Last week, I went to hear Rachel Held Evans speak. I had barely heard her name and knew her only as some kind of "theology-ish" person. However, her topic-The church and its young people-sounded very interesting. Still, I didn't have very high hopes. I thought it might be kind of dumb, actually. I feel very strongly that the church is far too obsessed with "getting young people" and that the current gimmicky trends are ridiculous. I expected Evans's talk to be more of the frantic hand wringing, but I went anyway. I am so thankful that I ended up going! Sure, what she said was preaching to the choir, but it was still fascinating and inspiring and generally wonderful. In addition to a wonderful talk, all the people in attendance were given signed copies of her new book.
I hurried home and stayed up till one in the morning ploughing through this book, thoroughly enjoying and agreeing all the way. (Warning: In this post will be a lot of Christianese and pretty divisive topics currently in the church and I'm going to spout opinions left and right. If this sounds boring to you, I understand. You may leave now. Okay, let's continue.) Evans grew up in what she calls, "the buckle of the Bible belt", namely, Dayton Tennessee. Dayton is also home to the famous Scope's Monkey Trial and hundreds up churches. You can read all about her church-going story in her book, but, she grew up in a typically fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and church, only to realize that she was having all these doubts and questions, doubts that her church was unwilling to let her have.
After years of struggling to regain her faith, Evans now writes and talks about what the church is doing wrong-and right-particularly in regards to the Millennial generation. It is no secret that many people under 35 aren't coming to church. In response to this, churches wring their hands and get a praise band and a coffee shop in a frantic effort to become relevant. Evans, in response to this, is writing about what the church really needs to do. I fall in the Millennial generation myself and I did resonate so much with a lot of what she said. She argues that the church needs to lose the fog machines and the coffee shops (if you've ever been to a church-wide convention, you know exactly what she's talking about) and regain its weird. Go back to doing the strange and the uncomfortable. The foot washing and the confessions. The communion and taking care of the sick and wounded.
She writes that Millennials are sick of having to choose between science and faith or feminism and faith, sick of people stirring politics into religion, the culture wars, rampant exclusivity. Tired of having church be a place that prefers the pretty, everything-put-together people over the dirty, sick, lonely, wounded people, the very people that Jesus first called to follow him. And, as encouragement, there are many examples throughout the book of churches that have taken this radical approach to their community.
The book is arranged around the seven sacraments, as named by traditional high churches-baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. There are stories Evans's journey towards reconciliation with the church, stories from other people, and beautiful, poignant reflections. In addition to be a brilliant writer, though, Evans is hilarious. I haven't laughed so hard in I don't know how long. The topic is serious and there are heartbreaking stories, but through it all, Evans manages to maintain her humor. And you all know how much I appreciate a funny writer.
There were so many other wonderful points made in this book, but I don't want to give the whole book away. It's really something that I think every Christian needs to read. Evans is unapologetically progressive (which I appreciated), but she is also a serious Christian. She isn't the type of Christian progressive who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the words "confession" or "sin". Her fresh insight into our broken, but beautiful, church inspired me in so many ways-and made me want to have all kinds of discussions.
I can't even begin to recommend this book enough. Heck, even if you're not a Christian, I think this book might be interesting (and definitely amusing). Also, the book, while it talks about Millennials quite a bit, is definitely geared to anybody who has left the church, was annoyed by the church, or is just interested in somebody's thoughts on how our church needs to change. Really, go read this.