07 April 2011

review: evolving in monkey town

Rachel Held Evans. Evolving in Monkey Town. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

In the opening pages of her self-described "too young to write a memoir" project, writer Rachel Held Evans admits, "I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy" (18). This is one piece which continues to confront the current younger evangelicals - that we should believe in something worth believing in, wrestling with the question of God instead of uncritically accepting the answers of a previous generation. Therein lies the heart of this book, and the inner drive to discover something challenging and transcendent which the author demonstrates.

Certainly this book will ruffle feathers and, frankly, scare some people to death. But Evans has hit on something important here, the necessity of defining essential beliefs from those things which are uncompromising in the faith. "When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option. When change is never an option, you have to hope that the world stays exactly as it is so as not to mess with your view of it" (99).

The current place of the Christian sub-culture is in this exact place, and Evans is the right person to help shake up our irrational grasp of irrelevant details. Having been raised in a family and culture steeped in American evangelical subculture, she began to ask questions which were considered 'wrong' and 'inappropriate' - all stemming from an unsatisfactory ability for her faith to answer her own questions. I am certain that anyone who dares to move forward with this level of spiritual tenacity has lost many friends and gained many frustrations along the way. But, in the end, it is truly knocking on the door to heaven.

What are believers to do when the are faced with the millions (billions?) who are damned to hell simply because they were not born in the right time or place to hear about Jesus? (This is what Evans refers to as a cosmic lottery, "Some of us are randomly selected for famine, war, disease, and paganism, while others end up with fifteen-thousand-square-foot houses, expensive Christian educations, and Double Stuf Oreos" (103).)

Further, what are Christians to do with those who call themselves homosexual Christians? On this point Evans raises some good discussion, perhaps too good for the average believer to answer without going through some uncomfortable moments. Since this is a review, I am willing to say that I was personally disappointed in some of her conclusions, or lack thereof. I will agree that most modern American evangelicals have too visceral a reaction to homosexuality, especially when it gets in the way of sharing God's love. But it must be said that such activity is a sin within our Scripture and needs to be regarded as such. (I am not as open as Evans on this matter.) She doesn't necessarily cross any lines here, but her writing on this isn't exactly definitive either.

As if her questions weren't difficult enough for modern evangelicals, she also weighs in on salvation, though a number of months before Rob Bell's book made everyone go crazy. But she summarizes it quite well: "Some Christians are more offended by the idea of everyone going to heaven than by the idea of everyone going to hell" (130). True. And from what we have seen in the last few weeks surrounding the release of Love Wins, it's going to be hard to challenge such a statement. (Evans doesn't go any further than C S Lewis either.)

This book is, as the title suggests, a journey of an evolving faith that doesn't contain neatly packaged answers. It is a shared journey in order that the reader might also be encouraged to go along and find a faith that is engaging instead of static. Toward the end of the book she writes, "False fundamentals make it impossible for faith to adapt to change" (218). In other words, orthodoxy should not be made to include things that are not essential to Jesus or the kingdom which he brought to us.

What lies behind this book is a postmodern approach to faith, necessary for the changing hearts and minds of the generations. It is becoming painfully obvious that the answers of yesterday no longer deliver the impact on the questions of today. Though the answers we once had emerged from a culture that needed to arrive at them, it is clear that we must keep moving now. "So prepared to defend the faith, we missed the thrill of discovering it for ourselves. So convinced we had God right, it never occurred to us that we might be wrong. in short, we never learned to doubt" (225).

Quite an interesting walk.

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