Searching for Sunday—A Review

A Story of Losing, Searching and Searching Some More

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A book review by Rev. Leanne Friesen, Mount Hamilton Baptist Church

Many Christians will be familiar with author and blogger Rachel Held-Evans, though mentioning the name in some circles will spark controversy.  She is a self-labelled “progressive” Christian who has publicly spoken out for LGBTQ rights and in favour of Hilary Clinton. In many ways, she has become a voice for Christian millennials who have become disillusioned with American evangelicalism and the institution of the Church.

In her latest book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel chronicles her journey from passion to disillusionment as a woman growing up in a small southern town in the United States while attending a traditional “right wing” congregation.  Reflecting her growing shift to a more mainline tradition, she uses the framework of the seven sacraments to tell her stories of seeking to live out her faith in a context that grows increasingly uncomfortable for her. Her early stories of sitting in church eagerly taking notes in the pews filled with church youth, of arguing with classmates about Biblical issues in the hopes to convert them and of youth camp competitions that hinged on winning the game “chubby bunnies” also resonated with me. Her sincere struggles in young adulthood also resonated with me, as she began to wrestle with Scripture and issues of things like women in leadership and the role of the Church in the political sphere. We learn that as she became an increasingly influential blogger, speaker and writer, her place in her church grew more precarious. In what was for me the most poignant moment of the whole book, she writes about ultimately stepping away from the congregation of her youth. She tells of weeping into her hands after a final meeting with her much-loved pastor and lamenting to her husband: “Who will make us casseroles when we have a baby?” This summarizes her deep struggle between longing for Christian community while yearning for a place to struggle authentically with real questions of faith.

As a Canadian, and a Canadian Baptist, one of my frustrations when I read Held-Evans is that her context often feels removed from me.  I am a woman in ministry and sometimes I feel like telling her: “It’s not that hard for all of us!” I suspect Canadian readers will also feel somewhat outside of the context of the American Bible belt in which she writes. However, I think this book still has value for many Canadian Baptist readers. I believe this book would be most useful for, or appreciated by:

  1. Those who want to better know Rachel Held-Evans. Love her or hate her, this book will help you better understand her perspective, and I think develop a greater appreciation for what she is contributing to Christian discourse at this moment in history.
  2. Those seeking to understand the struggle of many millennials with church. A lot of us simply don’t get it. We may still think that the younger generation should simply “do their duty” and go to church. Or we may think that we need to be more “hip” or “cool” to attract them. This book will give voice to why neither of these perspectives captures the struggle of millennials.
  3. Those who are struggling with church themselves. If you are someone who has wrestled with finding a place in the Christian tradition, you may find a soul companion in Rachel Held-Evans. I believe this is also a helpful book to pass on to someone who is struggling who would find hearing this voice validating.

You may be wondering if Rachel finds her way back to a church context. As a hint, her tag line for the book is “Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.”  You may notice that I gave a slightly different tagline as the title of this review.She is definitely still searching, but she is not giving up. For that, I applaud her.

2 thoughts on “Searching for Sunday—A Review”

  1. Sorry, can’t say I’ve ever heard of Rachel Held-Evans… perhaps as an evangelical Baptist ‘in Canada’, I’m a little too conservative? However, 15 minutes of research and a picture starts to emerge. That of a lapsed American evangelical (not a-typical I suppose). But to embrace the Episcopalian church as an alternative, I would suspect has an underlying ideological impetus (i.e. some entity that will tolerate/share/embrace her LGBT sympathies). With 2017 marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I would wonder how she might (still) sympathise with the ‘Sola Scriptura’ cry of the Reformers? However, does her work delve beneath the surface of a millennial mind (not that there is any real uniformity present) to consider the challenges of world view, ethics, personal fiscal policies and ‘certainty’ dreams? Just wondering! Furthermore, what is our (CBOQ) take on the challenges that our Canadian/Ontario millennials will face in the coming decade?

  2. I, too, had not heard of Rachel but did go to her blog and info pages to “be introduced.” As Jim said above, and as Leanne said, we in Canada probably will struggle to appreciate Rachel’s social, political and spiritual context. That being said when Rachel is introduced as a self identifying “progressive” I find myself immediately asking some basic, doctrinal questions. Does Rachel hold to classic progressive/liberal beliefs, which need not be listed exhaustively here except for the notable such as the denials of 1. Jesus Christ as the Son of God: 2.God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, 3. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ; 4. the Resurrection of Jesus. 5. the Authority and reliability of the Scriptures as God’s Word. 6. Man as lost in sin and in need of God’s Salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

    If this is what Rachel is holding to, as a progressive, than I question why her voice should be heard in a Christian context at all, because as J. Gresham Machen and D. M. Lloyd-Jones both demonstrated, Liberalism and Christianity are are at complete odds with each other as they each proclaim something very distinct and different from the other. As Lloyd-Jones said, “There is no such thing as Liberal Christianity and Evangelical Christianity. There is only Christianity and secular humanism.”

    Consider well what we read and listen to as it has the effect of shaping our thoughts and practice. Rachel may have some interesting insights into today’s culture, but of her observations and advise, is she building upon the one true foundation of Jesus Christ, or upon the world’s “progressive” denial of the Saviour?

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