Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple

This book is crazy good. I mentioned it last week when I was talking about things I'm reading that seem to be of a piece: books that make me ask myself what kind of evangelical theology is still hanging around in the back of my brain.

Here's the premise: this young man, a freshman at Brown University (who, I might add, grew up in Oberlin, Ohio, my uberliberal college town), decides to enroll at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, for a semester and write about the experience. He does a fantastic job of it. I can't tell you how impressed I am. He's so generous in his writing and clear in his understanding. He neither vilifies nor exonerates the people of Liberty University; he works very hard simply to understand.

One of the themes that comes up both in this book and in Dave's is how much energy is expended on keeping sexuality under control. At Liberty, the rule is you may hold hands, but nothing else. You may hug someone of the opposite sex, but for no longer than three (3) seconds.

There are ways in which Kevin Roose, the author of The Unlikely Disciple, finds this very freeing: he doesn't have to worry about What Is Expected. At the same time, there are still rules that his dormmates tell him (open the door for her, "You didn't walk her to her dorm?!"). He also finds a wide variety of behaviors around and under and past the rules.

It all made me think that in the Bible, we read of "sexual immorality" but there's no clarity about what exactly that "immorality" part is. Is it hugging for more than 5 seconds? Kissing? Petting? Is there a particular line when it becomes sex? And when that line has been crossed, is it always immoral outside of marriage? Can there be sexual immorality within marriage? Does it depend upon the situation? And if so, what does it depend upon?

That phrase seems to be a complete Rohrschach test; so often it seems "sexual immorality" is defined by "what makes me uncomfortable." Or "what makes the pastor uncomfortable," perhaps. I don't know. It certainly seems to me, though, that sexuality has a lot more gray area than I thought when I was growing up. This book and Dave's both help show that even in a world where sexual immorality is presented as black and white there is still a whole lot of gray.

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