Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans

This is another book that fits in the same category as Matthew Paul Turner’s books and Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith – young evangelicals who are admitting to serious doubts about the fundamentalist faith they were raised in, yet have chosen to explore and live with those doubts without abandoning the faith.

The subtitle of Evolving in Monkey Town is “How a Girl who Had all the Answers Learned to ask the Questions,” and there are so many points in this memoir wehre I can relate to Rachel Held Evans. In my review of Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith, I said that I could relate to having been a lifelong doubter and questioner, and while this is true to a point, I can also relate to Evans’s early experience of certainty.  Like her, I grew up in a church tradition that values certainty above almost anything else, that places great importance on knowing the reasons for your faith and being able to proof-text your way through “witnessing” to anyone who might question your beliefs. And, like Evans, I was both a good girl and a smart girl, so I got good at defending my faith and coming up with answers to my own questions and the questions of others.

When Evans says, “I felt closer to God as a teenager than at any other time in my life. I prayed incessantly, casting all the insecurities of adolescence at the feet of my heavenly Father, who loved me better than any boy ever could and who looked past my braces and bangs to see his beautiful, unblemished child. The Bible … fed me, and I swallowed without asking questions or entertaining doubts,” I know what she’s talking about. When she throws herself wholeheartedly into apologetics to convince others of the solidity of her Biblcial worldview, I can relate. And when she begins to start having doubts about what she’s learned so well and defended so staunchly — well, I’ve been there too.

For Evans, the cracks started showing when she witnessed a televised report of the suffering of a Muslim woman in Afghanistan and started questioning her belief that after suffering so terribly in this life, this woman would then go to hell to be tortured for all eternity just because she wasn’t a Christian. While I have my Adventist upbringing to thank for never having worried about people going to an eternally burning hell, I can easily see how the belief that only Christians will be saved might be the first sign of weakness in a young believer’s shield of faith.

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter where the cracks appear: what matters is what you do with them. For many people, the answer is to find a solution by coming up with ever-more-airtight explanations for troubling questions, hanging onto faith with a deathgrip.  For others, it’s to let go of faith altogether. Evans chooses neither route; rather, she “evolves” into a Christian who tries to get comfortable with questions. (The “evolution” of the title refers to the fact that Evans’s hometown, Dayton Tennessee, was the home of the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial.” It’s a tribute to her writing that I think so highly of a book with the word “monkey” in the title, since I really, really hate monkeys).

I read something the other day that condemned “memoirs by people under 30,” and there is a sort of common sense to that. Yet this is a memoir by a twenty-seven year old that I think works very well as a snapshot of a particular point in the life journey of a young person who is learning that “knowing the answers” is not the be-all and end-all of faith.

Evans’s endpoint in this memoir is very similar to the point Jason Boyett reaches at the end of O Me of Little Faith – and, in fact, pretty similar to the point I’ve reached, albeit at a somewhat later age than either Boyett or Evans. It’s the point where you realize that doubt is not necessarily the enemy of faith, that real faith is more about trusting gnd following Jesus than about signing on to a set of propositions.

Evans’s voice is fresh and engaging, and she tells her story in a way that draws the reader in to her experience. If you’re a  Christian who’s been taught the importance of “knowing the truth,” yet can’t shake those nagging doubts and questions about things that just don’t seem to fit your Biblical worldview, this book is for you.

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6 Comments

Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

6 responses to “Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans

  1. catherine t

    I like the sounds of this book. I’m going to read it soon.

  2. As long as the memoirist has an interesting story to tell, I don’t care how old she is! This sounds wonderful.

    …why do you hate monkeys so much? :)

  3. Thank you so much for the thoughtful review, Trudy. It’s an honor!

  4. It’s an honour to have you post here, Rachel! I love your blog as well as the book.

    TLO, the monkey thing is … hard to explain. They just creep me out … all of them. Live monkeys, cartoon monkeys, stuffed monkeys, even Curious George. I avoid the Primate House at zoos and monkey pajamas give me nightmares.

  5. Thanks for this review. Rachel’s blog is awesome and I just love that she is so not afraid to tackle issues at the heart of Christian faith. I too am in the evolving camp of Christianity: from swallowing without thought, to saying “wait a minute”, to getting beaten up by others for questioning, to discovering that questioning is a common trait of bible characters, to getting comfortable with questioning things with a confidence in God’s ultimate mystery. Wow . . . I never really intended to write all that! Just meant to say thanks for the review. All the best.

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