Rachel Held Evans, in my opinion, is a good writer. She is engaging and has a way to express ideas in compelling fashion. She can tell a story, crafting the details in a forward fashion as she draws her reader in. All that being said, I find myself, often, in mostly disagreement with her opinions and ideas.
“Inspired” is a book about the Bible. Evans has grown tired of Christians who have held to the old adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me.” This book is an exploration of the different genres contained in the Bible, how they might be considered in light of their genre. Evans bucks up against the various descriptors that people have put on the Bible, particularly those in the evangelical camp when they have called the Bible “inerrant” and “infallible.”
Evans writes, “What business do I have describing as “inerrant” and “infallible” a text that presumes a flat and stationary earth, takes slavery for granted, and presupposes patriarchal norms like polygamy?” To me, there is so much to say in this statement alone, far more than this review has word space for. It’s an ironic statement to me, coming from Evans considering her constant pushback against the variable interpretation of the various genres.
There were times when I felt myself nodding along with her. She writes, “When you stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, perspicacious, certain, absolute – then you’re free to revel in what it is: living, breathing, confounding, surprising, and yes, perhaps even magic.” Having read the Bible through on multiple occasions, I can embrace this statement, and there is nothing more frustrating, to me, than to find people trying to use the Bible as a science textbook when it was never written as such.
Evans explores the various genres of the Bible within “Inspired.” Before each chapter, she writes a shorter prelude to the genre, in narrative form. This, to me, is where Evans shines. She is creative, witty, and engaging when she writes stories, As I have seen with other writers who have gone beyond their gifts of prose and story to fancy themselves theologians, when they stick with their strengths, they flourish. But I get it, Evans has an axe to grind and her writing is the greatest gift and tool she feels she has to grind that axe.
She is honest as she deals with the Bible, chronicling her own struggles and upbringing. She describes the Bible as, “smudged with human fingerprints” and goes on to describe the Psalms, among my personal favorites, as the “blotchiest pages of all.”
I appreciate Evans writing of her journey with the Bible. I can empathize with the struggles that I have had with this ancient book that believers call “the Word of God.” My struggle with the approach that Evans takes is that it just doesn’t seem to allow for any consistency. It feels to me as if the Bible can be read like a Choose Your Own Theology book, coming to a particular section in which the reader can determine which course of action or theology to embrace.
As seen in the quote above, Evans uses the word “magic” to describe how the Bible may be seen. My chosen word would probably be “mystery,” and I’m pretty sure Evans even uses that word in her book. As humans, we always seek concrete answers, answers that we can taste and touch and feel. But life rarely affords us the luxury of such answers and the Bible, in my opinion, is similar.
Evans and I can both agree that the Bible isn’t the place to go to find out whether or not to date the love of your life, whether to switch jobs, whether to move, or the place to go to answer countless other questions that we humans can so often become entangled within. Instead, I see the Bible as the written Word of God, revealing himself to us, and the story of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, who mysteriously provided a way back to God and a means to redeem and restore us.
Evans holds off her most controversial chapter, and the chapter about which she is most likely most passionate, until the end. In the chapter entitled “Church Stories,” Evans fires off about her stance on same-sex relationships and how she interprets Paul’s letters. She fully admits that Paul is the biblical writer who confounds her the most.
Context is key in reading the Bible, but part of that context is to see how God has revealed himself to us through this written word that we call the Bible. When we take into account the context in which a particular section of the Bible was written, we also have to take into account how God has revealed himself, his will, and his intention in the entirety of the Bible. When we fail to do that, we can easily find ourselves in a Choose Your Own Theology book.
“Inspired” is the third book that I have read by Rachel Held Evans. It may be the one that I have found myself with more takeaways that either of the other two, but that doesn’t mean that the conclusions to which we both arrive are the same. As a book exploring the genres of the Bible, “Inspired” was worthwhile. If exploration of the Bible and its genres is your desire, I would recommend more scholarly resources to explore the genres deeper. If an opinion piece that chronicles personal struggles and viewpoints is your goal, this may be just the book for you.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)