Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Evolving in Monkey Town

I kept seeing blog posts from Rachel Held Evans being forwarded here, there, and everywhere.  I even posted about one myself.  It finally occurred to me that I might enjoy reading her book, Evolving in Monkey Town.

Subtitled "How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions," Evolving in Monkey Town is  Evans' memoir of a crisis of faith.  Evans traces her Christian beliefs from her earliest days as the daughter of a professor at an Evangelical school, through her youth and college experience, and as the cracks begin to show in her carefully constructed "worldview" and what happens next. She frames this experience through the notion of her evolution in faith, fighting words for a girl who grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, the home of the Scopes trial.

I read this expecting to find some familiar experiences, having grown up in an Evangelical milieu. But my experience was nothing like Evans'.  Instead, I found myself shocked and amazed at what passes for Christianity for a great many people.  Mostly I was astonished at how unChristian the Christianity she grew up with was: how uncharitable, unforgiving, and unloving.

She describes how she was trained to answer any question thrown at her about her faith, based on 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you," but they are never told the next verse, "yet do it with gentleness and reverence."  As she discovers, when she finally leaves the Evangelical bubble and meets people to whom she can witness, "Not once after graduating from Bryan was I asked to make a case for the scientific feasibility of miracles, but often I was asked why Christians aren't more like Jesus.  I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind."

I have to say, though Evans convinced me that she wasn't that way, she didn't exactly show that the rest of the so-called "Christianity" she was part of is anything other than intolerant and unkind.  It was worth reading just for that, just to get a sense of what that culture is like from the inside, how it is so many of them are trained to see the world. (The Unlikely Disciple is also an excellent exploration of this.)  But it was also worth reading because it is very well-written, entertaining, and honest. She writes beautifully and gives a gracious and fascinating glimpse into the life experience of many people in our culture whom we may not otherwise understand. Here's hoping that her experience inspires others to ask the questions and rid themselves, as we all need to do in one way or another, of the 'false fundamentals.'

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