town, will be released by Zondervan in July of 2010. Rachel enjoys speaking, blogging, traveling, playing poker, and talking theology over coffee. You can find more information about Rachel at http://www.rachelheldevans.com/

One thought on “Q & A with Rachel Held Evans”

  1. Great post Tim. If you're interested, please shoot me an email. I have a question for you. Thanks man.

    kary at karyoberbrunner.com