Overall I enjoyed this book. As a person in full-time ministry and a Bible nerd, it’s rare for a book written on a popular level to keep my attention and interest. Many popular level books are great for the lay person, the average church goer, or the new Christian. With Rachel Held Evans’ latest, she hits all the right notes for me.
Her style is imaginative and informative. She takes liberties while also trying to stay true to the text. I found her creative retellings of the stories compelling. Evans will definitely go against the grain of traditional, fundamental, and literalist readings of Scripture – but in my opinion, that’s a good thing. We often try to make the Bible do and say things it was never meant to do or say.
I’ve been following RHE on Twitter for a while now, and while she was in the process of writing this book she talked about the importance of diversity in her research. She quotes and cites an array of scholars, pastors, theologians, authors, activists, and rabbis – men and women, caucasian and people of color. It’s fascinating to hear how different Jewish rabbis interpret a text compared to Evangelical pastors. The Bible truly is like a diamond that you must turn in order to see all the beauty of the colors hidden inside.
Each chapter handles a different section of Scripture – from creation and the Law to the conquest narratives, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Letters. She paints a beautiful overview of what the Bible is and what it does. She also shares heartbreaking stories of how the Scriptures have been mishandled, misapplied, and misunderstood. At best, this can lead to illformed theology. At worst this can lead to a complete derailment of people’s faith and even atrocities like slavery and genocide.
In short, what we think about the Bible matters.
When I was growing up we did something called “Sword Drills.” The Bible teacher would call out a verse and all the kids would try to be the first to find it in their Bibles. The first one would read the verse out loud and get a piece of candy. That’s fine, except for the notion of using our Bibles as swords. The Bible was never intended to cut other people down. It was never intended to be weaponized against people. Yes, the Bible (namely, the Word of God) is compared to a sword twice. Once in Ephesians 6 and once in Hebrews 4. In Ephesians the sword is wielded against the spiritual forces of darkness in the world – not against other people. And in Hebrews the Word of God is a sword that cuts deep, dividing joint and marrow, soul and spirit – of you, not other people.
RHE knows almost as well as anyone what it feels like to have the Bible weaponized against her. And her book, Inspired, will hopefully put an end to that kind of mentality for her readers. Although chances are…if you’re reading Rachel Held Evans, you probably aren’t the kind of person who would do that anyway.
When I’m reading a work of nonfiction, I always try to ask, “Who is this for?” I believe Inspired is for those who have fallen out of love with the Bible. It’s for long-time Christians who are bored with it or who are beginning to question everything they’ve been taught. It’s for skeptics who are intrigued by Jesus but don’t know what to do with the Bible. It’s for pastors and teachers of Scripture who want a fresh look at an ancient story. It’s for Bible nerds and Bible critics and the Biblically apathetic. But it’s not for anyone who is content with the status quo of their faith, who are fine with being spoon-fed a portion of Scripture once a week at church without questioning what they’re being taught.
If you’re ready to fall back in love with the Bible and see it in a whole new ancient way, then give this book a chance. Rachel Held Evans has really upped her game with this one.