Monday, August 2, 2010

Quick Review – The Unlikely Disciple

I am going backwards through my list of recently read books. I finished Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple, A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University a couple of weeks ago. I almost skipped posting about it but it has been sitting on my desk staring at me. Roose’s book was the most entertaining thing I have read so far this year and that is just part of it.

Here is the premise: Kevin Roose, a sophomore at Brown University and a budding journalist decided to spend a semester at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Roose grew up with Quaker parents but had never lived the life even close to that of an evangelical Christian. For a pretty much agnostic young man from a liberal university this was about as big of a switch as one can make while staying in their native country and still speaking the same language. The point of this experiment was to write a book, but here is what makes the whole thing interesting: he didn’t go in as a detached, undercover observer. He decided, in order to do it right, he was going to have to throw himself fully into the life of a Liberty student. He lived in the dorms, followed the rules, went to prayer group and engaged fully in his classes. The result was some amazing writing, some incredible insight into some of the most religiously conservative Christians in America and a little bit of transformation in the life of the author. You will have to read for yourself to see the extent of the transformation but I can’t overstate the power of the fact the he allowed himself to experience life at Liberty. It would have been pretty easy to watch from a distance and critically deconstruct the students, faculty and ideology of the school. Instead, we see a much more nuanced, gentle treatment. It doesn’t leave out the bad but it allows us to see the good, especially in the hearts and minds of the students who may be flawed but are trying to be faithful.

It seems I am often warning people about the books I read, in that some might find them offensive. I need to give that warning again. Conservative Christians might be offended by Roose’s experiment and his analysis of views and practices that some hold hear. Extreme liberals might be offended by the grace he offers those who believe radically different things. This is exactly why I recommend the book. The author quotes an interesting statistic early in the book when he cites that 51% of Americans don’t know any evangelical Christians. That says as much about 51% of Americans as it does about evangelical Christians. There is a great deal of divide and misunderstanding and this book may be one piece of a very large bridge. And even if it is not, it made me laugh out loud.