Rachel Held Evans is a blogger with a substantial following, from what I hear, though I’ve not read any of her posts. In fact, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church is the first bit of writing I’ve read of Rachel’s. Friends who speak positively about her (those who know her and those who read her) tend to be of the same theological cloth—promote ordination of women as leaders in churches and promote the acceptance of homosexual relationships in the church; those who speak negatively about her tend to say she attacks straw men. So, when the opportunity to read and review one of her books arose, I thought it’d be good for me to check it out for myself.
Though there are obviously people who love this book and offer positive reviews, I did not find it particularly helpful or entertaining. The chapters are organized into sacramental sections, though it’s not always clear how or if many of the chapters fit anywhere in the book, let alone under their subheadings. I think it’s supposed to be memoir, but it’s quickly apparent that this is turning into a narrated lecture with moments of “shock-and-awe” language and imagery. (Perhaps this is what readers of her blog enjoy and are used to.) Sure, we all have hang-ups and frustrations with our churches, but there are a number of positive books for working through that struggle.
From the start, Rachel hammers her frustration, anger, and sadness over churches that deny the ordination of women and do not accept homosexual relationships, eventually stating it quite plainly: “There are denominations of which I cannot in good conscience be a part because they ban women from the pulpit and gay and lesbian people from the table” (184). There’s much more to the book, but this point is made so often (some more forcefully than others) that it overwhelms anything else she has to say. Rachel shares her struggle of not finding a church wherein she can revel in problems and doubt (except for wrestling with her battle cry—that must be fully accepted, as noted), eventually leaving public gatherings altogether while still touring and discussing her faith with churches and other organizations. For one with a broad understanding of denominational distinctives, it’s obvious after the first few chapters that, if she lands in another church, she would find the Episcopalians, though she concludes the book without any real recognition of “finding the church,” contrary to the book’s subtitle. It appears Rachel is still searching.
If the reader is in favor of the aforementioned hammering, then he or she will probably like the book; if not, then it’s probably going to be a difficult read. Either way, I just don’t think it would be at all helpful for those struggling with frustration, doubt, and questions in and about the church. If one argues that the intended purpose is not to guide but to describe, then I would suggest another look at the text.
(In Rachel’s defense, she notes in the introduction that she did not want to write this book, even losing a bit of it to a spilt chai on her computer, but was pushed by her publisher to do it.)
I pray for blessings on Rachel and others with similar struggles as they continue searching; may we all lovingly engage in a healthy wrestling with questions, doubts, one another, and God.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”