The other day I finished reading/listening to Gilead. I perused Audible’s Semi-Annual sale list in hopes of finding a new and cheap read. I found Kevin Roose’s book, “The Unlikely Disciple.” The book’s cover and its title were, at first, a bit disconcerting. The book centers on Kevin Roose’s, a student at Brown University, journalist endeavor to cross the “God divide.” He wanted to understand conservative Christianity on its own terms, and he signed up for courses at Liberty University.
I was afraid that this book would be a series of anecdotes lambasting Liberty’s students for their antiquated ideals, ethics, and theological convictions. The overwhelming positive ratings the book received on audible from self-proclaimed Christians, with the occasional outlier, persuaded me to spend the $9.95. Roose makes the note that with popular secular opinion the way it is, as well as the unforgivable gaffs evangelical Christians have make in the public arena, he would not take cheap shots at his fellow classmates. I couldn’t help but laugh when he said, “There was a time when making fun of fundamentalist Christians was like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered riffle, now it is more like hunting the ground with one’s foot.” Some might take offense to that. Nevertheless, when public evangelical leaders like Falwell and Pat Robinson blame national trajedies like 9-11 and Katrina on homosexuals, the liberal left, and abortionists, this comment is a gracious one.
I am only 3/4 of the way through the book. Although I have not reached his final conclusions, I have found that Kevin has presented Liberty in a fair and even-keeled manner. I was constantly struck that he was capable of graciously depicting his fellow students, students that would have driven me into a semi-rage on account of their unchristlike attitudes and hatefulness.
What struck me most about the book is how similar Liberty life is to my life at Moody. If anyone wants to know what it is like to live on the campus of a conservative Christian college, if anyone wants to live a semester in my shoes, Kevin accurately depicts it. In case you pick it up, I identify myself most with Jersey-Joey. The cocky fringe rebel that never gets himself into anything the secular world would consider “rebel” behavior, but definitely broke the rules he knew he could get away with breaking.
Even if you don’t care to relive my experience, if you are a Christian who desires an “outsiders” perception of Christians and Christianity, you should read this book. There is at times “colorful language.” The author covers the topics of sex, drugs, alcohol, masturbation…a host of topics common to ALL colleges, even the most conservative of colleges. He does not include anything for “reactionary” value, but only as much as is necessary to accurately portray the Christian’s response to these moral concerns.
The book is intriguing. It is an act of humanization, something we, as Christians, must take to heart. Some my take offense to Roose’s work. He was a spy. His intent was to deceive and his research is based on deception. There may be truth to some of these objections. But I find a large degree of virtue and courage in his endeavor. To a degree, his act was in some degree an act of incarnation. Instead of peering in through an opaque window, looking down his nose, and pronouncing condemnation, he has sought to come into the midst of Christians at Liberty to understanding them and their worldview. No one can do this completely. Our biases will always remain. Yet, like Kevin, we must strip the vitriol, discredit the stereotypes, refuse to construct the straw men, and seek to understand one another.
In the end, we may still find ourselves at odds with our interlocutors, but we will have honored Christ in our proceedings.