I met Rachel Held Evans via blogland and Twitter, and was thrilled to receive an advance copy of her memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town. So here, for your pleasure (and because I promised her), is my glowing review of the book.
Rachel grew up (and still lives in) a small, conservative Southern town, and graduated from a conservative Christian college. In these ways, as in so many others, her experience parallels mine. So it’s no surprise, particularly since I love her blog, that I loved her book. I read it in three days – would have read it all in one sitting if I could have. And I’ve been thinking about some of her statements and questions ever since.
Rachel admits in the introduction that at 28 she’s probably too young to be writing a memoir. And that she tends to change her mind. And that she doesn’t have all the answers or even very many of them – but this is her story, what she’s seen and heard and lived, and she hopes it will be helpful or informative to others. I appreciate her honesty here and throughout the book.
Like me, Rachel grew up in a culture obsessed with apologetics – and much of her early training was about “always being ready to give an answer” to anyone who questioned Christianity (or espoused evolution, or voted Democrat). As she points out, though, being ready to give a reason for eternal hope (which is what 1 Peter 3:15 actually says) is quite different from being ready with an arsenal of answers to fire off at anyone who dares oppose your views. And a lot of people, in both her life and mine, have overlooked the next part of the verse, which exhorts Christians to talk about their faith “with gentleness and respect.”
Rachel takes us through some of the major events of her faith journey, including her profession of faith, baptism and “sword drills” at church. She talks about going to apologetics conferences, winning the Best Christian Attitude Award, and trying to be a “good Christian” by every possible measuring stick. And then she shares how, through a series of events that really shook her up, her carefully constructed, certain faith began to fall apart.
My ultra-certain faith disappeared the day my friend Cheryl was killed in a car wreck in 2004. Rachel’s began to disappear when she heard about a young Muslim woman being killed and wondered what would happen to her after she died. For both of us, these events prompted major questions about the existence and methods of a loving God. And several years later, after lots of studying and conversations and more questioning, we’ve both come out on the side of faith. But our faith looks different than it used to.
I heard Mike Cope say a few years ago that faith is more of an art than a science. I’ve heard Richard Beck and many others say that doubt is part of a healthy faith. I’ve heard many people admit to having far more questions than answers when it comes to God and what He’s up to in this world. And yet it’s still really hard to live that way. It’s harder to “live the questions,” as Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote to a young friend, than to live believing you have all – or at least most – of the answers.
However, Rachel – and I – are choosing to live the questions, for now. We’re choosing to live in the space between the certainty of our childhoods and the big questions nobody can answer. We’re choosing to believe that faith can adapt and evolve, that the faith of today doesn’t have to look like the faith of ten years ago. And I am so grateful to have a companion like Rachel on the journey. She asks thoughtful, thought-provoking questions; she believes this stuff really matters; and she conducts dialogue with grace and humor on her blog. If you’re the sort of person who likes to ask big questions, or who believes that faith can and should evolve over time, I highly recommend that you buy this book.