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Evolving in Monkey Town | A Review

Ihave a question. Is it possible, sometimes, that we as Christians might make an idol out of always having answers?
Zondervan recently sent me a review copy of Rachel Held Evans' new book, Evolving in Monkey Town, where the tagline reads, How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions. Yet "knowing the answers" is a mark of Christian discipleship and maturity...right?

This spiritual memoir from a recovering fundamentalist opens with a frank admission of bias. "I'm judgmental of people I think are judgmental," writes Evans. "I've been hurt by Christians." Then she adds, "As a Christian, I've been hurtful."

This honest reflection sets the tone for the rest of her book, which I found refreshing, unnerving ~ and, in the spirit of honesty, even a little uncomfortable at times. But that's okay. God is bigger than our questions ~ both unasked and unanswered ~ and thankfully, He is even bigger than our answered ones. This is comforting because sometimes the answers hurt.

Using the highly controversial (at least to most evangelical Christians) theory of evolution, Evans draws parallels to her own journey of faith. "Spiritual evolution explains why Christianity has thrived while other ancient religions have perished," she says, later adding, "I'm an evolutionist because I believe that the best way to reclaim the gospel in times of change is not to cling more tightly to our convictions but to hold them with an open hand."

Rachel Held Evans
Always ready, this pastor's daughter ~ with a positively ingenious childhood plan to witness to her Mormon neighbors ~ grew up with answers that outnumbered questions she didn't even know to ask. She writes, "So ready with the answers, we didn't know what the questions were anymore. So prepared to defend the faith, we missed the thrill of discovering it for ourselves. So convinced we had God right, it never occurred to us that we might be wrong. In short, we never learned to doubt."

In fact, we're afraid of doubt. We pray against it. We writhe thinking of Doubting Thomas and say we would never be him, pressing away insecurities, clamping a hand over our mouths and hanging on to the answers that make us feel safe. Somehow we've equated 'not having an answer' with being a poor witness or lacking in faith. 

We fear not having faith. And sometimes this makes us stop asking hard questions.

Evans, a self-proclaimed skeptic, muses, "On the one hand, I love what Jesus said about forgiveness and enemy love. On the other, I am horrified at the acts of genocide committed by Joshua in the Old Testament, acts seemingly condoned, even ordered by God...it baffles me that the same God who cast the lepers out of Israel sent His Son to minister among them. The same God who ordered the death of every man, woman, and child in Canaan welcomed little children into His arms."

Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God.—Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town.

Although this book will be a gutsy, thought-provoking addition to the shelves of anyone interested in matters of faith, some of my readers will feel alarm over Rachel Held Evans admitting she doesn't know the answers to many questions regarding morality, current events, the Bible, and other religions. Furthermore, "I don't know how God will ultimately judge between good and evil," she says. "I don't know which church tradition best represents truth. I don't know the degree to which God is present in religious systems, or who goes to heaven and who goes to hell." Her lack of certainty indicates to many black-and-white thinkers a kind of watered-down faith, a suggestion of tolerance that invites compromise to the church.

But others will find relief.

Many have spent their entire lives being told what to believe and how to believe it, what the answers are and what questions are appropriate. Evans strips away evangelical extras and reveals the foundation: Jesus. The cornerstone, the Rock. I think I blushed on her behalf a few times, but it's good to challenge all we've held dear, testing them and holding fast the good. And her courage to say "I don't know" in response to difficult situations is a refreshing surprise, for living in a world that puts stock in having all the right answers takes the journey away from us and molds God into a neat, predictable image. Admitting "I don't know" puts mystery back into Him and hands Him ~ not answers ~ out to others.

Rachel may not know all the answers, but she knows the One Who does. Her life echoes my own prayer of faith to God:
I'm willing not to know, but to rest in knowing You.
And here, there is peace.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting book.

    I've long been one who loves to know the answers, but I have found that there are more and more things that are simply beyond me. This does not stop me from striving to "always have a reason for the hope within me" but to give a little more grace to those with whom I disagree.

    Still working on that grace thing [smile].


  2. Ahhh, grace. *smile*

    I agree re: the answer for the hope that is in us....but that is the context right there. I can confidently always say why I have hope. Always. Other stuff...not so much. Good thing He knows...

  3. Another book to add to my T.B.R. list. Thanks for the review, Hillary.

  4. Sounds well worth reading--I'll look for it.

  5. Jane,

    It isn't a call for apathy. We are each to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. I agree with you...keep asking, seeking, knocking...but sometimes in all of the extras and things we can lose sight of the basics. There may be things we never know the answers to. Some may use this as an excuse to abandon God. Is this a good thing? I don't see Rachel as questioning salvation that comes through faith in Christ. What she does question is what this might look like for others. But in the end, it comes down to our own questions where answers have frightened or eluded us. Thankfully God does know all the right answers, and when we SEEK FIRST the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness, all these things shall be added unto you. Which means that we will go through a time of not having them.

    If we seek peace through finding answers then we've taken our eyes off of God because He should be our Source of peace.

  6. I hear what you are saying, about the basics of the Gospel, but let's get into this ok because the Reason we are seeing so many of these cults/sub cultures, ok, and dominion political mega movement is because for Far too long, like in the days of early papacy [but then they didn't Have scriptures so like they Couldn't weigh the Word of God for themselves, we don't Have that excuse in This nation and most women today in This nation can Read], anyway for far too long,

    we've become a nation that is afraid to demand answers, this is why, we have Every wind of doctrine, we have over 100 different Jesus's out there [denominations] where Paul blatantly said, Unity, in Love, so uh, common Sense says,

    the church has been apostate for eons, obviously, John, Paul, said in 60 A.D. that the WOLVES WERE THEN, NOT 200 YEARS LATER, BUT THEN, AT THE DOOR, THEY WOULD NOT SPARE THE FLOCK,

    so like, uh, what Part of that, do we not Get?

    We have had numerous blind followings of this belief, that belief, and blindly following men who say God says, commit genocide, in whole or part, commit horrific abuse, heck even mass Suicides [Jim Jones Temple], and we wonder,

    why we are in the mess today. So now, it's soothe the wounds so more don't leave, or is it Pacify so that they don't get smart enough to dare challenge/question,

    if that don't work, let's use fear, intimidation, the whole 'oh you're rebelling', a Good example of this is the LIE that is taught in just about every church, about obeying/submission, authority, how they have used that to Politically MANIPULATE the masses,

    but oh, did We forget school, WE the People, a More Perfect Union, are the Government, so we cannot Resist ourselves?????? That's one good example,

    of Just how brainwashed, indoctrinated we've become, Nietzsche was right, faith, is the opposite of TRUTH,

    faith, that is blind following. We may not have answers to many things, granted, but when it comes to how we live life Especially how it effects others, I think, we have the duty, to do all, to Find those answers,

    so we Don't do or follow evil. Being mislead, what I see, and I think it's concerning, is this blind optimism, this la de da blind following, oh I'll just trust God...and then, twenty years later after looking at the Wreckage, then it's blame God.

    There is a Reason, God gave us the Ability to reason, when faith, becomes this thing to avoid reason, I think, we need to question. The fact that we have inner fear, in doing so, says volumes...

    Gideon, OT, asked God several times for Proof before HE took off to battle, Why? Because he didn't want to lose lives or take lives, based on a whim, and God respected that, gave him the Dew. The Lord God called Gideon a man of valor,

    why, because he had the Guts, to push the envelope, so did Abraham when pleading for Lot, so did Jonah, so did Peter. Jesus may have rebuked him, but lets not forget, it was Peter, that Jesus said, I will give you the keys to the church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

    Why, because Peter, was NOT afraid, to ask the questions, and wasn't going to settle, for blind faith.

    In This day and age, I think, its not only dangerous but Suicide, to not insist, on knowing Truth.

    And this blog, even being Necessary,




  7. "In This day and age, I think, its not only dangerous but Suicide, to not insist, on knowing Truth."

    I see what you're saying Jane. I think we all want truth, both in the person of Truth, and in the intangible tangibility of knowledge. If I'm reading Hillary's review right, this book strikes me as being about the process of finding that truth, having our long standing sacred cows carved up into hamburgers, and being willing to say "I don't know, but God, you do, and I trust you." Please correct me if I'm putting offbase words in your mouth, Hillary.

    I think the most dangerous thing we can do is cease to grow in truth, and almost as dangerous is to desire knew knowledge so passionately and obsessively that we fail to walk in the truth we actually have.

  8. I happened over a statement in my readings the other day about the subject of somatic illness in adults that were abused as children:
    “Morality prevented them from recognizing reality.”

    Reading Hillary’s review of “Evolving in Monkey Town,” I could not help but think of the book, “Fear and Trembling” by Soren Kierkegaard. In his struggle to attempt to comprehend the faith that Abraham demonstrated when God asked him to offer up Isaac, Kierkegard wrestles with his own authenticity and shortcomings. He is still greatly criticized today as one who lacked faith -- for speaking honestly about his own doubts as he aspired fervently to have the faith of Abraham with the same authenticity that Abraham did. He sought to comprehend that faith he so desired but described his doubts so well that many believe that he only lead people into greater error.

    If I recall correctly, he contrasted a warrior of faith with one of mere resignation, desiring to be the authentic warrior of faith without any illusions or vicarious faith that belonged to someone else. He saw hypocrisy in his own heart and spoke openly about it, realizing that much of what he understood about faith was actually something he’d adopted and feigned. For his honesty, he is still criticized today.

    So for what it’s worth, I think those who are honest about where they really are in matters of faith are admirable in their honesty as was the often misunderstood Kierkegaard, a high compliment indeed! He didn’t want to be a hypocrite before others or before his Creator.

    To heal and progress in faith, we must be honest about our starting point, just like the father of a young boy who cried “Lord, I believe. Help [me deal with] my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). I also think of the man in Mark Chapter 8 who admits that he can only partially see after Jesus puts his saliva on his eyes, then asks him if he can see. The man admits to Jesus that his vision is improved but not clear, seeing men “walking about as trees.” We understand well that when the Savior touches us that we should see perfectly, but often, it takes a second touch of compassion from the Lord for us to see Him clearly. How many of us settle for partial vision in our lives because of what we think we should see, never admitting to ourselves and the Lord that our sight is still clouded. Do we have not because we ask not?

    I think that when we are honest with God about our doubts, He rewards us with a greater and deeper revelation of Himself.

  9. Suggested "companion read": The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight.

  10. I have not read the book, but I do have some thoughts. I used to fear doubts. I was raised in an environment where you had to know the truth...you had to have the answsers...the right answers. Much depended upon it. Sometime that much was a life. Sometimes it was merely who I was. If I did not have the answer to something...the correct answer...there was something very wrong with me. That was my life.

    Now...I am in my 50's. It has really only been in the last few years that I have become comfortable (somewhat) with having doubts. Or, with not knowing a precise answer. I have grown in that way...and I am grateful. Having to have all the right answers was a tremendous weight to bear.

    Having said that...I do believe that there are some basic truths that it is important to know...and that CAN be known. I know there is a Creator. I know He is more than one. I know He is Abba/Daddy, Son Yeshua/Jesus and indwelling Holy Spirit. There are other things I can know for sure...but I do NOT know everything about G-d. If I could know and understand everything about G-d...He would not be much of a G-d!

    I am tired...so I hope I am not rambling here. These are just some thoughts I had about what you wrote about being open to having doubts and questions. I have learned that acknowledging doubts and asking questions leads me to greater growth and a deeper spirituality.

  11. Loving this book myself!

    For me it is just plain silly to think that because we "say" we believe something or we try really, really hard to believe something, turning off the questions and doubts, shutting the door in the face of those questions and doubts, that we actually BELIEVE it. And it is even MORE silly to think that we are actually fooling the God who created these minds capable of thought, questions, doubts, creative thinking, growth and change. This God MADE our minds, right? This God sees our thoughts and understand them better than we do. Is it possible that God is totally and completely frustrated with the energy we expend trying NOT to question/doubt/think critically about truths?

    Why do we say that God created us with choice, not as robots, able to think and choose, but demand that Christians DON'T think or choose. They get to choose ONCE: to believe something, no matter what. Then after that, any thinking through, turning things over in our hands and heads, looking and poking and proding and searching and asking is....lack of faith?

    The beliefs I held as a child who grew up in evangelicalism that I DIDN'T challenge/look at critically/doubt/question/explore are the very things that became the stumbling blocks in my "faith." My brain has to ask questions IN ORDER TO BELIEVE SOMETHING. If I just mentally agree to something, I have to effectively SHUT OFF my brain in order to hold to that belief. That can not be what God meant for me to do!

    Further, if there is a God that made me with a mind like mine, needing to think (and question and doubt and search) but needs me to turn off my brain, numb out and pretend...PRETEND!...in order to get into his heaven, I'll pass, thank you very much. To expect us to not think in the way he created us to think and do whatever it takes, including shutting off our minds/numbing our hearts, in order to say that we believe something and not waver from that belief, flies in the face of one of the foundations of Christian theology: God created us to think, to choose and to choose him.

    And lastly, to NOT think is to believe in ideas, not GOD! To tell a child (as I was told) to pray and "accept Jesus in your heart" and confess to believing a, b and c, is to tell a child to believe in ideas. To link those ideas to whether or not they are going to heaven or hell is just plain mean. I could go on about this subject, but I will try to stop here for now. :)


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