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The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University

By November 24, 2009Books

A year ago after reading AJ Jacobs’s A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, I heard through the grapevine that his former assistant Kevin Roose was had just completed a book detailing what it was like to spend a semester attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University as a student. After visiting Falwell’s Thomas Road Church for research for A Year of Living Biblically, Roose arranged a semester away from Brown University and enrolled at Liberty, taking a full class-load of bible-based curriculum.

I don’t endeavor to read many books like this, but I knew that if Jacobs had any influence on Kevin, his outlook and approach would be immensely fair, thorough and objective. Digging around on Amazon, you’ll find hundreds of “in-depth” books and stories on evangelical culture and similar religious movements, and although many contain factual information and analysis, more often than not they are dripping in cynicism and an overall disrespect that evenĀ  someone who isn’t overly religious (me) would find over-the-top.

I found this book to be a very insightful read. As someone constantly exploring issues of faith, religion and its direction/influence on my life, it was refreshing and more than a little reassuring to find someone else asking the same questions, struggling to reconcile the social politics, and not being afraid to challenge what he believed. I think sometimes the best way to find direction is to explore ideas you don’t know or think you’ll be immediately turned off by. Roose doesn’t get saved {spoiler alert} and returns to Brown as an intact social progressive, but he comes away forever changed by people he once thought he’d never even connect with.

The Unlikely Disciple not only takes you through his experiences of living as a faith-driven fundamental Christian college student, with its expected rules about dress code and dating, but he really lets you in to how it changed him and made him feel. He doesn’t hide the struggles, the insecurity, and the many questions he was asking not in a quest for a better story, but for himself. He also shatters stereotypes as he tells the different stories of the young men and women who you never hear anything about independently of mainstream media labels.

Who should read this book?

  • Any Christian who wonders how the un-indoctrinated view believers and their practices
  • Anyone preparing to be an pastor, evangelist, missionary, or Christian educator – especially in a post-modern society
  • Anyone planning to go to a Christian university (you’ll understand the pros and cons of these institutions better after reading Kevin’s book)
  • Anyone on staff at Liberty University
  • Liberals who have made sweeping generalizations about fundamentalist Christianity without honestly investigating it themselves.
  • Anyone who wants to read a tremendously thought provoking and highly entertaining story.

Happy Reading!