Saturday, May 9, 2009
Book Review - The Unlikely Disciple
What would happen if someone wrote about the real "you"? What would we all read? I'm not talking about the person that everyone sees. I'm talking about the person behind closed doors. In essence, that's what Kevin Roose did with Liberty University and their students. Posing as an evangelical Christian, Roose, who was raised Quaker, enrolled at Liberty University, possibly the most well-known evangelical college, for a semester. He joined prayer groups, accountability groups, the church choir, and even evangelized on the beaches of Daytona during spring break. He did all this after a run-in with some evangelical students that became very awkward and made him very curious about this whole evangelical world. The only way he could truly understand this world was to experience it for himself.
Roose grew up in a very left-wing household and the name Jerry Falwell brought tension instantly to any family conversation. That being said, he certainly had to fight pre-conceived notions in his attempt to deliver a non-biased view, which was his goal. Liberty is certainly known for it's extreme conservative political views, with Falwell leading the way. Falwell, being a huge instrument, if not leader, of the Christian coalition, has made his political views a huge focus throughout his career, so its no surprise to see that focus in the teachings of Liberty's classes. This was a very negative point for Roose in his journey. He said, "That sort of prix fixe theology, where Christianity comes loaded with a slate of political views, is a big part of the reason I've been hesitant to accept Liberty's evangelicalism this semester."
The political issues he had with Liberty was just one part of this story, though. Another amazing part of this book was the timing of it all. Roose, being a journalist/student, thought it only made since to try to interview Falwell, the man himself. Amazingly, the school paper agreed right away to full spread cover story written by Roose. This gave Roose the opportunity he never thought possible: an all-out exclusive interview with Jerry Falwell. Roose's view of Falwell was softened, as he realized that this man, who John McCain in 2000 called an "agent of intollerance" was really a genuine guy. He truly believed everything he stood for, he loved to have fun, and he was a very loving family man. Tragically, only days following the interview, Falwell died. This meant that Kevin Roose was the last to give Jerry Falwell a written interview, which was highlighted in the memorial service.
To me, the most telling part of the story is about the students he encountered. Roose, who is actually a student at Brown University, saw a difference in Liberty students. He said, "Liberty students seem less cynical than the secular students I've known. They seem more optimistic, more emotionally fulfilled. And after two months of living with them, sharing in their moral victories, I think that optimism and fulfillment may be rubbing off on me." Of course, no one's perfect, and Christians have done great damage with our hypocrisy. Roose certainly encounters a lot of the ugly side of the Christian culture as well. He said, "...Liberty is home to more homophobic language than your average college." Along with that, there certainly was a lot of conversation among the students, that surprised Roose and is normally condemned and judged by the Christian culture at large.
Whenever I tell someone about this book, I usually say its like being a fly on the wall of a Liberty University dorm room. This was an outsider's perspective of our evangelical world, which was sometimes positive and sometimes painful to watch. The Bible says that we should examine ourselves. When we take an honest look, we see the room for improvement. This book does some of that for the evangelical world and Liberty University.
So, back to my opening questions: What would happen if someone wrote about the real "you"? What would you read? Someone told me that Roose's story at Liberty is similar to a lot of Christians who are playing the part and not truly living the life. To me, the biggest line of the whole book was at the end. Roose went back to tell the 20 or so friends at Liberty who he really was and that he was actually writing a book about them. Expecting the worse, Roose surprisingly received all positive feedback and respect for his venture. One student actually apologized. The student said, "...if I had known who you were, I would have tried to show you a better picture of myself." Is that what we do as Christians? Do we live out a fake faith? Is it a faith that looks and sounds theologically correct and spiritual, but is actually not who we really are? Maybe, its time to start being the church that Jesus intended, and live out a real faith.
I want to say thank you to the author for the book and the opportunity to do a review. I hope it depicted the book accurately. This was a very engaging story written in an equally engaging and compelling style. You truly are a gifted writer.