From the introduction:
"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 were 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 think, don't change their minds."
My small town faith took a real beating during my last two years of college, and moving to a large, strange city where I knew no one didn't help much. I tried to find a church home, but for different reasons both of the avenues I pursued didn't work out, and I remained discouraged and disillusioned by the wider church. Over time, many of the kinks of my early twenties smoothed themselves out, but some of the harder questions remained. When I found Rachel Held Evans' thoughts on the more difficult topics, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit.
It's not that there aren't other people talking about their doubts in the Christian faith, but I haven't heard many others that have a voice I recognize. When talking about God and the Bible, I prefer not to be talked down to and not to be dumbed down to, and I prefer equality in the conversation, without one of us believing they're speaking the divine word and that the other person isn't. In Evolving in Monkey Town, I discovered an honest, intelligent conversation about Jesus from a girl who desperately wanted the truth.
On doubt, from Evolving in Monkey Town:
"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."
Growing up, I wasn't spoonfed my faith. I had to seek out what I believed and why. I grew up in a thinking home, and my childhood church encouraged conversation and different perspectives. But somewhere along the way - from a confluence of influences, no doubt - I began to believe some things in my faith that I know now were not quite right. And those things, they have taken a long time to unravel themselves.
From Evolving in Monkey Town, on what she would say to the group of 17-year-old girls that she once mentored:
"I would tell them not to be ashamed, that God loves them just as they are and isn't agry at them for wanting to take on the world as powerful women. I would tell them that to claim there is a biblical view of dating is a bit of a stretch, since people in the Bible didn't date. I would tell them that using the Bible as a model for marital relationships requires some selectivity, seeing as how in Bible times women were generally sold by their fathers to the highest bidders, men were free to take as many wives as they pleased, and women who had been raped could be required to marry their rapists. I would tell them that the idea of a single, comprehensive biblical worldview to which all Christians can agree is a myth and that it's okay to ask questions about people's interpretations. I would tell them that this doesn't diminish the beauty and power of the Bible but rather enhances it and gives Christians something to talk about. And I would tell them that womanhood, like the Bible, is far too lovely and mysterious and transcendent to systematize or explain."
This book, like almost all of my picks, is not for everyone. I spoke to one friend who read it and, while she enjoyed it, didn't connect with RHE's crisis of faith when she realized that not everything she learned in Sunday school was perfect. As we talked about the book further, it was clear that my friend's community (metropolitan, not in the Bible belt) gave her a much more diverse experience in childhood than mine did. Growing up, my friend knew people of other faiths and was offered a wider worldview than I was in my small town, where people were either Christian or they weren't. I was legally an adult before I was aware of anyone I knew personally who practiced a different religion. Neither of these experiences are right or wrong, just different, and the conclusions I drew then and now are my own.
If you wrestle with some things about the church, and aren't sure how to articulate them, then Evolving in Monkey Town may be something you need to read. I was left with the reminder that God is a much bigger God than we usually give him credit for.
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