DOCTRINAL RHETORIC CONCERNING RACHEL HELD EVANS
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
In light of the tragic, untimely death of author/blogger Rachel Held Evans, I cannot help but notice how quickly Fundamentalists and Evangelicals pounced to denounce her or distance themselves doctrinally from her conclusions. Less than 48 hours after her passing, before she was even buried, critics called her a heretic, an apostate, and destined for hell.
Less troubling, but still a concern, were those who extended concern for her family yet who still felt some compulsion to clarify where they thought she was wrong. They still could not resist making clear their doctrinal distinctions, calling her out where they considered her in error. Thankfully, some left it up to God to determine her destiny–I’m sure God appreciates that.
We could conclude they are simply bad-mannered people. They weren’t taught the normal conventions of decency, but some of them knew her personally, even thought of her as a friend or sparring partner. I pray her husband, her parents, and her babies are shielded from such “loving” responses.
The vitriolic responses that defend quick condemnations with, “Well, when is a good time to point out error?” are actually asking a good question. When is a good time? I want to say, unequivocally: not now! But there is a time–a kairos–when time and opportunity are ripe.
When I shared this response, one person noted I am being insensitive by pointing out insensitivity. But not if we recognize kairos. Jesus knew about this–when to be quiet and when to speak. Paul also used his insight from Greek rhetoric to guide his interactions. We should also recognize that God utilized kairos: “The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1:15. At the very least, we can recognize timing as important to God. So, yes, there is a right time and a wrong time to point out error, a time to be sensitive and a time to point out insensitivity.
LOVERS OF DOCTRINE
The response to the passing of Rachel Held Evans, to me, is another indication we have become lovers of doctrine over lovers of people. Doctrine is descriptive of what we believe, it’s that simple. It is not Christianity itself. It does not transform us; it does not condemn us. Doctrine describes tenets of the faith; it’s not actual faith. It’s the study of God, not embracing God. It’s belief about the importance of love, not actual love. Until we understand this distinction, we will continue responding to situations like the passing of RHE with this hunkering down into our doctrinal differences.
It might be news to some, but none of us fully understand God or define him with total accuracy. Instead, we use methods, hermeneutics, to make attempts at doctrine. Perhaps, differences boil down to an alternative hermeneutic in our attempts at defining.
No matter where you agree or disagree with RHE, at least recognize she was attempting an honest search. Set doctrine aside, for a little while, and share in the grief of her friends and family. The busy work of pursuing doctrinal accuracy will still be there when you return. We are so busy defining the lines between us, we cannot seem to share our humanity. Jesus said Christians will be known for their love. I’m pretty sure he meant love for people, not love for doctrine.
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