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

July 14, 2011

Book cover for "The Unlikely Disciple" by Kevin Roose.Title: The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University

Author & Narrator: Kevin Roose

Publication Year: 2009

Pages: 336 (audio length: 11 hours 40 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

No drinking.
No smoking.

No cursing.
No dancing.
No R-rated movies.

Kevin Roose wasn’t used to rules like these. As a sophomore at Brown University, he spent his days drinking fair-trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and fitting right in with Brown’s free-spirited, ultra-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional.

Liberty is the late Reverend Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp” for young evangelicals, his training ground for the next generation of America’s Religious Right. Liberty’s ten thousand undergraduates take courses like Evangelism 101, hear from guest speakers like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and follow a forty-six-page code of conduct that regulates every aspect of their social lives. Hoping to connect with his evangelical peers, Roose decides to enroll at Liberty as a new transfer student, leaping across the God Divide and chronicling his adventures in this daring report from the front lines of America’s culture war.

His journey takes him from an evangelical hip-hop concert to choir practice at Falwell’s legendary Thomas Road Baptist Church. He experiments with prayer, participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach (where he learns to preach the gospel to partying coeds), and pays a visit to Every Man’s Battle, an on-campus support group for chronic masturbators. He meets pastors’ kids, closet doubters, Christian rebels, and conducts what would be the last print interview of Rev. Falwell’s life.

Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, THE UNLIKELY DISCIPLE will inspire and entertain believers and nonbelievers alike.

This was probably one of the most fun books I’ve read – or listened to – in a while.

The premise of The Unlikely Disciple is rather like that of In the Land of Believers: a non-Evangelical goes “undercover” in the world of Evangelical Christians, specifically in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church. You know, in the land of Jerry Falwell. But whereas In the Land of Believers specifically homed in on the mega-church, Roose chooses to focus in on Liberty by enrolling as a student there for one semester.

To be honest, there were things that happened to the author in this book that surprised me, and others that didn’t. I guess it’s all part and parcel of the subject matter and how much you know (or think you know) about it.

What was the most informative and entertaining for me was the everyday things about life at Liberty. And part of that was the way that Roose told his story – mostly in the form of anecdotes, loosely chronological, and all told from the point of view of someone trying to keep an open mind even while being surrounded by friends and family that seem to have already made up their minds about the situation and what he will learn.

The Unlikely Disciple is sort of like a frat boy story, except without the drinking, partying, and sex. It’s more about the relationships that are created between floormates and what people learn outside of class. (Though there’s a fair bit of talk about what Roose “learns” inside of class, too, which was also rather interesting.) If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside a Christian university, this is a great chance to do so. And even if not, Roose’s sense of humour shines through the book, and I think you’d have a great read anyways.

Rating:

9 Comments

  • Helen Murdoch July 14, 2011 at 10:15 am

    This one definitely looks interesting. We all have such pre-conceived ideas about how “they” (whomever “they” is to each of us) and it’s nice that someone went out to find out firsthand rather than just assuming he knew it all. And, if it’s humorous, that’s even better!

  • Amy July 14, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Sounds like an interesting book… if I ever make it through In the Land of Believers I’ll give this a try 😉

  • Col (Col Reads) July 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I think I’d really enjoy this. Thanks for the review!

  • Danya July 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    This one sounds like an interesting, humorous read – must be quite a switch between those two so different universities!

  • Nana Fredua-Agyeman July 15, 2011 at 4:57 am

    Promises to be funny. I would love to know how he lasted throughout the semester.

  • Willa July 15, 2011 at 5:06 am

    I love the sound of this one, it sounds really interesting. Will put it on my TBR.

  • Mary Fagan July 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Wow – culture shock! I, too, made a transition: from a small Methodist college to a state university. Not that drastic for me, though. Methodists aren’t generally on the radical Right, and CMU, mostly a teacher’s college in my day, was pretty straight-laced anyway. But it sounds like Kevin Roose’s experience was quite, uh, educational

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