Rachel Held Evans: Improvisation Done Well

The news of the death of Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans at age 37, Saturday morning, left me shaken. Sudden deaths of young people always leave us with more questions than answers and challenge our belief systems. I did not know Rachel personally, yet I found a profound personal loss in her passing that I have yet to understand. Perhaps because I lost my son when he was only 19. I know all too well the sense of hopelessness and inability to make sense of a loved one dying young. Perhaps it is because another bit of my certitude died Saturday morning. Her spiritual journey, while not identical to mine, was similar enough that I felt a kindred relationship.

A few days have passed now, and I am beginning to be able to talk about Rachel and read her final book—Inspired. (I just learned of another book to be posthumously released).  In the introduction of her book Rachel refers to New Testament scholar N. T. Wright’s description of the Bible stories as a “five act play” in which we are asked to participate. Rather than reading from a script that gives us our lines, the participants are asked to enter into the story and “improvise the unfinished, final act.” 1 “Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world.” 2

With Rachel Held Evans we got a glimpse of what it means to faithfully question scripture: a series of stories, poems and letters, that invites us in to add our story to the greater story. Like myself, Rachel struggled with scripture like Jacob wrestling with God. As Rachel herself said: “If I’ve learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.” 3

The Bible is full of stories that draw us in and provoke thoughtful and even disturbing questions; is God with us? Does God care? Will He abandon us? Does He commit genocide? Does He feel our suffering? Does He care about justice? Those who understand the narrative, understand that they are to be a part of the answers, and jump in to act out their part in the play. Rachel Held Evans, you threw yourself whole-heartedly into the play, and have shown countless others including myself how to improvise well. Thank you for your faithfulness and courage. The world is a better place for having known you.

1 N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?”

2 Rachel Held Evans, “Inspired,” p. XX.

3 Ibid., p. 28.

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