So I have a theory. A theory that if true is very exciting; people are starting to read their Bibles again. Don’t get me wrong, sword drills, Bible Quizzes and daily tweets or emails of Scriptures have ensured that the Bible has been read in bits. Books on the Prayer of Jabez, and Reflections on Jeremiah 29:11, have abounded ensuring that we as proper Protestant Evangelicals could give lip service to our love of Scripture, our love of the Word of God– nevermind the dust on our Bible that says otherwise.
You see, the “hope for a future” while beautiful, is often robbed the context of being a promise given a people in exile a people who ignored the weeping prophet and in turn were displaced by Babylon. These people knew after all they were “God’s chosen people” and they had plenty of soothsayers encouraging them that they needed no more than to just be a better version of themselves and not worry about that whiny prophet telling them otherwise. Nevermind the hungry widow at the edge of town, the homeless orphan or the neglected foreigner; after all they had a wall to protect them!
As people are reading their Scriptures more faithfully they are noticing that these promises that hang from banners and decorate the bumper of many of their church going peers don’t seem to tell the whole story. What of Jeremiah 29:10 they might wonder, are we the people stepping into the great promises of the future or are we the people in the midst of the 70 year exile? Or perhaps we are the people ignoring the weird weeping prophet sure that we are God’s chosen people with a yuge wall on the way.
I think the newfound Scripture reading phenomena can be tied to a journey that is beautifully detailed in Rachel Held Evans book Searching For Sunday. Searching for Sunday is a book that deserves a post on its own, but it is a story that resonated with many who started feeling displaced in their home churches, longing for more, more depth, more tradition, more room for questions, ultimately more room for doubt. In this place of tension, works of Richard Rohr, Annie Dillard, and (pre-marketing) Donald Miller started finding homes on many a wanderers bookshelves. These displaced believers started reading about new practices of Scripture reading, Lectio Divina, Daily office, and the Lectionary, to name a few. For the first time in their lives they began reading Scripture on the regular, and unlike those few weeks (days) after church camp this new practice of reading had staying power.
Now if my theory is right about more people reading Scripture than I am indeed excited however I am also well aware of the “Odd World of Scripture” these people are venturing into. You see the Lectionary is not as carefully crafted as your run of the mill evangelical recommended Scripture list. You read not just about an Ark, but also about a naked drunk old man after the ark. You read about genocide, about killing people for gathering sticks on the sabbath, you read about “uncleanly discharges” (shudder). These stories can easily lead to those already feeling displaced in their homes of worship to feeling even more confused and unsettled, why hadn’t they heard these stories before, what do they do with it? How is any of this the Inspired Word of God.
Enter Rachel Held Evans (RHE) new book Inspired (Due out June of 2018). Armed with some impressive reading partners, (Brueggeman, Enns, Ellen Davis, and N.T. Wright to name a few) she brings the readers along with her own journey of doubt and frustration with Scriptures. In heartbreaking accounts, RHE tells of how her doubt was met with simple platitudes, accusations, or being snubbed by those close to her.
Platitudes aside the questions remained, what of the violence, what of the seemed endorsement of slavery? RHE does especially well to name the portions of Scripture that seem to treat women as subhuman, whether Esther or Jephthah’s daughter. RHE doesn’t white wash these stories but rather comiserates with them, she talks about a liturgy of lament in which she and an artist friend creatively honored the female victims of Scripture, and considered the plight of many oppressed women today (Inspired p. 77). RHE wraps up her discussion on the challenging parts of Scripure that leave the reader with unanswered questions stating
I am in no rush to patch these questions up. God save me from the day when stories of rape, violence, and ethnic cleansing inpsire within me anything other than revulsion. I don’t want to become a person who is unbothered by these texts and if Jesus is who he says he is then I don’t think he wants me to be either. There are parts of the Bible that inspire, parts that perplex and parts that leave you with an open wound. I’m still wrestling, and like Jacob I will wrestle until I am blessed. God hasn’t let go of me yet.”
-Rachel Held Evans p. 81
I couldn’t say it better myself.
Recently, when talking to a friend, lamented that for too long the Bible has remained an unread resource in the church. He confessed that reality was true for him, he paused from reading it because he wasn’t sure what he believed with the Bible, and feels like he is still developing his thoughts on the matter. But ultimately he believes he should be reading it as he wrestles with these questions.
I think Inspired is for people like my friend. Rachel Held Evans does a wonderful job showing the beauty of the journey of doubt, questioning and wrestling. Through her experience, and impressively cited resource of Biblical Theologians and authors RHE opens up the possibility of falling in love with the Bible again, and for that reason alone the book is worth reading.
There is so much more I want to say in praise of this book, it is written with incredible voice, her stories of family, pregnancy, and moments of self deprecation “the legacy of valor continues”( you have to read it to get that line on p. 15) have the reader feeling they know her better than they do. I have never met her, I follow her on Twitter, and she follows me (because she likes random tweets about Colorado sports teams?) but I am glad to count her as a fellow doubter a sister in Christ and a voice of Christian sanity in a world of Falwell Jrs. and Metaxases.
As a pastor I won’t hesitate to share this book as a resource to a congregant looking to read the Bible better, more faithfully and from a place of comfort in discomfort, I am grateful to have it as a resource for just that.
I can’t close this review up without mentioning one of my favorite parts of this book, between each chapter are beautiful short stories, dramas, creative flannelgrams in writing depicting stories in Scripture from varying perspectives. They are wonderful journeys of creativity that had me laughing, and even at times a little misty eyed. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a compilation book of reflections just like it (so go ahead and write it whenever RHE).
TLDR: I hope you are excited for June 12th 2018 when this book will be available to all, because it is a book that should be in your library.
Pastor Matthew Codd