I first opened Inspired a few months ago, as a beautiful and timely gift from a friend. Sat on the beach at dusk, we read the first few pages of the introduction, captivated by the refreshing way in which it was written. This was a book about the Bible that read like a fairytale, beginning with a fable that explores the author’s own relationship with the sacred text. This is the story of a girl who had grown up loving the Bible, enchanted by its stories and challenged by its teachings. When the girl reached young adulthood, though, these foundations began to crumble as she found herself noticing the more troubling aspects of the stories she had once loved. “If God was supposed to be the hero of the story, then why did God behave like a villain?” the girl wondered, “If the book was supposed to explain all the mysteries of life, why did it leave her with so many questions?”
In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans bravely faces these questions and uncertainties head-on, inviting us on her journey towards loving the Bible for the ancient, messy, often confusing text that it actually is, rather than for what we want or expect it to be. She approaches the subject “not as a scholar, but as a storyteller and literature lover who believes understanding the genre of a given text is the first step to engaging it in a meaningful way.” As such, Inspired is divided into chapters that explore the various themes and threads running through the Bible. In Origin Stories, Evans invites us to reflect upon the cultural and historical significance of stories as a means of remembering truth and making sense of the human experience. Deliverance Stories and Resistance Stories draw the reader’s attention towards scripture as a means of survival, advocating for common liberation and defiance in the face of oppression. Perhaps the book’s most challenging parts can be found in War Stories, a chapter that wrestles with “two apparently competing convictions: that every human being is of infinite worth and value, and that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.” Whilst this chapter may leave us with more questions than answers, it shows us that it is okay to question; indeed it is necessary if we are to challenge the injustices we come across both within and outwith the text.
Evans’ own storytelling is impeccable, and it is in Gospel Stories that the reader is invited into a beautiful, inclusive, messy story that “smells like mud and manger hay and tastes like salt and wine.” Evans writes of the craziness of God becoming human, a “God who knows how to mend clothes and bake bread, a God familiar with the planting and harvest seasons, the traditions of bridesmaids, and the tickle of wool on the back of the neck.” And this is a God who teaches us to share stories. “We are storytelling creatures,” Evans writes, “because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God.” Evans herself interweaves imaginative retellings of biblical events between each chapter, using language in a way that speaks to the soul. Fearlessly creative, these include soliloquy, screenplay, and even a choose-your-own-adventure story. The Water was my favourite, shifting the perspective of a familiar story (John 4:4-26) and letting the woman at the well tell her own story. Here we meet someone who did not belong at a well, this place of refreshment and renewal. The fact that she was Samaritan and a woman excluded her from conversation with a Jewish man. And yet she met Jesus, a man who spoke to her, saw her for who she was and stirred a new story within. Because here in these pages, amidst the pain and fear and doubt, is a saviour who sees, a love vast as the ocean that runs deep throughout the entirety of our historical text.
In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans is open about her own beliefs and doubts, and her own journey back towards the Bible that she describes as very much still in draft. But, like her, I am drawn into the mystery, finding hope in the unexpected. Sharing her testimony, Evans writes “I am a Christian because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to be wrong about.” Inspired is a book that invites us into deep waters, to wrestle with difficult concepts in the hope that there is something new to be found amidst the waves.