Rachel Held Evans lives in the buckle of the Bible belt in Dayton, TN, the place of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial which fueled the creation v. evolution debate early in the twentieth century. Growing up with legalistic, pat answers to questions and being told that certain things like being a Democrat or believing in the science of evolution meant she wasn’t a Christian, Evans began to question all she knew, even her faith in God. In her debut book, Evolving in Monkey Town, Evans dares to ask the hard questions that don’t always have good or ready answers. After a list of things she still doesn’t know after a long and hard faith journey, Evans writes,
. . . slowly I’m learning to love the questions, like locked rooms and mysterious books, like trees that clap their hands and fish that climb up cave walls, like mist that clings to the foothills of the Himalayas just like it clings to the Appalachians. And slowly I am learning to live the questions, to follow the teachings of a radical rabbi, to live in an upside-down kingdom in which kings are humbled and servants exalted . . . My hope is that if I am patient, the questions themselves will dissolve into meaning, the answers won’t matter so much anymore, and perhaps it will all make sense to me on some distant, ordinary day.
Others, like Donald Miller and Shane Claiborne have also echoed these sentiments as voices of a new generation of Christians, but none so eloquently as Rachel. As I was reading her story, it was like reading snippets of my own; sometimes I would scan a passage and think, “That’s what I’ve been thinking, but I just didn’t have the words!” There is a lot of transparency in these pages; Evans doesn’t shy away from revealing some of the painful things she’s encountered along the way, but instead of railing against those who have wronged her, or told her she wasn’t really a Christian because of holding certain beliefs or daring to ask certain questions, she handles herself with humility and grace. She’s the first to point out that she doesn’t have all of the answers, that unlike her fundamentalist counterparts, she hasn’t assembled an army of answers for every question or debate point. Instead, she challenges readers to focus on the core that binds us all: God is the Creator, Jesus is His Son, and He came to die on a cross and rose again to save us from an eternity apart from Him. No matter how old we believe the earth is, no matter if we vote Republican or Democrat, no matter which denomination we claim, it’s the crux of the gospel that binds up together and should be our focus.
Some may view this position as weak, but for those of us tired of having to always be at the ready with answers we’re not even sure are correct, it’s refreshing. Reading Evolving in Monkey Town was like giving myself permission to breathe. I felt as though I were sharing space and time with someone who gets me and wouldn’t expect me to be anything but myself, a broken Christian in need of God’s grace who’s unsure about a lot of things except that Jesus loves her and came to die for her very existence. It’s this approach that is so exciting to me, because this is a book I would enthusiastically share with my non-Christian friends. People who don’t believe, people who have been burned by other Christians, it is these people I would love to point to these pages and tell them that it’s all right. No one’s going to judge you for not having the right answers. Read this. You’re safe here.
So to you, I say, “Read this. Savor the uncertainty. Know that above all else, God loves you and welcomes your questions; He gave you the mind to ask them in the first place. You’re safe here.”
To learn more about Rachel Held Evans and her book Evolving in Monkey Town, read her blog, and get in on the weekly discussions, visit her website:RachelHeldEvans.com.
An Interview with Rachel Held Evans