Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Evolving in Monkey Town

This is not technically a book review since those are supposed to be objective and I've never read a book that I didn't like. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it as soon as I decide that I don't like it. Doesn't everyone? It would be strange to me to hear of someone deciding they didn't like a book on page 25 but they read all 400 pages anyway...unless they're getting paid to read it. Which I am not. So this is not really a book review but more of a, "hey, I loved this book, it really put into words a lot of the things I've been feeling lately and it really made me think." But that's a little wordy for a blog post title, even for me.   

The aforementioned book is Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. It caught my eye at the library in the 'new release' section. I had no idea what the book was about but I picked it up off the shelf because it had "Monkey Town" in the title. How could I not pick it up? I was surprised to find that it's a Christian book. The author is from Dayton, Tennessee, home of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 where creationists and evolutionists duked it out in a mock trial. From then on, Dayton was known as Monkey Town. The "evolving" part of the title refers to Rachel's evolving faith.

The book describes Rachel's spiritual journey (so far anyway, she's young) from her fundamentalist Christian childhood, through her years at an ultra conservative Christian college where she began to have serious doubts about her beliefs, and finally to the place where she is now which is still spotted with doubt and unanswered questions. Rachel asks some hard questions and for most of them she doesn't get any answers. There's no neat and tidy resolution at the end. The best part about it is that instead of letting her doubts destroy her faith, she learned how to see them as a necessary and vital part of it. As a result, her faith and her love for Jesus is now deeper and more solid than ever before.

If you choose to read this book (and I hope you will) you should be aware of a couple of things. First, Rachel uses quite a few $10 words that I will admit I had to look up. At first I thought she was trying to sound very educated or maybe impress the publisher since this was her first book. But after reading for a while, I realized that she probably really uses these words in everyday conversations. The good news is you really don't have to know the definitions of Rachel's uber Christian words in order to understand what she's saying and enjoy the book. They're just scattered throughout the pages here and there. Here are a few that I'm willing to admit I had to look up: apologetics, eschatology, dispensationalism, hermeneutics, religious plurality, secular humanism, and Anabaptist.

Another thing you should be aware of is that you will probably not agree with everything the author says. She was raised a very conservative Christian fundamentalist/apologetics junky (do I get $20 for combining 2 big words with a slash??) but she has recently discovered that she might be an evolutionist and, even worse, a democrat! :)  She wrestles with how to have a biblical worldview in a world that is constantly changing. She is also learning to embrace the notion that faith changes as well.

The turning point for Rachel came while she was in college and saw footage from "Behind the Veil" on CNN. She watched a muslim woman named Zarmina being executed by the Taliban. This caused Rachel to face some of her questions and doubts head-on. She struggled with what she calls the "cosmic lottery" that allowed her to be born into a Christian home in the U.S. while Zarmina was born to a muslim family in Afghanistan, severely hindering if not completely preventing her exposure to the gospel. Why would God do that? Why would he allow Zarmina's  life on earth to be filled with pain and torture from the Taliban only to continue it after death since she surely would not be going to heaven? Rachel was no longer willing to accept platitudes such as "God's ways are higher than our ways"; platitudes she herself had used so many times when she didn't have an answer to some else's hard questions.

As Rachel grapples with some hard questions, she discovers that she doesn't have all the answers like she thought she did. She writes, "With the best of intentions, the generation before mine worked diligently to prepare their children to make an intelligent case for Christianity...As a result, many of us entered the world with both an unparalleled level of conviction and a crippling lack of curiosity. So ready with the answers, we didn't know what the questions were anymore. So prepared to defend the faith, we missed the thrill of discovering it for ourselves."

The death of muslim woman half a world away brought a Christian woman into the arms of Jesus, who she calls "God in sandals". She learned that "healthy doubt (questioning one's beliefs) is perhaps the best defense against unhealthy doubt (questioning God). When we know how to make a distinction between our ideas about God and God himself, our faith remains safe when one of those ideas is seriously challenged."

If you like Donald Miller or Anne Lamott, you will probably like Rachel Held Evans. She says out loud what a lot of us think from time to time but would never dream of voicing. She's controversial yet comforting, and evidently she's not too discerning because she's my new Facebook friend.

No comments:

Post a Comment