Mar 4, 2012

The Unlikely Disciple - A review

Several weeks ago a friend suggested I read "The Unlikely Disciple." I was uncertain about adding another book to my workload/reading list, but I'm glad I took her advice.

This is the true story of the teenager who did a semester at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

Now, for a little bit of background, before I jump into my own thoughts about the text. Kevin Roose was a sophmore at Browns University. That's right, Browns. As you find out in the first chapter, instead of doing a semester abroad like many of his friends, he chose to do a semester at Liberty, for journalistic interest's sake. 

It has taken me a few weeks to process this book. Roose paints a gracious and revealing picture of life at this fundamentalist baptist university, including his accounts of evangelism, creationism, 'The Liberty Way,' and much more. I was struck by the similarities - and the differences - between Liberty and Redeemer. 

I'm two months away from finishing my degree at Redeemer. Redeemer is a Christian liberal arts university located in Ancaster (Hamilton), Ontario, Canada. Redeemer, like Liberty, offers degrees in many academic spheres and teaches from a Christian worldview. Redeemer offers courses in apologetics, hermeneutics, and the academic study of scripture. It has faculty and staff who are devoted to both faith and scholarship. Its students joke about it being a safe haven, a Christian Bubble if you will, shielding its students from the scary outside world. But I'm afraid that is where the similarities end.

See, Redeemer was founded as a Reformed (prominently Calvinist) -based post secondary institution. It has never been affiliated with the mega-church movement, a 'mega-church' pastor, and its students certainly don't look to the president as the most influential man in the country. While Redeemer has a Code of Conduct, it encourages trust, and acknowledges that it cannot police the behaviour of its students. After all, part of being a Christian is being challenged to live differently, not simply doing so because the university you attend will make you pay fines if you break their laws (example, demerit points and a $25.00 fine if you are caught watching or in possession of an R rated film). 

While Redeemer does not have a student population of 25 000 (no, just a mere 900 students), or offer a weekly televised evangelical church service (I can hardly see the Reformed Protestants I know participating in this sort of phenomenon), or insist that all its faculty hold a '6-day creationist' view of how the world came to be, it does exist, and it is also developing some strong, intellectually apt leaders. 

Liberty has always been an enigma to me. Working at Muskoka Bible Centre last summer, a retreat/camping/conference centre born out of the same Christian tradition as Liberty, I have had some experiences with Liberty students - both within my work-sphere, and as guests on the grounds. One thing that I have never forgotten is as follows.

The first week of the summer season is what MBCers have affectionately dubbed "Liberty Week." It is an informal way of saying that the chapel is overrun with Liberty paraphernilia - speakers, worship band, and the booth with the bright red t-shirts. Following one of the chapel services, I decided to meander towards the Liberty booth, just to look at the University brochure and see the sorts of programs they offered, to compare it to Redeemer. 

Within about 30 seconds I had a Liberty student engaging me in conversation about my life story, my faith, my ambitions, and my education. I guess it was pretty obvious I was a college-aged person. Besides the fact that she seemed thoroughly unamused by the fact that I was a student at Redeemer (her expression actually shifted into a depressed sort of wail as she uttered, "oh, you go to Redeeeemer"), she began to inquire about the status of my faith. Explaining to her that I had been baptized as a child - as is the practise of my tradition - and done profession of faith in front of my church at age 18, she seemed agitated. 
"So, you mean you aren't a born again Christian?" she asked me. 
"Well, what do you mean by that?" I asked her.
"You know, born again, have you rededicated your life to Christ? Have you been re-baptized?"

Last time I checked, baptism only needed to happen once, so I said no.
"Oh," she said, looking downcast. "Do you think you're a Christian, then?"
Again, I asked her what she meant.
"Well, you should be born again if you're a true Christian. Do you know Jesus?"

I can't really remember what happened next, but I do remember walking away from that conversation a little confused. Since when does being a true Christian mean being a 'born again Christian'? Since when does the Sacrament of Baptism need to be performed more than once on a believer? Why did I feel a little put-off by this eager young girl (whose major I later-on found out to be religon) who clearly just thought I needed to be evangelized?

All good questions, and after reading Roose's book, I may have had a few of them answered. I also learned a lot about Liberty. It occurred to me while I read that some people must see Redeemer in this same way, and that is a sobering thought. 

Do take the time to read this book. You'll laugh, you'll be angry, but most of all, it will drive you to re-evaluate why you believe what you believe. And who knows, you might even find answers.

Word of the Day: Noise

Quote of the Day: "Maybe our stars are unanimously tired..." Jon Foreman, Switchfoot

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