Rachel Held Evans is back with another run at the intersection between her life in East Tennessee, the struggle to find a viable expression of evangelical faith, and how those two realities form a microcosm of contemporary evangelicalism.
Searching for Sunday walks similar ground as Rachel’s earlier works, but with a more mature writing craft on display and through the lenses of a maturing theology as well.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic church become the ordering device for the book. Generally, these provoke literary-theological images and entrées into stories by way of thematic resonance more than they provide a formal sort of sacramental, theological content for the chapters.
Normally my favorite parts of Rachel’s books are the storytelling. She has a wonderfully engaging style, and is a sharp student of her world. This continues in Searching for Sunday.
But my favorite parts this time around were the first short chapters in each of her seven sections. These were brief biblical, theological, and literary reflections on themes such as water, ashes, and the laying on of hands.
These are wonderful short exercises in biblical theology: How do we catch a glimpse of how this one verse representing this one moment in time fits into the whole story of God’s work in the world, from beginning to end? How do we get from the watery chaos of earth’s beginning through the waters of baptism and to the river of life flowing from the throne of God?
These are the sorts of biblical-theological riffs that Rachel plays in the short opening chapters. They ground the following stories in the biblical story. And they subtly help weave an argument for the larger point of the book, that the sacredness of the church is found in myriad mundane ways that the people of God live faithfully as the people of God.
One reason why I like and trust Rachel as a writer is that she understands the basic dynamics of the gospel. She knows that Christian reality is cruciform.
Her book repeatedly shows that where our eyes might judge there to be life, vitality, strength, and power, the Kingdom reality discloses death, sickness, weakness, and enslavement. Conversely, in places of weakness, doubt, despair, death, and emptiness, the Kingdom of God bursts forth (or, more likely, slowly bubbles up) with the strength, hope, life, and fulness that cannot be manufactured by human hands.
At the same time, this is a book that allows the reality of Good Friday and Holy Saturday to linger in the lives of the people, not expecting that the newness of resurrection glory comes without the way of the cross. And it also is brimming with hope that the newness will come.
Anyone who has lived the tensions of loving God and God’s people while wondering if anyone else in the room is really listening to what the song on the screen is claiming will find the field notes of a fellow traveller in Searching for Sunday.
Anyone who still lives in, and even loves, the church despite its quirks and dysfunction, will find hope and new courage here.
Anyone who has had doubt as a companion along the journey of faith will discover that s/he is not alone.
In compliance with Federal guidelines, I hereby disclose that I received a copy of this book for free, though with no promise on my part that I would either read it, or review it, or review it positively. Having done all three, however, you should know that I might have been unduly swayed by the fact that I did not spend my own $13 on the book. So you may wish to take all of the above cum grano salis or, instead, with a grain of salt.