NEW YORK (AP) – Christian author Rachel Held Evans left behind a legion of loyal readers when she passed away in May 2019 at the age of 37. Last June, a children’s book she was working on was published posthumously and quickly topped the best-seller picture book lists.
Next week her latest adult book will be released, titled “Wholehearted Faith”. It is addressed to Christians like her who sometimes struggle with doubts about their faith but do not want to abandon it.
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“Sincerity means we can ask bold questions, knowing that God loves us not only in spite of them but also because of them,” she writes in the new book.
The book opens with a poignant outpost from her husband, Daniel Evans, and an introduction from Jeff Chu, author, editor and close friend of the couple who was recruited by Daniel to flesh out his unfinished manuscript.
This manuscript was approximately 11,000 words long. Chu quintupled it, perusing Held Evans’ blog posts and speeches, as well as cropped passages from his previous books. Among them was a New York Times bestseller, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”
“A lot of us are fixated on what’s wrong with Christianity or the church,” Chu said in an interview. “She didn’t hesitate to name these things, but she always emphasized what is right in our faith and what is good in what Jesus had to say.”
The prologue to the book is a tribute to women – those in the Bible and more recent figures in Held Evans’ family tree.
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She recounts her childhood and youth, growing up in a deeply religious family, winning the award for best Christian attitude at her elementary school in Alabama and chairing her high school Bible club.
Doubts about her faith surfaced as she attended college. She remembers wondering how many of her evangelical brethren might regard those who do not belong to their own faith as doomed to hell.
“I’m not afraid to say that many in the church have been agents of death for many women, for queer and trans people, for people of color, for immigrants and refugees, for people with disabilities. , for all kinds of minorities, ”she wrote. . “Many in the church have not proclaimed the good news. They have not declared hope and possibility, righteousness and welcoming.”
Eventually, Held Evans became an Episcopalian – a main Protestant denomination with women, people of color, and LGBTQ people among its leaders.
His concept of God has also evolved.
“The God I have come to believe in is not a stern grandfather in heaven, waiting for me to be wrong,” she wrote. “Instead, I came to see God through the things that God made … This God is the architect of creation, the engineer of love and the master craftsman who came up with the idea of heart.”
Among the many works left unfinished after the death of Held Evans was an article expressing remorse for once having held anti-LGBTQ views and lamenting the fact that many evangelicals still do. Danial Evans posted it on his blog in October 2019.
“I assert LGBTQ people because they are human beings, created in the image of God,” wrote Held Evans. “I assert their sexual orientations and gender identities because they reflect the diversity of God’s good creation.”
Chu, who lives with her husband in Grand Rapids, Michigan, mentioned similar themes in her 2013 book, “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.”
He heard from Held Evans for the first time after she learned that Chu’s book was in the works; she asked her editor, “How can I help? And soon invited Chu to post on his popular blog.
Although the two writers shared a common vision for LGBTQ issues, Chu was grateful that this was not the basis of their eight-year friendship.
“We just talked about life,” he said. “She was one of the few people who fully embraced every aspect of me and didn’t make the gay part out of proportion.”
Evans’ death resulted from swelling of the brain during a medically induced coma; she had had seizures while being treated for multiple ailments. On the night of his death, Chu was in the hospital with Daniel Evans – proof of the close friendship that had developed over the years.
“The reason I picked him (to complete the book) is because of who he is as a friend and his incredible talent,” Evans said. “Jeff has a very good understanding of where Rachel was.”
Evans, 41, said he’s multitasking these days at the family home in Dayton, Tennessee – striving to be a good dad to his 5-year-old son Henry and 3-year-old daughter, Harper; work hard to have Held Evans’ posthumous books completed and published.
“What I learn the most is to be okay with multiple emotions – to experience deep sorrow and deep joy at the same time,” he said. “I am extremely happy that this book is coming into the world.”
One of his favorite chapters develops a phrase Held Evans adopted as his personal motto: Thick skin, tender heart.
He said the sentence sums up his approach to the many social media users who have beset his critics of conservative evangelism.
“A lot of people have used it as a symbol for anything they say is wrong,” Evans said. “It was often difficult.
Evans said Held Evans was working on four children’s books when she died; he hopes they will all be published eventually.
The book published in June – “What is God like? – has special status for Evans. It was Held Evans’ first book that he read to their children.
“Henry knows mom wrote this,” Evans said.
In the book co-authored with Matthew Paul Turner, Held Evans encourages children to “think about what makes you feel safe, what makes you feel loved, and what makes you feel brave.” That’s the way God is. “
After the book was published, Daniel Evans posted a tweet about it.
“I am agnostic. I think God is unlikely. I don’t believe prayer heals. If it did, the sick people prayed for would be healed more often than those who are not,” a- he writes. “But if I ever believe again, it will be in the God Rachel understood. I hope the God of ‘What is God like?’
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.