|A Review of
By Rachel Held Evans
Reviewed by Zena Neds-Fox.
After Rachel Held Evans witnessed the televised execution of a woman in Afghanistan in 2001, her lifelong identity as a Christian well-versed in apologetics, is threatened and eventually abandoned. Because she knows and has polished the answers for her entire life, her questioning is pointed at the weakest links of the Christian argument. This fury of questions is the high point of Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. Evans’ bravery in the struggle to ask difficult questions is the hallmark of this striking new memoir.
Evolving in Monkey Town seems to be a Christian tale for Christians. Published by Zondervan, it is the singular experience of an honest person raised within a Christian culture who — no matter what steps she makes away from that upbringing — is largely formed and informed by that upbringing. There are people who will relate to Rachel’s story very much because when raised in this context, it becomes so difficult to question (which was one of the key points in David Dark’s heralded book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, our 2009 Book of the Year, which incidentally was also published by Zondervan). Those raised in such a way fear appearing as if they have no faith when voicing their doubts. That Evans maintains faith while doing what equates to faithlessness in many Christian contexts is another key strength of her story.
The defense of questioning the party lines of conservative evangelicalism while still loving Jesus doesn’t get much press. Though the permission of questioning the faith may be granted on the back-country roads of church camps, it still takes a declaration of sorts to hold out a hand towards those whose doubts are bigger than any quick remedy. Evans wants to bring freedom to readers who struggle in these ways against the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism.
Not being raised in church culture, I found some of her steps away to be somewhat timid. Her questioning is big for her upbringing, but for those comfortable in the world, at times I wondered whether it necessitated a book. It is her moments of going for the jugular of her doubt that kept me from being too high and mighty. Fighting like only a true Pharisee can, she reminded me of Paul once his sight is restored after being blinded. She can speak the language of those who doubt and therefore is best suited to ask the questions.