evolving in monkey town

August 13, 2010 at 10:30 pm 9 comments

I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town, which does a remarkable job of delving into issues of doubt and faith with intellectual honestly. Evans grew up thoroughly immersed in the evangelical culture, but was compelled to honestly examine it with open eyes. I think that is extremely difficult to do for someone who grows up within evangelicalism’s  “biblical worldview.” Evans seems to be representative of a number of younger evangelicals who are not comfortable accepting the culture wars and dogmatic beliefs and doctrines of early generations.

Evans writes pointedly about the problems that arise from a literalistic, inerrant reading of the bible, and tells candidly how her faith changed through this process of examination. The book uses the motif of evolution to describe what both Christianity has done over the years, and what has happened to the author’s own faith as well. Her home town was the location of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, thus the analogy to evolution. It describes how skeptics and Christians alike can experience these problems, and indeed Evans has the same questions herself.

This vision of Christian faith offers something of an acceptance of the tension between belief and unbelief, believer and unbeliever, rather than assuming a rigid and vast divide separates the two. Which in turn seems to offer the opportunity for greater dialog and understanding in discussing issues, rather than hostile debates and attempts to convince others to change their beliefs. Reading the book very refreshing in this way.

I think the book can help encourage Christians who are compelled to ask hard questions of their faith, as Evans describes what it was like to face the disapproval of other Christians. It is a tough path to walk alone. Even without sharing the same experience of faith as the author, an unbeliever could walk away from the book with a better understanding of who evangelicals are, and how their religion has come to the point it is at today.

Reading this post over, it sounds a lot like the technical paper I wrote the same day. I’ll try to revisit the subject soon to give a more personal take, time and emotional energy allowing.

For those interested, Evan’s blog provides a good taste of her writing. She recently responded to an Answer’s in Genesis review of her own work. She also has a couple of good posts on doubt -here- and -here-. Mark of christiandoubt.com reviews it here.

And I included some more thoughts on the book in a follow up post here.

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Entry filed under: belief, books, doubt, evangelicalism, skepticism. Tags: , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lorena  |  August 14, 2010 at 9:25 am

    I was exactly were she is, once. But I am quite aware that some people find comfort in that position and stay there. I kept evolving. I still am evolving.

  • 2. DoOrDoNot  |  August 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I look forward to reading this book, it’s on my list. I read Rachel’s response to the Answers in Genesis critque. She made a good point that this false faith/science dichotomy ends up alienating people from Christianity when they feel they have to leave science behind to accept it. That’s one reason why I like reading the Biologos blog, which addresses this issue.

  • 3. DoOrDoNot  |  August 14, 2010 at 10:10 am

    By the way, I’d be interested in your personal take on the book. I hope you’ll get the time to follow up on this post.

  • 4. Sabio Lantz  |  August 16, 2010 at 4:58 am

    So do I have this right:
    1) This is a true story (not a novel)
    2) She was evangelical and stays evangelical or does she change sects?
    3) How does she change her theology to make all that happen. Does she change her view of the Bible or does she just become comfortable with being sloppy?

  • 5. atimetorend  |  August 16, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I like the evolving analogy because it seems reasonable that our beliefs change over time.

    Regarding the false dichotomy with science, the funny thing for me is that as a Christian I never struggled with that, having believed in evolution all my life. Of course there are false dichotomies outside the area of science to choose from.

    Sabio, 1) Personal memoir, 2) stays evangelical, though many fundamentalist evangelicals might not call it that anymore, and…
    3) Her theology changes by focusing on how Jesus became weak and suffered and suffers with us, and finds that more important than fundamentalist doctrines like exclusiveness of Christianity or anti-homosexuality. In a nutshell.

  • 6. Mark  |  August 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    ATTR,
    Thanks for the link to my review. Regarding Sabio’s point #3, I think initially her religious evolution came across as just a compromise, or like Sabio described as becoming comfortable with being sloppy. However, today I’m wondering how different her compromising is from development of a scientific hypothesis. Both have to try to explain as best they can the data at present. Both have to change when new data comes out that goes against said hypothesis. And both have to be held loosely, because there will always be a level of uncertainty in said hypothesis. I can view her “compromise” as being weak and evidence that her theory is untrue, or I can view it as her attempt to honestly grapple with both the data at present, and the unknown.

  • 7. tysdaddy  |  August 17, 2010 at 6:43 am

    This book sounds familiar to me, like I’ve heard of it before. Thanks for your review. Now I’m off to see if I can find it at my local library . . .

  • 8. tysdaddy  |  August 17, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Speaking of books, have you had a chance to read, or have you heard about, the new novel by Marcus Borg? It’s titled “Putting Away Childish Things” and is supposedly a rehashing of his theology into a fictional story. I’m hoping it doesn’t suck, but most novels of this sort do . . .

  • 9. critiquing evangelicalism « a time to rend  |  September 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    […] Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans […]

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