review of “Evolving in Monkey Town”, by Rachel Held Evans

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans is a memoir by a 27 year old telling the story of how she has come to a different faith than she once had, a faith which instead of having all the answers, is content in asking questions. And finding in the midst of that a heart to follow.

She was raised in a strong evangelical home in which faith came naturally to her at an early age. Living in formative years during a time when evidential apologetics was pushed, she learned at an early age not only to share the gospel with hearers, but to defend Christianity as a world view against all other opposing world views. Trouble was that what she learned to do so well at Bryan College: to think critically, she eventually couldn’t help but turn against the very faith which she had defended.

She had begun during her time in college to have some faint doubts, but hit a crisis point one day when she saw on television  Zarmina, a Muslim woman  shot in execution style by the Taliban. This woman had suffered much in this life, yet had remained devout in her faith. And now, according to what Rachel had been taught and understood as the truth, what this woman suffered on earth would be little in comparison to what she would suffer eternally at the hands of God. Rachel who had been taught especially by her mother to have a keen sense of justice and side with those less fortunate, found herself at odds with God. Or with her understanding of God, a revelation to her that came later through her husband. But in the meantime over a course of a few years, Rachel could not bring herself to be reconciled to a God who was evidently neither great nor good. People are born by the scores in places where they will never hear the gospel and according to what she had been taught will like the rest of humankind who has not been born again, translated in her mind: who are not evangelical Christians, will end up in hell for eternity.

Try as she may she could not shake her troubling thoughts and doubts about God until at last she began to doubt her doubts. Through some people she knew along with past Christians she read such as Origen and C.S. Lewis, she began to read Scripture through different eyes which accentuated God’s mercy over his judgment. The first passage that gave her this hope is in Revelation (7:9-10,15-17) in which people from every tribe and tongue on the earth are said to be redeemed. This moved Rachel toward considering faith and works following as what is necessary according to what God gives people, encouraged in her thought by the passages which say that God has left a witness of himself to people everywhere (Acts 14:16,17), and has created them not to condemn them, but so that they might reach out and find him (Acts 17:26,27).

Along the way she tells her story well. We meet a number of interesting people, including a young man who left fundamentalism, yet still ended up with all the answers, an evangelist bent on making everyone guilty who was not constantly witnessing, a gay woman who professed faith in Jesus, a man who served in the military and whose perspective questioned the easy answers Christians have, plus more. Polarities which brought on for Rachel the perfect storm.

Considering the life of Jesus was a key for her, but not in the way she would have anticipated, taught as she was. Jesus rarely gave answers, but often asked questions or simply told stories. He did not address the concerns of the people, but seemed to want from a person a response of faith in him,  simply willing to follow.

And while visiting her sister Amanda in India,  Rachel saw firsthand the power of the gospel in the lives of HIV infected women and children. A living hope giving them strength with praise and thanksgiving permeated their faces and days. And Rachel felt the presence of the Lord there more than she had for years. She saw Jesus’ words about who is blessed fulfilled before her very eyes.

Rachel’s turmoil was replaced by peace, a peace content not to know answers but to rest in God’s goodness. That God is good, and in the end what happens will all be good and right. That the stories within the Story will indeed end well.

The title might suggest that evolution is in large part what this book is about. But Rachel tells us that her revolution is not about accepting (or not) scientific evolution, but how her faith has evolved so that it remains intact in a world that did not fit her earlier ideas, nor her understanding of God. Her point is that the Christian faith is adaptable, not because the faith changes, but because it meets the true need of people everywhere. As well as redeeming whatever is good in human culture, derived from God’s image in humanity.

I believe this is an important book for our day which will help a good number of people to either be open to the faith, or find their faith strengthened and intact in a world of change.

11 comments on “review of “Evolving in Monkey Town”, by Rachel Held Evans

  1. Deb Gossard says:

    Excellent review, Sweets!
    In my early twenties, I came across Isaiah 55:8 and trusted in that verse as to the issues that I could not understand.

    • Thanks, Honey. Yes, that passage and context was helpful to Rachel in her struggle. And it talks about God’s abundant pardon for those who turn to God and from their own way.

  2. L.L. Barkat says:

    I just saw this somewhere else. Funny, I hadn’t even heard of it until tonight. 🙂

    Great review.

    • Thanks, L.L. I so look forward to getting and reading your book. But have some other things to get done first, unfortunately, though some of those things are quite good.

  3. nance says:

    good to see a book review.

  4. annkroeker says:

    I met Rachel at the Festival of Faith & Writing this year and told her I was looking forward to reading Evolving in Monkey Town. She made sure I got a copy, and the book just arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s propped up next to me on my desk, waiting to be read. Thanks for the review–I’m looking forward to it even more, now. From what you’ve written, I think it could also be helpful for an acquaintance of mine who voiced some of the same questions as Rachel’s.

    • Ann, Thanks. Yes, that is right in our neck of the woods. I would have loved being there to hear Eugene Peterson and meet authors, and hopefully learn well with regard to writing, myself. Yes, I’m thinking the same for a friend of mine who might be experiencing something of a seismic shift in his own faith. It is a good read, and I look forward to more from her. I’ve seen you on L.L.’s blog, and nice to see your own blog.

  5. Thank so much for the great review, Ted. It means a lot to me that you enjoyed the book. Let me know if you’re ever in Monkey Town! 🙂

    • Rachel, Thanks much! It was a treat to read the book. I wanted to get the review as good as I can, and the work was actually fun, though challenging, as it is with any good book! Keep them coming. I hope many many especially younger people (though it will be good for everyone) will read the book and take to heart the message of faith in it!

  6. […] Justin Topp’s review of her book, and here is my […]

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