“Unlikely Disciple”

Kevin Roose is a brave, brave man. As this article explains:

Before Kevin Roose enrolled at the world’s largest evangelical university he didn’t know any evangelical Christians, save for one. He didn’t even really know God. But that didn’t stop the “practically religion free” Brown University sophomore from taking a semester’s leave to subject himself to “Bible Boot Camp” at Liberty University, the bastion of higher education founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. On campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, Roose engrossed himself in classes like Evangelism 101, History of Life and Old Testament Survey, at the same time acclimating to a social scene regulated by “The Liberty Way,” a forty-six-page code of conduct.

While Roose expected to meet a student body dominated by angry, intolerant zealots, he discovered that the Lukes, Matthews and Pauls he encountered were—more or less—like any other 21st century college students. In other words, in between prayer groups and Bible study they gossiped, complained about exams, and whiled away the hours on Facebook and MySpace. But what really surprised Roose is that after a few months of palling around with his spiritually intense classmates and “experimenting” with prayer, he began to enjoy—or at least appreciate—living a Christ-centered university life.

Kevin is back at Brown U now, and he’s written a book about his experience. I’m guessing it’s interesting. The Q&A section of the above article also contains some pretty fascinating stuff. Here are some highlights:

Why did you go to Liberty?
I wanted to explore the world of Christian college students because I had the ultimate secular upbringing and had no exposure to my Christian peers. I grew up in a liberal college town [Oberlin, Ohio], my parents once worked for Ralph Nader, and I chose to attend Brown University, which is known as a liberal enclave. I had read somewhere that 51 percent of non-evangelical Americans don’t know any evangelical Christians, and that one out of three American teenagers considers themselves a born-again Christian. So it really is our biggest cultural divide. I wanted to see how the other half lives, and to see if I could bring those two worlds closer together. (emphasis added)

Can you name a few substitute swear words one might overhear at Liberty?
They would say things like “darn” and “crap” and “heck.” They call them Nerf curses. And sometimes they would just say the first letter [of a curse word], like “F that!” But saying it without saying it … it seems like you may as well go the whole nine yards.

(I laughed when I read that one!)

Was it difficult to fit in at Liberty?
It was tremendously difficult because it really is an entirely different culture. But I had a great time getting to know the guys on my hall, and I found out that most of the time they weren’t even thinking about religion or Jerry Falwell or politics. They were worrying about homework or gossiping about girls in the sister dorm or wondering what they would be doing after graduation. It was an intensely humanizing experience to discover the amount I had in common with the people I met there.

What was your most enlightening class?
I enjoyed the Bible classes, and I think it’s important for Americans to be Biblically literate. I had been through 19 years of secular schooling in which I wasn’t taught about the Bible, and I think that’s a shame.

And although I struggled with it, I enjoyed my Creationist biology course. It was the most foreign thing to me because I’m a firm believer in evolution. Getting a test that would ask: True or false … Noah’s Ark was large enough to accommodate various types of dinosaurs … that was a little bit jarring for me. But as the semester went on, I learned that there is a coherent world view there, and even if I don’t agree with it, I think we need to understand the Creationist world view, because there are a lot of young Creationists out there. We have to understand why they believe what they believe and be able to engage them in an educated way.

Did Brown accept your credits from Liberty?
[Laughs]. I tried. I went to the dean and showed him my transcript and he took one look and said, “I don’t think so.”

Can your book help bridge the so-called God Divide?
I hope so, and I think people are ready for that. We have been fighting the culture wars—this divisive Moral Majority culture war—for 35 years, but people are now recognizing that this is destructive and that we need to find common ground. People are tired of demonizing. I think we’re ready to move past that and go forward…

But both sides have mythology that lets them demonize people outside the fold. And the culture wars will go on because there are legitimate issues of disagreement. But we don’t have to hold the same tone when talking about these issues. That can change.

I’m taken by a few things. First, I’m impressed by this young man’s willingness to engage people he knew absolutely nothing about from a posture of openness and humility. To me, that’s rare and should be applauded. Second, I’m a bit humbled, because his experience at Liberty breaks down some of the stereotypical things I had thought about Liberty, its values, and its teachings. Third, I’m a bit surprised to hear that they have courses on Creationist Biology. And finally, I’m incredibly impressed by the overall tone of the interview, which is summed up by the last quotation. We don’t have to go on hating each other and fighting with each other. Change is desirable and possible. Let’s make that happen.

I’m curious what you think. Can we learn anything from this experiment? If so, what?



7 thoughts on ““Unlikely Disciple”

  1. Having just commented on another post about finding common ground between the polar extremes of the right- and left-wing beliefs, I find this article fascinating. How often do you see evangelicals taking the time to study evolution to see why evolutionists believe what they do? For that matter, it’s not often you see an evolutionist saying he believes all Americans should have a basic understanding of the Bible. I find it inspiring and motivating, personally. I actually have taken a course in the evolution of social behavior, and while it didn’t explore the full depths of Darwin’s theories or go into the idea of human evolution, the things I studied appeared to be absolutely true and fact-based. I think we can learn from this student that not everything we’ve been taught is fact – it is one view of fact. Particularly between secular and religious education there are vast differences in teaching, and I think it would serve Americans well to consider that perhaps not everything they were taught is the only worldview.

    1. I read a blog comment somewhere that said something like this:

      “Evolution for some Christians is just like the Copernican Revolution…”

      Point being that it’s possible to accept science without jettisoning one’s faith.

      1. Interesting statement. I think, of course, many would disagree, but I have always been a bit of a science girl, so I like it. 🙂

    2. Hi leathers3
      I feel obliged to point out that “evolutionist” is not synonymous with “non-Christian”, at least not outside the US. I grew up in church, and hadn’t even heard of what is usually referred to as young earth creationism until I was in my late teens. Where I am, except in the most fundamentalist churches evolution is, as brgulker says, assumed as a matter of course in the same way that we accept any other scientific advance.

      I also think that there are many secularists who think it is important for their children to have at least a familiarity with the basic ideas of Christianity, and often of other religions as well. For instance, I live in an area with a high immigrant Muslim population, so if I had children I think it would be important for them to know a little about Islam. Being ignorant of religion, which is after all a pretty basic human state, would be a disadvantage. Where secularists would disagree is in raising a child to believe that he or she is a member of a particular religion, and that that is the one true religion.

  2. “Getting a test that would ask: True or false … Noah’s Ark was large enough to accommodate various types of dinosaurs … that was a little bit jarring for me. But as the semester went on, I learned that there is a coherent world view there”

    I’m tremendously surprised that it was after the “Creationist Biology” part of his story that he chose to point out that he found a “coherent world view.” To take one of the objectionable parts of the curriculum and come away with this statement was an interesting choice.

    Overall, it’s quite inspiring. I’m surprised that he was not turned off by the people he interacted with. It must have taken an extremely large amount of patience. I wonder if he actively engaged them in discussing his beliefs? I would imagine those conversations being a losing battle for him. Perhaps I should read the whole article.

    1. It’s worth reading the whole thing, although it doesn’t address some of your questions directly.

      He has released/will release a book about the experience. I imagine it’s very interesting… but I don’t anticipate buying it.

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