Last week, thousands gathered both in person and online for the funeral of Christian author and speaker Rachel Held Evans, who died unexpectedly at the age of 37. Evans spent most of her life in Tennessee, where she was raised as a conservative Evangelical. In her twenties, she began to question things personally and publicly in blogs, books, and speaking engagements, and eventually became a key voice in the movement of many out of Evangelicalism into an inclusive, progressive Christianity. She published books like her autobiography Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (one of the most influential books I read as I was leaving Evangelicalsm myself) and Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. One of the most powerful elements in Rachel Held Evans’ legacy is the door she open for others to be transformed because of her own story. In Evolving in Monkey Town (re-published later as Faith Unraveled), she says
“I used to be a fundamentalist. Not the Teletubby-hating, apocalypse-ready, Jerry Falwell type of fundamentalist, but the kind who thinks that God is pretty much figured out already. I was a fundamentalist because my security and self-worth and sense of purpose in life were all wrapped up in getting God right… I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip. It would take God himself to finally pry some of them out of my hands.”
Rachel Held Evans’ story, a story about moving “from certainty, through doubt, to faith,” proved that God can pry such beliefs out of one’s hand. German philosopher Herbert Vighnāntaka Günther says that “Dogmatism is the tacit admission that one is intellectually and spiritually dead, because one has come to the end of one’s questioning, and because any further questioning is discouraged and disallowed.” The movement from certainty, through doubt, to faith is a resurrection— it’s a movement from the death of dogmatism into the life of a faith that embraces questions. It’s a resurrection from the dead, already-figured-out God to the living, moving, ever-mysterious God.
My own thoughts about Rachel Held Evans’ influence and my thoughts about this transformation and resurrection from dogmatism feel particularly important this week as I prepare to leave with our high school mission trip to Otavalo, Ecuador. This mission trip will be more than an opportunity to travel and do good for other people; the true power of mission trips is their power to transform. We will arrive in Ecuador with certain understandings of how the world works, and many of these will be challenged; we will come home with a fresh and wider understanding of who God is in our world. Because of our service, learning, and relationship-building, we will see new ways that God is alive in the world.
Will you pray for us that we may be transformed while we travel? Will you pray that God might pry out of us some ways that we see the world? Will you pray that God gives us new ways of being open to faith in a big God in a big world? As we travel and are transformed, we will return to share the transformation with others— with you in our church to many other family and friends in our schools and in our city. As we walk through the door of transformation, we will leave it open and invite others and you to come along.