To my great delight, I received a phone call from the library on Thursday afternoon, letting me know that a book I recently put on hold was in. I headed over immediately after work to pick it up.
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University was written by Kevin Roose and chronicles his decision to transfer from Brown University (a renowned liberal university) to Liberty University (founded by the infamous Jerry Falwell) for a semester. A journalism major, Roose considered the evangelical world as “a cloistered, slightly frightening community whose values and customs I wasn’t supposed to understand. So I ignored it.”
However, after being exposed to Thomas Road Baptist Church (Falwell’s 20,000 member church in Lynchburg, Virginia) as part of a research trip for his boss, Roose re-considered. He began to view a semester at Liberty akin to a semester abroad. “Here, right in my time zone, was a culture more foreign to me than any European capital, and these foreigners vote in my elections! So why not do a domestic study abroad? If I enrolled at Liberty for a semester, I’d get to take the same classes, attend the same church services, and live under the same rules as my evangelical peers. And maybe I’d be able to use what I found to help bridge our country’s God Divide or at least to understand it better.”
I found this book to be a fascinating, hilarious, and at times sobering chronicle of Roose’s myriad impressions and experiences in the evangelical culture as defined by Liberty University. Roose is greatly impacted by the overwhelming kindness and sincere friendliness exhibited by his fellow students during his semester on campus. He learns to appreciate the tight-knit community, frequent calls to prayer and almost universal willingness to help one another. But he is also blown away by the incongruously hateful remarks that are spouted by a large number of students, expressing racist and homophobic views, and the classroom environtment that frequently discouraged dialogue and frowned on any kind of questioning of the doctrine being taught.
I highly recommend this book for evangelical’s and non-evangelical’s alike. A reviewer on Amazon summarizes nicely, “This book is an excellent read for anyone wanting to understand the true passion that drives so many evangelicals to actions that may seem incomprehensible to the outside world … but it’s also an excellent read for anyone who is a born-again Christian who wants to understand what baffles the outside world about the faith, both good and bad, and what parts drive some of the world away for good.”
Check out the book trailer to hear the author describe his motives and experience firsthand: