When I first heard of
“Evolving In Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned To Ask The Questions,”
I wasn’t sure I was going to read it. I’d read four Donald Miller books and two by Anne Lamott.
“Do I really need another memoir about postmodernism, questioning traditional faith, and rethinking our relationship with God and man?” I wondered.
Apparently, I did.
And I’m glad I did.
Certainly, this book covers some familiar ground, but it also covers enough different ground that it is well worth adding to your queue. More than new material, Rachel looks at things with her own particular perspective. She add insights and conversation that only she can add. Many can relate to her experience, but everyone’s journey is just unique enough that we can all learn from each other. I think this would be a good companion piece to one of my all-time favorites, “Velvet Elvis” by Rob Bell.
Ms. Evans is a not-quite-thirty year old, who was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical environment. She took great delight in winning her school’s “Best Christian Attitude” award 4 years running. Like all the best writing, Rachel leaves the truth of her less-than-perfect-being plainly exposed. Concerning those giving her the award, she says,
“It means they have no idea that beneath it all, I’m a complete fraud.”
I totally loved her take on “why” she was a Christian. She talks of how the answer to that question kept changing through various periods of her life. The answer she settles on as being the “most truthful” is not a very good answer for an evangelical. It is however, possibly the most perfect answer I have ever read. You’ll find it in the section: “When Believers Ask.”
Like many of us, she was taught to “always have an answer,” and that “knowing facts” is of the utmost importance. Especially when you must gain the upper-hand in a debate or argument. We do, after all, need to prove to the skeptics and unbelievers that we are smarter than they are. She grew up in a time when apologetic prowess was nearly worshiped. Questions, doubt, or just saying “I don’t know,” were simply not acceptable.
I’m not sure why “I don’t know” is so hard for evangelicals. It’s still hard for many of my fundamentalist friends. It seems, if they don’t have the perfect answer to those suffering or questioning, they fear their faith is lacking. I think, for many, their faith is in their belief system, rather than truly in the Person of Christ.
The author finally began to see (or maybe began to admit to seeing), all the mental gymnastics, sidesteps, games and just plain foolishness it takes to reconcile all the contradictions and pseudo-logic used to defend much of evangelical fundamentalism.
“The problem with fundamentalism,” she says, “is that it can’t adapt to change. When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option.”
There’s a chapter called “God Things.” After reading just the first section of that chapter, I had to sit there for awhile before I could move on. It’s a touching, sad story of eight-year old Kanakaraja that helps us see just how narrow and self-centered our vision can be.
I always highlight when I read, so I can go back and just read those portions. I’ve highlighted a lot in this book. There are some absolutely wonderful portions that deserve much, repeated meditation. There are also those parts that bring to me recollections of a past life of religion that make me shake my head in shame. There’s so much I was once a part of; so much I thought dear to my faith, that I now clearly see as anything but Christ-like.
Rachel has reminded me, again, there are many on this journey; even if I have very few nearby who are on a similar path.
I just wish I had realized all this at her age, instead of at such a late stage in my life.
This really is a wonderful book.
From the Back Cover
Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith. Growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, Evans asks questions she never thought she would ask. She learns that in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve. Using as an illustration her own spiritual journey from certainty, through doubt, to faith, Evans adds a unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue about postmodernism and the church that has so captivated the Christian community in recent years. In a changing cultural environment where new ideas threaten the safety and security of the faith, Evolving in Monkey Town is a fearlessly honest story of survival.
About the Author
Rachel Held Evans is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in local and national publications. She lives in Dayton, Tennessee, with her husband, Dan. Find out more at rachelheldevans.com
“Rachel’s humorous yet humble memoir of growing up in the evangelical world serves as an encouraging guide for anyone looking to navigate through that particular subculture. The story told here is both faith and doubt affirming, a beautiful reflection of a heart earnestly seeking to follow God fully.”
— Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices
“This book is an argument–Rachel argues with herself, God, the Bible, and Southern fundamentalism. Somehow, though, we are the winners in this argument because we learn and watch as a young woman emerges into a maturing faith that lets the kingdom vision of Jesus reshape her life. I found myself cheering her on.”
— Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University
[My favorite] “That Evans wrote a remarkable debut at such a young age makes me want to slap her, bless her heart.” – Karen Spears Zacharias
“I consider myself an evolutionist — not necessarily of the scientific variety but of the faith variety.” “I believe the best way to reclaim the gospel in times of change is not to cling more tightly to our convictions but to hold them with an open hand.”
“I’m pretty sure that by the time I asked Jesus into my heart, he’d already been living there for a while.”
“I grew increasingly uncomfortable with how verses were lifted from the Bible to support political positions like gun rights, strong national defense, capital punishment, and limited intervention in the free market. These seemed more like Republican values than biblical values to me.”
“To fight the good fight, the most important weapon was the sword of absolute truth, and the goal of the Christian life was to learn how to use it.”
“Jesus responded more with questions than answers. He preferred story to exposition.” “You can’t get too far into the Gospels without noticing that Jesus made a pretty lousy apologist.”
‘I always wanted a gay friend. But, as embarrassing as the is to admit, I wanted the sort of gay friend who would give me fashion advice [and] make me look edgy and open-minded, not the kind who would actually challenge my thinking or stereotypes.”
“This time, I wasn’t asking these questions rhetorically or in preparation for an imaginary debate with a skeptic. I was asking them because I didn’t know. This time, I was the skeptic.”
[I really like this one] “The longer our lists of rules and regulations, the more likely it is that God himself will break one. The more committed we are to certain theological absolutes, the more likely we are to discount the work of the Spirit when it doesn’t conform to our presuppositions.”