Voices: Reflections on the legacy of Rachel Held Evans

Popular Christian writer and speaker Rachel Held Evans died May 4 at age 37. (Courtesy Photo distributed by RNS)

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A voice of solidarity for all kinds of people

In 2003, Dave Tomlinson published a book titled The Post-Evangelical. Since then, other authors—such as David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons—also have tried to describe why Millennials and other younger Christians are leaving the evangelical church. Growing numbers of “nones” and “dones” will never have anything to do with church—sometimes because of their experiences with evangelical churches, in particular.

And while so many were studying and attempting to describe this emerging and growing group of people, Rachel Held Evans told their story autobiographically.

Unlike many other authors, Evans was unafraid to insert herself into the pages of her writing. She told us what it felt like when concepts like Creationism and inerrancy came crashing at her feet. She described how she attempted to integrate intellect and reason with her faith, and how her attempts were received negatively by her spiritual family. She narrated the struggle of trying to continue in a faith she constructed in a different way, all while being pushed aside by many in that faith tradition.

Evans gave words to the experience of a generation. When the so-called “nones” and “dones” and—especially—those who were attempting to stay within the evangelical tradition were in the early stages of asking tough questions and wondering if anyone else in the world ever thought about such things, Evans was there with a witty story and well-researched alternative perspective. For others who questioned and wanted to integrate faith and reason, her voice told them they were not alone.

Meredith Stone is assistant professor of Scripture and Ministry at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary. She is a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.

A voice of welcome for all kinds of people

The evangelical world was shocked this weekend when Rachel Held Evans—author of four books, popular speaker, wife and mother of two small children—passed away after a brief illness at the age of 37.

With her passing, tributes coming from all directions had one theme in common: Evans’ candor and empathy had given marginalized people a voice when they had no words of their own.

Evans’ own journey of faith—documented in her books and other writing—challenged evangelicalism to recognize the voices within the church that had been overlooked and neglected.

Authors Kathy Khang and Austin Channing Brown, whose work has become increasingly visible in the last year, point to the ways Evans opened early doors for them, clearing a place at the public table so they could speak to the church for themselves.

From the number of writers who emphasize what has gone wrong with evangelicalism, what drew so many to Evans was the way she encouraged people to build, to faithfully minister, simply to show up as those whom God has called and loved.

In their tributes, people point to Evans’ sense of hope and her encouragement to continue rejoicing in the things of God. Over and over again, her fans have emphasized that in Evans’ words, all kinds of people—doubters, the disaffected, the outcasts—recognized they too had a place in the church.

Her witness will remain because the work of welcoming and opening doors to the diversity of the kingdom of God is never done.

Myles Werntz is assistant professor of Christian ethics and practical theology and the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene. Email him at Myles.Werntz@hsutx.edu.

 


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