Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Review of The Unlikely Disciple

Every once in awhile I pick up a book that I have a hard time putting down and can't wait to see how it ends. The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University was one of those books. Kevin Roose, whom I have mentioned here before, took a semester off of his studies at Brown University in order to immerse himself in an evangelical Christian world at Liberty University in Virginia.

Roose, who does not consider himself to be an evangelical Christian, wanted to gain the experience of what it would be like to be surrounded by Christians his age while inhabiting a world unfamiliar to himself. His account of his semester-long experience at Liberty is candid, refreshing, uncomfortable and telling.

In order to gain an unvarnished view of Rev. Jerry Falwell's university, Roose kept his true identity a secret from his classmates and sought to blend in with his peers. He attended chapel services, went to prayer meetings and Bible studies, sang in the Thomas Road Baptist Church choir and even went on a spring break evangelism trip to Daytona Beach. In short, he participated in the activities of an evangelical Christian student without actually being one.

An obviously talented writer, Roose paints what I perceive to be a fairly accurate picture of conservative evangelicals. He highlights the sincerity of faith of many of his Liberty friends, the emphasis on prayer that he experienced and the commitment of the student body to reach out to others. On the other hand, he spends a good portin of the book commenting on the conservative political atmosphere at Liberty which he finds often at odds with his own viewpoints.

In reading this book, I felt as if I was along for the ride as he shares his initial uneasiness with the unfamiliar Christian culture he encounters after stepping on campus and the development of deep friendships as the weeks passed. As a Christian that ministers to college students, I found myself agreeing with many of Roose's conclusions, humored at his gentle ribbing of our Christian subculture and grieved at the insensitivity that he experienced by others that didn't know he wasn't "one of them."

The Unlikely Disciple not only chronicle's Kevin Roose's experience at Liberty, but also gives insight into the final months of Rev. Jerry Falwell's life as Falwell passed away at the end of Roose's semester. While most of the book is about the students that Roose encountered, a sizable portion is devoted to Falwell and his influence on evangelicalism in America and on Liberty itself. Remarkably, Roose scored an interview with Rev. Falwell just days before his death, which turned out to be the last print interview he ever gave.

For Christians that hope to gain a greater perspective on how non-Christians experience us when they are in our world this could be a great tool for personal reflection and examination. For non-Christians that are hoping to get an outsider's take on what evangelicals are like behind closed doors this would be a helpful resource. All in all this was a great book.

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