150 of 160 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2010
I recently sat through a sermon where the preacher warned the audience about the things that could get them off course. There were the usual suspects - alcohol, rebellious friends, floozy girls and hormone-charged boys, but there was also a new suspect added to this evil gang--postmodern thinking. He didn't really quantify or qualify his statement. He just demonized the buzzword to his audience, and it got the bobbing head approval from many in the audience that he was looking for.
There is something that Christian leaders need to understand. In the same way that the Church in the past needed to shift from "all mysticism, all the time" to some rational-based thinking (the shift from medieval to modernism) the Church now needs to shift from "all intellectual, all the time" model that hasn't worked for a while, and certainly isn't with the younger generations.
Take for example Rachel Held Evans--this is an under 30 aged woman who grew up with all the modern conveniences of Christianity - Christian home, private schooling, a dad who was a theologian, and won the `Best Christian Attitude Award' in her school four consecutive years.
* This is a girl who wrote out the plan of salvation on construction paper, folded it into a airplane and sailed it into her Mormon neighbor's back yard.
* Rachel learned that abortion was wrong before she learned where babies came from.
* She cried when she learned that her grandfather voted for Bill Clinton, thinking he would now be sent to hell when he died.
* She would move the wisemen away from the holiday manger scenes since the Magi didn't really arrive till Jesus was a toddler in order for the scene to be more biblically accurate.
But as certain as Rachel was in her belief system as she grew up it simply didn't answer the questions she faced in life. Just as her hometown of Dayton, Tennessee is famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925 against a teacher who taught evolution in his classroom) Rachel found her own faith on trial. It didn't survive, at least not in the form it started in. It would be safe to say it evolved.
Here are her words, "I encountered a different Jesus, a Jesus who requires more from me than intellectual assent and emotional allegiance; a Jesus who associated with sinners and infuriated the religious; a Jesus who broke the rules and refused to cast the first stone; a Jesus who gravitated toward sick people and crazy people, homeless people and hopeless people; a Jesus who preferred story to exposition and metaphor to syllogism; a Jesus who answered questions with more questions, and demands for proof with demands for faith; a Jesus who taught his followers to give without expecting anything in return, to love their enemies to the point of death, to live simply and without a lot of stuff, and to say what they mean and mean what they say; a Jesus who healed each person differently and saved each person differently; a Jesus who had no list of beliefs to check off, no doctrinal statement to sign, no surefire way to tell who was `in' and who as `out'; a Jesus who loved after being betrayed, healed after being hurt, and forgave while being nailed to a tree; a Jesus who asked his disciples to do the same thing."
It is not hype when I say that Rachel's book, Evolving in Monkey Town, detailing her spiritual journey from certainty, through doubt, and to faith is the best book I have read this year. This memoir will replace many volumes of theology books on her dad's shelves and for a good reason.
If there is ANY hint of negative reaction in you when you hear the word `Postmodern' you really ought to read this book. To truly grasp the postmodern generation you have to do more than tackle their ideology with reason, you have to live out their stories with them. Rachel has invited you into hers; you'd be a monkey not to join her.
164 of 204 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2010
I have no doubt that growing up in the town where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held had some impact on Rachel Held Evans' outlook on life. But growing up in a Christian fundamentalist environment seems to have been what really shaped her views about life - or her worldview as she puts it. Evolving in Monkey Town is her story about faith, doubt and resolution.
It may be that I don't have the right to judge someone else's faith journey, but I can't review this book without commenting on Evans' judgments of the Christian world she grew up in. She is very critical of this world and her cynicism pervades the narrative. In the first part of the book she makes sweeping statements about evangelical apologetics, a Christian worldview, defense of the faith and Christian political action. She also criticizes children's programs, youth group activities and Christian colleges.
Her arguments didn't have any validity for me until she got around to describing her personal crisis of faith. It began when she saw a news story of the execution of a Muslim woman in Afghanistan. She began to struggle with the unfairness of a woman who suffered on earth going to Hell without an opportunity to hear the gospel. She calls it the Cosmic Lottery. According to her understanding of fundamental Christianity, Christians go to heaven because they happen to be born in a time and place where they can hear the gospel. Others go to Hell because they don't have the same opportunity. In other words, it's the luck of the draw.
The rest of the book is the story of her journey, as she describes it, from one lily pad to another. She made small leaps from one thing she could accept about God to another, resting on each until it made sense. She started by reading the gospels to understand who Jesus is and what He came to do. From there she came to understand salvation, good works and the Bible.
However, throughout the book, she maintains a cynical and critical attitude toward Evangelicalism - one which focuses on doctrine. She concludes that Jesus didn't teach doctrine, just love. When she was taught to defend her faith, she was being taught answers to questions that aren't being asked. Instead she should have been taught to love her neighbor. Her view of the Bible made me especially uncomfortable. After discovering other Christian traditions, she came to believe that no one has an exclusive interpretation of scripture, which is a valid point, but she completely dismisses orthodoxy. She never recognizes that there are some fundamentals that all Christian traditions agree on.
To return to the title, one of the childhood teachings she abandoned was young earth creationism. Instead she has embraced scientific evolution and she believes that faith must evolve as well. She argues that Christians in every time and culture must look for their blind spots and their beliefs must evolve to correct them. However, I believe that she uses the term incorrectly. Correcting wrong thinking is a return to truth, not an evolution of the truth. After reading about her life, I would say that her faith didn't evolve either, it grew up. Many of her criticisms are based on her childish understanding, and after her crisis she learned to think about Jesus like an adult instead of a kid.
This book was a hard one for me to read because of the critical attitudes of the author. But she is an excellent writer and makes her points clearly. Her voice is easy to follow and she tells a lot of stories. I think young adults who grew up in Evangelical churches will relate to much of what she says. Older adults will either be frustrated with her, as I was, or will not quite know what she's talking about. I can't really recommend it, but I can't say it's not worth reading, either.
Pros: A well written story of one woman's crisis of faith and why she's still a Christian.
Cons: The author is quite young and lacks a depth of understanding about Christianity, in spite of her extensive knowledge and obvious intelligence.
The original review was posted on Pix-N-Pens
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2010
It's a sure sign of God's grace that he would put a journalist with the heart of a poet in a town like Dayton, Tennessee. Rachel Held Evan's Evolving in Monkey Town is a piece of narrative theology, a spiritual coming of age memoir of how a young woman schooled in a bastion of Christian conservatism found her way to freedom of thought and conscience in Jesus Christ.
Dayton took the nickname Monkey Town after hosting the "trial of the century" in 1925 when a high school science teacher named John Scopes was charged with the crime of teaching the theory of evolution. Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, and a horde of onlookers descended upon the town during that hot summer to debate the big question of the day--a literal view of Biblical creation or the theory of evolution? When the smoke had cleared, Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but Darrow captured the nation's attention, news coverage, and fundamentalism began its long slide into caricature in the national consciousness.
Rachel Evans missed the trial, arriving in Dayton some seventy years later in the late 90's when her father, a Dallas Theological Seminary product, moved the family to Dayton in order to teach at Bryan College (established in William Jennings Bryan's name just after the trial). Evans spent her teenage and college years growing up in Monkey Town, a precocious and insightful girl from a loving household, determined become the best Christian she could in the world she knew. She found herself the commencement speaker at Bryan college, hailed as the girl with all the answers, delivering an orthodox Christian conservative speech while secretly beginning to question her foundations.
The book is divided into three sections, Habitat, Challenge, and Change, the names of these sections echoing the central metaphor of the book: namely, her faith required adaptation, change--in short, her faith needed to evolve in order to survive. Evans drives home the irony that her faith had to go through the process of evolution, the very process considered anathema within her Christian circle. Woven into these three narrative sections are refreshing vignettes of the people from Dayton, Tennessee, and elsewhere. We are introduced to "June the Ten Commandments Lady," "Laxmi the Widow," "Adele the Oxymoron," and "Dan the Fixer" among others. Each person influenced her faith (for good or for ill) in profound ways. Evans' skill as a journalist shows through in these vivid pictures of the people in her life. Each portrait crackles with descriptive power.
The strength of the book is her choice of personal narrative. Since Evans herself was trained in the high art of apologetic combat it would have been easy for her to deconstruct the tenets of her upbringing and conservative Christian education. "I'd gotten so good at critiquing all the fallacies of opposing world views," she writes, "that it was only a matter of time before I turned the same skeptical eye upon my own faith." Instead her story unfolds from childhood through adolescence, adolescence through college, and into her new-found conclusions as an adult. Her personal story is compelling and resistant to argument precisely because it is her story.
The poet's heart meets the apologist's training early in her life. Evans tells her story with transparency and honesty. Even when the reader may disagree with her conclusions, her intentions are laid bare as someone with a strong sense of justice and a compassionate heart. Her journey begins with the conviction, "Salvation wasn't just about being a Christian: it was about being the right kind of Christian, the kind who did things by the book." By the time she evolves into a woman in her own right she posits, "Perhaps being a Christian isn't about experiencing the kingdom of heaven someday but about experiencing the kingdom of heaven every day."
It's a pleasure to read well-crafted sentences that sum up her experiences. A few examples:
* "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God."
* "When the gospel gets all entangled with extras, dangerous ultimatums threaten to take it down with them. The yoke gets too heavy and we stumble beneath it."
* (And my personal favorite) "The longer our lists of rules and regulations, the more likely it is that God himself will break one."
There are few quibbles along the way: her conversations with friends seem a bit contrived--the voices of her friends all begin to sound the same. She does not explain how the very fellowship and educational institution she criticizes could produce such a free thinker as herself. And she leaves this reader wondering about the current dynamic of her family relationships--although this might be the curiosity of a nosy reviewer! But these are minor flaws--this is a good book. It will speak to anyone who has ever felt the stifling heat of orthodoxy, to those who want to be free to worship God without a spiritual Big Brother looking over their shoulders.
I recommend this book to anyone who is considering whether there is room in the church to ask troubling questions without being ostracized. I may even assign the book to the college freshman I teach this fall, if the campus bookstore will allow me to switch at such a late date!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2012
My husband, Rick, received his bachelor's degree in 1985 from Bryan College in Dayton, TN, and I worked at the local newspaper there. So just from a personal standpoint, it was really enjoyable reading a book told by a young woman whose father was a professor at Bryan, who herself attended Bryan, and who also worked at the local newspaper.
But even without that personal connection, I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book. The author took us through her Christian spiritual journey from an "I have an answer for everything" mindset to an "It's ok that I have a lot of questions" perspective. I am jealous that she figured all of this out at such a young age (she was born in 1981), as I've been slowly taking that same journey (probably for 25 years) - but I'm now 54 years old. At the end of the book (published in 2010) her conclusions are pretty similar to the ones I have come to.
Here is a quote from page 224: "There are a lot of things I don't know. I don't know where evil came from or why God allows so much suffering in the world. I don't know if there is such a thing as a 'just war.' I don't know how God will ultimately judge between good and evil. I don't know which church tradition best represents truth. I don't know the degree to which God is present in religious systems, or who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. I don't know if hell is an eternal state or a temporary one or what it will be like. I don't know why people are gay or if being gay is a sin. I don't know which Bible stories ought to be treated as historically accurate, scientifically provable accounts of fact and which stories are meant to be metaphorical. I don't know if it really matters so long as those stories transform my life. I don't know how to reconcile God's sovereignty with man's free will. I don't know what to do with those Bible verses that seem to condone genocide and the oppression of women. I don't know why I have so many questions, while other Christians don't seem to have any. I don't know which of these questions I will find answers to and which I will not."
If you think you know what all Christians are like, you might find Rachel Held Evans' inner battles and honesty surprisingly refreshing. If you're a Christian who struggles with being boxed in by stereotypes, and you keep your own spiritual struggles quiet for fear of being judged, you'll find a kindred spirit in Rachel. You will also love her blog: [...]
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2010
I just finished reading my advance copy of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. I devoured this thing in all of the spare moments I've had over the past two days, setting aside all my other reading to do so. My initial reaction: I'm jealous.
I met Rachel on Twitter and we've had some limited engagement there. I've enjoyed her tweets and her blog and jumped at the opportunity to read and review her book. What I didn't expect was how timely the read would be and how close to home her words would strike.
Evolving in Monkey Town is a wonderful narrative of Rachel's spiritual journey from conservative evangelicalism to a more progressive Christian experience. She doesn't pretend to have all the answer and she's brutally honest about her struggles along the way. Rachel deals with doubt and lands in the same place I have - Doubt is essential to faith. In the last chapter, Rachel writes:
"If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that serious doubt - the kind that leads to despair - begins not when we start asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop."
It is exactly this realization that has transformed my life in recent months and a notion I found so moving in her book.
Rachel shows mettle in her ongoing grappling with issues like religious pluralism, sexual preference, political diversity, inclusiveness, social justice and other topics for which conservative apologetics training had already provided canned answers.
Each chapter feels like it's dealing with a topic or influence somewhat in isolation but the overall story emerges beautifully. Rachel is a gifted writer which makes reading her work so enjoyable. Topics are meaty and substantial, but form matters and it's a beautifully written book; a much easier read than so many of the heavy theology books I've read lately. It's her story.
Back to the jealousy part. I'm jealous of Rachel because she's still in her 20's while on this incredible journey. I've spent many more years than her parked in "spiritual neutral", clinging to the same old dogma I'd been raised with, perhaps afraid of bringing the tough questions that were burning deep within me into the light to be dealt with. Rachel gives voice to many of those questions.
I'm jealous of her style and ease with word. Although I don't envy the depth to which she had been plunged into evangelicalism, so young and so often, I am envious of her depth of Biblical knowledge and the amount of insight she shows, again, so early in life.
I'm jealous because Rachel had the guts to write her story and become a published author. She's a wonderful author at that with a fantastic career ahead of her and I'm already looking forward to her next offering.
I'm not going to reveal any more about her book because I want everyone I know to buy it, read it, and consider it. My copy is going onto my wife's nightstand as soon as I'm done with this blog entry. My bride tends not to read much of the heavy stuff I've read lately (Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, William Lane Craig, etc.), but I know she'll love this book, Rachel's style, and her story. I'm convinced Evolving in Monkey Town will give Michelle deeper insight into my own journey and perhaps shape her own as well.
Although I'm envious of Rachel for these reasons, I'm mainly blessed to have a connection with her, to get the opportunity to read her work, and to join her on this shared journey to find Truth, Peace, and Grace. Life really is found in the questions more so than the answers.
"We thought that we had the answers.
It was the questions we had wrong." - U2
Blessings my friends.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2011
I would suggest every Christian to read this book; in fact, I will suggest this book to others! However, I will always have a footnote attached to the recommendation.
There is a lot of very, very good stuff in the book which makes me (a conservative Christian) both scream out for more and reconsider my own believes and practices. In many parts of the book I find myself being described, having been trained in both theology and apologetics, thinking to know all the answers, ready to take on Richard Dawkins. There are parts which humble me, such as how I sit right now comfortably in front of a computer, being warmed and filled (actually, cooled by a fan, but you get the idea) while at the same time there are people who are suffering around the world. The author raises some very important questions about the Christian faith and especially about the Christian practice. She rightly appeals for less "judgmentalism," for more compassion, for less politics in Christianity. I applaud her for these (and many others).
However, she fails in other areas, areas which probably are just as important. She rightly says that Christians like to pick-and-choose (and even admits that she does so herself). I was severely disappointed to see that she discovered Jesus in the Gospels, but she apparently did not see how often He in fact taught on hell and the coming judgment. According to my own personal count, if you came to Jesus and heard Him talk, you had a 25% chance to hear something about judgment. Also, Jesus was merciful to those who came to Him who humbled themselves, came to Him with a repentant heart. His attitudes towards those who did not come to Him that way, was radically different (just look at the "believers" of John 8:31-59). Also, even though Jesus' message of love is incredible, the ONLY passage in Scripture we find about God loving the "world" is John 3:16; all other love passages speak of God's love for His son, Christ's love for the Father, Christian's love for one another, etc. And if we turn to Acts, the Greek words for "love" are not used once ... apart from Acts 15:25 describing Barnabas and Paul as "beloved". Apparently the disciples of Christ either did not get the "message," or "God loves you so much that He wants you to be saved" was not their methodology of evangelization. Lastly, when she writes that Zarmina (the woman who was executed by the Taliban) is loved by God, what does she do about John 3:18-20, that those who do not believe are judged ALREADY? What does she do with the multitude of verses which describe God hating unbelievers (Leviticus 20:23; Psalm 11:5; 34:16; Proverbs 8:13; Hosea 9:15; Psalm 5:5-6; Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:20; 12:22; 16:5; Zechariah 8:17); what does she do with Romans 1:18ff, where it says that all people know that only the biblical God exists, but that they actively suppress that knowledge because they don't want Him? Maybe I am asking too much from the book that is more of an autobiography?
I think my time was well-spent in reading the book; it helped me re-examine myself and I trust that the book makes me more Christ-like. For that, I give her 5 stars. However, her failure to deal with some of the very important issues that contradict her journey, I give her 1 star. Hence, the middle of 3 stars.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2012
I recently read and very much enjoyed Rachel Held Evan's most recent book "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." So after finishing that book, I decided to see if I could find any other books. I have to be honest; I was initially put off by the title of this book. I didn't know what to expect. I'm not sure why, but I have always hated biology. I have also consistently gotten bad grades in biology. In junior high, high school, and college, I just barely squeaked by with a D-. Most of the time, I would not be at all happy or satisfied with that bad of a grade, but with biology, I was just glad I didn't have to retake the class. I had heard of the Scopes Trial (also known as the Monkey Trial) so I appreciated Ms. Evan's summary of the trial and its conclusion. I was also somewhat put off by the title of the preface, "Why I am an Evolutionist." Personally, I don't think the theory of evolution has any basis whatsoever in fact. There is no support in the fossil record, and it's just too big of a leap for me to believe that everything came from nothing or by accident. I don't have any theological objections to evolution; I personally think that creationism makes much more sense. I believe wholeheartedly in the biblical account of Creation, but I have no idea whether it was 7 literal days or longer periods of time. Quite frankly, I really don't care. I was really hoping that Ms. Evans wasn't going to spend the entire book touting the merits of the theory of evolution. But I was relieved to discover that is not the kind of evolution she was dealing with. Instead, she was dealing with the evolution of a person's faith and Christianity in general.
After reading "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" I considered Rachel Held Evans a kindred spirit. I could relate to so many of her struggles. This book only reinforced that belief. Rachel grew up in Dayton, TN in a deeply religious and very conservative family. She attended Christian school and received an award for "Best Christian attitude" four years in a row. Rachel was taught what to think, rather than how to think. She was taught not to question and to not rock the boat. She never questioned what she was taught she just accepted it as true. Her crisis of faith began in college after she saw a news report of a graphic execution of a woman in Afghanistan. That experience caused her to see things in a completely different way and triggered some very difficult questions and a lot of introspection. Slowly, the certainty of her faith and trust in God began to erode. She couldn't ignore the questions. She began openly discussing her questions and crisis of faith openly. Many people told her to just get over and that she shouldn't be asking the questions that she was.
I too, have experienced times of doubt and questioning. To be honest, I've wrestled with many of the same doubts and questions Rachel wrestled with. I've had doubts that were intellectual in nature, and some that were profoundly personal. I also learned the hard way, that many Christians simply can't handle these types of doubts and questions. A few years ago, I reached a point where I could no longer keep silent about my doubts and questions. Once, when I shared my doubts and struggles with a couple of church elders, there was an awkward silence. The only advice they had for me was "You need to pray and read your Bible more." Since I was already doing both on a regular basis, that was not even remotely helpful for me. I wish that this book had been around then.
I so appreciate Ms. Evan's candor and honesty about such a difficult subject. It helped me to feel that I'm not the only one who struggles with these kinds of issues and questions. There are several quotes that I could site, but I will limit myself to two. "If I've learned anything about what it's like to on the outside of Christianity looking in, it's how awful it feels when your questions aren't taken seriously. Sometimes, I just want to hear someone say "You know, I'm not sure what to make of that either."
I know exactly what Rachel is talking about. I have experienced the same feeling of not being heard. I've had contact with people who wouldn't even attempt to understand what I was going through. And to be honest, it hurts and led to a lot of resentment. For a time, I lost faith in organized religion for that very reason.
I also liked this quote "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith, the latter has the power to enrich and refine it." I have found exactly the same thing.
I also have to admit that I have chaffed at times under the conformity that is expected from Christians. It's like you have believe and act a certain way to be accepted. If you don't, you will be ostracized and criticized, and the validity of your faith will be called into question. But as I've matured in my faith, I've learned to think for myself. I examine both side of an issue and then decide for myself what I think. I don't simply take people's word for things. I think this is a skill that most Christians lack. Theologically, I don't consider myself conservative or liberal. With most issues, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. But I have some views that are definitely out of the mainstream. For example, I am against abortion as birth control or because the timing is inconvenient. But I do support abortion in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother's life is in danger. I believe in egalitarian marriage. I also believe that if a woman is clearly gifted as a teacher and preacher, she should be allowed to do so. These are all issues that I have wrestled with and researched.
I am fortunate and blessed to attend a church that not only allows questions, doubts, and struggles, it encourages them. It is a safe place for people to explore their faith. In fact, my pastor recently said that "Doubt is normal in faith." I wholeheartedly agree.
I will end with an edited version of my favorite quote from this book. "It seems a whole lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, are under the impression you can't be a Christian and....
-vote for a democrat
-have questions about the Bible
-be a feminist
If you struggle with doubts and questions about God and Christianity, I highly recommend this book. You will find Rachel Held Evans a kindred spirit who has a lot of insight to offer. Another excellent book that deal with somewhat similar issues as this book is "Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics" by Alisa Harris.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2011
Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans, is an inspiring and hopeful journey about a girl who searches for a real faith in God. She writes with incredible honesty and a sort of transparency that is rarely seen in "Christian" books. This book is written in a story-like form and will comfort those of you who have questions and challenge those of you who aren't willing to admit you have the same questions.
Evans writes, "It occurred to me that in worldview class, we laughed at how transcendentalists so serenely embraced paradox and contradiction, but then went on to theology class and accepted without question that Jesus existed as both fully God and fully man. We criticized radical Islam as a natural outworking of the violent tone of the Qur'an without acknowledging the fact that the God of Israel ordered his people to kill every living thing in Canaan, from the elderly to the newborn. We sneered at the notion of climate change yet believed that God once made the earth stand still" (79).
She readily admits that she was the smartest Christian girl alive and had all the answers to any question imaginable. It was only through her critiquing of others who were "wrong" that she began to realize she was the one who was "wrong." She confesses her deepest flaws and writes with humility and integrity.
"Most worrisome, however, was how we criticized relativists for picking and choosing truth, while our own biblical approach required some selectivity of its own. For example, I was taught that the Bible served as a guidebook for Christian dating and marriage, but no one ever suggested that my father had the right to sell me to the highest bidder or to take multiple wives, like Abraham. Homosexuality was preached against incessantly, but little was said of gluttony or greed. We decried the death of each aborted baby as a violation of the sanctity of human life but shrugged off the deaths of Iraqi children as expected collateral damage in a war against evil. We celebrated archeological finds that supported the historical claims of the Bible yet discounted massive amounts of scientific evidence in support of an old earth" (Evans 80).
Brutally honest. These words are tough to read and many Christians will call it liberal.
Here's what it is: true.
It's just plain true and there's no way around this uncomfortable admission.
After writing an extremely moving story about a woman whose death was shown on tv, Evans admits something that most people don't have the courage to confess. "All my life, I had imagined God as a warm, faceless light, a sort of benevolent and eternal sunshine. That morning in chapel, a shadow passed over him like an eclipse, and for the next few years, all I could see was a faint glow around its edges" (95). Her deepest emotions are poured out in the section of the book and I found myself relating to these tearful moments in life. The times where you are asking yourself, "Why God, why?"
Then she asks a nagging question I've struggled with for almost five years and one I wrote about in my book. "How can God be fair and just if he preordains our eternal destiny, if most people have no choice but to face eternal damnation?" (96). The answer to this question is that He cannot. He cannot be fair and just if He predestines people to eternal punishment. I get the feeling that Evans feels the same way but you'll have to read the book to find out for yourself exactly where she lands.
Lastly, she bravely writes, "How lovely and how terrible that absolute truth exists in something that cannot really be named" (210). If that statement doesn't make any sense to you, please spend some time studying absolute truth versus relative truth. Spend some time thinking about what it means to be post-modern or a fundamentalist. Think about what it means to have to take one side or another, instead of simply loving both sides.
This book gets 5 out of 5 stars and my only complaint is that it wasn't longer. Not that she didn't say enough, she did, rather it's that I really wanted to hear more- it was that good. I hope she plans to write another book because I'd love to hear more of her journey and her battle for a genuine faith. Pick this book up and I promise you won't be able to put it down.
Jackson Baer, author of What the Hell: How did we get it so wrong? Eternity, grace, and the message of love
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2010
I first came across Rachel Held Evans sometime last year from a comment on another site, but I really liked the comment and I started following/occasionally commenting on her blog, talking back and forth on Twitter, and we have exchanged a few emails and such. At some point, the opportunity came up to review her book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, and I was thrilled to be able to do so.
Rachel's book is structured around her own story. She was raised in the strongest of evangelical apologetics, ready to defeat a host of arguments without listening to them and treat threatening views as dangerous views, and her own views as unquestionable. This part is called "Habitat." But eventually, her critiques and questions of the views of others are turned on her own, and this part is called "Challenge." Finally, she learns that her faith can change, and indeed must change. This, of course, is called "Change."
In the first part, there are powerful stories of Dayton, Tennesee and the world of conservative evangelicalism, and of herself and other folks that Rachel has known. There are stories that will make you cringe, either because you remember the same experiences in your own life or because you can't imagine such experiences really happening. There are stories that give glimpses into its cracks and dangers, stories that give glimpses into what it taught her, and stories that just make it look old in a world that no longer needs it.
One example is this:
"With this assurance [that reality would always support their "biblical worldview"], we studied common challenges in Christianity, such as the problem of evil and the destiny of the unevangelized. These were treated as issues that atheists and agnostics might raise to try to undermine Christianity, not issues that believers generally struggled with themselves, so I had to be careful how I phrased my questions in class."
In the second part, the questions of skeptics become Rachel's questions. She deals honestly with issues of hell, pluralism, the fact that the time and place in which we were born is the most likely factor to decide the religion we will practice, the guilt that can plague us when we begin to honestly look at the suffering of people in the world, and other questions that people with these frameworks really don't like to think about.
This is a profound section, partly because it is willing to give us a glimpse into a deep wrestling with questions that have been equated with a faithful theology for Rachel's entire life up to this point, and partly because it gives us a glimpse into how deeply we can encounter the love and grace of Jesus within these questions regardless of whether or not there are satisfying answers to them.
"In the end, the same question that frightened and intimidated me as a child provided the clearest way out: What if I'm wrong? It was a question loaded with uncertainty, possibility, and hope, and it was a question to which I often would return. To be wrong about God is the condition of humanity, for better or worse. Sometimes it lures us into questioning God; sometimes it summons us to give him another chance. After I'd thought for so many years that good Christians are always ready with an answer, it was a question that eventually drew me back to belief."
So following this, the final section tells us how Rachel has learned that her faith can be flexible, that God is full of grace, and that it's okay not to know things. One last quote to illustrate this:
"And slowly I am learning to live the questions, to follow the teachings of a radical rabbi, to live in an upside-down kingdom in which kings are humbled and servants exalted, to look for God in the eyes of the orphan and the widow, the homeless and the imprisoned, the poor and the sick."
I hope I've expressed a bit of the profound theological and spiritual story that is in this book, and the freedom and beauty that is in its message. It doesn't tell us that real faith is easy and lets us float above the hard parts, or that we can settle for a lifeless faith that offers nothing that can change us and nothing that can change the world. It offers us hope through the stories of folks Rachel has met and shares with us, through the parts of her own journey that she shares with us, and the ways that we can turn an honest look on our own journeys and know that Jesus is in them.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I remember a fellow Christian once telling me that the reason that there are dinosaur bones in the earth is because satan planted them there. I didn't try to argue with him as it would not have done much good. Sadly, many Christians take an anti-intellectual stance in defending our Faith. They do not wish to question as they may be afraid of the answers. Rachel Held Evans is someone who did question the seeming unfairness of Christianity towards people who were raised in other faiths and other questions, such as evolution that she felt could not be ignored. She became something of a pariah in her hometown of Dayton, Tennessee, the home of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Her questions however, have resulted in one of the best defences of Christianity that I have read. Although all of her questions are not answered, she comes to enough conclusions in giving her, and the reader, peace. When I survey the current list of Christian books, this is the only one that I can feel good in recommending. Unless of course you think satan really did bury those dinosaur bones that are found all over the world...