Top 3 on Tuesday: Rachel Held Evans

First of all, surely you have heard of Rachel Held Evans.  I mean, you have…right?  Because from what I understand, she’s kind of a big deal.  And her blog seems to be something of a hub, when it comes to young, evangelical thought and discussions.  She has written a couple of books, and this year on the blog, she features several series on the interpretation of Scripture.  The first one centered around The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith.  Her current one is based on Scripture and the Authority of God, by N.T. Wright.

My husband says that this is a distinctly church-of-Christ quirk, but as always, I feel compelled to say, “Now, I don’t always agree with 100% of what she writes…”  He’s probably right about the quirk.  We c-of-C’ers are naturally distrustful of anything that is not pure Scripture, and so we always have to add that word of caution before recommending anything that is not a book of the Bible.  And so I will offer my usual caveat with RHE:  I certainly do not agree with many of her stances, but I love her willingness and ability to think deeply on a variety of topics that are dear to my heart.  Even her current focus on Biblical interpretation fits in perfectly with my own interests as I read through the Bible (or try to) this year.

Honestly, though, even if you find yourself at constant odds with her opinions, I think she is worth reading simply because she is so representative of an entire generation of evangelicals (or whatever they/we call them-/ourselves).  If nothing else, this blog will help you get inside of the heads of that group and hopefully understand them a bit better.

Here are my top 3:

1.  How to Follow Jesus…Without Being Shane Claiborne

I loved this one, and I tried to find a suitable excerpt, but the post is really too short to lift something out of it.  Just go read it.

2.  They Were Right (and Wrong) About the Slippery Slope

Another short, but good one.  The slippery slope fallacy is a pet peeve of mine, and so I really liked the way that she turned the idea on its head by showing the ways that it had proven true in her own life.

3.  Ask a Pacifist…(Response)

Rachel has a whole series called, “Ask a…”  Each week, she introduces a new “type”:  an atheist, a Unitarian, a Muslim, a libertarian, a progressive, etc.  Then, she gives readers a chance to leave questions for that person in the comments.  Next, she picks the most popular questions and gives them to the person to answer.  The answers are featured the next week.  The pacifist was her most recent one…and the question from Kim?  That’s me!  I had hoped that she would correct the typos (good grief–I REALLY need to proofread my comments), but she didn’t, and so I sort of sound like a moron.  But I thought he had an interesting response.

Alright, so those are my reading recommendations.  Do you have any good recommendations this week?

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on March 27, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Read your question to the Pacifist – you sounded very unmoronic.



  2. Posted by bekster081305 on March 28, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I LOVED the “Without Being Shane Claiborne” post. I am very much NOT an “all or nothing” kind of person, so I agreed with her completely. I also really liked the “Slippery Slope” post. The specific things I have allowed myself to question are not necessarily the same as hers, but in general I am all for questioning the things we have always heard. There is no reason to fret (like many old-schoolers do) when people dig past what they are “supposed” to believe in an attempt to find truth. If something really is true, it will stand up to questioning. In fact, I think in some ways it is our duty to question things to make sure that we haven’t “slipped” into legalism and self-righteous pride. (BTW, what do you consider the “slippery slope fallacy”? It sounds like you have strong feelings about that and I am curious what they are.) As for the “Pacifist” post (okay, I only read down through where he answered your question), I thought that your question was very good, but he was kind of confusing to me. What is he trying to say with this statement?: “Indeed, if it [Christian nonviolence] is not something that can be practiced then I fear that Jesus’ resurrection, along with his life and teachings, are rather meaningless.” That seems like a pretty big jump to me. What am I missing?

    Oh, and your disclaimer (and your disclaimer of your disclaimer) 🙂 reminds me that I wanted to say something about the whole being-afraid-of-saying-the-wrong-thing thing. I totally feel that too now. When I first started blogging (a really, really long time ago–at least to me), 🙂 I found it liberating just to come right out and say whatever I felt like needed to be said. But, now, because of the whole being-dependent-on-the-donations-of-others-for-my livelihood thing (and because of, I hope, a little maturity), I feel that I have to be more careful. Truth be told, I really enjoy the chance to voice my opinions in the comments here because I am under the impression (I could be wrong, but if I am don’t spoil it for me) that the people I have the most fear of offending aren’t reading this blog. (Yes, yes; I know that anything, once put on the Internet, is fair game for anyone to see, but I do think it makes a difference how public you are intending to be.) Not that I’m going to use that as licence to be a jerk, but it doesn’t seem quite as scary as making my thoughts the main points of posts on my own blog. In this way I am a bit of a hypocrite because, when I hear you talking about having the same fear, my gut response is, “Just do it, Kim! If you think something is true or worthy of thought, you should say it. If someone doesn’t like it, they need to be more open-minded.” However, I have a really hard time applying these same sentiments to myself (which is probably a big reason why I don’t post on my own blog as often as I should). SO, that leaves me in kind of a middle position, in which I’m not sure what to do. I agree with what I said to Ivy a while back about the value of sharing different opinions. Even when I have read/heard/seen things from others that “offended” me at the time, they have planted little seeds in my brain that have helped me to shape my current opinions (for the better, I hope). If you have an opinion that I don’t agree with from the outset, I still want to know what it is so that I have the chance to weigh it in my own mind and, perhaps, get a little bit closer to the truth than I was before (whether I am only solidifying what I already thought or am actually changing my opinion). However, not everyone has this perspective. As I discover more and more of what I think Jesus really wants us to do, I find myself caring less and less if I offend old school conservatives (because I think their ways can actually hinder the true practice of the gospel). But, I still don’t want to get “in trouble,” and I still love the old school conservatives (the people themselves) and would like to be able to share my opinions in ways that would be beneficial to them (or, mutually beneficial if they can prove that I am, in fact, off my rocker). I just don’t always know how to do that without coming off like a jerk or, conversely, shying away from what I REALLY want to say. Anyway, have you come to any conclusions about this yet, or are you still mulling it over too?


    • Posted by Tim on March 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Becky, I admire your attitude about speaking out. Those in positions of responsibility in God’s kingdom should carefully consider their words, and it sounds to me like you are doing admirably in this. (You want to know another job that means restricting what you say? Mine! There are a ton of things judges can’t speak out on, and even on those we can there are restrictions on how to do so.)

      And I know you didn’t ask me the question, but here’s my take on the slippery slope issue. I think people are misusing the phrase. (It’s one we used in law school a lot to relfect the expansion of legal principles into new areas, and the need to make sure the law was not extending beyond its practical usefulnees.) In Rachel Held Evans’s post, it seems she is accused not of sliding down the slippery slope but of questioning conventional wisdom; they’re not the same thing, of course. As you say, questioning and exploring the basis for belief is a good thing. In fact, according to 1 John 4:1 and Acts 17:11 it’s a godly thing to do.


      P.S. Here’s an example of the slippery slope issue applied in legal debates. If someone is injured by another person’s negligence, the injured party can collect for physical injuries as well as the distressful suffering that comes with those injuries. But what about the witnesses to the accident who are also distressed by that negligence, can they recover? For a long time the law denied recovery for bystanders. Then it expanded to bystanders who were family members of the injured party, but only if they were contemporaneously aware of the injury (heard or saw the accident, for example). Other witnesses (who might actually be more distressed) cannot recover, nor can family who learn about it after the fact. Expanding liability might have led to slipping down the slope so that anyone who can prove distress could recover, but the law stopped that slide from happening by limiting recovery.

      P.P.S. If anyone’s interested, TRJ posted a piece I did on how to talk to pregnant people:
      It’s fairly lighthearted but I’d still love to hear some feedback on the subject, thanks!


      • Posted by bekster081305 on March 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm

        Thanks, Tim. Yeah, the “slippery slope” idea makes me think of “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” (Ah, now there’s another good children’s book, though I’m not sure if we are supposed to attach a moral to it–“if you give someone an inch…”–or if it is just supposed to be fun.) Using the term “slippery slope” to talk of questioning conventional wisdom sort of makes it sound like, in doing so, a person is conceding points (stances, whatever) that ought not to be conceded. “Well, if you say it’s okay to clap during worship, next the people will think it’s okay to use instruments.” However, in that example, simply looking into what the Bible says about worship is not the beginning of a slippery slope, and coming to a decision (clapping is okay) is not giving up a part of some perfect doctrine (as if there were such a thing). The worse thing would be to hold so tightly to church doctrine (clapping is evil and bad) that we miss what God really wants us to do (we should worship in spirit and in truth; let’s find out what that means).

        Oh, and I appreciate your “married to a pregnant woman” post. I have never been pregnant, but I hope to be someday. I would think that “yes” would be the right thing to hear from my husband. It’s good that you (as a man) can proclaim things like this because it really doesn’t come out as good coming from a woman. 🙂


        • Posted by Tim on March 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm

          Thanks, Becky. One of the main things I hope a woman can get from the what-not-to-say post is that if her husband ever says something stupid while she’s pregnant, it still probably isn’t as bad as me telling my wife I was going back to sleep!


    • Becky,

      Choosing your words is definitely tricky no matter who you are. You are right to point out that maturity makes us all more aware of our need to be judicious and loving with our words, regardless of where our income comes from. And as Tim points out, the job restraints do not simply apply to ministers and missionaries, but to many other professions, as well. As for Greg and me, the question we used to ask ourselves when we had a potentially dangerous opinion was, “Is the truth of this belief more important than our love for the teens?” In other words, is it worth speaking out, even if it means that we might be unable to continue this ministry afterward? In 95% of cases, we decided that the teens were too important to even risk it. At the same time, I have to say that there is still a high-potential for soul-selling in ministry, and I know there were times when I crossed the line. I may have been SAYING, “The teens are more important than this belief,” but what I was feeling was that my life’s circumstances were more important than this belief, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize those circumstances. I am still careful now, but I can honestly say that it is not out of fear of job loss–or fear at all. I know that our family and our future are in God’s hands, and there is no point in living in fear (at least, I know that right now. I have also been known to forget the lessons I have learned and to revert back to my previous behavior:)).

      Speaking of fear, that’s what I hate about the slippery slope argument. I think it is ultimately a tactic that preys on fear. Its goal is to keep people from taking even one step forward for fear of what MAY be all the way down at the end of the line. I’m not saying that the slippery slope argument is always wrong (although I honestly think that it is a lot of the time). Even when it is right, however, I don’t think we should make decisions out of fear.


      • Posted by Tim on March 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm

        That’s exactly it, Kim. It’s “a tactic that plays on fear”! Nice catch, there.



      • Posted by bekster081305 on March 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

        Yes, it is all about fear. And I get what you’re saying about weighing the importance of the message with those who would lose you if you got in trouble. Where I am in my spiritual journey right now, though, it is BECAUSE OF those I am serving that I find the messages to be so important. What I’m afraid of more than anything is this:

        “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
        “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” –Matthew 23:13-15

        [Okay, I’m just going to ramble for a minute and see what comes out.] Spiritually, legalism doesn’t work. It may appear outwardly to work, but really it’s just a big band-aid that hides how terrible the wound really is. A doctor who only treats symptoms but ignores the actual diseases may be doing more harm than good in the long run. To give people the impression that they can be saved through works is, in my opinion, more dangerous than giving them leeway to sin. Jesus already took care of the sin problem. We can teach people to get over the sin problem once they have a real handle on grace. But, to push rules without changing the heart only gives Satan a safe place to hide. Also, a person taught to value the rules above everything probably hasn’t been taught how to love someone whose sin is exposed. Since everyone has sin, a whole congregation of people like that are going to have a hard time truly loving each other, much less being able to show compassion to those in the world who really need the love of Christ.

        This is why I feel enormous pressure to scream the truth from the rooftops… but it is because of the usual responses of these people that I often refrain. Also, in order to come up with these ideas or to figure out what else is true that I have previously missed, I need some freedom to talk and bounce my ideas off of other thinking people. Maybe I really am wrong about something, but how will I know if I am wrong unless someone tells me? (Well, they don’t have to say “you’re wrong;” they can just give me their own, different opinion and I can weight it against my own and adjust my thinking.) To be able to get someone else’s opinion, though, I need to be able to put my own opinion out there. I guess maybe it makes a difference HOW I put it out there. If I say that I am just thinking and am looking for different opinions, that is harder to knock down than for me to say “This is how it is. Deal with it.” Still, some things (I think) need to be said with some fervor. I’m sure that John the Baptist offended some people by shouting out “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near.” Elijah and most of the prophets also offended people with the things that God told them to say. The apostles couldn’t help but speak the truth, and they were persecuted. Jesus himself rocked the boat so much that they had him killed.

        So, at what point is it appropriate to stand up and say “Enough of legalism!” (or whatever other kind of thought is hindering true ministry and keeping people from the love of Christ)? I still don’t quite know, and, like you, I struggle with where my fear is coming from. Anyway, this is where I’m at right now. I want to be respectful, and I don’t want to “throw it all away” over my petty opinions. But, this stuff is important. Just like things revert to chaos unless acted upon by an outside force (or whatever that law of thermonuclear dynamics says), I fear what could happen if those of us who question the status quo don’t stand up and say something.


        • Becky, I sympathize so much with your struggles. I completely understand the desire for a sounding board, and the best sounding boards are people who disagree with you. Those are the ones who help refine and sharpen your thoughts the most. And yet, it can be really difficult b/c in matters that people really care about, sometimes it’s hard to “agree to disagree,” I guess. I know that I have been unwise in the past when it comes to choosing sounding boards, and thus, I got negative reactions that I was definitely NOT expecting. So yeah…it can be tricky. (And just so you know, I would have NO problem being your sounding board, but I think that in most places we are already going in the same direction, so I wouldn’t be much help. I would be a good cheerleader instead:)).

          And as for knowing when it is appropriate to speak out, well, let me know when you figure that one out. I’m still working on that one.


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