Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Meet Kevin Roose. He looks like your average nice college dude, and he is sitting in the pews in the chapel at Brown University. You may not have known Brown has a chapel, what with it being a bastion of liberalism, but it does. There is an interesting news piece about this young man who is a student at Brown but decided to go "behind enemy lines" and spy on the domain of Jerry Falwell for a semester, and write a story about his experience. Here is the link you should paste into your browser.


Now Kevin has written a book about his discoveries, entitled The Unlikely Disciple, and it is an unexpectedly interesting read. He may have gone to do an expose piece, but what he discovered was mostly good things. Yes, there were students who gossiped, and yes there were students doing the Facebook thing (oh no, not that!), and what he did not find was God's commandos planning another raid, or at least protest, at an abortion clinic. Well, the thing is, Liberty University today is a wildly more liberal place than it was twenty years ago (I jest) when I visited the child of one of my parishioners there to see how she was faring. I mean dating and public displays of affection are even allowed these days on campus-- what's the world coming to? Shoot Kevin even ended up singing in the choir at Thomas Road Baptist Church. And this brings me to the point of this post.

Though Kevin went clandestinely to Liberty, his book is actually pretty fair, and it is clear that his semester there had more good effect on him, than this book could have negative effect on Liberty. He prays regularly now and is considering joining a church.

And this brings me to a key point--- without pre-conditions, and without pre-conceptions we need to be welcoming at our Christian schools. I remember very well a conversation I had with President Harold Ockenga about 1975. He had told the admissions committee at Gordon-Conwell to allow a Mormon and a Jehovah's witness to enroll. This created something of a furor amongst some students and trustees. Was the school going liberal? Ockenga's response was right on target-- "Look, we are supposed to be able to share our faith and convert folks. And where better to do so then in a truly Christian school? If a Mormon comes here and isn't at all changed when he leaves, you have to wonder about how good a witnesses we are." Amen to that.

We need to stop being so self-protective and stop making fear-based decisions in our churches and schools. After all, our Bible says "greater is He who is in us, than any of those worldly forces". If we really believed that, it would change the way we do Christian education and church.


Juice said...

I'm kind of tired of these books. Unbeliever goes undercover. It's tired. Here's a few I can think of off the top of my head:

Jim and Casper Go To Church
I sold my soul on Ebay
The year of living Biblically
My Jesus Year
Rapture Ready

It's tired already. They all come back saying "they aren't as bad as I thought".

I'm not against them "spying us out" but that doesn't mean I have to read their book about it.

Sorry, I have no point, just had to vent. :)


Marc Axelrod said...

Sounds like a good book. There have been a number of these covert and not so covert attempts at immersion within the evangelical world with the purpose of eventually writing about it-Jeffrey Sheler's book Believers and the Living Biblically for a Year book come to mind.

Years ago, Ellen Harris (I think that's her name) did the same thign with the Hasidim in her book Holy Days.

Chap said...

My prayer is that Bill Maher would be next...

Alex said...


Related to your mention of the Gordon-Conwell incident, there is a great passage that runs through I Corinthians 6-7 (near the passage on church discipline) where Paul specifically says that its corrupt individuals WITHIN the church that we are not associate with, not corrupt individuals OUTSIDE the church. This passage blew me away the ohther day as I read it. I couldn't believe I never noticed it before.

Rob Suggs said...

Greatest possible chance for an explosion of this kind was when Al Franken did the same thing at Bob Jones University, for one of his books. If memory serves, he took his son there pretending his son was considering enrollment. Yet even then, Franken became respectful of the people at BJU. They recognized him from SNL and were very polite and gracious when they blew his cover. He ended up feeling badly about the whole thing.

HarmonicMiner said...

I'm all for welcoming non-Christian students to Christian campuses, if they will abide by the basic behavioral expectations of the institution. I'm concerned, however, about the way many Christian campuses are moving left, inch by inch. We can become so "welcoming" to different perspectives that we fail to stand up for our own. The only way to fight this seems to be great care in who are hired as faculty, but when academic credentials are more important to hiring committees than genuine Christian commitment (and yes, I'm talking about litmus-test questions on things like abortion, gay marriage, etc.), the clock is ticking on how long the campus will remain essentially Christian.

Unknown said...

I'm currently an undergraduate at Liberty graduating in May - I didn't know Roose while he was here, but there is a strong current of intellectually responsible and culturally aware Christianity here, and most of my friends are really appreciative of some of the things Roose brings to light that we are less than proud of about our institution. Here's to hoping that the spotlight prompts responsible change in the direction of responsible, Kingdom-oriented transformation.

jon said...

I loved his book. Having attended a very conservative fundamental evangelical college I feel like his experience was pretty close to some of the same things I experienced. I also found Kevin to be very fair and honest in his approach in understanding a completely different culture than he was used to. He was probably more open and fair than I would be.

You mention, Ben, that we need to stop making decisions out of self-protection and fear in our Christian schools. But, isn't even the idea and philosophy behind the entire "Christian" college situation seem to be a self-protective and fear based? The establishment of the modern evangelical institution is a reflection of the retreat of the broader evangelical community into their own subculture. A decision based in a feeling of rejection and fear rather than a true engagement in culture for the gospel.

Also, harmonicminer, it's interesting that you would define liberal Christianly with political instead of theological language. So, as long as someone holds to your conservative political agenda, does that mean they are "ok" and believing rightly Christianly?
You indicate that these are the markers of an "essentially Christian" school instead of things such as believing rightly concerning the trinity, the deity of Christ, the doctrine of original sin, the authority of the Scriptures, etc. This kind of political agenda over against theological orthodoxy is concerning and all too characteristic of fear based theology.

strangebrou said...

In the early nineties when I was a student at Liberty, I remember Falwell repeatedly saying something similar to what that president at Gordon-Conwell said. He wanted students from all kinds of backgrounds to be at LU because he was confident God would move in their lives while they were there.