Monday, June 28, 2010

‘Evolving in Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions’ by Rachel Held Evans – Book Review and Giveaway

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Many Christians struggle with issues of doubt with regard to their faith. In ‘Evolving in Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions,’ Rachel Held Evans shares her struggles in growing up in a Christian home and  making her faith her own as she comes of age.

Here is the synopsis of this thoughtful book:

          Knowing All the Answers isn’t As Important As Asking the Questions
Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith. Growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, Evans asks questions she never thought she would ask. She learns that in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve.
Using as an illustration her own unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue about postmodernism and the church that has so captivated the Christian community in recent years.
In a changing cultural environment where new ideas threaten the safety and security of the faith, Evolving in Monkey Town is a fearlessly honest story of survival.

Here is the biography of this author:

Rachel Held Evans is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in local and national publications. She is a graduate of Bryant College. She lives in Dayton, Tennessee, with her husband, Dan.

Here is the book trailer featuring Rachel telling her story:






In the Preface, Rachel shares this:

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not exactly an impartial observer. My culture, my childhood, my gender, my prejudices, my hopes, my imagination, my virtues, and my vices – these things color my view of the world and infuse it with meaning. I’ve got baggage just like everyone else, and it’s as big a part of my faith journey as the high peaks, the low valleys, and the long, lovely stretches of road that I wish could go on forever.
I’m a lot of things, but fair and balanced I am not.
So now that you know what you’re getting into, read on.

Rachel explains her mindset before she started experiencing her great bouts of doubt:

I used to be a fundamentalist. Not the Teletubby-hating, apocalypse-ready, Jerry Falwell type of fundamentalist, but the kind who thinks that God is pretty much figured out already, that he’s done telling us anything new.  I was a fundamentalist in the sense that I thought salvation means having the right opinions about God and that fighting the good fight of faith requires defending those opinions at all costs. I was a fundamentalist because my security and self-worth and sense of purpose in life was all wrapped up in getting God right – in believing the right things about him, saying the right things about him, and convincing others to embrace the right things about him too. Good Christians, I believed, don’t succumb to the shifting sands of culture. Good Christians, I used to thing, don’t change their minds. (p. 17)

I can certainly relate to that mindset.

Rachel explains what happened in her thinking about life and faith:

It started small – a nagging question here, a new idea there, an ever-changing, freshly accessible world everywhere – but before I knew it, just as I was preparing to graduate from a Christian college ready to take the world for Jesus, twenty years of unquestioned assumptions about my faith were suddenly thrown into doubt.
No longer satisfied with the easy answers, I started asking harder questions. I questioned what I thought were fundamentals – the eternal damnation of all non-Christians, the scientific and historical accuracy of the Bible, the ability to know absolute truth, and the politicization of evangelicalism. I questioned God: his fairness, regarding salvation; his goodness, for allowing poverty and injustice in the world; and his intelligence, for entrusting Christians to fix things. I wrestled with passages of Scripture that seemed to condone genocide and the oppression of women and struggled to make sense of the pride and hypocrisy within the church. I wondered if the God of my childhood was really the kind of God I wanted to worship, and at times I wondered if he even existed at all. (p. 22)

I loved this description of herself as a child, growing up in a home where her father was a theologian:

I guess when you grow up listening to Ravi Zacharias on your way to kindergarten in the morning, you kind of turn into a Jesus freak. I was the nutcase kid who removed wise men figurines from manger scenes at Christmas to more accurately depict the historical time line of Advent. I gently corrected my Sunday school teacher when she referred to Jonah getting swallowed by the whale (everyone knows that the word is literally translated “big fish”) or referenced the forbidden apple in the garden of Eden (which was more likely some sort of Middle Eastern fruit, like a fig). My mother reminded me daily that my primary responsibility in life was to go to a good Christian college and marry a good Christian boy. I guess I just assumed that I would stay a Christian forever. It was like being an American – not something you just go and change (pp. 31-32)

Rachel explains how she thinks her hometown – Dayton, Tennessee –  and the evangelical world was affected by the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial:

The evangelical community has a curious reputation for resisting cultural movements before suddenly deciding to embrace them, and believers in Dayton are no different. These days most Christians, even conservative Christians, acknowledge that the Monkey Town approach of stubborn isolationism and anti-intellectualism is an outdated and ineffective strategy for expanding the kingdom. (p. 64)

Rachel explains that the apologetics movement has created an unintended consequence, and how 
it affected her personally:

You might say that the apologetics movement had created a monster. I’d gotten so good at critiquing all the fallacies of opposing worldviews, at searching for truth through objective analysis, that it was only a matter of time before I turned the same skeptical eye upon my own faith. It occurred to me that in worldview class, we laughed at how transcendentalists so serenely embraced paradox and contradiction, but then went on to theology class and accepted without question that Jesus existed as both fully God and fully man. We criticized radical Islam as a natural outworking of the violent tone of the Qur’an without acknowledging the fact that the God of Israel ordered his people to kill every living thing in Canaan, from the elderly to the newborn. We sneered at the notion of climate change yet believed that God once made the earth stand still. We accused scientists of having an agenda, of ignoring science that contradicted the evolution paradigm, but engaged in some mental gymnastics of our own, trying to explain how it’s possible to see the light from distant stars. We mocked New Age ambiguity but could not explain the nature of the Trinity. We claimed that ours was a rational, logical faith, when it centered on the God of the universe wrapping himself in flesh to be born in a manger in Bethlehem (pp. 79-80)

It is so common for Christians to not question anything, but when we do, especially when it comes to matters of faith, more often than not we see that there is an answer in Scripture for our questions.

Rachel decided that a good way to find the answers to her questions was to study Jesus:

If Jesus was really the most complete and comprehensive revelation of the divine, if he was indeed God in sandals, then that means he cared about what God cared about, hated what God hated, and loved what God loved. The incarnation gave God a face. It gave him literal tears, literal laughter, literal hands, literal feet, a literal heart, and a literal mind. What the Spirit of God said and did while living among us in the person of Jesus must say a lot about what matters most to him. So in spite of my doubts, or perhaps because of them, I decided to see if Jesus had the answer. (p. 102)

Rachel explains what she learned studying Jesus in the book of Matthew:

….it was the summer I encountered a different Jesus, a Jesus who requires more from me than intellectual assent and emotional allegiance; a Jesus who associated with sinners and infuriated the religious; a Jesus who broke the rules and refused to cast the first stone; a Jesus who gravitated toward sick people and crazy people, homeless people and hopeless people; a Jesus who preferred story to exposition and metaphor to syllogism; a Jesus who answered questions with more questions;….a Jesus who had no list of beliefs to check off, no doctrinal statement to sign, no surefire way to tell who was “in” and who was “out”; a Jesus who loved after being betrayed, healed after being hurt, and forgave while being nailed to a tree; a Jesus who asked his disciples to do the same. (pp. 106-107)

Invariably, Jesus will never disappoint when you study Him, and not be distracted by His flawed followers, etc…

When she studied the character of God, she discovered she had not known Him as well as she thought she did:

We’ve got our own ways of dealing with our enemies, and God has his. Our way involves retaliation and punishment; his way involves forgiveness. Our way involves equal justice; his way involves disproportionate grace. Our way is to make someone pay with blood; his way is to bleed. Even when Jesus hung on the cross, when God has been insulted to the highest degree imaginable, left naked, humiliated, beaten, and bruised, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Now that is a higher way. That is the kind of goodness and grace my childish view of equality can never fully grasp. God’s way are higher than our ways not because he is less compassionate than we are but because he is more compassionate than we can even imagine. When we forsake our way of doing things in favor of his, we experience the kind of joy and peace that inspires mountains to shout and trees to applaud.
What a comfort to know that this loving and merciful God will not be disappointed, that his word falls over the earth like rain, covers it like snow, and nourishes it for an abundant harvest. What a comfort to know that God is a poet. (p. 137)

Rachel’s life was profoundly changed when she traveled to Hyderabad, Indian, to visit her sister, who worked there with various ministries and nonprofit organizations. She met a young lady named Laxmi, who was grateful for being HIV-positive, because it allowed her to be introduced to Jesus. There was an unmistakable joy in India that Rachel had never experienced before:

In India, I was introduced to the kingdom of heaven – not as it exists in some future state but as it exists in the here and now, where the hungry are fed with both physical and spiritual bread, where the sick are saved from both their diseases and their sins, where an illiterate widow taught me more about faith than any theologian ever could, and where children from the slums sing with God. In India, I learned that the gospel is still special. Jesus still matters and can make a difference in people’s lives.
I guess that’s close enough to spiritual awakening. (p. 144)

I could really relate to this paragraph:

When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that the people I most identify with in all of Scripture are the Pharisees. Like the Pharisees, I know a lot about the Bible and am familiar with all the acceptable –isms and –ologies of orthodoxy. Like the Pharisees, I am skeptical of spiritual movements that don’t conform to my expectations about how God works in the world. Like the Pharisees, I like to try to cram the Great I AM into my favorite political positions, theological systems, and pet projects. Like the Pharisees, I am judgmental, crave attention, and fear losing my status as a good believer. (p. 155)

Rachel closes out 'Evolving in Monkey Town' with this assertion:

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that serious doubt – the kind that leads to despair – begins not when we start to asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop. In our darkest hour of confusion and in our most glorious moments of clarity, we remain but curious and dependent little children, tugging frantically at God’s outstretched hands and pleading with every question and every prayer and every tantrum we can muster, “We want a conversation with you!” (pp. 226-227)

I have to admit that I was a little worried about Rachel for a while as I was reading this book! I was glad she was able to get over her major doubts, and that she did not camp out there too long. I have been there myself for extended periods of time over the years and nothing good ever comes of it (that’s just my opinion!). I could certainly understand her mindset, being that we are both skeptical and questioning of the deeply held truths of others. For a while, I used to think it was dangerous to question and rail at God; then I looked at how David, a ‘man after God’s own heart,’ did that quite consistently in the Books of Psalms. If it were verboten, God would have told us in His Word!

This book is amazing! This book is especially perfect for young people who are doubting the faith with which they were raised. Rachel is a tremendously gifted writer; she has a real way with words! She is obviously a very intelligent, very thoughtful young woman, and it is exciting that she stayed with God! I appreciate her honesty about what she has gone through, and am glad she landed where she did! I look forward to seeing what she has to offer in the future!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Zondervan Publishers and provided by the Blog Tour Spot for review and giveaway purposes. I am proud to be touring this book with these others bloggers.
______________________________________________

How would you like to win a copy of this book?! I have a copy that I would love to send along to one of you! 

There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me what you think about this book and its message; how can you relate to it?  Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back!  If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too!  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too!  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

So there are five chances to enter!  Please limit one entry per option.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only.  The deadline for entry is Monday, July 12, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 and will be contacted via email.  The best to all of you! 

40 comments:

Linda said...

I can relate in that there are times I get stuck in the knowledge part instead of the relationship part. It sounds like a great book to help one personalize their faith in Jesus. I have a child that has many questions, and I think this could also help him immensely.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Linda said...

I follow you on Twitter.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Linda said...

I follow you as a GFC.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Linda said...

I'm a FB friend!!!

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Linda Kish said...

I've spent most of my adult life not quite sure what to believe. Maybe her insights would help.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Atypical Girl said...

I love memoirs, especially about things of discovering faith.


Amy
artsyrockerchick at aim dot com

Molly(Buukluvr81) said...

I have a wonderful relationship with the Lord but I always get confused because I am so full of questions! I would love a chance at this book! Thanks for offering it....

Blessings
Molly
Mollydedwards AT yahoo DOT com

Molly(Buukluvr81) said...

I follow on twitter (@mollybuuklvr81)

Blessings
Molly
Mollydedwards AT yahoo DOT com

Molly(Buukluvr81) said...

I friended you on FB (Molly D. Edwards)

Blessings
Molly
Mollydedwards AT yahoo DOT com

Molly(Buukluvr81) said...

I follow via GFC

Blessings
Molly
Mollydedwards AT yahoo DOT com

Molly(Buukluvr81) said...

I follow your Networked Blog.

Blessings
Molly
Mollydedwards AT yahoo DOT com

Paris said...

I would love to read this book. I see a little of myself in Rachel's story.

parisakins[at]gmail[dot]com

Lou Ann said...

I would love to win this book. I am a Facebook friend.

louann@carolina.rr.com

Lou Ann said...

I am a Google follower.

louann@carolina.rr.com

Lou Ann said...

I follow your network blog.

louann@carolina.rr.com

Judylynn said...

Sounds like Rachel went through a lot of what I did growing up - I have had some of the same experiences.

Please enter me in this giveaway - Thanks!

seizethebookblog(at)gmail(dot)com

Judylynn said...

I am a Twitter follower @ seizethebooknow

Judylynn said...

I am a Google friend.

Judylynn said...

I am a Facebook friend.

Judylynn said...

I follow on NetWorked Blogs.

Esther Y.M. said...

I would love to read this. There are times too when all I want is a conversation with Him and I too have had that. Throwing a fit and stomping my feet and saying " I need You, You got to speak to me"

:))

Thanx for this giveaway,

estherym[at]yahoo[dot]com

Esther Y.M. said...

I also follow on Twitter

estherym[at]yahoo[dot]com

Esther Y.M. said...

I am a GFC follower, have been for sometime now.
:))

estherym[at]yahoo[dot]com

Esther Y.M. said...

Have been you FB friend for a while too now.

estherym[at]yahoo[dot]com

Esther Y.M. said...

Now following through FB Networked blogs too :)

estherym[at]yahoo[dot]com

karenk said...

would enjoy reading rachel's story...thanks for the chance :)

karenk
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Steve Capell said...

I found your review to be intriguing and one that I would take pleasure in reading.
Thank you so much for hosting this giveaway.

steven(dot)capell(at)gmail(dot)com

Nancye said...

I think the message of this book is wonderful. I think it is pretty normal that people have religious doubt. But this story seems like it shows how even with questions, God still loves you and will be with you no matter what.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Nancye said...

I follow you on Twitter
@NancyeDavis

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Nancye said...

Facebook Friend

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Nancye said...

GFC Follower

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Robin Johns Grant said...

I'd love to read this book, and would also like to pass it along to my niece. We have conversations about similar moments of doubt frequently!

Robin Grant
robing8300 at gmail.com

Thanks!

apetygrapes said...

Twitter follower

I've been hearing great things about this book! Can't wait to read it.

Tracy Krauss said...

I'm not a US resident, so I guess I can't win, but I wanted to comment anyway. From its description, 'Growing Up In Monkey Town' is exactly what needs to be addressed in today's post modern world. There are more than a few people who have questioned their fatith in this way and it sounds like Rachel has managed to capture that experience and give some answers for those struggling with today's relevant issues of faith. Congratulations, Rachel.
(In my own small way, I have tried to address some of these issues in a fictional format in my new realease 'And The Beat Goes On')

Tracy Krauss
www.tracykraussexpressionexpress.blogspot.com

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Tracy -
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You're hit the nail on the head re: Rachel's book.
Your book sounds very interesting also (took a peek on Amazon; the trailer is intriguing!). All the best to you in your endeavors!
Blessings -
Andrea

misskallie2000 said...

I was one who always accepted what I was told and did not ask questions. Now I am asking questions expecially about my health and not just accepting what my Dr. tells me. It is important to take nothing for face value and ask questions and this also applies to your beliefs. You need to understand what your beliefs are.

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

misskallie2000 said...

I do follow you on twitter

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

misskallie2000 said...

I follow via GFC

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

misskallie2000 said...

I am a friend on FB

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

misskallie2000 said...

I follow via networkblogs

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

 
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