Reflecting on the Life of Rachel Held Evans June 8, 1981 – May 4, 2019

Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday May 4, 2019. This is a post about her death, and why it will hit many people so hard. Rachel in many ways is someone who is irreplaceable. But the work that she started can be carried on by those who loved her. And that is what we must remember during this difficult time. 

“The sorrow we feel when we lose a loved one is the price we pay to have had them in our lives.”

Rob Liano 

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

Voltaire

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

Matthew 25:21 NIV 

Rachel Held Evans 

Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday May 4, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Rachel had an allergic reaction to medicine while receiving treatment. Her brain began to experience seizures. To treat that condition she was placed in a medically induced coma. While being weaned off the medicine on May 2, she experienced swelling in her brain. The medical doctors worked hard to save Rachel, but she died on Saturday May 4, 2019. Her husband Dan updated people on Rachel’s blog. There is an active GoFundMe to offset medical expenses that were incurred. She leaves behind her husband and two young children. 

Rachel’s’ death brought about a large response from the church based and regular media. This is a sampling of a number of articles below for you to read if you desire. 

  1. Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu in The Washington Post, “How Should Rachel Evans be Remembered.” 
  2. Jana Riess in The Religious News Service, “Rest in peace, Rachel Held Evans.” 
  3. Katelyn Beaty in The Religious News Service, “Remembering a woman of valor: 4 gifts Rachel Held Evans gave us.” 
  4. Religious News Service, “Rachel Held Evans, Christian writer of honesty and humor, dies at age 37.”
  5. Julie Zauzmer in The Washington Post, “Because of Rachel Held Evans: More female pastors, more diverse writers and more Christians embracing their faith.” 
  6. Sarah Pulliam Bailey in The Washington Post, “Rachel Held Evans, progressive Christian author who challenged evangelicals, dies at 37.” 
  7. CNN, “Rachel Held Evans, popular Christian writer, dies at 37.” 
  8. Eliza  Griswold in The New Yorker, “The Radically Inclusive Christianity of Rachel Held Evans.”
  9. The New York Times, “Rachel Held Evans, Voice of the Wandering Evangelical, Dies at 37.” 
  10. Jonathan Merritt in USA Today, “Rachel Held Evans: Remembering a ‘torchbearer,’ an ‘arsonist,’ a ‘prophet with a pen‘”
  11. Kimberly Capps Reed in The Tennesseean, “Rachel Held Evans’s last writing was prophetic, and now I am left with my memories.” 
  12. Donica Phifer in Newsweek, “REMEMBERING RACHEL HELD EVANS: QUOTES ON FAITH, GOD AND THE CHURCH FROM THE PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN WRITER.”
  13. Fox News, “Rachel Held Evans, progressive Christian author, dies at 37, family says.
  14. Audrey McNamera, in the Daily Beast, “Rachel Held Evans, Influential Progressive Christian Writer, Dead at 37.”
  15. Heidi Stevens in The Chicago Tribune, “‘Without her, I feel scared’: The sudden death of spiritual writer Rachel Held Evans is a devastating jolt.” 
  16. Tyler Huckabee in Relevant Magazine, “Rachel Held Evans Knew There Was Always Room for More In the Church.” 
  17. Laura Turner in Buzzfeed, “Why Rachel Held Evans Meant So Much To So Many.” 
  18. Kate Shellnut in Vox, “How progressive Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans changed everything.” 
  19. Emma Green, in The Atlantic, “Rachel Held Evans, Hero to Christian Misfits.” 
  20. Abbey Crain, in Alabama.com, “Alabamians, world remember Christian author Rachel Held Evans.” 

 

Responses to Rachel’s Death on Twitter

These are what some individuals said on Twitter about Rachel Held Evans death. Many of these tweets show the reach that she had. They cover the spectrum from Hillary Clinton, to Russell Moore and Justin Lee among so many more. 

 

Rachel Held Evans Is Irreplaceable 

I really didn’t write too much of an introduction on Rachel Held Evans. Most people know who she is. Her first book was published in 2010 and called, “Evolving in Monkey Town.It was re-published under another name in 2014. She had quite a career in publishing books, blogging and speaking. Rachel was a unique individual someone who I don’t think I will come across again in my lifetime. She pushed the boundaries and asked hard questions. These were some of the issues she addressed. 

  1. Biblical literalism.
  2. Controversial pastors like Mark Driscoll or John Piper.
  3. Evolution and issues with strict creationism.
  4. Doubt.
  5. Leaving the faith.
  6. Gays and how the church has treated the GLBTQ community.
  7. Evangelicals and their culture wars.
  8. Egalitarianism and the issues with complementarianism.
  9. Evangelicals and politics. 
  10. Church culture. 
  11. Calvinism and John Piper. 
  12. Mainstream Protestantism.

When Rachel started writing there really wasn’t very many blogs tackling the issues she did. I can only think of Internet Monk which was also a pioneer. But in her brief time here on earth she made a monumental impact. She stirred up controversy and was called a heretic at times but she spoke what many – including myself were feeling. I had my faith crisis and can identify with what Rachel said about doubt. I also wrestled with the Neo-Calvinism movement because of material I consumed and ministries I was involved in. I came to an understanding the the Neo-Calvinist movement actually made the historic problem of evil worse. It took almost five years of banging my head against the wall before understanding. Rachel spoke about gays and evangelical culture. I remember over a decade ago when my small group leader from Milwaukee sent me an email telling me he was gay. Knowing someone who is gay and today knowing several has been challenging and forced me to ask questions myself. Rachel broke the mold in that she wrestled and wrote about the topics many people were afraid of talking about. 

Her articles about doubt hit with me because I deal so much with doubt. What is going to make her death so hard is that she was so young. Look at what she accomplished in 10 to 12 years? Look at the books, blogs, speaking and more? Rachel was popular with many young people. For those in their 30’s or 40’s this might be the first major lesson they have on death – everyone is mortal. And that each and everyone one so us will die one day. What is hard about Rachel is that she was only 37 when she had died. And the loss on her family is beyond words. For many people she felt like family through her writing, publishing and more. But while some people will miss her writing what hits many people I suspect is that they are in the stage of life in which they have never faced death. Now its staring at them in the face. She is irreplaceable and I don’t know if there will be anyone like her again? Honestly I don’t think that will be the case. If you would like to read what she wrote, you can do so in, “Rachel Held Evans in Her Own Words.”

 

Let’s Honor Her Memory by Carrying Her Concerns Forward 

So here is the question I would like to pose. How can we honor and respect Rachel Held Evans’ memory? What we can do is is move forward and continue the discussions that she started and ask continue to ask questions. I do this in my life already. But the ice has been broken by Rachel and now its time for others to carry forward the questions that she raised. I can do it in writing this blog. You can do so by asking questions on Twitter or raising questions in a Southern Baptist or Evangelical Free church. Younger people in many ways are already asking hard questions and many churches or ministries are un prepared for them. So while Rachel Held Evans is irreplaceable let’s work to honor her memory by carrying forward the work that she started. There will always be that void. That void reminds us of love, the love and respect we had for her and its why it exists. But the world is s smaller place, especially in the cyber realm and we can go forward together in our search for truth and faith. And as we continue Rachel will still be cheering for us and her spirit will continue to live in those who followed her. 

One thought on “Reflecting on the Life of Rachel Held Evans June 8, 1981 – May 4, 2019

  1. My favorite authors are those with a distinctive voice. After reading some of their writing, you find yourself able to recognize something they wrote after just a few phrases. (For me personally, this includes a variety of authors like C.S. Lewis, Roger Ebert, Dave Barry, to name a few.) Rachel was one of these authors. And she spoke with that same voice on podcasts and at conferences. It was very recognizable.

    Rachel was honest and genuine. As a young adult from within evangelicalism she asked questions, and then followed her faith and convictions through to what she saw as the natural conclusions to those questions. (I say “conclusions” rather than “answers” here because she was so clear on the necessity of wrestling with questions amidst doubt and uncertainty, especially questions that didn’t have a really good clear satisfactory answer.) Over the years I found myself wresting with many of the same questions. I did not always arrive at her same conclusions (although I often did) but even where I didn’t, I understood her reasoning as she was honest and transparent. Ultimately her journey took her from evangelicalism to “wandering in the wilderness” to the Episcopal church, although she remarked that “you can take the girl out of evangelicalism, but you can’t take evangelicalism out of the girl,” and so she often called back on her evangelical roots in her writings and discussions.

    I think these are the things that stick with me most from her work:

    –Asking questions and wrestling with doubts are not inappropriate; these are normal human processes, and the church should make space for and support people who are doing so, rather than seeing them as threats and questioning their faith for doing so. She joked about how when she began asking difficult questions in her conservative Christian college, the immediate response was that struggling with doubts and asking questions obviously meant she must be living in sin. Treating people as a dangerous threat just for expressing doubts and wrestling with difficult questions is not a good strategy for the church, and just serves to drive people out in an effort to enforce conformity within the church.

    –Everybody is bringing some measure of interpretation to the Bible. Even people who say they are just following the clear literal letter of the Bible are bringing their own interpretation, as is made obvious by the fact that there are many things in the Bible that they acknowledge they do not see as applicable to us today, or at least applicable in the same ways. The question is not bringing your own interpretation or not bringing your own interpretation, it is a question of WHAT interpretation you are bringing.

    –Many Christians seem to want the Bible to be just an authoritative rulebook, where the answer to every single question can be neatly and simply provided by pointing to chapter and verse. Rachel contrasted this with the way that the Jewish people tended to look at Scripture as being a conversation starter (“come let us reason together” and ask questions and discover truths together in community) rather than a conversation ender (“here’s one Bible verse, BAM! that settles the discussion”).

    –If the endpoint of the systematic theology you’ve constructed doesn’t look like anything like Jesus and doesn’t seem very Christlike, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve strayed off-course.

    I am really going to miss her voice.

    Liked by 2 people

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