a brief word on Rachel Held Evans, her dirty laundry, and her new book

a brief word on Rachel Held Evans, her dirty laundry, and her new book May 7, 2015

SfSI’ve read Rachel’s new book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church and recently heard her speak for almost 2 hours on it in nearby Lancaster–and even with my toddler-like attention span I hardly squirmed and never once reached for my iPhone.

I’m not going to write a review. There are enough out there, and more to come, I’m sure.

I’ll just say I love the book because I can give it to people who are struggling with their faith, with meaning, with church, because Rachel says things like this (paragraph breaks my own):

My mother used to tell me that we weren’t the type of people to air out our dirty laundry. What she meant was good Southern girls didn’t go around talking about their troubles or divulging their secrets. (I can only assume it was by some divine corrective that their daughter turned out to be a blogger.)

But this is a cultural idiom, not a Christian one.

We Christian don’t get to send our lives through the rinse cycle before showing up to church. We come as we are–no hiding, no acting, no fear.

We come with our materialism, our pride, our petty grievances against our neighbors, our hypocritical disdain for those judgmental people in the church next door.

We come with our fear of death, our desperation to be loved, our troubled marriages, our persistent doubts, our preoccupation with status and image.

We come with our addictions–to substances, to work, to affirmation, to control, to food.

We come with our differnces, be they political, theological, racial, or socioeconomic. We come in search of sanctuary, a safe place to shed the masks and exhale.

We come to air our dirty laundry before God and everybody because when we do it together we don’t have to be afraid. (pp. 70-71)

I teach college students and I raised three of them. I can tell you what I hear a lot: church is fake, and if church is fake, God is fake, and life is too short for fake, so no thanks.

I’ve handed this book so far to 4 people who needed to hear that they are understood, and to watch someone model the very path they are on and yet still talk about church in a hopeful way. I’m glad this book exists.

Rachel is able to speak to people like that because she went through that process herself–not to mention she is a great writer, with a healthy tone of self-deprication and humility in all of it. She sees herself in this list; I see myself, too.

Some who are critical of Rachel’s criticisms of the status quo write or read books I would never and could never give to the people Rachel is speaking to here–a post-Christian world that neither assumes the validity of nor tolerates for long the American Evangelical/Fundamentalist subculture.

This book is a “one body, many members” moment, not a “let’s get her”  feeding frenzy. Holster your weapons. Who knows? You might find yourself one day scrambling to give a copy of this book to someone close to you. You might even need it yourself.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • belovedspear

    I’m glad to see her continue to articulate a more gracious, thoughtful faith. She’s a blessing. I just wish, as a Presbyterian, that we’d not lost her to the Episcopalians. ;0) Oh well. I guess we still have Ann LaMott.

    • wakingdreaming

      You didn’t lose her because she was never Presbyterian.

      • David Williams

        No, she never was. Perhaps my sentence could have been better structured. “I, being a Presbyterian, would love to have had her join us.”

  • In the interest of brevity…”Ditto!”
    I bought the book after reading a very critical review by a very conservative church leader who evidently fails to understand that without the very real presence of “doubt” there is no need for “faith.”
    While not the normal route to a book purchase, my instincts were correct–Rachel’s excellent book helps to answer seekers and for those struggling with “doubts” (which is applicable to most of us…if not all if we are truly honest)
    Thanks, Dr. Enns for sharing.
    Best, luke

  • Sharon Homer-Drummond

    “Just as I am, without one plea.”

  • charlesburchfield


  • Judy Buck-Glenn

    And as an Episcopalian, I always knew she was one of us! 🙂

  • Anna

    My constant tension with doubt flared up rather dramatically recently, right before Rachel’s book came out. I’d planned to buy it anyway, so I did, read it, and in doing so, heard God’s answers to my fears and doubts. It’s unlikely I will ever live without doubt, and I wouldn’t really want to, as it makes me prize God all the more, but it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one out there.

    • nelson_keener

      My doubts are not a threat to truth. Truth only has integrity when it is open to (humble) inquiry.

      • Anna

        Yes, absolutely.

  • Mike H

    Reading the comments section of Pete’s blog from several weeks ago:

    “one big reason why so many young people are giving up on the Bible–and their faith”

    was so eye opening and utterly depressing for me.

    All the appeals to God’s “sovereignty” in that not all are “destined to be saved” anyways, the vitriolic accusations fired at youth who live in a confusing and rapidly changing world, the biblicism……clearly demonstrated to me that….. THEY. DO. NOT. CARE. At all. Their theological system can’t allow them to care, or to make any real sense of doubt or a faith crisis. They aren’t interested in listening because these people are a threat to them.

    Fortunately many do care and I’m grateful for them, but not ONLY because they care. The caring is usually the fruit of humility in a faith journey, and through their listening, honesty and theology show a God who isn’t indifferent – who is understanding of the complexities and difficulty of life.

  • Dan Andrews

    I enjoy her writings, her honesty, her doubts, her struggles. I did give one of her books to my daughter (who now follows Rachel).

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      With all due respect,Mr.Andrews,I would think that it would be far more beneficial for your daughter to follow Christ our Lord.

      • peteenns

        Laurence, to “follow” Rachel is a term in social media, meaning to “follow” someone on Twitter, Facebook, their blog, etc. I’m certain Dan isn’t suggesting that his daughter is following Rachel rather than Jesus.

      • Rust Cohle

        Why should anybody follow somebody who is ethically bad?

        Avolos, H. (2015) The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd.

        • Laurence Charles Ringo

          Thanks for making my point,Mr.Cohle…you’ve couched your question in terms not your own,but terms suggested to you to be valid by someone else.What was your assessment of Jesus the Christ prior to reading this book,and on what basis did you determine that Mr.Avolos’critique of the historical Jesus is correct?

  • Ronald Taska

    Readers moght want to check out the interview of this author on the website of Valarie Tarico.

  • Al Cruise

    “church is fake, and if church is fake, God is fake, and life is too short for fake, so no thanks.” What the current church gate keepers cannot understand is that they are the cause. Has God let them harden their hearts beyond a point of return to him, and for their churches? I believe he has.

    • Stuart Blessman

      Wouldn’t be the first time God left a people.

    • Justin Vest

      Yeah, life is too short for fake, so no church, please. We’ll just go pretend to be much better than we are to win our spouse and/or job, and kiss up to our bosses and betray our values to advance in our career, buy a dog or two to ward off the loneliness, have a panic kid at the age of 32, watch Game of Thrones, Justified, Homeland, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, HBO’s entire back catalog, play PS4 or Xbox One, comment on HuffPo, scroll through Facebook eight times a day, and shuttle our kid to enough extra-curricular activities to fill a Harvard application, as they learn how to live life from us. Television. Cocktails. Taking our one kid to a vineyard and deeming it “family time”. Making more money to move further away from the brown people we don’t want our kid going to school with, even though we’d never admit that, even to ourselves.

      Unlike you, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God. But I know millennials, and by the way, if you’re NOT one, don’t try to help. The last thing we need is another boomer patting us on the head and telling us, “Oh, you poor babies, nothing’s your fault”

      • Erica Nicole

        I don’t normally comment on posts but I think you should seriously reconsider your perspective. Because even if you haven’t seen it, the church can be very fake, and I almost left it because of that. I am a millennial, and there are things in the world that seem better then the church, it seems like there are others who care. It is people like you who scare us off by being fake, cruel, and short sighted. I am still a Christen and I read my bible and listen to sermons. But truthfully I no longer go to church. Mostly because of people like you.

        • Justin Vest

          I’m glad you commented. Let’s suppose that I am what you think I am–“fake, cruel and short sighted”. I would ask you to consider the last paragraph in Chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. In it, a senior devil is essentially “coaching” a lesser tempter, their ultimate goal being to secure the soul of the subject of the book (referred to as their “patient”) for eternal damnation…as you read, consider me (Justin Vest) someone with the obvious character defects you see in me, based on my previous comment. Without further ado, here are the words of the devil Screwtape, writing to a lesser devil called Wormwood:

          I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. [or a big ‘ol jerk on Disqus – JV] All you
          then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly
          and it simply won’t come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these “smug”, commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

          Your affectionate uncle,


          In other words, you should not at all decide whether or not to go to church based your perceived shortcomings of myself and others. They are irrelevant (and, I think a little off-the-mark in my case, but that’s really beside the point).

  • This and what you quoted was actually quite good, and as is, a conservative Bible-believing Christian can agree with it; as it is.

    “We Christian don’t get to send our lives through the rinse cycle before showing up to church. We come as we are–no hiding, no acting, no fear.”

    The problem is questioning clear Biblical doctrines like eternal hell, the urgent need for evangelism and missions, Creation vs. Random-materialistic-Darwinism, that homosexuality is sin, that woman can be pastors-teachers-elders in authority in the local church, etc.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      Ken, you already asume much – for instance, Pete here believes God created the cosmos, but he is no young earth creationist, and he is quite comfortable with Darwin. He doesn’t fit in your apparent dualistic thinking. We could go on.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Clear biblical doctrines” . . .please, Ken, with all due respect, a lot of people here have done serious study of the Bible, and have concluded the claim that those are clear bible doctrines is laughable at best.

  • Ken Cooper

    I remember Eugene Peterson saying in his book on Revelation, called Reversed Thunder, that the Church is not like the living room of a house. The living room is tidy and always ready for company. The Church is like the family room. It is where life is lived…it is messy.

    • Agni Ashwin

      I thought the Church was more like a hospital.

      • R Vogel

        at least you didn’t say like the loo! 🙂

  • Veritas

    Every moment of doubt is an opportunity to choose to trust, to reinforce our faith.

    • Stuart Blessman

      Doubt the doubts about your doubts.

  • GeeJohn

    While solidly mainline, two years ago I began dusting off some of my (awesome) evangelical upbringing memories to survey online what was new and fresh. Held Evans and the Cussing Pastor were who I read or listened to fairly regularly. After the implosion in Seattle this year, and learning so much about the strong misogynistic attitudes present at the storm center, every time I read criticism of Rachel I wonder about the critics behavioral maturity. I’m nearly 50 this year, and hardly consider myself a youthful progressive, but this woman seems to have got the score right.

  • Al Cruise

    “I teach college students and I raised three of them. I can tell you what I hear a lot: ” The Church needs to listen and hear. I have 2 children in University, I ask them and their friends what is an evangelical ? The answer I hear over and over again…. a right wing conservative voter. Churches can listen but are very reluctant to hear.

    • Justin Vest

      And when a student says “a right wing conservator voter” in answer to the question “what is an evangelical”, what are we to make of that? Are we supposed to glean some kind of wisdom or understanding from this, other than the utter ignorance of today’s young?

  • cvictor

    She seems overly fixated on the LGBT thing. I would like to know what she thinks about the (B) and (T) parts of it – sadly, people like RHE are not open to moderated beliefs. For instance, I think it is ok to love someone like Bruce Jenner, but one should be able to say “man, you are seriously messed up, lets help you”. I get the feeling that RHE would celebrate what Jenner is doing as brave, and him finally finding what he was looking for, rather than seeing a serious mental disorder.

    I’m afraid that just like in the late 1800s, the good ideas of progressive Christianity always go too far and are then reintroduced to the fact that their Utopian view of the world is unrealistic. At some point you have acknowledge that some activities are just plain disturbing, and love them anyway.

    • Not to derail the comments too much, but can you provide information backing your claim that being a transgender person is a mental disorder? According to the APA: “A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.” What is your source? http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx

      I would also suggest that (being friends with several people who are transgender in my own life) making the judgment that they are “seriously messed up” and need help implies alot that is difficult to fully unpack here. Many transgender people have already tried to “be normal,” sought such “help,” and been tortured as a result (in some cases for years). And suddenly, just when they find some closure for their identity, somebody they don’t know comes along and tells them conclusive information about themselves and what they *really* need. Yeah sorry, that’s not a way to love someone, even if you still “disagreed” with them (whatever that means). That’s just not paying attention or listening to someone’s life experiences. And that’s why it doesn’t work. Maybe I’m one of those unrealistic progressive dreamers, but I don’t think its Utopian to expect people to pay attention long enough to recognize the difference between a mental disorder and gender identity. I think it’s sloppy thinking, unscientific, and in the end, untenable.

      • buricco

        One could argue that anything outside the norm is a “disorder”, but then, the saying stands: “Define normal.”

      • cvictor1

        Would you let Bruce Jenner babysit your kids while you are away? I only ask that to ascertain if you see his behavior as abnormal and unsfe.

        • peteenns

          Justin, would you let cvictor1 babysit your kids?

          • I’d need more data, Dr. Enns. I want to check out cvictor’s scientific source for ascertaining abnormal behavior and mental disorders first, and see if it all checks out. I mean no offense (obviously), but I wouldn’t want any messed up, pseudoscientific cranks near my kids. Crank thinking is disturbing. . .and of course, of course, God loves them and I love them too. . . but it’s just not right to expose kids to crackpot thinking at such impressionable ages.

            However, I’m confident cvictor is not in that crank category, and will be able to produce that source. In the meantime, the kids (when my fiancé and I have them later in life) will be watched by any of our good friends, some of who are gay, bisexual, and, yes, transgender – and all of whom are reliable, consistently productive members of society. And I’m sure they’d assist us in teaching the kids the value of determining who is trustworthy based on actions – not on prejudice.

        • ajl

          A better question is this (stealing from Greg Boyd’s answer to whether he would kill a violent person attacking his family):

          if Bruce Jenner was your son, how would you treat him?

          would you ostracize him? would you keep him away from your other kids? Or would you love him, hurt for him, and at the end of the day tell him “I love you no matter what”.

          I suspect that is a good way to be introspective on this, and other LGBT questions.

        • R Vogel

          Apparently the DMS has now been slimmed down to ‘Would you let them babysit your kids?’

          Alas, the number cis gendered religious people that would not satisfy that requirement is quite extensive….

        • Stevie D

          The implication of your question is deeply offensive.

          However to answer that implied part – the fact that Cynthia Jenner has changed gender, would not affect my choice of her as a baby sitter. I would do normal background criminal checks before employing her, as I do not know her personally.

    • Giauz Ragnarock

      Way to derail a thread talking about how messed up you are.

    • Lark62

      *Why* should you say “man you are seriously messed up.”?

      Seriously, pause for a minute. Why should you say that?

      First, you didn’t say “man I think you are…” but “You Are”. You passed judgment as if your word is final.

      Second, why say it? Bruce knows what he is dealing with. I expect he has a good idea that people disagree. So what is gained except to establish your superiority and stake your claim to stand in judgment?

      It’s like the people who feel obligated to tell me my weight does not conform to the expectations of some chart. “No kidding? Really? I never would have guessed. Now butt out before I tell you where to file your complaint.”

      To rephrase your last sentence – At some point you have to acknowledge that some activities are just plain none of your business.

      • cvictor1

        It becomes my business when people who live like that want me to say it’s perfectly acceptable. And, they want to expose my kids to it. And, people like our RHE want to mock me for saying it as an oddity.

        I can love them, and I can help them. But I can’t sit back and tell them the way they are living their lives is just fine – it isn’t. It is destructive.

  • Yes! SO this!

  • Ambaa

    I’ve found her willingness to be honest even when it hurts extremely refreshing. She doesn’t try to hide behind anything. Even us non-Christians can respect and admire that!

  • I just can’t understand how Rachel can write so cogently about her “dirty laundry”, yet act to suppress all discussion of it on social media.

    You’ll get blocked if you ask her about Julie McMahon or Tony Jones or abuse allegations. Which is strange, because she campaigned so strongly against SGM & Driscoll / Mars Hill. I think it’s a lot harder when it’s your own movement and your own book sales on the line.

    • peteenns

      Tim, as a blogger myself, I can tell you there are many reasons to “block”–though how do you know she is “blocking” people? Occasionally I don’t allow comments to go through, but that isn’t “blocking.” I “suppress” discussion too, because I know there are trolls who just want to stir up trouble and so ask questions out of ill will, not good faith. They don’t have the right to engage. I almost blocked your comment because of you insinuation that Rachel’s principles are driven by book sales.

      • Thanks, Peter. You’re right, there could be many different reasons why Rachel didn’t launch a social media campaign in response to Julie McMahon’s allegations.

        As far as I understand, Rachel referred people who complained of abuse within progressive / emergent circles to abuse hotlines and the courts. She then considered the matter closed. This isn’t what she’s done previously. I won’t speculate further on her motives or her reasons for acting differently – you’ve made it clear that’s not an appropriate use of this space.

        Can I leave you a link to Julie McMahon’s story?
        Please feel free to edit it out if it’s inappropriate.

      • Stephen M.

        As someone who has grown to deeply respect Rachel’s work over the last few years (both hers and yours Peter have been instrumental in my own faith being renewed and refocused) what drew me to Rachel was her commitment to calling out some of the most horrible abuse in the evangelical church. Having seen the reactions (blocking people/deleting comments/shutting down any and all discussion) Tim speaks of has been very painful for myself and others and once again feeling like parts the “tribe” that I had found was not any more trustworthy than the other side of the coin they seemed to have been standing up against. . I desperately want to read Rachel’s book, but I can’t. I can’t even pick it up. It’s to painful and I don’t trust her anymore.

        That being said I’m loving you’re new book Peter, it hits on so much of what I learned in Seminary (mainly from th best hermanutics team I could have had: Jeanine Brown and Thorsten Moritz) and I’ve recommended it to several people who I know are enjoying it as well. Books like yours help people to break down those walls that so many churches have put up to stop people from studying the bible in any context other than “what does this mean for me today?”

        So thank you for that.

        Ps: I know you might not let this through, but I wanted you to read it, so thank you for taking the time to do that. I hope what I write makes sense, I know it’s a difficult topic. I appreciate your work.

        • cvictor1

          Just started reading the stuff on Tony Jones, et. al., and RHE support of these guys. I’ve just returned my RHE book to B&N. And, I will never buy a book by McLaren.

          sadly, this group is no different than the fundamentalists they criticize. I have friends who are authors in the Christian book market – it is a racket just like any of the other publishing businesses.

          Peter is different in that he is a trained scholar who is already engaged in the publishing arena through his academic pursuits. But I am done reading Driscoll, McLaren, Bell, or Rick Warren.

          • Stephen M.

            I hope I didn’t imply that I don’t trust Peter. He seems fantastic and engaging and I love his writing.

            Thank you Peter for your continued work.

          • peteenns

            I certainly didn’t take it that way.

          • Stephen M.

            Great! I really respect you and you’re views Peter. I appreciate you being willing to listen and dialogue about this.

      • Stevie D

        I think there should be a wider review of this issue on Patheos in general – an assumption that freedom of reply should USUALLY apply.

        I accept absolutely that bloggers must have the right to manage responses. Some are very harsh and remove all posts with the slightest inkling of challenge. The worst are those who post provocative content and then disallow all comments…this is cowardly and indicates an inability to listen to any other opinion or properly to defend your own.

        FWIW my opinion is that you moderate in a way which is harder than I would like, but at least you allow comment…and it is your blog.

    • hoosier_bob

      Unless she is blogging about that topic, then she should delete the comment. When I come to a blog, I want to the comments to proffer intelligent discussion of the subject matter at hand, not unsubstantiated gossip. Your desire to engage in such conduct says a lot more about you than it does about Jones or RHE. Especially where kids are involved, I see little that can be accomplished by idle online gossip.

  • hoosier_bob

    I don’t always agree with RHE, but I feel like we need many more folks like her in evangelicalism and a lot fewer folks like Al Mohler. The Christian life is not about having all the right answers; it is about trusting the One who is the answer. RHE seems to get that in a way that the annoying “answer men” of evangelicalism don’t.

  • I am a mid-fifties and (long ago) seminary grad, with four young children. I find you and Rachel to be very refreshing! I’ve been in the church for more than 35 years … and I now think it’s fake too. I haven’t yet concluded that God is fake. I think that “the church” has jumped the shark regarding the gospel. When I see, just as an example, christians writing blogs about whether it’s biblical for christians to get a tattoo or whether (this question posed to piper) it’s “o.k. for guys to listen to talks given by women,” it makes me not want to have anything to do with christians (who equate christianity with moralism). How in the world could “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” not be better than christian moralism and snarky judgementalism? (As Steven Wright said, “when will all the rhetorical questions end?”)