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Book Review– Faith Unraveled By Rachael Held Evans

July 18, 2014

I am pretty late to the party with this book– it was first published as Evolving in Monkeytown in 2010. The one thing that happened with the whole World Vision USA fiasco of deciding employees could be in same-sex marriages and then taking it back is that I was introduced to a whole raft of American Christian thinkers and writers while following various game-trails on the internet. I decided to order some of their books to have a read and a think and to see what I might learn.

Faith Unraveled is subtitled How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions, and in it, Held Evans begins by outlining the kind of girl she was, growing up in her small town in the Bible Belt. (aside: the more I read, the more I realise that the culture of American Christians is far, far different from anything I’ve encountered anywhere I’ve lived in NZ.) She implies she was one of those insufferably pious little people who was always trying steer the conversation towards God with the view to ‘saving’ people (who were surely headed for Hell), and who was educated in an environment where she was taught how to defeat All The Arguments of All The False Religions and Thereby Save People from Hell. My only problem with this book is that I think she goes on about that for too long. I get why she does, but I found myself thinking: Yes, you were annoying, we get it; let’s move on, Rachael!

Her main spiritual conundrum, as she grew and thought and was exposed to the varied and awful injustices of the world, was centred upon the idea of a God who could and would send people to Hell, just because they happened, through no fault of their own, to live in a time and/or place where they were either raised to be faithful to another religious system, or where nobody had ever heard of Jesus.

(I think the main difference between her life and mine at that point, apart from the fact she’s an extrovert and I am not, was that she thought God was angry and couldn’t look at our horrid, awful, sinful selves, and that He was fine with sending people to Hell. I was always pretty convinced that God loves everyone and is kind. Besides which, I had read CS Lewis’ The Last Battle in which he states that Aslan counts good, faithful service of other gods as service to himself, which kind of gave God an ‘out’ on the whole Hell thing for decent people, in my mind.)

Held Evans does a very articulate job of outlining both her struggle with the Big Questions, and her conclusions. I very much like the fact that she is not claiming to have all this stuff sorted out. She doesn’t know how one balances all the contradictions in the Bible. She doesn’t know how God decides who goes to Heaven. She doesn’t know why God allows evil to prosper.

I like that this is a book that is, essentially, unfinished. Held Evans has posed most of the Questions, but her thoughts about the answers continue to evolve. Her point is that Christianity must continue to evolve, if it is to remain relevant and life-giving, rather than antiquated and stifling. She points to the examples of Galileo, who was excommunicated for contradicting the Church’s belief at the time that the sun moved around the earth; and American Civil War (which, for those of us who might be a bit foggy, was about slavery, with both sides able to produce Bible verses that seemed to back their positions), as examples of how the Church has adapted in the past.

I think this book is  good, solid, readable food-for-thought for people who like to think and are wondering how to reconcile Christian values and beliefs with the modern world of scientific discovery, the ongoing suffering of innocents and the trite answers that are supposed to explain everything (but don’t).

I don’t have a star-system but, if I did, it would get All The Stars 🙂



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