June 22, 2010

Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans

This is the book I've been waiting for (and I received a free copy of it for the purpose of review, how's that for fate?).

If you've been reading my recent reviews, you know I've been reading a lot about apologetics, and about what people think about apologetics as they struggle with doubt. I've written about how dismayed I've been as I've sought answers in these books and failed to find them. Did I find these answers in Evolving in Monkey Town? No. Instead I found hope.

Evolving In Monkey Town is the autobiographical story of Rachel Held Evans, a young woman who grew up as a fundamentalist with all the answers. But she found herself struggling with doubt. She began to ask the questions that so many non-Christians often present that have no easy answer. If God is good, why does He let bad things happen to good people? How can He condemn people to hell who have never had the opportunity to learn about Him? How can the evidence for evolution be reconciled with the Biblical creation story? For it becomes increasingly difficult to sweep such evidence under the rug. There's not much space left under there.

Reading Evans' story was like reading my own, and I've seen that many other reviewers have written the same thing. We differ when it comes to the impetus for doubt. With Evans it was gut-wrenching empathy for victims of atrocities across the globe. For me it was studying evolution in college. But for both of us Christianity is a hard habit to break, and one we don't want to break.

Evans struggled with her questions for a long time, but began to find that her death-like grip on the answers she'd always clung to was not conducive to true faith. As Christians we are told that we must have absolute certainty in everything as taught in our clean contemporary church buildings with their padded chairs and bloodless crosses. But, funny thing, Jesus didn't teach in one of those churches, and He didn't own a Bible; He didn't even have a NOTW bumper sticker. He didn't follow the rules, he broke them.

Evans uses a bit of science and history to explain how change is healthy and necessary for survival. She challenges the idea that the Bible is an infallible, inerrant blueprint for the Christian faith. She points out bewildering hypocrisies in the Christian thought process (we eat shellfish despite Leviticus but condemn homosexuality because of it). And mostly, she demonstrates that asking questions is not only acceptable, but essential. We may never find answers, but the answers aren't as important as the seeking. As my dad likes to say, "if it was about catching fish they'd call it catching instead of fishing."

And I have to commend Evans for her exceptional writing talent. If you've read my reviews in the past, you know how picky I can be about a writer's industry at the keyboard. I have little patience for fluff or dead ends. Evans' writing is beautiful, timed and measured like an orchestral piece. She is concise but not dry. She leads with a good hook, retreats a bit, lays a foundation, then adds precise layers until she crescendos to an emotional fermata, then brings it back to the hook and ties it off with that neat little bow. And she sticks to her metaphors, unlike what I just did (I think I did music, baking, fishing, military tactics, and architecture all in one sentence). She uses just enough carefully chosen adjectives to make it all palatable without making you want to whack her over the head with her own thesaurus. That's an urge I get when reading quite often.

I really have to thank Evans, because she has given me unexpected feelings of hope and liberation in spite- or perhaps because of- my doubt. She says the story isn't finished, as her journey isn't finished. I eagerly await the next installment. (There will be a next installment, right Rachel?)

Here is a short video that goes into a bit more of the spirit of the book.

1 comment:

  1. i've been wondering about you off and on for just over a year now. i visited memarie lane to see if you were blogging there again and found this link.

    i almost can't believe what i just read. i have been dealing with quite a bit of my own stuff lately and this book seems like just the thing to look at now.

    my old blog...the one you would remember if you remember me at all is from when i was in turkey. my new one tells my story now.

    off to buy a book...


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