Monday, March 15, 2010

Nonfiction at its most entertaining: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose was a student at an Ivy League university working for a famous journalist when he met some young people from Liberty University and proceeded to have an awkward, embarrassing conversation with them.  A sort-of Quaker, he realized he didn't actually know any evangelical Christians and found out that most people don't either.  He wondered if this fact was related to the way evangelicals were portrayed in the media and demonized by the culture.  He started to wonder what it would be like to study their world from the inside, to humanize his image of them.  And so, he decided to study abroad for a semester as an undercover journalist.

This outstanding book is the result.  Clear-eyed (he's very up-front about his biases from the start) and passionately observant, he chronicles his semester at Liberty with all its ups and downs and the always quietly-humming tension of not wanting to get caught and wondering if he'll end up brainwashed.  The book even ends well (as in, he didn't fumble in the end).

Because he is an outsider, Roose has a unique perspective to bring to the Christian table, a fresh and curious way of looking at things and trying to find out why and then acknowledging their absurdity while still taking them seriously enough to examine them closely.

One thing that impressed me was Roose's desire to seek out the why behind the action and his sensitivity to understand some things most Christians I know probably don't.  For example, he realizes that the moral problem with masturbation isn't the act itself but the lustful thoughts and desires associated with it.  He realizes that if one wants to control one's lust, there are certain things one shouldn't look at or think about, and then he just avoids those things (all for the sake of journalism).

He doesn't understand some things most Christians I know probably also don't.  Why do evangelical Christians lean so hard on the Bible as the basis for their morality when it puts them into conflict with everyone else? he wonders.  Why do they pick on gay people so much?  He doesn't seem to understand that if both sides don't have the same moral code, they can't really have a successful debate about a moral issue. 

Both sides will have to agree to disagree on homosexuality because, if one side won't accept that "the Bible is against it" is a debate-ender, then we really shouldn't start the debate.  It only leads to name calling and hurt.  Which brings me to the second question: why so much verbal gay-bashing? 

It seems to me that when Christians pick on gay people, it's because they don't know the Bible and how it teaches us the difference between how we are to view each other within the church and outside of it.  Inside the church, we are called to love and judgment.  Outside, we are called to love.  The "unsaved" are going to sin because they are not working with the same foundation we are (and they don't have the Holy Spirit to guide and help), so there is no point in judging them (and persecuting them) for behaving like they are unsaved. 

I just wish someone could have explained that to him in the book. 

Why gay people at all?  Why not adulterers and fornicators, too?  Some would say because homosexuality is more obvious, more flamboyant, and that's why it takes so much heat (aim at an "easy" target).  But I know Christians living together and having sex before marriage who think their behavior is not a sin.  "At least we're not gay . . ."

Does there always have to be a target?  Is that part of human nature?  (You'll enjoy the section where the Liberty students are slamming the even more conservative colleges like Pensacola.  Just don't be drinking or eating anything when you read that bit or the additional research Roose did into the topic.)

There are plenty of other highlights, some shocking (not shocking to be shocking, just honest observations that might make you feel quite ashamed due to guilt by association if you are a Christian), some sad, some cute, and a lot hilarious.  I felt very convicted and informed and moved to rethink many things.  I also laughed out loud frequently.  He manages to capture the fish-out-of-water vibe so well . . .

Anyway, if you are an evangelical Christian or you know one, or you've only heard of them, you should read this book.  It will open your eyes and engage your mind and make you want to talk about it and entertain you all at the same time.  Not bad for a book.

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