Book Review Part 3: Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans

Leave a comment
book review


I forget when it was that I first stumbled on Rachel Held Evan’s blog. But, I do remember when I was hooked on it. During those strange days in May when every one was joking about it being the end of the world she wrote an amazing commentary on Harold Camping and his misguided predictions. It was just head and shoulders above anything else I had read previously on the issue—and it not only shifted my perception of the non-event event, but it convicted me.

It wasn’t long after that that I downloaded her first book Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions to my Kindle. I’ve read it through twice now, and I’m on my third pass through it (albeit a little quicker now). As I’ve been digesting her book, and subsequent blog posts on her excellent site, I’ve also been going through the continuing discussion of salvation (that the church-at-large seems to be simultaneously shouting about and resisting with all it’s might), regularly preaching (I do have a day job), and penning the first few chapters of my next tome.

The themes of Evolving in Monkey Town have colored my perception and thought throughout all of that, and I’m pretty pleased about it.

As the book comes to a close in Part 3, Evans subtly makes the ironic claim that in a town where the evolution of species was decried, she not only discovered how Christianity has evolved through the ages, but her own faith evolved.

Somewhere between high school, college, marriage, a war, and a few presidential elections she lost a tail and developed opposable thumbs…or something like that.

She changed. Her perception of God changed. And the questions she was asking, and the manner of living her faith began to prompt, also changed.

As a writer on matters of salvation myself, I’ve been interested in Rob Bell’s Love Wins, and the several responses that have been published in it’s wake. But, now as those responses seem to produce a new book every week—and hordes of evangelical thinkers seem to be jumping on the Bellapalooza gravy-train, I’m getting more and more annoyed.

With the slight exception of some portions of Chan’s Erasing Hell, these responses seem to be simply about nailing down a few answers and casting them in concrete for an audience that didn’t need to be convinced that Bell was wrong in the first place. They’re like the speeches that political candidates give at their own party’s convention. Everyone is going to stand and cheer, chant and clap, and at the end balloons are going to drop.

These responses aren’t about change, they’re about stasis.

We want to stay exactly-as-we-are. Please. Don’t. Make. Anyone. Think.

This is where Rachel Held Evans is a breathe of fresh air. She doesn’t leave Jesus. She loves Jesus. She seems to feel faithfully compelled to live as Jesus lived and taught, or at least honestly wrestle with what that might mean.

But, she’s also comfortable not knowing everything. She’s able to leave some questions as question marks, and trust that God is there anyway.

As I said in the first part of my review of this book, I find myself in the pages of this book. My faith is an evolution too. I’ve traveled a few miles in this faith journey of mine, and I’m still trying to remember to swap-out my comfy Gore-Tex boots for Jesus’ sandals.

This book, and her ministry, serves as the string tied around my finger—around my opposable thumb—reminding me to ask the questions, and sometimes question the answers.

You may also be interested in Part One, and Part Two of this 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