John Stonestreet Remembers His Former Student and Interlocutor Rachel Held Evans

If Twitter were an Olympic sport, Rachel Held Evans would’ve been a gold medalist. Maybe in the Hall of Fame, if there were one. She bested me in the exchange of short bursts more than once, most recently just a few months ago. Those of us who saw in Governor Northam’s comments an implicit, if not explicit, endorsement of infanticide were, she believed, guilty of misrepresentation, if not outright lies.

In the back and forth, I became personally offended and unwisely reacted to something she wrote. I felt it was unfair. She immediately (and strategically) stepped out of the debate.

On the bright side, during the next 48 hours, I received more mentions on Twitter than I’ve ever received. (I’m no Twitter guru.) On the not-so-bright side, the mentions, courtesy of the faithful following she’d built over the last decade or so, were excoriating. The whole episode underscored the passion, influence, and cleverness that propelled Rachel into one of the most formidable progressive thinkers and writers of this generation.

Everyone, including those we think of as our opponents, has a story. Since Good Friday, when I learned Rachel had been placed in a medically induced coma, I’ve wrestled with why God chose for her story, at least for a time, to be intertwined with mine. Today, I’m among the thousands undone by her untimely death and grieving for her family, especially her husband, her two young children, her parents, and her sister.

Rachel sent me a signed copy of her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. On the title page, she wrote, “for John, one of my best teachers.” The world quickly discovered what a talented writer she was. I already knew that. I quickly discovered I was the topic of chapter four. I’m “Greg the Apologist.”

Like Rachel, I used to live in Monkey Town, a not-appreciated moniker for Dayton, Tennessee. Like Rachel, I attended Bryan College, though a few years before her. And like Rachel and everyone else who attended a Christian college, I sat through more college chapels than I could possibly count, much less remember. But I do remember one. The speaker was Rachel’s dad.

When I was a student at Bryan, Peter Held was the vice president of student life. He’s a man full of grace and truth, known for taking students and their issues seriously while embodying the kindness of Jesus. That chapel, sometime during my junior year, enabled me to understand, in a way that forever changed me, God as he had revealed himself to the world in Christ. I’m indebted to the insights of that sermon in a way that I’m indebted to J. I. Packer’s classic Knowing God.

Later, after I returned to Bryan to join the staff and, eventually, the biblical studies faculty, Peter and I co-taught a Christian worldview class together. That semester, I learned that truly great teachers could simultaneously argue the truths of Christianity while struggling with the uncomfortable implications they often carry. Peter had the courage to do it in front of the students, even with the students, and they were better because of it.

I met Dan Evans before he and Rachel married, or even dated. He ran A/V for the traveling student group I directed at the college. Eventually, he produced videos used in our presentations. For a college kid handling VHS tapes, he did impressive work.

I liked Dan immediately and grew to respect him even more. Over three years of road trips throughout the Southeast and Midwest, we talked about faith, movies, music, technology, worldview, and culture. Even then, the entrepreneurial creativity he’d later use to help build Rachel’s significant platform and the commitment to everyday faithfulness he’d later exhibit as her husband and as a father were evident. I’ve often thought that if I could hire Dan and he’d accept, I would.

My interactions with Rachel were comparatively limited. As she would later describe in that semi-biographical chapter of her book, I spoke to her youth group a few times when she was still in high school. A few years later, Rachel staffed a Christian worldview camp I directed.

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Source: Christianity Today