Friday, February 15, 2013

Library Shelf: Evolving in Monkey Town

"I was a fundamentalist in the sense that I thought salvation means having the right opinions about God.... Good Christians, I used to think, don't change their minds."

Two years ago I ordered this book from and immediately knew I'd discovered a kindred spirit. I devoured it over two days.

Rachel Held Evans is one of those authors who doesn't so much share new information as express what the reader is already feeling. Rachel is brutally honest with her questions, and doesn't have to wrap up everything up neatly at the end. Evolution, after all, is an ongoing process.
She talks frankly about her experience growing up in the evangelical world, and about the aspects of Christianity that posed a challenge to her belief as she matured. Every issue she brings up here--patriotism and war, Young Earth Creationism, the Religious Right, the cosmic lottery, hell, homosexuality, the Holocaust, the Taliban, pond-scum theology, Judgment Houses, poverty, prayer, hurricanes, Christian apologetics, feminism, fundamentalism--are subjects I was already trying to make sense of. I already knew the "correct" answers, but they weren't working very well, at least not well enough to pass them on to my children.

Evolving in Monkey Town may have been the first post-modern book I ever read; certainly it was the first Christian post-modern book. The freedom to ask anything without apology and to make observations based on subjective personal experience was intoxicating. Rachel gave me permission to think. And her unwillingness to accept answers that were frayed from trying to make them fit the question emboldened me to keep searching, too.

In addition to the book and her blog, Rachel pointed me to authors she was reading, and my trips to the library became a kind of scavenger hunt:  What was theistic evolution? Where did the idea of hell come from? How did the Bible get to us? What was the role of women in the early church?

Though over time I've reached different conclusions than Rachel did, I can understand the form of Christianity she clings to today and I respect her courage. It takes a lot of courage to adapt what you believe, and Rachel is more adaptive than most. Our lives--and beliefs--will continue to evolve, and that's a good thing.

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