Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God and Monkeys?

My friend Matthew Paul Turner asked me to write a review for of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, as a guest post for his blog, "Jesus Needs New PR".  I loved the book (which was provided to me free of charge).  You can read my review on Matthew's blog by clicking HERE, or you can just read it below...

The problem with polarized arguments is that both sides end up arguing for something stupid…against something equally stupid…with no way forward.  One of the major problems with Christianity in our day is that, in many ways we have begun to let polarized arguments define us.  We are in love with labels, and with categories of “us” versus “them”.  We proudly identify ourselves as “conservative” or “liberal” in terms of politics and theology and claim that if you don’t apply the same label to yourself, you must be one of “them”, and thus not a “true Christian”, like us.  We ratchet our categories ever tighter, to the point that if you even question any point of our collective unspoken creeds, we question your faithfulness and intentions.

This phenomenon has become particularly obvious in the dominant approach to Christian apologetics in America.  Having “faith” has come to mean having certainty about a particular set of beliefs.  It’s a sad situation in desperate need of a fresh perspective that dares to imagine a way forward.
Enter author/thinker/southerner Rachel Held Evans.  As a resident of Dayton, TN (the site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial), a graduate of Bryant College, and a former poster-child for apologetics-oriented faith, Rachel is uniquely positioned to be exactly the kind of voice we need hear.  In her book, Evolving In Monkey Town, Rachel offers a deeply personal and life-giving perspective.  The book isn’t exactly what you might think, given the title.  She doesn’t particularly attempt to settle the “evolution question”, so much as she argues that our approach to this and other questions like it has been deeply unhelpful.  Equal parts memoir and Practical Theology, “Monkey Town” proposes an approach that doesn’t equate “faith” with “certainty”.  Rather, Rachel advocates a faith that has room for ambiguity; that generates questions instead of fearing them; a faith that trusts and hopes even in the midst of doubt. She calls us to distinguish between questioning God and questioning our beliefs about God, and argues that, rather than being blasphemous, the later is both formative and necessary.  She argues that faith was never meant to be a static, unchanging thing; but that living faith is alive precisely because of its ability to learn, adapt, and…well, evolve.

It doesn’t hurt that Rachel is a profoundly good writer.  She’ll have you laughing one minute and in tears the next.  At certain points you’ll be unable to put the book down, while at other you’ll have to put it down to ponder the implications of what you’ve just read.  In a day when many would-be defenders of the faith are characterized by arrogance and ignorance, Rachel Held Evans may just be the humble and thoughtful kind of prophet we need.  The fact that such a description probably makes her uncomfortable, only strengthens my case.

Buy Rachel's Book