Searching for Sunday: We make the way by walking


Note from CM: We are devoting this week to reviewing some recent books that have caught my interest and attention. Thursday will be an Open Forum day for you to share what you have been reading.


IM Book Week
Book Three: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans
We make the way by walking

• • •

It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.

• Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans has written a classic post-evangelical wilderness tale. It is a bit different from my story, or Michael Spencer’s, or from others of our generation. That’s because we built and operated the church she left.

She is our children — a megachurch millennial, a church growth child, a culture war kid. Whereas our evangelical/fundamentalist journey may have started in a mainline Protestant church or in a traditional Southern Baptist or Independent Baptist hymn-singing congregation, or perhaps in a Scofield Bible-toting group of doctrine lovers, Evans grew up when church had become cool, when evangelicals had gained a measure of power and public exposure. Her generation was taught to have a Christian worldview, to pray at the pole, vote Republican, acquire the fire, go on the annual mission trip, and worship with uplifted hands before praise band populated stages.

Rachel emerged from the program church, the church with more access to information, technology, and affluence than any in history. Yet the evangelical church world in which she grew up, though it became bigger and more prosperous, hipper and more slickly marketed, became the church many of our children decided they don’t want anymore.

I can’t provide the solutions church leaders are looking for, but I can articulate the questions that many in my generation are asking. I can translate some of their angst, some of their hope.

At least that’s what I tried to do when I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be know by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff — biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice — but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

I explained that when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome at the table, then we don’t feel welcome either, and that not every young adult gets married or has children, so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people. And I told them that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus — the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.

No coffee shops or fog machines required. (p. xiiif)

This book is about the ongoing search for that kind of faith and faith community, and not about finding the destination. Rachel Held Evans tells us plainly that she is still in the “adolescence” of her faith and that she is one of those who is still “hanging on by her fingernails,” not one who is holding up a sign and pointing the way to a clear “answer.” It’s about living in that time of day when we sense the possibility of dawn, though the light has not broken through yet. Though many of us are preparing spices to take to the church’s tomb, we are hopeful of a resurrection story to come.

Searching for Sunday is organized according to the seven sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. Each sacrament forms an imaginative “world” in which she can talk about various parts of her journey in the church, leaving the church, and finding the church again. Like many of us who have ventured out of the church and into the wilderness, Evans has found in the sacraments that God is not absent from the ordinary. Indeed, “Christ plays in ten thousand places” (Hopkins).

The One we formerly thought confined to doctrine and Bible study guides and being “right” actually comes to people more indirectly, through the common “stuff” of life. She quotes Barbara Brown Taylor with approval: “In an age of information overload . . . the last thing any of us needs is more information about God. We need the practice of incarnation, by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned them dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in in their bodies. Not more about God. More God.”

The Holy One will not be confined to temples made with human hands — or doctrinal statements or church programs. By meditating on her journey through the lens of the sacraments, she finds wonderful ways of weaving meditations upon the simple things of earth — water, oil, bread, wine, wind — with biblical stories, tales from church history, experiences she has had among various Christian groups, and personal reflections on the journey she is taking.

That journey takes us from the church of her upbringing to various small groups of supportive friends and fellow seekers to readers on her blog to those she has met on her various travels and speaking trips. She, like many, became part of a new “church plant,” hoping to create an authentic Jesus-shaped community. She visits a Benedictine monastery. At times she returns to her evangelical roots and there are many Sunday mornings she pulls the covers back over her head.

In the end, it seems she’s found a place in an Episcopal congregation where the focus is on the story (as embodied in the creed) and the sacraments. At a confirmation service she attended Evans experienced a moment of resolution.

In the silence that followed, it was as if all the amorphous vagaries of my faith coalesced into a single, tangible call: Repent. Break bread. Seek justice. Love neighbor. Christianity seemed at once the simplest and most impossible thing in the world. It seemed to me confirmed, sealed as the story of my life — that thing I’ll never shake, that thing that I’ll always be. (p. 194)

However, she recognizes that this was only a moment on the way, a way that will go on.

Mine is a stubborn and recalcitrant faith. It’s all elbows and motion and kicked-up dust, like cartoon characters locked in a cloudy brawl. I’m still early in my journey, but I suspect it will go on like this for a while, perhaps until my last breath. The Episcopal Church is no less plagued by troubles than deny other, but for now, it has given me the room to wrestle and it has reminded what I’m wrestling for. And so, with God’s help, I keep showing up. (p. 194)

To be continued.

Like a pastor she quotes, Rachel Held Evans has learned at least this key bit of wilderness wisdom: this faith-church thing is a journey, the way is not always clear and is marked by fits and starts, and we make the way by walking.

“What you promise when you are confirmed,” the pastor told his doubting daughter, “is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

• • •

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Rachel Held Evans
Nelson Books

130 thoughts on “Searching for Sunday: We make the way by walking

  1. “What you promise when you are confirmed,” the pastor told his doubting daughter, “is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

    Ain’t that the truth.


  2. I don’t want to make too sweeping a statement, Adam. I’m just talking about the inevitable decrease in availability of fossil fuels as we reach the limits imposed by our planet and the probably painful transition that we’re already beginning to make to a post-petroleum future. One of the best ways to sense the shift in vision and expectations is to listen to Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly, which is partly about how the future looked in the 50s — “Well, by ’76 we’ll be A-okay,” he says, ironically. It’s a little harder to believe in an uninterrupted trajectory of limitless growth nowadays.

    At the same time I know that God’s creativity is endless and always surprising. He won’t make there suddenly be more oil so we can keep driving our SUVs, but since my hope is not founded on my ability to fill my gas tank — or even maintain a comfortable lifestyle — I’m confident God has things covered.


  3. Since no recorded saying of Jesus are about LGBT people, or anything much other than that thing he said about committing adultery in one’s heart, i do not think you can honestly be saying what you’ve just said, Miguel.


  4. That is a very insightful comment, HUG. I hadn’t ever thought about the things each generations detect.


  5. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
    dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
    Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
    to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night….

    From Howl, by Allen Ginsberg


  6. I guess I have heard about the Silent Generation without understanding what it was, and without understanding that I am in it. The only generation that I have ever felt any part of was the Beat Generation, and very few people were in that. I have never felt a part of any of these generations mentioned here, and I believe my comment is the only mention of the Beat Generation in all these nearly one hundred comments. It was a short lived movement without many participants but it paved the way for much that followed, not all to the good, and I still feel kinship with it, tho not membership. I have very little connection with most people my age or older. I usually have little or no idea what generation label younger people fit into and it seems pretty much irrelevant to me. You either relate to someone positively or you don’t, and that happens in all age groups with me. I suppose when it comes right down to it, I feel like I am in a generation of one.


  7. Ok people let’s clear out. There’s nothing left to see, you can all go home. Rationalism has prevailed again and we are all safe. There is no need to fear anything unexpected because there are no surprises and no vitality from what we are surmising. Holy Spirit ? Fugetabout that elitist business. There’s no quantification. No experience, just (controllable) knowledge. Let’s keep it from the neck up. Look, if it can’t be written and read it ain’t real. That’s it then. Everybody go home and behave.


  8. Miguel, I hope you are right about “a more catholic Evangelicalism” becoming more present in the American landscape; I think that would be wonderful, and is sorely needed.


  9. I often find myself thinking as if the second law of thermodynamics characterizes everything; it’s a habit I have developed over a lifetime: I’m a great pessimist, and I’ve spent a good part of my life looking for evidence to correlate my inner negativity to the laws of the outer world. Misery love company.

    But I’m gradually coming to an inner understanding that faith in God includes trust that the world is open, not closed, and that no observed “law” can shut the world in upon itself, no matter how consistently it has made itself felt in the life of human beings, and the history of creation. Things may get better, and there’s no telling beforehand how they may do so.


  10. JoelG, And if an opening ever occurs for salutary change in your home-church address, change that’s desired by both you and your wife,there are many options. Miguel makes some good suggestions in his comment below; we’d love to have you in the mainlines, but I understand that your convictions prevent that, that you lean in a more conservative direction. God be with you on your way, wherever it leads.


  11. Wonderful advice, turnsalso. My wife and I are one person, as far as I’m concerned, with regard to church-belonging. I would never join a church body without her, or leave the one (actually the ones) we are involved in now if it meant leaving her behind. I know she feels the same. I trust that this will take us where we need to go together.


  12. Yes, probably. But I’d still like to see people brave enough to state those qualifications clearly, and not give in to the simplifications of mass media idiom.


  13. Give confessional protestantism a shot before you throw in the towel. Groups like LCMS, PCA, or ACNA will embrace the divorced, and many of their congregations have the integrity to reject trendy evangelical worship (while some even embrace the better contributions), they will tow the traditional position on marriage and possibly even lack the “wretched urgency” that wears us out so quickly. Or even moderately confessional groups like EPC, LCMC, etc… have a good chance of having a solid congregation near you.

    It sounds like you’re looking for a more catholic Evangelicalism. It’s out there, somewhere, even if it isn’t near you. It will be soon, tho, I really get the impression that the demand for it is increasing.


  14. The church need only be as homophobic as Jesus. That alone is incendiary enough, ’cause Christ don’t pass todays tolerance test.


  15. I dunno. I think she has a few “predetermined conclusions” of her own that she wants on the table. This is how libs generate “conversations” that often amount to politicking for change. Honestly, these conversations have been going on for centuries and are as old as Christianity. Every generation asks the same questions, and some believe the same answers, and others embrace the same old errs. I don’t see anything really new happening here.


  16. Sounds like repentance.

    Nailed it! Sounds like your journey has led you to at least one reliable conclusion! 😛
    Not that we should all embrace terminal Cartesian doubt, but the discipline of theology requires a degree of humility in recognition of our finiteness as we grapple with the infinite. That is at least a good starting point as we learn to give an answer with gentleness and respect. Even when we are certain, we still listen, we still consider.

    Believe me, nobody ever finds a “perfect flavor of Jesus.” Those of us who have found a home still need to learn to embrace it despite severe levels of disfunction. Nobody is ever carried through to heaven by their faith in the institution.

    Some believers never find their home on this side. It may be that their calling is to wander from room to room in the hotel of mere Christianity. But you all could just save yourselves the time and join the LCMS where everything is perfect and we all do everything right all the time.

    *gets struck by lightening from God.*


  17. @StuartB: and I just GOT these water-wings…… good thing I kept the tag…back to Wal-Mart we go

    Your first sentence sounds and looks a lot like Matt.25 to me, btw, Jesus had/has a way of getting darned practical once in awhile….


  18. The thing that drew most of us to Christ early on was the idea of a ‘personal relationship’.

    Relationship implies two-way communication. How does Christ communicate with you? Intuition? Bible reading? Sacraments (where I’m leaning towards now)?


  19. I do not see how the law of thermodynamics applies.

    Prosperity, economies, nations ebb and flow constantly. I just don’t see any clear indication of unavoidable doom. The future will be different from the past, but if it is substantively worse in any general way remains to be seen.


  20. What I’m talking about cannot begin to be approached without maturity of heart and mind.

    And where does that leave the rest of us mere mortals?


  21. Message heard loud and clear. I will do this. Copying and pasting to my phone. Thank you for this grace….


  22. Your marriage is a sacrament too, remember, as filled with Christ’s grace as any holy order. I believe its primary purpose is as a school of holiness, as it teaches couples how to live not just together, but in communion. Seek Christ there first (you can find him in the face of your spouse or children), and try not to worry too much about where it will take you. He’s on your side, and he’ll do the heavy lifting.

    Most importantly, DON’T force the discussion of church if it’s a sensitive topic, as it sounds like it is. You wouldn’t tell her with grave seriousness that you need to move to Bangalore out of the blue.


  23. I didn’t think you did, Rick. No worries. You’re comments are ALWAYS an encouragement. Thank you both for the reminder of who Jesus is.


  24. Stuck between a rock and a hard place. She comes from predetermined conclusions X, transitioned, arrived at predetermined conclusions Y. She is qualified then to talk to X, although most X are predeterminately conclusioned against Y.

    I need some coffee.


  25. JoelG, I didn’t mean to downplay your resentment and the stuff you’re going through. I was more alluding to what turnsalso said, “Happy? Maybe not, but understanding? Absolutely. And more than able to help.”

    And I don’t mean to sound corny, but Jesus will never give you the boot. People who claim to “know Him” may give you the boot, but Jesus? Never.

    Hang tough. The path you find yourself on at the moment could be training ground for something important later.


  26. Thanks for the response, this is good stuff to know.

    How are the sacraments a means of God’s grace, receiving or giving? What supports this idea besides tradition or authority? Is there something being transferred beyond a remembrance or assurance of God’s grace?

    Did the original passover occur? What history of the passover do we know from context? What’s the earliest record of the old stories about the passover? Was there literally a lamb slain and it’s blood put on doorposts in ancient Egypt to protect a people group known as the Israelites who lived as slaves under Egyptian rule while a literal angel of death came down and literally slayed all the first borns?

    How is it all true? Other than it’s ‘always been true’? How do I reconcile the facts and truth we now know about the forming of the scriptures with the long held dogma and tradition and doctrine based on old, misunderstood, false understandings of scripture?

    I’ve got questions. I realize this is a long rabbit trail, but thank you for helping me understand a bit more.


  27. I’m sorry for your struggle kerokline. This is so hard. I have held the same views as your folks. I have a hard time seeing your view point based on everything I’ve read and heard from scripture. At the same time, I hate the division this subject is causing among believers. I wish there was an answer outside of one side trying to convince the other. I think both sides feel they are disobeying God and/or reality if they change their mind. Regardless I hope you can find peace regardless.


  28. I think that criticism is unfair. But I could be reading into her words something that isn’t there. Here is how I read it –
    Yes, obviously I think conservatives (read: my parents) are wrong on a great many things, and I will not accept their answers as my own. But that is not because I think their ideas are necessarily wrong, its because they talk about their ideas as if they were bumper stickers. They have no nuance. And without nuance, they are implicitly denying the struggle I feel.

    Lets take sexuality, ’cause that’s the usual holdup. I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with gay men and women, and I believe there is nothing inherently sinful in their relationships. I understand and appreciate that there are good arguments to the contrary, and I believe that my arguments are more convincing.

    I feel like my parents do not grant me as graceful a stance as I grant them. They believe that my arguments are foolish / dangerous / heretical, and that their own stance is foolproof. For me, it is a conversation; an idea that I struggle with because something I believe to be true is something they say is not. It is hard for me. For them, for whatever reason, it is easy. So when I say things like “I want to talk about tough stuff, but without predetermined answers”, what I mean is, “hear me out, and when you disagree, do not question my sincerity or faith or knowledge of scripture.”

    If the church I was raised in could speak of me, let alone the people I love, without reducing me to a person who has not thought hard enough, who has not believed strongly enough, who is being disingenuous for the sake of muckraking, who is being cowardly so as to not upset secular friends… If my church could speak of me like they speak of my parents, I would never have left the pews to begin with.


  29. Yes but potentially a lot of those people she says she wants to be able to talk to without predetermined conclusions are young earth creationists, inerrantists, political conservatives, against homosexual marriage, complimentarians, etc… All things which she has already predetermined are wrong. So how do you have such conversations? It would be much easier to come to the table just admitting that we already made our conclusions, we disagree, and then talking about why


  30. Thanks Adam. Do you think the Pharisees knew they were hypocrites and chose to be anyway? It seems I can practice very little of what I preach to my kids.


  31. Well I don’t know if Jesus is really happy about my resentments. As Eeyore stated above “How DO you know someone who isn’t physically present and doesn’t speak audibly?” I think I’m going to take leave for a while and hope Jesus doesn’t give me the boot.


  32. Well, I’m talking about a physical reality, not a narrative; the second law of thermodynamics still impacts us whatever our narrative is.


  33. Hooray for messy! Religious folks don’t like messy, but Jesus LOVES it. Just read the gospels to see all the points of messiness he throws himself into while the Pharisees shake their heads and make plans to kill him.


  34. RHE was raised an young earth creationist in an inerrantist conservative denomination.

    Also partially snarky, lol.

    Her predetermined conclusion is probably more “what I was raised with is demonstratively wrong” than “all those things are actually ok, how do I prove that”. But I don’t know RHE personally.


  35. –> “without predetermined conclusions” is used as code-talk by some for “not *your* predetermined conclusions.”

    This reminds me of a time when I was looking at a bulletin board on the Seattle University campus and saw a “Roommate Wanted” posting that said, “Liberal woman seeking open-minded roommate.”

    My mind immediately translated “open-minded” into “someone who thinks exactly as I do.”


  36. Christiane I would love to look into it. My good friend is Catholic and Id love to pursue this avenue. You speak my language and a need a place for dysfunctional, swearing, smoking Christians that love Jesus and are just as messed up as the “world”. Problem is what if your spouse isn’t willing to go with?


  37. Was RHE raised as a racist, illiterate homophobe? That’s only partially snarky; I don’t know much about her beyond that she’s an evangelical from Tennessee.

    My point is, given her remarks about LGBT people, that she probably already has a predetermined conclusion to the question of sexuality–and all the other issues she mentions. It’s hard to not read the rhetoric of honesty and questioning, and interpret it as a way to make “I’m becoming a fairly generic left-of-center mainline Protestant,” sound surprising and original–frankly, to give it the sort of branding that we millennials (yes, I am one) can sniff from a mile away.


  38. I would love to find one. But my wife isn’t ready for that. It’s a messy situation. Were in an evangelical small group with her brother and other conservative evangelicals whom I disagree with on a regular basis. It’s actually driven a wedge between us. I’ve decided to leave the group and she’s not real happy. I also coordinate an outreach ministry out of the mega we left. I love the people we serve and it’s the only form of “church” I do now. So ya…. Messy!


  39. Yes I thought we found a home in an American Baptist church until the new youth pastor made his proactive stance on SSM quite clear. We decided to leave because we teach a more traditional view (yes the irony is not lost on me). But perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it’s ok to differ on this issue with a pastor and remain. I don’t know. It is hard because I loved the folks there.


  40. > Millennials are rediscovering truths that Gen X and Boomers discarded.
    > That’s a large part of it.

    I agree. My only dissent would be that a healthy share GenXers could-not/can-not be even bothered to care; so “discarded” may be too strong a term, more like “neglected”.


  41. > You’re not a hypocrite, you’re a human living your life


    > Don’t call yourself a hypocrite,

    Failure at something does not make someone a hypocrite. Screaming at people about something, while neglecting it yourself, makes a Hypocrite – being a hypocrite is a conscious choice. Everybody else is Human-with-unattained-aspirations.

    > that passively admits that the Catholics with their divorce views are actually right

    And it is an unnuanced understand of Catholic teaching about marriage.


  42. The “authority” and “power” you seemed concerned about is that of the “institutional church.” But here’s the rub: the power of the means of grace is God’s gift to the whole church. Not the clergy, not the man-made institutions we build to express it. The body of Christ, all its members, are the birthright owners of God’s free gifts and the means through which he delivers them.

    Clergy are nothing more than the public representatives of the assembled congregation whom we have chosen, at Christ’s instruction, to give the responsibility of ministering these gifts to us. Our gifts, from Christ himself, which no clergy has the right to withhold from the faithful. The Pastor is the servant of the Word, whose job is to feed us. And he answers to us for it.

    The sacraments do not keep the gate. They open a channel so that all who believe can receive all the grace they can feast on. The person who will not receive the sacraments should consider if it is really the Christ of the New Testament they believe in and wish to follow. This is a liberating thing: I do not have to invent my own ways of encountering God, nor is he found exclusively in elaborate and complex rituals Ordinary means of bread and wine, Word and water. The Scriptures and the Gospel itself are also, in Lutheran theology, means of grace through which God can be encountered nearly anywhere, any time, and often, unexpectedly. The institutional church is given the responsibility to promote these things, but it does not have ownership over them. They are for all believers, all places, all times.

    The truth is that anybody CAN administer the sacraments. It does not therefore follow that everyone should, nor that it is better to do it on your own than to associate with the “called out” assembly of the saints. In our hymnal, there is a form for anybody to baptize. It is “for emergencies,” i.e. when a pastor is unavailable, and as such, I have a good chance of needing to use it myself in the not too distant future.

    Jesus’ original institution of the sacrament was more than a family meal. It was the passover. In the original instance of the passover, they were literally eating the flesh of the lamb whose blood on the door post spared them from the judgement of God. It is a remembrance for sure, but it is also so much more. It is a remembrance with the power to bring the actual event into the present, simply by the power of Christ saying “THIS is my body, which is given FOR YOU, for the forgiveness of sins.”

    Is the body of Christ the church or the bread? Christ still has his flesh and blood body. He calls us his body. And the bread is His body. It is all true, in a mysterious sense. But it is Christ’s forgiveness that makes us reconciled with God as His beloved children (and thus a part of the body of Christ), and this forgiveness is given us by eating and drinking. If you’ll pardon a crass analogy, in this instance, you are what you eat.


  43. > They rebuild America after living through nothing

    I am an ‘infrastructure geek’. And I know that rebuilt-america thing is what the brochure says about the Greatest Generation… I call Bull-Crap. This is simply not true. We invested – and disinvested – during the second war, and we got the natural consequences of those decisions, which is a mess we still have. And we did most of that with borrowed money. So while the GG’s might have been opposed to personal debt, they – especially in their later period – had no hesitation about throwing virtual money around at certifiably bad ideas.


  44. “I’m divorced and remarried so there goes the Catholic church.”

    you might talk with a priest about the circumstances of your first marriage . . . there are some considerations for annulments but you cannot assume the door is shut unless you make inquiries . . .

    people don’t get it that the Catholic Church IS filled with those who not only aren’t perfect but KNOW that they are not perfect . . . so if you’ve had troubles in your life, coming inside the doors of the Church can be like finding your own kind after all . . . they are there for the same reasons people would go to a doctor

    if you want ‘acceptable’ people, who are in their own minds ‘righteous’, I’m not sure our Catholic people could fit the bill, probably not

    . . . we are sometimes a sorry lot, but that in itself is a sign that the Church is there for the right reasons and that sanctuary means more to us than some shallow celebration of our own perfection and a mean-spirited castigation of those ‘outside the fold’ . . . . if we are there it is because we need Christ and His peace

    I am sure many of the mainline Christian Churches also serve a similar purpose of sanctuary


  45. > We may be moving from Horatio Alger to the Dark Ages, from endless
    > optimism and upward mobility to faithfulness in decline

    This is not the narrative I hear from Millenials. Mostly I hear lets-figure-this-out; in my experience they are almost ruthlessly pragmatic. They came age in an expensive time, during an economic recession, in a divided nation with crumbling infrastructure… much of their perspective seems rational to me.


  46. You’re not a hypocrite, you’re a human living your life, doing the best you can before God. Don’t call yourself a hypocrite, that passively admits that the Catholics with their divorce views are actually right. You’re a sinner and a saint.

    As is anyone.


  47. It’s a scary thing to admit you’ve been wrong your whole life. And need to turn things around. And have that repeat over and over again, each time more life shattering than the last.

    Sounds like repentance.


  48. A little detox (or a lot) isn’t always a bad thing… it’s taken a lot of scales off of my eyes.

    And I believe the saddest thing about the marriage debacle is that it drives a such a wedge between Christians, where charges of hypocrisy are leveled by either side against those with different convictions, though held in good faith.


  49. That’s your testimony as well as mine, Miguel. We both started one place, came out of it in a panic or desperate, and found ourselves in another place where we staked our identity and life, our own personal lord and savior to an extent.

    But where you stopped, I had another crisis. And then another after that. And then another after that to where I am at now.

    And I’m done trying different flavors. The idea there is a better flavor, one more suited, may be another lie. But I know why many will utterly defend, often irrationally, where they ended up after that first crisis. The mind is closed, their life has been set. To challenge that could shatter their entire sense of self and reality, and reveal a lot of their own history as them believing yet more lies.

    I’m on the other side of that, and won’t shy from acknowledging it.


  50. I meant things like sermon on the mount, help the poor, love others, etc…see a need, go fulfill it.

    Not like…walk on the water, lol.

    And idk about reducing Jesus down to a second Moses. The concept of a “Third Use of the Law” seems to do that well enough.

    Suppose I also don’t take the “be perfect” mantra literally (or seriously) either. Great rhetorical device tho.


  51. ChrisS, I have no vehemence towards you, nor do I grow from a different side of the tree or criticize string beans I never tasted. I totally used to believe everything you are saying, it is the version of Christianity I was raised with. I have since been roused from my dogmatic slumber and faced my delusions for what they are. I’m not interested in any version of Christianity that “cannot begin to be approached without maturity of heart and mind.” I’m interested in a Savior who comes for the poor, week, and immature, who have no hope of attaining to any sort of super-religious status. Most who view themselves as having attained a higher state of maturity, in my experience, are rather self-deluded people, and everyone else around them can smell it.

    Adherence to the doctrines of faith will not stand up to the fire.

    Bro, the Gospel IS the doctrine of faith. Adherence to this is the ONLY thing that will stand up to the fire. Not some “intimate connection with God.” God seems very far and distant from me. From most indications he happily ignores my prayers and does nothing to communicate with me directly, despite frequent, earnest, and persistent searching. But I can nonetheless be certain that I am a child of God, that Jesus has redeemed me and claimed me as his own, not because of my personal knowledge of the divine being apart from abstract theology, but because of the things Jesus actually said and did. Because of who the scriptures say Jesus is, and what His work on the cross means, I can be confident that even in the absence of feeling any connection to God, I can trust that he has connected Himself to me.

    Jesus wants us to know the Father as He does, but He also says “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The NT also teaches us that Christ is the “visible image of the invisible God.” If you want to know what God is like, you look to Jesus, and nowhere else.


  52. I think we might leave for a season, at least. I don’t want to get into the same-sex marriage debate because it’s been beat to death. But I just can’t get around it. I know, I know, I’m a divorced and remarried hypocrite.


  53. If you want to know Jesus, do the things he did and told us to do.

    This is a dangerous idea, Stuart, for several reasons. “Experience God through obedience” reduces the sum total of Christ’s teaching to law: Do these instructions, and you will live. This reduces him to nothing other than a “second Moses” who offers us nothing as a Messiah beyond practical guidance to help ourselves, like any other enlightened sensei. And it renders His death and resurrection relatively superfluous.

    Also, because nobody can obey Jesus. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus doesn’t play games with Words, nor does he lower the bar to make it achievable. None of us ever will or even can love God with our WHOLE heart, mind, and strength, nor do we even come close to loving our neighbor as ourselves. If it is up to our effort to personally know Jesus, rather than God’s initiative to reveal Himself to us through Jesus, we are without hope.

    Lastly, because not everything Christ did was for our example. Some of it was as our substitute. You and I will not be dying on the cross for the sins of the world any time soon. Thank God, that one is already done for us.


  54. It’s a tough place, JoelG. Leaving church may be best for you and your family.

    What truths about marriage are you talking about? And are you certain about them?


  55. The children of racists don’t need to grow up racist. The children of homophobes don’t need to grow up homophobes. The children of the illterate don’t need to grow up illiterate.

    Absolutely the predetermined conclusions she doesn’t want are just the ones she grew up with. They’ve been exposed as lies.

    What is truth?


  56. there is some truth to this . . . my father and mother lived simply and banked the rest in CD’s that paid high interest rates . . . VERY high interest rates . . . they were ‘careful’ with their money and it grew

    both had remembered a time where there had been ‘want’ in the land, and it haunted them . . . maybe their longing for us to succeed academically and professionally was a hope driven by an old fear they harbored that we cannot fully understand because we have so much


  57. That’s a really good point. An considering that, she really is an excellent voice for many who feel unable to continue in the faith. I think too many people give up on Jesus too quick, when a different flavor of Him could be all that it takes to sustain their faith.

    I don’t agree with RHE on many issues, but she’s barking up the right tree.


  58. The greatest generation was at times not that great. Heresy, I know. They fought a war and won. They rebuild America after living through nothing.

    They did a terrible job raising their kids. They were absolute racists at times. They instituted the cold war. They resisted civil rights. But a large minority didn’t do those things either.

    Still, a lot of greatness. And yes, a lot of luck.


  59. Yes, “without predetermined conclusions” is used as code-talk by some for “not *your* predetermined conclusions.”

    The fun begins when you start studying their predetermined conclusions and realize that *their* parents had different ones that went back generations.

    Millennials are rediscovering truths that Gen X and Boomers discarded. That’s a large part of it.


  60. Ditto. Top of classes, passed every exam with ease, spoke to large conferences (1000+ rooms at age 12 at one point) to raise funds, president of christian student groups, all of it.

    Now I’d rather just be a pinball wizard.


  61. Do the things Jesus did? Actually and seriously? He spoke to and heard from the Father in an intimate union. Adherence to the doctrines of faith will not stand up to the fire. Only an actual ‘friendship’ will hold. “I no longer call you servants but friends”. Servants don’t know what their master is doing. The way I talk may place me in your minds (Stuart and Miguel) in some spiritual school or another but I assure you whichever one it is I’m not from it. What you’re talking about sounds like summer camp happy happy lets get to know our buddy Jesus. What I’m talking about cannot begin to be approached without maturity of heart and mind. You’re criticizing string beans you’ve probably never tasted. Miguel, I know we grow from different sides of the tree. Your vehemence is plain but it will not sway me. I think you are missing the greater point and you think I have never gotten the point. So there you go. Carl Jung when asked in a tv interview in his later years, “Do you believe in God?” replied, “I don’t need to believe, I know.” Jesus prayed, “that they may know you as I have known you.” That seems plain to me.


  62. I’m ready to quit church altogether. I can’t take evangelical worship, contrived “small groups”, living in the Christian bubble where everything needs to be clean and tidy and “passionate” and “radical”. I can’t go to a mainline that emphases sacraments but ignores truth about marriage. I’m divorced and remarried so there goes the Catholic church. I was never good at churchmanship anyway. Lost in limbo. I’ve got three teenagers so this is a concern.


  63. Please remember that RHE was a “star” evangelical young person. She was at the top of her class in Bible knowledge, apologetic skills, leadership in her youth groups, and participation in evangelical activities.

    When a person falls from that height, it’s a wonder she didn’t just scrap it all. I think it is one reason her journey has been rather meandering. To quote another Who song, we won’t get fooled again.


  64. Yes. For instance, there are likely as many Millennials as there are Boomers who, when they smell b.s., head straight for it

    Just it’s a different type and subject and spin of BS as what works with Boomers.

    Millenials are sensitized to Boomer-centric BS, but Millenial-specialized BS can still get past their radar. If you’ve built an immunity to Communism BS, it doesn’t necessarily protect you against Objectivism BS.


  65. Thank you. I love the way RHE writes and some of the things she says, but I insist that much of it comes from her progressivism more than her generationalism. I am roughly the same age and vehemently reject some of her progressive conclusions, despite her relatively compelling presentation of them. Overall she is a positive voice, but she is more an advocate for generic mainline consensus than she is any particular generation. She does, however, make a strong case for how the mainlines may have answers to issues of faith that concern many millennials, but they are old answers that many of us have considered and passed on.


  66. Sacramental theology question:

    How does your understanding of the sacraments tie into Jesus’ original institution of them as a family meal with parts done in remembrance?

    Side question:

    Is the body of Christ the church or the bread?


  67. On the flipside, a sacramental theology is a great gatekeeper type of theology.

    Where can you find God? Only in the church that gives the sacraments. It keeps you coming back for more, and makes the church the only place you can ever find God. Leave church, leave God. All authority and power are thus invested in the church, for they are the touch point upon which the divine descends upon us. It keeps power and control in the hands of the priestly caste.

    The next domino to fall is the priesthood of all believers. Because if just anybody administer a sacrament…which has now been proven to not be the case, since you must be in the church.


  68. Evangelicalism vacillates between “fill your head with knowledge” spirituality and “reach out with your feelings, Luke” spirituality. It’s either in rational constructs or the subjective emotional experience that they promise you to find God, and the better churches know how to leverage them both effectively. Which is not terrible, we are supposed to love God with our heart and our mind, BUT, ultimately, it always comes back to what we are doing to reach out to God, rather than what He has done to reach out to us. The rejection of a sacramental theology has caused Evangelicalism to turn the Gospel recovered at the Reformation on its head. Apart from a genuine sacramental theology, that roots our spiritual experience in something tangible, the experience of God always boils down to mind games. Exhausting mind games that offer little comfort.

    I’ve come to believe that the defining ethos of Evangelicalism today is two-fold: Revivalism (the appeal to the will) and enthusiasm (the promise to find God apart from Word and Sacrament). These are a plague on the church and destroy the faith of many. Until Evangelicalism recovers a more faithful way to be Protestant apart from these, I am convinced that it will be unable to compete in today’s information age where people become cynical much more quickly.


  69. I’m starting more and more to find myself distanced from the “fill your head with knowledge” style and be drawn to the sacraments. I understand the pastor has as one of their roles teacher but the answer to life’s questions is not always “let’s upon up God’s word and see what it has to say about x.” The answer, the final answer, is Jesus. He is who I need to see and who’s presence I need to find. I don’t understand it–and no amount of studying will help me understand it–but I find him in the sacraments and, hopefully, in the faces of those he most loves to spend time with–hint: it’s not who we think it is.


  70. Good point, Sean, and I mostly agree. We can’t blame people, though, for the inevitable (though currently ignored) consequences of reaching the end of limited resources. Young people just as admirable as the Great Generation ones are in a different world and consequently have different choices. We may be moving from Horatio Alger to the Dark Ages, from endless optimism and upward mobility to faithfulness in decline. “Well, when I was young” is usually a pointless statement unless I’m expounding ancient history.


  71. Wait, this is serious?

    It may sound like gobbledygook but….

    Because it is. There is nothing in the teaching of Christ and his apostles about “tending to the presence. It is a pagan meditation spirituality that has been imported into Christianity, and it has nothing to do with Christ and His Gospel.

    He wants to be known, not just known about.

    Then why did he spend so much of his time on earth teaching about God and His kingdom? He wants us to know about Him in order to know who He is. You would never apply such ridiculous rhetoric to any other relationship. You cannot say of a spouse “I don’t really know much about her, but trust, me, I KNOW her.” Bull. The people you know are the ones you talk to and tell each other about each other. In Christ, God has spoken to us about who he is, and if we want to know Him at all, we listen to Christ’s words, not the inner voice of our imagination.

    The thing that drew most of us to Christ early on was the idea of a ‘personal relationship’

    I would have sworn it was the Gospel, you know, that God loved us so much that he became man to suffer and die for us men and for our salvation. The devil has a “personal relationship” with God, and believe me, it’s very personal.

    What drew many away from the mainlines is driving their children from the church completely. This “imaginary best friend” spirituality leaves the honest skeptic empty, and has destroyed the faith of many to whom God’s presence was never manifested. See my article here:


  72. I wish I wasn’t at work, so I could take more time to hash out my thoughts on this. But this:

    We want to talk about the tough stuff — biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice — but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers.

    combined with this:

    I explained that when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome at the table, then we don’t feel welcome either…

    makes me feel like the predetermined conclusions she doesn’t want are just the ones that she grew up with.


  73. All true. And they entered their adult lives when the US dollar had an order of magnitude more purchasing power than it does today, an age with different economics.

    Some it was greatness, some of it was luck.


  74. Yes, but … and this is a ‘but’ that all generations need to wrestle with … for all of their silence and lack of complaining, did they empower the next generation to figure it out for themselves, or did they silently judge when their children “weren’t doing it right?”

    Speaking as a millennial, for all of the ways that we feel we were sold a middle-class, get-a-degree-and-have-a-job lie, and for all the ways that we want our voice to be heard and try to earn a seat at the table in the discourses of society and justice, if we do not empower those who come after us to figure it out for their generation and those to come, we’ve failed just as much as we think the previous generations have failed us.


  75. I’m guessing that clearly stated, well articulated qualifications (though tastey food for IMONKERS) are probably the kiss of death for conference speakers and cutting edge writers/prognosticators…..


  76. I think (some) of the limits to her generational voice have been well stated. That said, I look forward to reading the book: many of my friends and nephews/nieces are part of that middle class fabric, so this is a concern to me.

    The qualifications are worth remembering, though, so as not to generalize beyond her ken…. and as Adam mentions, RHE is probably well aware of the constraints of what she writes, at least I’d hope so.


  77. Au contraire! You absolutely do get to know God. ‘Image’-ination, seeing the unseeable, is a critical (and largely lost) portal along with contemplation or meditation. Tending to the presence if you will. It may sound like gobbledygook but….. He wants to be known, not just known about. I think that is a very legitimate statement. Even if it represents something that takes a lifetime to work out and with great difficulty, it is no less true. Remember, there will be those who did this and that in His name and His response will be, “…I never knew you.” Jesus is clearly illustrating the difference in that scripture. The thing that drew most of us to Christ early on was the idea of a ‘personal relationship’. That trite phrase represents the thing that initially drew many from the mainline. In Acts 19 the evil spirit says, “Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are you?” One of the big issues that Revelation highlights in one of the churches is the loss of their first love. First love is mostly knowing without knowing about. To know and be known of God is the sacred center of the Christian life though not simply achieved. In fact, never fully achieved. My two cents 🙂


  78. > I don’t recognize Evan’s voice as theirs; that’s not a criticism, but the class limitation should be recognized.

    Absolutely agree. She is a post-Evangelical. Meaning, almost certainly, she came from a white suburban middle or upper-middle class home, spent her childhood among people like her, and had a decent education in a well maintained facility.

    That certainly scopes what she is saying. But that describes a whole lot of America. I suspect from what I have read from RHE, that she would own up to this.


  79. perhaps the Greatest Generation was so great because they were forged in fire . . . my father would not go into debt, but paid cash even for a new car, and he never complained about difficulties


  80. I work with many young people, in blue collar employment, men and women. I speak with them in depth on a regular basis. I don’t recognize Evan’s voice as theirs; that’s not a criticism, but the class limitation should be recognized. To the degree that the nation remains solidly middle-class, she may be one of this generation’s main spokespersons. But if that changes, not so much.


  81. At 74, I am part of the fastest-disappearing generation (and therefore the one that really matters least these days). I am referring to what was called The Silent Generation. We are the children of The Greatest Generation (who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought in World War II) and the older relatives of the Boomers. We minded our parents (and our manners) and never talked back in school and never – NEVER – took drugs or protested in the streets. We were shocked when police were called fuzz (let alone pigs).

    All the above blather about “generations” sounds a lot to us like the b.s. you claim to be able to spot so easily. Stop pointing fingers at one another. Every last one of us is at fault.


  82. Despite our feelings about RHE, or speaking generationally, is not “””We want to talk about the tough stuff – biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers””” a legitimate criticism of much of American Christianity?

    Yes, “without predetermined conclusions” is used as code-talk by some for “not *your* predetermined conclusions.” But does the existence of that rhetorical device make the actual statement untrue? That kind of thing really irritates me, but I am not going to allow it to stop me from saying “here here!”

    If we just remove “sexuality” from that statement how much more palatable does it become: We want to talk about the tough stuff – biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, racial reconciliation, and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers.

    For some we’d also have to remove “social justice” [cant’ have that evil ‘social gospel’], “biblical interpretation” [the inerrentists], racial reconciliation [the traditionalist conservatives], … And we are back were we began…. sigh. And why is The Church rarely at the table in modern civic life?

    I am not an RHE fanboy, but RHE – you are spot on in this criticism.


  83. As a Gen-Xer who occasionally talks to rooms – of course! The Boomers still hold the positions of power, rule our institutions, and still control the purse strings. So ‘we’ [younger people] talk to them all the time; not like we have much choice.

    But I will RHE for a moment [now a euphemism for speaking for one’s entire generation – see comments above 🙂 ] and say we are **eagerly** looking forward to a day when that is no longer true. Then I, as a Gen-Xer, will be talking to people younger than me. 😦 But still way better, at least to them power and purses will be a newer thing, whereas the Boomers have owned the bully pulpit it for much longer than is good for them [or us].


  84. Ironically, for all of her millenial talk, it seems she mostly hangs out with, speaks at conferences with, and even on her own blog conducts interviews with those older than her.


  85. That would be my daughters, and I’m sure they would agree with you. They get to feeling pretty erased sometimes, jammed between such huge cohorts.


  86. And that obsession with generational identity is woven into the other obsession we inaugurated: the obsession with youth culture.


  87. The weird thing is that I am a fill-your-head-with-knowledge type guy, and I think that might be part of my problem with feelings: I never give them much thought, and can’t see any reason to trust them. So in the case of the Eucharist, I end up sounding the more mindless by saying “it’s what the Church has always done, Jesus commanded us,” and never being able to answer why I want this particular ritual so frequently.


  88. From the long quote above, it’s apparent that at least part of what she’s saying in the book is directed to the whole Church, including, and perhaps especially, to those older Christians with power and influence. She is articulating to the rest of us that intra-generational conversation to which you alluded, and claiming to be speaking for the majority viewpoint of her generation as it’s expressed in that conversation. I question whether she really is speaking for the majority.


  89. “Lutheran Satire’s View of Rachel Held Evans’ View of the Millennials View of the Church”

    “Bravo, Lutherans, Bravo.”


  90. That’s why, I think, the Eucharist has always been such an important thing for me. Not that I could ever articulate why (and indeed, if pressed on the subject now, the result will be a mix of gibbering, nonsense, and defensiveness). Even when I understood it as a head-activity to the exclusion of everything else, it was the only time in church I could say I regularly “felt” something.


  91. We have to speak in shorthand. For example, my generation opposed the war in Viet Nam. Really? My generation also fought the war in Viet Nam and many, many in my generation (a majority?) supported it. That doesn’t discount the first statement.

    We boomers were the first to be obsessed about our identity as a “generation.”


  92. The sacraments have a lot to do with this. It’s a different way of knowing and experiencing God’s presence than the evangelical fill your head with knowledge style.


  93. > And if you speak in the public square

    You don’t believe this book was written to a much more specific target audience than that? Text needs to be read in the context of the author – we use that same rule for Scripture all the time.


  94. Millenials to the left of us, Boomers to the right of us – into the valley of debt rode the Gen Xers.


  95. I have to disagree.

    I have no doubt that she is speaking to her own generation, but she is also speaking about that generation to the world at large, and she is defining that generation in broad generalizations. I reread the first, long quote from her above; yes, it was addressed to youth workers (who are not necessarily all Millennials), but it was also full of Evan’s proclamations about what her generation wants, how it views itself, what it dislikes, and what not to do to avoid alienating it. She definitely speaks as if she is a spokesperson for the vast majority of her generation, not just one voice among the many. I think you are reading it wrong.

    And if you speak in the public square, no one is eavesdropping if they hear, and respond to, what you’re saying. If she thinks that, she should get over it, because it ain’t so.


  96. Or more darkly, I feel “Not more about God. More God.” is mostly just malarkey. It is much more about casting off previous senses of “about”, and replacing it with new ones. Which can be a good or bad thing, but those who say these kinds of things **always** have their own “about” that they are implying.

    I have no problem articulating and feeling emotions. These nebulous statements to me always flag someone as having either [a] a problem articulating their own view clearly or [b] they want to soft sell to me for awhile before dialing up the hard sell (they likely have an “about” they assume I am not going to like).

    > How DO you know someone who isn’t physically present and doesn’t speak audibly?

    Simple You do NOT.


  97. > infatuation that she exhibits with her own generation

    You are reading it wrong. That is who she is talking to. The rest of us are ease dropping. They are the largest, by growing margin, cohort in the room – so of course they talk amongst themselves a great deal.


  98. > little too focused on this whole generational thing.

    It is just a way we categorize things. In a complex world we must categorize in order to discuss; all good, so long as we remember that our categories are somewhat fictional.

    > Rachel Evans is not a voice for millennials, even if she is one

    She is one, there is no doubt about that. She was born in 1981.

    > There can be no voice for millennials because there are too many differences among us

    You are not wrong – as of a few months ago Millenials are the largest demographic – by age – in the United States. You have surpassed the Boomers [whose numbers, for obvious reasons, are in decline].

    However, while there are clearly many strong differences within such an *enormous* group there are very strong currents. Disaffiliation is one clarion clear tendency of Millenials, so those who search for and comment on affiliation are notable – regardless of how we feel about their affiliation. In some ways RHE is an anti-millennial; but one with a crowd of listeners. That makes her notable.

    > It has less to do with age

    Disagree. It matters a lot. Generations are an inexorable demographic force, they are the water in the pipes of human civilization. How each generation manages and views its existence will have an immense impact. RHE’s voice does represent part of the conversation with itself of what legacy Millennials will leave behind – a generation on nearly every axis one which is significantly different than the power generation that preceded it [Boomers]. Corporations, political parties, [and churches!] etc… pursue the power generations, amplifying their numerical power.

    It is pretty much a spectator sport for those of us who lie in-between [Gen-X]. We are a whisper in the wind. It is almost ironic – my high-school class wanted our class motto to be “the why bother generation” – little did we know how spot-on that was.


  99. You can at least say this in defense of doctrinal Christianity – it’s open to those who have a bloody hard time articulating and feeling emotions. Telling someone like me to “know God, don’t just know about Him” is to condemn us to perpetual doubt and isolation. How DO you know someone who isn’t physically present and doesn’t speak audibly?


  100. Yes. For instance, there are likely as many Millennials as there are Boomers who, when they smell b.s., head straight for it. Despite being a 56 year old Boomer, I like all of what Evans says here, except for the infatuation that she exhibits with her own generation, and her idea that she is spokesperson for its main hopes and needs. That last part smells like b.s. to me.


  101. I think people get a little too focused on this whole generational thing. Rachel Evans is not a voice for millennials, even if she is one. There can be no voice for millennials because there are too many differences among us. What she is is a voice for people who are progressive in their politics and liberal in their theology. I’m sure that you can find people anywhere from 20 years old to 80 who would think most of what she says is great, and people who will think most of what she says is rubbish. I imagine that there will be people reading this who will really like what she says and are old enough to be her mom or her dad. It has less to do with age and more to do with how we view the world and how we interpret scripture.


  102. The quote is given, “Not more about God. More God.” It really shouldn’t be “either/or”. The great need is for “both/and”.


  103. no wonder she upsets the fundamentalist-evangelical neo-Calvinist, etc., etc. (make up your own label), etc. pastoral types . . . no wonder


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