If one grew up Evangelical and/or Fundamentalist in the 1980s and 90s then one knew about why Dayton, TN was so important. It was there in a court of law that creationists who believed that Godde created the earth in six literal days beat the atheist evolutionists in a court of law. In her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions* Rachel Held Evans recounts growing up as a fundamental evangelical in Dayton, the home of the Scopes Monkey Trial, which is how Dayton got its nickname: Monkey Town. As Held Evans explains in her book this was the start of Evangelicals coming into the modern era determined to be able to give a scientific and rational answer to any question atheists could raise against the Bible because of William Jennings Bryan’s weak answers on why he believed everything in the Bible was absolute truth. Evangelicals determined that in the future they would have the answers.
Like many Evangelicals and Fundamentalists (myself included) Held Evans grew up learning how to answer any question an atheist could pose that would question Godde’s existence and the veracity of the Bible. They also learned how to turn the questions on atheists and agnostics that basically backed them into a semantic corner. Since the atheists couldn’t empirically prove there was not a God that left room Godde’s existence. All the questions were answered except the questions young Americans were asking, and for that matter questions young Evangelical and Fundamentalists were asking about their faith. Questions such as “Why would a loving Godde send his or her own creation to hell when they never had a chance to hear the Gospel?” Questions like “If Godde has predestined who will go to heaven and who will go to hell why evangelize at all?” Which leads to the question: “Do I really want to serve a Godde who predestines most of her own creation (made in Godde’s own image) to hell?” Like Held Evans I never bought the “We all should go to hell because we’re such awful sinners” line. If humanity were so depraved and so far gone why would Jesus even want to die for us?
Evoloving in Monkey Town is the book that several Evangelicals (including me) could have written about questioning the Christian faith and Godde, and the painful process it is to be broken down to nothing and starting the slow and tedious process of rebuilding faith in this Godde. It is not easy to hold one’s life-long beliefs to the light then start walking down the rocky path in deciding which beliefs are biblical and godly and which beliefs are something that have been added on. Held Evans is brutally honest in how hard the process is, and how hard it will continue to be. There are no easy answers in this book.
It is refreshing to see more books coming from Evangelicals and evangelical publishing houses that deal with questioning faith, and that faith has its roots in doubt. It is also nice to see Evangelicals picking up N. T. Wright’s points that works are a vital part of faith. Not because works save, but because obedience to Godde is formed and shaped by works of love, compassion, and service. All Christians need to remember James’ words to the churches he wrote to in the first century: “Faith without works is dead.” Christians can harp about faith all they want, but it is only through works that faith is clearly seen.
I would recommend this book to Evangelicals and other Christians who doubt what they were taught about Godde and faith. I would also recommend it to non-Christians who don’t understand why Evangelicals and Fundamentalists get so upset about pluralism, creationism, abortion, and homosexuality. Held Evans gives an excellent history of Evangelical/Fundamentalist thought and how it’s gotten to where it is today. This book is a good read for anyone questioning their faith or wondering why some Christians cling so tightly to their beliefs.
I received a copy of this book Zondervan Publishing Company agreeing to review it on my blog.