For those who love the church without loving everything about the church: a review of Searching for Sunday

SerchingforSunday-cover

Depending on which headline you read about Rachel Held Evans’ newest book, Searching for Sunday, she has either exited, departed, abandoned, or rejected evangelical Christianity. (To which Charisma Magazine replied with a gentle “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”)

My spiritual journey is similar to Rachel’s in many ways. We both have evangelical roots. We both grew up believing you had to think a certain way about science and the Bible, vote a certain way in elections, and fight a certain way in the culture wars. We both grew up playing chubby bunny in youth group, somewhat against our will. (I still can’t look at a marshmallow the same way.) As adults, we both found a new spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.

Firing off a list of grievances with the church is easy. (In fairness, lots of people have good reason—more so than I—to be truly and heartbreakingly disillusioned with church.) My problem is that I can talk about how the churches of my past have let me down. But can I celebrate what they did right? Can I embrace my past without necessarily living in it? Can I leave behind what I need to without discarding everything?

This was weighing on my mind as I opened Rachel’s book. A few chapters in, one thing was clear: Searching for Sunday is NOT another how-the-church-let-me-down memoir. True, Rachel writes honestly about the pain she and others have experienced at the hands of the church. But her book is more a love letter to the church. As love matures, it sees its object for what it is—imperfections, failures, and all. That’s how Rachel sees the church.

Each [church] stays with us, even after we’ve left, adding layer after layer to the palimpsest of our faith.
        —Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Rachel took a risk by organizing her book around the seven sacraments. (There’s one section for each sacrament.) In the hands of a lesser writer, it might have been one of those clever ideas that works better in theory than in practice. Yet it’s one of my favorite things about Searching for Sunday. The sacraments provide the perfect canvas on which Rachel paints a beautiful but honest portrait of the church to whom these sacraments—these gifts of grace—were given.

I do have to agree with Daniel Kirk, who notes in his review that some of Rachel’s best writing is found in the opening chapters of each section. Here she offers short but rich theological reflections on each sacrament. In the one on confirmation, for example, Rachel unpacks the various scriptural metaphors for the Holy Spirit. This chapter was more thoughtful—and more beautiful—than any description of the Spirit I read in my theological studies.

In the end, Searching for Sunday is not just about Rachel’s quest to find a spiritual home for herself. It’s about her desire to see the church—in all its forms—become a refuge for everyone:

The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
        —Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

The way to do this is not through clever programming or marketing gimmicks. It’s not by tailoring church to felt needs as defined by surveys and focus groups. It’s something far more elemental:

After all those years of attending youth events with light shows and bands, after all the contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian books, after all the updated technology and dynamic speakers and missional enterprises and relevant marketing strategies designed to make Christianity cool, all I wanted from the church when I was ready to give it up was a quiet sanctuary and some candles. All I wanted was a safe place to be.
        —Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Searching for Sunday helped me understand my own spiritual journey better. It gave me a new lens for making sense of my relationship with the church.

This book is for anyone who loves the church without necessarily loving everything about the church.

SearchingforSunday-interior

Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, nor was I required to write a review (positive or otherwise) in exchange for my copy.

11 thoughts on “For those who love the church without loving everything about the church: a review of Searching for Sunday

  1. Ben,
    Thanks for a great review. I’m looking forward to Rachel’s book because I see in her story something of my own. I’ve enjoyed your posts about the movement from 90s megachurch evangelicalism to liturgical worship and its reassuring to know that others have walked down the same path I have.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Others on the Journey - liturgia

  3. Hrm… Okie dokie…. tossing this into my every increasing queue on GoodReads.com… so many books, so little time. The quotes you included convinced me.. For example: “The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”

    YES!

    But, more importantly, the picture at the end of the idea of being unafraid of dying and being willing to fade in order for a resurrection, a new life to happen.

    Thanks, Ben, for making my angst at not having enough time to read that much more poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m here to help. 🙂

      That quote about dying & resurrection was one of my favorites in the book. I couldn’t find a way to work it into my review without making it any longer, but I had to share it, so I threw in the photo in at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I cannot tell you how excited and relieved I was to have found your blog. I had no idea that others have had similar experiences to mine. I’m the daughter of an awesome pastor, father, teacher, and theologian in the evangelical world. My dad was an incredible human being. Brilliant, well educated, a scholar who could count among his friends both Malcolm Muggeridge as well as Tim LaHaye. Not at all a “typical” evangelical. He was a sophisticated man who created a nondenominational church using his unique style and approach. He passed away in 2007 and in short, nothing in the evangelical realm appeals to me in the least. I grew up in it as did you and I know of what I speak. I have been a member of the Episcopal Church now for 18 months and I feel truly at home. I ordered Rachel Held-Evans’ book and cannot wait to read it.. Thank you for this blog! Go bless you!
    Rachel

    Liked by 1 person

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