Book Review Part 2: Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans

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book review

This is part 2 of 3…


More and more I’m a believer that when we talk about salvation and damnation, heaven and hell – what we’re actually talking about, right there under the surface, is the character of God. What we believe happens to the souls of humanity after death says a lot about what kind of God we believe in.

And, when we’re talking about hell and damnation, it’s maybe a little easier to think about nameless, faceless people going to hell. It’s a lot harder when those people become individuals. With names. With mothers who love them.

With tennis shoes on their feet.

In Part Two of Evolving in Monkey Town Rachel Held Evans talks about one name and face in particular which forever changed her understanding of God, and God’s character: Zarmina. Zarmina was the young woman in Afghanistan who was executed in a soccer stadium in 2002 after a kangaroo court found her guilty of a crime she didn’t commit. Footage of the gruesome execution found its way onto CNN, and citizens of the world got to witness the atrocity for ourselves.

Evans didn’t know Zarmina. She had never met Zarmina. But, on the day she saw her executed on CNN, and she saw Zarmina’s tennis shoes poke out from beneath her burqa, she developed a strange connection with this woman a half-a-world away who had lived a sad, short, life of pain.

And there was the crux: everything that Evans had ever been taught about Christianity told her that Zarmina, a Muslim, was in hell. Because she didn’t have faith in Jesus she would be subjected to an eternity of “conscious torment” for her sins.

As Evans says “the idea that this woman passed from agony to agony, from torture to torture, from a lifetime of pain and sadness to an eternity of pain and sadness, all because she had less information about the gospel then I did, seemed cruel, even sadistic.” (Kindle location 884)

In that moment, with that gunshot to the back of the head, Evans not only witnessed an atrocity, but she began to question the character of God.

What kind of God would do this? What kind of God would allow this to happen to her? And what kind of God would follow that up with everlasting torture?

And with the raw imagery and emotion of it all, the simple “Well, God’s ways are higher than our ways,” just didn’t cut it.

This divine “disconnect” between the character of God she hoped for, and yearned for, prompted her to ask questions. And then more questions.

There is so much that I find compelling in Monkey Town. I love her questions, because they are my questions too. I love her fearless questioning – the fact that she had the courage to confront her father with her emerging doubts, and that she doesn’t just dismiss evangelicalism but continues to dialogue with it – even when it doesn’t want to dialogue back. I love that when the questions got harder and harder she didn’t just drop it all in a some vague agnosticism, but kept at it with vigor and integrity. I love that she seeks out soldiers, feminists, HIV victims, and evangelists in her quest for truth and the character of God.

And, I love that even though she readily admits that she doesn’t have all the answers to all the questions she’d like to know, she thinks the answers have something to do with a relationship with Jesus – who calls us into a manner of living, not just a bullet-list of factoids to assent to.

You may also want to read part 1 of this 3 part series.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella