Rachel Held Evans would have turned 40 today, and it seems appropriate to take some time to remember her life and legacy.
I’m greatly saddened she didn’t live to celebrate the big 4-0, as she died on May 4, 2019.
Rachel Grace Held was born in Alabama but moved with her birth family to Dayton, Tennessee, when she was 14. Dayton, you may remember, is where the (in)famous Scopes Trial was held in 1925.
Five years later, Bryan College – named for William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor at the 1925 trial – was founded in that small city. Rachel’s family moved to Dayton because her father got a job at the college there.
Rachel graduated from Bryan College in 2003 and married Dan Evans, her college boyfriend, that year. Rachel and Dan’s two children were 3 and 1 when Rachel died.
During her much-too-brief life, Rachel Held Evans (RHE) became a prominent Christian blogger, author and speaker. But because of her faith in Jesus, she regularly rejected the biblicism, patriarchalism and homophobic ideas of the conservative Christianity of her youth.
RHE wrote four books published between 2010 and 2018, the year before her untimely death.
The first was Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. Four years later, it was republished as Faith Unraveled with the same subtitle.
Her 2012 book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, became a New York Times bestseller in e-book nonfiction, and her Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church (2015) also became a New York Times bestselling nonfiction paperback.
Rachel’s only book I have read is her last one, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again, published less than a year before her death. I was much impressed by it.
Here is just one of the many statements I liked in that book: “The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget – that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.”
Those words embody her central emphasis.
Goodreads.com has nearly 700 quotes from Rachel’s books that have been placed on their website by her readers. There have also been over 10,500 ratings of Inspired posted on Goodreads, which is far fewer than those for her previous two books!
One main reason I remember Rachel and encourage readers to do the same is because her central emphasis, as indicated above, expresses the truth of one of my favorite old Christian hymns, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.”
Here is what others said about her shortly after her death.
Writing for Religion News Service on May 4, 2019, journalist Katelyn Beaty lauded RHE for preaching “the wildly expansive love of God.”
Two days later, Eliza Griswold’s article in The New Yorker was titled “The Radically Inclusive Christianity of Rachel Held Evans.”
Also on May 6, Emma Green’s article in The Atlantic referred to RHE as a “hero to Christian misfits.”
Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans’ piece about RHE in the June 5, 2019, issue of The Christian Century was titled “Apostle to Outsiders.” Journalist Evans (no relation to Dan) wrote in the last paragraph, “Christianity in America is more lively, loving, generous and honest because of Rachel Held Evans.”
Journalist Green concluded her May 6 article with these words: “Evans spent her life trying to follow an itinerant preacher and carpenter, who also hung out with rejects and oddballs. In death, as that preacher once promised, she will be known by her fruits.”
Yes, let’s fondly remember Rachel now and give thanks for the fruit her much-too-short life is still producing.
A missionary to Japan from 1966-2004, he is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church.