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Author Rachel Held Evans dies at age 37

by Mickey McLean
Posted 5/04/19, 07:11 pm

Rachel Held Evans, an author and blogger popular with theologically liberal Christians, died Saturday at a hospital in Nashville, Tenn., after a brief illness. She was 37. On April 19, her husband, Dan Evans, announced that doctors had placed his wife in a medically induced coma after she began “exhibiting unexpected symptoms” and “experiencing constant seizures” after being treated for an infection. Doctors, according to her husband, attempted to wean her off of the coma medication this week, but her condition worsened. He said that “extensive swelling of her brain … caused severe damage and ultimately wasn’t survivable.”

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a former Lutheran pastor known for her irreverent and profane writings, including her endorsement of porn, was at Evans’ bedside. “We were able to surround her last night. Offered her our touch and tears and song. I anointed her with oil,” Bolz-Weber tweeted Saturday. “She was and is well loved.”

Evans was raised in a conservative Christian home and attended Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., where she met and married her husband, but she began to question her faith openly and write about it extensively, gaining a large following in liberal Christian circles. In 2012, she wrote the New York Times bestseller A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” where she made light of traditional male and female roles prescribed in the Bible.

Evans was also a graduate of the World Journalism Institute in 2001. “While we disagreed theologically, she was a fluid and engaging writer,” said Robert Case, the former director of WJI, WORLD News Group’s program that prepares Christian journalists for work in secular and Christian media. “I found her to be compelling and, at times, prickly but always respectful and engaging. I was proud to call her an alum of WJI.”

Pastor, blogger, and author Trevin Wax shared his memories of Evans on Twitter: “The two of us sparred online—in public and in private interactions—over the years. She was always friendly even when we had sharp disagreements. I always felt like her pushback and our debates sharpened me as a thinker and a writer, and I was grateful for that engagement.” He added, “What an awful reminder of how fragile we are. Lord, be with her family.”

In addition to Evans’ husband, her two young children, a 3-year-old boy and a nearly 1-year-old girl, survive her.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include reaction to Evans’ death.

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Mickey McLean

Mickey is WORLD’s executive editor for audience engagement. He previously was the executive editor for WORLD Digital. Mickey resides in Greensboro, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @MickeyMcLean.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 05/05/2019 01:42 am

    While the dark spiritual overtones related to Rachel's choices and company are hard to dismiss, my sympathies are with her husband and two small children.  May they somehow know His comfort at this difficult time... 

  • LC
    Posted: Sun, 05/05/2019 12:50 pm

    Mickey, when you read Luke 5:30 who do you identify with? “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  I think Rachel tried to identify with Jesus and follow his example.  I’m sad to say, you sound more like the sect of Pharisees in this shameful attempt of an obituary. (Have you actually read any of her books?)  I have subscribed to a World Magazine for longer than I can remember.  This is the first time I have thought it was time to cancel my subscription.  

  • AMYB
    Posted: Sun, 05/05/2019 10:16 pm

    Good call, Linda. Anyone who says she made light of "biblically prescribed" gender roles in her book didn't actually read it. I found both A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Searching for Sunday to be honest and refreshing. This tragic event is heartbreaking. 

  •  dcsfoyle's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 11:49 am

    Linda, this was a fair and honest obituary, there are no inaccuracies, there is no Pharasaism.

    Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners but he most certainly did not condone sin. When you condone sin as she did, it doesn't matter how much you "identify with Jesus."

  • SN
    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 01:38 pm

    It is a policy neither safe nor sane to commend what Jesus condemns and to contemn what He commands.

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 02:32 pm

    Her theology just got fixed.

  • Leslie M
    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 02:50 pm

    Thank you for this informative article on the sad news of the passing of Ms. Evans.  This is classic World reporting: factual, relevant, even-toned, and gracious.

    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 03:11 pm

    Well said, Leslie.

    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 03:26 pm

    It's very interesting how different people interpret the Bible. 

    From a letter written to Evans from a distressed parent:


    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 03:33 pm

    Whoa! This mother meant business when she wrote to Rachel in 2018 about leading people astray!

    "Do you propose that you have knowledge greater than God? Why are you telling others that God really didn’t mean what He said about Homosexuality being an abomination to Him?

    Your end, if you do not repent, will be as the end of the Evil one and his minions. You will be thrown into the abyss, and you will suffer the torment of a fiery hell which will not burn you up, but will continue to torture you for eternity.

    A horrific thought, is it not?

    Is this the Gospel according to Rachel? I pray for your Salvation, but I also pray that if the Lord knows that you will never repent, and you will continue to preach these satanic deceptions; I pray that whatever the Lord needs to do to shut you down – will be done.

    If that sounds harsh, then know this:  I would rather see you not to be able to print or speak your heresies any longer, knowing that many are being kept safe from you!"

    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 03:54 pm

    Maybe the devil killed her because in the end she began to see the light again. It makes one wonder. 

    I agree that there are many churches that have many problems. I feel it's because the people chosen to lead are chosen for the wrong reasons. I have attended evang., baptist, methodist, lutheran, catholic, orthodox, and non-denom. churches. (It's what happens when you are married twice and with child.) I've seen way too much and have many concerns for places of worship. But churches that are ok with people who live together in sin, who have homosexual relations, women who go to church with their breasts exposed, stuff that is an abomination to the Lord. Yes, we are to love all, but not to accept continuing sins as ok because God loves you. Yes, we all sin, but that doesn't make it ok. God didn't say go and continue to sin. He said go and sin no more. 

    I don't know it all. I'm just saying what I feel about sinners and churches who lead them, or fail to lead them. 


  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Tue, 05/07/2019 08:03 am

    Thanks Mickey for this balanced obit. Comments are also interesting and revelatory on their own merits. You have struck a chord with what appears to me to be a balanced factual article.

  • Jebby
    Posted: Tue, 05/07/2019 09:35 am

    Unexpected death at a young age is always tragic.  I’m so sorry for her family.  But death is a pretty certain outcome of life.  I hope we all are reminded to live like we are dying...because we are.  And to hope in Jesus, because He is the only hope that lasts.

    And some of these comments crack me up!  Especially from Big Jim...made me laugh out loud!

  • not silent
    Posted: Tue, 05/07/2019 12:38 pm

     I trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for salvation and I seek to know God's truth as much as possible, but I suspect that some of my theology is faulty and will be corrected after I die.  Even Paul the Apostle said: "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."(1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV)

    Please note that this is not a commentary about Ms. Evans, her books, or her ideas.  Since I have not read her books, I don't feel qualified to comment on them and defer to those who have. I am also not suggesting that believers fail to point out error if there has been error.  However, once someone has died, I must leave it up to God to judge them-just as he will judge me one day.

  • J Lee Harshbarger's picture
    J Lee Harshbarger
    Posted: Wed, 05/22/2019 12:50 am

    "In 2012, she wrote the New York Times bestseller A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” where she made light of traditional male and female roles prescribed in the Bible."  I am assuming by this comment about the book that the article's author never actually read the book.  A Year In Biblical Womanhood is an exploration in how to interpret the Bible. Throughout the book, Evans interviewed Christian women of all kinds of backgrounds, including Amish, to learn how they interpret various passages of the Bible in reference to women.  Evans focused on listening to people, a trait that is rare today, and she was always thoroughly respectful of everyone's views.  And the underlying points gleaned from these interviews provide very useful food for thought for one to consider how to approach the Bible. To call this book something that "made light of traditional male and female roles prescribed in the Bible" is way off the mark.