O ff the Shelf The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose Grand Central Publishing Reviewed by Joshua Cradic The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is, according to its author, an “amateur ethnography.” Kevin Roose’s goal was to experience Liberty University, considered one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the US, for one semester, taking on the role of participant observer in order to gain insight into his peers on the religious right. The discoveries he made on Liberty’s campus included the following: a general strand of homophobia, mainly among his male dorm mates; a pervasive idolization of Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell; a rigorous academic demand, with which he struggled despite having had a measure of success at an Ivy League institution (Brown); and a legalistic atmosphere which, at its best, bred into its army of Christian soldiers the sin-management doctrine (to use Dallas Willard’s term) which has become common within the evangelical right. Roose learned a valuable lesson in confession during his time at Liberty—a lesson which prompted him to come clean about his true identity as an “outsider” 11 months after transferring back to Brown. He returned to Liberty and reunited with his closest friends for the big reveal, which garnered a mixed response, from laughter to concern for his salvation. He spoke of his discomfort with deceiving his peers, some of whom he had come to love and respect. I have my own confession to make: I wanted real scandal about what goes on at Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp,” and instead I got a rather tame and unsurprising account of a people group and the experiences of one outside observer as he acclimated to their habitat. The challenges Roose faced had less to do with the fact that Liberty is a university accustomed to controversy and scandal, particularly from the late Jerry Falwell, than they did with the fact that Roose was simply grafted into a new environment. In other words, Roose experienced culture shock, a phenomenon typical for new students at any university, even if the content of that experience varies from one campus to another. My greatest disappointment, however, was with the authenticity of the author’s Liberty experience, which was necessarily affected by his decision to maintain journalistic distance. While understanding why he might need to do so, I feel it ultimately hindered him from having a completely genuine experience. An example of this was when he decided to end a budding romance primarily because he thought it would compromise his research. One valuable contribution the book makes is the light it sheds on how culture influences religious experience. Given that Roose was raised in a liberal Quaker home where he enjoyed a particularly close bond with his aunt and her same-sex partner, it comes as no surprise that he finds the attitude on Liberty’s campus toward gay people to be offensive and perplexing. It is
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Book Reviews likely, however, that a majority of Roose’s classmates did not have the same exposure to same-sex couples as he did. Therefore, to most Liberty students, gay people represent “the other” just as much as the evangelical right does to Roose. All things considered, I would recommend The Unlikely Disciple to anyone who is a professing member of the evangelical right and to anyone interested in—or harboring some trepidation toward—the experience of the other. Roose’s exposé is a socio-anthropological experiment that reveals the range of human emotions—fear, love, anxiety, anger, and even hate— that are common to all of us when faced with the challenge of acclimating to a way of life to which we were previously unaccustomed. Joshua Cradic is a musician and freelance writer who blames his wife, a cultural anthropologist, for his propensity for considering culture alongside faith. Somebody’s Daughter by Julian Sher Chicago Review Press Reviewed by Francesca Nuzzolese From the investigative eye and pen of journalist Julian Sher comes Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them, a sobering picture of underage girls being trafficked across the US. Sher takes us from the drug-infested alleys of New York City to the flashy casinos of Las Vegas, tracking “runaways and throwaways,” children escaping the brutality or neglect of their own homes only to find themselves caught in the vicious business of sexual exploitation. The business, to be clear, is for the pimps who prey on these girls’ vulnerability and powerfully manage to get them hooked into selling their young bodies in exchange for a false sense of protection and care. Night by night, girl by girl, “trick by trick,” the sexual exploitation of children builds up the pimps’ empires, deprives the girls of their right to a dignified existence, and washes away any illusion that our country has progressed beyond, and learned from, its sad history of slavery. Defying the myth that human trafficking is mostly a “foreign affair” involving only girls in developing countries, Sher provides a detailed and gruesome account of the violent, dehumanizing, and often fatal conditions in which these girls end up living—in our very own cities, neighborhoods, and jails. Woven into the fabric of the girls’ tales of horror (and occasional redemption), is Sher’s exposé of the glorification of pimps (who often get away with little or no punishment) and of a justice system which is too coarse to provide constructive solutions and more often than not ends up revictimizing the victims and absolving the offenders. Particularly informative (albeit disturb-
ing) are the sections in which Sher painstakingly describes the complex task of prosecuting “the untouchables,” those pimps who have constructed mafia-like criminal operations, with sophisticated and extremely lucrative networks of trafficking. Just as complex, multifaceted, and long-term is the task of breaking the psychosocial grip such pimps have over the exploited girls. Having endured so much trauma and emotional manipulation, they often struggle to fit into any other kind of lifestyle than “the street life.” Scarcity of rehabilitation centers, halfway homes, and safe environments to welcome them compounds the problem for prostituted children, who remain trapped in the system and then become prostituted adults. While the picture Sher depicts is brutally honest, with horrifying and mind-boggling stories of torture and abuse, the book also offers a clearly redemptive picture of some unlikely characters, such as lawyers, judges, police officers, and those who have escaped prostitution. Their work to change policies, to resist stereotypes, to educate, and to challenge notions of choice and responsibility when it comes to the lives of vulnerable girls has contributed to making a substantial impact on the lives of many girls. By arguing that sexual exploitation of minors is an issue of slavery and victimization that impacts our own sense of a civil society, these folks are transforming the way Americans see these girls. It is thanks to the often heroic work of such protagonists, and the instrumental role they play both inside and outside the juridical system, that we glean a more hopeful perspective on the battle against children in prostitution. I believe Sher’s book is a must-read for anyone ready to take a hard look at the world at our doorstep—whether in our streets or hotel chains or on our favorite social networking sites. By pointing to the cracks in our culture, our moral lives, and our courts, the book offers plenty of ways to get involved in the battle—from walking the streets in search of runaways to advocating for more just laws to reeducating our communities about the power structures behind modern-day slavery. Francesca Nuzzolese is associate professor of pastoral care and spiritual formation at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. Her research on human trafficking recently took her to Southeast Asia, where she visited rescue efforts such as the New Life Center in Thailand and Caring Hands in India. How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership edited by Alan F. Johnson Zondervan Reviewed by Mimi Haddad How did more than 20 thoughtful Christian leaders change their minds on such a highly entrenched, divisive issue? Opening the conversation, Alan Johnson notes a
primary concern: Christians have absolutized cultural patterns in Scripture, confusing the moral teachings of Scripture with Bible culture. As believers did with slavery in the 19th century, Christians today are concluding that patriarchy—male-only authority—is not essential to a God-ordered society. Though slavery and patriarchy are part of Bible culture, both are at odds with the moral teachings of Scripture. In How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals, 11 men, four women, and six couples discern whether patriarchy is integral or injurious to authentic Christian community. In nearly every case, passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are considered alongside the legacy of gifted and godly women. Unwilling to dismiss either women’s contributions or biblical passages that seem to limit their service, contributors press to understand Scripture within a wider biblical, historical, and cultural context. Provocative questions are consistently raised. Alice Mathews ponders the mixed messages she received as a child: Why was the prominent evangelist Amy Lee Stockton—recipient of an honorary doctorate from Wheaton College—not a sufficient model for evangelical churches to open more pulpits to women? Ruth Barton questions the wisdom of excluding godly women, well acquainted with the challenges of parishioners, from decision making in churches they nurture each week? And why are so many gifted women humiliated, told that their motives are selfish and their actions like those of Eve when they exercise their gifts? Cornelius Plantiga calls it “embarrassing” that males somberly discuss “whether we ought to ‘allow’ women into church offices…as if the church belongs to males.” Underlining the gender debate is the assumption that males are superior to females, Tony Campolo observes. To insist that women may not use their gifts simply because they are female is to imply that there is something inherently inferior in females. Having survived the Armenian massacre, Nazi rule in France, and violence in Lebanon, Gilbert Bilezikian challenges self-arrogated leadership based on birth—whether ethnicity or gender. Though gender devaluations are untenable, contributors also observe that the teachings of male hierarchy are impossible to implement consistently. For example, in some denominations women are permitted to teach and preach abroad—but not in the US. Women may write hymns, books, and curriculum that profit everyone yet are not permitted to lead worship, classes, or book studies with males present. If men are God’s appointed leaders, why do we permit women to lead men in any situation, be it secular or sacred? Citing the feminist scholar Virginian Vanian, John Stackhouse suggests that “small slights can constitute large-scale social patterns of repression.” Unless women work to collapse sexist structures, they will remain in a prison impoverishing everyone. While Stackhouse suggests that women, keenly aware of sexism and gender injustices, are those who must speak out, this undertaking is best pursued by the whole church—an endeavor that empowers all its members. The journeys build momentum, like many hands on a large
broom sweeping the floor of an ancient sanctuary. Each sweep carries away years of patriarchal debris, revealing a biblical mosaic of human mutuality—male and female, created in God’s image and destined for a shared dominion, integral to Christ’s new covenant community. Despite many hands sweeping, it is unfortunate that the book did not include more women, people of color, and believers from the majority world. Other omissions include Christians from the charismatic, Catholic, and Eastern traditions. A few younger voices would have enriched the conversation, too. Despite these weaknesses, the power of personal story cannot be contained. Just ask the vendors at the recent Evangelical Theological Society Convention—they sold every copy they brought within 24 hours! This book offers much wisdom on a primary issue facing the church. Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBEinternational.org).
Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson InterVarsity
Many of her suggestions do cover the areas usually associated with the call to simplicity: frugality of ownership, generosity of spirit, unhurried living, and simplicity of appearance. Having read many books in the past that discuss downsizing and simplifying, I learned little that was new to me in this section, but the way she handled these topics helped me review my commitment to simplicity and served as a reminder that most of us cannot hear too often. The chapter I enjoyed most was the last—on worry, something I, as a worrier, really need to let go of. Her statement that “Worry is clutter of the mind that doesn’t go away” certainly spoke to my own condition and gave me encouragement to take stock of what I worry about and why. Johnson’s easy writing style and highly practical approach to everyday problems, paired with her obvious depth of relationship with God and the fact that she practices what she preaches, make this book a worthwhile read. I heartily recommend it to those considering simplifying their life, but it is also a good read for those ready to reevaluate their commitment to simplicity and to take some new steps into God’s abundance. Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates (msainfo.us) and the author of several books, her latest being To Garden with God. She blogs at godspace.wordpress.com.
Reviewed by Christine Sine Jan Johnson’s call to retreat and reflect and her encouragement to enter more deeply into the presence of God and live more as Jesus lived have always challenged and strengthened me. And her latest book, Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace, does not disappoint. Her invigorating invitation to see simplicity as “an organic part of an interactive life with God” hit me exactly where I needed to be hit, in the midst of my busy and sometimes distracted life. Her call to step away from our preoccupations and deliberately follow God may resemble something we’ve heard many times before, but Johnson’s pragmatic and instructive approach makes the message both fresh and worth hearing again. I particularly enjoyed the practical suggestions for abundant simplicity offered in the second half of her book. She starts not by talking about the unnecessary goods we accumulate and the need to simplify our lifestyles, but rather with our need to listen much and speak little. Simplicity of speech is not something most of us consider when thinking about ways to simplify our lives. For people like me who love to talk and write, her call to use fewer and more meaningful words is particularly compelling—and difficult. What immediately sprang to mind were some of the inane “tweets” I see every day—short in length but equally short on meaning and, as Johnson so keenly observes, more often than not intended to highlight our own importance rather than to draw others closer to God. This chapter alone made the book worth reading for me.
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More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel Penguin Reviewed by Amy Spaulding Zimbelman How can individual American donors—who give three times more money to charity than do corporations, foundations, and bequests combined—channel support most effectively? Should we give more money, or improve existing antipoverty programs? Authors Dean Karlan, a Yale economics professor and president and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Jacob Appel, a Colombia-educated field researcher in the developing world, attempt to shed light on these questions. More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty is an important contribution to the field, although not a panacea in the fight against poverty. Although dealing with philosophical questions, More Than Good Intentions is more than speculative—it’s founded on field reports of what development looks like on the ground to the teachers, doctors, or business owners of the Philippines, Bolivia, Ghana, India, and a host of other countries. The question doggedly asked throughout is simply: “What’s working and what isn’t?” And the lens through which projects are analyzed
is behavioral economics, an economics that tries to be true to the fact that a person’s real-life financial decisions are at times impulsive or inconsistent or may put other priorities ahead of money. In other words, we function more as humans and less as machines perpetually calculating cost-benefit analyses. The book is well-researched and is especially insightful on microfinance, the analysis of which comprises over half the book. However, the authors’ too narrow definition of poverty and development work is problematic. In chapter 3, Karlan and Appel argue that people in the developing world who could benefit from programs will not automatically buy in—they need to be convinced. In other words, we in the West need to literally market development programs to the poor overseas. If poverty is simply a lack of material resources, and programs are the way out, then the logic of these economists rings true—’We Rich’ should sell programs to ‘You Poor.’ However, Christian economists Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett hold a wider view of poverty, as outlined in their book When Helping Hurts (Moody, 2009). Poverty is more than a lack of material resources; it is instead a breaking down of right relationships—those between self, others, God, and creation. In interviews with the financially poor, the lack of stuff was oftentimes not cited as the crux of the problem; it was instead the corresponding sense of powerlessness and worthlessness, the lack of purpose and hope. Therefore, if we in Western societies parachute into a developing country with the attitude that we need to sell the poor
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something (a program, a loan, etc.), we may do more harm than good. We may reinforce the idea that white Americans solve problems while the poor stay worthless and powerless. In giving the poor stuff, we may rob them of the stuff humanity is made of. In addition, when our attitude is one of paternalism, we rob ourselves. We deny our own poverty, perhaps not financial, but of community, faith, or concern for creation. As Australian aboriginal Lila Watson put it: “If you’ve come to help us, you’re wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” We must, therefore, understand our mutual need for redemption in our work with the poor and financially support programs that do likewise. The authors of More Than Good Intentions are neither anthropologists nor missionaries, but they should partner with those folks for their future research if we are ever to see right relationships and holistic change in the lives of humans suffering from poverty worldwide. Amy Spaulding Zimbelman studied English and cultural anthropology at Gordon College in Massachusetts and has spent time in the Middle East, the South Pacific, and a year in rural Zambia, working on health and educational development programs. She now works in a refugee resettlement in South Dakota, connecting people from around the world with their new neighbors.